Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Time to Pony Up!

I fish a lot of smaller rivers and streams in the summer, just because I like the fishing better. I also like being able to walk 3-4 miles and fish how I want to. But that access is always under assault. Whether it’s the legislature or billionaire tycoons, us everyday, blue collar Montanan’s are facing a battle that never ends.

Luckily, there are groups like the Public Land and Water Access Association who look out for us little guys. Right now, PLWA needs your help though. They’re willing to take our ability to access streams and rivers all the way to the Supreme Court, but they need that extra kick in the pants that your dollars can provide. PLWA has set up their Stream Access Defense Fund and they need your help. They've teamed up with Magic City Fly Fishers and the George Grant Chapters of Trout Unlimited to help generate enough funding to continue the fight. 

As the folks at PLWA say:
In April of 2012 Madison County district Judge Loren Tucker ruled against PLWA in a case about a Seyler Lane road bridge - a "prescriptive" county road - a road created by public use rather than a formal process. The court held the prescriptive easement for the road was, in effect, two easements - one a public easement for just the road surface itself and a secondary easement of the full 60 feet for repair and maintenance. Thus, there would be no recreational legal access at bridges on prescriptive roads if this ruling holds.
PLWA strongly disagreed with this theory and appealed the case to the state supreme court. We believe that case law supports the policy that prescriptive rights include all legal uses within the prescriptive right-of-way. If the two easement theory were to hold, would it not mean school kids waiting for a bus would be trespassing - or a guy pulled off the road to fix a flat would be trespassing ? 
The landowner involved with the bridge is James Cox Kennedy, an Atlanta mogul of the Cox Communications empire. He has filed cross appeal challenging the "constitutionality of any act of the Montana legislature." We are not sure what this means but it sounds like a challenge to the stream access law as well as the bridge access law. 
No one knows how many prescriptive county roads there are in MT, but it is not wise to let Tucker's precedent setting ruling hold - or let the Kennedy cross appeal prevail.
Montana is lucky to enjoy the best stream access in the U.S. We cannot stand by and see it eroded by this case or any other cause. (Keep in mind that our current stream access law came about when an adverse lower court ruling was overruled by the supreme court. Many times the lower courts deliver a "home town" verdict.)

You’ve spent the summer running every river you can find either in a tube, a pontoon, raft or drifter. You’ve eaten enough caddis at dusk to feed a pod of Missouri River Bruisers for a week. You’ve got raccoon eyes. You’ve blown hundreds of bucks at the local brewpub, a cool grand at the fly shop and donated a day or two to help clean up some trash infested stretch of river that apparently has been ravaged by a horde of Natty light aficionados and you’re just getting primed for hopper season.

But what are you gonna do about preserving your access? 

It’s easy to ask folks for their time, to write a letter, or come to Helena to testify against those who would steal what is not theirs. It’s tougher to ask folks for a $50 bill. I never got that. The truth is simple, if you don’t pony up some cash, then groups like PLWA can’t afford to hire the attorneys who are working at cut rate prices to maintain what we’ve all fought for.

I’m in for $50, are you?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Kindgom for some Elk

I've got a lot of respect for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, especially since they’ve taken on the welfare groups who takepublicly owned wildlife to fund their operations. I applaud their decision to oppose HR 1581, the anti-elk, and anti-hunter Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act.

I don’t always agree with them on the management of large carnivores, but it’s a difference of degrees.
Mark Holyoak, communications director for RMEF just had apiece in the Missoulian talking about the need to scientifically manage wolves. That includes trapping. To be clear, I personally don’t have a problem with trapping as a management tool, and I think that allowing trappers to take three wolves is fair, conservative and a mechanism that was provided for by the Montana Wolf Management Plan. So I totally agree with RMEF on that. I also agree that we need to use every tool we have to grow more elk. I don’t agree with portions of the Wolf Hunt approved by the Commission as I think it’s too broad, and doesn’t focus harvest in specific areas where we truly need to manage wolves. Furthermore, trapping around Yellowstone is going to come back and bite us on the butt. The first time a named, collared wolf is trapped outside the Park, we’ll see a renewed effort to eliminate trapping on all public lands, and this time, the anti-hunting community might just get it.

Mark used a number of bullet points to drive home his point. However, I don’t think it’s right to use anecdotal evidence as a background for declaring that wolves have eliminated hunting opportunity, especially when the issue is much more complex than just wolves, lions or bears.

But what we’re really talking about is Elk. Specifically - elk abundance.  The course of action laid out by RMEF lacks two critical components as they relate to how to grow more elk.

The first missing piece in Mark’s well written opinion is legislative interference. According to the Montana State Legislature, Montana needs to kill 22,000 more elk just to come into compliance with a short sighted law that was passed in 2003 – HB 42. That law says that FWP has to manage at or below objective. While that may or may not be a contributing factor in all elk herds, it is indicative of the mindset our legislature has when it comes to conserving elk habitat. In 2011, there were repeated attempts to eliminate funding for conservation programs like Habitat Montana, to get rid of Federal Public Lands, and to eliminate the voice of the people in FWP Commission decisions.How will the elimination of our ability to conserve elk winter range serve hunters and more importantly, elk, in the future? 

Combine that with a rapidly outdated elk plan that focuses primarily on social tolerance rather than the biological needs of elk in a predator rich environment. The fact remains that you cannot manage any wildlife species on a straight line. Objectives were set at low levels to accommodate the real and recognized desire of landowners to reduce forage consumption on private land, rather than what the actual carrying capacity is for elk. We’re managing for the bottom of the curve before we even start to consider wolves, bears and the most effective predator – us.

