Friday, December 16, 2011

Goose Flutin Away

Goose Flutin Away!

Land Tawney

This past week I happened upon a congregation of geese rarely seen in western MT. Over 500 of the giant honkers were working some fields just west of Missoula. On Friday, I watched waves and waves of birds land in a field like they were college kids heading in for a Chinese all you can eat buffet. I stopped in at the adjacent residence to inquire about access. The woman who answered the door was pleasant as could be but informed me that they only leased the land and that I would have to contact the owners…and she said it was highly unlikely that we would get permission. I made some calls and at this posting…no confirmation yet, up or down. On Saturday I returned to see what the geese were up to. They were now landing in a different field across the road. Again, the Canadians were landing in droves with no care in the world. I inquired at the nearby farmhouse, but they gave me a similar story as before. They were kind enough to pass along the name of the landowner whose field was being assaulted by the geese.

Quite easily I was able to raise the landowner but to no avail. I wasn’t the first to ask but the answer was the same to all, no. I was polite and understand that it was his prerogative. At this point my shirt was soaked from salivating over this migratory opportunity. I ended up getting access to a field within 300 yards of where the honey hole was…now it was time to plan our trickery. It was time for the Sunday sermon!

I called up my friend who has fowl fever just as bad as me. Our meeting time in the morning was discussed feverishly, with the final time of 6:15am being decided on, which of course my partner broke. I pulled my gear together that night, checked it twice, and set out the fixins for hot cocoa.

The next morning, I gathered my decoys, warm clothes, and cocoa as quietly as possible not to wake the two young kids and feel the much understood heat from my wife. My fellow fowler was late, so I drug out all my decoys and waited for him to arrive. After he arrived and after much discussion, we decided on the traditional “V”. Super Magnum shells on the front edge to attract attention, silhouettes to fill in the middle and our legion of full body flocked heads for the finishers. It took some time but we were set up before first light. And then we waited, and waited some more…it wasn’t a question of if the geese were coming but when. In an instant the familiar honk was heard. A sentry had been sent to check out the lay of the land. We gave the appropriate honks in return and the massive bird finished beautifully into the decoys, he didn’t leave. My partner and I looked at each other thinking instantly the same thing….if this was any indication on how they day was going to go; we were in for a barn burner.

For the next hour and a half, wave after wave of honkers would appear groups of twenty, fifteen, and fifty! But alas, they were fixed on the adjacent field. They came on a line from the river and descended into the field with one fail sweep. Each time we saw a squadron we would hit the flag trying to grab their attention, followed by honks after honks after honks. Goose flutes have never been played with such vigor, but to no avail. I’m still feeling the pains of frustration. Sometimes even the best laid plans don’t bear fruit…though I’m still holding out hope for a game changing phone call.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Forest Jobs & Recreation Act: Doin’ Good for Montana Hunting and Fishing

By Ben Long

Montana is 150,000 square miles, about a third of it national forest. In all that space, is there room for logging? Most say, heck yes.

And in all that space, are there special places to protect and keep natural, wild and free? Again, most folks would say, “darned straight.”

That practical, open-minded, can-do attitude is behind the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Montanans are served best when we put ideological battles aside and focus on solutions.

The bill is a made-in-Montana effort that will protect the best of the best hunting and fishing habitat in western Montana, repair old scars on the land, while providing loggers and local sawmills with jobs that protect forests, improve habitat. Along the way, the bill provides the mills some stability to help navigate and escape the current economic hard times.

The bill has broad public support, including small local sawmills, solution-based conservation groups like the Montana Wilderness Association and Sportsmen’s groups like Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Montana Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

But what does it mean for Montana sportsmen?

Good question. Sportsmen should take serious look at the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (FJRA) because it will address some of the most pressing issues facing Montana’s Great Outdoors.

So where does FJRA apply? Basically, it covers three different parts of Montana: The Three Rivers District of the Kootenai National Forest (also known as the Yaak Valley;) the Lolo National Forest near Ovando, in the Clearwater Drainage; and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, which sprawls over southwestern Montana.

Why these three places? They share one thing in common. Locals and folks who love and use these places got together, neighbor-to-neighbor, to break through past deadlock so prevalent in national forest management. Sen. Tester saw those local, broad-based efforts, and wrapped them in to one bill.

All this country is important for hunters and anglers, but the biggest deal is the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. This is the largest national forest in Montana. Roughly a third of the elk harvested in Montana come from in or near the Beaverhead-Deerlodge. When people say they’re elk hunting “down around Dillon,” they most often mean the B-D.

