Sunday, November 4, 2018

Vote Wild!

It was socked-in so thick on the west side of Glacier National Park today that I rarely and barely saw small, ghostly shadows of some mountains and almost forgot they were there, until I felt them, and then I remembered this: 

In the late 1980s, while working at the Sula Ranger District for the U.S. Forest Service, we had a German-exchange student named Stefen who went backpacking with me into a remote part of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. 

Lots of cold rain; all fogged in.

Stefen said something in German. I asked what it meant. He tells me it’s something he and his friends say when the mountains in Germany disappear. 

“But what does it mean?” 

“It means, ‘There go our mountains; some rich American stole them.’”

Seems a sadly appropriate thought today, considering that the lying, narcissistic self-described billionaire from New York City was just here again, for the fourth time — and his millionaire son and pence keep coming here, too — to push their agenda of eroding protections for, and maybe even selling, these irreplaceable, precious wild public lands that belong to us all and sustain lots of other special species, many of whom we’ve harmed and diminished enough. Like wild wolves. Like wild grizzlies. We owe it to them to leave them something. 

It’s their homes, and we get to respectfully visit. 

So fuck Trump. Fuck Republicans. Fuck their bizarrely-disturbing rallies and scary sense of nationalism poorly disguised as ‘patriotism.’ 

Real patriotism, true patriotism, is literally fighting for our land; protecting and defending these sacred wild places — places where wild wolves and wild grizzlies still roam wild and free! — places that belong to us all! 

Let’s remember that when we vote. I did. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Killing Wolves with Randy Newberg (for Fun, Entertainment and Profit)

Randy Newberg (left) and Matt Clyde
Randy Newberg -- a hunter who kills animals for entertainment and profit for his Outdoor Channel show, "On Your Own Adventures" -- is a staunch advocate for protecting our public lands. As a spokesperson for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, he has spoken out against proposals to transfer ownership of our federal lands to state and private entities and he has supported noble efforts to "keep our public lands in public hands." However, Newberg seems to think that our federal lands were created by the people of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, and that only they and hunters should have a say in how wildlife on our public lands are managed. In a two-part series for his show, called "Montana Wolf Hunting with Randy Newberg," he refers to those who oppose wolf hunting as "wingnuts" and "screwballs," "from wherever," and says they have no right "to tell us how to manage wildlife." 

"All wolves mean to them is money," says Newberg (who makes this statement while filming a wolf-hunting show for profit.) He claims that wolf advocates are "disconnected" from the land and disrupting the "lifestyle" and "culture" of locals, who are, so he claims, "connected to the land." 

It's a common "us vs them" mentality I often here — “out-of-staters” vs “locals,” “anti-hunters” vs “hunters,” but it's not true. There are many local folks, like me, who live here in Montana, who hunt elk and deer, who fish, who spend a lot of time roaming the wilds, who are deeply-connected to the land, and who oppose the killing of wolves for no legitimate reason (in Newberg's case, just for amusement, entertainment and profit).

"The people of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho protected these huge landscapes," Newberg says. "And then you people come here and tell us how to do it? You screwed up your backyard so bad you can't even get a rabbit to live there. And then you people come here and tell us what we're going to do?" (Newberg moved to Montana in 1991 from Minnesota.) 

Actually, our federal public lands -- which include National Forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service; lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; National Parks managed by the U.S. Park Service, and National Wildlife Refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- belong to all Americans, from all over the United States. They were originally acquired through purchases, such as the Louisiana Purchase, or through conquest, such as the Mexican Cession. At first, the United States practiced a policy of disposing of these lands, through programs such as the Homestead Act. Eventually, through the leadership of numerous individuals and organizations such as Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, George Bird Grinnell, Gifford Pinchot, John Jay Audubon, the National Wildlife Federation, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and many others -- hunters and nonhunters, hunting groups and nonhunting groups -- the public lands we enjoy today were set aside for various reasons, to be protected and managed for various purposes, much of it, in Pinchot's words, for "the greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest time." 

For the greatest good to the greatest number of people. Not for the greatest number of hunted species for hunters. 

Our federal public lands were created and are maintained by all American taxpayers. We hunters love to claim that we pay for conservation. However, on a national-scale, when you look at the costs of protecting and maintaining the federal lands where many of us hike, camp, backpack, watch wildlife, take photos, and yes, hunt and fish, we hunters pay for about six-percent of the costs.

Six percent.

