Many UniSource Energy Services employees throughout Arizona volunteer and fundraise to support the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its mission of preserving elk and other wildlife, their habitats and the hunting tradition.
Aaron McCoy, a Construction & Maintenance Supervisor for UniSource Gas in Prescott, became involved with the Foundation a decade ago after a supervisor invited him to help build water tanks for wildlife. Now, McCoy and his wife and children are all involved with the national nonprofit organization.
“I enjoy the people and the projects,” said McCoy. “The people have now become part of my family. We’re a good group that wants to help the environment, preserve elk and all wildlife and just be good stewards of the land. It’s not just about hunting.”
On any given project, McCoy may be joined by up to 20 additional volunteers from other UniSource locations, including conservationists and hunters from Prescott, Flagstaff, Springerville and Tucson.
The Foundation’s nearly 8,000 members in eight state chapters work to ensure the future of elk and the hunting heritage by preserving their habitats. Working closely with Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the Foundation helps manage grasslands and lands.
For example, the group removes juniper trees – which produce acidic and toxic needles that kill grass – in an effort to restore grasslands and reduce the fire hazard. The group may also assist with controlled burns of diseased aspen forests to promote healthy regrowth.
Other projects involve the installation of miles of pipeline to supply water catchments for elk and other wildlife, and the acquisition of land to allow foot access to wilderness areas for hunters, hikers and nature enthusiasts. The land purchased by the Elk Foundation is then donated to the local municipality or county.
The Foundation also has an adopt-a-ranch program where volunteers make improvements to a privately-owned ranch to improve habitat and condition and in return the ranch owner allows public access to the land for hunting.
“The work that we do benefits elk, all wildlife and the environment,” said Ron Pittman, the Foundation’s Regional Director. “In areas that we’ve preserved, you’ll see an abundance of wildlife – deer, antelope, big horn sheep, foxes and birds.”
Annual banquets are held throughout the state to raise funds for these projects, with UniSource among the corporate sponsors. “Last year, more than $250,000 was raised from our banquets in Arizona. Most of the funds raised – 90 cents on every dollar – goes directly to projects that support our mission and all of the work is done by volunteers,” Pittman noted. “The only other funding for these projects comes from hunting and fishing tag revenue, so we appreciate the funding from UniSource.”
Funds raised also support research on migration corridors, the impact of traffic on herds and herd relocations.
Did you know that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation can be credited with helping to repopulate elk in several southeastern states? A few years ago, the group relocated 40 elk from Winslow to West Virginia to re-introduce the species there, which had been overhunted.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arizona’s elk and deer populations have not been affected by Chronic Wasting Disease that afflicts the animals elsewhere. Pittman said this is because Arizona herds and their corridors are relatively isolated and cut off by the Grand Canyon. “States either get their [healthy] elk from Arizona,” Pittman said, “or they don’t get them at all.”
This story is part of our ongoing series highlighting one of UniSource’s philanthropic focus areas – environmental stewardship. TEP works with non-profit partners to develop invitation-based donation requests for environmental programs from April to June. Funds come from corporate resources, not customers’ rates. Learn more about donations.