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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Regulating Life

My father has renal cell carcinoma. His cancer has been traced back to his days spent working at a uranium mill in the Gas Hills of Wyoming in the early 1960’s. Many of the boys he worked with in the mines and the mills ended up developing cancer, and many of them are dying. My father is one of them.

Dad has always been a badass. I recall a memory of him getting cut off by a trucker somewhere outside of Crowheart, Wyoming. My father pulled into a rest stop following the trucker, who’d stopped to take a leak. The trucker sensed my father’s anger and he came after him. Before I knew it, Dad had a tire iron in his hand, and he was ready to let the guy know that he didn’t care for his driving. The trucker apparently wasn’t interested in the conversation after the tire iron came out. At the time, I was maybe six or seven years old.

This past winter, my father was unable to use his left arm to its full extent. He thought it was merely a pinched nerve, so he put off a visit to the doctor. When he finally went, the doctors found a tumor the size of a marble in my father’s left frontal lobe. He had defeated a bout of renal cancer in 2004; it turned out the cancer was back. He underwent radio-tactical therapy to eliminate the tumor, but the cancer kept coming. Radical chemo-therapy drugs left him chair bound. It was a miserable existence for a man who’d begun life in a tar-paper shack on the Wind River Indian Reservation and who later retired a self-made millionaire.

Here’s the unnerving part: My father got cancer because a business told him to disregard regulations and safety protocols. He was told to put his radiation badge away when he worked in Uranium mills making yellowcake to provide for the defense of the nation. Apparently, the Government was either looking the other way, or simply didn’t give a shit. Money and bombs had to be made.

See, there are a lot of reasons for regulations when it comes to environmental concerns. A great many of those reasons come in the form of human lives. My father, and many of the men that he worked with, are now suffering through the unending hell of cancer as part of that price.

Regulations that are decried by industries that make record profits off of public lands are no different than those who made profit off of my father’s life. Towns like Pinedale, Wyoming, have worse air qualities than Los Angeles. Pinedale is about as far from L.A. as you can get, both physically and metaphysically. Places like Poplar, Montana, have their water supply poisoned by fracking technology, and those who polluted the water fought the disclosure of what they were putting into the ground.

Regulations aren’t bad. Regulations are what manage wildlife populations. They’re supposed to be the glue that binds people to civilized behavior as opposed to the behavior of selfish, spoiled children. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend in America to believe that regulations are some kind of socialist plot to either kick people off the land, or give the land over to drug runners and terrorists. People who fight for clean air and sustainable energy development are vilified as anti-American, while the trade groups who do the vilifying send an army of lobbyists to the capitols of western states and Washington D.C. to ensure their will be done. Meanwhile, those of us who dare to speak out against the giants of industry are the ones accused of eroding freedom. The truth is this: you are in the way of their ambitions. You, as an honest, normal person who expects people to act decently, are standing between the companies that spend billions on lobbying, and on their cash cow – your public lands. Alexis DeTocqueville, a French political theorist and historian, once said:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

My father and I hunted together last weekend. It was the first time he can remember actually using a hunting license to obtain a deer. He grew up in an era where regulations were ignored and routinely flaunted. He was poor, and so was his family. He fed the family on poached deer and other game. When he got to the point where he could afford meat for his own young family, he hung up the guns, and focused on making money to get us out of poverty. This last year, with the cancer advancing, and his prosthetic leg bothering him, he sat in a haybale blind waiting for a whitetail to walk in front of him. He shot his first legal deer using an old J.P. Sauer Drilling in 8x57JR. It was a fantastic shot; 100 yards with open sights. “Accidents happen,” he said.

As I carried the doe on my back to our parked truck, I could feel my father lagging behind. His once immeasurable stamina was gone; his prosthetic leg was bothering him. On that 600 yard walk, he had to stop 3 times. We sat on the tailgate and watched the herd of bucks and mature does work to within 20 yards of us. He turned to me and said, “I’ve had a hell of a life.”

We smoked a full venison quarter last weekend. Dad had been talking about the time that his father did the same; the smoked quarter fed the family for a week. It was bittersweet. The bounty of wildlife that Montana currently enjoys (thanks to regulations enforced by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks) was now being eaten by a bunch of us near-Neanderthals, all of us covered in blaze orange (a color designed and regulated to keep us from shooting each other in the field). We sipped beers (which are highly regulated by the food and drug administration) as we sat inside a clean, well-constructed house (which was built to code) that was full of sated and sleepy hunters whose evening dreams would be regulated by the promise of the coming morning’s hunt .

