Saturday, January 14, 2017

Buy L.L. Bean

For the first time I can recall, I agree with something Donald Trump Tweeted (although for very different reasons): “Buy L.L. Bean.”

Yes, it’s unethical and inappropriate for an incoming president to be endorsing and promoting a company. Yes, Linda Bean should be held accountable if her personal donation to a Political Action Committee (PAC) supporting Trump exceeded the legal limit.  But to take that out on the L.L. Bean company is almost as misguided and childish as Trump’s usual behavior. 

L.L. Bean is a great company.   

As a child growing up along the coast of Connecticut, I got excited when the L.L. Bean catalogs arrived in the mail from the company’s headquarters in Freeport, Maine. The north woods of Maine had a strong, alluring mystique to me in those days, and I was eager to grow up and explore the wilds (wearing L.L. Bean gear, of course – like the rugged outdoorsmen portrayed on the covers and throughout the catalogs).

I read all about Leon Leonwood Bean (1872-1967), a hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman. I read his classic 1942 book, “Hunting-Fishing and Camping.” 

Leon was frustrated he could not find a good, light boot to keep his feet warm and dry on his wilderness adventures, so he made his own, with leather tops and rubber bottoms.  In 1911, with a $400. loan, he began making and selling them out of his brother’s basement, and offered a 100-percent money back guarantee if people were not satisfied – a policy the company sill remains known for.  His boots became (and remain) popular, and grew into the huge catalog and retail company known as L.L. Bean. 

During my first excursions into the wild -- particularly during damp, cold, chilled-to-the-bone New England winters -- I wore L.L. Bean from head to toe; Wool hats, shirts, jackets, gloves, pants, long-johns and, of course, the classic “duck boots.” The customer service was, and remains, excellent, and the products are tough, durable and dependable. 

Linda Bean is Leon’s granddaughter. She is one of 50 people who serve on the company’s board of directors. She has little involvement in the day-to-day operations of the business. She owns her own business, called Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine, which includes selling lobsters. She has pushed for the sustainable harvest of lobsters. She is a Republican. She made several failed runs for Congress. She has contributed a lof of money to Republican candidates. She once compared President Obama to Hitler.  She reportedly donated $60,000 to a Super PAC supporting Donald Trump, which exceeds the $5,000 limit.  She has a cousin who was one of the largest contributors to President Obama.

The Bean family, like many American families, is apparently a large, extended family with a diversity of opinions and views.

The L.L. Bean company itself does not get involved in politics. They do not endorse or contribute money to any candidates.  From all I’ve read and heard, it’s apparently a great place to work: Fair and competitive wages, great insurance policies, same-sex benefits, generous employee discounts, ample vacations and time off, and they even have an employee outdoor club that encourages workers to get out and enjoy the wild places they also help protect. 

They helped protect Katahdin Lake and the forests surrounding it. They donated $1 million to help the Trust for Public Lands purchase and protect land that expanded the size of Baxter State Park. They gave $1 million to the National Park Foundation. They support the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Woods Initiative to protect and expand public lands and recreational opportunities throughout the state. In the past 10-years they have donated more than 30 million to a diversity of nonprofit outdoor-recreation and conservation organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, Maine Audubon, The American Canoe Association, the Maine Islands Trail Association, Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited.

They support sustainable forestry. They're part of the Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Initiative. They seek and implement ways to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. They converted their fleet of delivery trucks to biodiesel. Their headquarters in Freeport is a model for sustainable, "green" design, construction and efficiency.

They fully support the Constitutional right of freedom of speech for their diverse employees and board members – and their rights to support any political candidate they want on their own time and with their own money.  As it should be.

L.L. Bean is a great company.

I don’t agree with Linda Bean’s politics. That’s her business. It has nothing to do with her grandfather’s business.

