Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Big Shaggies

Hellgate Hunters and Anglers supports the re-establishment of wild bison in areas that can handle them. To us, that means large expanses of Public Land like the CM Russell National Wildlife Refuge, and The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. 

We believe that there is ample room for these animals, and that by working collaboratively with landowners, livestock producers, hunters and other stakeholders, we can find a compromise that benefits everyone, and the Bison. 

When we started this blog, almost a year ago now, our message and our mission was simple. We wanted to provide a place where the policies and politics of wildlife management were front and foremost. We don't take partisan sides, we don't advocate for one elected official or another, but we won't shy away from calling out people who try to reduce our opportunity, and our wildlife populations and habitats. 

We hope you join us by becoming a regular visitor and liking our facebook page. It's the best way to get updates on this issue, and make a difference when it comes to getting these big shaggies back where they belong. 

It's simple; if a state like Utah, which leads the West in reducing opportunities for the average hunter and angler can have wild, free roaming bison - then Montana can find a little room for these big shaggies too. 

Send your thoughts to Governor Brian Schweitzer and let him know that Montanan's support open and honest attempts to increase wildlife abundance in Montana. 

You can write to the Governor here: http://governor.mt.gov/contact/commentsform.asp

Some people like to scare the rest of us with a whole bunch of "what if's" - The truth is this, Bison can be managed, and we can have a huntable herd all our own. Some have asked "what for?"
The answer is simple, because it's right, and it is needed. Without some serious conservation efforts, Bison could be listed under the Endangered Species Act. There is a chance now to conserve the remaining wild, genetically pure Bison and while nobody with any serious interest in this issue thinks that we'll have millions of bison running around the West, folks do believe that we can keep an iconic animal, one that a bunch of Western Congressional Delegates feel should be the Critter that most symbolizes the west, from meeting an untimely end. 

The love affair with hating bison is only central to Montana. Other states get it. Bison should be embraced, and conserved. 

Write the Governor today and send a message that Montanan's can do this. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Get Outside

We load up the truck and head out to find some decent evening hatches on one of Montana's rivers in an hour and a half. Reports are that the Mo is on fire right now w/ PMD's and Caddis.

In fact, reports from around the state are all hot right now. Get outside, go fish. Do some scouting.

We'll be hitting a nice little river in a close by valley that holds some decent browns. If things go well, we'll get yelled at for being home well past 10. Skeeters are out in force, and so are the bugs we love, like caddis, stoneflies, and PMD's.

There's a moment when it the whole mess comes together, and you look up after tieing on yet another fly, when you realize that there might be bigger fish in bigger rivers, or there's probably somebody having a garden party, but hot damn, this is where it's at.

Get off the computer and go have fun before someone tries to take your access away, again.

We are. Besides, the dog is getting pushy. She's ready to go swimming.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

I hunt Northern Montana a lot. I love that country. Whether it’s the limestone reefs and elk of the Rocky Mountain Front, the whitetails of the Marias and Milk rivers, or the Sheep in the Breaks, I can’t get enough of Northern Montana. I’ve never run into a terrorist, drug smuggler or human trafficker in all those years running around the Front or Breaks.

But somehow, unbeknownst to everyone in the world, including the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security, the hippies are on the wire.

HR 1505 would hand “operational control” of our public lands over to the Border Patrol and Homeland Security from the Border to 100 miles south. The idea is to slow down drug trafficking, illegal immigration and hippies. Noble, right?

However, when Congress passed a law similar in scope to HR 1505 a few years ago to build that border fence down south, they did so over the objections that people are raising today.

According to Howard Frederick, a landowner who is completely surrounded by public land, and lives four miles from the Mexico/Arizona Border, the best outcome of increased road traffic and improved roads along the border has been that the Drug Traffickers now have very good roads to run their brand new suburban’s down, and as a result, a 3% drop in the price of Mexican Brown Heroin means better profit margins for the Cartels.

Way to go Congress!