The Beaverhead-Deerlodge is also the headwaters of some of Montana’s most storied and famous trout fisheries — the Bighole, Ruby, Beaverhead, Madison. These are the rivers featured in the calendars and catalog covers. So it’s a small wonder this bill has caught the attention of sportsmen.

So what does the bill actually do?
1) it protects the Best of the Best.
2) it repairs scars on the land.
3) it sics loggers on buggy lodgepole pine.

Protecting the Best of the Best

First, let’s talk about protecting the best of the best. Yes, the bill protects wilderness areas. It does not “create” wilderness. Rather, it identifies lands that Montanans have long said should remain pristine and natural and protects them under the Wilderness Act.

These areas are important as sources of cold, clean water for downstream trout fisheries. They are also great places for backcountry hunting and fishing. Of course, some folks prefer hunting near their rigs and a handy road; but for folks who seek solitude and big, wild country, these places are priceless and irreplaceable.

So what places would be protected as wilderness? In the Beaverhead Deerlodge, it includes the Snowcrest Range, Italian Peaks, the high country of the West Big Hole, the East and West Pioneers, the Sapphires and the Highlands.

The bill will also make some additions to the Mission Mountain Wilderness and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex near Ovando. Up the Yaak, the bill will protect Roderick Mountain, the biggest and least developed mountain in this lush, inland rain forest. Those places provide great security habit for bucks and bulls to reach their breeding and trophy potential, and under this bill they will continue to do so.

Repairing Scars on the Land

Now, a lot of our national forests are not pristine. Let’s face it — we’ve learned a lot about how to extract natural resources over the past 100 years by doing it wrong. We used to run logs down the river, and blow up logjams with dynamite. We used to use Idaho Jammers to skid logs, with roads every 100 feet, blocking streams with poorly placed culverts. We used to use placer and dredge mining and other destructive practices in search of gold.

Those kinds of practices left scars on the land that can take centuries to heal, or might never mend if left to nature. But the Forest Service has rarely had funds to address those problems. In the past, the Forest Service sold timber to sawmills, but the revenues largely went back to the Federal Treasury.

This bill would create stewardship contracting. This is an entirely different way of managing the forest. Instead of selling trees and sending the revenues back to the Beltway Sinkhole, the money is re-invested right on the land. Stewardship contractors direct land managers to maintain trails, restore impassable roads we need and zip up and put to bed old skid roads and jammer roads that are long since obsolete.

This has a lot of benefits for hunters and anglers. We finally have tools to repair old slumps and blowouts that impair trout streams. We can improve elk security habitat – and thus improve hunter opportunity – by restoring habitat. The work is out there, waiting to get done. Contract stewardship gives the Forest Service new tools to do it.

Logging beetle-prone lodgepole stands

Much of southwestern Montana is blanketed with lodgepole pine, grown in the wake of massive forest fires of a century ago. Lodgepole pine is a relatively fast-growing tree. Particularly in times of drought, it’s prone to bark beetles and forest fires. Foresters say the pine stands of 100-year-old trees are basically on borrowed time.

Now, elk hunters know that nasty, thick “dark woods” full of blow-down, jackstraw, dog-hair are the kind of places elk go to hide when hunting pressure heats up. No doubt, acres and acres of those kinds of forests will continue to remain on the landscape. That’s good, since elk need places to hide.

But elk also need forage. Dark woods provide little in the way of elk forage. We can create elk forage with light-on-the land logging techniques that open the forest to the sun, and allow shrubs and grass to thrive. Better forage equates to better birthrates for does and cows, and improved survival for fawns.

Buggy old lodgepole pine can also be prone to forest fires. That’s a natural process, to which lodgepole pine is superbly adapted. But the fact is, people don’t want big, crown fires to rip through their homes, communities and ranches, for some very good reasons. We will always have some forest fires in Montana, but perhaps we can make them a bit less dangerous and destructive to private property.

Plus, that pine can be put to good use, creating jobs in the woods and in the sawmills and providing 2 x 4s and other wood products. Local small, family sawmills say have the markets for the final product, if they had a bit more raw material.

Other benefits

The bill does more, too. There are local provisions for conservation areas that are not formal Wilderness Areas, but emphasize backcountry recreation. There are other provisions for studying ATV routes and allowing snowmobile recreation areas. You can find the details at

Now, some people do not like the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. The loudest voices seem to come from folks who do not want another acre of Wilderness Areas protected, period, or who do not want another tree logged, period.

No bill is perfect. If I were King of the World, I might have written some parts differently. But that’s not the point. The point is, Montanans can find real solutions when everyone gets to the table and tries to get something done. It’s a damn sight better than what we’ve seen over the past several years: stalemate and gridlock.

