Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bloomberg news on Crazy Mountain issues

In Park County, Mont., North Fork of Horse Creek Road with a “No Forest Service Access” sign.

This Land Is No Longer Your Land

The fight over preserving public land during the Trump era is taking a strange, angry twist in Montana’s Crazy Mountains. Both sides are armed.
Brad Wilson is following a forest trail and scanning the dusky spaces between the fir trees for signs of movement. The black handle of a .44 Magnum juts prominently from his pack. If he stumbles on a startled bear at close range, the retired sheriff’s deputy wants to know the gun is within quick reach, in case something stronger than pepper spray is needed. Wilson isn’t the type who likes to take chances; he’s the type who plans ahead.
Before setting foot on this path, he unfolded a huge U.S. Forest Service map and reviewed the route, Trail 267. He put a finger at the trailhead, which was next to a ranger’s station, then traced its meandering path into the Crazy Mountains, a chain in south-central Montana that’s part of the northern Rockies. Like many of the trails and roads that lead into U.S. Forest Service land, Trail 267 twists in and out of private properties. These sorts of paths have been used as access points for decades, but “No Trespassing” signs are popping up on them with increasing frequency, along with visitors’ logs in which hikers, hunters, and Forest Service workers are instructed to sign their names, tacitly acknowledging that the trail is private and that permission for its use was granted at the private landowners’ discretion.
Retired lawman Wilson says ranchers have become more obstacles than neighbors.
Photographer: Thomas Prior for Bloomberg Businessweek
Wilson hates the signs and the logbooks, interpreting them as underhanded attempts by a handful of ranchers to dictate who gets to enter federal property adjacent to their own. Several of the owners operate commercial hunting businesses or rental cabins; by controlling the points of ingress to public wilderness, Wilson says, they could effectively turn tens of thousands of acres of federal land into extensions of their own ranches. That would allow them to charge thousands of dollars per day for exclusive access, while turning away anyone—hikers, anglers, bikers, hunters, locals like Wilson, or even forest rangers—who didn’t strike a deal.
Wilson, 63, is out on the trail to show me how the paths weave through private plots before reaching a destination he loves, and to show me why he loves it: The pebbled trout streams are crystalline, the elk run rampant, and painterly snowcaps break the big sky. The ranches along the way are pretty great, too, the kind of real estate that inspires—and, if acquired, perhaps even satisfies—the hunger a lot of people feel for scenic refuge. Many of the landholders are newcomers from out of state, though some old-timers remain—families that earned their deeds generations ago, the principal paid by ancestors who shivered through pitiless winters in tar-paper shacks. Wilson has been hiking and hunting the Crazies since he was a little kid, but only in the past year or so, he says, have the private ranchers seemed more like obstacles than neighbors. “They could shut down pretty much the whole interior of the Crazy Mountains, as far as I can see,” he says.
He trudges up a rooty slope and, after a blind bend, sees something straddling the trail that stops him cold. It’s a padlocked metal gate. He hiked this trail a couple of weeks before, and the fence wasn’t there. A sign on it reads, “Private Property: No Forest Service Access, No Trespassing.” It’s exactly the kind of sign he’d been bad-mouthing a few minutes earlier, but he wasn’t expecting to see one here. The locked gate feels like an escalation, a new weapon in an improvised war.
The change in Wilson’s hiking plan is frustrating, but he’s getting used to the feeling. A year ago he was just a retired county lawman working as a trustee for the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, and he never would have guessed that, in a battle involving ranchers, he’d find himself on the side of dirt bikers and trail rats.
A debate is taking place across the country over preserving land for recreational public use, but most of the attention is focused on vast swaths of historically or scientifically significant terrain that Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and to a lesser extent George W. Bush protected under the national monument designation—for example, Bears Ears in Utah and Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. These disputed trails leading into the Crazy Mountains represent another front in the escalating battle over control of federal territory, and the fighting here is just as contentious as over the monuments. Historic settlement patterns in the American West created a checkerboard pattern of landownership: Public properties are often broken-up plots, resulting in numerous access disputes. According to a 2013 study by the Center for Western Priorities, that dynamic has effectively locked the public out of about 4 million acres of land in Western states; almost half of that blocked public land, or about 2 million acres, is in Montana, according to the study. The push to end public thoroughfare is either an overdue reassertion of private property rights or an openly cynical land snatch, depending which side of the gate you’re standing on.
Before Wilson turns around and walks back to the trailhead, he vows that he’ll be better prepared next time. Alongside the .44 he’ll pack a pair of super-heavy-duty bolt cutters, and he swears he’ll tear that gate down.
Late last October, in the dying days of the Obama era, a U.S. district judge issued a verdict that seemed to set a precedent for paths like this one. The Texas-based owners of a Montana property called Wonder Ranch, about 100 miles southeast of the Crazy Mountains, had sued the Forest Service after the government filed a statement of interest claiming an easement—a legal agreement to use a portion of someone’s land for a specific purpose—on a trail that ran across the ranch’s property before reaching the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. The Forest Service said the trail had been routinely used as an access route to the forest by the government and the public for decades, and therefore it should be considered public because of historical use. The owners’ suit argued that the government had no right to an easement. The Department of Justice countersued, producing evidence dating back more than a century showing that the public and the government consistently used the trail for packhorses and hike-ins. The Forest Service won the case.
