Friday, March 23, 2018

Code of the West: Fair Play, Loyalty and Respect for the Land

Mr. Daines,

Allow me a few brief qualifiers in an attempt to convey the importance of this message to you, as a representative of Montanans. My name is William (Alex) Hughes, and I am a multi-generational Montanan, currently residing in Missoula, with most of my family in the Bitterroot Valley, originally from north-central Montana. I work in medical sales throughout western Montana, I am a military veteran, I am an avid hunter and outdoorsman, and I am a generally conservative person and voter. Additionally, I serve on the board of a local rod and gun club that keeps me informed and involved with not just local outdoor issues, but also with how the everyday folks of western Montana perceive and feel about these issues. I can certainly tell you that we expect our elected officials to meet with their constituents to hear questions, comments, concerns, etc.

I will now address your recent proposal legislation that would release 450,000 acres of wilderness study areas. I’m sure you are being inundated by various groups and organizations on the pros and cons of wilderness, different types of access, wildlife biology, etc. The evidence of the importance of wilderness study areas to wildlife is obviously important, but that is not the point of this letter. The one aspect I would like to highlight concerning the details is as follows: access must be defined when it comes to land management, and I fear that you have intentionally equivocated when it comes to using that word. Of course the wilderness study areas have access, and you know that. But, you highjack an appealing word while omitting the detail that your bills would allow motorized access, with the hopes that most voters without the time or care to learn the details will think that you are unlocking land that was previously inaccessible at all. We live in Montana! There is more than enough land in nearly every corner of this giant state for every type of access, including extraction; there is also more than enough room to limit types of access in some of these areas. Transparency and resolute honesty are traits held by the few politicians and leaders of this country that have stood the test of time and whose names are remembered honorably. You should strive to demonstrate these traits in your office.

Finally, to return to my main point. I pointed out that I generally hold conservative values. It absolutely pains me that public land management has become a partisan issue, and that I have to emphasize my own views in order to gain the ear of my republican elected officials. Mr. Daines, you are antagonizing and alienating a large contingency of voters that should be a substantial part of your base. Many of my friends and peers are hunters, veterans, businessmen, and healthcare providers who also share conservative values, and are infuriated by this legislation. You are not representing Montanans with your current legislative actions, and I urge you to deeply consider why you chose to run for office, and what your position truly represents from a historical, philosophical, and pragmatic perspective. Please do not sell out your people for industry, or for a vocal minority of special interest groups who do not have our best interests in mind.


Alex Hughes

Monday, March 19, 2018

Member Profile: Pelah Hoyt

Member Profile:  Founding Board Member Pelah Hoyt

Name: Pelah Hoyt

Occupation: Land Conservation

How long have you been a member of Hellgate Hunters & Anglers?
Founding board member

How did your passion for wildlife, wild places, and fair chase hunting and fishing blossom?
Hunting with my dad in the Blackfoot

Favorite/most memorable hunting/fishing story? 

“Momma, you got an antelope!” my six-year-old twins yelled as they ran towards me. Their hunter’s orange glowed in the setting sun. It was the last day of our hunt in the Centennial Valley. It took a while for us to figure out how to hunt “lopers” here, and we thought we’d come home empty handed. But as they sun started to set on the last day, my buddy and I each got one on the count of three. We were all grateful to be together in this beautiful place with food for the freezer.

Favorite River/Hunting snack?
Halloween candy

If you had to pawn everything- what hunting /fishing item could you not live without?
Shooting sticks

Who took you on your first Hunting/Fishing trip?  Do you still hunt and fish with them today?
My dad. Yes, he is one of my main hunting buddies.

What is your advice for younger generations?
Take care of the places you love.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Member Profile: Adam Shaw

Member Profile:  HHA Vice President Adam Shaw
The good end of the rainbow
Learning to fish with Dad
Name: Adam Shaw

Occupation: Attorney

How long have you been a member of Hellgate Hunters & Anglers? 
8 years and I’ve been on the board for four years.

How did your passion for wildlife, wild places, and fair chase hunting and fishing blossom? 
My Dad, Uncle, and Grandfathers all revered untrammeled wild places. When I was young, they would take me into the mountains and deserts of Arizona to explore. I grew up listening to stories about my great, great Grandfather, who was a Government trapper in the Arizona Territory before it became a state. My Dad and Uncle also told lots of humorous stories of various backpacking trips they took in wilderness areas. My Uncle Brian, who is a great hunter, was always admired for his hunting and fishing prowess and I’ve always looked up to that. He once caught a huge rainbow trout with his bare hands and it's on the wall in my Grandpa’s shop. He also has a local wild Gambel’s quail he trained that jumps on his shoulder if it happens to be around – yeah, he’s that guy! I guess I grew up listening to hunting, fishing, and exploring stories and that fed my love for hunting and fishing in wild places.