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It ain't Huntin' if'n you ain't in the Truck

The deer in that picture is the current state record for a typical mule deer. He scores 207 7/8 by the Boone and Crockett scale. He was poached by a slob hunter. That critter was stolen. All poached animals are stolen from the rightful stewards - the people. With the general season opener this weekend, it seems prudent to remind everyone that while you may be alone in the woods, you still have a responsibility to hunt wisely and ethically. That means no drinking, no flock shooting, and no poaching. It's pretty simple. Do what you were taught in Hunter's Safety, or what you were taught by your elders.

I don't know if you guys remember this great opinion piece from Nick Gevock over at the Montana Standard. If you haven't read it, you should. He speaks the truth about slob hunting.

We've all witnessed bad behavior in the field. We've probably even done some stupid stuff that we'd rather not tell anyone about. Nobody is blameless, but everybody needs to be a part of the solution.

That solution is calling out slobs when you find them in the field. Call them out them with the god's honest truth that they are doing more to ruin the image and the popularity of hunting that the folks who actually are trying to ruin the image of Hunters in the eyes of the American public.

Right now, I'm supposed to be editing the last bits of the MWF newsletter, but instead I've been packing for Deer camp and watching On Your Own Adventures. I just watched Randy arrow a bull from 2 yards. It was pretty sweet.

Randy had a bit in the episode where he quoted the God-Father of wildlife conservation, Aldo Leopold. Aldo once said “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching- even when doing the wrong thing is legal. Damn skippy.

Remember that as you go out into the forests and fields. remember that every time you shoulder that weapon, and put the crosshairs on a critter, you are responsible for your life, that animals life, and the world's perception of what a hunter is.

When you're out in the field, and you have the chance to represent all hunters to those who have a negative image of hunter conservationists, and hunting in general. The world is watching.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Last Retrieve

By Land Tawney

Last Friday, I headed North in pursuit of Hungarian partridge and pheasants. With me were three trusted colleagues and my two loyal labs, Gabriel and Turk. We started hunting around 1pm on some new ground; at least, new to the dogs and I. We worked a creek with lots of cover, perfect pheasant habitat. Together we ended up kicking up a few roosters but had no real shots. The cover was thick and the birds were jumpy. We turned to the foothills in pursuit of huns.

Then it happened. After working a hillside up to a corner, we turned down following a ridgeline. Eleven-year-old Gabriel’s tail started to wag in the familiar way, he had found a bird’s scent and by the frequency of his wagging tail it was fresh. A hun exploded with a squeak, right in front of the ol boy’s nose. I mounted my Benelli and dropped the bird. The race was on between Gabe and Turk with Gabe arriving first. His proud swagger brought the bird back to hand and the symphony was complete. In a moment, Gabe’s hunting career and home life flashed before my eyes. His first retrieves, his best retrieves; that bond only understood by those with gun dogs. Later that evening we arrived home, cleaned the beautiful hun and put the bird in some salt water to cure for later.

Gabe was already showing aches and pains from our day afield. He has arthritis in both hind legs that was brought on by hundreds of cold entries and exits out of the duck marsh. I gave him some buffered aspirin, a healthy dinner, a bowl full of water, and a little extra pat on his head. That night he woke me up twice. The pain in his eyes was palpable. Twice I sat with him and told him what a good dog he was. He wagged his tail in acceptance. The next day he worked out his stiffness and looked to have recovered. This has become more the norm than the exception.

Gabriel lives to hunt; it’s the apex of decades of breeding and thousands of hours in the field. Sunday morning I again headed north, this time in pursuit of waterfowl. Gabe stayed home and six-year old Turk made the trip, a passing of the guard of sorts that didn’t set well with the elder statesmen. We had a great day with Turk making a 200-yard retrieve on a mallard and a triple blind retrieve on the last three widgeon we shot. The latter being the culmination of a summer’s work on the command “BACK”, (a victory in its own right).

