Abandon Daylight Time? A Bad Idea

Spring ahead. Fall back.

That’s been the mantra of most Americans for a long time, as we go through the semiannual routine of setting our clocks ahead in the spring, losing an hour of sleep, and getting it back again in the fall, when we set our clocks back.

I remember going on daylight saving time in my home state of Minnesota in the mid-1950s. For a bit of trivia, I went to a late Sunday afternoon movie matinee, watching Marilyn Monroe in the movie, Bus Stop. The movie came out in 1956, so that must have been the year Minnesota adopted daylight time.

I remember leaving the theater in early evening and being amazed at how bright it was outside. It was the first day of daylight time and having an extra hour of daylight in the evening was a reward well worth losing an hour of sleep the night before.

Over these last 60 years I’ve heard all the grumbles and complaints. As a farm kid, I certainly heard the usual complaints about cows and harvests. As a parent I heard the complaints about putting kids to beds when the sun is still up.

I still like daylight time, doggone it.

For those of us who like outdoor recreation, daylight time fits like a glove. I love those long summer evenings. It gives anglers the chance to go out after work and have time to have a picnic with their families and still have time to fish for a couple hours before dark. We can shoot trap in an evening league. We have the opportunity to play tennis, get in a round of golf, mow the lawn or any of a thousand things that are a routine part of sunny evenings.

Those evenings are in danger, however, if a bill in the Montana Legislature, SB206, should become law. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Osmundson (R-Buffalo) would exempt Montana from daylight time. If we were to abandon daylight time, it would make a mess of interstate travel, and figuring out plane connections. It’ll also screw up your TV schedules. There are all sorts of problems and virtually no benefits from abandoning daylight time.

Believe it or not, the bill passed the state senate, so it goes to the House of Representatives. Incidentally, our local senators split, with Jon Sesso voting against it, and Edie McClafferty voting for it.

So, if you like long, summer evenings, I urge you to contact your representatives in the legislature and urge them to vote no on this misguided piece of legislation.

On a different topic, our former congressman, Ryan Zinke, made a media splash when he reported for his first day as Secretary of Interior, wearing a western hat and riding to work on a horse. I made a comment on Facebook, noting that we had a ready-made caption to use the first time he made an anti-environment decision.

It didn’t take long.

On his first day on the job he canceled a previous Interior decree banning the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on national wildlife refuges. The previous order, issued by the Fish & Wildlife Service, came out in the last few days of the Obama Administration.

This was, in short, a bone thrown to the gun lobby. The National Rifle Association praised Zinke’s action, with an NRA spokesman calling the previous order “a reckless, unilateral overreach that would have devastated the sportsmen’s community.”

As Joe Biden would say, Malarkey! We’ve been using non-toxic shot for waterfowl hunting for 30 years. Many hunters voluntarily choose to use non-toxic bullets for big game hunting, as lead fragments in gut piles are a frequent cause of death for eagles, condors, and other birds that feed on carrion. Some states will still have non-toxic bullet rules in effect in specified areas. There are also plenty of substitutes for angling use, where we’ve used lead in the past. In short, it was no big deal.

It was not an auspicious start for Secretary Zinke.

Common Sense on Gun Issues

I spend many days each year walking around with a gun – but I still don’t buy into the gun lobby’s nonsense.

Kudos to Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock for showing common sense.

Of course, there are some people who are going to demonize the guv for the crime of showing common sense but so be it.

The governor had the good sense, or unmitigated gall, if you prefer, to veto a couple bills passed by our Looney-tunes legislature.

First, he vetoed a bill that would let anybody carry a concealed weapon in urban areas (there’s no restriction in rural areas). The thinking behind this is that if you think you’re qualified to carry a concealed weapon, that should be good enough. We don’t need no stinkin’ permit.

Sorry, I don’t buy that nonsense. For years, people holding permits to carry a concealed firearm have held themselves out as exemplars of safety, as they’ve been vetted by the county sheriff and have had training in firearms safety. That means absolutely nothing if you can just declare yourself qualified.

Along that line, there are people in Congress trying to pass a law that would deny a State’s right to not recognize another state’s granting of a concealed carry permit. There are some states where there are virtually no requirements whatsoever to get a concealed carry permit.

The governor also vetoed another bill that would permit people to have a firearm on postal property. He properly vetoed that bill on the basis that the State of Montana can’t make rules for what happens on Federal property. The sponsors of that bill might have had a good idea from the standpoint that a person might innocently have a firearm in their car while on a post office parking lot. I’ll confess to being guilty of having done that, possibly several times, though I’ve never carried a gun into a post office.

I’ll give the Lege credit for a bit of common sense on their own part when they killed a bill that would allow school employees to carry concealed weapons while on the job. There was an outpouring of public comment overwhelmingly opposed to arming school employees.

In another bit of common sense, a Federal appeals court ruled that a 2013 Maryland law banning assault type rifles, plus magazines that hold more than ten cartridges, did not violate the Second Amendment. The court’s decision cited the fact that these military-style rifles and large capacity magazines have been used to perpetrate mass shootings, and were thus “most useful in military service,” and not protected under guidelines of the 2008 Heller decision of the Supreme Court. It’s expected that this case will go on to the Supreme Court.

On the other side of the coin, Congress passed legislation overturning an executive order by the Obama Administration that directed the Social Security Administration to give their database of Social Security beneficiaries who receive their benefits through a representative payee to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as people not qualified to purchase firearms. President Trump signed it last week.

As a former Social Security employee, while I’ve been away from the agency for many years, the topic is one with which I’m intimately familiar. First off, I’d suggest that both the Obama Administration’s order and congressional action are grandstanding.

The overwhelming majority of beneficiaries receiving their Social Security payments through a representative payee are elderly people with advanced dementia, and living in nursing homes or similar care facilities. Another large segment would be developmentally disabled adults living with family or in custodial care. The likelihood of these types of beneficiaries wandering into a gun shop is pretty remote, so it’s kind of a moot point with them.

On the other hand, a certain number of people with representative payees are mentally ill and fully capable of causing harm to themselves and others. These would be classic examples of people who should not have access to firearms.