It's true that many state wildlife agencies, such as the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, are funded largely (up to 55 percent) through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, and they receive federal funds raised through excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. But much of the state agency funding is also money allocated from state budgets, and raised by all of us who pay taxes in our states. Hunters and nonhunters. A lot of that money -- with help from hunter-based conservation organizations -- has been used to purchase and protect critical winter range, migratory corridors and other habitat for elk, deer and other hunted species. Much of that has also benefit nonhunted and threatened and endangered species, including wolves. 

The downfall to such a system: Hunters have a huge influence over state wildlife management decisions and management which mostly benefit hunted species, sometimes to the detriment of other wildlife, particularly predators. 

No doubt about it, we hunters have played and continue to play a huge role in restoring, enhancing, expanding and protecting many wildlife species, particularly hunted species such as elk, deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep. Hence, a lot of hunters like Newberg get pretty emotional and say things such as, "We protected these huge landscapes. And then you people come here and tell us how to do it? You screwed up your backyard so bad you can't even get a rabbit to live there. And then you people come here and tell us what we're going to do?" 

Aside from there being plenty of rabbits and other wildlife throughout the United States, even in urban back yards, and the fact that most land was “screwed up” and developed long before anyone alive today was born, all Americans, and all state residents, help fund wildlife conservation and management programs, and the protection of wildlife and wild places. We should all have a say in how its managed. And some hunters, like me, don't do it just so we have a place to hunt and animals to kill. Some of us do it because we want to help protect, enhance and maintain healthy, functioning ecosystems and landscapes for all wildlife, including wolves, even if that may sometimes result in less hunting opportunity. This is why it's so offensive to some of us hunters when Newberg says, "If you hunt, you hunt everything. You hunt prey. You hunt predators. We have a responsibility to hunt wolves. We need to manage them the way we manage every species." 

In his wolf-hunting show, Newberg features David Allen, who was then the Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Allen has called wolves "the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison herds," and had repeatedly claimed that wolves are "decimating" elk herds. "To keep wolf populations controlled, states will have to hold hunts, shoot wolves from the air and gas their dens,” Allen has said. Under his leadership, the Elk Foundation offered the state of Montana $50,000 to contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to “aggressively” kill more wolves. “And the next step is the grizzly bear,” he said. “We’ve got bear issues with elk calves in the spring -- both grizzly and black bear. We can’t have all these predators with little aggressive management and expect to have ample game herds, and sell hunting tags and generate revenue.” 

Allen agreed with Newberg. "We need to manage wolves like we manage all species," he said. "We need to hunt them like we hunt all wildlife." Of course, we don't hunt all wildlife. We don't, for example, hunt bald eagles, ravens or western tanagers. Animals that are managed and hunted are generally, at least ideally, managed and hunted in accordance with what we know about the biology, ecology, habits and behavior of those species. This is why management actions and hunting seasons for elk and deer are not the same as they are for, say, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Not all wildlife is, or should be, managed the same. 

One of the cornerstones of our North American Model of Conservation -- which hunters and hunting-based organizations love to tout and claim to support -- is that wildlife be managed based on good, sound science. That good, sound science shows that the return of wolves to much of the western United States has resulted in significant overall, long-term benefits to wildlife and the habitat that sustains them -- including the species we love to hunt. That good, sound science shows that wolves, being a predator species, have altogether different, and self-regulating, reproductive and survival behaviors and strategies than prey species. That good, sound science shows that wolves have highly-complex social structures and breeding behaviors. That good, sound science shows that if you inadvertently kill certain wolves -- such as the dominant breeding female, for example -- it can throw the pack into disarray, lead to the expansion and creation of more packs, lead to other wolves breeding, and lead to more wolves. That good, sound science shows that if you inadvertently kill certain wolves -- such as the dominant male or female -- then younger wolves will fail to learn lessons from them, such as best ways and places to hunt, and this can change a pack's hunting behaviors and lead to incidences such as, say, killing more domestic cattle rather than wild deer and elk.

That's what the science tells us. But a lot of hunters don't like good, sound science when it contradicts what they want to believe. And a lot of state wildlife agencies don't follow good, sound science when it goes against what hunters want to believe. That's why, in Idaho, the fish and game department conducts aerial shooting of wolves and sends bounty hunters into wilderness areas to eliminate wolf packs despite the good, sound science and what know about wolf behavior, ecology and biology.  (See Killing Wolves: A Hunter-Led War Against Science and Wildlife.)

That good, sound science doesn't play well to the membership of hunting organization's like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, or the viewers of programs like "On Your Own Adventures." It's more effective to boost membership, viewers, funding and profit by perpetuating lies, myths and misconceptions about wolves and simplify the issue as if it's "residents vs nonresidents," "hunters vs anti-hunters," "rational vs emotional," "informed vs uninformed," "connected vs disconnected." Ratings and profit are better when you tell hunters what they want to hear. Newberg knows his audience. 

