The Missoula-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation set a new membership record after recording 12 percent growth in the past year.

RMEF President David Allen said the increase stemmed from the nonprofit group's greater efforts to influence the debate over hunting and conservation issues - wolves in particular.

"We no longer sit on the fence when it comes to issues affecting the very core of our hunting heritage, the North American model of wildlife conservation, and our future," Allen said in an e-mail. "Our members expect us to stand up for them and we will. We are engaged alongside many other sportsman and agriculture groups in the fight to control wolves, and we will stay engaged until wolves are managed and controlled as they should be - by the states. There is no room left for compromise or complacency on this issue."

RMEF grew to 178,000 members in 2010, according to group spokesman Steve Wagner. While most of the growth surge took place in Oregon and Washington, foundation chapters in all 50 states reported increases, he said. The 12 percent growth rate was the largest single-year jump in the group's history.

That membership figure is 30 percent greater than where the group stood in 2008, when it celebrated its 25th anniversary. At the time, Allen said RMEF was going to focus on its core mission of land conservation and elk habitat stewardship. But he added wolves would be a significant exception. The group's board of directors called for wolves to be removed from federal Endangered Species Act protection and placed under state management in 2009 and has been an active member of the debate since.

In 2010, RMEF passed the 5.9 million-acre mark for conservation easements on elk lands, including 600,000 acres of public-access property.

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