Favorite/most memorable hunting/fishing story? 
That’s tough! But one particular boondoggle sticks out. I moved back to Missoula from Dillon, Montana and was blessed with twin boys. Work and rascal wrangling has put a damper on my fishing addiction. However, my great friend Kit Fischer indulges me often, and on one occasion took me on a float through one of his honey holes. The game: every man for himself in a personal pontoon on a river known for big cutthroats. I chose to take a beautiful Winston 4-weight fly rod my father-in-law had recently given me as a gift and I had yet to fish. I also brought a 7 weight as a spare since my 5 weight had been broken and not repaired…because…I’m a father of twins.

I started the day by forgetting my wading boots while explaining to Kit that I had nearly zero experience operating a pontoon kick-boat whilst fishing and floating down a river. He didn’t seem concerned, so I went along carefree. Then we put in. For those of you who aren’t accustomed to this form of floating, the idea is you float down the river in a personal pontoon while using fins to steer yourself. This allows you to fish at the same time – if you’re good. Seems simple. But in practice, its like trying to tie your shoes while you’re jumping.

I was happily floating along for forty minutes casting a yellow sally when I approached the first significant rapid. I wedged the Winston in between the tube and my seat with the tip pointing backward. Plunging through the rapid I noticed the yellow sally miraculously hooked to the tube by my left leg. Anyone who’s grabbed a hot pan can attest to the processing delay while you’re being burned. By the time I grabbed the tippet, it pulled taught, snapped, and the yellow sally sat in my hand.  

After an hour standing in the rapid waving my arms side to side to feel the line - a tactic brown bears use to fish for salmon - I noticed two anglers standing on the shore. The first one opined “isn’t it a little early to have had so much to drink?” Given my condition, I figured it was a little late to be so sober. After enduring the smart-ass, I had to give up on the rod and catch up with Kit, who was likely miles ahead. Harkening to a past life, I simply figured I’d come back a few weeks later when the river dropped and find the rod. I could see my bride’s face with two screaming babies in her arms while I explained that I had to spend another day on the river to look for a lost rod.

I’d like to say the trip got better, but I spent the next 9 hours trying to similarly lose the 7 WT. I once looked to my left to see its handle bobbing like a periscope of despair before I grabbed it as it sunk. We dragged our silly crafts over dozens of rock gardens while walking backward in fins. It all culminated at the take-out where Kit dumped the contents of his boat bag in the river. The entire day, I endured the crushing decision of telling my father-in-law that I lost the Winston before I ever really fished it.  

The cold beer at the truck couldn’t massage the edge of losing the rod. We did catch some fine cutthroat but overall, the fishing wasn’t good. The coup de grace to my anguish came a few weeks later when I was in Minneapolis for work. A text message from Kit showed the Winston on his kitchen table. He and another friend, Josh Conner, went back with wetsuits, masks and snorkels and fished her out.

My father-in-law loved the story. I learned valuable lessons: It’s good to have great friends. Great to have good single friends with lots of time. And always keep one hand on your rod.

Favorite River/Hunting snack? 
Pudding cups. I do a backpack archery hunt every year with my best friend, Evan. My wife, Erin, took over food planning after watching us flail and legitimately worry we’d starve. The first year she tossed in pudding cups which I objected to because of their bulk and general absurdness. Aren’t we supposed to be eating pemmican, bark, and small woodland animals if necessary?! When you eat a pudding cup for dessert after days in the mountains, you’ll thank Erin.

Choose your weapon:  fly rod, rifle, or bow? 
Ooooooh! Hard question. Close between bow and fly rod. I’d rather hunt elk with a bow than just about anything. However, I have to go with a fly rod. I can’t even fathom not fishing.

One bug Challenge: If you had to use one bug for the whole season what would it be? 
I’d go with what my fishing buddies and I call “Wonder Bug.” It’s an old Tony Schoonen pattern for the Big Hole. I can’t explain it, but it works everywhere in all conditions.   