Despite the emotional, uninformed claims of apparently disconnected people like Newberg and Allen, elk populations are increasing in most of the West. In Idaho, the fish and game department is expanding elk hunting to reduce elk populations while simultaneously killing wolves under the guise of protecting and boosting elk numbers. Where elk populations do appear on the decline there are plenty of factors to consider in addition to wolves: Changes in habitat; the previous existence of artificially high elk populations at levels beyond the viable carrying capacity of the land; lack of mature bulls and low bull-to-cow ratios in herds (often resulting from early season hunting and too much hunting pressure on bull elk) which influences the timing of the rut and breeding behavior, the timing of spring calving, and often results in increased vulnerability of elk calves to predation; influence of other predators including mountain lions, black bears and grizzlies; unanticipated impacts of various hunting regulations and hunting pressure, and changes in behavior and habitat use by elk in the presence of wolves. And so on. Good, sound science can be complex. 

Where I hunt, the growing presence of wolves has changed the behavior and habits of elk. Elk bunch up more for safety, and move around more to evade and avoid wolves. They are a lot more wary. I have adapted and adjusted to these changes and have no problem finding elk. This is part of the beauty and value of hunting within wilderness -- to adjust, adapt and be part of the landscape; to be, as my friend David Petersen puts it, part of the "bedrock workings of nature."  We render the wilds a diminished abstract when we alter it to suit our own needs and desires and, in the process, make it less healthy and whole. There are those who espouse the virtues of backcountry hunting and yet seem apathetic or supportive towards the destruction of backcountry integrity. Those who understand the wilds -- those of who are connected to the land -- know how critically important predators are to the health of the land.

This is, in large part, why I have no desire to kill my fellow predators (that, and I strongly believe in only killing what you plan to eat), despite Newberg’s ignorant insistence that it’s my “responsibility” to kill wolves.

"We as hunters, we need to be out there hunting these wolves," he says. "This is part of who we are . . . that's part of our job. If you’re going to manage wildlife, you can’t just manage the prey species. You have to manage the predator species, and anyone who thinks otherwise, they need a quick education.” 

At one point in his wolf-hunting show, Newberg worries that his rifle may no longer be accurately sighted in, because he “dinged” his scope. If the scope was knocked out of sync, it could result in missing or wounding a wolf. So to check it out he decides to test it, not on a target, but on a living coyote. “That coyote will be a good way to find out,” he says. Apparently, his rifle was still properly sighted; He killed the coyote in one shot. “I just saved a lot of deer and a lot of antelope,” he says, before ranting again about wolves. 

“I make zero apologies for hunting wolves,” he says. “I never will apologize for hunting wolves. You’re damn right I’m a wolf-hunter, and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. We set the dinner table for these wolves, and we have every right to be hunting these wolves.” 

And hunt wolves they did, he and his hunting partner Matt Clyde, glassing the hills with high-powered spotting scopes, running and jumping in the truck to drive closer to where they spotted wolves, climbing the mountains and glassing some more, running and jumping in the truck and driving some more. They spotted some wolves back where they had been earlier and so ran and jumped in the truck and drove back there again. (Newberg was frustrated when cattle were in the road, slowing them down, increasing their driving time.) Then back up the mountain again. Finally, there was a black wolf coming towards them. Clyde steadied his rifle while Newberg measured the distance with a range-finder. 

“Seven-hundred and fifty yards,” Newberg says . . . “500 yards . . . 480 . . . “ Clyde shoots. The wolf appears hit and runs a short distance. Clyde shoots again. The wolf goes down and struggles. Clyde shoots a third time. The wolf is dead. “Congratulations. You made an amazing shot!” Newberg says. (I'm not sure which shot he's referring to.) “It was fun, it was exciting, and that’s why were out here,” he says, as Clyde pets what Newberg refers to as “the big black dog in white snow” where it lays in a large pool of blood. 

“I’m going to hunt wolves every day I can that’s legal,” Newberg says. “Every day that I have a tag. Every time I can protect these elk herds, I will be there. I will have my rifle, and I will have my tags, and the wolves will be in trouble.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Killing Skye: Some Call It ‘Hunting’

Photo courtesy of Africa Geographic
The photo on the left is of a popular lion known as Skye. Skye is missing. Skye is likely dead. Skye was likely baited in and killed by a guy named Jared Whitworth, a Safari Club member from Hardinsburg, Kentucky, who spends a lot of money to get permits and pay guides to lead him to and help him kill beautiful "trophy" animals for fun, status and ego-gratification. He (and others) call it "Hunting."  

