Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Walking Bear Comes Home: A Tribute to Dr. Charles Jonkel


Dr. Charles "Chuck" Jonkel (photo by Eric Bergman)
“Bears are a very powerful symbol. We can learn a lot from bears.” – Chuck Jonkel

I learned a lot from Chuck Jonkel, the grizzled, gruff, inspiring bear biologist, teacher, activist and conservationist who spent so much time around wild grizzlies that he came to actually resemble the Great Bears in many ways.  He is the guy I always turned to when I had questions about grizzly bear biology, ecology, behavior and management.

Last night, April 12, 2016, Dr. Charles “Chuck” Jonkel died at the age of 85.

A co-founder and scientific advisor to the The Great Bear Foundation in Missoula, and founder of Missoula’s annual International Wildlife Film Festival, Jonkel was a pioneer in the research of black bears, grizzly bears and polar bears. He was known as one of the “fathers” of bear research, and part of what is sometimes called the “grizzly bear biology fraternity” along with Frank and John Craighead, David Mattson and Mark Shaffer. In 1966, Jonkel was hired by the Canadian Wildlife Service to conduct the first ever field studies of polar bears in the arctic. Jonkel’s monumental Border Grizzly Project, launched 40 years ago in Montana, was the most comprehensive study of grizzlies and their habitat ever conducted, and shaped critical habitat management and protection efforts that helped grizzly bears recover. After retiring as a wildlife biology professor at the University of Montana, Jonkel continued teaching courses for the Glacier Institute and elsewhere, helping people better understand bears and how to live cooperatively with grizzly bears to reduce bear-human conflicts and ensure the protection and conservation of grizzlies.

Jonkel was an advisor to the Great Grizzly Search, a collaborative effort by eight conservation and scientific groups to try and document the presence of grizzlies within the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. As part of that effort, Jonkel once persuaded me to go on one of the most wild, crazy and interesting adventures of my life -- a five-day journey that entailed swimming, hiking, and snowshoeing to the high country during a time of extreme avalanche danger to dig out a bear's den and gather hair samples. (I wrote about the adventure here: Into the Bear's Den.)

Unlike many scientists, Jonkel was not afraid to passionately fight for the protection of bears and their habitat, and express his spiritual connection to the Great Bears. Working with Native Americans, he helped revive a time-honored spring tradition of welcoming bears out of hibernation with what has become an annual Bear Honoring ceremony held by The Great Bear Foundation -- but all are encouraged to revive the tradition in their own way, which I have done.

Jonkel influenced generations of bear biologists, students, conservationists and others, and his legacy also lives on in his son, Jamie Jonkel, who is a bear biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

I, for one, am forever grateful to Chuck Jonkel for all he has done to help create awareness and understanding of, and help conserve the healthy, wild grizzly and black bear populations we are so fortunate to have in Montana and elsewhere.

May he forever walk among the Great Bears he so loved.

To learn more about Dr. Charles “Chuck” Jonkel, check out the documentary produced by The Great Bear Foundation and Salish Kootenai College: “Walkng Bear Comes Home: The Life and Work of Charles Jonkel.”   

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Gun Incident

It's not everyday you have a gun pulled on you, even in Montana.

My son Cory and I pulled into a small parking lot near a lake in the Seeley-Swan Valley today where we planned to canoe and fish. There was a guy standing near a big pickup who seemed to be glaring at me as I was getting ready to unstrap and unload my canoe. Eventually he walked over and introduced himself as Ken Liston. He asked if my name is Dave Stalling.

"Yes. Do I know you?" I asked.
"You're the wolf-loving, tree-hugger who insulted me online," he said.

Uh-oh.

Then I remembered. He was a participant in a recent discussion regarding wolves on a Facebook page run by a local nonprofit hunter-angler conservation organization. He kept posting common lies and misconceptions about wolves to which I responded with science-based facts. (No, the reintroduced wolves are not a different, larger, more "vicious" subspecies from what used to live here. No, they are not "decimating" our elk herds. No, they are not after our children. No, they are not associated with Muslims or the Communist Party.)  He is the type who responded with intelligent, insightful comments such as, "You're not a real hunter. You're not a real Montanan. You're a libtard."