Buy L.L. Bean.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Humbling of an Asshole

For those of you who have known me for more than a few hours, this should come as no surprise: I can be a real asshole at times. Particularly when I am angry, which doesn't happen as much as it used to or as much as some people seem to think. What usually angers me most is rude and of obnoxious behavior from others, directed towards me or others. In other words, asshole behavior in others brings out the asshole behavior in me.

It doesn't happen all the time. It depends -- Kind of like a wild grizzly who might tolerate a person one day, but attack the next. I'm certain it has a lot to do with their mood, and mine.

The other day I was in one of those moods, and was then provoked.

A guy in a big huge truck came right up behind my Subaru and started riding my ass, within inches it seemed. And his rig was jacked up so high that his lights shone right through my back window. It made me think of one of those movie scenes in which an alien ship descends on a car and lights the whole thing up. And then he lays on the horn. Bright lights and loud noises is a bad, sometimes volatile mix for me.

I had stopped behind a line of traffic backed up from a red traffic light, and backed up so far that I could not get into the left turning lane, even when the left-turn green arrow started blinking and everyone within that lane had turned. But a white car blocked my freedom.

Which bugs me. A lot. I remember my dad showing me places along the Connecticut coast and tell me things like, "See that subdivision there? That used to be a salt marsh where we went skinny-dipping, caught crabs, and fished for snapper blues." And now here I am, 40 years later, stuck in traffic where, just to the left of me (where the Home Depot and the mega, multi-movie-theater complex now is -- along with a mega chunk of earth now sealed off by concrete and asphalt) is where I used to hunt pheasants, ducks, geese, and white tailed deer when I first moved here.

And this is where the guy is riding my ass. Bright lights and loud noise. So I do what I've done numerous times before; I get out of my car and walk back to have a chat with the obnoxious asshole. Usually they roll their windows up or keep them up, lock the doors, and yell through the glass things such as, "What, are you crazy? Get back in your car." I usually respond with things such as, "Come on, please, just lay off -- back off and be nice. Okay?"

Which is exactly what I sad to the ass-riding, horn-honking asshole while holding up traffic near the box stores and parking lots where I used to hunt. Most the time people respond by saying things such as, "Okay, okay, I'm sorry, now get back in your car." And so I do, and that is that.

Until the other day.

This guy didn't do that. He told me to "fuck off," and then flipped on his high-beams and laid harder on the horn. Bright lights and loud noise. Then I say, "Wow, you really are an asshole." He opens his truck door, leans out, and says, "What the fuck did you just call me." This about the time when the asshole in me emerged. I walked up to him and yelled, "You're a fucking asshole, now stop!"
He punched me. Hard. And he had a hell of a punch. My glasses cut into my eye. I was totally unprepared for that; I was caught off guard. I was shocked and awed. I responded with violence.

Which bugs me. A lot. Once, not so long ago, I took a court-ordered anger-management class. The instructor was awesome, if not harsh, and called me on (and made me aware of) my bullshit.

"Ah, so you're the savior, you're going to confront all rude behavior in the world and put an end to it," he would say. "And we can thank you for that?"

But they deserve it; there should be consequences for their actions.

"And you have appointed yourself judge, jury and executioner?"

But sometimes I can't help myself, I can't control myself.

"Oh bullshit, Dave. You have full control of your behavior, but you're turning that control over to them -- you're letting them control you!"

Ouch! I hate being controlled.

And so it happened again. I let the ass-riding, horn-honking asshole control me. He called my bluff. I met my match. Christine Stalling has long told me to stop doing this crap. "Someday you're going to do that to someone as crazy as you and it won't work out like you hope." As always, she was right.

It turns out he is a fellow Marine. Much younger; maybe 25, or 30. A good-looking guy, with a hell of a punch, and a temper. He seemed like an asshole.

Just like me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Plight of the Bighorns

Back in October I took a break from elk hunting to photograph bighorn sheep at the National Bison Range in Moise. I was surprised how close one ram let me to get, and then I noticed something was wrong. Several times he dropped his head to the ground and struggled to lift it back up. The weight of his heavy horns he long proudly carried had apparently become too burdensome. He was dying. I returned the next day and found his body.

