Monday, March 28, 2016

Hunter Landowner Relations by Joe Perry

I am a farmer/rancher and landowner. I am also a hunter, angler, and recreationist. Each of these terms describe me but I am the sum total of all. I have never charged anyone a dime for access to my property. I take on as many hunters as I can but sometimes have to limit the numbers so as not to be overrun. After 40 years on the land, I have retired. Over that time, I have watched the “landscape” deteriorate from “hunt where you want but be respectful” to one of tightly controlled – or no- access. I believe that there is more to be said, and said candidly from the perspectives of both landowners and hunters/recreationists.

The root of the issue seems to be from a growing disconnect between rural landowners and urban recreationists. We’re all busy. We are much more mobile and don’t have the same level and type of contact with close friends and neighbors as we did in the past. I remember fondly all the times our family went to stay the weekend with our country cousins. Brandings, livestock and chores, machinery and driving, real fresh eggs, milk and cream and maybe hand-cranked ice cream Great wholesome food from gardens and barnyards. We kids kept busy all weekend while our folks visited and played cards. We developed an understanding of each other’s lives and real, close relationships came from that.

The level and kinds of interaction today has declined due to many factors. Livestock handling and machinery have become increasingly high tech and expensive. Kids aren’t welcome to play here. Farms having combinations of geese, turkeys, chickens, milk cows, beef, sheep, pigs, and cattle are rare.

In addition, there are so many additional “extra-curricular” activities and sports that we didn’t have. Parents pass each other coming and going, often dividing kid’s interests and commitments between them. Social time is at these events. Golf, tennis, soccer, swimming, etc. have been added to football basketball and track. Computer games and fast-thumbing on smart phones occupies the attention of so many folks.

Yet, a major touchstone of Montana’s heritage is shared resources such as wildlife. Montanans love to hunt and fish and recreate. It is family time. Wild game is a regular feature on the menus of many homes. People move here from out of state and work for less money than they could get in big cities for those reasons. Many of us who were born here made conscious decisions to stay here even if it meant making less money. The quality- and quantity of life- was worth the trade.

The personal relationship building of the past seems to receive less emphasis. Liability issues and OSHA make free help from outside folks much riskier and far less desirable. Relationships are much harder to build at a distance. Getting Western Montana townsfolk and Eastern Montana producers together happens on fewer occasions.

Something that many people who are not rural producers don’t understand is that Private Property Rights are paramount to landowners. Management decisions and the responsibility for the results of those decisions made on private property largely rest with the owners. Their livelihoods survive or not, based on these decisions. There too, are those landowners who consider the public lands they lease for farming or grazing to be essentially their own personal property. Many of these folks fail to recognize that they are only paying leases for grazing and/or farming. Those leases do not allow limiting access to the public. Also, as a result, many lessees are inclined to deny public access across their private property to access these public lands.

One thing that has struck me is that there seems to be little focus on what I call Public Property Rights. There are those who deny that the public owns all wildlife, and that each and every one of us shares in the ownership of our public lands. For some Americans and Montanans, public lands are the only ownership they will ever have. As a result, they love their public lands, and with good reason.

Why are landowners often at odds with recreationists? I see many contributing factors, attributed to both “sides.” Some recreationists show what I perceive is an arrogance about private lands. Folks forget that the landowner owes them nothing; trespass or access is a privilege not a right. Garbage dumping, littering, thoughtless tearing up of roads, willful unethical behavior, ignoring game laws, property damage and vandalism, unauthorized driving – the list goes on and on. When these activities regularly occur, it’s hard for a landowner to want to be generous. Additionally, many recreationists are not good about turning in illegal activities. They assume it’s not their problem or simply don’t want to be bothered. We need to step up and be accountable. “If you see something, say something” is the right way to help and show appreciation for the privileges you are accorded on private land.