Here's what we know for sure: Whitworth recently paid to kill a baited, mature male lion near Kruger National Park in South Africa, within the home range of Skye and his pride. The trophy-killing industry, guides, so-called hunters, and agency officials are refusing to release details. Some claim he didn't kill Skye, but killed another mature male lion. But as Simon Espley, CEO of Africa Geographic, explains: 

“The trophy hunting team insist that the lion killed was not Skye the pride male, claiming that he was in fact an old male lion with worn teeth and a protruding spine. But they refuse point blank to supply a photo of the dead lion to prove their claim, citing legal and personal safety concerns. Lynam and others insist that Skye the pride male was killed. According to Lynam, Skye has not been seen since the day of the killing of that lion. Additionally, one of his cubs has since been killed and some of the pride lionesses have been beaten up as a new coalition of males has moved into the area. This is classic lion behaviour when a dominant male is removed and new male/s move into the vacuum – cubs are killed (infanticide) and lionesses are beaten up as they try to defend their cubs.”

When asked if he could see the lion, one reporter was told by an agency official: “The moment the client pulled the trigger, the lion became his property. Consent to view can only be given by the client.”

The “client,” Jared Whitworth, has not given consent. He seems to be in hiding. 

Whitworth paid a ton of money (lion tags can sell for as high as $35,000 -- the bigger and more rare, the more expensive) to have guides bait a lion for him, into close range, and tell him where and when to shoot, back him up in case he missed, and then take photos of him proudly standing over the carcass. 

According to Espley:  “Whitworth is a member of Safari Club International (SCI), which defines hunting success in terms of size and rarity. Apparently the larger the horns/tusks and rarer the animal, the more respect you are due for killing it. Whitworth’s 15-year-old daughter was awarded the title ‘2018 SCI Young Hunter of the Year,’ and the SCI website features her proudly posing with a massive buffalo she killed.”

Other hunters defend such actions and insultingly refer to killers like Whitworth as “hunters” and “conservationists.” They confuse paying guides to help you kill for ego and amusement with hunting, and they confuse conservation (the protecting of wildlife, wild places, and healthy, functioning ecosystems) with animal husbandry (protecting, and often raising and producing, certain types of animals as marketable commodities that some people will pay to kill -- often to the detriment of other wildlife, and healthy, functioning ecosystems). Many hunters -- always fearful of "anti-hunters" hiding behind every bush, trying to put an end to their "traditions" and "way of life" -- defensively dig in and rally around the flag to defend such actions with tiresome (some partially-true, but mostly questionable, easily-refuted bullshit) claims of these senseless vanity killings being “good for conservation,” “good for local economies,” “good for the species,” and “providing financial incentives to protect animals.”  

When I listen to them I sometimes imagine General George Custer and his 215-or-so detachment of soldiers facing 10,000 angry Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. As my friend Jim Posewitz (himself a hunter) puts it: “Circling the wagons is not a good defense when there are already far too many opponents surrounding the wagons.” 

People are fed up with it. I’m one of them, and I’m a hunter. 

There are good folks who criticize me for being a hunter. It does, indeed, seem contradictory to my love for wildlife and wild places. I welcome challenges that cause me to thoroughly examine and attempt to justify my actions and evolving beliefs. Here’s how I justify my actions: 

I spend all the time I can in elk country near my home in western Montana, year-round, hiking, backpacking, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, observing and admiring elk. And yet, each fall I head into elk country with the intent to kill one. Why? Partly because I can think of no more ecologically-sound way to live in my part of the world. I cherish wild elk meat; it's healthy, and it's derived from healthy, native grasses and forbs in the wilderness near my home.

I half-jokingly like to think I'm a vegetarian of sorts, living off the the wild grasses, sedges and forbs that grow near my home. Most these plants are not directly palatable to humans, so I let elk convert them to protein for me. Perhaps someday I can travel through the digestive system of a grizzly and fertilize the vegetation that elk eat: Seems only fair considering all the elk I've killed and eaten.

We're all part of this land.

I hunt to experience and celebrate a fundamental connection with nature, because we must all kill to eat, and eating elk nourished on native grasses and forbs has as low an impact on the environment as any of the alternatives. Even eating soybeans and soy-based products supports an agricultural industry that displaces and destroys wildlife habitat to grow a non-native plant, requiring irrigation, pesticides, herbicides, fossil fuels, trucks, roads and industry to be shipped around the country. Not to mention the thousands of deer and other wildlife killed to protect valuable agricultural crops. Most people are not aware of the impacts of their lifestyles and actions, or they choose to live in denial. Aldo Leopold wrote: "There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace."

