Last Saturday’s (June 17) Bozeman Daily Chronicle carried a guest column by Douglas W. Smith and our own Diane Boyd on the importance of using accurate, science-based methods in wolf management . . .
This summer offers a timely opportunity to help craft a new wolf management plan being written by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP). Wolves are always controversial, and this new plan is an opportunity to reinstate scientifically-based wildlife management. We are concerned that, of late, Montana has managed wolves in a fashion that emphasizes population reductions without clear evidence or adequate justification. Montana has provided for hunter and trapper opportunity and, despite misconceptions about wolf-elk interactions, elk have maintained healthy populations across the state and are even overabundant in some game management units. Livestock depredations are very low, less than 1/10 of 1 percent of all cattle losses in 2021.
The fundamental issue is an accurate population estimate — all wildlife management decisions depend on this. Wolves are hard to count. Initially Montana estimated numbers by MTFWP staff conducting field work along with radio collaring to come up with a minimum count of wolves across the western third of the state where most wolves live. As wolf numbers grew this method became impractical, so the state switched to a method that estimates numbers based on wolf sightings by hunters with resulting data plugged into a model. This model, called an integrated Patch Occupancy Model or iPOM, uses some other information about wolves like territory size and pack size, and calculates a population estimate.
This method is well-known and respected scientifically for estimating distribution (the area occupied). It is not known to be a good abundance estimator. The rationale is that Montana wolves are thought to be well above the required minimum set by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, hence a precise estimate is not necessary. For scientifically based management of a high-profile predator, we need a better population estimate.
Larry Wilson had nice things to say about the NFPA 40th anniversary annual meeting in his Hungry Horse News column this week . . .
I still miss John Frederick. Over the years we became close friends although our political views were usually completely opposed. We had hundreds of political discussions and we both enjoyed them. We both recognized that the other had the same or similar goals in mind—we just differed on how to reach those goals.
I thought of John a lot this week because he was one of the founders of the North Fork Preservation Association which celebrated its fortieth anniversary this week, and there were photos of John and even a sweatshirt with his likeness on it.
I have never been a member of the NFPA, but I always try to attend their annual meeting The business portion is always short—they tend to re-elect their officers almost automatically—John Frederick was president for over twenty years and our friend Frank Vitale was Vice-President for an equal number of years.
What they do have every year, including this year, is a knowledgeable, interesting and informative speaker. Also, I really enjoy the members and the opportunity to see and talk with them.
We are 35 state, federal, and Tribal wildlife professionals who have worked together for more than 40 years to help recover and manage grizzly bears, wolves, and other wildlife in Montana. We did this by building science and fact-based management policies and plans with public input while carefully balancing the needs of bears and other wildlife with the needs of the people who live, work, and recreate in Montana.
We believed in and promoted the eventual delisting of recovered grizzlies and wolves and turning them over to state management. We believed that the wildlife professionals in Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) would be good stewards who would continue to carefully manage grizzly bears and wolves using science and facts after recovery and delisting.
All this changed in 2021 when a new legislative majority and a like-minded governor took office. Science-based wildlife management in Montana was replaced by anti-predator hysteria fueled by misinformation and emotion. Professional wildlife management by FWP biologists was replaced by partisan political intervention that overturned decades of sound wildlife policy.
Most people who live up the North Fork call themselves “North Forkers.” You’ll know a North Forker when you meet one. At meetings outside of the North Fork, introductions usually go “my name is so and so and I’m a North Forker.” This is meant to imply a few things. For starters, an aptitude for self-sufficiency. For some of us, though, it’s more of an attitude with a willingness to learn. Another, the affliction of joy when things don’t go according to plan 80% of the time. In the shed that usually means a zip tie to the rescue while in the kitchen it’s more like what’s in the pantry is what’s on the menu. Being a North Forker also implies a code of living. Living with bears. Living with each other, although many will joke about which one makes a better neighbor. In true North Forker fashion, the place has a unique history of what living with bears looks like. At backcountry cabins you’ll see 2-foot long nails spiked through the heavy log doors, an old school ranger “bear proofing” their cache. Back in the ‘90s downtown Polebridge was full of Karelian bear dogs, the first of many special touches grizzly bear management specialist, Tim Manley, gave in his career with FWP. The years following he taught landowners to secure attractants and bear proof places like garages where food and garbage is stored until a town run is imperative. Thanks to those educational opportunities the North Fork is now a model of how people and bears can coexist given the right tools, although this fall would indicate that education is imperative after improper food and garbage storage by a few new landowners led to the death of four grizzlies.