Upon arriving home, Gabe sniffed us with disgusted interest, still having not recovered from us leaving him home in the early hours. As we cleaned the birds he hung around but seemed to eye me in a different way. “Really Boss, this is what it has come to?” The look was painful, but reality. Retirement will happen for Gabe. For now, I’ll still take him on short stints, an hour or two, but at least we can get out. I’ll take solace in knowing that he is doing what he loves and that this love isn’t causing him too much pain. Maybe everything will work out, things will line up, and I’ll see him perform like hid did on the hun. Maybe this was his last retrieve. If it was, what a perfect way to leave the majors.

Give me a shot of access, and some old timey common sense

Guess what. Someone friggin listens in DC. Senator Jon Tester has heard repeatedly from constituents that Access is critical not only for our enjoyment of wildlife, but for the public hunting economic engine. Look what the Senator just did in response to that:

Reinstating funding for the Voluntary Public Access (The Open Fields) Program Amendment #841

What is Open Fields?

The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (commonly known as Open Fields) is a program run by the Farm Services Agency to encourage owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch, and forest land to voluntarily make that land available for access by the public hunting or fishing, under programs implemented by state or tribal governments.

Competitive grants are offered to states and tribal governments for expanding existing access programs or creating new programs. Grants are reduced by 25% if opening dates for migratory bird hunting in a state are not consistent for residents and nonresidents.

Currently 26 states have voluntary public access programs and a number of tribes also have programs, but the effort to expand these programs to more states and tribal lands depends on continued funding from Open Fields.

This program was authorized and funded the 2008 Farm Bill up to $50 million but received only $33 million in FY11. The President’s FY12 budget requested only $16.7 million. Unfortunately the program was zeroed out in the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill for FY12, truncating this important program’s work.

What does this Amendment Do?

Sportsmen cite loss of access as the number one reason they stop hunting and fishing. For many Americans, the ability to access private land through public access programs is the best opportunity they have to continue hunting and fishing.

This amendment restores $5 million to the program to keep it running, paid for by reductions in overhead in at the Department of Agriculture.

Who supports this?


Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation

National Wildlife Federation

Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

Delta Waterfowl

Ducks Unlimited

Federation of Fly Fishers

Izaak Walton League of America

Montana Wildlife Federation

National Bobwhite Technical Committee

Pheasants Forever

Quail Forever

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

Trout Unlimited

Wildlife Management Institute

This amendment was introduced to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee in the hopes of restoring some funding for access. It's how things get done in Congress. You can sit on the couch and complain, or you can get in the game and make a difference.
Thanks Senator, we appreciate it when you guys in DC fight for the little fellers like us. We notice things like this, because this matters. Do the right thing by Montana's public hunters and anglers, and we stand up and salute. Senator Tester gets a tip of our Stormy Chromer, and an extra ration of our best whiskey.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Feeling Begins

I’m staring down the barrel of Rifle Opener 2011. I swore this year would be different, but it’s not. I hiked my fat ass all over the south hills of Helena, and I even made some progress, at least until August rolled around. I hate the heat. Summer days are simply the banal immediacy of waiting for fall. They make me and our big, black dog lazy, both of us unwilling to head into the outdoors for further sweating.

I dropped the ball again. Prior to August, I was up to about 5 miles per hike, each completed with a 20pound pack over fairly steep terrain, but then it hit: dog days. Screw it, it’s too hot. I couldn’t sleep at night; the dog refused to move. I was regularly putting in extra hours at the office. Now, I’m paying for my lethargy as I try to scramble up the hills south of town in hopes the elk won’t openly mock me when I start the long climb up their hills.

Fat guys don’t like heat; at least this one doesn’t, so it’s with great joy that I watch the leaves turn color. I see archery hunters heading out into the fields and forests, stealthily sneaking in to the waiting jaws of Ephraim. I envy those guys. Guys like Seacat and Newberg are out doing what matters to them. It takes a lot of hard work to chase an elk on public land during the rut. Archery hunters have grown by over 100% in the last 20 years in Montana, according to FWP. That’s a lot of carbon fiber and Sitka gear out in the hills. It takes a lot of hours in the gym, on the trails and in front of a target to reach a point where you’re confident enough to stand up, strap on 50 pounds, and head into the wild to put a 1,000 pound critter on its side with an arrow.

I like knowing that those guys are out there. It’s important not only for the local Hoyt proshop; it’s important to our collective psyche that those guys are still out there: men to match the mountains.

God forbid the day we give up that legacy in favor of comfort. God forbid we give up what is wild, for what is convenient.

