US caribou almost gone

The last remaining caribou herd in the lower 48 has been declared effectively extinct, according to a story in the New York Times. Recent aerial surveys counted only three animals in the herd.

Woodland caribou once ranged into Montana as far south as Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot.

The small and dwindling herd that roamed into the United States used the  Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and Washington near the Canadian border part of the year.

A University of Montana wildlife biologist blamed mismanagement in British Columbia for the vanishing herd.

“The functional loss of this herd is the legacy of decades of government mismanagement across caribou range,” said Mark Hebblewhite, a wildlife biologist at the University of Montana, in the story in the New York Times.

The animals require old growth forest to survive. During the winter the animals move up slope in areas of heavy snow. The caribou's large hooves allow it to stand on, rather than plunge into deep snow. This allows them to feed on Old Man's Beard, a lichen that grows in old growth trees.

The deep snow also protects the caribou from predators, which move down slope in winter.

Plowing begins on Going-to-the-Sun

Plowing has begun on Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, but don't expect Logan Pass to be passable anytime soon. The road normally opens in June, but heavy snow this season could delay that opening until later in the summer.

The Park announced that it had plowed to Two Medicine Camp Store on the Park's east side last week, where drifts measure 15- to 20-feet deep. Crews are working on Many Glacier Road on the east side of the park, and Camas Road on the west side of the park, as weather conditions allow. More snow is in the forecast.

Next week, west side crews expect to begin plowing the Going-to-the-Sun Road between Lake McDonald Lodge and Avalanche.

Glacier, like the rest of Montana, has been hammered by snow this winter and early spring. The Flattop Mountain SNOTEL station shows snow depths 125 percent of a 30-year average. According to data recorded at the Flattop SNOTEL station, this is the most significant snow year since 2011. The West Glacier Weather Station is showing approximately 127 percent of a 30-year average as of March 30, with this winter (in West Glacier) thus far being the eighth highest snowfall year since 1964.

The Road is usually open by early to mid-June, but didn't open until July 13 in 2011. That was the latest opening for the road since it's inaugural year, when it opened July 15.

Montana river basins hold snowpack well above average, and may increase as early spring storms continue to hit the state. The Flathead River Basin on Glacier's west side is at 142 percent of average as of April 5.

Montana snowpack holding steady in April

The percentages of average snowpack stored in Montana's river drainages held steady in early April at levels way above normal. Adding to the carnage, Montana is being hit by early spring storms right now, with more weather forecast next week. There are winter weather watches and advisories posted across the state for today and Friday.

If you are traveling, be careful. If you can, avoid it all together. Summer will arrive soon enough. It only seems as though it will be just a long weekend in early August.

The good news: all this snow if river storage for summer. Trout and whitewater guides will be the primary beneficiaries if cool temperatures prevail this spring. Farmers won't be too angry either.

Spring fishing season delayed?

Well, it is spring in Montana so the storm that blew through the state Sunday night and Monday morning really isn't out of the ordinary. Still, I'd hoped I'd shaken the last of this season's snow and ice off the boat tarp this weekend. I guess not.

Still, all this snow, or more importantly precipitation, bodes well for the summer fishing season. All that white stuff is simply a whitewater in storage. We'll appreciate it in August if it lasts. At least for now, the forecast is bullish for full-flowing summer rivers.

Montana bearish on griz hunting, for now

Montana will hold off on grizzly hunting, at least for now. That's a good decision, but as the bears recover, conflicts will become more frequent.  We ought to prepare for the reaction when something bad happens. Bears aren't wolves and when the victim of an attack is human rather than livestock, the blowback will be fierce.

My latest column about the future of grizzly bears and the inevitable hunting season in Montana's future.

#MeToo takes down a powerful anti-hunting advocate

Change sometimes comes slowly, but when it finally arrives the transformation can be sudden and dramatic.

Such is the recent transformations of American culture powered by the #MeToo movement and the outing of sexual harassers, or worse. These are people, mostly men, who have been protected for decades. Hopefully, society will dismantle the unseemly protections that long shielded these abusers from accountability, forever.

What does this have to do with Montana hunters and anglers? Only this: one of the latest abusers forced out into the market square of accountability is Wayne Pacelle, the now former CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society of the United States, by the way, isn’t that local organization with a similar name that helps deal with the problem of homeless pets. The Humane Society of the United States is a different organization, and it is one of the most strident and well organized anti-hunting organizations in the country. Pacelle, who was CEO for more than a decade, made it so.

Needless to say, I won’t shed a tear about Pacelle’s passing from the Humane Society. But I am still seeking the appropriate approach for dealing with other shamed public figures — and their work — that I have admired. I learned the fundamentals of preparing Italian food watching Mario Batali’s “Molto Mario” cooking show. Kevin Spacey has long been one of my favorite actors, and “American Beauty,” in which Spacey ironically plays a middle-age man with an inappropriate attraction for a girl still in high school, is an amazing film that ultimately reaffirms the unshakable power of love and family.