After posting a photo of the ram on Facebook, and speculating about his death, my friend Stacy Courville, a wildlife biologist with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe, said the sheep most likely died from pneumonia, which had recently infected the Bison Range. So I talked to Jeff King, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manager who oversees the range. Courville was correct: A bacteria called  Mycoplasma ovipheumonia had infected the bighorn populations, causing pneumonia. More than 35 wild sheep had died in just a few months. King and others suspect that the bacteria was transferred to the wild herd from a domestic sheep herd about a mile west of the range.

Once the bacteria infects a herd of wild sheep, it can be devastating, and not much can be done.  

Mycoplasma ovipheumonia has no cell wall, so antibiotics do not work on it,” says Mark Penninger, an Oregon-based wildlife biologist who heads up the bighorn sheep program for the U.S. Forest Service. “It is carried with no ill effects by many domestic sheep and goats, but is deadly to wild sheep. Our wild sheep have not evolved with this pathogen. It can sometimes kill wild sheep by itself, but is often a precursor that compromises the respiratory system's ability to move things, such as bacteria and viruses, out with mucous. Then the sheep die when their body responds by producing more mucous, which results in pneumonia. It is quite the dilemma when trying to protect and restore bighorn populations.

When a bighorn sheep population is initially infected, often as many as a third, and sometimes up to 90%, of the herd may die of pneumonia. Most survivors are apparently immune, but their lambs are not and usually die before weaning. In some populations, annual pneumonia outbreaks in lambs continue for decades after the initial infection, which prevents the population from bouncing back. In other populations, lamb survival returns to normal relatively quickly. Why some populations recover and others do not is one of the most important questions scientists are trying to answer. Some researchers hope that wild sheep herds could eventually develop an immunity.

But in the meantime, bighorns are being infected and dying throughout their range.

More than 90 bighorns recently died of pneumonia near Plains, and another 39 died near Gardiner. “We’re losing hundreds of wild sheep to this disease every year and it is decimating herds across the west,” said Kyle Meintzer, director of the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) based in Bozeman. “For example, in 2013, 400 wild sheep in California were lost, and that’s 80 per cent of what was the largest herd in the state. Wildlife managers were forced to sacrifice the herd in the Tendoy Mountains in Montana due to recurring pneumonia and low lamb survival. Wildlife managers, with the help of hunters, will remove 100 per cent of the herd and later will repopulate the herd with healthy bighorns.”

Unfortunately, killing wild sheep because of suspicion of exposure is the prudent thing to do in many cases, according to Mark Penninger. “A wandering wild sheep can cover a lot of miles and return to its herd with death in its breath. Killing one sheep could prevent the loss of an entire herd. Capturing and testing is rarely practical due to urgency and terrain.”

Although scientists don’t know exactly how the disease is transmitted, what factors contribute to transmission and whether transmission of other bacteria, even among wild sheep alone, contributes to the bighorn die-offs, mounting evidence suggests that domestic sheep are a major vector. A 2008 study by Colorado Division of Wildlife scientists showed that a single domestic sheep that wandered onto bighorn winter range caused a die-off of more than 86 bighorns from 1997 to 2000.

What can be done? The most viable – yet controversial – proposals involve separating wild sheep from domestic sheep by large distances so they cannot come in contact. “The science is clear that domestic and wild sheep can’t live together,” says Kevin Hurley, Conservation Director for WSF.

In the Salmon River country of Idaho, where 76-percent of the bighorn populations was lost to pneumonia, legal battles ensued between sheep herders, conservationists and the U.S. Forest Service when the Payette National Forest decided to keep domestic sheep off grazing leases within bighorn sheep range. In 2008, a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of the decision. But leaders of hunter-conservation organizations, and wildlife biologists and mangers with state and federal agencies, would prefer to work with the sheep ranching industry to find viable solutions rather than fight things out in court.  