Had the landowners been able to show that the trail had been used for at least five consecutive years only by those who’d received their permission, their claims of private control might have held. That helps explain why Alex Sienkiewicz, the forest ranger overseeing the district that includes the Crazy Mountains, every year sends an email to his staff reminding them never to ask landowners’ permission to use trails that the government already considers public. “By asking permission,” he wrote in last year’s reminder, “one undermines the public access rights and plays into their lawyers’ trap of establishing a history of permissive access.” That didn’t mean anyone could veer off the trail and slip onto the private property—that’s trespassing, no question about it—it just meant the trail itself should be considered a public throughway.
Every trail leading to public land is different, and not all necessarily have a history of public use, but Sienkiewicz was echoing the government’s generally established position regarding such access points, the one argued by Justice Department attorneys in the Wonder Ranch LLC case. Obama himself outlined his administration’s overarching philosophy when he visited southern Montana during his first term to try his hand at fly-fishing. “He said he felt really strongly that a key to getting kids to become adults that care about their natural surroundings is making sure they can get out to them in the first place,” says Dan Vermillion, a local fly-fishing outfitter and the chair of Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, who waded into the Gallatin River with Obama. “Public access is one of those great equalizers that says whether you’re rich, poor, or otherwise, you still have access to public lands, and you can go out and enjoy them.”
A disputed road leading to public land, blocked by the landowning Galt family, who sell self-guided hunts on their ranch.
Photographer: Thomas Prior for Bloomberg Businessweek
For a while, it seemed that attitude might be one of the rare Obama positions that President Donald Trump could live with. In a pre-election interview, Trump told the magazine Field & Stream he didn’t like the idea of transferring the land to the states, suggesting such transfers could erode public oversight of them: “I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do,” he said. “I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”
Public land advocates smelled a contradiction, since the new president was positioning himself elsewhere as a champion of private property rights. And regardless of what he said, Trump’s campaign had tapped into a very deep well of antigovernment sentiment, the sort that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy appealed to when he occupied public territories and led armed standoffs against federal agents in 2014 and again in 2016. The co-chair of a state group called Veterans for Trump pleaded guilty to helping organize the ad hoc rebel militia, and Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, has been one of Bundy’s most vocal supporters. Immediately after the election, whether or not the results had anything to do with their actions, the Crazy Mountains landowners launched a collective blitz to take control of the trails leading to Forest Service property.
Rob Gregoire, an engineer from Bozeman, Mont., says he had little idea what awaited him when he marched up the Crazy Mountains on Nov. 23, 2016. He’d been granted a state tag allowing him to hunt bull elk on the eastern slopes, and before he set out for Forest Service land, he’d called Sienkiewicz, the district ranger, to double-check that the public trail marked on his map was indeed public. The ranger had explained agency policy to him, which indicated that the trail was public, but told Gregoire to use his own judgment if a landowner objected.
Gregoire decided to go for it. When the trail veered through a private plot called the Hailstone Ranch, he spotted a No Trespassing sign that read, “The Forest Service Has No Easement Here.” He ignored it, consulting his GPS to make sure he never strayed from the path onto the private ranch land. The landowner somehow detected that he was using the trail (“I think he had an alarm or something,” Gregoire later speculated) and called a sheriff’s deputy, who was waiting for Gregoire to return at the end of the day. The deputy charged him with criminal trespassing.
Shortly after that, the owners of nine ranches neighboring the Hailstone went after Sienkiewicz. Back on July 20, a volunteer at Public Land/Water Access Association Inc., a Montana nonprofit that supports open public access to federal lands and waterways, had gotten hold of, then posted on its Facebook page, Sienkiewicz’s most recent annual email reminder to his staff advising them never to sign visitor logs for trail access or ask permission. The property owners apparently assumed that Sienkiewicz had posted the item himself—proof that he was behaving as a political activist, not a public servant. The ranch owners sent a letter to U.S. Senator Steve Daines, a Republican representing Montana, saying in part, “As a direct result of this inflammatory Facebook post, we have many questions about the FS position regarding access across our private property.” Several of the ranchers who signed the letter have also been listed as contributors to Daines’s political campaigns in the past five years.
In May, Daines echoed the landowners’ complaints—and forwarded a screen shot of the Facebook post—in a letter to Thomas Tidwell, then the chief of the Forest Service, and to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, whose agency oversees the Forest Service. Less than two weeks later, Representative Pete Sessions (R-Texas) got involved, firing off a similar complaint to Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has a long history in Montana. An avid hunter and fisherman, he was born in Bozeman, about 40 miles from the Crazies. He was also a Montana congressman, filling the seat Daines had occupied before he moved to the Senate. (At least one of the ranchers donated to Zinke’s campaign.)
A road leading toward the Crazy Mountains.
Photographer: Thomas Prior for Bloomberg Businessweek
In his letter, Sessions described the Forest Service’s approach to public access as part of “the war on private property owners conducted by the Obama administration.” The Wonder Ranch owners hadn’t been among the nine who signed the initial letter, but they were the link that got Sessions involved. One of the co-owners, a Texan named Chris Hudson, lives in Sessions’ district, and Sessions proposed that Hudson and Perdue meet. Sessions also recommended that the Forest Service issue a nationwide directive to prevent rangers or individual districts from declaring paths and roads public based on historic use.