We all kill to eat.

But should we kill for ego, amusement, entertainment and profit? Does paying a guide to lead you to, or bait in an animal and tell you when and where to shoot really pass as “hunting”? Can we justify killing big, rare animals to get our names into record books to boost our image, ego and status among certain segments of society when most of society understandably finds it abhorrent, immoral and unethical? 

No. We can't. There is no legitimate justification and defense. None! 

Is my position, in large part, an emotional one? Hell yes! You’re damn right it is! If you can’t get emotional about arrogant, narcissistic, wealthy people paying thousands of dollars for guides to lead them to beautiful animals, or bait those animals in, and tell them where and when to pull the trigger, so they can kill those animals to gratify their egos, then what in the hell can you ever get emotional about? It's a very emotional issue, as it should be. 

It’s wrong! There is no biological, social, ethical or moral justification for it. There is no legitimate defense. 

Let’s stop confusing killing with hunting, and wildlife conservation with animal husbandry. It’s time to put an end to the senseless, indefensible, unjustifiable trophy-killing of animals for vanity, ego-gratification and status. It's time to put an end to an industry that treats these animals as mere economic commodities to meet ego-driven demands.  

As Espley concludes: “I have great faith that in time trophy hunting in the Greater Kruger will be replaced by a more ethical, more relevant sustainable land-use strategy. This will take time, but it will happen.” 

Let's hope that happens everywhere -- the sooner the better.


* A 2015 study reported by National Geographic concludes that government corruption, especially in Zimbabwe, prevents most trophy-hunting fees from going towards any conservation efforts, with authorities keeping the fees for themselves.

* Some governments are taking over more wildlife areas so as to profit from poaching and trophy hunting (a consequence of creating commercial markets for parts of wildlife).

* A 2017 report by the Australian-based Economists at Large says that trophy hunting amounted to less than one percent of tourism revenue in eight African countries.

* According to an International Union for Conservation of Nature report from 2009, surrounding communities in West Africa receive little benefit from the hunting-safari business.

* There are a lot of wildlife studies pertaining to how the genetic health and social behaviors of species is adversely affected because trophy hunters often kill the largest or most significant male of a species. The removal of the most significant animals (because of the size of their horns or mane for example) can severely affect the health of a species population. As Dr. Rob Knell states "Because these high-quality males with large secondary sexual traits tend to father a high proportion of the offspring, their 'good genes' can spread rapidly, so populations of strongly sexually selected animals can adapt quickly to new environments. Removing these males reverses this effect and could have serious and unintended consequences. If the population is having to adapt to a new environment and you remove even a small proportion of these high quality males, you could drive it to extinction."

* A 2004 study by the University of Port Elizabeth estimated that eco-tourism on private game reserves generated more than 15 times the income of livestock or game rearing or trophy hunting.

* Researchers also noted that more money was raised and more jobs were created (and staff received "extensive skills training") from eco-tourism than trophy hunting.

* The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources in 2016 concluded that trophy hunting may be contributing to the extinction of certain animals.

* Conservationist groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare assert that trophy hunting is a key factor in the "silent extinction" of giraffes.

* The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an elephant conservation organization, believe that elephants bring in significantly more revenue from tourists who want to see them alive. Their 2013 report stated "alive, they benefit local communities and economies; dead they benefit an elite few as well as criminal and even terrorist groups."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

In the Hunting World, There is no Room for Dissent (You Can't Go Home)

A few days ago I read a good essay written by an outdoor writer I have long admired and respected. It was about how we hunters, through license fees and excise taxes on hunting equipment, pay most the bill for state wildlife management and habitat protection. Which is true. But then it delved into the tiresome, arrogant, widely-touted, propaganda-sort-of bullshit about how we hunters care about and do more for wildlife and wild places than non-hunters.

I complimented the writer, but offered a respectful dissenting view regarding some of the flaws to our North American Model of Wildlife Management — the type of flaws Aldo Leopold himself recognized when he helped shape and influence the system more than 60 years ago — in which we hunters have the most power and influence, and therefore management sometimes emphasizes hunted species such as deer and elk to the detriment of non-hunted species, particularly fellow predators such as wolves and grizzlies.

My remarks were met with flippant arrogance and disdain. Like other aspects of our society, there is very little room in the hunting world for dissent or intelligent discord. You’re either with them or against them. You’re fully on the bandwagon or you get booted and run over. You get in line, share and praise the propaganda, or you’re voted off the island. Shut up or be shunned.

I deleted my comments. I ‘unfriended’ the writer. I abandoned my attempt at discussion. It’s no longer worth it. I’m tired.