Among the 4 million or so people receiving Social Security payments through a representative payee, there’s likely little risk of people buying a firearm and committing mayhem. That’s not the same as no risk—or even acceptable risk.

State of the Fishery – Big Hole River

It’s still winter in Montana, but soon time to be out on the river – but first get a license!

Happy New Year!

If your year revolves around fishing and hunting, today is the beginning of a new year, a new Montana fishing and hunting license year, that is. Here in western Montana, with our ready access to trout streams, lakes, mountains and river bottoms, and still just a few hours from prairie country, we’re blessed with abundant opportunities to get our money’s worth out of our license dollar. So, before heading out for late ice fishing or early fly-fishing, be sure to see a license vendor or go online to get licensed for those early outings.

The George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited is having monthly State of the Fishery meetings this spring. In February, FWP fisheries biologist Jim Olsen reported on what’s happening on our area’s premier trout river, the Big Hole.

The next TU meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on March 9 at the Pour House on Harrison Avenue in Butte, with FWP biologist Jason Lindstrom reporting on what’s happening on the Upper Clark Fork river. All these meetings are free and open to the public. In April, Matt Jaeger and Ron Spoon will report on the Beaverhead and Jefferson Rivers.

These monthly meetings are in addition to the annual GGTU spring fundraising banquet taking place Friday evening at the Butte Plaza Mall Event Center. It might already be sold out, but you can check on ticket availability by calling 560-2050. As for Jim Olsen’s report, one of the highlights was that in 2016 there wasn’t any noticeable Saprolegnia fish die-off.

Saprolegnia, you might recall, is a fungus-like organism present in all waters, and often infects fish with a moldy appearance, and is sometimes a fatal infection. There was a significant die-of of adult brown trout in the Melrose section of the Big Hole River in October 2014, and another, though less serious, die-off in 2015. There was virtually no Saprolegnia-related die-off in the fall of 2016.

Olsen attributes the Saprolegnia problems to weather. In 2014 and 2015, October weather and water temperatures in the lower Big Hole were somewhat above long-term average. In 2016, however, there was significant rainfall in September, which increased water flows and lowered water temperatures.

Olsen also reported on a water analysis looking for the pathogen that causes proliferative kidney disease, which caused a big fish die-off last summer on the upper Yellowstone River. The pathogen, tetrocapsuloide bryosalmonae was found to be present in the Big Hole, though there has been no known affect on fish populations.

A Rocky Mountain whitefish, the fish most vulnerable to last summer’s PKD die-off.

Olsen noted that trout populations in the Melrose stretch of the river have rebounded, with juvenile fish thriving as well as fish migrating into the area, possibly including rainbow trout migrating up from the Jefferson River.

Mountain lakes were a concluding highlight to Olsen’s report to TU. When rivers start to drop and get warm, he suggests that mountain lakes might be a great option for anglers. He says, “Mountain lakes have a lot to offer, including solitude, good exercise, great scenery, and a variety of fish.”

He says that in the Big Hole drainage, there are 137 lakes, and 101 of them are known to have fish. Some 30 of those lakes are stocked on a regular basis (every few years, that is), and many others have self-sustaining fish populations.

The Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest has published a guide to all the mountain lakes in the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest (also available online). Further, Olsen has created a spreadsheet of the mountain lakes in the Big Hole drainage, and the George Grant Chapter will have that spreadsheet posted to the Chapter website (GGTU.org).

Olsen named some favorite lakes (sorry—not enough room here), but, in general, he likes lakes that have some shallow, muddy bottoms or reefs, with weed patches. Backpackable float tubes are an excellent way to access those fishy waters.

The presentation included photos of some serious fish, so when late summer comes and you’re ready for a hike, there’s the possibility that your reward might be the trout of a lifetime.

Trout Unlimited Banquet in Butte

Trout Unlimited dinners – all for the trout (and grayling, too).

The snow banks tell us it’s still winter, but we’re getting into one of the sure signs of spring, the banquet season.

Here in Butte, spring seems to be the time when the various habitat organizations hold their annual fundraising banquets to support their organizations’ work improving wildlife habitat. The Mule Deer Foundation held their dinner earlier this month and the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited has their bash coming up on Friday, March 3.

Oh, and take a hint, readers. If you’re affiliated with one of the organizations e.g. elk, turkeys, wild sheep, pheasants, etc., let me know what’s coming up and I’ll be glad to give you a plug in a future column.

I’m a longtime member of Trout Unlimited, and joined the George Grant Chapter of TU shortly after moving to Butte in 1988, and I’ve volunteered for habitat projects, served on their board, and otherwise have been involved with TU for a long time.

I believe in the goals of Trout Unlimited, of working to preserve and protect our cold-water fisheries. It’s not just about catching trout. It’s about protecting crucial habitat. Whether we’re talking about municipal water, irrigation, fish, waterfowl, upland birds, or elk and deer, it’s all about quality habitat and that always brings us back to water.

Here, along the Continental Divide, we’re blessed with an abundance of trout streams, though we’re also blessed with an abundance of environmental problems from a century of mining and smelting, careless agricultural practices, and over-allocated water resources, just for a start. We’ve been there and we’ve done it.

The national organization of Trout Unlimited deals with a lot of “big picture” issues, such as the renewed threats of the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, or acid mine drainage caused by mountaintop removal in coal country.

The local George Grant Chapter puts local money to work on local projects, such as habitat restoration, public access to streams, education programs and other such local opportunities. The annual spring banquet funds the chapter’s work on the ground and in the water.

The Trout Unlimited banquet will be held on March 3, beginning after 5 p.m., again at the Butte Plaza Mall at the former Stage store location, next to the Jo-Ann Fabric store.

You can expect the usual opportunities to spend money and support the trout, with raffles for fly rods, a NRS raft package, and lots of other merchandise. There will be live and silent auctions for a variety of art, rods, reels, guns, furniture and other such merchandise, much of it donated by supporting local businesses. You can also expect to see or make a lot of friends and have a great time.

