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.