New Land Dedication Safeguards the Future for Utah’s Famous Elk

Thousands of acres are now part of a preservation drive giving majestic Rocky Mountain Elk the space they need to thrive.


Elk grazing

(Jace Gazaway /

Boasting impressive six-pointed antlers and weighing up to 700 pounds, Rocky Mountain Elk are a breathtaking sight to behold. The official state mammal of Utah, these majestic elk have long been an iconic part of the American landscape. 

But in recent years, the looming possibility of privatization has threatened their traditional stomping grounds. Elk must migrate throughout the year in order to feed and breed, so it’s critical that they have plenty of room to roam.

Fortunately, a generous gift from a local landowning family has ensured that these beautiful elk will be around for generations to come. The Utah-based Simonsen family has dedicated some 5,000 acres of their land as a conservation easement, giving the elk a permanent migration corridor(a protected strip of natural habitat through which wild animals are able to migrate) that will facilitate the species’ continued survival.

The initiative to conserve land for the elk was a collaborative effort between the Simonsen family, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (FFSL), and the USDA Forest Service.

“This action by the Simonsen family to place a conservation easement on their land to protect its wildlife values speaks volumes to their understanding of and dedication to elk and other wildlife,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO in a statement reported on “We appreciate and salute them as well as our partners at FFSL who will manage the easement.”

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The land donated by the Simonsens, which is located some 40 miles east of the town of Spanish Fork in central Utah, is an ideal habitat for the elk. Nestled in the Wasatch Mountain Range and bordered by forest on three sides, it contains an important calving area, where the elk traditionally give birth in the spring each year.

The acres offer a rich array of natural features, including four types of forest strands, streams, meadows and ponds. The biological diversity of the area is especially important for the elk, as they migrate during the spring, summer, and winter seasons. The variety contained in the space means that the elk will find an environment where they thrive, regardless of the time of year.

The Rocky Mountain Elk isn’t the only species that will benefit tremendously from the easement, as Utah mule deer also use the area as a migration corridor. The Simonsen land contains miles of the White River, home to several varieties of fish and an important food source for a number of aquatic birds including ducks, geese, gulls, heron, and pelicans. 

Some of the project’s funding came from the RMEF’s Land and Water Conservation Fund, via the organization’s Forest Legacy Program.

RMEF Program coordinator Natalie Conlin also told that she was “excited that this collaboration between RMEF and the Simonsen family will contribute to maintaining a contiguous forested landscape in this rapidly developing area of Utah.”

Expressing her gratitude to the Simonsen family for their generosity, she added, “We also commend the landowner’s ongoing management of this Forest Legacy property, and the important contributions it makes to the local economy.”

By donating expanses of land that give these storied Rocky Mountain Elk the area they need to survive, one family has all but guaranteed that the species will continue defining Utah’s landscape for years to come. Natural open spaces and wildlife are finite natural resources, and the Simonsen family’s gift recognizes that society must commit to conservation as a serious priority.

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