Do I get to continue watching on reruns, if they ever reappear? Should I stop making Batali’s Southern Italian recipes that became a family staple when my daughters turned vegetarian and I needed non-meat culinary inspiration?

While were on the subject, I still own a Jeff Smith cookbook. I watched Smith’s “Frugal Gourmet” religiously back in the pre-Food Network days. However, he was rightly driven from his PBS television show after reports of his history sexual assaults became public.

Do I keep the book? Will I ever again watch “American Beauty?” Do I make lentil pasta when my daughters visit on college break?

The lentil pasta is a yes. On the others, it’s probably a “yes,” but I’m still working it out.

Editor's Note: (1-27-18) If you're not ready to abandon Batali's work, here's the lentil pasta recipe.

Hunters can shape the gun violence debate

Years ago, when I edited the outdoors section of a daily newspaper in Arizona, one of my columnists wrote about his opposition to gun control.

When my boss read it, he briefly demanded it should be pulled.

“The newspaper has already staked out its position on the editorial page,” he said to a suddenly quiet newsroom. “This issue doesn’t belong on the outdoors page.”

The newsroom remained eerily silent. In an odd way, it was the staff’s way of challenging our editor’s pronouncement.

It worked. After a moment, he relented.

“I guess it’s OK,” he said. “As long as we don’t do it all the time.”

He may have backed into it, but my former editor ultimately reached the right decision. The outdoors section is the right place to discuss firearms issues, in appropriate doses. I weigh in occasionally in my outdoors column at the Flathead Beacon. I wrote a three-part series following the Newtown school shooting in 2012 (linked here, here and here) and again in November following the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, shootings.

Sadly, it seems, columns like the one in November could be reprinted a couple of times a year. Change the location and the body count and republish, again and again and again.

It’s too early to tell, but there are signs the ground is beginning to move out from under the NRA and the firearms industry following the latest act of murder at a public school. Politicians who have collected big donations in the past have been able to fend off criticism, when the criticism was coming from feckless, mostly Democratic, politicians.

But now the calls for change are coming from the student survivors of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And those students are calling out politicians, by name, followed by the size of the donations they have accepted from the NRA. That’s a message, and messenger, with power. If they sustain it, they may force gun folks off the “no compromises” position that has dominated this discussion for more than a decade.

Until that change comes, we’ll continue to have a dysfunctional debate about firearm regulation. A functional debate would include reasonable consideration of a variety of issues, including some of these:

— Gun Violence Protective or Restraining Orders. So called GVRO’s would create legal mechanisms through local courts for law enforcement to intervene when family or friends become concerned someone may be a threat to others. Gun rights could be temporarily suspended until the state of the individual is evaluated. We’ve all heard how calls to the FBI about the Parkland shooter were mishandled. Local law enforcement and courts are a better solution.

— Improve and make more thorough the background check system, and end private sale loopholes.

— End the ban that prevents the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence issues.

— Regulate and ban some of the low-hanging fruit such as bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. The bump stock is simply a technological end run around automatic weapons laws anyway.

— Consider creating classifications for different types of weapons. For simple sporting firearms, such as the double barrel 20 gauge shotgun that is my bird hunting weapon of choice, purchases could remain fairly routine. But if you want an AR-15, is it too much of an inconvenience if local law enforcement pays you a visit after you purchase, say, you’re sixth in a six month period?

We will also have to recognize that all the rules, regulations and good intentions cannot prevent all mass shootings. But regulations may prevent some. As hunters and gun owners we have rights, but we also have responsibilities. We need to exercise the latter in order to defend the former.

2 percent of deer in hunt had CWD

While the results of some tests are still to come in, preliminary figure show 2 percent, or eight of the 216 mule deer and 123 whitetails killed in the special hunt in Carbon County this winter tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD is a progressive, fatal neurological disease that effects deer, elk and moose.

The disease is similar to Mad Cow Disease, that jumped the species barrier from cattle to humans leading to deaths of more than 200. There are no known cases of CWD jumping the species barrier and infecting humans, but FWP recommends hunters take precautions when handling game to minimize risk.

Montana is surrounded by states — Wyoming and the Dakotas — where CWD is present. CWD is also present in Canadian provinces north of the border. The disease was first detected in mule deer killed in Carbon County near Bridger during the 2017 hunting season. The special hunt was approved in order to determine the extent of the disease in south-central Montana.

The Montana FWP commission has also called on Wyoming to close elk feeding grounds across that state. It's feared the feeding grounds will become hot spots for the disease, which is caused by abnormal proteins called prions. Prions are spread by body fluids such as urine, and can persist in the soil for years or maybe decades. The Bridger-area outbreak of CWD likely spread north from Wyoming.

There has also been a special hunt in northern Montana in Liberty County where mule deer killed in 2017 also tested positive for CWD. One deer killed in the special hunt tested positive for CWD.

CWD has been found in at least 23 states and two Canadian provinces. Only New York state appears to have prevented the establishment of the disease after it was detected in captive deer herds and a pair of wild whitetail.

The CWD Alliance is a good resource for info on CWD.