Saturday, December 14, 2013

Neuter the NRA

December 14, 2012 was my 52nd birthday. In more than a half-century of living, I never felt such deep sorrow, anger and confusion as I did that day. That was the day a 20-year-old man named Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, shot his way through a glass window, entered the school and shot and killed eight boys, 12 girls (all between the ages of six and seven) and six women who worked at the school. He shot his victims multiple times (he shot one boy 11 times) then shot and killed himself.

Adam Lanza did all this in just 10 minutes, firing hundreds of rounds from his mother’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S, a 5.56mm semi-automatic rifle that fires about 45 rounds a minute. It’s basically a civilian model of the M16-A2 I was issued in the Marine Corps without the fully-automatic capability.

The incident hit me harder than even 9/11. As horrific as the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were, I could at least make sense of why terrorists would attack us. It’s more difficult, if not impossible, to make sense of the Sandy Hook massacre. Like many Americans, I’ve tried to make sense of it all. I think of it often, particularly when I help my son get ready for school; wrestle, play and laugh with him; watch him put on his backpack, walk out to and get on the school bus, and immediately miss him and look forward to when he gets home.

But what if he never came home? What if me and his mom received a call later in the day to inform us that our beautiful, smart, wonderful happy son was brutally and horrifically murdered at school, his body ripped to shreds by bullets, along with 19 of his classmates and six adults? I can hardly bring myself to even think about it.

The people of Newtown lived it, and they will likely re-live it every day of their lives. They will never see their children again. I don’t know how they cope.

I doubt it’s something our nation’s founders could even fathom back in the days of muskets when they crafted the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution.

Having served in a Marine Corps Force Recon unit and being a hunter, I have spent a good amount of time around guns; I am very familiar, effective and proficient with a variety of deadly weapons. In the Marines I was issued various rifles for different tasks, most all of them specifically designed to fire a lot of rounds quickly and efficiently kill a lot of people in a short amount of time. The NRA likes to claim that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and a person inclined to kill could kill people with a baseball bat. True. But nobody can kill 26 people in ten minutes with a baseball bat. This is why I was issued M16s, MP5 HK 9mm submachine guns, M60 machine guns, M203 grenade launchers and other potent, deadly weapons in the Marine Corps and not baseball bats.

I’m not so na├»ve as to blame a gun for what happened at Sandy Hook. There’s obviously more to it than that. There’s no doubt mental health issues were involved as well as the unfortunate dark side to human nature and behavior. But the gun played a role; a huge role. It enabled Adam Lanza to kill 26 people in 10 minutes.

Do we Americans have too easy access to deadly weapons? Would we, as a society, be safer if we further controlled access to firearms and banned certain weapons? Would it be a violation of our Constitutional rights to do so?

The NRA and the gun and ammunition industry accuses those of us who promote further gun restrictions in response to Sandy Hook as exploiting tragedy for political gain. I disagree. I think we have a moral obligation to examine such issues and do whatever it takes to try and prevent such a horrific tragedy from ever happening again. I don’t pretend to have answers, but as a society we should and must collectively have rationale, reasonable discussions about such issues. But the NRA stifles debate through bullying, fear tactics and perpetuating lies and distortions of truth. (See Lies and Distortions from the NRA)

The NRA does an admirable job at promoting the safe, responsible use and handling of guns. There was a time they were a rationale, reasonable organization. But they have grown into an arrogant, uncompromising political powerhouse that defends the rights of people to own pretty much any sort of weapon they desire -- not because of Second Amendment rights, as they deceptively claim, 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. And so they feed people lies, distortions, and misconceptions to rally flag-waving, so-called "patriots" to protect industry profits under the guise of "Constitutional rights."

Despite the fact that Presidents as diverse in views and policies as Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton supported stricter background checks to purchase guns and bans on certain types of weapons, the NRA and gun industry now viciously attack any politician who even suggests such legislation and accuses them of being “anti-Americans” trying to “destroy” our Constitution and American way of life.

But there have and always will be restrictions on Second Amendment rights. Even our nation’s founders, 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 accept -- and that any restrictions that cross their line is unConstitutional? Our founders were smart enough to establish a Constitution that could adapt with changing times, and they set up a process in which we the people could collectively change things through a democratic, legislative process. To further adapt and refine our 2nd Amendment is not a violation of Constitutional rights.

But the NRA and gun and ammunition industry have hijacked the system and effectively silence debate through money, threats and intimidation. The current NRA leadership even defies the wishes of their own members. A poll of NRA members conducted last summer by GOP pollster Frank Luntz showed that NRA members and gun owners overwhelmingly support background checks and other common-sense measures that would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and keep Americans safe. Yet the NRA – no doubt following orders from the industry – fought viciously against common sense regulations that most Americans support and desire.