At one point, he suggested anyone not born in Montana should have their place of origin tattooed on their forehead and then be removed from the state.

I gave up and called him an idiot.

"Ah, yes, I remember you," I said. "The guy who wants to tattoo people's foreheads and boot them out of Montana?"
"That's me," he said. "You insulted me."
"Yes, I did," I replied. "I think I called you an idiot?"
"Yes," he said. "I bet you don't have the balls to say that to my face!"
"Do you really, seriously think that anyone not born in Montana should have their place of origin tattooed on their forehead and then be removed from the state?" I asked.
"Yes, I do," he said.

"Well then, you do seem like an idiot," I responded.
"And from your hat, I can tell you are a fucking libtard," he said.
(I was wearing my Montana Wildlife Federation hat.)

I asked him to leave me alone.

"I'm with my son," I said. "We are going fishing. Please go away."

He got close up in my face in a very intimidating and threatening manner and proceeded to insult me. I felt trapped between him and my car. I got pretty nervous and asked him several times to back off. He only got more aggressive and threatening. I placed the palm of my hand on his face, holding his head like Tom Brady might grasp a deflated football, and shoved him away from me.

"Leave me alone!" I said again. "Go away."

He pulled a handgun out from a side holster (hidden under his jacket) and pointed it at me. It looked like a .45 caliber.

"Whoa!" I said. "Are you seriously pulling a gun out on me? My son is here (Cory was very scared). Knock it off asshole. Go away."

He dropped the gun to his side and said (seriously, he really did say this):

"Touch me again and I will shoot you. I'm too old to fight and too young to die."

"Wow! Did we just enter into a John Wayne movie?" I asked. "You really are a fucking idiot, aren't you? I will not touch you if you put your toy away and get the fuck out of here."

He put his toy away and got out of there. I called 911 and reported the incident and gave the operator a description, make and model of his truck, his license plate number and the direction he drove off.

While still on the 911 call, he returned and parked his truck near me. He got out and offered me a beer as an apparent peace offering.
"We're better than this," he said.
"No, you're not," I replied.
I informed him the police were on the way.
He left again.

While waiting for the police, I missed a phone call from a number I did not recognize. Assuming it might be the police, I called the number back.

It was him.

He again made a peace offering.

"How did you get my number?" I asked.
"I have my intelligence sources," he said.

The police apparently pulled him over, and eventually arrived to separately get my version of the story and then Cory's version. They were very professional and nice. They asked if I wished to pursue any charges against the guy. I said no. 

Throughout the incident, I kept reassuring Cory that everything was okay, and he kept assuring me that he was okay. But at one point he did say, "Dad, you really shouldn't threaten and cuss at someone when they point a gun at you -- you should cower a little bit."

He has a point.

He also said, "Be careful what you say to people online; you might meet them in person sometime."
After that, we spent a lovely afternoon on the lake, fishing. The worst part of the day? We didn't catch any fish.  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Keeping The Badger-Two Wild

Badger-Two Medicine, Photo by Tony Bynum
I first ventured into the Badger-Two Medicine area when I was a troubled, struggling young man fresh out of the Marine Corps in 1986. It was there where I encountered my first wild grizzly, caught my first wild cutthroat, and killed my first wild mule deer. Good, wild medicine, indeed!

Last week, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the cancellation of oil and gas leases held by a company named Solenex within the Badger-Two Medicine, helping ensure the place remains forever wild. It’s a sweet victory in a long, ongoing battle that is not yet over. As Jamie Williams of The Wilderness Society puts it: “It is a turning point in the decades-long fight to protect the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana. The Interior Department recognizes that the Badger is simply too sacred and too wild to drill. The cultural heart of the Blackfeet Nation deserves protection and respect.”