I can see the thought process unfold as Representative Bishop and his Co-Sponsors (including MT’s own Congressman Dennis Rehberg) brainstorm:

[Interior: Smoke filled room. Leather chairs and mahogany bookshelves with leather bound books along the wall. A painting of George Washington Crossing the Delaware is across the room from a velvet painting of dogs playing poker]

Fat Cat Politician: “They’re coming in by the patchouli laden handfuls. They’re bringing their dope, and more than likely, single payer healthcare.”

Gaggle: “Harrumph!”

Fat Cat Politician 2: “By god. This must be stopped. These hippies must never gain access to our lands, and our women."

Representative Bishop: “We need a fence! Wait, no. Even better: We need forward operating bases full of Blackhawk helicopters, drones and black clad operatives running around the hills silently training their M4 carbines on us as we frolic nakedly in the South Fork of the Flathead, or chase Wapiti and bear in Lincoln County."

Gaggle: “Harrumph, Harrumph, Harrumph, Harrumph!!!!”

Congressman Rehberg: “We must surrender our liberty for just a little bit of security. Hippies, they’re more dangerous than grizzly bears."

Congressman Gossar: “Hippies. Canadian hippies no less. Next thing you know we’ll all be living in communes and singing Gordon Lightfoot songs."

Gaggle: “Goddamned Hippies!!.”

There’s hippies in the hills, man. Can’t you see the urgency?!?!?!

Some days I feel like we’ve crossed over into bat country, like Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I feel like we’ve hit that weird space where reality and idiocy intermingle and we get these strange bills that nobody wants, but everyone will fight for.

Sound stupid? It is. But that’s part of the reasoning behind one of the largest power grabs proposed in the last 10 years. HR 1505 is supposed to help secure our borders. It won’t.

In fact, if you listen to the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol and the people who actually manage our public lands, HR 1505 is completely unnecessary and they don’t want it.

HR 1505 would hand “operational control” of our public lands over to the Border Patrol and Homeland Security. The idea is to slow down drug trafficking, illegal immigration and hippies.

However, when Congress passed a law similar in scope to HR 1505 a few years ago to build that border fence down south, they did so over the objections that people are raising today.

So, why all the hub-bub? HR 1505 comes up for a floor vote this week. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe Wednesday. It’ll happen when the stuffed shirts back east think it works best for them politically.

It’s important to let our elected officials know that handing authority over to one central agency is a bad idea. It doesn’t matter if it is about public lands, which according to FWP, approximately 70% of all harvested wildlife come from, or if it’s about private lands, where the rights of private property owners are held sacrosanct in Montana; this is a bad bill. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Pox on the Fox

When a fox gets in your henhouse, you don't just sit back and let it take your chickens. You grab the old Model 1906 Winchester and box of hollowpoints and you take care of the problem. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation did just that today. 

Some states hand hundreds of prime limited entry tags over to non-profits. These tags, especially in Utah, have little to no accountability as to how the public resource is being allocated, or how the money raised is being spent. In some instances, groups raise millions of dollars that just disappear into "administrative fees" or "Consultant fees." That's wrong, and it's just another form of poaching. 

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation receives a fair number of auction tags/transferable tags, and has laid the gauntlet down on how to properly account for, and manage the funds generated by these tags: 

"When dealing with these special auction or raffle hunting permits we are dealing with a public trust," said David Allen, president and CEO of RMEF. "It is imperative that we are as open and transparent as possible when we assume the responsibility of selling these permits."

"Organizations should not become financially dependent upon the sale of these permits for their operating budgets, but rather find ancillary benefit by helping our state agency partners realize greater conservation revenues from the sale of these limited permits," he added.

We're solidly behind them when they take on the corrupt practices of a few groups who are trying to undermine the ability of the average hunter and angler to get out, and go hunt.

A tip of the Stormy Kromer to David, and the guys and gals at the Elk Foundation.

Damned good work folks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Combat Fishing

By Commander Joel Stewart

My name is Commander Joel Stewart and I’m a proud member of the United States Navy. I’m also a native Montanan who grew up in Great Falls Montana. I’ve hunted and fished around our great state as a kid, and get home whenever I can.