As my friend Randy Newberg often says, “We could kill every wolf, lion, and bear in Montana, and we’d still have an elk problem.” That’s the truth. It’s also RMEF’s mission to conserve elk habitat. They’ve been hugely successful in accomplishing that mission with over 6 million acres conserved. There are more elk in this country now than there were 40 years ago, largely due in part to the efforts of the Elk Foundation.

The second missing piece is habitat. Specifically, habitat productivity. We see elk down on irrigated bottoms year round. Lots of folks think that’s because of wolves – okay, sure, partially. But look at it from the perspective of an elk’s stomach: They can either eat high protein, nutrient rich crops, or they can eat poorer quality range grass (which is getting poorer by the year). The quality of habitat on public lands is diminishing. 

You can see that starting to come through in the Bitterroot Elk Study when we look at cow elk body conditions, and we are seeing it in places like the Crandall/Sunlight areas of Wyoming. Body condition, nutritional content of available forage, and yes, wolves, all play a part in what is going on with elk in the west.

Let’s face it, we want more elk, specifically in western Montana, where we’ve seen some herds crash. We also want some sensible management of elk beyond depredation hunts and overhunting. Take the upper Blackfoot for example: Folks are screaming that wolves are killing all the elk, yet we still shoot the hell out of cow elk when they get on private land, late in the winter. See a problem here? We allowed for excessive opportunity of elk harvest in places like the West Fork of the Bitterroot and denied our game managers the ability, and the political backbone, to cancel those. Same goes for the Gardiner Gut Hunt.

The North American Model was set up to try to reduce political influence in wildlife management. Unfortunately, it’s not working that way. Wildlife management is now one of the most politicized issues out there. Over 250 bills that would have either negatively affected wildlife, the public opportunity or wildlife habitat management were introduced in the 2011 Legislature.

Here’s the real predator: People who put their own selfish interests ahead of what’s right for wildlife and people.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fishing Photo Contest

We admit it. We've got fish on the brain. Specifically, trout fishing on the brain. We're not looking down our noses at warmwater species like Walleye or Bass, we love those too, especially when they're breaded and fried.

But it's hot, unbearably so. And nothing beats standing belly deep in the Blackfoot river when the mercury rises. Cold, clear rivers full of trout and grayling, brookies and bulls for Wilderness streams, big tailwater Rainbows and Browns from a drift boat and a cooler with some frosty beverages in the back of the truck just scream summer in Montana.

Hell. Yes.

To honor this most natural air conditioning, the trout stream, we're bringing on the first annual trout fishing photo contest!

The Rules are simple:

  • Submit a photo with a trout fishing theme to our facebook page, or to mtducks@hotmail.com. Grip and grins are fine, but we really want to see what makes Montana great, so scenic shots and action shots are great too. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make everyone stop and say "Damn, that's fantastic." 
  • It's gotta be from Montana. If you slayed steelhead on the Clearwater, we're very happy for you (and a little jealous), but this isn't about Idaho, it's about Montana. 
  • Get as many folks as you can to like the photo*. The top 25 photos with the most likes will be collected and passed on to our panel of expert judges. 
  • Deadline for Submission is September 1st. 
  • Announcement of winners will be on September 15th.

 They will select the winning photo based on likes AND on their own expert eye. We've talked Dan Vermillion from Sweetwater Travel (and FWP Commissioner), Booboy Dave DeLisi from Sweetgrass Rods, and Russel Parks from the Missoulian Angler into being our panel of Judges. These folks have been kind enough to donate their time and expertise.

We're offering a few different prizes:

Get out there, go fishing, take some photos and submit them!

* You do not have to like our FB page to enter the contest, but we'd love to have you as a friend.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


We’ll miss the biggest of the big bugs on this year, but that’s okay. We’re hoping we miss the big crowds as well. Salmonflies, Golden Stones and other big, nasty terrestrials are my favorite flies to use. I’ve been dreaming of a mini-vacation for a few weeks now.

When the mercury bubbles up past 85 degrees, the dog and I like to do as little as possible, unless it involves standing in a river waving a stick (The dog has a fantastic double haul; she’s hell on wheels with a 5 weight).  
I still get that wanderlust to find new waters. Big fish, small fish, whatever. I want to see what’s out there and cast a line into new waters before we lose it all. I grew up fishing beaver ponds and small streams in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. I’ve spent countless hours, days and months fishing big tailwaters for hog trout.

Now, I suppose I’ve hit that time in my life where just getting out and hitting the water is what matters. Watching a trout take a natural is just as entertaining anymore as watching a trout take my fly. I simply love to be out in our public lands, on our public water and enjoy what others have fought for.
This Fourth of July, remember a few small things:
  1.  Leave the fireworks at home. Only you can prevent forest fires.
  2.  The amount of time spent fishing is not deducted from your allotted time on earth.
  3.  Your ability to use that river or stream isunder constant threat. Be vigilant and be ready to fight.
  4.  Respect the private land and the landowner whom you are fishing next to. Don’t be the guy who cuts through the hay field out of convenience.
  5. Celebrate America’s unique vision and grand experiment of public ownership of wildlife. We have it better than anywhere else in the world. 

We gotta go. The Dog is already loaded up and honking the horn. She gets impatient if she knows there's a river at the end of the ride. Have a happy and sage Fourth of July!