It’s not known if Perdue or Zinke took direct action after receiving the complaints (Perdue’s, Zinke’s, and Sessions’ offices didn’t return calls for this story, nor did Hudson’s attorney). But the week after Sessions’ letter was sent, Sienkiewicz was removed from his job as district ranger, pending an internal review, and moved to a desk job evaluating gold mining proposals in another part of Montana. The public controversy surrounding his suspension stretched on for more than four months and brought significant local criticism to the Forest Service. “Alex was just following the Forest Service manual,” says Bernard Lea, who spent 36 years in the Forest Service in Montana before retiring and becoming a leader of the Public Land/Water Access Association. The day before Sienkiewicz was told of his transfer, Gregoire agreed to settle his trespassing charge and pay a $500 fine. The county attorney overseeing the case happened to be the husband of one of the landowners who’d signed the letter to Perdue and Daines complaining about Sienkiewicz. “With him on board,” Gregoire says, “I didn’t think I could win.”
Defenders of Sienkiewicz and Gregoire—a group that included land access advocates, proprietors of recreation businesses, wildlife groups, and individuals—cast the developments as evidence of an under-the-table assault on public lands that the Trump administration appeared to endorse, if not initiate. This spring, Trump requested that Zinke’s Department of the Interior review national monuments, designated or enlarged since 1996, and possibly downsize them, a step he said could rectify what he considered a “massive federal land grab.” Several politicians from Utah, such as Orrin Hatch, Rob Bishop, and Jason Chaffetz, had led the downsizing push, and for years they’d been advocating turning such lands over to the states—the strategy Trump had earlier declared would result in a selloff to the highest bidder. The department eventually suggested downsizing six of the 27 monuments under review, but the ultimate fate of those lands and waters remains in limbo; the matter will go to Congress, and the conservationists have said they will fight the new boundaries in court.
PERC’s Anderson says ranch owners serve nature better than government can.
Photographer: Thomas Prior for Bloomberg Businessweek
“I absolutely hate the movie A River Runs Through It,” says Terry Anderson, senior fellow and the former president and executive director of the Bozeman-based Property and Environment Research Center, commonly known as PERC. “It destroyed fly-fishing in Montana.” He’s referring to the wave of tourists in fresh-off-the-rack waders inspired by Brad Pitt in the film, who’s guided through life in leaf-filtered light by fraternal love and river sport. Anderson grew up in Montana, and he remembers when the Bozeman airport terminal was smaller than a coffee shop, and you could spend all day on a hike without seeing another soul. The unofficial state motto is “The Last Best Place,” and the feeling that untrammeled natural landscapes are becoming scarce has engendered a strain of possessiveness. At a gas station near the Crazy Mountains, you’ll find T-shirts that say “Montana Sucks—Now Go Home and Tell All Your Friends” and bumper stickers that read “Montana Is Full—I Hear North Dakota Is Nice.”
Anderson has carved out a field for himself in something called free-market environmentalism. Along with his job at PERC, he’s a professor emeritus at Montana State University and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, a libertarian-leaning think tank. In op-eds published across the country, he’s an evangelist for limited government and private property rights. He views many environmentalists with undisguised contempt, and they generally return the favor.
Like many nonprofits, PERC doesn’t disclose its funding sources, but Greenpeace International has posted records showing that they’ve included Exxon Mobil Corp. and the industrialists Charles and David Koch. Anderson probably wouldn’t worry too much about how that looks: He believes the private sector, in most cases, is a better steward of nature than the government.
He argues that public land access obeys a dynamic prevalent in vehicular traffic planning. When highway departments construct additional lanes to a highway to ease congestion, he says, it generally has the opposite effect, merely allowing more drivers to clog the road. In a similar way, encouraging the use of multiple pathways into public lands degrades the environment. Better, he maintains, would be to let private stakeholders control access and charge fees instead of burdening taxpayers with the job; fewer people would trample the trails, and those trails would be better kept.
At the right place and the right time, the notion that the Crazies are being overrun by hordes of weekenders desperate for recreation is easy to conjure. It’s best done on a sun-shot Saturday morning in summer, close to Half Moon Campground, which is near the lone uncontested public entry point on the east side of the Crazies. Here, campers and hikers gather before dispersing into the relative solitude of the vast mountain wilderness. On one such morning in August, no fewer than 33 vehicles overfilled a parking area near the trailhead. “It’s like a Walmart parking lot,” grumbled Dario Quilici, a 35-year-old who was hiking in with Gino Mussolini, his German wirehaired pointer, for some camping and fishing.
Quilici’s plan was seat-of-the-pants. He thought he might spend three or four days hiking to an exit point on the far side of the mountains, but he didn’t realize that the most direct trail was blocked by the gate Wilson had confronted. Other possible paths were also contested. When I told him this, he redirected his criticism away from the parking lot and toward the landowners. “I bet they have some lobbying power,” he said. “They just want to keep everything like it’s their own private reserve.”
The town of Wilsall, at the foot of the Crazies.
Photographer: Thomas Prior for Bloomberg Businessweek
Herein lies the big challenge for the landowners and their defenders: Survey after survey has shown that the public hates the idea that someone can lock taxpayers out of public land, and that they’re suspicious of transferring control of such tracts to private enterprise. Nevertheless, Anderson and PERC deny that their position is out of step with public opinion, even casting it as pro-access. Their rationale is oblique: If the Forest Service insists the public has a right to use the trails, they say, private landowners will naturally rebel; numerous court battles will ensue, tying up the trails in years of litigation and costing the government millions of dollars. And as the cases proceed, the landowners will take steps to secure their property rights, blocking traffic on the trails until the mess is sorted out.
