Crazies in court

Outdoor Life news editor Dac Collins updates the court fight over access in the Crazy Mountains. The Forest Service has stopped defending access established via prescribed easement, and in one case, built a new trail that avoided conflicts with landowners, but also excluded the public from the process.

In 2017, the Forest Service suspended Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz for writing a memo that outlined to staff how they could work to maintain public access on these trails that access the Crazies via prescriptive easement. Sienkiewicz later got his job back, but the Forest Service has backed off defending the public's right to access the Crazy Mountains.

This may not end well

The ramped up wolf hunting and trapping on Yellowstone National Park's northern border in Montana is now threatening tourism businesses in the state. In 2021, the state legislature approved laws that were signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte. The laws dramatically loosened the rules governing the killing of wolves in Montana.

About 20 Yellowstone wolves have been killed so far, including seven that were part of the Phantom Lake Pack, which is now considered eliminated. The result has been increasing national, and international attention on Montana's loosened regs, and increasing calls for the Feds to reinstate endangered species protection for wolves in the Northern Rockies.

Commission backs off elk privatization scheme

Missoula Currant reporter Laura Lundquist has some great reporting up regarding the FWP commission backing down on  FWP Director Hank Worsech's dumb proposal to solve Montana's elk overpopulation problems by taking hunting opportunities away from Montana elk hunters. In a press release last week urging members to oppose the scheme, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said the proposal would "privatize wildlife," and pit the "haves" and "have nots" against one another when it comes to elk hunting in Montana.

BHA's effort worked as FWP was bombarded with hunter opposition to the move.

And then there's this choice quote from Lundquist's report:

On Tuesday, Worsech admitted the proposal started a “firestorm,” but that he succeeded in getting a conversation going.

Apparently, someone told Worsech his job at the commission meeting was to act like an incompetent bureaucrat. Maybe he wasn't acting. Or maybe it's because he's new to the job and in over his head. In case he didn't know, Montanans have had a conversation going about elk management, since forever. All he did was redirect that conversation, briefly, to shooting down his dumb idea about creating the King's deer in Montana.

The competent bureaucrats at FWP, the biologists, should lead these management conversations, not political appointees.

If you want to solve the elk problem in districts where the population is over objective, you first need to solve the private land, hunter access problem. Transferring title of wildlife to wealthy landowners is just a giveaway. And unconstitutional.

All-nighter fixes Madison River dam

The upper Madison River was rewatered last week following a mechanical failure at the Hebgen Lake Dam that shut off flows to the river. A crew at the Anaconda Foundry Fabrication Co. worked all night forging a new spillway gate shaft so the dam could be fixed. The drawdown lasted only two days.

This quick action by the Foundry crew means the harm to trout in the fabled Madison will likely be minimal. Bigger fish saved themselves by moving to deeper pools, and volunteers relocated hundreds of stranded fish. The eggs buried in some brown trout redds in the reach may have been harmed, but the quick repair means river gravel may not have dried out enough to wipe out a year class of fish. Mild overnight temperatures may have prevented hard freezes in the river bed that might have wiped out eggs as well.

Dam malfunction drains Madison

A malfunction at Hebgen Lake Dam has dewatered a reach of the upper Madison River, arguably the greatest of Montana's blue ribbon trout streams.

Streamer evangelist and Slide Inn owner Kelly Galloup alerted Montana media and supplied photos of the nearly dry river bed. Galloup's concern is the fate of brown trout eggs, nestled in stream gravel. If they dry out or freeze, the river could lose a year class these prime streamer targets.

Protect the Blackfoot

In this Washington Post column, John Maclean, son of "A River Runs Through It," author Norman Maclean, urges Montana Sen. Steve Daines to stop blocking wilderness protection for headwater streams of the Big Blackfoot River.

When Maclean's novella was turned into a film by director Robert Redford in the early 1990s, the Blackfoot was considered too degraded to be used for filming river scenes. Decades of habitat worked have returned the river to its former glory, however. The wilderness effort would protect streams that fill the Blackfoot with cold, clean water, protecting the river from the ravages of late summer heat.

In exchange for protecting these streams, Daines wants to remove protection for wild lands elsewhere in Montana. Maclean says conservation isn't a zero-sum game, and Daines is holding popular legislation hostage.

FWP wants input on Marias River conservation easement

FWP officials want to hear from the public on the Chip Creek Conservation Easement, a 24,000 acre project to protect grasslands and riparian areas along the Marias River north of Loma. The project would also create public access on more than 10,000 acres of these restored grasslands. The area supports a variety of game birds and deer, as well as two sage grouse leks.

FWP wildlife biologist Ryan Rauscher said that if approved, the Chip Creek Conservation Easement will be one of the largest additions to Montana's conservation easement program in recent memory.