The NRA and gun and ammunition industry have controlled our Congress for too long. It’s time for all Americans to speak out. We need to demand that our elected officials listen to we the people. We need to show the NRA and gun and ammunition industry that they don’t run this nation – we do! It’s time to neuter the NRA.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act: Moving Our Legacy Forward

You’d be hard pressed to find a healthier, more ecologically sound example of our conservation legacy than the Rocky Mountain Front – a rugged 200-mile overthrust wall of steep, reef-like mountains rising from the Great Plains alongside the communities of Augusta, Choteau, Dupuyer, Pendroy and Browning. Elk, bighorns, pronghorn, 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 has declared it the “top one percent” of wildlife habitat remaining in the Continental U.S., and it provides some of the best hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities in the nation.

Always a scared place for the Blackfeet Nation, the Front remains a remarkably special place today -- and that didn’t come about by accident or lack of effort.

This legacy dates back to 1913 when – in response to pressure from hunters, anglers and others – Montana legislators created the Sun River Game Preserve, setting aside 195,877 acres of critical elk habitat in the upper reaches of the Sun River drainage. Years later, hunters and ranchers set aside their differences and worked cooperatively to establish a zone for Sun River elk to winter where they wouldn’t raid haystacks and knock down fences. In 1947, in a deal brokered by hunters, one rancher sold 20,000 acres of prime elk winter range to the state now known as the Sun River Game Range,  a wildlife management area administered by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP). In the 1950s, hunters, anglers and wildlife officials and others rallied to keep oil and gas exploration and a missile site out of the preserve.

The legacy continued through the 1970s with the creation of the Ear Mountain and Blackleaf Wildlife Management areas to protect elk, mule deer and grizzly habitat. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and up until today the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, the Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF), Trout Unlimited, Montana Wilderness Association, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation and other organizations have worked cooperatively with local ranchers, outfitters, guides, county commissioners, tribal leaders, businessmen and others to stop irresponsible gas and oil development within areas critically important for wildlife.     

This legacy also provides benefits to other places. Over the years, state wildlife officials have used bighorn sheep from the Sun River herd to re-establish the species in many other parts of Montana. With westslope cutthroat trout – Montana’s state fish, and a sensitive species of concern – still persisting along the front, fisheries biologists are tapping into this genetic pool in ongoing efforts to restore the subspecies to other parts of its original range.  

Threats to this special place persist, but we have a significant opportunity to continue this great conservation legacy by supporting and helping ensure the passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act.  MWF is among more than 20 hunter and angler-based conservation organizations, including Trout UnlimitedBackcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to support the Heritage Act.

“Hunters really started to get the connection between good, unbroken habitat and restoring game populations one hundred years ago when they lobbied for the Sun River Game Preserve, the first of its kind in Montana,” says Gail Joslyn, a retired FWP biologist who spent most of her career working along the Front. “It’s what makes the Front so special, and why we need our representatives to help us finish the work that we began so long ago.”

Sponsored by Montana Senator Max Baucus, the Heritage Act would establish a Conservation Management Area on 208,160 acres of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands that would be managed to keep things the way they are while protecting these lands from unwanted changes such as excessive motorized use and road building. Activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, outfitting, chainsaw use, firewood gathering, cutting of trees for posts and polls, motorized recreation, mountain biking and grazing would continue to be allowed as they are now. In addition, the Heritage Act would add about 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Great Bear Wilderness complex to protect these lands from potential threats while allowing for the continuation of hunting, grazing, outfitting and other traditional uses. The Heritage Act would also prioritize the eradication and control of noxious weeds on about 790,000 acres of land. 

“The Rocky Mountain Front is a sportsmen’s paradise and considered worldwide as a crown jewel of the West,” Sen. Baucus says. “We have an obligation to protect our outdoor heritage for our kids and grandkids. It’s also critical for our economy to protect the treasures that bring people to Montana to open businesses, work, live and raise their families here. This is a balanced bill and a great example of a Montana-made proposal future generations will be proud of.”

The legislation is based on extensive public discussion, input and support from a variety of people of diverse backgrounds and interests who have set aside their differences to accomplish a common goal: To keep the Rocky Mountain Front as it is. An endorsement from the Great Falls Tribune called the Heritage Act, “politics as the art of the possible,” stating: “The measure embodies the ‘art of the possible’ by drawing and redrawing lines and allowing uses that have been painstakingly worked out with the folks who use the area the most.”