“In the places where now there are signs,” Anderson predicts, “you’ll see a locked gate.” His comment is an informed one. He counts several of the landowners involved in the Crazy Mountains disputes as friends, including the owners of the Rein Anchor Outfitting and Ranch, who operate a hunting lodge and signed the letter against Sienkiewicz. PERC’s affiliation with politically connected outfitters that stand to profit if trails are closed bolsters the sense, to Wilson and others confronting locked gates, that a void in coherent policy about public land management is being filled by cronyism that rewards wealth and connections above all else. Another co-owner of the Wonder Ranch, Frank-Paul King, a friend and former student of Anderson’s, served on PERC’s board. Hudson, the man who got Representative Sessions involved, is King’s brother-in-law, and he’s also a board member and the former president of the Dallas Safari Club, a group that made national headlines in 2014 when it auctioned off a trip to Africa to hunt an endangered rhinoceros. (The winning bidder, who paid $350,000, traveled to Namibia and shot a black rhino bull, an animal the club said had threatened the rest of the herd.) The Dallas Safari Club has granted PERC funding for, among other things, a study on “private conservation in the public interest.”
In 2016 the Dallas Safari Club hosted a fundraiser featuring the big-game hunting enthusiast Donald Trump Jr. that netted $60,000 in campaign donations to the Republican National Committee. “The candidate’s family connection to hunting and its legacy gives DSC a huge opportunity to have the right people in place as advocates for our mission,” the club’s newsletter stated. After Trump was elected, Hudson was listed as an organizer for a post-inaugural fundraiser called “Opening Day 45,” which featured Eric and Donald Trump Jr. as co-chairs. It was canceled after TMZ published an early draft of the invitation last December, promising personal access to President Trump, along with a multiday hunting excursion with his sons, to anyone who donated more than $500,000, sparking criticism that the sons planned to peddle access to their father.
This circle of big-game hunters is relatively small, which means links among them are numerous enough to allow critics of the Trump administration to claim political malfeasance, and they’re tangential enough that defenders can argue that they’re coincidental and easily misconstrued. One person who has hunted with Trump Jr. is Senator Daines, of the anti-Sienkiewicz letters. The two men met last fall in a camp in Montana during an elk hunt. Daines later called on Trump Jr. to return to the state to campaign on behalf of Greg Gianforte, who was running for the congressional seat Zinke gave up to lead the Interior Department. This spring, Trump Jr. explained that he had grown to trust Daines unequivocally; when the senator told the president’s son that Gianforte was “an awesome guy,” he decided to get involved. “That vouching was enough for me,” Trump Jr. said at a rally in April.
On a Thursday evening in August, a couple dozen people gathered in an old schoolhouse in Livingston, Mont., to grill Mary Erickson, the Forest Service’s supervisor of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, about Sienkiewicz’s reassignment. Most of the people in the crowd viewed the case with skepticism or outrage, and Erickson appeared to be choosing her words carefully to avoid pushing anyone toward the angrier end of the scale.
The trail access issue was extremely sensitive inside the Forest Service, she explained, and potentially costly, too. The Trump administration was proposing a 73 percent cut in the Forest Service’s capital improvement and maintenance budget and an 84 percent reduction, from $77 million to $12 million, in its trail program budget. The Wonder Ranch case, she observed, had cost the government “in the millions of dollars,” and it wasn’t over yet—the landowners were appealing the decision, and it now sat with an appellate judge. “I’m not saying we’re never going to go to court, but the Forest Service is going to be careful about when we go to court and make sure we’re going to court on cases we can win,” she said.
A padlock on a gate blocking access to the Porcupine Lowline Trail.
Photographer: Thomas Prior for Bloomberg Businessweek
Erickson downplayed suggestions that any of the politicians involved in the Sienkiewicz case had been directly responsible for his removal, and she suggested that Sienkiewicz should have been more diplomatic when he dealt with the local landowners, to avoid the appearance of “pulling to this side or that side” regarding any questions of public access.
That notion didn’t sit well with some in the audience, particularly those who believed that if the unfolding drama showed bias toward an interest group, it was toward the private landowners. Nick Gevock, the conservation director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, told Erickson that Sienkiewicz was a public servant and he’d simply taken the side of the general public.
The agency in mid-October announced it was giving Sienkiewicz his job back. But Gevock’s frustrations spoke to an unresolved question underlying all of the disputes: Who, exactly, is the Forest Service supposed to serve? On the agency’s website, former Director Thomas Tidwell wrote that its guiding principles were clearly established by Gifford Pinchot, the service’s founding chief, during the Gilded Age—“a time when the nation’s resources were being exploited for the benefit of the wealthy few,” Tidwell stated. “The national forests were based on a notion that was just the opposite—that these lands belong to everyone.”
The public access advocates say they’re not sure they trust the spirit of Pinchot’s original message has survived intact. The mixed signals coming from the Trump administration mean everything rests on how those sometimes conflicting messages are interpreted. Zinke has repeatedly insisted, without offering specifics, that he is pro-access, and on his first day in office he pledged to fight against the “dramatic decreases in access to public lands across the board” that he said were plaguing America. “It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the landowning elite,” he said.
But this past July, while public land advocates were protesting the Interior Department’s pending move to downsize the national monuments and hikers were cursing the new No Trespassing signs in the Crazies, Zinke traveled to Denver to speak at the annual conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The group, a conservative lobbying coalition that helps lawmakers draft legislative proposals, has energetically pushed for the potential transfer of federal lands to the states. Whether Zinke’s speech clarified the government’s general, overarching philosophy on public-vs.-private control of lands that are currently federal, only members of the lobbying group can say for sure. Unlike several other speeches delivered at the conference, Zinke’s wasn’t transcribed or published, and it was closed to the general public.