Last year, the GGTU banquet was totally sold out and the most successful fundraising dinner in the chapter’s history, and the local committee is working hard to improve on that.

If you’re not already on the GGTU mailing list, you can buy tickets for the dinner online at www.ggtu.org, or call Joelynn at 406-560-2956. Also, the event is kid friendly and dinner is free for kids under age 12, with games and prizes just for kids. Today’s kids are the future of angling and habitat.

So, I hope to see you at the Trout Unlimited dinner, and don’t be afraid to get into a bidding war on a neat fly rod or piece of art.

Remember: it’s all for the trout.

It’s Presidents’ Day Weekend and the Great Backyard Bird Count

Canada geese in the Big Hole River last summer.

While the current head resident at the White House is busy sucking all the oxygen out of the air, don’t forget that this coming weekend honors our first president, George Washington.

While Monday’s holiday is officially Washington’s Birthday, many have come to look at it as Presidents’ Day, and this coming weekend as the Presidents’ Day Weekend.

The third Monday of February became the designated day to observe Washington’s Birthday with the Uniform Holiday Act of 1968. Ironically, it guarantees that we never celebrate Washington’s birthday on February 22, his actual birthday.

Three other presidents were born in February. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. William Henry Harrison was born on February 9, 1773. Ronald Reagan was born February 6, 1911.

William Henry Harrison’s presidency is remembered for two things: the longest inaugural speech in our country’s history, and the shortest tenure in office. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, a cold and wet day. He didn’t wear a coat or hat, and declined a carriage and rode a horse to the capitol building. He then stood in cold rain for nearly two hours reading his 8,445-word speech. Then he rode in the inauguration parade and attended three inaugural balls that evening.

On March 26, the president came down with a cold and despite medical treatment including opium, castor oil, leeches and Virginia snakeweed, he died on April 4, just 31 days into his term. While the medical diagnosis at the time was pneumonia, a 2014 analysis of medical records, as noted on Wikipedia, indicates that a contaminated water supply at the White House was likely a contributing factor in his illness and death.

Harrison was the first president to die in office, and his vice president, John Tyler, became the first vice president to assume the office of president. In 1889, Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was elected president, the only grandson of a president to become president.

Presidents’ Day weekend also means that it is again time for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

This will be the 20th year of the annual citizen scientist project. In 1998, the first year of the Bird Count, there were around 13,500 checklists, representing the United States and Canada, submitted for the weekend. Last year, an estimated 163,763 bird watchers from over 100 countries participated in the event.

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count takes place over this Presidents’ Day weekend, Friday, February 17 through Monday February 20.

It’s easy to participate in the Bird Count project. On any or all days of the weekend, just take a walk in your neighborhood, in a park, or any other location, and note the different kinds of birds you see and then log on to a website, birdcount.org, and report your observations.

You can do this as an individual, or you can participate as a family, or a classroom or a scout troop, or any other combination of volunteers. Use your imagination.

You don’t have to be a birder to participate in the Bird Count. Personally, I’ve participated in the Bird Count in every year since it started, and I’m not a birder, though I do find enjoyment in observing the variety of birds and bird behaviors when I’m in the outdoors.

One of the purposes of the Great Backyard Bird Count is to get a snapshot of bird species and numbers and where birds are toward the end of winter, before the spring migrations.

Here in our part of the West, there might be some interesting contrasts in bird populations compared to other years. On a trip a couple weeks ago I was on a daytime flight from Salt Lake City and was impressed with the uniform snow cover along the route paralleling Interstate 15. My hunch is that observers might not see as many early migrators this year.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a good excuse to get out and enjoy a little nature.

Winter Weekend in Duluth – A Fun Destination

Sunrise over Lake Superior at Duluth, Minnesota

Sunrise over Lake Superior at Duluth, Minnesota

I’m not a big fan of ice fishing, but it’s not a bad way to spend the day, especially when you’re in a shelter, complete with a propane heater, and sonar gear to let you know if a fish is showing interest in the fishing lure I’m bouncing around a foot off the bottom 20 feet straight down from the hole in the ice. This hole in the ice was a long way from home, in the frozen waters off the shore from Duluth, Minnesota. With me in the shelter was my host, Matt Stewart, a local fishing guide. The outing had been arranged by Visit Duluth, the area’s convention and visitor bureau.

A "selfie" of fishing guide Matt Stewart and myself.

A “selfie” of fishing guide Matt Stewart and myself.

I’m on the board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and Visit Duluth invited us to have our winter board meeting in Duluth to give us a chance to get acquainted with the area, because we would be having our annual summer conference there this coming June. While we waited for the fish to take our hooks, Matt told about the fishing in the harbor waters. Most people want walleyes, but it’s one of those waters where you never know what might come along, including pike, muskies, perch, sturgeon, and burbot, which locally are called eelpout. One angler recently caught a 30-inch pike through the ice, and Jarrid Houston, another guide, once caught a 57-inch sturgeon through the ice. The water we were fishing is referred to as the St. Louis River, though the harbor waters seem to be at least a mile wide. The St. Louis River comes a long way through northern Minnesota before dumping into Lake Superior. Mike Furtman, a local outdoor writer and wildlife photographer, said when he was a kid the St. Louis River was polluted and poisoned by raw sewage from upstream communities, as well as industrial pollution from shipyards and other sources in Duluth. There’s still work being done, but the Clean Water Act effectively cleaned up the river and the harbor, and the fish came back. It’s a great lesson to remember as we hear about the possible gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency. As it happened, I didn’t catch any fish. The sonar indicated a number of fish that checked out my lure, but it couldn’t make them bite. Matt caught a small walleye, and others in our group, fishing with Jarrid, caught several fish, including one of those “eelpout.” That’s the way it goes. There were a lot of options for the day (to make up for the previous day in a stuffy meeting room). Several people went cross-country skiing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and others tried ice climbing and fat tire biking. The next day several of us went up the North Shore to Two Harbors and caught the beginning of the John Beargrease Sled-dog Marathon race, one of the country’s major sled dog events.

Cheering on the start of the John Beargrease sled dog marathon.

Cheering on the start of the John Beargrease sled dog marathon.