Ten years ago while serving as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation and working for Trout Unlimited I assisted a coalition of local hunters, anglers, ranchers, outfitters, businessmen and tribal leaders in a successful effort to protect a significant chunk of the Rocky Mountain front from gas and oil development, fairly close to the Badger-Two Medicine area. Working as a professional conservationist I had to be cautious about using emotional arguments, about calling a place “sacred,” but instead focused on the importance of hunting, fishing, clean water and wildlife to the economy. Being sacred is no longer enough to save a place; It has to be one form of human commodity or another. But when a local man from Choteau named Stoney Burke was accused of being “emotional” about places like the Badger-Two Medicine Area he pounded his fist on a table and shouted, “You’re goddamn right I’m emotional – if you can’t be emotional about a place like this then what the hell can you be emotional about?” He compared putting roads and gas wells along the Front to permanently scarring his daughter’s face. When someone mentioned that Forest Service lands are managed for multiple use, and so gas and oil development should be allowed, Stoney said, “Multiple use doesn’t mean you take a crap in your kitchen.”

Elk, bighorns, badgers, wolverines, lynx, mountain lions, wolves and an abundance and diversity of other wildlife thrive on this land. Clear, clean rivers sustain some of the last remaining healthy populations of Westslope cutthroat trout. Grizzlies still wander out onto the plains like they did when Lewis and Clark came through. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared it the “top one percent” of wildlife habitat remaining in the Continental U.S. It’s long been sacred ground to the Blackfeet Nation. Much of it has been permanently protected from gas and oil development.

Unfortunately, the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area – which borders Glacier National Park, The Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Blackfeet Nation – remains threatened. In 1981, the Department of the Interior began issuing oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine without full environmental review and consulting the Blackfeet people, violating laws that require they do so. Since then, some of the leases have been relinquished voluntarily by energy interests. However, a handful of companies have declined offers to buy-out or swap their leases for holdings in less sensitive areas. One of those companies, Solenex, filed suit in 2013, demanding access to their highly-contested lease area, precipitating the need to rid Badger-Two Medicine of leases once and for all. The recent cancellation of the Solenex lease is a promising step in that direction.

The Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, made up of a diversity of local hunters, anglers, businessmen and other citizens, has been helping the Blackfeet Nation fight this battle since 1984, along with the Montana Wilderness Association, The Wilderness Society and several hunting and fishing conservation organizations. As the newly-hired western Montana field representative for the Montana Wildlife Federation, I look forward to re-engaging in this important effort to protect this unique and wild place.

While working along the Front a decade ago, I became acquainted with Chief Earl Old Person, Chief of the Blackfeet Nation. One time, while eating breakfast together at the Two Medicine Cafe in East Glacier, I shared with the Chief some personal struggles. He suggested a few remedies; one of them was the Badger-Two Medicine Area. “Go there,” he said. “You’ll feel better.”

I did. And I’ve gone back time and time again – backpacking, hunting, fishing and freely roaming the wilds. We need to ensure that people will always have that opportunity. By working together, we can all help achieve the vision of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance: “A child of future generations will recognize and can experience the same cultural and ecological richness that we find in the wild lands of the Badger-Two Medicine today.”


This essay was first published on the Montana Wildlife Federation blog:
KEEPING THE BADGER-TWO MEDICINE WILD

Monday, March 14, 2016

Rocky to Creed: Of Boxing, Cold Wars and Classified Fish Tales

After watching the movie Creed with my son Cory, he wanted to see the others in the Rocky series. We started with the 1976 original, of course. It awakened memories I assumed had long ago been pounded to oblivion along with the brain cells in which they resided.

I was 16 and boxing for a local Boy's Club. I had outgrown my quest to be Evel Knievel and jumping over barrels on my Stingray bicycle and had decided, instead, to be Rocky Balboa. (It was a short-lived dream put to an end by a massive brute from the Bronx who, so I had heard, began life fighting his way out of his mom's womb wearing illegally modified Everlast gloves.)  With no invitation to take on Mohammed Ali, I settled instead on fights against fellow teens from other Boy's Clubs.  At one of our home fights, the opposing team failed to show up. Our trainer quickly matched us up by weight, created a hasty program, and handed it to the referee. When my fight came around, he announced my name, in my "corner" of course, and  . . . "in the other corner" . . . Bob Stalling. Yes, my older (and tougher) brother. My mom wasn't there to watch, but said she didn't need to -- she had watched us fight almost every day for years. Bob was my Apollo Creed; I was proud to have survived the entire fight of four two-minute rounds still standing.

