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Hard Work and Hard-Earned Knowledge

March 1, 2011

I had intended to mention Sean Fulton’s accomplishment back when he made the paper on February 11th, but I got side-tracked.  It had slipped my mind until Sean showed up today to give the program at the Black Hills Sportsmen Club meeting.  As it is, I’m glad I heard him speak before talking about him.

I was impressed at reading about a fellow taking a full-grown mountain lion at 30 yards with a bow and arrow, but after hearing the story first hand and learning more about the archer, I am left pretty much at a loss words. 

Fulton is not your usual hunter.  He’s pretty much the counter-part of the ski-bum, that is to say, he lives his life in such a way as to enable him to be in the backcountry as much as possible.  Consequently, he did not come by his lion easily, or out of dumb luck.

He has been studying lions in the Black Hills for a number of years.  This year he reckons that he put in at least 100 days scouting, tracking, and photographing kills, scrapes, and lions in order to identify core areas and establish ranges.  At present he admits to having located 40+ spots where he can stand with a reasonable expectation of calling in a lion.

I went away from Fulton’s presentation with a huge respect for what he has had to do in order to learn about lions and their prey to be successful.  His taking the lion was in a sense just incidental.  While I have no desire to kill a lion, I do covet Fulton’s knowledge and field-craft. 

“I’d already got a nice lion (in 2009), so there was no point in me chasing another lion with a gun. I’m an archery hunter, and I’ve always wanted to take one with a bow. To hunt mountain lions is already hard as heck; it is one of the hardest, stupidest things I’ve ever done. If I can do it, why not do it with a bow? I feel like I’m a more ethical hunter when I hunt with a bow.”  Sean Fulton to RCity Journal.

And today Sean allowed as how he wants to increase the difficulty next year and hunt with a long bow.  Apparently the compound bow doesn’t afford sufficient challenge.

— Margadant


Who’s on your commission, and is it safe?

February 27, 2011

Ominous news for residents concerned about wildlife management and habitat.  I suspect that the commissioner system is susceptible to attack to a large degree because its original hook and bullet constituency became disinterested in whom the governors were appointing to game commissions.  It’s resulted in too many commissioners with special interests and no biological background.  — JM

Western wildlife commissions on the chopping block

From the February 21, 2011 issue HIGH COUNTRY NEWS  by Jodi Peterson

In Washington and New Mexico, state wildlife commissions could become a thing of the past. As part of their budget-trimming measures, both states’ legislatures are considering bills that would do away with the commissions’ power to set regulations and policy for managing fish and wildlife.

In theory, wildlife commissions, found in every Western state, allow citizens a voice in game and wildlife management decisions and help to insulate policy from partisan influence. “They were historically set up to put a damper on political swings between exploitation and conservation,” says Bernard Shanks, past director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

With public input, the governor-appointed commissioners decide on hunting seasons and bag limits, and set regulations and policies for nongame wildlife. Many also have hiring and firing authority over the director of the state’s wildlife division. In practice, though, critics say that commission seats sometimes go to campaign contributors. And commissions tend to emulate the political tone of the departments they oversee, often favoring fishing, hunting and agricultural interests over conservation and  “nonconsumptive” wildlife uses, such as photography.

Earlier this month, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners passed controversial regulations for the state’s first-ever black bear hunt, over the protests of conservationists who charge that the hunt lacks any scientific basis. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission just decided to fund a study of state lands suitable for relocating bison from Yellowstone. Ranchers were furious, and the proposal divided both hunters and conservationists.

The bill introduced in Washington’s Senate would remove rule-making authority from its fish and wildlife commission, restricting it to an advisory role. The bill also calls for a new Department of Conservation and Recreation that would include the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Recreation and Conservation Office and the Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement unit. “The commission form of government can work, but it’s an expensive way to run government,” says John Mankowski, Gov. Christine Gregoire’s natural resource policy adviser. “It takes a lot of time and money to hold meetings all around the state and get input. The commission also makes fine-scale decisions about management that should be at the discretion of the director (of Fish and Wildlife).”

