ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — The COVID-19 pandemic has hit outdoor organizations hard when it comes to traditional fundraising. But it’s also forcing a shift in how many groups might operate going forward.

Brian Krebs is part of a team that wants to help shift that fundraising model even once things do get back to normal in a nonpandemic world.

Krebs, an Alexandria, Minn., native who now lives in West Fargo, N.D., is part of a group of business owners, brand creators and social-media influencers who are using their online presence to raise money for a project that would purchase a private piece of land to open up a permanent easement to the Raymond Mountain Wilderness Study Area in southwest Wyoming.

The Raymond Mountain WSA consists of 32,936 acres of public land used by countless wildlife species that includes moose, elk, deer and grouse. Now, it is nearly impossible to access without private permission, with the only public access points requiring miles of hiking over extreme terrain.

“The project itself is about a $260,000 project,” Krebs said. “I would be happy to fully fund this through the efforts of our team. I know the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Wyoming Game and Fish are also working on how they can fundraise for this as well. But if we hit the $260,000 goal as a team of independent brands and creators, that just opens up the door for so many of those other dollars to go toward other projects.

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"My vision is to change the fundraising arena from banquets and in-person events to more of a direct to consumer, online grassroots effort using the social media platforms.”

Brian Krebs. (Contributed photo)
Brian Krebs. (Contributed photo)

Krebs just started his own company — Bull Elk Beard Oil — on May 1 of this year. With a name like that, he is marketing toward members of the outdoor community, and he knew from the get-go that he wanted the company to stand up for public lands, wildlife habitat and conservation. He’s proving that during September, public lands month, by donating all of the proceeds from sales through Bull Elk Beard Oil to the Raymond Mountain WSA project.

“I figured what better way to show what we stand for as a company than to make a big stand for public land and do a 100% donated proceeds for the month of September,” Krebs said.

The cause of opening up public land is definitely personal for Krebs. Almost every year, he is using public lands out west to do an archery big-game hunt. He drew a once-in-a-lifetime elk tag in North Dakota last year and shot a bull on public ground in his home state.

“Hunting public land is monumental to my personal passions,” Krebs said. “It’s given us the opportunity to chase our dreams with hunting across the country. Without it, it would be impossible.”

He knows that’s the case for many hunters who dream of the opportunity to hunt big-game species like elk and mule deer, but who can’t afford or don’t want to go on guided hunts on private property. As an entire group, the individuals and companies Krebs is involved with have a social-media reach of more than 500,000 followers.

“So if you get every 10th person to buy one shirt, one of our products, even donate $1, all of a sudden we are talking about a major amount of money going directly toward a specific project,” Krebs said. “It’s 100% to a specific project and you know exactly where that’s going. There’s GPS coordinates where you could go and step foot on the piece of land you helped purchase.”

Krebs has been asked why he did not search for a project that could benefit public lands in his home state of North Dakota, but he wanted to do something in a state that has more big-game opportunity for nonresidents. States such as Montana, Wyoming and Colorado generally have the best draw odds or over-the-counter tag opportunities for species like elk and mule deer.

Krebs started his search for projects by reaching out to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers — two organizations heavily involved in fighting for access to public lands — to see what might be available.

“I started working with these organizations and that’s where they already had the Raymond Mountain Project in the works,” Krebs said. “They were launching it on their sides on Sept. 1, so it turned out to be a great opportunity to partner with them for this project.”

Opening up landlocked acres of public land (areas that are surrounded by private land without any or very limited public access) has become a huge point of emphasis for outdoor groups with advanced GPS technology helping to understand the depth of this issue.

A 2018 report by onX, the GPS mapping company, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership found a total of 15.87 million acres of state and federal public lands that are currently landlocked in western states.

Opening up those lands generally takes a private landowner who is willing to sell and the funds to make it happen. Krebs believes in the power of grassroots fundraising efforts to get the job done in raising money toward this goal. The Raymond Mountain Wilderness WSA project is just the start of many similar fundraising efforts he hopes to help make a difference with.

“This is the first year we’re doing this,” Krebs said. “It’s been tough, it’s been a challenge. It’s been exciting, but I want to keep doing this year in and year out to the point where our team of fundraisers are raising enough dollars to do multiple access projects across the west each year. That would be my ultimate dream.”

How to donate

Learn how to donate to this particular Raymond Mountain WSA project by going to Brian Krebs’ public lands page at www.bullelkbeardoil.com/pages/public-lands-month. The $260,000 fundraising effort would go toward purchasing a permanent easement on private land to open up more than 32,000 public-land acres in southwest Wyoming.