(A previous version of this story ascribed a grant from the Dallas Safari Club to PERC that was for The Conservation Fund. The text has been corrected in the 28th paragraph to reflect the accurate study.)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Federal Lands Transfer???

A recent story indicated that the federal government spent over $2.7 billion (yes- that’s billion, folks with a “b”) to fight wildfires during the 2017 fiscal year, which ended September 1.  Montana has spent in excess of $400 million to cope with this year’s disastrous fire season.
The final tally for both the federal government, Montana and other western states is still to come in, and fires continue to burn as we enter fall.  This raises the question for those who have so stridently advocated that states assume federal public lands’ “management.” If our legislature and governor are struggling to pay our state fire costs for this year, and balance the budget, where would we be if we also were responsible for the care and protection of the many federal lands that also went up in flames this summer?  
The issue is yet another in an already long, long list of legal, scientific and philosophical questions that serves to underscore the short-sighted and ill-conceived  nature of efforts by those who strive to transfer federal lands to state ownership.

    Montana Sportsmen Alliance

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Montana Outdoors Disease at the Door

Disease at the Door

Montana will rely on hunters and landowners to help control CWD when (not if) it arrives. By Laura Lundquist.

This story is featured in Montana Outdoors September–October 2017 issue.
One day soon, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey will receive the email she’s long dreaded: Colorado State University technicians will have found chronic wasting disease in one or more of the deer tissue samples she sent them. That message will change the future, both for FWP and the state’s deer and elk hunters.
In early May of this year, Ramsey thought that day had come. A woman called about a deer in her yard that was acting oddly. Her children had freed the deer from a fence, but then it just stood there, dazed and drooling, head down, emaciated—all symptoms of a deer suffering from chronic wasting disease (CWD).
After the deer was euthanized, Ramsey removed two lymph nodes from its neck and sent them to Colorado. Then she waited. “It was a pretty stressful couple of weeks. When I got the email, I swear I opened it like this,” Ramsey says, covering her eyes with her hand and slowly peering through two fingers.
It turned out the deer was just old. But when CWD settles in Montana, many deer and elk will start dying well before their time. And, if nothing is done, Montana could eventually see large-scale die-offs like those in Colorado’s and Wyoming’s infected mule deer herds. “I don’t think any of us will be surprised when we get a positive result,” Ramsey says. “How could it be everywhere around us and not here?”
Deadly brain disease
The origins of CWD are unknown. It was first reported in the United States in 1967, when researcher Beth Williams saw telltale symptoms in captive mule deer that eventually died at a Colorado Division of Wildlife fac-ility. She recognized the probable cause because she’d already seen the disease in captive deer in her previous job at the Toronto Zoo. After that, researchers were dismayed to find the disease popping up in other captive herds across North America and then, even more alarming, in wild populations.
Like mad-cow disease and scrapie in sheep, CWD kills by causing proteins in the brain and nervous system to malfunction. Like some cancers, it takes a while—one and a half to two years—before CWD progresses to where symptoms appear and the afflicted animal dies. Lacking easy and noninvasive tests to find it in live animals, scientists have a hard time detecting the disease until it becomes widespread.
CWD is caused by a deformed protein called a prion that, once it invades deer or elk, changes normal, working prions into abnormal, malfunctioning ones. Because CWD is not caused by a bacteria or virus, antibiotics and other conventional medicines don’t work, frustrating wildlife biologists who have tried to stop its relentless spread.
Abnormal prions invade a healthy animal through contact with an infected animal’s saliva, urine, feces, or decaying carcass. Because elk and deer are social animals that congregate, the disease moves within and among herds. The odds of transmission are especially high when animals are packed into wildlife farms or feed grounds—such as the 8,000 to 10,000 elk that gather in the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to eat hay and cattle pellets provided by the refuge. The disease is always fatal.
Killing CWD-infected deer and elk does not solve the problem. Prions can persist in the environment for at least two years, waiting for the next curious deer to come along.
In the West, mule deer, especially bucks, seem most susceptible to CWD, followed by white-tailed deer. Elk and moose are affected to a lesser degree.
So far, CWD has turned up in wild herds in two Canadian provinces and 21 states, most recently Arkansas in 2015. Four states have found it only in captive populations, including Montana in 1998 when elk on a Philipsburg game farm tested positive.
The Philipsburg operation was shut down, but it scared enough people for FWP to start a CWD surveillance program. Testing began in 2000 thanks to federal funding, and 1,500 to 2,000 animals, mostly harvested by hunters, were sampled each year. After 2012, however, federal funding dried up. Until recently, FWP has lacked funds to continue monitoring, which concerns Ramsey. “Without annual surveillance, we don’t know what’s going on out there,” she says.
Nearly surrounded
Over the past decade, CWD has nearly surrounded Montana (see map below).