In New Mexico, a House bill would entirely eliminate the game commission, which has lost the trust of many state residents recently for sharply increasing black bear and cougar quotas. Policy decisions would be made by the Game and Fish Department instead, which would become part of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. “If we’re going to hire professional biologists and fisheries people, let’s let them do their job,” says State Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-District 28, the bill’s sponsor, “instead of having an overly politicized commission make those decisions.”

It remains to be seen whether these two bills will move forward. In New Mexico, two nearly identical bills were recently tabled, but Hall’s bill still awaits a hearing. The Washington bill has the governor’s support and eight sponsors. If the legislation does pass, many wildlife management professionals and conservationists, and even some hunters, fear the change will prove harmful. “We’re really concerned about the loss of a venue where sportsmen can address their concerns and meet with decision makers,” says Joel Gay, communications director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “We’ve had our disagreements with the Game Commission, but the overall process is sound.”

Still, most agree that reform is needed. “Like any aspect of governance,” says Chris Smith, former deputy director of Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, “wildlife commissions need to evolve with the times.” In appointing commissioners, he says, governors must recognize that public interests in fish and wildlife management and conservation today are much broader than they were 30 years ago. And commissioners need to understand that they manage wildlife as a public resource and need to serve the interests of all their constituents.

If a state’s residents don’t feel they’re adequately represented on their wildlife commission, what is the alternative? asks Martin Nie, associate professor of natural resource policy at the University of Montana. “You’ll see more (management) decisions being made by ballot. And that’s probably not a good thing,” because the ballot process is far from ideal for making sound decisions on complex natural resource issues. A ballot initiative “leaves no room for collaborative problem-solving,” adds Smith. “It’s just bare-knuckles power politics.”

The New & Improved SB 55.

February 24, 2011

The pot-lickers have gone and improved on SB 55.  It now provides:

That § 32-20A-12 be amended to read as follows:
    32-20A-12. No person may chase, drive, harass, kill, or attempt to kill any game animal or game bird with or from a snowmobile, except that coyotes may be pursued by snowmobiles and taken by a landowner or lessee on the landowner’s property by shooting from stationary snowmobiles through the use of firearms if the operator of the snowmobile is at least eighteen years of age. Not more than one person may be aboard the snowmobile while coyotes are being hunted or taken pursuant to this section. A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

I guess some of the saner fixes took too much of the thrill out of the hunt, so they added the “pursuit” language.  What with snow-machines that can do 100 mph, the “hunter” won’t have to stop to uncase his shotgun except to use it to pry the coyote out of the tread.

The House gets to vote on it on Friday.  Depression gives way to despair.

— Margadant

Fluke, or the Law of Inintended Consequences?

February 24, 2011

They’re using helicopters to collar elk for studies in both Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park right now.  I’m reprinting kind of a side-bar story from today’s paper in full.  I can’t improve on what Woster wrote. 

Drugged elk makes easy pickings for Custer Park lion –  Feb. 24, 2011, Kevin Woster, Rapid City Journal

Talk about an unlucky elk.

And a lucky lion.

The two got together Saturday in Custer State Park as a helicopter crew was shooting sedation darts at cow elk to drug them so they could be handled in a research project.

One elk hit by a dart staggered over into some vegetation to lie down.

It never got up, thanks to the lion, which was waiting nearby.

“It was a nice sunny day, and I guess that lion was sitting out there sunning itself when an elk staggers up and tips over,” said Gary Brundige, resource manager in Custer State Park. “Well, what’s any top-of-the-line predator going to do in a situation like that?”

It killed the elk and prepared to have dinner.

The action was over in a hurry. The helicopter crew made sure the elk was dead and moved on to the next one.