It was a typically busy weekend in the Duluth area, and there are a lot of facilities that provide event venues. We got a look at the convention center that’s along the waterfront. It’s part of a complex of convention facilities, plus ice skating arenas, movie theater, symphony hall, and curling rink, for a start. During our weekend, there was a big hockey tournament, and a major figure skating competition at the center. The weather was relatively mild during our weekend, but Duluth has a system of skyways so that people can navigate through much of downtown Duluth without having to go outside. All in all, we found Duluth to be a really interesting destination, with lots of indoor and outdoor activities. My wife and I have been to Duluth before, but it has been over 30 years since the last time we were there. The big waterfront convention center complex was built since then. Incidentally, on the way home I got caught when Delta Airlines had a major systems crash, so I missed the public lands rally at the Capitol last week. Travel is fun, though not without problems.

Fly Fishing Film Tour Returns!

My friend, Charley, fishing with the help of our now-departed Flicka.

My friend, Charley, fishing with the help of our now-departed Flicka.

Okay, we endured January.

It was a tough month. Hunting seasons ended. Donald Trump took over the White House, and immediately started reversing policies of the Obama Administration.

The weather was cold. Utility bills were high. You’d like to go south somewhere and get warm, so you send emails to in-laws who have a condo in Arizona suggesting you’d like to come and visit for a few months. They don’t reply but they do “unfriend” you on Facebook. You realize that’s a hint that you’re stuck at home for the duration.

Take courage. You survived January. Daylight hours are over an hour longer than they were at Christmas, and every day has a few minutes more sunshine than the day before.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, that silly festival where we wake a woodchuck from a perfectly pleasant winter’s hibernation to see if, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the sun is shining. According to the legend, if the groundhog sees its shadow, there will be another six weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy and the groundhog doesn’t see its shadow, there will be an early spring.

Big deal. In this part of the country, six more weeks of winter is pretty much the same as an early spring.

For a real taste of spring I recommend an evening of fly-fishing movies. Yes, the annual Fly-fishing Film Tour is coming up next week on Thursday, February 9, at the Motherlode Theater in Butte. There’s a social hour beginning around 6 p.m., with the movies starting at 7 p.m.

This is the 11th season for the Fly-Fishing Film Tour, or F3T for short. It’s definitely a cure for cabin fever, as we enjoy an evening of fly-fishing around the world.

This year’s film lineup features fishing in places as varied as Kamchatka, Siberia, Mexico, Alaska, and, yes, Montana. Some of the anglers might exude an overdose of testosterone, but not all of them, as a couple of the featured films highlight women as fly anglers.

Tickets for the evening are $15 and are available in advance at The Stonefly fly shop in Butte, or at the door at the theater.

It should be fun.

It will also be a healthy distraction from nonsense emanating from our nation’s capitol.

Even before Trump took office, his transition team asked for names of Federal employees who have attended climate change meetings, sending a chilling message to government scientists.

Last week Trump signed executive orders reversing previous decision by the Obama administration to not permit the Keystone XL Pipeline and to not grant an easement across the Missouri River, thus halting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

I assume some readers cheer this news. Many people were disappointed when the Keystone XL pipeline was stopped. From a jobs perspective, yes, pipeline construction creates jobs temporarily, though most of those jobs disappear once the pipeline is completed. In the case of Keystone XL, the bulk of the petroleum that would be transported would come from the Alberta Tar Sands of Canada; the dirtiest, most polluting, environmentally damaging petroleum on earth. The main winners with Keystone XL will be Canadian oil corporations.

I have friends in North Dakota who were angered when Pres. Obama halted DAPL. I’m not sure if it’s for the principle of piping Bakken oil to refiners, or if it’s anger at a bunch of damn Indians defying pipeline companies. It’s probably a complex mixture of both. Either way, I don’t think they realize that the reason the pipeline was halted was because the pipeline company had lost in the court of pubic opinion.

The latest is that the new Trump Administration just ordered three federal agencies to cease communicating with the public through (according to Washington Post), “news releases, social media and correspondence.” Is it coincidence that the three agencies are Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior, agencies that deal with environmental issues and public lands?

In other words, there’s a lot going on that calls for a night off to daydream about fishing.

Fly-fishing  a local western Montana creek.

Fly-fishing a local western Montana creek.

Montana Citizens to Rally for Public Lands

IMG_6618Gov. Steve Bullock addressing public lands rally in 2015.

 

Rep. Ryan Zinke was in the hot seat last week, getting grilled by Sen. Bernie Sanders about global warming. To his credit, he took a different position than his new boss, Donald Trump, who has famously said that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese government.

Zinke conceded that global warming is real and related to human activity. He even noted that while picnicking with his family in Glacier National Park he could see a glacier shrinking before his eyes. He tried to quibble a bit by saying there are a lot of differing opinions, but didn’t argue when Sen. Sanders asserted that scientists are in almost total agreement about global warming and its causes.

Zinke’s hearing was happening at about the same time that, according to a Washington Post report, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2016 was the hottest year on record, surpassing the previous record year, 2015, which beat out 2014 for that dubious honor. The world’s average temperature in 2016 was 58.69 Fahrenheit, 1.69 degrees above the 20th century average of 57 degrees. The world’s temperatures have set new records five times since the year 2000.

Here in Montana we were just emerging from another week of subzero cold, which seems ironic when scientists are complaining about global warming. In fact, in the U.S., 2016 was not the warmest year on record—just the second, though it was the warmest year on record for Alaska.

Of special interest to Zinke’s constituents in Montana was his restating his support of Federal public lands, though he also testified in favor of development on public lands. This, of course, was just a couple weeks after he voted in favor of a House rules change to make it easier to transfer public lands.

With Republicans in control of the White House, both houses of Congress and the Montana Legislature, our Federal public lands are at risk. Both the Montana and national Republican platforms call for transfer of public lands to the states. Many believe that this would be the first step in exploiting our lands for private gain, and, eventually, privatizing ownership of those lands.

If any readers accuse me of being prejudiced regarding this topic I concede they’re right. But, and it’s a major but, the call to transfer public lands is in the Republican platforms and I had nothing to do with it.