CWD keyInfected animals live just over the border on three sides of the state in Wyoming, the Dakotas, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In 2016, a deer tested positive north of Cody, Wyoming, just eight miles from the Montana border. “The odds are good it’s already here. We just haven’t discovered it yet,” says John Vore, FWP Game Management Bureau chief.
Though CWD could arrive from any neighboring state or province, Wyoming is the most likely source. Once scientists there learned that CWD wasn’t a proven health threat to humans, Wyoming stopped managing for the disease. Since then, infection rates in mule deer have climbed higher than 30 percent in some districts. As a result, the size of some infected herds has declined by up to 20 percent each year. Last year, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted to renew efforts to limit CWD.
Unfortunately, once CWD infects most of a herd, there’s little state wildlife agencies can do. They can’t eradicate the disease because, by that time, it has pervaded the environment. Large-scale culling doesn’t work either, because it’s nearly impossible to kill all the deer or elk in a large area—not to mention that people don’t like seeing entire herds wiped out.
Despite these challenges, states that tackle the problem early and approve special hunts that keep the infection at less than 5 percent of a population might keep the threat under control, says Colorado Parks & Wildlife veterinarian Michael Miller, who has studied CWD for the past 20 years. “Wildlife managers need to be engaged somewhere between the knee-jerk crisis response and just sitting back and seeing what happens,” Miller says. “CWD is just another way for animals to die. If it’s a rare way for them to die, then it’s probably sustainable. But if it starts to become a common source of mortality, well, then you’ve got problems.”
Ramsey says that once CWD gets into a deer or elk population, there’s no feasible way to eradicate it. “Instead, our goal will be to keep prevalence low and prevent it from spreading,” she says.
Deer tissue needed
Vore says FWP is renewing surveillance this hunting season. Biologists will sample mule deer in southwestern and south-central Mon- tana and then focus on eastern, central, and western Montana in 2018. Workers at hunter check stations will request tissue samples that will be sent in for testing. “We’ll also work with game processors and taxidermists to obtain samples from targeted areas,” Vore says.
In addition, FWP wildlife disease ecologist Emily Almberg will test deer near the defunct Philipsburg elk farm. “Because it’s a slow-growing disease, it’s unlikely that we would have found a positive wild animal in that area back in the late 1990s. But now...?” Almberg says, shrugging. “I’m mentally preparing myself to find it at a higher prevalence there and in other areas than we would like, because we’ve done almost no surveillance over the past four years.”
FWP is working with a citizens’ advisory panel to determine an initial response once the disease is found in Montana deer or elk. The department would likely institute a special CWD hunt in which hunters would harvest 300 to 500 animals within at least a 10-mile radius of the first CWD-positive animal. That’s the harvest size Almberg says is necessary for her to understand what percentage of animals are infected and how far across an area the disease has spread. “The point of the special hunt wouldn’t be to try to eradicate the disease, but to determine its prevalence and geographical range,” she says.
Any special CWD hunt would take place during or near the general five-week season, Vore says. FWP would likely issue special restricted licenses to prevent hunters from flooding the area.
To keep prions from spreading, hunters wouldn’t be able to leave a special hunt area with a whole carcass, just as they can’t legally bring carcasses into Montana from states or provinces where CWD exists.
Instead, they’d have to use game processors or taxidermists in those areas. Because a CWD test takes a few weeks, hunters won’t know right away if their animal is infected.
If a deer or elk does have CWD, it’s up to the hunter to decide whether to eat the venison. It won’t be an easy decision. The Centers for Disease Control states that “no strong evidence of CWD transmission to humans has been reported.” At the same time, the federal agency recommends not eating the meat of infected animals.
If, after a special CWD hunt, Almberg finds low prevalence of the disease, FWP would likely maintain the existing general hunting season in that area. If more than 5 percent of harvested animals have the disease, the department may modify the general season to reduce prevalence. That would likely require targeting older bucks, which have a higher infection rate.
Will increasing buck harvest be a hard sell to hunters, especially if it’s required in hunting districts managed for trophy deer? Chad Klinkenborg thinks not. The Montana director of the Mule Deer Foundation and a member of the CWD advisory panel suspects that hunters wouldn’t put up much resistance, especially if they understood the consequences. “I think most will have the attitude of, ‘Let’s do whatever is necessary to contain this, because we want to protect the mule deer population at large,’” Klinkenborg says.
Tom Toman of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation says his organization is committed to helping Montana respond to outbreaks and manage for the disease. “We continue to promote sound science and fund research to help contain CWD,” he says.
All hands on deck
Landowner cooperation also will be critical. During a CWD hunt, hunters will need to spread out across the response area to harvest enough animals for scientific study. If some landowners are unwilling to allow public hunting, then CWD surveillance and disease control will be severely hampered. Vore hopes all land-owners will see the value in keeping the disease contained.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in managing CWD will be to sustain public interest and cooperation. “It’s not like blue tongue [disease], where you have a bunch of dead deer lying around,” says Ramsey. “CWD takes 20 years to start to affect a deer or elk population.” Both Colorado and Wyoming have struggled to keep hunters, landowners, and others engaged over the long haul. Those states warn that when vigilance with the slow-moving disease wanes, more deer and elk start to die. “They’re advising us to predict a lot of hoopla when we find CWD,” says Vore. “But then people may lose interest and stop working with us because they won’t see any changes to populations. But, unfortunately, their grandkids will."Bear bullet
Laura Lundquist is a journalist in Missoula.

Mountain Journal The Lords Of Yesterday Are Back And They Want America's Public Land

The Lords Of Yesterday Are Back And They Want America's Public Land

Opinion: Barry Reiswig—a backcountry horseman, hunter, angler and civil servant —pushes back against "the radical agenda" of Ryan Zinke

I have been fortunate in my life to have lived and worked in virtually every Western state. I have followed the tracks of elk in Colorado’s magnificent Flattops, and gazed out over the sagebrush vistas peppered with pronghorn at South Pass where the Oregon Trail skirts the south end of Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

I have dodged hail storms, lightning and grizzlies on the Beartooth Plateau of Montana. I have viewed the petroglyphs, thousands of years old, on the sandstone walls in the canyonlands of Utah and in the vicinity of Bears Ears.

For a memorable span of my adult life, I worked for the federal government and, with pride, devoted myself to civil service. Embracing the oath of stewardship, I oversaw the operation of a special piece of public ground—the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole.

Remaining a proud resident of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem today, I have spent a lifetime traveling thousands of miles by horseback, leading pack trains over the mountains and deserts of our public lands. These lands fire my soul, they provide me a true sense of place, they define who I am as a person. But I'm not alone. I know you share it with me.

When I am out on the public lands I become part of the landscape, part of the pageant of America’s human history—Native American, mountain man, cowboy, settler, soldier, outlaw, preacher, riverboat captain, recreationist, hunter, angler, and, in general, refugee from the crowded world everywhere else.

I mention my background only as a preface to this: I know what we are about to lose.

Yes, don't ever doubt it, they’re coming for our public lands, yours and mine. In fact, they’re already here. It is happening and if the real sell-off or divestiture begins, it will be swift and irreversible. 

The billionaires and big corporations, fronted by organizations with slick-sounding names, like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the American Lands Council (ALC), are working behind the scenes to take our land away from us. They are laying the groundwork. 

These modern-day robber barons, descendants of the Lords of Yesterday against whom President Theodore Roosevelt fought, know our public lands are worth a fortune—really holding an intangible pricelessness—and they have their sights set on liquidation.  [Editor's note: "Lords of Yesterday" is a reference, first created by the noted Western public policy scholar and law professor Charles Wilkinson, to those who treated the West as a natural resource colony good only for plundering].

Oh, you haven’t read much in the daily western media, and you probably won’t given the lack of depth in reporting, because those who view our public lands as a great prize are doing their work behind closed doors by directly influencing our state and federal legislators.

How does this work? 