The WSF recently met with members of Congress and federal wildlife agencies on solutions to create safe zones against deadly pneumonia bacteria and viruses that are infecting wild sheep herds in the U.S. “Having a disease-free zone around the new herd is necessary to prevent new infection and assure the success of restoration,” says Kyle Meintzer.

Steve Torbit, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center in Boulder, Colorado, calls for “livestock producers and wildlife folks to roll up their sleeves and work together to find areas suitable for domestic sheep.” Torbit and other bighorn advocates hope they can persuade western sheep ranchers and federal officials to develop a strategy that will allow bighorn sheep populations to expand through conservation and further reintroductions across the West. “I don’t want to start a new range war, because it’s not good for anybody, and it’s certainly not good for wildlife,” he says. He favors a collaborative process that brings ranchers, sportsmen, tribes and conservationists together to protect the range and wildlife but still allows ranchers to thrive – creating safe zones for wild sheep far from domestic sheep, and setting aside other zones for domestic sheep far from bighorn habitat.

As Kevin Hurley puts it: “If you believe in compromise and conservation, both sides have to give up something.”

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of the Montana Wildlife Federation's newsletter.

Friday, November 11, 2016

United We Stand (Happy Veteran's Day)

Veteran’s day held particular relevance to me this year, coming three days after the most divisive election I can remember. As I gathered with fellow veterans this morning at the Western Montana State Veteran’s Cemetery, it reminded me of this: We’re still united.

When I served in a Marine Corps Force Recon unit in the early 1980s, I served with people from all walks of life, with a diversity of values and beliefs, from all the various parts of our nation, and from all social-economic spectrums. Sure, we had our disagreements. We argued. We got angry with each other at times. But we worked together when it counted. We risked our lives for each other. Some gave their lives for us.

I often feel the same bond with fellow hunters and anglers. Sure, we have our disagreements. We argue. We get angry with each other at times. But we work together when it counts to protect the wildlife, wild places, access to our public lands, and our hunting and angling heritage and traditions.

It’s the American way.

So thank you to all who serve and have served this great, big diverse nation of ours. May we always fight together when it counts.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Defend the Constitution: Restrict Assault Rifles

Yesterday was the first time I shot a semi-automatic, military-style rifle since I left the Montana Army National Guard 14 years ago. It reminded me just how deadly they can be in the wrong hands. Most anyone can rapidly become fairly proficient with them. My teenage son, who had never shot such a weapon before, put a deadly group of multiple shots into a paper plate from 25-yards in about ten seconds. He can't do that with my bolt-action hunting rifle. Neither can I. Nobody can.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its followers like to say things such as, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." "You can kill people with a baseball bat as easy as a gun." That's true. But it's a hell of a lot easier to kill a lot of people quickly with the right choice of weapons. Nobody can go into a school and kill 22 kids in less than five minutes with a baseball bat. It's a lot easier to kill people when you have a weapon designed and made to efficiently kill lots of people in a short amount of time. This is why I was issued M16-A2 rifles, HK 9mm submachine guns, M60 machine guns, M203 grenade launchers and other potent, deadly weapons in the Marine Corps and National Guard -- not baseball bats. (See "Myths, Lies and Bullshit from the NRA.")

Some weapons are made for efficient, deadly assaults, hence the term "assault rifles." (There are those who resent that term, and claim its use shows a lack of knowledge about guns, and yet even some of the manufacturers and gun dealers who sell them call them "assault rifles.")

These weapons should be further restricted -- more extensive and thorough background checks along with registration, training and licensing requirements. And no, that would NOT violate our Second Amendment Rights. President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush didn't think so, and neither do I.

There have and always will be restrictions on Second Amendment rights. Even our "founding fathers" who crafted and approved of the amendment often fervently disagreed on it. Constitutional scholars, politicians, and others have had many rationale, reasonable, heated debates over it ever since. I am not allowed to have an M60 machine gun, an M203 grenade launcher, an M1 Abrams tank, a LAAW (Light Anti Tank Assault Weapon), Stinger anti-aircraft missile or a nuclear warhead. Those all seem like reasonable restrictions to me. We all draw the line somewhere.