Rocky has held up well. It's still a fun, decent movie. Rocky II is okay. The rest gets a bit ridiculous -- kind of like Rambo going from being somewhat believable in the original to him taking out a helicopter with a rock in part II . . . or was it part VI? . . . or was it Rambo XXXII?  . . . I can't recall. As I mentioned, I killed a few brain cells back in the day.

By the time Rocky IV came out in 1985 -- in which the ruthless, robotic Ivan Drago of the USSR kills Apollo Creed and Rocky seeks revenge -- we were in the height of the Cold War against the Evil Empire and supposed to hate Russians. I was 25, a Sergeant in a Marine Corps Force Recon unit, and beginning to "reason why" and question the whole "do or die" part.

I had gotten into a bit of trouble for speaking to an old Russian tourist while on a 72-hour Christmas leave in Palma, on the Island of Mallorca, in Spain. He claimed to be a "Ryback," a fisherman, who loved to catch "Sudack" -- very similar to our walleye. So we swapped fishing stories (as best we could anyway, considering the language barrier and all). I suspected he was lying -- not because he was Russian, but because he was a fisherman. Well, that and we were kind of drunk. But the government of the United States of America did not need to worry about me revealing any classified information. Not only was I a highly-trained and loyal Marine, but my father had long before instilled in me the critical importance of maintaining the utmost secrecy about all things fishing.

Anyway, what I meant to say is this: Creed is a surprisingly good movie.  Michael B. Jordan is a great actor -- not to mention pretty nice to look at. I am now 55 and living in Montana, where I do a lot of fishing.

What I use and where I go shall remain classified, Top Secret, even if you get me drunk -- which you're always welcome to do, whether you're American, Russian or otherwise.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Salish-Kootenai Tribal Bison Range?

National Bison Range (Photo by Dave Stalling)
I am tired of the ignorance and racism that seems to be growing increasingly prevalent in our society.

Today I read public comments to a story regarding a proposal to turn over management of the National Bison Range -- part of our National Wildlife Refuge System and currently managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) -- over to the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe of the Flathead Reservation (CSKT).

There are some rational, legitimate concerns about this. For example: could it set a dangerous precedent for turning over federal lands to other entities? Maybe. It's a question worthy of serious discussion.

However, while browsing through the public comments, I read a lot of statements such as this: "The Indians are too lazy to run it" . . . "They're always drunk" . . . "They will kill all the wildlife and turn it into a casino" . . . and so on.  

Here are some facts:

The National Bison Range is within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation on land originally reserved for the tribe, and was started with bison that the tribe saved from extinction. Today, the tribe has one of the best wildlife and conservation programs in the nation and they have done a lot to protect open spaces, wild places and critical wildlife habitat -- particularly for grizzly bears. The headwaters of some of the streams they protect and, in some cases, have restored, are some of the last strongholds for indigenous, threatened, westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout.

The CSKT South Fork of the Jocko Primitive Area and the CSKT Grizzly Conservation Area, adjacent to the Mission Mountain Wilderness, are some of the wildest places remaining in the Continental United States. There are no casinos there -- just wild country, with an abundance and diversity of wildlife.

I have a tremendous amount of respect, admiration and appreciation for the CSKT. They have built strong and good collaborative relationships and partnerships with the National Bison Range, the USFWS and other federal land and wildlife agencies as well as Montana state land and wildlife agencies.

The CSKT has received numerous prestigious awards for their conservation efforts, including top awards from the National Wildlife Federation and the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative.