The story of the hunter or angler encountering a landowner who treats them unfairly and poorly is as old as the hills. Upon asking permission to hunt on a rancher’s land, are lectured about how bad all recreationists are, getting a solid chewing for other’s inexcusable indiscretions. The recreationist gets an earful about how tough the landowner has it, and is personally blamed for the state’s wildlife agency’s missteps or contentious policies. Add to that the increasing lack of public access to private lands where there is so much pent up demand that landowners get inundated. Very early morning visits and calls and those late at nite to landowners who do welcome the public become overwhelming, coupled with long hunting seasons. As a result, good, reliable folks are denied access without having a chance to prove themselves.

Along with these issues, add private land outfitters to the mix. They are profit driven, and frankly, offer an alternative to landowners in the form of good payments and responsibility to handle all recreation on the place. Since outfitters usually demand exclusive access for their clients, the public is completely left out of the equation. Some outfitters claim to “manage” these places to maximize bucks and bulls but in reality is simply restricting access and as a result putting more and more wild critters on the ground. “Managing” for trophy wildlife by restricting access can be done by anyone; it is not wildlife management. Managing overall game populations and their distribution across the landscape is the charge of FWP in Montana. But there seems to be no responsibility taken by these outfitters to “manage” (i.e.- encourage and engage in the hunting of) all critters in the herd, particularly those pesky, “valueless” antlerless critters who are protected by limited access and hunting during the regular seasons, Wildlife numbers expand, often exponentially, with the result of over-objective herds, moving onto the neighboring properties (often ones that do allow public hunting), reeking havoc on someone else’s property. Late season, antlerless-only seasons then are demanded to solve the “problem” without affecting outfitted, antlered buck or bull clientele. There seems to be no consideration to run seasons concurrently to avoid brucellosis, chronic wasting disease, and other maladies that result from unnatural concentrations of wildlife. Concurrent seasons could disperse animals on the landscape while at the same time, offer public hunters a chance to harvest on private and public lands accessible to them. Shoulder seasons (hunting season that would begin and/or end after the 5-week General Rifle Season) were recently pushed as a means to deal with these problems. But they have performance criteria that require buy-in by landowners and outfitters, which has been pretty limited except with a few notable exceptions. The problems created for the private landowners through exclusive hunting on their properties keeps going to the legislature for resolution. The Fish and Wildlife Commission is the place where such decisions need to be made. They have the time, access to resources, information and expertise to consider the best way to move. Making wildlife management policy decisions in the partisan arena only serves to slap bandaids on problems and utilizes the most convenient and politically expedient solutions. We’ve seen the can kicked down the road too many times. Nonetheless, I expect to see the outfitters to continue to try to legislate their way out of their responsibility for the problem.

Farmers and ranchers were the original conservationists. Landowners are a fiercely independent lot and often that tenacity has paid off. Farmers and ranchers are coming off the best financial decade ever and they deserve it. There have been some real tough times for producers with little or no return on their investments. Often, government help was the only way we survived. Yes, government help with crop price deficiencies and disaster aid kept many farmers and ranchers on the land. Subsidized crop insurance makes risk management affordable to producers. In addition, the services of government agencies like the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service and Dept. Natural Resources and Conservation provide help with land management decisions, loans, and improvements like water and grazing systems, fencing, trees, CRP, wildlife improvements, and many others. But are these entitlements? Maybe to some, but they are paid for by all the tax paying residents of our country, “The Public.”

Leases on state and federal public lands for farming and grazing are a huge, necessary part of many producers’ operations. Generally, these leases are made far below “market”- what would be charged by a private landowner. In the case of federal leases, they are so low as to be ridiculous. Yet, these allowances have kept many an outfit in Montana in operation. Once again, who pays for the costs of these agencies who often manage at a big loss? “The Public.”

My intention is not to single out anyone. Keeping agricultural operations viable not only contributes to the economy but more often than not, has been of great benefit to wildlife, fisheries and public recreation in general. But I think it’s important to point to the fact there is legitimate and crucial financial interaction and relationship between producers and the public. Yes, those same town folks who you go to church with, basketball games, funerals, weddings, and benefits. The same folks who own the hotels, restaurants, gas stations, stores, bars, etc. The families your kids go to school with. Property taxes paid by landowners are a major component of the sustenance of our towns and counties. We need to recognize that it is a two-way street.