At least for right now, I am a rifle hunter. I love cold blued steel and warm walnut. I’ve always been partial to German designs. I grew up staring at my father’s two hunting rifles (long after he gave up hunting for more demanding chores). One was a C.G. Haenel Commission rifle. This weekend, the Haenel will be coming out of retirement.

On Friday, I head down for our third annual Doe Safari.. A group of us gather at a friend’s house. He then feeds us too much food with names like Atomic Buffalo Turds and Phatties. We go out and attempt to perform some whitetail wildlife management on a severely overpopulated region. This year the safari is only 4 days in length. It’s never enough. Last year 11 of us harvested 28 whitetail. This year, I’m hopeful the seven of us will put about as many on the ground. This is the warm up for mule deer along the Marias River Breaks, and chasing late season bulls on the Rocky Mountain Front. This is the initial bloodletting in all of its delicate glory.

I hunt for the meat. I hunt for the fellowship. I don’t hunt for the kill. The kill is anti-climactic. No matter how many times you put one on the ground, you still say “I’m sorry.” Last year as we were loading up the cow elk I shot, my friend, Karl, looked at me and said “In the old days, I would have come up here with you and we would have done this together, but anymore, I just can’t stand to see ’em go down.” Maybe, someday, I’ll hit that wall. Not this year. This year is about filling the freezer, giving thanks, and telling these critters,” I’m sorry. “

We fight those who would take this away from us. We fight those who would steal our birthright, and our hard work. Fall is the time of the hunter. There is no hunter more aware and alive than the Hunter Conservationist.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pheasant Season Opens to Mixed Success

By: Land Tawney

A long harsh winter and above average rainfall this spring has put a major dent in Montana’s pheasant populations. MT FWP breaks it down by region. Though as you can see, this young lady in the photo certainly knows where to find them.

Upland bird numbers in general are down across the state but our native sharptails and mountain grouse fared much better. I guess Montana natives truly are a tougher breed.

I was stuck on a plane and didn’t make it out for the pheasant opener but have talked to some of my more fortunate friends; fortunate to just make it afield and fortunate enough to find some of the long tailed birds.

News from Nine Pipes just north of Missoula - they have pheasants, but it’s real spotty. A friend of mine hunted three days near Fort Benton and shot three limits on Block Management and public land. Another friend was skunked just outside of Lewistown. Finally, a friend got into birds just outside of Billings…lots of pheasants with a young dog. What could be better than watching the pup you trained take to the field and successfully retrieve, point and flush?

Sorry, no GPS coordinates for any of these, as I want to retain these friendships.

So what does this tell me? It’s about the habitat! In this down turn year it’s vitally important to focus on better than average habitat and get away from the crowds. That means walking, scouting and putting some miles on your boots. It means providing cover, feed and giving birds enough space to grow and breed. It means investing in programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Grasslands Rserve Program (GRP), and other conservation programs in the Farm Bill that benefit both private land owners and wildlife. It also is the way that Montana is moving to manage its upland game birds.

If you're looking for ways to get out in to the field, there are a number of options for the public land hunter. Here's A good place to start. Another is your local MT FWP Regional biologist. Most can be a plethora of information. Lastly, Block Management maps went on line last year and offer a unique opportunity to hunt private land. it’s a little clunky but provides an alternative to getting mailed three maps at a time or needing to stop by the regional office.

Mostly though, get out early and get out often!

Montana Land Soveriegnty Act: A really old, and really bad idea

By Jim Posewitz

Congressman Rehberg continues to have problems with land designations such as national monuments that our nation uses to protect wild places and the public interest in those places. This piece of legislation is timed just right since it will be the 100th anniversary of the political campaign of 1912. That campaign featured the emergence of the Bull Moose Party and it had to do with conservation, land designations, and the public interest in such actions.

A brief historical review of setting land aside for conservation purposes shows us that no one person did more than a Republican president named Theodore Roosevelt. He was our 26th president and held that office from September of 1901 through early 1909. During that time he set aside 230 million acres for conservation and protection of our national treasures and natural assets. Little things, like the Grand Canyon. When he was done, it was just about 10% of America.

No one fought harder to stop these protections than conservative western congressmen, including Montana’s U.S. Senator William A. Clark (1901-1907). To refresh our Montana memory, it was a time when U.S. Senators were elected by a vote of the state legislature. Historical author Timothy Egan wrote that for copper-baron Clark it was, “… a position he had initially purchased with bundles of crisp $100 bills handed out to legislators in monogrammed envelopes – W.A.C. stamped on the fold, $10,000 per vote.” Clark’s defense at the time was, “I never bought a man who was not for sale” (Egan 2009).