I’ve been hunting most my life, and spent more than 25 years writing about hunting and working for hunter conservation groups. I spent ten years working as a writer and conservation editor for a popular hunting magazine produced by a large hunter-conservation organization. I helped found Hellgate Hunters and Anglers in Missoula. I served two terms as president of Montana’s largest and oldest hunting conservation organization (a group that, in more recent times, fired me). Back in 2000, they selected me as Montana’s Professional Conservationist of the Year. I served on the board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and won several awards from the group. I’ve killed and consumed a pile of wild elk and deer.

But I just no longer fit in. I’m not sure I ever did. I still try at times. Sometimes I miss it.

Sure, I brought much of it on myself as a result of personal struggles (including some addiction issues) and by burning (demolishing?) a few bridges. I think, to some degree, coming out of the closet had something to do with it. But I’ve apparently lost all credibility and respect in the world where I once served as a leader. An employee of one of the better hunter conservation groups (“the sportsmen’s voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife”) recently, publicly ridiculed “green weenie tree-huggers,” insulted me, and told me “we have nothing in common and nothing to talk about” when I attempted to discuss it with him. (I quit.)

I’m on the Island of Misfit Toys. I’m an anti-hunter who hunts.

So now I stock fruits and vegetables at a grocery store for slightly-above minimum wage, and I’m always broke.

Sometimes I wish I could jump aboard and remain on the bandwagon; be a good, well-behaved, agreeable member of the good-old-boy (and gal) hunting clubs that even the best of groups have become. But there’s no turning back. You really can’t go home.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers: Don't Fear Wilderness (Great Places To Hunt and Fish!)

When Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) was founded, they took strong positions in defense of designated roadless lands and wilderness -- the places many of us refer to as, well . . . "the backcountry." Recently, the Montana Chapter of BHA responded to proposed legislation by Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) to open Wilderness Study Areas to motorized use and development.

Fortunately, BHA is doing the right thing and opposing the actions. That's good. But why are they opposing it?

"We oppose top-down management," they say. Seriously, that's their stance; "We oppose top-down management."

The organization doesn't say it supports wilderness study areas and roadless lands. The organization doesn't say they support wilderness designation. The organization doesn't explain why wilderness and wilderness study areas are critical to many of the wild animals we like to hunt in wild places. They say they oppose "top-down management." (I'm assuming, and hoping, they do support top-down management when a president, says, gives national monument status to some special federal lands?)

Why the lame, weak political speak? I assume that, once again, they are afraid of confirming any talk about them being "greenies" and "environmentalists." They don't want to be perceived as "Green Decoys," as some industry-backed opponents of our public lands accuse them off. The word "Wilderness," (the big "W" word), should be avoided at all costs, I often heard during my many years working for hunting-conservation organizations. It may offend people. (One of BHA's employees publically ridicules us "tree-hugging," "enviros" "greenies" and assures people that he, and BHA, don't fit in with us green folks!)

So once again, instead of being bold leaders and speaking on the values of wilderness and wilderness study areas -- for healthy watersheds, for wild cutthroat and bull trout, for grizzlies and wolves and other wildlife, for hunting and fishing -- they worry about who they might offend and whether or not they'll be perceived as "green-weenie tree-huggers."  

They're playing right into the hands of their opponents. They should stop worrying about appeasing those who will likely never support them and be the bold leaders they pretend to be -- be more like Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and other past, bold leaders we love to quote. Help educate and inform hunters and anglers about the importance of wilderness; don't evade and avoid the topic. It's okay to be green!

Be green. Be proud. Be Bold. Be Leaders!

The green, proud, bold leaders at Trout Unlimited set a good example with their bumper sticker:

"Wilderness: A Great Place To Hunt and Fish." 

Friday, December 15, 2017

On the Wild Edge: A "Must Watch" for Hunters

I sometimes feel like an anti-hunter who hunts.

I recently felt that way when I watched a popular celebrity hunter claim that “we hunters” brought wildlife back from the brink of extinction, and therefore it’s ours, and nonhunters have no right ruining everything with actions such as “bringing wolves back.” Another so-called hunting hero claims to hunt for meat while traveling the world and paying guides to help him kill more animals per-year than Disney's Gaston himself could consume. Both hunting "reality-show" hosts are spokesman, of sorts, for one of the better hunting-conservation organizations, which claims to be “the sportsmen’s voice” for hunters.

They don’t speak for me.