On the other hand, we, citizens have the right to peacefully petition the Legislature and to communicate our stands on public issues.

Supporters of public lands are holding a “Rally for Public Lands” at the Montana State Capitol at 12 Noon on Monday, January 30. This rally is sponsored by a number of organizations, including Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Wildlife Federation, Montana Audubon, Montana Conservation Voters and others.

In a mailer, they say, “This is your chance to let our elected officials know that our outdoor way of life defines who we are as Montanans, and we will always fight back against any attempts to seize the public lands that enable us to lead that life.”

Featured speakers at the rally include mountaineering legend, Conrad Anker, fly fishing guide and TV host Hilary Hutcheson, K.C. Walsh, CEO of Simms fishing company, and Governor Steve Bullock.

Montana public land supporters held a similar rally in 2015 and legislators got the message that our Federal public lands are not for sale, and a number of bills calling for land transfers died peacefully. Unfortunately, this is a message that needs to be sent again and again.

To make it easier for local residents to attend the rally, the Skyline Sportsmen have chartered a bus, which will leave from the Butte Plaza Mall parking lot at 9 a.m. on January 30. Call Harold Johns at 565-2064 for a reservation on the bus. If the bus gets overbooked, car pools will get organized.

I’m hoping there will be a big turnout at the Capitol. Those public lands are our public lands.

End of Waterfowl Season

Kiri retrieving a mallard on a previous outing.

Kiri retrieving a mallard on a previous outing.

Today marks the end of Montana’s waterfowl season, the last of the general hunting seasons for the 2016 license year.

My last waterfowl outing, and I’ll point out that in this case “last” means most recent, was typical for the tail end of the hunting seasons.

Kiri, our black Labrador retriever, and I made a long trudge across a snowy field. We were heading for the upper end of a warm water spring creek. It’s a magnet for mallard ducks during cold weather. It’s partly the warm water, and partly the willows at this end of the field that provide a windbreak from the prevailing west winds.

This unassuming little creek has been a reliably good spot for ducks for many years, so it’s worth the long walk to get to this corner of the field. Occasionally we’ve even put up a pheasant or two from the brush, so there’s the possibility of more than mallard ducks.

On this walk Kiri and I have company. There are half a dozen black Angus bulls hanging out near the creek. They’re pretty calm, but as they moved aside so we can get by them they created a little buzz of activity.

That little buzz put the ducks on high alert and as we got a few steps closer to the creek four mallards flushed, out of range, and flew off for safety. Seconds later another little bunch of mallards also took off, and the creek was empty.

We took a long walk across a frozen field without the reward of getting shots at ducks, not to mention the makings of a roast duck dinner.

The makings of a roast duck dinner.

The makings of a roast duck dinner.

I won’t complain. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve made that walk and come up empty. We saw ducks and they outsmarted us. For a bonus we also saw a couple pheasants, though their season was closed. On our drive to the ranch we saw a big flight of Canada geese flying out to feeding grounds.

Presumably, by the time you read this Kiri and I will have made one more waterfowl outing and, optimistically, we’ll bring home another duck or two to end the hunting season on a positive note.

There’s also a good chance that the final outing won’t be any more successful than this one, and if that’s how it goes I’ll still be grateful for yet another hunting season.

Kiri and I have had a lot of outings since the grouse season opened on September 1. We’ve looked for blue grouse, ruffed grouse, pheasants, deer, and waterfowl and we’ve had some success in the majority of outings. We’ve been out in warm, late summer weather, cool, crisp sunny autumn days, rain and fog, and subzero winter days.

We have birds and venison in the freezer and a journal filled with another season’s worth of hunting memories. I’m grateful and content.

As a footnote, Kiri and I made one more hunt, an outing in -8º temps, with sparkling frost along the spring creek. In spite of the cold we saw waterfowl, putting up a dozen mallards just out of range, and a little later about 3 dozen mallards and a 100 Canada geese – also out of range. This was kind of a typical end to my hunting seasons.

Kiri enjoying the search for ducks in subzero weather. "Cold? I didn't notice."

Kiri enjoying the search for ducks in subzero weather. “Cold? I didn’t notice.”

We note the death at age 91, two weeks ago, of a Montana fishing legend and a hero of that Greatest Generation, Bud Lilly, “A Trout’s Best Friend,” the title of his autobiography, co-written with Paul Schullery.

Bud Lilly grew up earning a reputation as a fisherman and a baseball player. Both fishing and baseball took a back seat to serving in the Navy during World War II. Like others, he returned home to win the peace, earning a college degree, starting a career as a high school teacher, and then left teaching for the somewhat risky opportunity to buy a fly shop in West Yellowstone.

As the saying goes, the rest is history. Bud became famous both as a fishing guide and as a merchant, and as he developed a reputation as one of Montana’s top experts in the ways of trout, he also developed a deep sense of conservation and an appreciation of wild trout.

I regret that I never got to meet Bud Lilly, much less fish with him. Still, anybody who has fly-fished a Montana trout stream and caught a wild trout shares a part of Bud Lilly’s legacy.

Warning! Assault on Public Lands Beginning

It's winter on our public lands. We hope there will be a spring, as well.

It’s winter on our public lands. We hope there will be a spring, as well.

While people in America’s heartland celebrated the beginning of 2017 by shivering and shoveling snow, a new session of Congress convened. It didn’t take long for heat to surge from our nation’s capitol.

The House of Representatives drew flak for proposing to abolish a congressional ethics office, finally retracting that move when even President-elect Trump criticized the change. Observers noted, however, that Trump didn’t criticize the proposal as much as whether it was a priority.

That same package of House rules includes a new rule that would make it easier to sell off Federal public lands.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee is a leader among those advocating that large areas of public lands should be transferred to state and local authorities on the grounds that they will be more responsive to the needs of local residents.

According to a Washington Post article last week, current Congressional Budget Office accounting rules state that any transfer of federal land that generates revenue for the U.S. Treasury, such as logging, grazing, energy extraction, has a cost, and if Congress wants to give such land to a state or local government, or tribe, they have to account for that loss in expected cash flow.