ALEC, as just one entity, puts on “seminars” for our elected representatives and gives them “scholarships” to attend these get-togethers free of charge at posh hotels where they can rub elbows with the representatives of the financial elite and lobbyists for big corporations.

Our elected officials are being taught how to take our land away from us.

Land we own together, public land, as sacred as the sight of the flag. At the same time, part of the "teaching" is portraying  those tens of thousands of people on the homefront, who serve our country in the uniform of public land management agencies, as adversaries. 

Don’t expect an invitation to attend their meetings anytime soon; you’re not invited.  Armed with a bevy of lawyers and public relations experts, ALEC carefully plots strategy on getting control of the public lands. They know it won’t be easy but they think the time is right because they believe we are asleep.

We need to wake up.

Our new Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, a self-pronounced devotee of Theodore Roosevelt (God only knows why, for he is nothing like TR) has been busy attempting to undermine our public lands for the benefit of the same folks who want to steal them.  He has been less than forthcoming. And he has allies in libertarian think-tanks and Congressional staffs who are adept at dispensing the real definition of "alternative facts".  [View U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich's pointed questioning of Zinke's deputy on inaccuracies in his report to the White House below].
Zinke’s proposals, such as arbitrarily reducing the size of some of our National Monuments, supporting the hatchery rearing of sage grouse chicks in Wyoming and Montana instead of protecting key habitats (there could be oil, gas and coal under there boys), and his latest gem, moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) to Denver—which has long been the western capital for the energy industry and those seeking water grabs— are all designed to please the big boys.

The BuRec headquarters was already located in Denver for many years, and was finally moved to Washington because Congress wanted to keep a closer eye on dam builders hell bent on taming all of our wild rivers.
"When I am out on the public lands I become part of the landscape, part of the pageant of America’s human history—Native American, mountain man, cowboy, settler, soldier, outlaw, preacher, riverboat captain, recreationist, hunter, angler, and, in general, refugee from the crowded world everywhere else."  —Barry Reiswig
In a speech recently to his buddies in the energy industry, Zinke stated that about a third of Interior employees are not loyal to President Donald Trump.  Really?  Personally, I think that figure is a bit low.

Zinke won't meet with conservationists but he told the National Petroleum Council with indignation that Interior employees are reluctant to relax regulations to permit increased mining for coal and drilling for natural gas and oil on public land.

Most Interior employees I am familiar with are loyal, not to Trump, but to the resources under their care—national parks, historic sites, national conservation lands, wildlife refuges, fisheries and the archeological sites they are responsible for.  They want to keep healthy wildlife populations on the landscape. They are loyal to maintaining clean air and water. They have devoted their lives to it.

Most of all, these public servants are loyal to us, the American people, and we ought to be standing with them. They swear a non-partisan allegiance, as I did, that is inter-generational, not to the whims of a President whose fortune was made selling real estate in Manhattan or to a short-term-minded Interior Secretary who is rapidly securing a place in history as the worst ever—a feat that is actually difficult to achieve.

How could anybody with any ethical integrity or knowledge of our connection to public lands be loyal to Trump? 

Two westerners on horseback. Who better reflects the spirit of conservationist Theodore Roosevelt? Barry Reiswig, left, is a retired civil servant, lifelong backcountry horseman, hunter and angler; at right, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, riding in the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington, D.C. Photo of Reiswig courtesy Wyoming Wilderness Association. Photo of Zinke courtesy of U.S. Department of Interior (click to enlarge)
It is our dear Interior Secretary who has a loyalty problem, demonstrated by the fact he has not taken one single, solitary action for conserving our public lands since he set foot in the Interior building after riding up on a horse for a staged PR event. Nice touch. He might want to tighten up that cinch a bit though, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

This former self-touting Navy Seal—most former Navy Seals actually don’t have to beat their chests— is going to learn that we, the owners of public lands, can be stubborn characters, unwilling to give up our birthright to some of the most magnificent landscapes in the world.

Zinke and his allies on Capitol Hill and those in the libertarian think-tanks are bombarding us with unfounded claims that the states will do a better job of managing the public lands (it’s not true, states can’t afford it), and that the “local folks” know more about the public lands than those pesky federal bureaucrats way back there in Washington. 

Those plotting to steal our western heritage solemnly promise there will be no net loss of public lands if they fall to state management, and access will be guaranteed us in perpetuity. Don’t worry, they say, the “local boys” will take care of it. Take care of it for whom? 

Schemes like having the states manage our federal public lands for us are cropping up as well. This would need to be accomplished with federal funds of course, no need to spend those precious state dollars. There are those who truly believe that in a capitalistic society, public lands should not exist, all land should be private.

The fact is that, increasingly, local people in Greater Yellowstone appreciate the value of public lands and conservation because, together, they are central to our quality of life.

I was on talk radio recently in Cody, Wyoming, where lands transfer was the topic. A listener called in and flatly stated all the public lands in Wyoming, more than 25 million acres, should be put up for disposal, 320 acres at a pop under the Desert Land Act. Then, if people wanted to visit these former public lands, they could pay the owner for the privilege; interesting concept, isn’t it?

"I was on talk radio recently in Cody, Wyoming, where lands transfer was the topic. A listener called in and flatly stated all the public lands in Wyoming, more than 25 million acres, should be put up for disposal, 320 acres at a pop under the Desert Land Act. Then, if people wanted to visit these former public lands, they could pay the owner for the privilege; interesting concept, isn’t it?"
Imagine an eighty-mile pack trip through the backcountry. It would certainly become a tremendous effort in logistics, begging the new private owners holding the deed to let you trek across their land.

The AM radio caller mentioned that’s how it is done in Texas. Apparently he thinks the Texas model, where virtually all the land is private, is a good thing, and yes, you pay to do about anything in Texas.