This brings us to the recent announcement that the state is petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, opening up possible hunting opportunities in areas surrounding Glacier. As a former Glacier Park Ranger and seasoned local business owner, I have seen that the experience visitors want most is the chance to see a grizzly in the wild. Protected. Secondly, the grizzly bear population in Montana consists of two very separated “islands.” One in Yellowstone and one in Glacier and there is no evidence of intermingling yet which, in my opinion, is necessary to achieve “recovery” of a threatened species. According to USFWS, grizzly bears currently inhabit just 6% of their historic range. The North Fork is a decent chunk. To be a North Forker is to live with grizzlies while cutting firewood or fixing the snowblower, always remembering that the remote corner of the ecosystem spanning the Rocky Mountains you get to call home, too. As fellow North Forker Doug Chadwick says in his new book, “Four Fifths a Grizzly”: Do unto your ecosystems as you would have them do unto you. Up here, that means neighbors caroling on a full moon night. Happy Holidays to all!
We are long-time Montana residents and professional wildlife biologists and managers with a total of 1,493 years of experience in wildlife management and wildlife habitat management with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), federal agencies, and Tribes. Among us are 13 retired biologists with more than 370 years with FWP, and three former commissioners from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Montana’s natural resources are under attack by extremists and special interests in the legislature and the governor’s office. These extreme views are reflected in the anti-predator, anti-hunter access, and anti-habitat preservation legislation introduced and, in most cases, passed in the 2021 legislature. The governor’s appointments to the Montana Wildlife Commission as well as the appointed leadership of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) now represent the interests of a minority instead of the majority of the hunters, anglers, and citizens of Montana who value Montana’s wildlife whether they hunt and fish or not. We believe these changes have resulted in a steep decline in the morale of career FWP staff across the agency, especially biologists. The focus of the current Wildlife Commission and FWP leadership are the interests of these special interest groups:
Large, politically connected landowners who want to privatize and commercialize elk hunting for a privileged few on private lands by selling access or outfitted elk hunts, particularly hunts for trophy bulls. They also want to reduce cow elk numbers by aggressive shoulder seasons into mid-February on public lands adjacent to private lands rather than hunting on private lands.
Commercial outfitters who want to expand outfitter financial opportunities and reduce regulation and regulation enforcement.
Trappers, hound hunters, crossbow hunters, and muzzle loaders who want to legislate their special interest desires such as reducing trap setbacks near roads and trails; use of hounds to hunt black bears in grizzly range; extending the big game hunting season just for muzzleloaders; and allowing use of high technology crossbows during the traditional bow hunting season.
• Wolf haters in the legislature who made up fact-free stories about the impacts of wolves on elk populations in order to destroy Montana’s recovered wolf population by legislating use of baited leg-hold traps and neck snares for wolves on public lands, unethical night hunting over bait with night vision scopes and spotlights, extending the wolf trapping season, increased bag limits per hunter, paying bounties to kill wolves, and allowing baited neck snares and leg-hold traps on public land in grizzly and black bear habitat during the time bears are out of the den. These wolf persecution methods are completely contrary to the accepted principles of fair chase hunting and hunter ethics.
The Montana Wildlife Commission now represents special interests and not the average sports men and women and all citizens of Montana. Recent Commission appointees are or were leaders of:
The Safari Club (wealthy trophy hunters).
Montana Outfitters and Guides Association (commercialization of public wildlife hunting for the profit of a few).
Montana Stockgrowers Association (livestock interests/large landowners and commercialization of private land elk hunting).
PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center, an organization that promotes privatizing wildlife and giving big landowners special elk permits that they can sell in exchange for some limited public hunting access.
The governor’s appointed leadership of FWP and the Wildlife Commission have demonstrated that they will represent minority special interests instead of the majority of hunters, anglers, and citizens of Montana who value Montana wildlife and fish. For example, the Commission, in a hastily organized and minimally advertised Zoom meeting on Sept. 24, awarded the Wilks brothers eight trophy bull permits for their ranch in the Snowy Mountains. They get to award these eight permits to those “…who contribute to the success of the ranch.” This is privatization and commercialization of Montana wildlife for wealthy landowners, which is fully supported by the 2021 legislature and the governor. These eight bull permits are above and beyond what FWP biologists recommended for harvest in the area and the Commission awarded them anyway.