I believe it’s high time to realize we are all in this together and no one is getting out alive. Landowners, producers, and their city cousins all contribute to something called community, this thing we call “The Last Best Place”. FWP manages wildlife in trust for all of us. We all have legitimate and equal stakes in how it is managed and maintained into the future. Landowners as well as recreationists must realize we all rely upon one another, and, in fact, need each other. Tolerance and cooperation are the main components of our collective successful future. We all need to take responsibility for our actions!

Solutions: Sportsmen, take the FWP Hunter Landowner Stewardship course online. Report lawbreakers, “if you see something, say something.” Treat access to private lands as a privilege. Use “Fair Chase” and “Hunter Ethics” as your guide.

Landowners, know what the “Public Trust Doctrine” and the “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation” are. Remember your leased public lands are a privilege not a right. Share the resources your property can offer with your less fortunate urban cousins. Keep track of bad eggs and habitual offenders and let them pay the price for indiscretions, while allowing others to prove themselves. Have enough tolerance for the Public to harvest excess critters within the regular season.

Outfitters: Yes you are a business but, since you harvest Public Trust resources, treat it as a privilege. Look at more than just money in your pocket. Have some compassion for the critters. Work with sportsmen to allow harvest on leased lands during the regular seasons. Take responsibility for problems you create. When you run to the legislature to bypass public process, expect to pay the price of bad relationships with the Public. Public Land Outfitters, if you don’t want to pay the price for bad relationships caused by Private Land Outfitters, speak up for integrity! You have always shared the resources and have taken a shared role in management decisions. You have worked with sportsmen on a variety of issues. Be cautious who you allow to represent you.

Joe Perry

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Changes at Montana Sportsmen Alliance

Montana Sportsmen Alliance,
A Voice of Reason on Montana Fish and Wildlife Issues, 
is concerned about the future of our hunting/fishing heritage in Montana.
To help address these growing issues:

  • We have added a couple new board members, included Consultant Contributors, redesigned our MSA website ( click MSA Home, soon we will have our legislative scorecard uploaded).
  • To utilize social media, we created our MSA Blog for news, articles, MSA position statements and public comments, including articles from our Consultant Contributors. You can subscribe by adding your email address in the "Follow by Email" box on the right hand side of the MSA Blog, then hitting the "Submit" button. You will then receive a confirmation email in your inbox from Feedburner, click the confirmation link they provide in the email and you are set to receive notifications whenever MSA posts to the Blog.
  • Additionally, we have set up a MSA Constant Contact email alert to quickly network issues as they happen. You can subscribe to our MSA Blog and Email Alerts, to bring the news right to your email box. If you are receiving this News Alert as a forward and would like to subscribe, simply click the olive green "Subscribe" button at the top right hand side, fill in your Name and email address, then click the gold "Sign Up" button, you will automatically be subscribed to MSA's Constant Contact mail list. If you would like to Unsubscribe, there is a safe, one click Unsubscribe link at the bottom of the Email.

We hope you like our efforts and of course, we are always open to suggestions.  For those of you who don’t know, we have been active on our Facebook page since our old site had become obsolete.
MSA has also made it easier to contribute through a secure, online Paypal account, where you can also use your debit/credit card, if you dont have a Paypal account. You are always welcome and encouraged to contribute by check through the old fashioned snail mail:

Montana Sportsmen Alliance
3238 3rd Ave. S.
Great Falls, MT 59405

Welcome and we hope you enjoy.

