David Allen will lead the Missoula-headquartered Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for another five years, after accepting a contract extension from the organization’s board of directors last week.

“We changed our direction the last few years and we’re in a very positive spot as an organization and are headed in the right direction now,” RMEF outgoing board chairman John Caid said in an email.

The 29-year-old foundation has had four consecutive years of record growth and now claims 196,079 members.

Allen became president and chief executive officer of the foundation in 2007. In an interview Monday, Allen said the main change he was responsible for was improving the foundation’s finances.

“We were nearly $10 million in debt (when he took over in 2007),” Allen said. “We have no debt today. We stopped acting like the government. We budgeted what we actually had, not what we thought we were going to have, which was a practice for a number of years.”

Allen recently announced the creation of a $30 million Torstenson Family Endowment, which will be used to improve the future of elk and other wildlife. He came to the foundation after 33 years marketing pro rodeo, the Pro Bull Riders tour and the Dale Earnhardt/Richard Childress race teams.

Around Missoula, RMEF has purchased or contributed to a number of conservation easements and wildlife habitat improvements. It has also provided more than $400,000 in the past decade to study wolves, including a $51,000 donation last year to fund wolf depredation killings by state and federal wildlife service officials.

The foundation also made news for several controversial stands during Allen’s tenure. Most recently, the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association said some of its members might withdraw support from RMEF after it named do-it-yourself-hunting proponent Randy Newberg to its board of directors.

The organization also raised eyebrows when it joined a boycott of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show after some of the Pennsylvania event’s organizers banned exhibits of assault rifles. The exhibition was canceled.

And last July, family members of elk researcher Olaus Murie demanded his name be removed from a major RMEF conservation award because of what they called the foundation’s “all-out war against wolves.” Allen campaigned publicly against federal protection of gray wolves, and the foundation offered legal support to Montana and Idaho state governments in their attempts to open public hunting of wolves.

Allen declined to say what future policy issues he or the foundation would participate in, beyond the general principles of RMEF’s mission statement.

“We’re going to work to ensure a future for elk and to preserve our hunting heritage,” Allen said. “We don’t talk about projects in advance. And the ones we complete are public record.”

While the foundation will maintain its headquarters in Missoula, Allen said he would continue to manage it from an office in Billings.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.