Wildlife management in Montana has become politicized. Politicians are now setting science-free wildlife policy based on their personal, partisan agendas. The careful management of Montana’s treasured wildlife and fish used to be a bi-partisan issue, but not anymore. The Republicans in the legislature, appointed FWP leadership, and the appointed Wildlife Commission have ignored facts and science to implement regressive wildlife policy. They also have ignored the concerns of the public even when the public is overwhelmingly opposed to what they are doing.
As wildlife professionals we oppose the current politicization of wildlife management and wildlife policy in Montana. We believe that wildlife management should be based on science and facts in order to assure the careful management of all of Montana’s fish and wildlife. Such decisions should be made in accordance with the interests of the majority of Montana residents who desire healthy fish and wildlife and a healthy environment. The future of Montana’s fish and wildlife should not be sacrificed to partisan political agendas that cater to special interests, favor the wealthy few, and are based on irrational hatred of predators.
Chris Servheen, Ph.D.
35 years US Fish and Wildlife Service as Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator (retired). Missoula, MT.
Richard Mace, Ph.D.
31 years Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as Research Biologist (grizzly and black bears) (retired). Primarily responsible for grizzly bear population ecology research in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Kalispell, MT.
Harvey Nyberg, M.S.
26 years Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, last job as Regional Supervisor (retired). Lewistown, MT.
Gayle Joslin, M.S.
32 years Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks as Wildlife Management Biologist and Research Biologist (retired). Helena, MT.
Keith Aune, M.S.
41 years: 31 years Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks as Wildlife Research Biologist, Laboratory Supervisor, Chief of Wildlife Research (retired); and 10 years as a wildlife biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (retired). Bozeman, MT.
Bruce Sterling, M.S.
38 years Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks as Management Biologist (retired). Thompson Falls, MT.
Jim Vashro, M.S.
39 years Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as fishery biologist and regional fisheries manager (retired). Kalispell, MT.
Mike Madel, B.S,
40 years: 34 years Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks as Grizzly Bear Management Biologist and Project Leader of Rocky Mountain Front Grizzly Bear Management Program (retired); 6 years UM Border Grizzly Project, US Forest Service, and Fish Wildlife, and Parks as bear habitat and Research Biologist in the Missions and the Cabinet Mountains (retired). Choteau MT.
Diane Boyd, Ph.D.
23 years: 8 years Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as wolf upland bird biologist (retired), 15 years University of Montana as large carnivore researcher (retired). Kalispell, MT.
Ron Marcoux, M.S.
40 years: 22 years Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks as Biologist and Deputy Director (retired); 18 years with Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in land conservation and administration (retired). Helena, MT.
Kristi DuBois, M.S.
34 years: 28 years Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as a wildlife biologist (both game and nongame) (retired); and 6 years US Fish and Wildlife Service as a wildlife biologist (retired). Missoula, MT.
Tim Thier, M.S.
32 years: 27 years Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as Wildlife Biologist (retired); 5 years US Fish and Wildlife Service as Wildlife Biologist (retired). Trego, MT.
Heidi B. Youmans, M.S.
27 years Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks as Area Management Biologist, Upland Game Bureau Chief, Non-Game Bureau Chief (retired). Helena, MT.
Graham Taylor, M.S.
42 years Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks as Area Wildlife Biologist and Regional Wildlife Manager (retired). Great Falls, MT.
Gary Olsen, M.S.
34 years Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as Area Biologist (retired), Conrad, MT.
Gary Wolfe, Ph.D.
42 years: 4 years as a Commissioner on the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, 12 years Vermejo Park Ranch Wildlife Biologist/Manager and big game Hunting Outfitter and Guide; 15 years Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wildlife Biologist/Field Director, Director of Field Operations, Chief Operating Officer, President & CEO (retired); 11 years Vital Ground Foundation, Wildlife Biologist/Executive Director (retired); 60 years a deer and elk hunter. Missoula, MT.
Dan Vermillion, J.D.
13 years as a Commissioner on the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission. Livingston, MT.
Tim Aldrich, B.S.
4 years as a Commissioner on the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission. Missoula, MT.
Greg Munther, M.S.
32 years US Forest Service as Biologist and District Ranger (retired). Missoula, MT.
Chuck Schwartz, Ph.D.
36 years: 20 years, Alaska Fish and Game as Research Biologist (retired); and 16 years USGS as Leader, Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (retired). Bozeman, MT.
Sterling Miller, Ph.D.
21 years Alaska Fish and Game as Wildlife Management Biologist (retired). Affiliate Professor, University of Montana. Lolo, MT.
Dan Carney, M.S.
31 years Blackfeet Tribe as Senior Wildlife Biologist (retired). East Glacier, MT.