John Borgreen, Great Falls
Sam Milodragovich, Butte
Joe Perry, Conrad
JW Westman, Laurel
Robert Wood, Hamilton
Steve Schindler, Glasgow
Jeff Herbert, Helena

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

MSA APHIS Brucella Abortus Select Agent List Comment

March 14, 2016

Docket # APHIS -2014-0095
Regulatory Analysis & Development
PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8

4700 River Road, Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238

Dr. Isaac:

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance, the voice of reason for the Montana hunters, anglers and conservationists appreciates the ability to comment on this very important issue. MSA strongly supports the removal of brucella abortus from the APHIS overlap select agent list.

MSA recognizes the hardship to Montana’s cattle producers when brucellosis is positively diagnosed. Private landowners, are our partners in stewardship of our publicly owned wildlife resources. MSA is equally concerned of transmission of brucellosis from domestic livestock to our wildlife, such as bison and elk. The fear of brucellosis transmission has greatly affected the natural distribution of our wildlife across the landscape and has caused conflicts between the livestock industry and wildlife advocates.

Reducing the above conflicts could be greatly affected by more research; therefore, being able to produce a more effective livestock vaccine is the ultimate outcome. With brucella abortus listed on the select agent list MSA strongly feels the overall production of a better vaccine is greatly hampered. In closing MSA feels removal of brucella abortus could be safely accomplished and would allow better, more thorough research. The end product could be an improved cattle vaccine, which would benefit Montana’s livestock industry as well as our publicly owned wildlife. MSA again, appreciates the ability to comment on issues of importance.

Respectfully submitted,

MSA Leadership Group:
John Borgreen, Great Falls
Sam Milodragovich, Butte
Joe Perry, Conrad
J.W. Westman, Park City
Robert Wood, Hamilton
Jeff Herbert, Helena
Steve Schindler, Glasgow

Saturday, March 12, 2016

MSA Condolences

 Concerning the death of Jennifer and Joseph Knarr and their son, Daniel,

To our friends in Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, so sorry and sad for your loss. Please know you, and all touched by this, are in our thoughts and prayers and we share your loss. Take comfort in family and friends and cherished memories. 

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance would like to offer our condolences to the family and to our family of FWP wardens!


State fails to act on festering Fort Belknap issues

An article recently appeared in the Gazette and newspapers across the state regarding an incident that occurred in September of 2014 in North central Montana. A group of armed individuals forcibly detained State Game Warden Dirk Paulsen for over 5 1/2 hours on a public country road in Blaine County, outside the Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation. The Tribal Business Committee had issued an order that no Fish, Wildlife & Parks personnel may travel through or on lands owned by or associated with the Tribes. This, a result of wildlife citations issued to Tribal members who had illegally killed elk on BLM not sub marginal or reservationlands in the vicinity. The animals taken were trophy Missouri Breaks elk.  The acts would have been illegal regardless of who pulled the trigger.
The group forcibly detained Warden Paulsen, attempting numerous times to disarm him. Had it not been for Paulsen’s cool head and professionalism the outcome of this situation would undoubtedly have been tragic.  Paulsen was finally "allowed" to leave the scene and later personally issued a citation by Tribal Law Enforcement for trespassing- on a public, county road.
The Attorney General's Office investigated and produced an extensive report that to date hasn’t been acted upon. Yet, due to what appears to be nothing more than purely political reasons, Warden Dirk Paulsen's unlawful detainment has languished in the hands of the Attorney General, the Governor's Office and FWP administrators. After almost two years, they continue to allow the issues to simmer, unable to separate sub marginal lands jurisdiction from clearly illegal acts. They boiled up again recently and as a result Paulsen was ordered by FWP not to set foot on or travel through Tribal lands of the Ft. Belknap Reservation. Ostensibly, this order was for his "...personal safety..." but it also included a caveat that his failure to comply with the order could result in disciplinary action against him. 
In the incident, Dirk Paulsen's civil rights were violated as well as many state and federal laws interfering with an officer of the law, coercion, unlawful restraint and a host of others that would constitute kidnapping by any other standard. Had this act been perpetrated by anyone else, they would be in jail. Yet, no action has been taken.  Instead, Paulsen has been vilified, the scapegoat of bureaucratic and political indolence and bungling.  All this when he, in fact, is the victim.  His excellent record of working with Tribal members and personal friendships and affiliations with the community are ignored and Paulsen is condemned a racist because he did his duty: investigating and citing people who willfully and knowingly violated state fish and game laws on public, non-Tribal lands.
Warden Paulsen was and is doing the job that we have entrusted him to do on behalf of all the people of Montana: protect and enhance our wild resources. That these crimes against him have been ignored is absolutely wrong. No Montanan –regardless of affiliation– is above the law. And allowing armed individuals to a take the law into their own hands in a fashion not unlike what recently occurred in Burns, Oregon, and do so with impunity is  unconscionable. 
On behalf of sportsmen and women and all Montanans, we condemn the treatment of Warden Paulsen. We urge in the strongest terms that the Governor, Attorney General and FWP administration stop playing politics, beating around the bush, and allowing these issues to fester. They need to voice strong support for Warden Paulsen in both words and deeds.  At the same time, the state must finally act to resolve jurisdictional issues with the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes. Working relationships with other tribes in Montana, most notably the Confederated Salish and Kootenai are in place that respects state and tribal rights and sovereignty while also protecting our precious wildlife resources. Ft. Belknap should be no exception. To continue to do nothing is to sidestep the responsibility of upholding the laws of the state, seriously diminishes the value of our wild resources and in essence, officially sanctions the illegal actions that took place on that county road in 2014.
The Montana Sportsmen Alliance Leadership