Where does the NRA and its supporters draw the line? And why is it they think that wherever they chose to draw the line is what the rest of our nation should except --  and that any restrictions that cross their line is unconstitutional?

It is not unconstitutional for citizens to speak out and fight to make changes through the democratic process as outlined in our Constitution. To the contrary: It's very Constitutional. It's the American way. It's patriotic. What's actually unAmerican is for a special interest group to spread lies, myths and misconceptions and bully, threaten and intimidate our elected public officials and others to get their way -- effectively hijacking our democratic process, against the will of a majority Americans, preventing us from making our nation more safe. More sane.

There is no legitimate reason for citizens to own weapons designed and made to rapidly kill a lot of people in a short amount of time. The risks and dangers to our nation and innocent people far outweigh any benefit that can possible be gained. The NRA defends the rights of people to own pretty much any sort of weapon they desire -- not because of Second Amendment rights, but because they have become an arm of and public relations firm for a huge, powerful, wealthy and influential gun and weapons manufacturing industry. They have purchased our Congress to do its bidding through money, threats and intimidation. It's about profit, not the Constitution.

It's time for change.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Elk Hunt Report 2016 (Archery): You Can go Home

They say you "can't go home." You can; it just hurts more.

I hunted some rugged, remote, wild country I used to hunt years ago, country that is like home. It's where I "grew up" as an elk hunter. I killed a lot of bulls back there with my bow in my 20s and 30s. The country hasn't changed much, but I have. It's as secure as elk habitat security gets: steep, thick brush, tons of blowdown, no trails. In fact, the mountains seem steeper and the brush seems thicker. It hurt more than usual and I can't just blame age; I am out of shape for this sort of thing. My 10-pound mobile elk camp seems heavier than, and not as comfortable as it used to. (See "Spartan Camps: Hunting Elk Like a Force Recon Marine.") But something else is missing: The obsessive-possessive-compulsive drive I used to have for this sort of thing. I take a lot more naps on sunny hillsides.

I did see a half-dozen elk; heard a lot of bugling; saw a black bear, a moose and a mule-deer buck. And here's a nice improvement from the past: I heard wolves howling one night.

The bugling still excites me, and I never refuse a call. But a mentor once told me, "If you start worrying about how you're going to get an elk out of a spot before you kill it, then you will stop being a good elk hunter."

I worried.

The first bull I called in on day two (the same bull, I think, whom I heard bugling through the night as I lay under the stars on a ridge top in my sleeping bag) came close. Too close. He had me pin-pointed and walked straight up to me, 10 yards out. I couldn't move. When he turned and walked behind a big spruce, I nocked an arrow and drew, and held. One more step . . . one more step. Lucky for him, he never took that step. He knew something wasn't quite right, and he turned and trotted off, stopping a few times to look back. I couldn't coax him to return. It was lucky for me, too, I suppose; I'd still be trying to pack him out. (Yes, I worried about it.)

Day three I took a hard fall after stepping on dead, downed, fall-on-your-ass, slippery-smooth lodgepole while crossing a large pile of crisscrossed blowdown in a hell-hole of a spruce bottom as it was starting to get dark. But an elk had bugled up the ridge on the other side. What else to do? In fact, he grunted a few times right after I fell. I caught up to him, grunted back, got his attention, and he started coming in. I first saw him at about 50 yards, shadows of his long tines cast on the surrounding pines in the evening light. He took his apparent frustration out on a small subalpine fir; he nearly ripped it out of the ground. Then he came closer. Thirty yards. Twenty yards. Then he walked behind a large upended root-wad of a felled spruce. Time to notch an arrow and get ready.

And then I saw the sight to my bow was broken off. Gone. No way I could chance a shot -- chance wounding this bull (I have always believed a missed shot is a fortunate accident that could easily result in wounding).  I quietly watched him for a while, until he got suspicious and slowly wandered north.