The prize then, as it is now, was privatization and commercialization of natural resources. Clark, those like him, and the corporate robber-barons of that era, championed privatizing all of America. At one point Clark and his cronies successfully attached a legislative rider to forbid TR from creating any new national forest reserves in Montana and five other western states. In the seven days he had to either sign or veto the bill, TR responded by adding 16 million acres of national forest reserves in those states. For Montana, those seven days meant the Big Hole, the Big Belts, the Little Rockies, the Cabinets, the Custer, and additions to the Lewis and Clark national forests. Today I do not have to get J.P. Morgan’s permission to hunt and fish those places.

The battle between exploitation and conservation has persisted through the century that followed. It is only slightly more subtle today with the enemies of conservation attacking budgets, vilifying those carrying the conservation message, and purging dissenting political thought from their own political ranks. When Theodore Roosevelt left the presidency in 1909 the exploitive counter attack was immediate. When TR saw the abandonment of his many reforms he returned to the political arena in 1912 by entering every Republican Party primary election held at that time. The party held twelve primary elections that year -- TR won nine, Bob Lafollette won two, and the incumbent President Taft won but one. However, the party bosses succeeded in denying TR the nomination at their convention in 1912. He thus bolted the Republican Party and ran as the Bull Moose Party candidate finishing second to the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson. Taft and the divided Republican Party finished a distant third.

When the American people took a closer look at Theodore Roosevelt, they chiseled his image into the granite of Mount Rushmore alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. I suspect part of the reason we the people did that is because we appreciated what he did for us, the land values we hold, and the conserved landscapes that make Montana the last best place to be a hunter and angler.

As for Senator William A. Clark, we are still hauling the polluted legacy he dumped into the Clark Fork River off to a toxic waste disposal site. Mark Twain described Clark for posterity when he wrote about Clark: “He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag.”(Egan 2009). It is a shame that his philosophy seems reborn in the 21st century.

Reference Cited:

Egan, Timothy, The Big Burn, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, BostonNew York, 2009.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mom, Apple Pie, and Commies

There is a responsible way to lease for oil and gas; a way to help mitigate the impacts we've seen in places like Yellowstone County, The Gulf, Pinedale, and Prince William Sound. It's nucleus is formed by a little program instituted in the 1960's.

It's called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and it is intended to keep habitat in ample supply, and put hunters in the field. The concept is simple: Take some of the revenue from offshore leasing for oil and gas (drill, baby, drill) and put it into a fund that state fish and game agencies can use to help restore damaged habitat, purchase critical habitat, enter in to conservation easements with private landowners (on a willing seller, willing buyer scenario, of course) and about 1.5% of it should go to ensuring public access to public land. It also allows for the purchase and construction of Fishing Access sites (Most of MT's FAS's are in part purchased with LWCF dollars.) and the acquisition and development of City Parks, trails and other outdoor activities.

If fully funded, the LWCF would sit at $900 million per year. That's $6 million per year for access to land locked public lands. According to statistics released in 1992, that was about 50 million Acres.

Let me say that again: In 1992, according to the General Accounting Office, 50 million acres of public land was inaccessible by the public. Given the constant battle to simply keep roads open across private land that lead to public land, that number has either stayed the same (due to LWCF funding) or grown.

That 1.5% of LWCF funding for access is not mandatory though. Right now, it is administrative in application. That's why Senator Jon Tester introduced legislation to permantly set the 1.5% in the LWCF's enabling legislation:

Sounds pretty danged good, right? Forward thinking, substantial government programs that help put critters in the field, that are sustainable, and even generates revenue and puts people to work (How many construction jobs do you think are tied to FAS's, developing city parks, etc?) surely is as American as Mom and Apple Pie.

Apparently not.

Now, everybody knows that the country is in dire straits. Kids are lining up by the hundreds of thousands for free school supplies, millionaires have to take commercial flights. Everyone is suffering. So, hunters and anglers were expecting to take a fair share of the burden (that's what we do, remember? We're the only user group who fully funds the conservation of wildlife in this nation). However, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources decided that these programs didn't matter. Hunting and Angling groups around Montana and the nation took lawmakers to task for that vote.

