Friday, September 27, 2013

Opportunity & Access For All

Fall in Montana is about as close to Heaven as you can get and September 28th is a day that every hunter knows is a good day to be in the field. Tomorrow, Saturday, September 28th is National Hunting and Fishing Day. The bill establishing this day was signed into law in 1972. It’s a day when elk will be moving because of snow in the high country, trout will still be slamming hoppers and Montanans will be out in force, as usual, enjoying our public lands and public wildlife.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell just announced that she is directing the Department of the Interior to open up more access to hunting and angling in  America’s Wildlife refuges. Here’s what the Secretary and the Department had to say from this press release:

In advance of National Hunting and Fishing Day on September 28th, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to expand fishing and hunting opportunities throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System, opening up new hunting programs on six refuges and expanding existing hunting and fishing programs on another 20 refuges. The proposed rule also modifies existing refuge-specific regulations for more than 75 additional refuges and wetland management districts. “Sportsmen and women were a major driving force behind the creation and expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System more than a century ago and continue to be some of its strongest supporters, especially through their volunteer work and financial contributions,” Jewell said. “Keeping our hunting and angling heritage strong by providing more opportunities on our refuges will not only help raise up a new generation of conservationists, but also support local businesses and create jobs in local communities.”

It is a great sign that Secretary Jewell recognizes the need to maintain and expand access for hunters and anglers in every corner of this country. Hunting and angling are big business, a fact Jewell knows from her time at outdoor retailer REI. We also know that access alone isn't enough.  We need to protect critical habitat that is essential to sustaining healthy populations of wildlife for now and future generations.

With Congress, especially the House of Representatives, unable to see the forest for the trees on much of anything and continually stuck in the rut of budget squabble after squabble, we need leaders like Secretary Jewell to stand up, defend conservation and ensure that the world we're leaving to our kids is better than the one given to us. Policies like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and making sure energy development is done responsibly in the right places all play a large part in our ability to hunt on public lands.

We need bold leadership on these issues. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

Montana hunters and anglers have been at the vanguard in both stream access and access to public wildlife. We've also taken some firm stands when it comes to what that access should look like. 

Access doesn't mean a two track in every drainage. It doesn't mean jet boats on every square inch of water and it doesn't mean foot travel only on public lands. There is a balance that must be achieved both in terms of human use of the forest and maintain quality opportunity to harvest an animal on public lands.

We’re also painfully aware of the loss of access to traditional lands – both public and private – as new breeds of landowners take over homestead farms and ranches. Secretary Jewell’s announcement that the US Fish & Wildlife Service will expand hunting and fishing opportunities on National Wildlife Refuges is greatly welcomed. It’s this kind of leadership that we need in Washington D.C. instead of more gridlock and partisan bickering.

Here’s a tip of our Stormy Kromer to Secretary Jewell and to increasing public access to public land and public wildlife! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sheep for the Mountains

If there’s one species that signifies Montana’s place in the Boone & Crockett Record books, it’s bighorn sheep. We produce monster rams. It’s what we do.

From the unattainable brutes of Wild Horse Island to the record busters of the Breaks to the thin air Rams of the Unlimited Units – Montana grows exceptional sheep.

Efforts the last few years to establish new herds, augment existing herds and just basically grow the sheep population have been stymied by disease, domestic livestock interaction and politics. We saw a couple of attempts to stop any transplanting or augmentation of sheep herds in the 2013 Legislature. SB 314 & SB 83 would have been disastrous not only to Bighorns, but to all wildlife. Luckily, both of these bills died after a lot of hard work by groups such as the Montana Wildlife Federation, Montana Bowhunters Association, Montana Sportsmen’s Alliance, Montana Wild Sheep Foundation and many others.

It was a dark time for sheep last winter. But like all good stories, the clouds parted and we’re back on track for establishing new herds and augmenting existing herds. Thanks to the tireless efforts of FWP Region 3 Biologist Julie Cunningham and by following the Montana Bighorn Sheep Management Plan, we’re now looking at a way to augment small sheep herds in the Madison Range.

