Open Country just got a little more open.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation announced another property acquisition, this one involving 560 acres along the South Fork of the John Day River in Oregon.

“This transaction is vital because it not only protects crucial winter range, aspen stands and scarce water resources for elk and other wildlife, but it increases the availability of public access for hunting and other types of recreation,” said Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands and Conservation in a media release. “It also fends off the possibility of development which could have led to new construction, creating habitat loss, fragmentation and the permanent loss of access.”

The 560-acre parcel will allow increased access to thousands of acres of public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

About 400 head of elk winter on the property, which is also home to mule deer, antelope, bears, mountain lions and bighorn sheep.

And the purchase isn’t the only contribution that RMEF has made to the area. In 1997, the organization also contributed 2,479 acres of land as part of the ODFW Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area and has helped to protect some 31,000 acres of habitat in the Dayville area and about 325,000 acres across the Blue Mountains range.

While much of Open Country’s focus is on hands-on access projects and enhancements, the focus on key land acquisitions is of critical importance to the overall access concept — without access to the lands that we can hunt and fish, those lands aren’t of much value.

RMEF has embraced this concept and spends its funds accordingly. As hunters, we should be thankful that they do.