$15 billion is subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies? That was untouched. $450 million for Sportsmen, kids and local communities? Goddamned Communism; that's what that is.

Seriously though, the funds spent through the LWCF play an important part in keeping hunters in the woods. Acquisitions like the Stimson Lumber Land outside of Troy, MT, and the Tenderfoot acquisition would help maintain traditional access to private lands, and conserve critical elk and deer habitats.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guns of Autumn

Rifle season for pronghorn opens today. General rifle opener for deer and Elk starts on the 22nd. There have been a number of hunt forecasts out there from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, to the Helena Independent Record.

It's not all rosy, but it's far from doom and gloom.

We all watched in horror the previous winter as thousands of prongies perished in an extremely harsh Montana winter in R6 and parts of R4. Outdoor life did a great write-up about the trials and tribulations of Warden, Todd Anderson, as he dealt with the carnage. Because of this massive winter die off, pronghorn tags were in even greater limited supply than usual. Hundreds of speedsters crossed the ice at Ft. Peck reservoir in order to escape the harsh conditions, and during spring thaw, they tried to cross back, only to meet either mass confusion or an untimely death by drowning. Seems Pronghorn aren't good swimmers.

However, Region 3, 4, 5, and 7 are expecting the annual migration of orange-clad hunters as they head out to the fields in pursuit of the prairie ghost. I'm already seeing photos from friends who were much more fortunate than me in the draw. Goats are going down. Some pretty danged nice ones as well.

Oh well, maybe next year. I don't really feel too bad about not drawing a tag, especially since I'm a game hog anyway, according to my good friend, Ben Long.

Elk and deer numbers are a mixed bag depending on where you're hunting. Around the Queen City, if you're willing to walk and hunt, chances are you're coming home with an elk, or two. From Mac pass up, hell, to the Badger, elk are thriving.

I sat in on a recent meeting of the Sun River Working Group (SRWG) and the bulk of the discussion was the overpopulation of elk on the Sun River Game Range. Currently, about 3,000 elk winter on the game range. It can reasonably hold 2,000. Tags are abundant, and the discussion revolved around the need to harvest cows to bring the herd back to sustainable levels (note: I didn't say objective. Objectives are often times passed more on social tolerance than anything else).

Region 4 issued 2,200 elk B tags this year under the 004-80 tag. That license is good for anywhere in R4 on private or DNRC lands. Individual districts in R4 have been upping cow tags as well, as herds continue to increase. What's really interesting though, is that elk numbers for the Sun River herd continue to grow. It's the only herd I know of whose entire habitat has some level of protection.The calving grounds are in the Sun River Game Preserve. The winter range is on the Sun River Wildlife Management Area. The migration corridors on the Front are almost exclusively Inventoried Roadless Areas. These elk are protected from the over-reaching hand of short-sighted people who place immediate gratification over the delayed satisfaction of knowing what it means to provide elk the space they need to live a life worthy of an elk.

A significant portion of the herd winters on private land as well. The SRWG has some fantastic participation by the local ranchers who border the Sun River Game Range. They're stepping up to the table to help solve the situation. While folks may not always agree on a solution, it's encouraging to see this kind of landowner/sportsmen relationship floushing somewhere in Montana. These kinds of relationships will be critical in adapting to a changing world, where the old ways of managing elk don't always work.

Places like the West Fork of the Bitterroot are much different than places like the Rocky Mountain Front. The problems are myriad, and they are all being addressed. We won't go in to the West Fork, but suffice it to say, there's some badass advocates working around the clock the help bring balance and bounty back to the West Fork.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Spears, again and again

In what can only be described as a complete lack of understanding to the concerns of hunters and anglers, Montana State Representative Kris Hansen of Havre has a strange little opinion piece in the Helena IR today about the benefits of Atlatl throwing.

Out of all the issues facing Montana's hunters and anglers today; from loss of access and chained public roads, to bills in congress trying to eliminate elk from the Mountain, or even turning wildlife management over to the legislature (remember how well the 62nd MT Legislature acted on wildlife management? We'd be hunting Cougars with spears and no tags, while still having a listed wolf population.), this is what the good Representative from Havre spends her time worrying about. She's apparently not worried about the fact that her constituents are locked out of hundreds of thousands of acres of public land. She's not worrying that a lack of access caused an overpopulation of whitetail deer, which ultimately lead to an outbreak of EHD. She's not too concerned over having her constituents voices muffled by the almighty dollar when it comes to the scientific management of wildlife.