John Borgreen, Great Falls
Sam Milodragovich, Butte
Joe Perry, Conrad
Steve Schindler, Glascow
JW Westman, Park City
Robert Wood, Hamilton
Jeff Herbert, Helena

Thursday, March 3, 2016

MSA thoughts regarding recently passed "Shoulder Seasons"

March 2, 2016

Montana FWP Commission
Helena, MT

Dear Chairman Vermillion & Commissioners:

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance, the “Voice of Reason” for Montana hunters, anglers and those who enjoy our wildlife resources wish to thank all of you for your service to Montana’s conservation efforts. Although we often disagree, we do so as a result of our passion.

Our thoughts regarding the recently passed “shoulder seasons” are as follows:

  • The criteria, numbers 1 through 4 being of the utmost importance, by which these shoulder seasons were sold to sportsmen must be strictly adhered to. Anything less will do nothing more than greatly upset Montana sportsmen and women. We trusted FWP and the Commission decision to follow these, we will be watching that they are followed to the letter, as Montanans were told they would be.
  • There must be 100 per cent accountability throughout; that accountability spread between FWP and you, the Commission. Anything less will continue to ignite very poor relationships between Montana hunters, FWP and the Commission.
  • The data, again which were added to these shoulder seasons, must be compiled in a timely manner and be accounted for-throughout the process with 100 percent transparency.
  • Even though we were, and are still not seeing the importance of shoulder seasons we conceded they were going to be pushed through by FWP, The Governor’s office and the Commission. In this regard we’ve had enough. The time has come for you, the Commission, the Governor’s office and FWP to very publicly talk of why the tools we presently have in the tool box have never been allowed to work. In particular, going to antlerless only for all seasons in an over-objective area until it comes into objective. There needs to be open conversations regarding diseases, un-natural distribution across the landscape and of course un-natural concentrations (harboring). We all know these things are happening and we’re wondering when the conversations will begin, not just the bending to the will of landowners and outfitters.

We are also disappointed in the traction the “6 point rule” seemed to get. Homework on this issue was not done! MOGA’s proposal held no water and came from animal husbandry folks, not biologists. In science based management, multitudes of literature shows us they rarely work. We hope you never allow MOGA to push us into rediscovery of the wheel simply for their financial gain!

In closing we remain thankful we still have the process, which we aggressively protect, and we are thankful that we are able to speak, even if in very frank terms. Again thank you.

Montana Sportsmen Alliance