What is the best hunting/fishing advice you have received? 
Keep up the PHA! Positive Hunting Attitude. Pronounced (“Fa”). Hunting can change in an instant and staying positive is crucial. Especially on multi-day hunts. And of course, mind the wind. I’m very serious about wind conditions.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Member Profile: Katie McKalip

HHA Board Member Katie McKalip

Each week leading up to our annual fundraiser we will be profiling one of our Hellgate Hunters & Anglers members and their love for Montana’s Hunting and Fishing opportunities. 
Next up:  HHA Board Member, Katie McKalip 

Occupation: Communications Director, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

How long have you been a member of Hellgate Hunters & Anglers? About a decade

Favorite/most memorable hunting/fishing story?  I’ll tell you my most recent favorite story, from just last fall. I had one day to fill my deer tag and spent it in the Swan with my good friend Vickie. I have two little kids and my husband lives to hunt big game, so getting out and about can be a challenge. The snow was beautiful but crunchy. We hunted hard all morning and afternoon, saw lots of tracks but never got a shot. Late afternoon came, I’d pretty much written things off, then a chubby little buck strolled toward me from behind some trees. I shot him in the neck and dropped him in his tracks. Got him back to the rig just after dark, got back to Missoula right before the kids went to bed. They were wildly excited. All this courtesy of our public lands on the Flathead National Forest.

Have you ever been lost?  All who wander are not lost.

Choose your weapon:  fly rod, rifle, or bow?  Shotgun. If I could choose one hunt for the rest of my days it would be chasing wild birds on public lands with good friends and great dogs.

What is the story behind your first fly rod or gun?  Who gave it to you?  I have my dad’s Ruger pistol. He got it in Delta Junction, Alaska, when he was in the Army. This was back in the late 50s. I have two big brothers, but Dad gave the gun to me. I don’t shoot it a lot, but I like taking it out every now and then.

Who took you on your first Hunting/Fishing trip?  Do you still hunt and fish with them today? My grandfather – my mom’s dad – used to let me and my brothers come fishing with him on Lake Erie. He was a cranky old codger. He used to point his cane at us when he got mad, which for some reason scared the daylights out of me. But he’d always relax once he got a fishing pole in his hand.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Member Profile: Kit Fischer

HHA President Kit Fischer
Each week leading up to our annual fundraiser we will be profiling one of our Hellgate Hunters & Anglers members and their love for Montana’s Hunting and Fishing opportunities. 

First up:  HHA President Kit Fischer 

Name: Kit Fischer

Occupation: Wildlife Conservation with National Wildlife Federation

How long have you been a member of Hellgate Hunters & Anglers? 8 years

How did your passion for wildlife, wild places, and fair chase hunting and fishing blossom?  I grew up hiking, fishing and paddling every nook and corner of the state.  My folks wrote wildlife and river guide books and my brother and I were eager to join in on the adventures.

Favorite/most memorable hunting/fishing story?  Lost in a blizzard chasing a wounded elk on Ovando Mountain with my brother.  We argued about everything- his shot placement, how long to wait for it to bleed out/get covered with snow, and ultimately how to know when you’re really lost.  When you’re arguing about which direction a frozen creek is running, you’re lost.  We eventually found a camper trailer late at night and knocked on the door- an old couple invited us in for cookies and coffee and gave us a ride 8 miles to our truck.

Who took you on your first Hunting/Fishing trip?  My Dad still loves telling me how to set up a better duck spread, be a better bird hunter, shooter, caller, dog handler, driver, and gentleman. My Dad and Steve Woodruff took me up to Brown’s Lake for my first duck hunt when I was maybe 9.  He gave me a single shot .410 for some early gun safety and training and was stunned when I dropped a green wing in the decoys.  Unfortunately, my shooting has only gone downhill since then.

What is the best hunting/fishing advice you have received?  You can spend as much money on fancy hunting gear and guns as you want, but if you don’t put serious time in the woods, prepare to be disappointed.  Hunting is the great equalizer. A $2000 custom rifle will do the same thing as your grandpa’s venerable Springfield .30-06 if you know how to use it. 

How many Honey Holes have you lost to ex’s?  I’ve lost more spots during the courting stage of a relationship than the dating stage.  Hormones are rushing, you’re trying to ensure a good time so you slip and go to your best fishing or hunting or gathering spot - neurons aren’t firing correctly, secrets are exposed. Seemingly they all carry write-in-the-rain notebooks in their back pockets.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Our Public Lands on the Fence

By Todd Tanner

As Google Earth flies, it’s 5 miles and change from the Echo Lake Cafe, which is one of the Flathead Valley’s great little restaurants, to the parking area at Camp Misery.  The trip looks relatively innocuous on a computer screen, but in real life it’s a bumpy half hour by car. Down here in the valley, we’re at 3000’.  Up where the gravel road dead-ends, and where the trail into the Jewel Basin starts, you’re looking at almost twice that.  If you happen to make it all the way to the top of 7500’ Mt. Aneas, you’ll be rubbing elbows with some truly amazing, top-of-the-world views, not to mention mule deer and mountain goats.