Nope. She's upset that she can't kill a deer with an Atlatl and that the mean old Governor made fun of the strangest, most off the wall legislative session in Montana's history. The 62nd was so strange and combative, that we made not only CNN and Fox, but the Colbert Report and the Daily Show.

Representative Hansen, like so many others in the 62nd still don't get it. Thousands of Montanan's showed up to protest the attempts to privatize wildlife. Over 450 people attended the Senate Ag hearing on the Dirty Ditch Bill which would have eroded the public's right to access our own rivers and streams. The House and Senate email and phone systems crashed repeatedly with the outrage of public lands hunters and anglers. Committee hearings were packed to the gills more often than not. Hearings went late in to the evening as people lined up 15 deep to tell the Legislature that they needed to get their paws off of our wildlife, and public lands.

But I guess what really resonated with the folks like Representative Hansen were that we don't have the freedom to wing a spear at an elk. I think there's a disconnect there somewhere.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PLWA Honors Senator Tester

Public Land and Water Access Association works diligently and tirelessly for Montana's Hunters and Anglers. Recently, they led a round of applause for Senator Jon Tester for his leadership in helping maintain funding for access through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and his attempts to make permanent the 1.5% of funding within LWCF for dedicated access enhancement. Here's a photo and the story from the Northern Broadcasting System, as sent out by PLWA last night:

Courtesy of Northern Broadcasting System and Erl Barsness

On Thursday representatives from six Montana hunting and fishing organizations gathered at Big Bear in Billings to thank Senator Jon Tester for his efforts and urge him to continue the effort to provide Public Land access.

Those organizations included The Billings Rod & Gun Club, Laurel Rod & Gun Club, Magic City Flyfishers, Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Our Montana and the Public Land/Water Access Association.

Sen. Baucus and Sen. Tester re-introduced legislation over the summer to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Entirely funded from off-shore oil and gas drilling revenue, LWCF has seen significant cuts over the years. In 2010 the fund received $305 million and that translated into $20 million for conservation programs in Montana.

Legislation currently being debated in Congress could cut the fund to as low as $66 million, an 80% cut compared to the 2010 fiscal year budget and it would be the lowest amount in the funds’ 45 year history. The LWCF pays for everything from city park maintenance to conservation easements for big game wildlife and hunting access.



Monday, October 3, 2011

Duck Fever

By Land Tawney

Opening day of waterfowl season makes me dream of whistling wings and early morning quacks descending into decoy spreads. It makes me salivate like no other opener. For the first time in over a decade, I did not join my friends afield. Why? I have the fortune of my three year old daughter and six month old son at home. I also had the misfortune of traveling for work for the majority of the past month. I spent the opener with my family for some much needed re-connection. It was still one of the best openers I've had. This year’s waterfowl season is setting up to be a banner year. Because of above average rain fall this spring, duck numbers have jumped through the roof.

Truth be told, I still have over 90 days left in the season to hunt my favorite quarry and I'm fortunate enough t0 have already broken the ice in Louisiana with green wing teal in the bag, and a native sharp tail grouse last week at the Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

Touring the Charles M.Russell National Wildlife Refuge last week, there was water everywhere. On each little wetland ducks and geese could be found. My friends tell me the same is happening in North Dakota. The additional rain this year helped tremendously but there is a broader history on why waterfowl populations are in such good shape and we can kill seven ducks and four dark geese a day in Montana.

It started over a hundred years ago when sportsmen stepped up and put an end to market killing. That meant no more punt guns that killed hundreds of ducks with one shot and no more nurse ducks (pet ducks tethered to boats that quacked and swam amongst decoys). Hunters and anglers led the charge in these fights. But, it wasn’t just ending blatant over harvest that gave us our good fortune today. It was sound, scientific management. This started in earnest in 1935 with the penning of the first Duck Stamp by Ding Darling.

Required for purchase by all who hunt waterfowl, the funds generated by the duck stamp go back into purchasing habitat for ducks and geese (which also benefits a host of other species). I’m proud to purchase my federal and state stamp every year, knowing my money is hitting the ground. In fact Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar generated by the sales of Federal Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Refuge System.