Ben Long is co-chairman of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, which supports the Forest Jobs & Recreation Act as it works to pass on America’s hunting and fishing traditions.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A whole lotta Bull

For over 70 years, Montanans have been managing wildlife through a Commission of citizens expressly convened to ride herd over the agency tasked with the day-to-day mechanics of wildlife management. Today, that means five people sit in judgment over the one state agency that goes above and beyond all others when it comes to public input and participation. These five folks are appointed by the Governor. The concepts that led us to a citizen commission to keep the wildlife agencies out of the general appropriations process has proved itself time and time again. The idea was to keep political influences out of the decision-making process when it comes to wildlife management. For the most part, this has insulated Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks from being held hostage by those who would usurp the public trust in favor of short-term economic gains while excluding the public from their own resource: Elk.

No greater example of why this system is needed was evidenced during the last legislative session, where over 250 bills were introduced that dealt with fish and wildlife issues. These were bills that would have classified Mountain Lions as predators (say goodbye to quality cat hunting), negated the Montana wolf management (and negated the Simpson/Tester delisting rider), eliminated the authority of FWP Wardens to aggressively seek out and catch poachers, and a whole host of other poorly thought out, misguided and outright hostile bills. It would have made Montana look more like Texas than, well, Montana.

Now, I don’t always agree with the Commission’s decisions, but at least I have the option of participating in the process and letting my voice be heard. We almost lost that voice in the spring of 2011 during the 62nd Montana State Legislature. However, something pretty damned cool happened: people participated in democracy. Thankfully, they continue to participate.

Currently, FWP is looking for comments on a suite of alternatives to the always-controversial elk archery issue in the Missouri River Breaks including 22 hunt districts outside of the Breaks (and really, most of eastern Montana). These areas are prized hunting destinations for residents and non-residents alike. They’re also some of the most heavily leased lands in MT. Not all of these areas are leased by outfitters; many are leased by hunt clubs or individuals. Both resident and non-residents are actively trying to shore up hunting access and keep it to themselves.

Now, I have no problem if a ranch wants to lease its hunting rights. That’s their business. Private land is private land. Sometimes though, the decisions made based solely on economic gain come back and bite everyone in the ass. In this case, elk populations are over objective due in part to leasing. Elk are over objective in many areas. The business decisions made by ranchers who lease can have a direct impact on their neighbors in the form of increased elk herds which can cause major private property damage to fences, crops and irrigation structures, decreased access for resident hunters, over-crowding, and lead to the idea that mature, antlered elk as an economic driver. In turn, a loophole in the statute that dictates 10% of the hunting opportunity is allocated to non-residents was exploited, and some areas that are heavily leased are comprised primarily of outfitted non-resident archery hunters (C’mon, let’s be honest: how many archery hunters do you know are out there to harvest a cow elk?). That’s the exact thing that Commissions were set up to get away from: market hunting.

While today’s market hunting looks different than the market hunting that shot out of game herds and flocks in the 19th century, it has a chilling effect on the ability of the public to manage, utilize and enjoy the public’s wildlife. It creates a class of landed gentry that controls wildlife, much like the European model.

FWP is forwarding five proposals to deal with the elk archery issue. Here they are, straight from the mouth of FWP:

• The Commission approved recommendations for adjustments to archery seasons in and outside of the Missouri Breaks. The following review of recommendations from the Elk Archery Working Group added another set of either-sex archery permits to each of the bundles in and out of the Breaks. The permits would be available through the drawing as a first and only choice and be valid only on private land outside BMA's in a specific bundle. A person holding one of these permits could not hunt an antlered bull elk in any other hunting district during any other season that license year. For 2012-2013 these permits would be available through the drawings in an unlimited fashion. His will help to determine the appropriate number of limited permits needed to accommodate the number of nonresidents equal to the number of outfitted nonresident elk archery hunters into these bundles in 2007. These permits would remain in place in any district if the elk population objective was met or maintained or if an annual harvest prescription was met. Other alternatives include:
o Status quo
o Status quo with potential adjustment to bundles and permit numbers,
o Adjust the working group recommendation to include mandatory reporting and antlerless only on private land,
o Retain the 2007 season structure

Get your comments in folks. This system only works when you participate. HB 361, SB 255, and HB 285 were the direct result of the elk archery issue. Resident hunters broke the capitol’s internet and flooded the phone lines defending the Commission and the democratic allocation of the wildlife resource from the privateers. Now is not the time to go back to sleep.