I have no doubt the CSKT would be great stewards of the National Bison Range -- just have they have been great stewards of their other lands, for hundreds of years, long before the United States even existed. They deserve the chance to prove so. It's the right thing to do.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Freezing for Freedom: Diary of an American Patriot


Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
January, 2016


Day One: I’m cold. I sometimes wonder if Thomas Jefferson was this cold when he dumped tea in Boston Harbor, or when he crossed the Delaware to kill the tyrannical King George?  No doubt Teddy Roosevelt endured hardship at Valley Forge when he charged up San Juan Hill to fight tyranny and defeat communism. I’m sure the last thing on his mind was stealing land from hard-working, God-fearing Americans and putting birds above the needs of people. Our Founding Fathers would be rolling in their graves if they knew the infant nation they gave birth too has grown to be ruled by tyrannical dictators who charge fees to graze cattle and fine citizens for burning the land they took from us. As Lincoln put it: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” I’ll gladly take death, and I’ve got the guns to prove it! I will proudly freeze for freedom, just like George Washington did!

Day Two: When I served as a Green Beret Ranger in a Marine Navy Seal Unit . . . well, I can’t really talk about that. Top secret.  But let’s just say I saw some shit, a lot of shit, and I fought Muslims and did a lot of sacrificing for liberty and America. I try to remember that as the going gets tough here.

Day Three: I am not sure how much longer I can go without French vanilla creamer in my coffee. I have to keep reminding myself: It’s for FREEDOM!  But I hope supplies arrive soon.

Day Four: A gun accidentally discharged at a meeting this morning. Shot a hole in the floor. Ammon says no more guns at meetings. Clyde got angry and says that violates our Constitutional rights were fighting for. Ammon backed off, and said instead he’ll check guns at the door before meetings to see if safeties are on.  Clyde says that still violates the Second Amendment.  
Day Five:  Everyone got up early for church. Ryan dressed pretty snazzy.  Clyde wanted to sleep in. Ammon told him to get up and go to church. Clyde says that would violate his Constitutional rights and religious freedoms. Ammon says the Constitution was shaped by Jesus, and to not praise Jesus is to go against the Constitution. Clyde says the Constitution allows him to praise Jesus his own way, and he went off in a corner by himself.  We’re all getting suspicious of Clyde and keeping an eye on him. Ammon suspects he might be a homosexual, which goes against the Constitution.

Day Six: I couldn’t sleep last night. I couldn’t get the notion that Clyde might be a homosexual out of my mind. I’ve never seen a real homosexual. It makes me nervous, because he sleeps near me.  Last night I watched him undress. (I couldn’t help it, he’s right near me.) He’s not like the rest of us. He’s very lean, like he works out or something.

Day Seven: Mama used to say “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Mama one, that is. Mama four didn’t agree. But Mamas two, three, six and seven did. Mama five just remained silent on the issue, like always. I go with the majority; I’m gonna get going!

Day Eight: I couldn’t help but watch Clyde got undressed near me again. He wears temple garments, so he apparently took part in the endowment ceremony.  It bugs me to see a homosexual wearing temple garments. They seem more sheer than I realized.

Day Nine: I’m growing tired of the nothingness here. I miss the nothingness of home.

Day Ten:  George Washington showed up today. Not the real one, of course; he died in the Civil War. But it was a guy who dressed and looked just like him. It’s pretty motivating and inspiring. Makes me feel like I am part of Valley Forge where the shot was heard around the world. We all gathered around a fire last night and sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and the “Star Spangled Banner.” Clyde didn’t take his hat off. He’s says the Constitution says he doesn’t have to. But I watched him take his hat off later. And his pants. The dim light accentuates his muscles. I might work out when I get back home. If I get back home.

Day Eleven: Ammon knows how to motivate us when we are down. He tells us we’re heroes, like a woman named Rosa Parks. (Clyde says he doesn’t like being compared to a black woman, and he’s not going to be “politically correct.”)  Ammon says being in this building is like being in Hitler’s Bunker after Hitler left.  You can tell the Feds were once here; there’s bird books everywhere, and a big, thick document called, “Breeding and Nesting Habits of the Sandhill Crane.” Ammon says it’s part of the tyrannical conspiracy plot.  I saw my first Fed the other day, outside the perimeter.  It’s tough to tell the enemy from the good guys; he looked American. But so did the British. I can’t help but think of Mel Gibson in The Patriot. He played Jesus once too. He’s like Ammon. I am proud to be part of this day that will live in infamy . . . although it’s turning into a lot of days that will live in infamies. The Founding Fathers are with us in spirit. So is Jesus. I clean my rifle. I am ready.  I am an American Patriot! Freedom is not free! Don’t tread on me!