Many locals agree:

“My family has been ranching here for 128 years,” says Karl Rappold, a rancher from Dupuyer who has been fighting for years to protect the Front. “The Heritage Act will help protect the Front’s wild lands and working landscapes for generations to come.”  

Roy Jacobs, a hunter and taxidermist from Pendroy, shares similar thoughts. “I truly believe that the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage proposal is one of the most thoroughly thought out plans I have ever seen,” he says. “It doesn’t offend anyone or any group in any way. It truly leaves one of the world’s grandest remaining landscapes intact for future generations to experience and enjoy.”

The Heritage Act took a major step forward this past November when it was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The legislation will soon be brought before the full Senate for consideration. If passed it will then be brought before the House where Montana Rep. Steve Daines remains undecided in regards to the Heritage Act.

To ensure the continuation of our tremendous legacy it’s up to all of us to urge our elected officials in Washington DC to support the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. As Choteau hunter and outfitter Dusty Crary said the day the legislation cleared the Senate committee: “The Heritage Act has been custom-tailored to meet the needs of traditional uses while also protecting the beauty of the Front for future generations. It took a lot of work to get this bill just right, and I hope today’s bipartisan momentum can carry it forward to the finish line for us.”

To learn more about the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and what you can do to help, check out The Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front’s website at:

An avid hunter, angler and wildlife advocate, Dave Stalling has worked for the U.S. Forest Service, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited. He is a past two-term president of the Montana Wildlife Federation, a founder of Hellgate Hunters andAnglers in Missoula and a recipient of  the Les Pengelly Montana Conservationist of the Year Award. He lives in Missoula. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Eagle and the Bull Trout: In Inadvertently Killing one Threatened Species, I had Fed Another

On a long solo trek through the wilds of northern Montana, I spent a rainy night camped under several large, protective spruce trees on the northwest side of a large lake where the shore is surrounded by dense willows and swamp, and fell asleep listening to the eerie, lonely cries of loons.

Awakened by the heat of the sun warming my tent, I hung everything out to dry and, on a whim, decided to push through the willows, wade through the swamp where the grass was chest high and the mud several feet deep in spots, to check out where a stream empties into the lake. Sitting on a log on a gravel bar at the inlet, an apparently anxious bald eagle screeched at me from her nest 40 yards or so away, and I could hear her eaglets chirping away. I found a large, fresh pile of grizzly shit full of thimbleberry seeds on the gravel near the willows, and watched several large cutthroats in the deep water near the end of the gravel bar, occasionally darting out into the current, or up to the surface, to snatch up whatever nymphs, mayflies, gnats or other morsels the river carried out to them. I went back to my tent, put together my four-piece rod, attached the spinning reel, grabbed my box of lures, and returned.

The fish were only interested in insects, it seemed, and mostly ignored my spinners. It was one of those times I would have had more luck catching dinner with a fly rod, drifting imitation mayflies or nymphs. But I was hungry, and those fish looked appetizing, so best make do with what I had. I took off my clothes, waded out up to my chest, and cast a heavy silver Blue Fox Vibrax out as far as I could and let it sink, with the hopes a fat trout may lay out there somewhere wanting to eat something more substantial than a bug. I retrieved the spinner slowly, holding my rod up high, varying the speeds so the lure might drop and rise and flutter a bit, looking like a wounded minnow. Then it stopped, and I quickly pulled the rod back to set the hook, hooking into something, but nothing moved.

Damn, I thought, I must have snagged a log or rock.

With only a handful of lures in my box, I have a personal policy that when I snag bottom, and exhaust all other means of freeing it, I put the rod down, dive in, follow the line and retrieve the spinner, no matter how deep or cold. It had clouded up again, and I was chilly, and I didn’t want to swim. But I didn’t have to. What I thought was a log began to move, stripping line from my reel and my rod doubled over. This fish was big. There’s a strange adrenaline high to fighting a fish (more for the fish, I suppose, since it’s the only one actually fighting for its life) and you become singly, intensely focused on the moment – which is partly why fishing is so popular, and why big fish usually make for better tales. It’s even more exhilarating to hook into a big fish while naked, in the midst of wild country, where there’s the highly unlikeable but fun-to-think about chance a grizzly might charge out of the willows and make a meal of me before I was able to eat whatever was on the other end of my line.

I’d put up a bit of a fight, I suppose, flap around in the shallow water as the bear drug me up onto the gravel, suffering perhaps as much pain as I was causing this fish, and the griz would gut me, eat me and brag to his buddies, holding his paws out as wide as he could, “He was this big!”