In case you’re wondering, we’re talking almost a mile of elevation change.  The really amazing thing, though, is that once you leave the valley floor, all that land, which stretches on seemingly forever, belongs to you, me, and our fellow Americans.  It doesn’t matter whether you live here in Montana, or in Colorado, or Wyoming, or New Mexico. That acreage, which is administered on our behalf by the U.S. Forest Service, is ours.  We we can roam where we choose, we can hike, we can fish the lakes and pick fresh huckleberries for lunch and pitch our tents under that awesome, majestic Big Sky. We’re free to wander to our heart’s content on public land - and for an awful lot of Americans, that’s an incredible thing.

Now whether you, personally, ever take advantage of a place like Jewel Basin, or float the North Fork, or hunt western Montana’s backcountry, is almost besides the point.  The fact that you own those places, and that you benefit, either directly or indirectly, from all that clean air, clean water and wildlife, along with the billions of dollars that our Federal lands inject, year in and year out, into our economy … well, it’s a pretty incredible dividend, paid on the principal - or make that the principle - of public lands. 

I’d go so far as to say that here in Montana, and across the West, our public lands equate to freedom.  Actually, let’s make that freedom and prosperity, because almost everything of substance, from our western heritage to our economy to our recreation, flows down from the bounty of our public lands.  

Which is why it’s so disappointing that 51 U.S. Senators, every single one entrusted with our nation’s well-being, just cast a vote that could help destroy the West; that could turn over America’s public lands to multi-national corporations; that could lock out hunters and hikers and shift control of our timber, our grazing rights, and our minerals, along with the very life blood of the West - our water - to rapacious profiteers and foreign interests.  

That’s right.  51 U.S. Senators just voted in favor of selling off our public lands; in favor of high fences and “No Trespassing” signs. The won’t tell you that, of course.  No, they’ll stand in front of their microphones, puffed out like the cat who ate the canary, and state that they’re for smaller government and state’s rights and local control.  But once you sort through the fine print and make your way through the obligatory smoke & mirrors, you come, first slowly, and then almost inescapably, to the truth of the matter.  This is about power, and plunder, and money.  It’s about water, which is the source of all that power here in the West.  And it’s about the fact that an awful lot of folks back in DC want to privatize our federal lands.  

Montana author Hal Herring called the vote, “an attempt to re-create our country, to vanquish forever the notion that we citizens can hold anything in common. It’s a new paradigm, where the majority of Americans are landless subjects with little recourse in the courts or political process"  Sadly, only a handful of western senators, including Senator Tester of Montana and Senators Bennet and Gardner of Colorado, voted “No.”

So it looks like we have an important decision to make.  Do we turn our back on this grand experiment in democracy?  Do we accept that the future will always be smaller and shabbier than the past?  Do we resign ourselves to a world where our freedoms are locked away behind “No Trespassing” signs?  Or will we choose to fight for what’s ours?  

Because that’s the real question.  Will we give up? Or will we, as a nation, as citizens, stand up and defend the America passed down from our fore-fathers?  

It brings to mind the question Mrs. Powell asked Benjamin Franklin back in 1787.  

“Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” 

Franklin’s response still rings true today. 

“A republic, if you can keep it.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Access Denied

By Ben Lamb

In the four sessions I’ve worked the Montana Legislature one truth has been ever present: Some legislators don’t like Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and they detest sportsmen lobbyists. That’s why there’s traditionally been over 150 – 200 bills a session dealing with critters. It’s been an onslaught from folks looking to legislate hunting seasons because they were upset when the Commission restored the 90% rule on resident elk hunting in Central and Eastern Montana to eliminating the ability to sensibly manage large carnivores because the wolf wasn’t coming off the endangered species list fast enough.