Ducks Unlimited has asked die-hards to purchase two this year, essentially "Doubling Up." If you want to know why, simply look to Congress for the answer. Our country is in financial turmoil this year and all must tighten our belts, unfortunately conservation funding always seems to take the biggest cuts. But why cut funding that provides over $2billion in revenue to the state of Montana and supports tens of thousands of jobs. Why cut funding that is the lifeblood for small communities where the hunting season is like a four month Christmas spending spree? Why cut funding that is sustainable? This spring Congressmen Rehberg voted to zero out the North American Wetlands Conservation Act fund, drastically reduce the and Land and Water Conservation Fund, and zero out the "Open Fields” program which provides funding to farmers and ranchers who voluntarily open up their lands to hunting.

Hunters and anglers have spoken up for years on the benefits of conservation funding and continue to make our case to the “Gang of Twelve”, who are looking at funding cuts to help right our economy. Sen. Baucus will play a major role is this move forward and we look forward to his continued support for our sustainable Montana outdoor economy. I think everyone knows we need to tighten our belts but we don’t need to sell the farm. The seeds we sow today will determine the benefits we reap later.

This is simple, I just want my children to have the same opportunity to salivate over the duck opener as me.

Ensure the Last Best Place Stays that Way

Last summer I took my 2-year-old daughter fishing on Rock Creek - her first foray on this blue-ribbon trout stream, one that my father had taken me to. We kept two brown trout for dinner. As I was preparing the pan I let her fondle the fish. I looked down and told her that we would be eating them for dinner. She looked at the fish she was holding, looked at me, and then took a big ol' chomp out of one of the trout. I exclaimed, "Cid, we gotta cook 'em first!" She just looked up at me and smiled.

Our public land in Montana is our greatest treasure and something we can pass down to future generations like Cidney. The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, reintroduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., this year, is a bill that hunters and anglers dream about. It protects and restores some of Montana's most legendary hunting and fishing grounds like the Big Hole, Rock Creek and the upper Madison

These are all places I want to take my family in the years to come. These are places where the wind sighs through the lodgepoles, and bull elk bugle from deep timber. They are places where cold, clean water laughs over boulders and the laughter from our family echoes. I'm excited about this legislation because it perpetuates the legacy given to us by Theodore Roosevelt - public hunting and fishing for everyday Montanans like me and my family.

Not only does this bill guarantee access, it will protect headwaters and restore fisheries. This is key as Montana continues to change - we need to keep as much the "Last Best Place," the last best place. This is what makes Montana, Montana.

That means protecting security habitat. Big game requires big country to thrive. Security habitat is described by many as larger than 250 acres and at least one half mile from motorized traffic. Places like the West Pioneers and Monture Creek will forever stay places where big game can flourish - Tester's bill ensures that.

Another thing I like about the act is the logging component. My grandfather has been logging his place just out of Missoula for decades and the health and vibrancy of his 120 acres is readily seen. Like all Montanans, I've watched while our forests have been assaulted by the pine beetle epidemic. These places have changed dramatically, and the fire danger in many areas where we have summer cabins is tremendous. Logging will thin stands near these places where fire danger is high and threatens human structures. But more than this, stewardship logging components of the act will help our elk hunting by reducing road densities on some parts of the national forests, repairing roads in other places, and bringing much needed rehabilitation to places that really need it.

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act enhances many areas on our national forests that are in need of restoration. On the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, for example, 85 percent of all culverts on streams pose some kind of barrier to fish passage. The numbers are even higher on the Lolo and Kootenai. Culverts often prevent fish from moving up- and downstream for spawning, thus preventing thriving fish populations and epic fishing days.

Tester didn't stop here either. There are more than a quarter million acres that will be designated for motorized vehicles like ATVs and snowmobiles. Families who like to get out and explore on ATVs will have a place to go. What's more, Tester did a remarkable job of not closing existing roads; more than 6,600 miles of roads and trails exist on the forests in his bill. FJRA closes less than 50 miles of roads and leaves the rest open.

Montana has changed a lot in my lifetime of growing up here. It's changed since I started a family and it's bound to change some more. Tester's bill is Montana; it unites loggers and wilderness activists, backcountry hunters and ATV users. It's heartening to realize that with this visionary legislation, Montana's wild places and wild adventures will stay the same, providing the next generation of Montana sushi girls a place to etch their own memories.

Land Tawney is a fifth-generation Montanan who grew up with fly-rod and rifle in hand. He is the president of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers in Missoula.

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