Neither do the more popular groups who claim wolves are annihilating elk herds; hunters are being “shut out” of our public lands because we can’t ride ATVs everywhere; we need to kill grizzlies, and there’s “anti-hunters” hiding behind every tree, out to stop our “God-given American heritage and way of life.” They tend to focus more on and defend hunting opportunity rather than conservation.

Despite bragging about a successful “North American Model of Wildlife Management,” with tenants against the commercialization of wildlife and in support of “sound, scientific” management, hunting has become tremendously commercialized and many hunters only support “scientific management” when the science supports their preconceived notions (such as slaughtering wolves to maintain artificially high populations of elk for hunters to kill).  Even the most conservation-minded hunting groups go with the flow to appease the masses – or, what the famed hunter-conservationist Aldo Leopold called “the lowest common denominator.”
Like an accused communist of the McCarthy era, an employee of "the Sportsmen's Voice" insults “enviros” and “greenies” to reassure their members he’s not “one of them!”

Among the so-called “conservation organizations” that a giant sporting-goods chain boasts about giving money to is the National Rifle Association – apparently because they “conserve” our “right” to hunt with weapons designed for war, capable of killing, say, 20 kids and seven adults at an elementary school kids in less than five minutes; 49 people at a nightclub, or 58 at a concert?  

Although I’ve pursued, killed and eaten numerous elk and deer from the backcountry of Montana over the past 30-plus years, I belong on the Island of Misfit Hunters; I just don’t fit in.  

Aldo Leopold addressed such issues more than 50 years ago. One of his conclusions: “The sportsman has no leaders to tell him what is wrong. The sporting press no longer represents sport; it has turned billboard for the gadgeteer. Wildlife administrators are too busy producing something to shoot at to worry much about the cultural value of the shooting.

There are, however, leaders (Leopold himself being one of them). They just don’t appeal to the corrupted culture of hunting – they don’t bring in the money like the hunting equipment and entertainment industry does.

When people new to hunting ask me for good learning material, I don’t send them to the Outdoor Channel or Outdoor Life. I suggest they read “A Sand Country Almanac” by Aldo Leopold; “Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethics and Traditions of Hunting,” by Jim Posewitz, and “A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport,” by David Petersen – an anthology of writers who are leaders regarding the moral and ethical challenges of hunting.

After watching a film produced by Christopher Daley, called “On The Wild Edge:Hunting For a Natural Life,” I now also recommend it not only to new hunters, but all hunters; a “must watch” if ever there was one. I never thought I could enjoy a hunting video. I was wrong. Then again, calling “On the Wild Edge” a hunting video is like calling “A River Runs Through It” a fishing story. It may be true, but doesn’t quite to it justice, perhaps could even come across as an insult.

The film focuses on writer, philosopher and hunter David Petersen, “taking us along on the most difficult hunt of his life, revealing the intimate connection to the wild place and wild experiences that define him as a person and informs his strict code of ethics.” He, too, is a hunter critical of hunting. “I want the good part to prosper,” he says. “But I hate what our culture has done to that.” With people seeking easier, faster, more high-tech ways to find and kill animals, we lose the kind of hunting that “bonds us to this world,” he says.

During the 67-minute video, we see a lot more than David Petersen hunting. We hear elk bugling, yes, but we also see and hear ravens, jays, bears and watch a chipmunk attempt to rob him from his hunting pack – all seemingly unaware of his presense. In other words: We see and hear (and can almost smell) what hunters often see, hear and smell -- the wilds.  But we also get to hear Petersen's informed thoughts and philosophies on hunting. He says his “Zen-like” approach allows him to spy on the "intimate, relaxed side" to wildlife. “Hunting often has nothing to do with killing, and everything to do with an honest engagement with life.”

We also meet his friend Thomas, who he calls “Mr T.” and Thomas’ father and grandfather, three generations of hunters, “who value meat and dignity over macho, and deeply respect elk and elk country.”

What we don't see or hear is just as telling: We don't watch an elk get shot and die, and we don't see or hear promotions for hunting gadgets, products and profit. This film is NOT sponsored by the NRA or the Sportsman Channel. It's a real hunting video.

Petersen is an articulate, thoughtful hunter whose carefully-chosen words reflect knowledge and wisdom that comes from living a life so close to the land. “Ethically-hunted wild game offers huge, moral and health-advantages over chemically-polluted, production-line meat products,” he says. “Wild meat is organic, local and, done right, cruelty-free -- a gift from nature that sustains a bond of reciprocity between thoughtful hunters, our food and the wild landscapes that nuture us all, predator and prey alike. “

Petersen talks as passionately about his love for his wife, Carolyn, as he does for the land, which he makes clear is all interconnected. With cancer soon to take her away, he talks about how it “increasingly reminds me of life’s bittersweet fate -- Carolyn, the elk and me.” He hopes his ashes will someday be mixed with hers among the aspen groves he so loves, and the bones of elk he has killed. (In the film we visit one such spot. “I don’t keep skeletans in my closet,” he says, as he talks about his strong, mixed emotions about killing wild animals. “They are scarred through the mountains.”) He hopes someday his remains will nurture the lives that nurtured him.  “It’s deeply personal,” he concludes. “Every aspect of this isn’t pretty. But it’s real, it’s natural, it’s the way life works. In the end, all thing pass. That’s the song of life.”  