Rep. Bishop wrote new rules that would drop that requirement, saying any such transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.” In other words, those federal lands have no value, and thus can be given away.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), called this rules change “outrageous and absurd,” saying that the rules change would allow Congress to “give way every single piece of property we own, for free, and pretend we have lost nothing of any value.” He adds that this is “a flagrant attack on places and resources valued and beloved by the American people.”

Alan Rowsome, a spokesman for The Wilderness Society, said in a statement, “Right out of the gate, Congressional Republicans are declaring open season on Federal lands…This is not Theodore Roosevelt-style governing; this move paves the way for a wholesale giveaway of our American hunting, fishing and camping lands that belong to us all.”

We shouldn’t be surprised by this move to make it easier to steal our public lands, considering that the Republican Party’s official platform endorses the idea of transferring public lands to the states.

The Post article noted that Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, has opposed public lands transfers and even resigned his spot as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, last summer, over the issue, though, as widely reported in the press, Zinke did vote for the rules changes last week.

A Zinke spokesperson, Heather Swift, commented that Zinke’s position on land transfer has not changed.

In a magazine interview a year ago, Mr. Trump said of public lands, “I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land.”

As this new session of Congress stumbles along, with Donald Trump due to be sworn in as President in just ten days, we will learn just who are the stewards of public lands.

We do know that the outgoing Obama Administration took action to deny a big copper mining project to be developed next to the Boundary Waters Area in northern Minnesota. There was some controversy in Minnesota, where some felt that mining jobs were worth the risk. After all, what could go wrong? That, of course, is a question that we in Butte, Montana can answer with ease.

The Obama Administration also created National Monuments to protect areas in Utah and Nevada, including an area where Cliven Bundy ran cows while cheating the American people of grazing fees.

As for land transfers, my friend, Land Tawney, the CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said, “Some…elected officials are wasting no time in paving the way to steal our outdoor heritage. If it’s a fight they want, they’ve got one coming.”

Ruby River Bridge Access Ruling Final

Southwest Montana's Jefferson River, south of Whitehall MT.

Southwest Montana’s Jefferson River, south of Whitehall MT.

For various reasons, many were happy to see the year 2016 shuffle off into oblivion, what with acrimonious politics, and deaths of notable Americans, with the deaths, last month, of an American hero, John Glenn, and beloved actors, Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, putting a somber close to the year.

Still, in that last week of the year, there was one bit of good news, or more precisely, the absence of bad news. This came in a release from the Public Land/Water Access Association.

On June 27, 2016, Judge Loren Tucker ruled that the public road right of way for Seyler Lane, a county road crossing the Ruby River, was roughly 47 feet wide at the bridge, the same as other bridges crossing the Ruby, allowing, in the process, space for recreationists to access the river.

In 2014, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that Seyler Lane was a public road, even though it had been created by prescriptive use, but remanded the case back to District Court to determine the width of the public right of way.

On December 27, six months after Judge Tucker’s ruling, no appeals had been filed, either to the Montana Supreme Court or to a Federal Court. Thus, Judge Tucker’s ruling on the case became final.

This case is the most recent of what has become a fairly large body of law and court decisions upholding Montana’s stream access law, one of the best stream access laws in the country. The courts have, time and again, ruled on the validity of the stream access law that guarantees the public’s right to access the state’s waters within a stream’s high water mark.

A lot of money has been spent by a lot of wealthy people, corporations, and other interests trying to overturn Montana’s stream access law and all those attempts have failed, and each succeeding court decision just adds to the stack of precedents validating Montana law.

New Years Day marked the close of the 2016 upland bird-hunting season. Right now, waterfowl are the last of the general hunting seasons, and those days are slipping away.

In the Pacific Flyway portions of Montana, both duck and goose hunting will close temporarily on this coming Sunday, January 8. The seasons will reopen on Saturday, January 14 and then closes for good at sundown on January 18. Central Flyway regulations are slightly different; so check the regulations before heading east for a final hunt.

Those temporary closings and reopenings, incidentally, are to maximize opportunities for hunting under the Federal framework of numbers of days in the waterfowl season. Without that, those last five days of the waterfowl season would be during weekdays. Waterfowlers cursed with the need to earn a living would be figuratively chained to their nice, warm worksite instead of huddled in a goose or duck blind, savoring the joy of their fingers and toes turning into ice cubes while waiting for birds to come into the decoys.

After the final closing date, waterfowl remaining in Montana can concentrate on surviving the rest of the winter, as well as pairing up for the spring breeding season, while perhaps occasionally regretting not going further south.

Finally, now that we’re well into the first week of 2017, I’d guess that most of us have had ample time to break whatever New Year resolutions we might have made.

I normally don’t make resolutions, other than the usual futile self-promise to lose 20 pounds and some of that spare tire around my middle.

Still, I do resolve to continue having fun. My ideas of fun often have something to do with spending time in the outdoors, whether standing in a Montana trout stream with a fly rod, in an aspen thicket in search of ruffed grouse, or a prairie creek bottom looking for pheasants.

While my high school English teachers are probably still turning in their graves at the thought of my eventually becoming a writer, I think that writing about the outdoors is fun, so I’ll keep on sharing those days afield with you.

A Retro Look at 2016

The Big Hole River, where most of those 2016 angling memories were created.

The Big Hole River, where most of those 2016 angling memories were created.

I just sent my 2016 fishing log off to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. I didn’t stop to add up how many days in 2016 that I spent fishing, though it was likely something between 45 and 50 days, if past years are an indication.

Those weren’t all full days, but days when I at least spent some time, perhaps as little as half an hour, with a fly rod in hand on Montana waters. FWP’s Fishing Log program isn’t limited to fly-fishing, of course. The program has been around since 1951 and currently 961 people are participating. If you’re interested in participating, just go to the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov and you’ll find a link on the fishing home page, and you can enroll online.

While FWP does make hunting survey phone calls after the season, they don’t have a Hunting Log program, though it might be interesting if they did, just to gauge the amount of time Montana hunters spend in the outdoors in search of game.