No one would believe him.

When I finally worked the fish to where he was flapping around in the shallow water, he was indeed big, 20” or more, and a bull trout. My excitement turned to guilt. It’s illegal to kill and eat bull trout, and illegal to intentionally catch them; they are listed and protected under federal law as a threatened under the Endangered Species Act. If you catch one, you need to release it. More conscientious anglers, or those fishing for fun not food, uses barbless, single hooks to cause less damage and ensure the fish survive; my treble hooks are barbed. I don’t want to treat fish like yoyos, for my personal amusement; I want to eat them. I reached into the water, held the tired fish, carefully removed the hooks, then held him lightly with both hands, his face into the current, until he gained back enough oxygen, strength and energy to give a push or two with his big tail and swim away on his own. But he didn’t go far. He floated to the surface, where the current started taking back out into the lake, flapped around a bit, went under, then back to the surface again, then down, then back up, several more times until finally he floated belly up dead. By then he was a good 50 yards or so out to where I could barely see him.

I had killed a threatened species! What else to do but hide the evidence by running it through my digestive system? I dove in and swam, a modified freestyle stroke, keeping my head up above water like when I was a lifeguard so as to not lose sight of the victim. About half way, as cold as the water was, I began wondering if I would soon be belly up myself, with the fish, and I thought of the irony that if my body were found people would think killed myself, as I had departed on this lengthy adventure in a bad state of mind.

I should write a letter, I thought, a sort of non-suicide note, and leave it in my tent: “I did not kill myself. I died, as friends always suspected I would, from my own bullheaded stupidity. Please submit my story for a Darwin Award.”

When I was about five yards or so from the dead fish, I felt a sudden rush of wind above my head and everything darkened around me. Wings, giant wings, and talons, sharp talons, right above my head, close enough to touch, moving fast, impressive, intimidating, a rare sight generally reserved for the last few seconds in the lives of unfortunate rabbits, grouse, ducks and other small prey. The eagle rushed past and crashed into the water just ahead of me, the spray from the splash hitting my face. She sunk her talons into the fish and began flapping her wings, up and down a few times, flapping harder, having difficulty getting off the water with such a heavy load, but she finally did it, gained ever more momentum, lifted from the lake, fish secure in her grip, and I watched her circle around and deliver what was going to be my supper to her fledglings in the nest by the gravel bar.

In inadvertently killing one threatened species I had fed another; and so it was noodles yet again for me. I barely made it back to shore, drained of energy and chilled to near hypothermia. I put on my clothes, hurried back to the tent, and climbed into my sleeping bag. When warmth returned, I laughed out loud, and random thoughts danced through my head. Like this:

Sometimes I will shake willows along lakes and streams and watch trout eat the bugs that fall of the branches. When a grizzly walks through the brush, alongside lakes and creeks, does he unwittingly knock bugs into the water that feed the trout he may eventually eat? Or help fatten up some bull trout for eaglets?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fifty Years of Wilderness

1964:  The Beatles released their first album; Plans to build the World Trade Center in New York were announced; the Vietnam war was beginning to escalate; Dr. Martin Luther King won a Nobel Peace Prize and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

On September 4, Johnson signed another significant bill into law – a bill that took 60 drafts and eight years to pass through Congress: the Wilderness Act of 1964.  

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the act.

Written by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society as the culmination of a long national, grassroots effort to protect what remained of our nation’s wild places, the Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which has since grown to nearly 110 million acres of wilderness managed by four agencies in 44 states and Puerto Rico.

The Wilderness Act succinctly and poetically defines wilderness as:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Wilderness Act
With its roots dating back to 1910 – an extension of the conservation policies put in place by the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt -- three U.S. Forest Service employees were pivotal in pushing forth the concept of setting aside lands as wilderness: Bob Marshall, Arthur Carhart and Aldo Leopold

"For unnumbered centuries of human history the wilderness has given way. The priority of industry has become dogma,” wrote Leopold. “Are we as yet sufficiently enlightened to realize that we must now challenge that dogma, or do without our wilderness?"

Zahniser put it this way: “I believe that at least in the present phase of our civilization we have a profound, a fundamental need for areas of wilderness - a need that is not only recreational and spiritual but also educational and scientific, and withal essential to a true understanding of ourselves, our culture, our own natures, and our place in all nature.” 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Myths, Lies and Bullshit from the NRA

Having served in a Marine Corps Force Recon unit and being a hunter, I have spent a good amount of time around guns; I am very familiar, effective and proficient with a variety of deadly weapons. I've also been working to counter the National Rifle Association (NRA)’s bullshit for many years. Here's some of the biggest lies, distortions, myths and misconceptions they spread:

BULLSHIT: We need guns to defend ourselves against "bad guys." 