The fallout from this issue led FWP to establish an Elk Archery Working Group. Unfortunately, the outcome of this group has led to more polarization and conflict. I don’t think the folks involved were trying to do anything other than find a solution to a difficult problem, both politically and socially. Those folks should be commended for giving up their time and tackling a tough, nasty issue.

The final proposal sets forward a concept that Montana hunters have steadfastly refused to endorse, one user group getting preferential treatment in terms of allocating the resource. The proposal calls for providing either sex permits for private lands that are not involved in Block Management. The proposal is viewed by many within the resident hunting community as the first step down the road towards Ranching for Wildlife, or another scheme to privatize a public resource: Elk. Again, we commend the efforts of the working group but a solution that benefits all user groups is much more desired.

Fight back. Take charge of the destiny of elk hunting in central and eastern Montana. Those critters exist not for the benefit of one or two user groups but for all. They exist because we all (outfitters, landowners, and hunters) work together as stewards, and we manage them for the continued propagation of the species just as much as we manage them for the immediate desire to stick an arrow, or a bullet in them. We seem to forget that we are here to benefit all wildlife, and not the other way around.

Visit FWP's survey monkey to voice your opinion

*Photo by Branden VanDyken, owner of Be The Decoy Archery gear. Made in Montana!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Buffalo Are Back – Well, Almost

By: Jim Posewitz

While it is a little soon to put your ear to the ground to hear the throb of running buffalo -- they are back. Recent efforts to “manage” the Yellowstone buffalo and their quarantined overflow merely represents a passing checkpoint along the route to restoring wild, free ranging, state managed, and huntable Montana buffalo. The current proposal involved the idea of penning the brucellosis free surplus either on the Spotted Dog or Marias Wildlife Management areas. The idea drew little support from Montana hunters and open hostility from vicinity landowners. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission made the right decision today in allocating the available buffalo to herds managed by Montana Indian Tribes. Given the truth of history, there is a certain moral justice in that decision. Besides, there was no “fair chase” hunting potential in the corralled buffalo.

As the buffalo drama continues to play itself out in our natural and political environments we must sharpen our focus on the CMR Wildlife Refuge and its potential to host wild, free ranging buffalo. Over a million acres of public land, once home to this iconic species, make the refuge ideal for initiating this consummate wildlife conservation aspiration. Add adjacent public lands and the area’s potential triples. For now, an immediate start on the CMR is clearly in order. It is time for the U.S. Department of Interior and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to launch a joint environmental assessment on the restoration of buffalo. That assessment will focus on the natural environment. While the assessment is underway the rest of us need to address the political environment by spreading the message that we are ready to put the final piece of the North American wildlife restoration miracle in place. It will be a treasure our generation can pass to hunters still within the womb of time.

**Photo is of Jake Butt with 2011 Bull in Crow Pasture. Jake submitted this photo in the photo contest. Good luck in winning some more Sitka gear Jake, looks like you already swear by it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Grab your guns!

The Northern birds are descending upon us in legions. PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN and FEED your family! Reports from all over Western MT say the big breasted, green headed, orange legged birds are here in record numbers. The cold weather has pushed the birds down and concentrated them on any open water. It’s time to head to your favorite honey hole south to the Bitterroot, north to the Flathead and East and West on the Clark Fork…Grab your shotguns and at least a box of shells! Christmas has come early and who knows how long the weather will last and how long birds will be here. I’ve got a serious case of duck fever and for the short term must live vicariously through my friends. Yes, this is an All Points Bulletin…get out early and get out often. As careful…it’s a cold world out there.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Photo Contest

Photos must be from 2011 hunting season

No illegally taken game

Photo with the most likes wins the prize

Upload your photos to the Bully Pulpit's facebook page

Deadline is January 20th

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words…now your hunting pictures could be worth much more than that. Our friends at Sitka Gear have donated a 90% Jacket in Open Country, a $249 piece of gear that lives up to the hype.

The 90% Jacket is described best by the folks at Sitka:

The 90% is for tough grinds, mellow breezes, and the need for speed. Built to work with you while powering up hills, the 90% Jacket is built of a durable, and breathable, 2-way stretch, DWR treated soft shell material. Designed for the active hunter, and sturdily supported by the innovative soft shell finish.

You’ve seen guys like Randy Newberg and Mark Seacat sport this gear. If it can’t stand up to the abuse of some of Montana’s baddest hunters, then it can stand up to anything. The photo with the most “likes” gets the photographer a sweet piece of gear.