Day Twelve:  Yay! The French vanilla creamer arrived today!




Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Wild Winter New Year (Happy New Year To All!)

My Version:

I was awakened from a weird dream in which I was rolling my face in a bowl of cool, red Jell-O only to discover the big tongue of a Labrador cleaning the side of my face. Rita doesn’t normally do that sort of thing late at night, but Chris and Cory are gone, and she’s used to sleeping with Cory, and so she gets a bit insecure. Well, that and I probably forgot to let her out for a while and she has to pee. Or poop. Or both. So I got up, got dressed and took her out to the yard. She peed, then sprinted around the yard a few times (I call it her “puppy sprint”) and then rolled in the snow for a bit. She loves rolling in the snow. I am guessing the cool snow feels good on her skin. A typical routine for her. I enjoyed the dark and quiet, the cloudy sky and the feel of the cold against my skin. My typical routine. We both have our routines. And the cold felt good, like Rita’s tongue, when she woke me up, and my first thought was, “oh, God, I saw her eating poop yesterday.” But I kiss her back, lick her on the face but then think how odd it might be to kiss a dog back the way they kiss (or what we perceive as a kiss), well, because we are not dogs. So I give her a big people kiss. Here’s my thinking on it: We appreciate dog kisses because they are dog kisses, and we know dogs are sincere, so I want to be sincere, and so I give a dog a people kiss thinking dogs might appreciate people kisses because they are people kisses, and dogs want badly (sometimes sadly naively) for people to be sincere like they are. So I try. But to cover all bases, I gave her a variety of kisses. And for good measure I even bugled like a bull elk and howled like a wolf (I do a pretty damn good wolf howl. I sometimes wonder if I fool Rita with it. I assume she’s impressed; that’s one of the great things about dogs – they let you do that), and so I howled, because somewhere behind the thick clouds is a moon.

Rita and I are headed into the mountains later today. We’re going to build a snow cave and bring in a wild winter New Year. Poor Chris and Cory; they are in Maui. I hope they’re not getting bit by snow-fleas, getting sand kicked in their faces, or getting salt-wager itchy but.

Happy New Year to All!


Rita's Version

So I awoke Dave tonight licking his face. I don’t usually do that sort of thing late at night, but Chris and Cory are gone, I am used to sleeping with Cory, and so I get a bit insecure. I think that’s normal. Well, that and Dave never remembers to let me out as much as Chris does (she’s a lot better at that sort of thing) and I had to pee really bad. I don’t want to pee in the house. I did that long, long ago and got that whole “BAD DOG, BAD DOG, BAD DOG,” thing thrown at me. And to be honest: I HATE that. I want so bad to be a good dog. So I lick Dave in the face. At first, he looks at me strangely, like I smell like dog crap or something, but then he smiles, gets goofy, licks me on the cheek, rubs noses, does a silly butterfly kiss with our eyelids, and then sounds like a bull elk and tries to howl like a wolf . . . at least that’s my best guess at what he seems to think he might sound like. If so, it sounds nothing like a wolf. I am not impressed. But I pretend I am because I know he likes that and I want him to be happy. So we go outside, I pee, sprint around the yard a few times (it makes me feel like a puppy again), and then I roll in the snow. I love snow! The cool snow feels so good on my skin. Dave just stares at the sky, and says “Good girl!” to me, which makes me wag my tail a lot. It’s our routine.

Dave and I are going into the mountains later today. We are going to stay in a snow cave and bring in a wild winter New Year. I feel bad that Chris and Cory are missing out, but I hope they’re having fun wherever they are even if I am not with them. I like going into the wilds. I like all the different smells. I hope I hear my ancestors howl . . . I just don’t want them too close. They make me nervous.

Happy New Year to All!