William H. Geer, M.S.
40 years: 16 years as a fisheries research biologist, chief of fisheries and director of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (retired); 24 years as a biologist with the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (retired). Lolo, MT.
Douglas H. Chadwick, M.S.
43 years: 3 years wildlife technician with NPS, 40 years independent wildlife biologist collaborating with various university and agency researchers. Whitefish, MT.
Tom Puchlerz, M.S.
38 years US Forest Service as Wildlife Biologist, District Ranger, and Forest Supervisor (retired). Stevensville, MT.
Kate Kendall, M.S.
36 years National Park Service and US Geological Survey as research ecologist (retired). Columbia Falls, MT.
Gary Moses B.S.
35 years; 28 years National Park Service in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks as Supervisory Ranger (retired); Glacier Bear Management Committee Chair; 7 years as Counter Assault Bear Spray Ambassador (retired). Kalispell, MT.
Glenn Elison, M.S.
25 years US Fish and Wildlife Service as Assistant Regional Director for Refuges and Wildlife (retired). Lewistown, MT.
Joe Fontaine B.S.
28 years: 6 years U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Wildlife Biologist,18 years U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as Deputy Wolf Recovery Coordinator (retired), 4 years as Deputy Project Leader National Wildlife Refuge Complex (retired). Helena, MT.
Dave Wesley, Ph.D.
25 years: 20 years Ducks Unlimited as Director of Field Operations (retired); 5 years Mississippi State University as Associate Professor (retired). Missoula, MT.
Mike Getman, M.S.
35 years US Fish and Wildlife Service as Wildlife Biologist (retired). Lewistown, MT.
Glenn Plum, Ph.D.
25 years National Park Service as Wildlife Biologist (retired). Livingston, MT.
Mary Maj, M.S.
32 years US Forest Service as District and Regional Wildlife Biologist, Resource Staff Officer, and District Ranger (retired). Bozeman, MT.
Dale Becker, M.S.
39 years: 7 years as a private wildlife consultant; 32 years Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as Tribal Wildlife Program Manager. Polson, MT.
Edward Bangs, MS.
36 years US Fish and Wildlife Service as Wildlife Biologist on Kenai NWR and Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Coordinator (retired). Helena, MT.
Jim Claar, M.S.
32 years: 21 years US Forest Service as Wildlife Biologist (retired), and 11 years Bureau of Indian Affairs as Wildlife Program Manager (retired). Missoula, MT.
Jack Stanford, Ph.D.
36 years Flathead Bay Biological Station as Director (retired). Bigfork, MT.
Kerry R. Forsman, Ph.D.
37 years University of Montana as Professor of Biology and Wildlife Biology (retired). Missoula MT.
Dan Pletscher, Ph.D.
29 years University of Montana as Professor and Director of the Wildlife Biology Program (retired). Missoula, MT.
Jay Gore, M.S.
30 years: 10 years US Forest Service as Wildlife Biologist (retired); 13 years US Fish and Wildlife Service as Wildlife Biologist (retired); 7 years Corps of Engineers as Wildlife Biologist (retired). Missoula MT.
Shannon Clairmont, B.S.
18 years Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as Wildlife Biologist. Ronan, MT.
Mike Phillips, M.S.
35 years: US Fish and Wildlife Service Red Wolf Restoration Leader (retired); National Park Service Grey Wolf Restoration Leader (retired); Turner Endangered Species Fund Executive Director; Montana State Legislator 2006-2020. Bozeman, MT.
Lewis Young, M.S.
48 years: 31 years US Forest Service as Wildlife Biologist and Wildlife Program Manager (retired); 17 years as consultant with National Park Service, Bureau of Land management, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (retired). Eureka, MT.
Art Soukkala, M.S.
30 years Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as a Wildlife Biologist working on Wildlife Conflicts and Restoring Wildlife Populations and Habitat. Charlo, MT.
Marion Cherry, M.S.
30 years: 8 years US Forest Service as wildlife biologist; 22 years Gallatin National Forest as Wildlife Biologist and Grizzly Bear Habitat Biologist (retired). Bozeman, MT.
The Badger-Two Medicine is sacred ancestral land of the Blackfeet Nation along the Rocky Mountain Front in northern Montana, just south of the Canadian border. Here, 8,000-foot limestone peaks notch the sky and pristine rivers cut through deep canyons before spilling out onto the rolling plains. These lands are home to the principal origin story of the Blackfeet people, who trace their creation to the headwaters of Badger Creek and Two Medicine River; and even today, one can still see the same sweeping vistas, find many of the same wild animals, such as grizzly bears, lynx, golden eagles and cutthroat trout, and hear the same sounds as those who lived here 10,000 years ago—as long as the Blackfeet people have been here. It’s home to the spiritual Medicine Grizzly and where tribal members still practice traditional ceremonies.