Montana’s hunters just spent the last few months chasing pronghorn, deer, elk, and a host of other game species. We’re still hunting wolves, lions, waterfowl and upland game birds. All tallied, Montana’s hunters can spend over 6-8 months in the field once we add in birds, spring seasons and extended archery hunts. That’s a lot of time to take some incredible photos. Let’s see who has the best photographic skill, as well as the best skill with a bow, rifle or shotgun… but no spears!

Scenery shots, hero poses and kids with their first critters; we want to see them all! Post them up and let’s get this ball rolling.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Recruits

There’s been a lot of smoke and a little fire around Montana the week after the general rifle season closed. Overall, it was a bit of a slow season. Reports are being released from Check Stations around Montana, and it appears the last two weeks of the season were the most productive in terms of harvesting elk, and of course, rutted-up deer. We’ve hit 100 on the overall wolf quota, and I fully expect to see that number climb during the next month

FWP’s proposal to expand the wolf season is being considered next week at the Commission meeting, and the long-awaited proposal from the Missouri River Breaks Elk Archery Working Group will be presented as well. Both of these issues are red hot in terms of how FWP manages wildlife and public perception. FWP also issued a press release today stating that Director Joe Maurier had signed a decision notice to translocate bison to the tribes at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap. A tip of our Stormy Chromer to Joe for listening to the people of Montana, and for taking a stand against those who don’t want any bison, anywhere, at any time, in any part of the state. This is a small step forward, as most steps in Bison conservation are, but it’s an important one, and one that we salute.

FWP is beginning a long term Environmental Impact Statement to develop a management plan and to explore places for Bison to be located at, with a timeline of around 2015. Given how long it took to get a Bighorn Sheep management plan, this timeline seems reasonable. There are a lot of places that Bison could work in Montana. A constructive conversation between conservationists and landowners who would be affected by bison translocation is critical to moving forward with any kind of relocation to public lands.

Bison, wolves, and Elk Archery. Good grief. It’s like we’re back at the Legislature.

There’s an undercurrent in Montana to try and exclude the local hunter and angler from the discussion when it comes to wildlife management. It’s shown itself repeatedly through bills that would eliminate public access to public lands, reduce elk habitat security, force the test and slaughter of elk, and simply hand control of the department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks over to the same Legislature that tried to severely erode our stream access rights. Luckily, thousands of Montanans rose up and engaged in their rights as Americans; they participated in a democratic movement to influence legislation.

I recovered a 165 grain Nosler partition out of the little buck I shot this year. That bullet and that buck are a culmination of millions of man hours, and billions of dollars spent by hunters and conservationists. The commitment to perpetrate a system of wildlife management that allows all to participate in the sport of hunting, and to protect the rights of the common man to continue the traditions and the legacies built up by generations of public land hunters is a testament to the true brilliance of America’s pledge to wildlife and wild places.

That deserves new recruits, doesn’t it?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Give Thanks, and Keep Fighting

It’s Thanksgiving. Montana’s hunters and anglers have so much to be thankful for, even if the harvest is still a little behind schedule. We have the second highest number of elk in the nation, and I’m seeing some absolute bruiser bucks being taken. Right now, it’s 50 degrees with a good wind and the elk are getting pressured hard. I should be sitting in the dark bowels of a roadless area waiting for one last chance to put some elk in the freezer. Instead, I’m at home, making pie and mashed potatoes for later today.

It has been a hell of a season so far. I’ll spend one more day looking for a bull elk, but for the most part, I’m done with the hunting (except for wolves), and there’s only two more deer to butcher. We put four whitetail and two mule deer in the freezer this year. I am thankful for all the reasons that exist, the landowners who extend a warm and welcoming hand in allowing hunters to access their lands, Block Management, public lands and the tireless advocates who helped make this bounty possible.

There is a lot to be thankful for in Montana. We’re doing better than most of the nation in terms of jobs, we have clean air and clean water, and we have the right to enjoy our outdoor heritage as defined by the Montana State Constitution. We have game populations that rival our Western sisters, and we have amazing opportunity to chase those game animals. All of this is by design. There is a strong and active community of hunters and anglers who stand up and fight for their rights and that community is right now spending time with their families as the meat they've donated feeds families they will never meet.

We are able to enjoy this bounty because people had the foresight to look beyond the narrow definition of law and determine what a sound, regulatory climate would look like. As a fly fisherman, I’m particularly thankful for the Clean Water Act. My cutthroat fishing would be significantly different today if the Clean Water Act had not been enacted. Tributaries to the Clark Fork, Blackfoot, Missouri and many other rivers would not be the blue ribbon streams they are today without this regulatory mechanism in place. But those fisheries and the wetlands and prairie potholes that ducks rely on are now in jeopardy due to two Supreme Court rulings, and the Barasso-Heller amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations Act (H.R. 2354).

