Partner Spotlight

Remote monitoring at a national scale: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation spotlight

Learn how remote sensing is key to a national foundation like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. In conversation with Stephanie Strickland.

Image courtesy of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Jul 5, 2023
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Ever try monitoring hundreds of thousands of acres on foot? Even for the gnarliest of hikers among us, this is quite the task. And yet, it’s exactly the task tackled by Stephanie Strickland, Conservation Easement Program Manager at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. What started as the passion project and an earnest endeavor of four elk hunters to protect elk and their habitat in 1984, is now an organization that has since conserved or enhanced a whopping 8.6 million acres across the United States.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is what some aptly call a “critter group.” It specializes on the multifaceted approaches to protecting a particular ‘critter’ – e.g. your elk, mule deer, ducks – and does so through a variety of channels. There’s conservation, habitat and wildlife research, protecting and buying land, massive volunteer and educational programs, and indeed, spreading awareness on how to best protect the heritage of these animals as well as the hunting community that most often interacts with them.

For education’s sake, let’s get through some important context first. To some, the thought might seem counterintuitive – at least initially. How do hunters, who might inherently (seemingly anyway) have the opposite effect, actually enhance, preserve, and promote the conservation of the animals that they seek to hunt? The answer is always complex but in some ways, it’s also simple. Hunters represent a big portion of the outdoor recreational industry, one valued at billions of dollars in the United States alone, and a significant portion of this money often supports organizations just like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation who in turn take on the incredible task of protecting and bettering the lives of these animals. Alongside hunting regulations, policies, and most importantly education, hunters and organizations like the RMEF play a significant role in conserving these animals. 

The result: managers like Stephanie Strickland, whom we spoke with for this piece, are empowered to partner with communities, organizations, and people all around the country to preserve elk habitat. Let’s dive in.

Lens for Environmental Foundations

No matter the area of scope, foundations and conservation organizations that work at the national level often have significant amounts of reporting work. This makes sense: foundations don’t do the work alone, nor is it singular in nature. They partner with diverse organizations, communities, and people to move their mission forward. That often means an incredible amount of projects and paperwork to match. 

Enter remote monitoring for environmental foundations with Lens.

Stephanie’s work is focused on land stewardship, acquiring property and land acquisitions, and managing voluntary conservation agreements, or conservation easements, across 16 states. Before remote monitoring with Lens, Stephanie coordinated up to 20 staff who only did ground monitoring. And tons of it. She was adamant about the importance of ground monitoring; their work needed careful inspection given that this wasn’t just land they were protecting – it was active elk natural habitat.

Then, the Covid-19 pandemic happened. 

“We could no longer send people out anywhere, there were so many state restrictions in place!” recounted Stephanie. “I’d been thinking about Lens before but this pushed me to using it.” Stephanie quickly made a pitch for getting Lens given the sudden abrupt changes in everyone’s lives, and it was quickly approved.

Three years later, 2023 is going to be their biggest year using Lens for remote monitoring. “I’ve added a lot of new properties all over the US and so far so good! I have updated imagery for all of the new properties I added”.

Features that cater to monitoring and reporting at scale

The benefits to using remote monitoring for conservation foundation work quickly became apparent once Covid hit: it was efficient, it allowed them to monitor what they couldn’t before, and most importantly they could still do both. Remote monitoring wasn’t a full swap (nor could it be given agreements that there is a certain amount of ground work that needs doing). Lens became a crucial tool to add to their arsenal. Even with many lifted travel restrictions since 2020, Stephanie and her team continue to use Lens because it's effective, they have more data about the land they manage, and it bolsters their time and cost savings. And, she anticipates, it’s helpful even with all of the changes we’re seeing outside of the Covid pandemic but more so related to a changing climate. 

There are a particular set of favorite features that stood out for Stephanie, including the user friendliness and easy set up process, the ability to make easy reports, and specific overlay tools like the building footprint overlay.

1. User Friendliness

From the how-to pieces to the support documentation, one of the biggest pluses to getting started with remote monitoring was Lens.

“Lens user-friendliness is amazing. Plus y’all are very responsive, which is super appreciated. I know I can get answers to my questions and that just comes down to good customer service”.

2. Generate reports with imagery and notes to tell the story

This was an easy one for Stephanie. Given the extensive portfolios that any foundation or conservation organization might manage, the ability to generate a report that provides all of the stats, photos, notes, and descriptions of the monitored property in a ready to go format streamlines the reporting process. Rather than having to collate the information, Lens does it all for her.

3. Overlays that let you inspect what matters

Overlays provide specific tools like the building footprint overlay. Some conservation easements have size restrictions on building construction. Rather than send staff out to check the building or progress, Lens lets you check for this right in the web app. In the case of the RMEF, all Stephanie had to do was open up Lens, go into Compare Mode, and take a look at the imagery before and after construction. In this case, the new building needed to maintain the same proportions as the old one. It was as simple as looking at two pictures, and it was clear it did. 

This example alone sold Stephanie on Lens a thousand times over.

What would have been a job involving travel, hiring, and significant on the ground coordination became as simple as sitting down with a timeline and looking at the work.

Heading out

Monitoring of any project often goes hand in hand with reporting. For the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, conserving elk habitat means stewarding acres upon acres of land. Lens helps Stephanie and her team conduct ground monitoring when they can while supplementing it with what’s become a necessary tool: remote monitoring. 

Get in touch with how Lens might be right for you and your team.