I keep a diary of my hunts, and I’ve been doing it since 1985. It’s much more reliable than my memory, I’ve learned. Occasionally I read my notes on a hunt 25 or more years ago and it brings back many memories.

With a week still to go in 2016, I’ve spent something like 25 days of the year hunting one thing or another, mostly birds, with one day ending with a white-tailed deer.

All in all, it looks like I spent around 17 percent of 2016 hunting or fishing. I suppose that would be a lot by some people’s standards, though I know it’s not much compared to some others.

I do know that people occasionally express envy to me or other outdoor writers, figuring that we’re living some sort of dream life, spending all our time with a rod and gun, and then getting paid to write about it.

I would concede that writing about the outdoors is often fun, but the reality is it’s more about sitting at a computer than having outdoor adventures.

In any event, as we reach the end of another year, it’s fun to look back and revisit some of those fun times on trout streams, grouse woods and prairies.

We might go out for recreation, fresh air, exercise, or for food, though in the end what we really get, certainly more often than fish, birds or venison, are memories of days in the outdoors.

While we savor some good memories of 2016, I have to confess that I look forward to 2017 with fear and trepidation. Somehow we managed to elect a president of these United States who takes pride in never reading books, ignores daily security briefings, and has nominated people opposed to the mission of the agencies they’re going to run. Imagine a Secretary of Education who really doesn’t believe in public education, and a head of the Environmental Protection Agency who doesn’t believe in science, or a Secretary of State best known as a close friend of Vladimir Putin.

It boggles the mind, and those few appointments are just drops in the bucket.

Some of us might occasionally complain about government agencies doing a bad job of managing public lands or protecting the environment.

Be careful of what you ask for, because in these next few years we’re likely to see a raping and pillaging of natural resources and public lands unseen since the robber baron days of the 1800s. Just watch the polluters fill our rivers with poisons. The incoming Administration is making it clear they won’t care. If someone, especially favored cronies, makes money in the process, don’t worry about consequences.

So, looking back at this year we’re completing, keep in mind that the quality of hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation, especially on our public lands, will be under attack and our grandchildren will someday wonder how things went so wrong.

Maybe things won’t be as bad as we think. That’s my current definition of optimism.

Happy New Year!

Zinke Gets Nod for Interior

Searching for the perfect Christmas tree.

Searching for the perfect Christmas tree.

  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are still a few days off but Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) got an early Christmas present when President-Elect Trump gave him the nod as his nominee for Secretary of Interior last week.

As Secretary of Interior, Mr. Zinke will be in charge of our national parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments, fish and wildlife, and public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The National Forest system is under the Department of Agriculture, though the Forest Service often shares public land policies of Interior.

As of press time, the appointment has gotten mixed reviews, though most people with a vested interest in public land policies seem to be taking a “wait and see” attitude. When Zinke ran for reelection he certainly held himself out as a guardian of public lands and an opponent of any schemes to transfer public lands out of Federal control.

The biggest question most of us have is whether he’ll still be a protector of our Federal public lands when, as Secretary of Interior, he’ll have one constituent, the President, instead of one million constituents, many of whom hunt, fish, and recreate on public lands.

I will give credit to Zinke for being a cabinet appointee who should actually have a clue about the Federal agency he’s going to run.

In any event, Mr. Zinke’s ambition finally got rewarded. It would be hard to find any politician who has been so wildly ambitious as Zinke. As a freshman in the House of Representatives he had the temerity to think he could be Speaker of the House when former Speaker John Boehner of Ohio quit. We have to give him credit for political foresight when he came out as an early backer of Donald Trump, and when Trump became the presumptive candidate of the Republican Party, Zinke put his name forward as a potential Vice Presidential candidate.

Now, we can speculate whether Zinke will come back to Montana in 2018 to run for the U.S. Senate when Senator Jon Tester comes up for reelection, or if he’ll give up his elaborate pretense of residing in Montana and not California.

Now, our rumor mill can change gears and we can begin to speculate who will be candidates in a special election to fill out the rest of Zinke’s second term in Congress.

In any event, let’s take a little break from politics and turn our attention to holidays.

This coming week will be special. At sundown on Saturday, December 24, most Christians will begin the celebration of Christmas. At the same time, the Jewish festival of Chanuka (or Hannukah, if you prefer) will begin, running through January 1. Orthodox churches will celebrate Christmas starting on January 6.

Many African-Americans will celebrate Kwanzaa, a celebration of their African heritage, beginning on December 26, and continuing to January 1.

Of course, if you want to be different, especially if you were a fan of the old Jerry Seinfeld TV show, which lives on forever in reruns of course, you could celebrate Festivus.

Festivus was the creation of author and editor, Daniel O’Keefe, and his son, Dan O’Keefe, who was a writer for the Seinfeld show. Festivus, as described in Wikipedia, is both a parody and a secular holiday celebrated on December 23, as an alternative to the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas holiday. A New York Times writer described Festivus as “the perfect secular theme for an all-inclusive December gathering.”

A Festivus observance, as demonstrated in the 1997 Seinfeld episode that introduced the holiday, includes “The Airing of Grievances,” during which everybody gathered for the Festivus meal tells everyone else all the ways they disappointed them during the year. The evening concludes with “Feats of Strength,” ending with someone wrestling the head of the household to the floor.

It’s not exactly Christmas, and lutefisk, that holiday mainstay of Scandinavian Lutherans, is mercifully not a part of the tradition. On that positive note, have a Merry Christmas!

Then there's the perfect Festivus tree.

Then there’s the perfect Festivus tree.

Ruffed Grouse Can Relax

Kiri in the December grouse woods, asking, "Where are the grouse?"

Kiri in the December grouse woods, asking, “Where are the grouse?”

 

I think, sometimes, that I’m getting too old to hunt ruffed grouse.

I occasionally write about ruffed grouse as the king of upland game birds. I’ve been chasing after grouse for something like 40 years and I treasure many memories of trudging after ruffed grouse in creek bottoms, aspen thickets and mountain foothills in North Dakota, where I first got to know grouse, and western Montana.