According to Scott Yaich, of Ducks Unlimited, those two Supreme Court Decisions and the proposed Amendment have had this effect:

“Supreme Court rulings and agency guidance issued over the past decade have jeopardized crucial water resources and wildlife habitat, removing protections for at least 20 million acres of wetlands, particularly prairie potholes and other wetlands essential to waterfowl, Streams that sustain critical fisheries and feed the public drinking water systems for more than 117 million Americans are also at risk.”

So it goes beyond just fish and fowl. These eliminations of protections are affecting you and your family’s drinking water. Your drinking water today is less protected than it was in 2001. Your wildlife habitat is less protected today than it was in 2001, and still attempts to further weaken existing protections moves forward with full steam.

The comparisons to the political climate of 2011 and 1911 continue.. Theodore Roosevelt came back from Africa to fight those who said upon his departure, “We expect every lion to do his duty.” I am thankful that we have the wisdom and grit to continue to speak up, act out, and make good things happen. Without an active, engaged and educated electorate, there is no democracy. As Jim Posewtiz is fond of saying, in reference to Montana’s former U.S. Senator William H. Clark, “We put T.R.’s likeness on Mount Rushmore as a testament to his vision. Nowhere is there a national shrine to Clark.”

That speaks volumes as to what America is all about. We conserve what we love, and we damned sure better get back in the fight once the tryptophan wears off. Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may your holiday season be filled with peace.

Give thanks, and keep fighting.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bark at the Moon

I just got done with dinner and a beer after sitting in a field waiting for a buck dumb enough to stand in front of my rifle. I took a swing and a miss on a doe, but I’ve got 2 more days here in the valley to get it done. If all I do is fill my remaining B-tags, I’ll be happy. That’ll be six does in the freezer; almost an elk.

It’s been a busy week in Helena. We’ve had a few thousand snow geese flying over town, headed for warmer climes. We’ve also seen the parade of ATV laden trucks headed either back home or into the field. We’ve also had our first closure of a Wolf Management Area. While I’m a little disappointed that I’ll have to travel an extra 20 miles to get to an open spot, I’m still pretty damned grateful that we have a season at all. I plan on spending a good portion of December and January chasing wolves.

I’ve spent the last 9 years working on getting wolves delisted. Starting in Wyoming in 2002, and following through with the Simpson-Tester delisting rider of 2011, wolves have consumed a large part of my life. While the court battle still goes on, I’m confident that what we accomplished last spring will continue to hold.

This means we’ll always have wolves, and we’re going to have to figure out how to manage them for their benefit, and ours. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to whack them down to 15 breeding pairs (150 wolves). That’s the minimum population allowed under the Endangered Species Act. If we try to manage a number that small, we’ll trigger a review from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and wolves could be relisted, resulting in wasted time spent working on getting wolves delisted by thousands of Montanans who worked hard to get wolves delisted despite intense lobbying pressure from both the anti-wolf contingency and the pro-wolf contingency.

Wolves have changed the way we hunt in the Northern Rockies. There is no doubt about that. Wolves have also had some pretty serious effects on ungulate populations in certain areas. Again, no doubt about that. How we as hunters and conservationists react to these new challenges is critical not only for the future of wolf management, but for the future of hunting. Hunters largely enjoy a positive image from the American people. In order to continue our passions and our outdoor heritage, we need to maintain that image. As we lose more hunters, we also lose the ability to connect with the non-hunting citizens in America. Our image as the stalwart conservationists must be maintained, and improved upon.

Clamoring for the removal of wolves, and the imprisonment of government officials who were involved in the reintroduction of wolves, is a side show that does nothing to get us beyond the conflict.. Engaging with the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department and Commission will. FWP does a fair job of managing critters and people. Montana has the most liberal hunting seasons in the west because FWP and Montanans focused on the one key issue that leads to abundant wildlife: maintaining habitat. Focusing on habitat connectivity and security gives us six weeks of archery hunting and five weeks of rifle hunting. That doesn’t even take in to account the early seasons we enjoy in the Bob Marshall and the Absorka-Beartooths.