That’s changed this session, in large part to the sheer numbers of wildlife and access lobbyists in the building, and the overwhelming support FWP, hunting, fishing, public land and access have in Montana. In fact, every session, hundreds of Montanans show up to protest thoughtless, damaging bills being pushed to eliminate access and steal our public lands.
Access is sacrosanct in Montana. Every election cycle it’s a cornerstone of campaigns on both sides of the aisle. It’s an issue that bridges the partisan gap, except for some. Representative Dave Hagstrom (R-Billings) seems to have fallen in with a bad crowd. During executive action for HB 403 on March 25th,  he supported not only gutting the authority of FWP to spend license dollars on programs that sportsmen and women support, fight for and get established, but to eliminate those programs altogether in 2017:

There are some people who just don’t want the state buying more land and we want to think about it. And I share Representative Ellis’s angst, that I don’t really like the state to hang on to 12 million dollars for another two years, but I think this will give us the chance to work for the next two years on removing that statutory authority for the state to just continue to accumulate money to buy more land.

That’s right, no more waterfowl production sites, conservation easements with access requirements. No more wildlife management areas to protect critical winter range and no more fishing access sites.

Besides the obvious attack on access and the $6 billion outdoor economy, Hagstrom’s wrong. The state doesn’t accrue those funds. FWP does. Those are user fees paid by hunters and anglers who have mandated through their advocacy and legislation that the funds must be unavailable to the State for other uses. They’re not going to education, legislator healthcare or any other program. They’ll just sit there, not being used as statutorily mandated.

·         Here’s the list of what has been removed from HB 403:

Reduced the state special revenue appropriation for the Migratory Bird Program by $210,000 and restricted the use of the balance to prevent land acquisition. 
·         Eliminated the Upland Game Bird program appropriation of $849,000. 
·         Eliminated the Habitat Montana program appropriation of $10,668,000. 
·         Eliminated the Big Horn Sheep Habitat program appropriation of $460,000. 
·         Eliminated the Fishing Access Site program appropriation of $345,000. 
The amendments resulted in total reductions of $12,532,000 to FWP land acquisition, conservation and access programs. 

Fishing, apparently, is a great threat to private property rights. So is working on Bighorn Sheep Habitat. And more ducks.

Some legislators are still upset over the former Governor Schweitzer’s policies of purchasing lands. We all get that. But let’s look at the reality of the last two years. Governor Bullock made it a priority to pull those purchases back and focus on managing what FWP currently owns and working with landowners on conservation easements.

When you look at the Natural Resources sub-committee that worked on this issue, it’s not difficult to see why these programs were cut. Senator John Brenden has been antagonistic to sportsmen and FWP since buffalo roamed Daniels county. Senator Matt Rosendale hasn’t been a friend of access or sportsmen during his tenure either. Representative Nancy Balance doesn’t seem to want to understand that diversion of FWP funds for her pet projects like compensating landowners for crop damage and forcing FWP to spend $350K a year on shooting ranges would cost us $24 million a year in excise tax funds that help manage wildlife. Chairman Glimm, a sophomore representative from Kila seems like a nice enough guy, but, he was clearly demonstrating a lack of knowledge on how FWP budgeting works through his questions to the agency. Yet here he was, chairing the committee in charge of allocating authority to FWP to spend sportsmen’s money.

And now we have Representative Hagstrom, who laid it out perfectly in his testimony on the 25th of March: The goal is to eliminate these wildly popular programs & shut down access and access funding.

Representative Hagstrom having a bad day. 
Luckily, sportsmen & wildlife lobbyists have been paying attention and as HB 403 moves through the process. The bill passed the House and it’s been referred to Senate Finance and Claims. If the Montana GOP hopes to retain hunters and anglers in their core, they’re going to have to restore the spending authority so access isn’t cratered by the same people claiming that the State can manage 31 million acres of public land.

Senators Brenden and Rosendale have been leading proponents of the transfer and sale of public land, which is a bit of a head-scratcher since it’s been Senator Brenden and Senator Rosendale who have been enthusiastic supporters of disallowing the state to gain any new lands in the past sessions (No Net Gain bills magically disappeared this session). Now, they’re voting to eliminate critical access programs on one hand, while telling everyone that public lands, which allow a heck of a lot more access than state lands, are evil and the cause of everyone’s distemper and flu along with economic hard times (regardless of the fact that the state has a whopping budget surplus).

Meanwhile, the Montana Shooting Sports Association & Chairwoman Ballance continue to push the failed concept of mandatory spending on gun ranges. I suppose, in the end game for these guys, we’ll all have guns (except FWP) and we’ll all line up at shooting ranges flinging lead into targets instead of up in the hills, looking for elk.

Senate Finance and Claims can fix this mess easily. Just restore the spending authority and give hunters and anglers the access programs they constituently fight for back. Because, as Representative Hagstrom said: That’s the big downside to it, it does eliminate access to some hunting and fishing sites, and so that’s what we’ll argue about.”  

And we will argue about it until the authority to provide access is restored.