In January of 2005 I was sent to Iraq to serve in Baghdad as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was assigned to a coalition staff, serving under a 3-star Army general. It was an unusual assignment for a Sailor, but I was selected and I served with pride. It was a very rewarding tour in a number of ways both professionally and personally. Today, I am writing about the latter, as it is by far the most unique. 

I think being a Montanan gave me a extraordinary sense of self-sufficiency and preparedness. What I thought was common sense when I grew up proved to be the exception once I left Montana and entered the service. It was that sense of preparedness and self-sufficiency that caused me to toss an old fishing rod in my sea bag as I packed up to leave my family and go to war. I did not plan to fish in Iraq, I didn’t know they even had places to fish, as that was not a focus of my studies as I prepared for my deployment. I thought I might have a chance to fish in Georgia as I went through training and that is why I tossed the rod in. Ultimately, it proved to be a very good idea.

When I did get to Baghdad, I discovered that Saddam Hussein has built a number of lakes, at the expense of the people in his country, and stocked the lakes with both native and non-native fish. In my down time, I soon discovered the fish took flies. I had found an outlet for my stress that I did not expect.

Any spare time I had I tried to spend on the water, either fishing or learning about the new species of fish I was encountering. I talked to a lot of people, most of whom had not brought fishing gear. Most had not seen a fly fisherman either. That gave me an idea.

Life in a war zone is not easy. It’s not fun, and it’s not glamorous. The people who volunteered to go liberate Iraq lived under incredible circumstances, and distractions from the daily shellings and firefights were desperately needed. Sharing my passion with others and perhaps give them a way to get their mind off their duties was as much a tonic for me as I hoped it would be for them. I tapped into the power of the internet by reaching out to fly fishing forums across the world. Through the collective it provides I soon had everything I needed to teach people to fly fish. Rods, reels, flies, leaders, etc poured in as the folks back home learned about this great opportunity to help their sisters, brothers, fathers and wives.

I put out flyers and soon had a class full of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines learning to fly fish. It was surreal, watching them learning the basics of fly casting with a M-16 slung over their shoulder. The tranquility we all felt with a rod in our hand helped us get through the long hours and separation from our families.

 The classes ran until my tour ended in February of 2006. Anotehr fly fisherman, Bill Jones (a fellow Montanan to boot) agreed to carry on from where I left off. That started a chain of leadership that went unbroken until US troops pulled out of Iraq in late 2011. The group I founded morphed from the Baghdad School of Fly Fishing to the Baghdad Angler’sClub and School of Fly Fishing. The mission had adapted from teaching fly fishing to getting the troops out on the water to fish as a form of recreation that gave them either a taste of home or perhaps kindled a new passion. 

Our actions define who we are. I am a man who loves God, family and country; I am willing to give my life for all three. I have a strong faith and live by the Golden Rule while respecting other’s right to believe as they choose. I cherish my family and live every day to show the world an example of a man who is a faithful husband and loving father. I serve my country, as a Sailor on active duty in the Navy, and have for the past 26 years. These things partly define who I am, but not all of me.

The rest is defined by my experiences and the most formative were my years before I joined the Navy at 19, the years I lived in Montana. I will always be a Montanan, though now I have lived more of my life out of Montana than in it, Montana has always been a part of who I am.

Montana is in my bones. Part of being a Montanan is an understanding of the natural world and I am defined by the things I do in the outdoors. Fishing, fly fishing in particular, is forefront ahead of hunting, camping, hiking, and boating. I am a fisherman and it is a part of almost everything I do. I am honored to have shared a piece of me, and Montana, with the men and women serving in Iraq. I like to think Theodore Roosevelt would have been proud.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Unlocking the Gates

We've all had it happen. There’s a new gate on the old county road you and your dad used to bump along down looking for deer. Or, you look over the next rise at a piece of public land in the tens of thousands of acres, but you can’t get to it because there’s a 20 yard strip of private land keeping you off the public ground. We've all lost those easy to reach places where we could shoot on public lands. Whether it’s folks leaving their 78 Datsun or the burnt up old Maytag, or even worse; a subdivision moves in, and suddenly the new neighbors don’t like the sound of guns going off right next to their two story Colonial.