Right now, there are two proposals being put forward by FWP on wolves. One would extend the hunting season on wolves until January 31st, and the other would institute a method of utilizing hunters to help manage problem wolves when Wildlife Service’s can’t, or won’t, do the job. Montana Wildlife Federation worked with FWP to help develop this program, and while it may not be perfect, it’s pretty close. Comments are due by November 28th on both proposals, so sit your butts down, write a comment in support or in opposition, and let your voice be heard.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What's at stake

There’s a couple hundred head of elk in the adjacent picture of the Walling Reef. The elk are scattered throughout the timber, keeping their heads down and out of the wind. There are wolves, grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, mule deer, sharp-tail grouse, whitetail deer and a host of other critters who will always have a place to call their own. It is wild land. No oil well or subdivision will be placed here. This is one of the places where I hunt for elk and deer. This is where a third-generation rancher raises his beef. This is where the wild things are, and it’s a damned good thing that it’s still around.

This ranch, and many others like it, has some level of conservation easement on them brought to you by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In fact, the LWCF is one of the hunter’s best friends. Right now, people are hunting on lands opened up by LWCF outside of Troy, Kalispell, Seeley Lake, Missoula and Trout Creek. LWCF provided conservation easements on critical elk winter grounds on the Rocky Mountain Front, and LWCF helped pay for new city parks as well as fishing access sites around Montana.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is funded through offshore oil and gas leasing. Right now, that funding stream is being threatened in congress by some short-sighted individuals. Montana’s Senate delegation has been fighting to return funding to an appropriate level, and they’ve had some success in getting $350 million put back into the Senate Interior appropriation bill. Senator Tester has introduced an amendment that would permanently place a 1.5% Access component on the LWCF. That means that 1.5% of the total funds put into LWCF are to help generate public access to public lands.

Those who are still pushing for cuts to this revenue generating fund are citing the need to balance the budget. We agree that the budget needs to be balanced, and so $350 million looks okay to us for the short term. That’s not good enough for some who have consistently tried to take away the public’s ability to fully enjoy its land. There are those in congress who would work to take away our public lands; sell them to the highest bidder, or place short term economic goals over the needs of the land for the long term. There are those who continue to sell a false dichotomy of jobs versus conservation. All one has to do is look back and see the increasingly clear parallel between 1911 and 2011 when it comes to battles faced.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is in some real trouble. People are being forced to make a false choice. The idea that conservation isn’t conservative, or that it protected landscapes aren’t fiscally viable has been proven false time and time again. Yet here we are, 100 years after Theodore Roosevelt came back from Africa to set America back on its conservation course..

LWCF deserves full funding. If we need to take a few more years to get there, so be it. Until then, $350 million sounds like a fair compromise.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Armchair Quarterbacks

By Land Tawney

The world is full of armchair quarterbacks; those guys who know better than the pros how to play the game; the men in the arena. I’ve been known to act the part once in awhile, especially after a Griz game. George Cobb’s opinion editorial in the Billings Gazette this past weekend about H.R. 1581, the Roadless and Wilderness Release Act of 2011 reminded me of this. George made many observations about science and biologists when it comes to roadless lands but did not substantiate these claims...especially as it relates to MT.

George also made this statement, “A long list of major groups, representing millions of sportsmen, stand in support of this legislation. Sportsmen and women around the U.S. strive to uphold the true legacy of conservation, encouraging the sustainable use of our natural resources and the expansion of recreational opportunities on public lands where suitable. They do, after all, belong to all of us.”

Apparently George was either unaware of or disregarded the letter of concern that over 270 Outdoor Businesses and sporting groups sent to Congressman Rehberg and other members of the House of Representatives. He also seems to be unaware that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation withdrew their support of the bill citing in an open letter, “that RMEF cannot endorse the bill because of its potential negative impacts to roadless areas. Allen said responses and feedback from RMEF members and a review of the scientific literature led to the withdrawal. George is apparently unaware that eliminating the Roadless Area Conservation rule would put elk security habitat at risk due to the elimination of common sense conservation regulations that have been hugely popular, and supported by millions, including these 26 Montana Sporting Groups.

I think Doug Haacke said it best in the Flathead Beacon article: “We already have over 32,000 miles of roads on our state’s national forests…I’d rather see us conserving fish and wildlife habitat and taking care of the roads we already have, not spending more tax dollars on roads we don’t need or want.”

So the question to George is…are you going to stand with countless wildlife biologists, 26 Montana rod and gun clubs, 270 Nationwide Outdoor businesses and Sporting Groups, or with these guys?

The message is this: Elk need good year round habitat. Eliminating the Roadless Area Conservation Rule eliminates what little protection elk have anymore. Increased access by motorized means, and increased development mean less elk. We’ve seen that time and time again. We’ve also seen what will happen if we sacrifice the long term viability of these habitats for the short term goals of multi-national companies that have no incentive to “do things right.”