FWP just released their Environmental Assessment for transplanting Bighorn sheep herds in Madison range. If you want to hunt sheep, increase your draw odds and generally just want to have better, larger Bighorn herds in Montana, you best take notice and send your comments in to support this augmentation. It’s easy, it’s fun and it’s free! 

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Beard by Any Other Name

Has the Gauntlet been laid down? 

Steffen Rasile of Helena just came in second place at the 2013 Just for Men National Beard and Moustache Championships (Makes us wonder if their's one for women). While we celebrate this heroic win for all of Montana, we bristled at one part of the story:

 And for those manly men who like to grow a beard every year for hunting season? Rasile teasingly derides them as amateurs. But he encourages people to let their hair down and join the club, especially for their upcoming brewery tours in Montana.

For those of us fortunate enough have a face full of manly beardedness both during the season and not, we protest. 

The hunting beard is a time honored tradition, born from the labors of our forefathers and passed down to those of us in the field today. 

Our beards may not always stick around throughout the year (have you ever had to pull an articulated sculpin out of your cheek? You don't want a beard to get in the way), but our beards are fierce and not amateurish. 

Our beards make us men to match the Mountains, Plains, Coulees and Fields. When the cold Montana wind blows, our beards keep us warm and secure as we wait for bucks to chase does. 

Our beards keep our snot from falling into our mouths as we try to remember why we like sitting in a duck blind when it's twenty below. 

Our beards ensure that our wives will have something else to complain about during our months' long absence from home. 

There is no doubt that the beard is seeing a resurgence in popularity driven by shows, such as my personal favorite, Duck Dynasty. Those beards, by the way, are the beards of hunters. There is no styling gel or product involved, just matted, food stained facial hair.  

Grow your hunting beard in fearless defiance, for Papa Hemmingway, for Willie & Si & Jase, for Theodore Roosevelt & the scores of men who knew that a beard during the killing season is the only proper way to keep yourself warm. 

Be proud of who you are, and grow that hunting beard! 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Hunters Against Hunger

Last session, while we were all embroiled in fighting legislation to test & slaughter elk in the Northern Yellowstone Herd, hand control of our wolves back to Washington D.C. and take your resident hunter opportunity away, something good did happen.

Working with the outfitting community and resident hunters & anglers, Senator Kendall Van Dyk reintroduced his Hunters against Hunger bill.

It became law. Governor Bullock signed it. It’s now the law of the land. There should be much rejoicing.

You can find out how to donate at the FWP Website. It’s pretty simple: When you purchase a license, ask to donate to Hunters Against Hunger. When you purchase a license on-line, look for the Hunters Against Hunger donation button. Every little bit helps.
Here’s what the bill does:

It sets up an account so that Hunters can donate a minimum of $1. That buck then goes to the Montana Food Bank Network where the funds are sent to local food banks in need for processing of wild game. It’s simple, effective and we hope it means that hunters will now help not only feed hungry Montana families with wild game, but we help pay for the processing as well.If you’re like me, then you’ve already got a pocket full of elk & deer tags. I normally donate at least one doe to a local food bank, but after talking with my pastor, it became clear that the donation of game animals actually stresses budgets in small food banks to the point where they almost have to turn game away. That’s not right.

Thanks to Senator Van Dyk’s leadership, that got fixed, but only with your continued help. The easy work’s been done, now it’s time to fill that coffer so all Montanan’s can enjoy wild game.
Montana has over 160,000 big game hunters. If we each gave $5, that equals $800,000. That’s a lot of pronghorn, venison and elk processed. But a donation does so much more than just pay for the processing: it helps keep local food banks from spending their hard earned dollars on processing fees rather than purchasing other food. What good is meat without the potato, right?

We’re proud to stand with everyone who helped make this bill a reality. Senator Van Dyk (D-Billings) and Representatives Kelly Flynn (R-Townsend) & Jeff Welborn (R-Dillon) did a fantastic job of stewarding this through both houses and on to the Governor’s desk. 

We hope this program becomes a force for good in helping Montanan's stay healthy and well fed.