Crew members also reported that earlier in the day, they had seen what likely was the same lion in the area. It had briefly chased a group of elk that was being herded by the low-flying helicopter in preparation for darting.

“From talking to the pilot, it sounded like the lion gave a half-hearted effort to the chase,” Brundige said.

It was much easier for the big cat later, when the lone elk staggered up to lie down.


Spring pulls our chain

February 15, 2011
Current Conditions
Apparent 63°F Wind SW/5 mph
Dew Point 19°F Visibility 10 mi
Humidity 19% Barometer 29.81 in
02/15/2011 10:55 AM

This is a welcome, but unsettling turn of events.  Today makes about a week of this weather, but it still doesn’t smell like spring yet.  It hasn’t been all that long since the sub-zero temps and high winds made life in the backcountry a frozen hell.  Everyone is smiling, but we’re all thinking, “Will it be three more blizzards, or just one?”

Some of the local hawks can be seen hunting along the foothills front in this weather, but those lovely migratory birds are prudently refusing to make their appearances. 


The Highest and Best Use

February 14, 2011

This year there are 40 bills in the South Dakota Legislature that bear on wildlife, wildlife habitat, and the management of the people’s wildlife.  The old hands tell me that this “interest” in our great outdoors is unprecedented.  Unfortunately, the common denominator I see running through this spate of legislation is that wildlife unfairly competes with livestock, wildlife habitat impedes the highest and best use of land — i.e., development, and this state should move toward the Texas style of hunting where one pays to get on and play.

I thought maybe this all was just a part of the current war-on-the-West rhetoric that periodically sweeps over this region, but after reading the following in Thomas Power’s The Killing of Crazy Horse, I began to fear there might be another explanation:

     At that time there were still plenty of buffalo in the north, but the hunting pressure was relentless.  Seeking meat and robes over the winter of 1881-82, Baptiste Pourier rode up into the Black Hills “and hunted, just hunted,” he said many years later while giving a deposition to a lawyer. “And at that time every hill and every little place where you could put up a tent, there was two or three hunters there and just as soon as it would be light enough [the witness here clapped his hands several times] that is all you would hear all day until sundown.  If the moon would shine, they would shoot all night,  And they kept that up.”

     What Lieutenant Hugh Scott found astonishing was the speed with which the great northern herds vanished.  Lieutenant Richard Irving Dodge had seen the destruction of the herds south of the Platte.  Passing through a favorite hunting ground one fall he found only the carcasses of dead animals.  “The air was foul with sickening stench,” he wrote, “and the vast plain, which only a short twelvemonth before teemed with animal life, was a dead, solitary, putrid desert.”

     Now the smell of rotting buffalo carcasses moved to the northern plains.  “There were about three thousand men on the range killing buffalo for their hides,” Scott wrote of the summer of 1883.  That September, with a fellow officer, Scott rode five hundred miles looking for buffalo without finding so much as a fresh track.  On the journey they met “an old Sioux Indian”  who had been doing the same thing with better luck.  He had killed one old scabby bull.

     . . . A year later, in August 1884, Scott killed a final buffalo.  He never saw another.

     Twenty years after Scott’s last kill some Oglala came to visit the anthropologist Clark Wissler in his quarters at Pine Ridge.  They had been told that Wissler owned an old-time buffalo robe.  ‘”A venerable man,” Wissler remembered, “asked to see and feel the skin.”  Others followed.  They touched the deep fur, knelt before the robe, prayed, and sang.  Sometimes the sick were brought to see and touch Wissler’s robe.  The depth of their feeling made Wissler ashamed.  He had never seen a wild buffalo and had never tasted their meat.  “The suddness of the loss was the appalling part of it, ” Wissler wrote.

Maybe all this is a congenital thing out here.  We’re a phrenologist’s dream, we are.


He’s Back!

February 13, 2011

          Rooney regains his touch and seals the Manchester Darby with, as they’re saying, “the goal of his career.”  Sweet, welcome stuff.