Simply put, H.R. 1581 does nothing for hunters and for elk. You can access Roadless Areas and have a high likelihood of finding elk, you just have to get away from the truck like former Hellgate Hunter and Angler board member, Corey Fisher who found the bull in the photograph at the top of the page in a Roadless Area this fall.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Boots

In 24 hours, I’ll be sitting on that same slope as the one in the picture, glassing for elk. I’m pretty damned excited. I get two days to hunt cow elk this week, followed by 5 days of searching for some mule deer. We just put two whitetail does in the freezer and our party of 8 hunters took a total of 28 deer out of a couple of drainages in Southwestern Montana in an effort to help control the population. After that hunt, it was obvious that I needed a new pair of boots. So I went down to Montana Outdoor Sports yesterday and picked out a pair. I also, I would note, passed on the Leupold range finder that was calling my name. I’m sure my feet will be barking over the next week as we run all over the Rocky Mountain Front, and the Coulee country of the Marias River.

I’m not big on antlers. A trophy to me is 3 inches of fat on the ass of a mature cow elk, the backstrap of a mule deer doe, and the sirloin tip steaks and round roasts that will feed my family over the next year. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a fine set of Boone and Crockett bones sticking on top of an elk or deer. I am, however, known in deer camp as Mr. Doe Fever. It’s a title I kind of like.

We process our own meat. It’s a great family event in our house. My wife and I mix up a pitcher of Caucasians and we get down to the cutting. The dog is poised at our feet, waiting for venison to fall from the sky. We make our own sausage, burger, jerky and stock. It’s a ritual that I’ve come to enjoy just for the sake of being alone with my wife – no phones, no computers and no distractions. It’s a good family experience. One that makes us appreciate the gifts of wildlife and wild country that were given to us by past generations.Generations of men and women who stood up and were counted. One that makes me appreciate the need for new boots.

We’ve seen the attempts this year from Congress and the MT Legislature to attack the very ground necessary to grow critters. We’ve seen people place the short-sighted goals of the global economic engine over our own pastoral lives. We’ve also seen the great awakening of the common hunter and angler. We’ve beaten back the bastards all year, and we’ll keep doing it.

As my friend Jim Posewitz is quick to point out, it’s the 100 year anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt being kicked to the curb and running as a third party candidate. It’s only fitting that we commemorate that event with a little bit of TR’s speech from the Sorbonne:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Keep fighting.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Big Game Needs Big Country

You’re going to hear that phrase a lot more over the coming months. It’s a catchy slogan, if I do say so myself. It’s also the god’s honest truth. What it means is simple: Big game critters like Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Mule deer and Rocky Mtn Goats need a lot of room in order to live their lives. They need unbroken habitat, and they need that habitat to be there for generations to come, just as hunters and anglers need robust wildlife populations for future generations.

That’s why we’re supporting the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage and thanking Senator Max Baucus for introducing this landmark legislation today. The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act is the product of long hours and lots of face to face meetings with folks who weren’t always friendly. The proposal as it sits now is one that respects everyone, and every use on the landscape. No motorized use is lost, and Mtn Bikers have even come on and endorsed this proposal because they see the benefits of the Conservation Management Area in terms of increased opportunity for their sport.

Hunters have been guarding jealously the Rocky Mountain Front for over 130 years. From the first fish and game laws, to the Sun River Game Preserve (established in 1913), to the Sun River Game Range in 1948, hunters have been standing up to protect the Front. The additions of the Ear Mtn and Blackleaf game ranges in the late 1970’s and the Roadless Area Conservation Rule all have helped create a place where elk can thrive, and hunters can spend 11 weeks every year chasing them.

The Heritage Act keeps things as they are now. While a few minor changes in terms of one Mtn Bike loop would be closed, other activities such as grazing, hunting, angling, firewood gathering, ATV use and hiking would all stay the same.

The Rocky Mtn Front Heritage is a hunter specific bill. This effort was led by locals who live and play along the Front. Guys like Stoney Burk and Roy Jacobs. Ranchers like Karl Rappold and Dusty Crary made sure that we took into account the needs of the family ranchers who still run their operations along the majority of the Front.

In short, this is a sportsman’s dream come true. Areas that are truly deserving of wilderness are set aside as Wilderness. The rest of the area retains it’s roadless characteristics while keeping Congress’ hands off of the Front.

You can find everything you wanted to know about the Rocky Mtn Front Heritage Act here.

Thanks Max, we here at the Pulpit are proud to see folks stand up and fight back against the onslaught of anti-hunting and anti-conservation bills coming out of Congress lately. This is a big deal. We get that. We also know that hunters once again will rise up and protect the wild heart of Montana.