Filmmaker Christopher Daley says his hope for the film is that it captures David and Carolyn Petersens’ “exemplary commitment to living honest, uncluttered lives not merely ‘close to nature,’ but as active players in and courageous defenders of wild nature.” He succeeded!

To purchase a DVD, or rent or purchase a digital copy, click here: ON THE WILD EDGE.

Click on THIS to watch the official trailer

Friday, September 29, 2017

Semper Fi?

Paul Olenski: A Real Marine or Stolen Valor? 
Once again I attempted to have a rational, reasonable, respectful discussion with some others who claim to have been Recon Marines, on a Force Recon Association Facebook Page. Last time I did that the topic was gays in the military. Some of the so-called "Marines" on the site were bashing gays, expressing every homophobic insult you can think of. When I mentioned that I am gay, yet served honorably in 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company, several of them -- including a guy from Arizona named Paul Olenski -- accused me of being a "phony," not a "real Marine," a "fake." Seriously. Some people's brain-housing groups are so tiny they can't even comprehend that there are gay Marines. It seems beyond their mental capacity. They can't respond respectfully or intelligently, so they fall back on insults to boost their fragile egos and comfort their insecurities

The more recent topic was NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. Some Marines expressed their understandable disapproval, stating that they think it's disrespectful to our nation and those who served our nation. I respectfully disagreed and stated my opinion on the matter: I don't think it's disrespectful to symbols of freedom to exercise freedom. Freedom is hardest to accept when people do things we may not like. Patriotism can't be forced upon others; there's a fine-line between patriotism and nationalism. Several so-called "Marines" berated me for my view, including (once again) Paul Olenski, who claims to have been a Recon Marine in Vietnam. He couldn't handle a rational, reasonable, respectful discussion so instead pitifully, childishly and humorously attempted to dig up "dirt" on me. He searched and found an old article about a time I was arrested for assault and posted it on the public forum in an apparent attempt to discredit and shame me. (It didn't work: I don't regret hurting a guy who robbed the store I was working at and threatened me and my family. Fortunately, all charges were dropped when the Judge witnessed the store's video tape and said my actions were in self-defense and justified.)  Paul Olenski didn't care about the facts; he just wanted to insult and attack me in anyway he could because I view a topic differently than he does. He apparently hates disagreement. He apparently hates freedom. He apparently hates our Constitution. He apparently hates what our nation stands for. While complaining about what he perceives as people being "disrespectful" to veterans, he insults and disrespects veterans.

(Interestingly enough, as an aside, a quick online search reveals that a Paul Olenski who fits his description and lives in his neck of the woods is on a sexual offender register. He's no Marine.)

Later, a Marine friend of mine posted a heartfelt story about a fellow Marine who lost his life saving his life. It so happens that Marine hero who save his life was gay and black, and had shared numerous stories with my friend about the hate, discrimination, racism and bigotry he had experienced throughout his life. My friend then related the story to the current protests by some NFL players regarding hate, discrimination, racism and bigotry, and concluded by saying all Marines should speak out and support their rights, freedom and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution we took an oath to defend.

The response? Several so-called "Marines," including (again) Paul Olenski, posted hateful, derogatory, bigoted comments about the gay, black Marine hero. Seriously. Some of them then defensively claimed to not be racist. (They're so ignorant and incapable of self-reflection that they don't even know they're racist.)

Sadly, people like Paul Olenski seem to dominate the Force Recon Association site. They bully others. The majority, who are good people, seem to remain quite -- and with people like Paul Olenski on there, I can understand why.  There are too many like him who can't comprehend diversity; who don't really understand the principles of liberty that are the bedrock of our nation and Constitution.

I served with some great men, and a lot of good, smart people have served in Force Recon. unfortunately some of them, like Paul Olenski, are ignorant, mean, racist, bigoted, miserable men who seem to hate diversity and freedom. They think because they served to protect freedom, they can dictate the values, beliefs and behaviors of others. Ironically, they work against the very nation and Constitution they profess to cherish.

Hardly what I would call Marines.