The caller did touch on the central goal of the modern-day land transfer advocates: cash. It’s all about the money; it’s always been all about “the money”. From the early day robber barons to the modern mega-corporations, it’s about maximizing the bottom line, their bottom line, at our expense.

Most of us will never be able to afford a big ranch in the mountains or a trophy home in Jackson Hole or Big Sky. But we, in our own way, are all wealthy because we are part-owners in our public lands. We have opportunities to hunt, fish, camp, rock hound, climb, raft, ride horses, putter around in ORV’s on a scale people elsewhere in the world can’t even imagine.

One thing to note, and I mention this to counter the distortion of the libertarian think-tanks in Bozeman: we already pay; all of us, as citizens, have a portion of our tax dollars going to national parks and forests and wildlife refuges and BLM lands and to resource managers and rangers and scientists working on our behalf for these agencies.

We pay for private ranchers to run their livestock on public lands, too, because we subsidize their grazing fees and their killing of predators and so-called public land improvements and road building and, if the weather gets bad and it kills cattle or sheep, we pay with disaster relief payments.

If the proponents of liquidation succeed in snookering us out of public lands we already own and pay for, will those privateers be willing to give up all those public subsidies?  And are we willing to do without the access to lands we own, lands handed to us as part of our civic inheritance, lands that we’ve counted on passing down to our kids and grandkids?

Indian Creek in Bears Ears National Monument, photograph courtesy of US Bureau of Land Management

Indian Creek in Bears Ears National Monument, photograph courtesy of US Bureau of Land Management

One huge irony: Mr. Zinke and the radical lawmakers pushing this land grab live in some of the states receiving the greatest amount of public subsidies in the country. They know the data doesn’t support their arguments so they alter facts deliberately to deceive.

Do not be deceived. The public lands belong to us—not to a federal government that is portrayed as an "other". Those of us who have served in uniform are the stewards.

We the people are the owners, not the billionaires or the states or the big corporate executives, or even the gun-toting thugs who profess to protect the Constitution but are really just another type of land thief.

Don’t be lulled into believing the fate of pubic lands is permanent or secured.  Mr. Zinke and the people coming after our lands are, if nothing else, patient. They are hoping that the high intrigue currently playing out on the global stage, the fear of a nuclear exchange with North Korea or the shenanigans in Russia, will keep us distracted. Don’t be.

Call up your members of Congress, governor, state legislators and local county commissioners. Insist that they get back to you personally.  Tell elected officials, no matter where you are reading this now, that you say “no” to the radicals.

This is one of the defining fights of our lifetime. Don’t sit on the sidelines.

It’s time our elected officials start sticking up for the little guys, Americans of average means, instead of corporate interests beholden to shareholders, not citizens.

What we are seeing is nothing new, it’s happened before in America, and it was Teddy Roosevelt who stood down the robber barons seeking to take control of the land, them promising an illusionary pot of gold at the end of the lands transfer rainbow.

This is our call to citizenship and trust me, you matter. If you don’t stand up now, your kids and grandkids will only have you to blame later.

Once this bunch sells our land and spends the money and hands over the deed to the schemers, we will be left with nothing, bereft of the sacred sense of who we are.

Barry Reiswig
About Barry Reiswig

Barry Reiswig retired as a senior wildlife manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and today lives in Cody, Wyoming. He is an avid backcountry horseman, hunter and angler.
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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Dysfunctional Board of Outfitters Moga leads the way down the tube!

These are comments From the Montana Sportsmen Alliance:

We try to attend most Boo meetings and keep up with the issues.

1.  This board is totally dysfunctional with Moga members controlling the
vote.  There is never an effort at compromise nor any effort to protect the
public.  Board materials go to Moga officers, staff and members where they
are rewritten and offered back.  The rest of us are out of this loop.  If
Mr. Arnaud can't keep board materials between board members, they should be
distributed to all!  We asked long ago that MSA be provided anything that Moga got.
Perhaps its time to ask for a thorough review of the
charge of the members of this board!  Mr. Tabor, Mr. Minard,  and others are
not on this board and should not be involved.  This lopsided voting will
force rearranging this board in statute or composition or both.  Where is
the effort at giving the public its due?  
We request DLI (not Boo staff) to train this board in their charge, as
well as their responsibility to the public and not just for $ for Moga

2.  The rule pkg with no provisions for record keeping is in opposition to
the Gov.'s veto language of SB 264.  Are you folks comfortable following
Moga's lead in thumbing their nose at the Gov.?  Are you comfortable with
the negative press for the industry?  Are you comfortable standing against
DLI?  Is this what is best for the Montana Public and game mgmt in general.
We disagree and so does the Gov's office.

3.  The rule pkg on rules for OA, first aid, and last minute booking is
horrible.  Moga is once again advocating for themselves without considering
the public.  The OA is a privilege not a right.  Every step along the way,
Moga has fought for vague or no sideboards so they can beat the system.
Remember, we asked for strict guidelines so the abuse of the past is not
repeated..little to ask in light of the abuse and the entitlement!
The last minute booking is not part of legislative intent.  Mac Minard
testified last meeting that they liked this bill and would have killed it in
committee if they didn't..not in any way true!  Jean first tried to kill the
bill and was told no!  Jean then tried to manipulate the bill.  She offered
her amendment, then told committee and sponsor that everyone had agreed to
it.  Rep. Flynn and Rep. Jacobson were duped and MSA, the bill's originator,
was never consulted in any way shape or form.  This shows the level of
dishonesty Moga commonly uses.  Rep. Jacobson says "you fix this or we will"
to Boo. Back to the legislature.
The first aid proposal that we thought was a compromise was changed at
the last minute by the Arnaud to one time only hands on first aid.  Where was
that compromise again?
Hardly a service to the public and we strongly disagree.  This is another
legislative item.

This board has not been responsive to the public.  We will be vigilant in
our oversight to protect the public, including non-resident sportsmen.

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