I guess it goes without saying that those mountain foothills are in Montana, where the possibilities also include blue grouse and Franklin grouse in the course of a day’s hunt.

I was just taking a look at my notes on grouse hunts for the 2016 upland bird season, and it’s not too impressive. I started the season hunting blue (or dusky, to be specific) grouse and never had a shot in some four days of hunting.

Since then, all my grouse hunting has been for ruffed grouse, and I’ll have to acknowledge that, in terms of grouse numbers, the coverts I’ve hunted have, for the most part, held good numbers of grouse.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that in September, when I hunt grouse the most, the aspen thickets can be maddenly difficult for shooting. Often, when a grouse flushes, you never see the bird at all, or maybe you just see a flash of gray as the bird disappears off into the trees.

After we got into October I took a month off from grouse as I was off chasing pheasants.

When I got back into the grouse coverts, the leaves were all gone. The aspens are a much different place in November, with the leaves on the ground instead of the trees. Still, the grouse pull their tricks.

On one hunt, I barely walked into the trees when a grouse flushed, out of sight. In fact, Kiri, my black Lab pup, and I had put up about four grouse (or one grouse four times) without my firing a shot.

At the end of our walk we got into grouse again, and in a small space the size of our kitchen, four grouse flushed and I got off shots at two of them, without hitting anything. A few minutes later a couple more birds flushed and I missed both of them.

Back in October I had some shooting success with pheasants, and I guess that the moral of that story is that a pheasant flushing out on the prairie is a lot easier target for the shotgunner than a ruffed grouse rocketing through the aspens.

I’m about done grouse hunting for the year, as the hills are now white with snow, though on my last hunt there was still less than an inch on the ground.

This time, we put up one grouse and I got off two shots at the bird as it roared out of sight. After the second shot several feathers were floating down in the crisp, winter air, though the bird kept flying. In fact, Kiri caught up with it and flushed it again, this time out of shooting range, and it flew off without difficulty.

In mid-December there are still hunting opportunities for the hardy hunter, first for upland birds, such as mountain grouse and their prairie cousin, the sharp-tailed grouse, plus pheasants, Hungarian (gray) partridge, and wild turkeys. Those seasons run through New Years Day.

December is a prime time to be hunting waterfowl, as winter weather has finally forced ducks and geese further south. I enjoy jump shooting mallard ducks on spring creeks, little streams that don’t freeze up in arctic weather.

As for those ruffed grouse, I’m pulling for some heavy snow to come their way, even if it means I have to shovel snow at home. Grouse survive the coldest of winters by diving into a snowbank, keeping warm in their insulated shelter, and coming out to feed for brief periods.

Maybe I’m getting too old for ruffed grouse, but I’m already looking forward to September.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Winter Weather Finally Hits the West

The scene along I-80 going over Donner Pass

The scene along I-80 going over Donner Pass

The call of snow geese far overhead filled the night air as I was out with Kiri, our Labrador retriever, before her bedtime.

Yes, I thought, winter has finally come. The geese had finally left the bounty of northern Montana barley fields and were on their way south, though at the time I didn’t know that many geese were going to rest in the toxic Berkeley Pit.

We had early tastes of winter back in October, but fall kept bumping winter back.

Finally, at the end of November, winter returned and asserted itself.

We drove south to spend Thanksgiving week in Oakland, California.

Going through Idaho it seemed almost spooky to be driving by green fields, seemingly untouched by snow or frosts. In fact, a writer friend in Idaho Falls posted on Facebook just a week earlier that he’d finally turned off his lawn sprinkler system, if that’s any indication.

After Thanksgiving it started raining in the Bay Area. Down there, winter weather means rain. Rain along the coast means snow in the mountains—snow that’s measured with yardsticks, not by inches.

Sure enough, when we drove east across the Sierras on our way home, the mountains were a winter wonderland, though thankfully, from our selfish standpoint, the storm system had moved out and the highway was plowed, though still snow-packed and slushy in spots. The Donner Pass ski areas were open and doing a good business.

A dashboard view of snowy I-80.

A dashboard view of snowy I-80.

For travelers, snow can be a nuisance, and sometimes a serious hazard. Still, I’m sure people across California were cheering heavy snow in the high country. The recent multiyear drought has stretched water resources as never before. Agriculture is big business in California, of course, and landowners have had to scramble to keep crops watered, often drilling deep wells to tap underground aquifers. Those deep wells, however, are a fragile resource.

As irrigators sucked aquifers dry the land started dropping in many places, similar to areas in the southern Great Plains where irrigators have pulled water from the once-huge Oglala Aquifer.

This past summer I had a conversation with a water engineer based in California’s Central Valley. He related how a few years back some municipalities tried to get rural subdivisions to hook into municipal water systems. They often had angry reactions, even to the point of people throwing chairs at presenters. They liked their wells! The last few years many wells went dry and the municipalities were no longer in any position to offer relief, even when homeowners were all but on hands and knees begging for water.

Still, one snowstorm doesn’t mean an end to drought. It will take years of snowy winters to replenish the water lost over recent years.

On our way back through Idaho we ran into fresh snow that had just come overnight. Many of those green fields were finally covered with a coat of snow. It’s a late start, but a start, nonetheless.

Back home in Montana, one of my first jobs, upon getting home, was to start shoveling snow again. It’s not necessarily my favorite pastime, but we have a long way to catch up with snowpack, and building snowpack in the mountains means we shovel sidewalks and driveways at home.

The extended mild weather in November also put a damper on elk hunting success.

Now that we have colder weather elk should be moving to lower elevations, which often means ranchlands. The latest wrinkle in elk management, shoulder seasons, is not without some controversy, but it does give hunters additional opportunities to notch that elk tag and fill the freezer.

This season there are several hunting districts in both Regions 2 and 3, within an hour or so of Butte that are open for the shoulder seasons. It’s worth checking into, especially if you have contacts in those hunting districts that might help you gain access to private property in the area. The Montana FWP website also has names and phone numbers of shoulder season coordinators.

The hunting seasons are waning but there are still opportunities.