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It's not all about elk

Press Photo by Jennifer McBride Tracy Tooz, left, and Tom Fath look at an 1892 John Wayne 100th anniversary rifle that will be among items at the Theodore Roosevelt Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation banquet Saturday, March 5. The co-chairmen of the local branch of the organization looked through the dozens of prizes at the Tooz Construction office on Tuesday.

The co-chairmen of the local Theodore Roosevelt Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation poke a little fun at each other about the number of elk they have shot. But just because Tracy Tooz can only claim one and Tom Fath can't claim any, chances of bagging an elk are slim for anyone.

North Dakota hunters are given one opportunity to elk hunt, Fath said. Every year residents can apply to be in a lottery for a tag and if they are chosen, that is their one chance. Unless there is a rule change, that lottery winner will never again be eligible for a North Dakota tag regardless if they bag an elk or not.

The Dickinson men say that's why organizations like the Foundation are so important -- to protect habitat.

"Let's keep them growing in North Dakota so someday it won't be a once-in-a-lifetime chance," Tooz said.

This is where the organization's biggest fundraiser of the year comes in. The fifth-annual banquet and raffle begins at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 5 at the Dickinson Elks Lodge. It is open to all and tickets are $60 for a membership and a meal and $25 extra for a guest's meal.

"Last year 250 people attended," Fath said. "We have a sit-down meal and we try to make it a little nicer experience, people sit together and it's a good atmosphere."

The club holds a raffle and money goes to local and national conservation efforts, Fath said, adding not all are specifically elk-related.

Money has gone for field studies, management plans, prescribed burns, spraying noxious weeds, along with leafy spurge control, said Rod Gilmore, Mandan, Foundation regional director for North Dakota and western South Dakota.

"Our mission is to preserve elk and elk habitat and that benefits other wildlife," he said. "North Dakota is still a frontier state and things go on in the rest of the United States that really don't affect us."

Last year the U.S. lost more than 5,000 acres a day of agriculture land, timber and open land to development, he said, and while development is inevitable, the Foundation directs it away from wildlife habitat.

Among major undertakings locally are the Foundation's work with other organizations to purchase and preserve the largest remnant of Theodore Roosevelt's historic Elkhorn Ranch -- a place many consider the birthplace of his drive to conserve natural resources.

What once was the Ebert family ranch now benefits numerous wildlife, Gilmore said.

Besides members, others have helped the Foundation's mission by providing conservation easements "and that will still put land aside for elk and other wildlife management," Gilmore said.

The Foundation is not set up to manage land once it is purchased or in an easement, so it works with others, like the National Forest Service, to care for these areas.

"Generally when we do a purchase we use a partner," Gilmore said. For example, the Elkhorn Ranch is now under the care of the North Dakota Division of the U.S. Forest Service, which manages it.

The Foundation is also a proponent of multiple use: land is used for wildlife habitat, public use and also works with ranchers to keep areas agricultural.

Fath moved to Dickinson from Minnesota in 2005 and says there are no opportunities to hunt elk there. He has yet to be drawn in the North Dakota lottery.

"Now I have an opportunity and I fully intend to use it someday," he said, adding, though his wife Nicki isn't a hunter, their daughters Zoe, 11, and Hope, 7, have shown interest.

"When you're an avid sportsmen it's nice to know there are organizations that are taking time to preserve what I love and that's hunting and going out and being with friends," he said. "It's nice to have groups that put time and invest money back into our resources and create opportunities for me and my children."

Tickets for the banquet are available by calling Fath at 701-290-0629.