For years, the Blackfeet have been fighting to save the Badger-Two Medicine from the irreversible fate of development. And one tribal member, John Murray, 72, has spent the better part of his life protecting these lands from the threat of oil and gas extraction that’s hovered over them for nearly two decades—although attacks to Blackfeet homelands started long before that.
Blackfeet territory once spanned from present-day North Dakota, west to the Rocky Mountains, to the mouth of the Yellowstone River and up the Saskatchewan River to Lake Winnipeg, John begins. He is speaking to me from his office in Browning, Montana, (population just over 1,000) on the 1.5 million-acre Blackfeet Indian Reservation. His tone is measured, which puts listeners at ease, and gently commands full attention. John is a masterful storyteller, often bringing a tale in such a graceful circle that, after you’ve become so immersed in the story itself, you’re surprised to find he’s carried you back to the original point—and delivered you there with a much greater understanding than you had before. His desk is laden with mountains of paper, including the US Forest Service proposals and industrial projects on tribal land that require his immediate consultation. Outside, beyond Browning, winter melts from mountains that had been Blackfeet homelands for a geologic timespan that dwarfs rushed bureaucratic deadlines. “That was land that in our origins was what we called our world,” he says.
For more than a century, the core mission of the National Park Service has been preserving the natural heritage of the United States. But now, as the planet warms, transforming ecosystems, the agency is conceding that its traditional goal of absolute conservation is no longer viable in many cases.
Late last month the service published an 80-page document that lays out new guidance for park managers in the era of climate change. The document, along with two peer-reviewed papers, is essentially a tool kit for the new world. It aims to help park ecologists and managers confront the fact that, increasingly, they must now actively choose what to save, what to shepherd through radical environmental transformation and what will vanish forever.
“The concept of things going back to some historical fixed condition is really just no longer tenable,” said Patty Glick, a senior scientist for climate adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation and one of the lead authors of the document.
Chris Servheen, recently retired USFWS Grizzly Bear Recovery Manager, is still keeping his hand in. He is quoted extensively in this commentary on bike-bear conflicts in the Mountain Journal. Kudos to Debo Powers for spotting this one . . .
Does mountain biking impact wildlife, any more than hikers and horseback riders do?
More specifically: could rapidly-growing numbers of cyclists in the backcountry of Greater Yellowstone negatively affect the most iconic species—grizzly bears—living in America’s best-known wildland ecosystem?
It’s a point of contention in the debate over how much of the Gallatin Mountains, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, should receive elevated protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The wildest core of the Gallatins, located just beyond Yellowstone National Park and extending northward toward Bozeman’s back door, is the 155,000-acre Buffalo-Porcupine Creek Wilderness Study Area.
Appearing in the Flathead Beacon yesterday, was a thoughtful op-ed by Chris Ryan and Kathleen McAllister in favor of the recently completed Flathead National Forest Plan, written by a couple of folks who should know quite a bit about it . . .
The U.S. Forest Service recently completed a new management plan for the Flathead National Forest (FNF) that will guide decisions on the forest for the next 20 to 30 years or more. The plan addresses a dizzying array of management issues – including municipal watersheds, wildlife habitat, protected lands, outdoor recreation, and much more – over 2.4 million acres that cover the Mission Mountains, the Swan Range, and the Whitefish Range.
Those of us in the conservation community have focused our attention on the places the FNF plan recommends for Wilderness designation. This recommendation means the Forest Service will protect these places until either Congress designates them as Wilderness or at least until the agency completes its next FNF plan.
The FNF plan represents a vast improvement over the previous plan, which recommended around 98,000 acres for Wilderness. The new plan recommends over 190,000 acres, nearly double the previous recommendation. That increase is worth celebrating.
The plan is by no means ideal for conservationists. Wilderness-worthy lands such as Bunker and Sullivan Creeks and low-elevation, critical habitat adjacent to the Mission Mountains Wilderness did not, unfortunately, receive the Forest Service’s Wilderness recommendation. The Jewel Basin recommended Wilderness was reduced in size under the new plan, a significant loss for a landscape that would have been designated Wilderness had Reagan not pocket vetoed the 1988 Montana Wilderness Bill.