Yes, David Petersen, I can see you shaking your head, hear you chuckling, and imagine you rightfully thinking, "I told you so." It's time to stop relying on the wheels, pulleys and technology I sometimes hypocritically rant against. Time to start instinctively shooting my recurve.

It's a good time in my life to switch over. The killing doesn't drive me so much anymore. Besides, I don't know how the hell I would have packed that bull out of there. (Yes, I worried about it.)

May he grow to be king!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Montanans Speak Out: Don’t Give Away Our Public Lands!

Representatives from the American Lands Council (ALC) recently spoke at the Swan Community Center in Condon, Montana, to push their agenda of transferring and selling our public lands – the lands where most of us hunt, fish, hike and otherwise enjoy.  An overflow crowd of more than 100 people attended the meeting, and an overwhelming majority spoke against efforts to transfer or sell our unique public lands heritage.

ALC speakers blamed federal land management for wildfires, mountain pine beetles, increased crime rates in rural communities and even rape.  (Seriously: One of the presenters claims that a woman was raped because the town where she lives had a “budgetary shortfall” from “lack of logging revenue” from public lands.)

The ALC claims that states would do a better job of managing our public lands. But several studies and economic analyses conclude that states like Montana could not afford to manage all the lands now managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. Plenty of precedence shows that states like Montana would most likely have to sell these lands to private interests. (The state of Idaho has already sold more than 40 percent of their state lands because they could not afford to manage it all.)

The ALC speakers presented half-truths, misconceptions and distortions, grossly oversimplifying and misrepresenting complex issues such as forest health, wildfire and wildlife management while dismissing sound, scientific research and ignoring we hunters, anglers, hikers and other local citizens who use, understand and cherish our public lands.

The American Lands Council and other industry-led efforts to sell or transfer our public lands insinuate that management decisions are dictated by bureaucrats from Washington DC.  Actually, these decisions are made by local district rangers, foresters, engineers, wildlife biologists and other resource professionals who live and work in our communities -- people who are our friends, family and neighbors. Their decisions are based, in large part, on local public needs, desires and input. Balance is achieved through the concepts of “multiple use,” or, as the first man Theodore Roosevelt appointed as Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, put it: “The greatest good for the greatest number of people.” 

Efforts to sell and transfer our public lands are funded by out-of-state developers who would like to get hold of our lands for the sole purpose of unsustainable logging, mining, and vacation home development without safeguards to protect our fish, wildlife and wild places – safeguards brought about through the tireless efforts of we local hunters, anglers and others who enjoy public lands. The people behind the push to transfer and sell our public lands don’t really seek balance or compromise; they selfishly and greedily want it all. They don’t care about the health of our wildlife and wild places, and the hunting and angling opportunities they provide; they care only about profit. They’re not trying to find solutions to complex problems; they’re trying to rob us of our unique American heritage.   

If the ALC truly wanted to support a “lawful, peaceful path to restore balance for a healthy environment, abundant outdoor recreation, and safe, vibrant communities,” they would not suggest selling and transferring public lands -- they would, instead, support efforts such as the Blackfoot Clearwater StewardshipProject (BCSP). The BCSP is a locally-driven, grassroots collaborative effort to protect and enhance a variety of traditional land uses – including hunting, fishing, hiking, wilderness, logging and snowmobiling -- in the Blackfoot and Clearwater Valleys while creating and maintaining jobs and helping local communities.  It achieves true balance and protects and enhances true, traditional Montana values and activities.   

It’s cooperative efforts like the BCSP that cut through the divisive rhetoric that often dominates discussions about public lands and achieve compromises and solutions that benefit us all.  As the people of Condon made very clear last week -- selling or transferring our public lands is not a viable or acceptable solution.  

Thanks to all who defend our public lands legacy. As Theodore Roosevelt said of the public lands he so passionately fought to protect and defend: "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."

NOTE: This was written for and first posted as a blog for the Montana Wildlife Federation.