There’s a crisis in America when it comes to issues that hunters and anglers care about.  There are very real, and very potent threats to how we access public lands, and how we manage the habitat that our wildlife needs to thrive. Congress is mostly broken, and as we saw in the last legislative cycle, the MT state legislature is hell bent for destroying our opportunity and ability to reasonably manage wildlife. Partisan politics has wormed its way into our heritage. People have forgotten that hunting and angling values aren’t blue or red; they’re optifade, jungle stripe and a host of other blends of colors.
But that changed today.

Folks in Montana have been screaming at our delegation for years to get something done that helps hunters and anglers. O it in a non-partisan fashion, and make sure it’s not full of sill, ideologically driven foolishness.

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 has 19 separate provisions, including:

  • The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act: 
  • This section specifically excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving decisions about tackle to State Fish and Game Agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, who currently regulate ammo and tackle.  The EPA has denied petitions to regulate tackle and ammo under TSCA in 1994 and again in 2011.  This codifies that the EPA does not have the ability to regulate tackle.  This includes a savings clause for local, state and other federal regulations 
  • Making Public Lands Public:   
  • This section requires that the 1.5% of annual LWCF funding is made available to secure, through rights-of-way, or the acquisition of lands, or interests from willing sellers, recreational public access to existing federal public lands that have significantly restricted access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes.  Access is the number one issue for Sportsmen.  Finding places to recreate and the loss of access are the top reason sportsmen stop hunting and fishing.  In an agency report to Congress (in 2003) found 35 million acres of public land had inadequate access.
  • Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act: 
  • This section amends the Pittman-Robertson Act by adjusting the funding limitations.  This allows states more funds available for a longer period of time for the creation and maintenance of shooting ranges.  The bill encourages federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain shooting ranges and limits liability for these agencey.
  •  The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act:  This section specifically excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving decisions about tackle to State Fish and Game Agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, who currently regulate ammo and tackle.  The EPA has denied petitions to regulate tackle and ammo under TSCA in 1994 and again in 2011.  This codifies that the EPA does not have the ability to regulate tackle.  This includes a savings clause for local, state and other federal regulations.
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (NAWCA):
  • This section reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act for another five years. NAWCA is a voluntary land-owner friendly initiative that uses incentives to provide valuable matching grants that leverage federal dollars to protect habitat that is critically important for migratory birds, such as ducks and other wildlife.  Over the last 20 years, NAWCA has completed over 2,000 conservation project to protect 26.5 million acres of habitat.  This voluntary program has over 4,500 partners and has leveraged nearly 3 dollars for every dollar spent by the federal government. 
  • Partners for Fish and Wildlife: 
  • This provides provision reauthorizes the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program through 2017.  This program works in a non-regulatory, cooperative fashion to help private landowners with habitat restoration on their property. This cost-share program focuses on improving wetland, riparian, in-stream, fish passage, sage-steppe, grassland and aquatic habitats that provide benefits to migratory birds, threatened or endangered species, and other sensitive and declining species.

Access and habitat conservation; That’s a damned fine pair to draw, just like neighboring Senators who put partisanship aside, and focus on the issues. This proposed legislation is just at the beginning of it’s track though. While most of the powerful groups representing hunters, anglers and recreational shooters are supporting the bill, there’s still the political games that have to be played to get anything passed in a Congress that would rather left good legislation die than adjust an intractable position.

It’s high time we get beyond the politics of “NO” and get on with doing the Business of the American people. Senator Thune apparently gets that, as does our own Senator Tester.

A tip of the old Stormy Kromer to those two Senators who stepped up to the plate, and made something good happen.  Hunting and angling issues should never be partisan. We’re pleased as punch to see this come out, and we will buy a round when it passes.