TRUTH: For every "bad guy" killed with a gun in our nation about 40 innocent people are killed. Many of these deaths involved kids involved in gun accidents. Statistically, people are far more likely to be killed by keeping loaded guns their homes, unless they are well-trained in the safe handling and use of firearms -- which most most gun owners are not. (It seems those most eager and ready to use guns have never actually been involved in gun-related violence; in reality it's not the macho, bravado, masculine experience they think it is, and as is often portrayed in movies.)

BULLSHIT: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people.' You can kill people with a baseball bat as easy as a gun. 

TRUTH:  It's a hell of a lot easier to kill a lot of people quickly with the right choice of weapons. Nobody can 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 -- not baseball bats.

BULLSHIT: "We need guns to defend ourselves against a tyrannical government." 

TRUTH: Do people really think so little of our men and women in uniform to think they are like robots who will turn on their own friends, family and citizens when ordered to? As a Marine veteran, I find that pretty insulting. And in the highly unlikely (nearly impossible) event that a "tyrannical" U.S. government turns on us do people really think they can defend themselves against a modern Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Force? They better quickly arm themselves with a big arsenal of machine guns, grenades, grenade launchers, mortars, anti-aircraft missiles, tanks, air craft carriers, fighter jets, drones and other weapons; get themselves in good shape and start studying and training hard.  Even then, my money is on the Marine Corps; I sure wouldn't want to go against them, and I’m a highly-trained Marine. The real and actual threats of current gun violence seems more urgent than far-fetched delusions of a tyrannical government turning against us. Go dump tea in Boston harbor if you want, but let's face and deal with reality instead of indulging in paranoid fantasies.

BULLSHIT: Any and all restrictions on guns violate of our Constitutional rights. 

TRUTH: 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?

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.

And so they feed people lies, distortions, misconceptions and bullshit to rally flag-waving, so-called "patriots" to protect industry profits under the guise of "Constitutional rights."

The saddest part: That so many ignorant Americans believe them and serve as their pawns.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Grizzlies Saved My Life

It happened on a chilly August morning in a high-mountain meadow about seven weeks into a ten-week, 1,000-mile solo backpack trip through the most remote, rugged, wild country left in the continental United States. (I had left from my front porch in Missoula, Montana, and was on my way to Waterton, Alberta, traveling mostly off trail, crossing only three roads along the way.)

I lay safely hidden behind a downed, subalpine fir tree watching a silver-tipped sow grizzly and her two cubs about 100 yards or so upwind of me. She was lying down, resting, keeping watch of her young ones as they wrestled, rolled and chased each other in the grass. The cubs ran and pounced on their mom a few times and she nudged them away with her snout. When one cub tried to suckle her she swiftly swatted the youngster with her powerful big paw, in a seemingly effortless motion, and sent the startled cub rolling. Then she got up, walked over, and reassuringly licked the cub until all seemed well in the world.

I departed on this big, wild adventure deeply depressed and wasn’t so sure I planned to return. A few drunken nights prior I drove to a trailhead with my Remington Model 870 12-guage shotgun planning to walk a ways into the woods and pull the trigger with barrel in mouth. Instead, I sat in my car thinking of my son, my family and my friends, sobbing so hard I was shook until I passed out. I awoke at sunrise and drove back home.

I still struggled with father’s death the fall before and my wife of 14-years demanded divorce; I had grown too damn miserable to live with. Years of accumulated shame, guilt, fear, confusion and sorrow was rumbling throughout me like thunderous dark clouds ready to let loose a dangerously potent storm. As a leader in the wildlife conservation realm I was commonly praised for my straightforward honesty while secretly hiding a dishonest life. I was living a lie, suffocating beneath a deep internal avalanche, and I hated myself. Turmoil ate away at me like cancer. So, as I have often done in my life, I escaped to the wilds.

When I first I retreated to the wilds of Montana fresh out of a Marine Force Recon unit I developed a particular fondness for and connection to grizzly bears. They’re beautiful, powerful, fascinating, potentially dangerous animals that are gravely maligned and misunderstood. Some people hate them and many fear them because they don’t know and understand them. They’re bears. They are what they are; they do what they do. They want to (and should be) given respect, space and left alone to live and be themselves. I’ve dedicated most of my life fighting to protect wildlife and wild places always with this thought in mind: If we save enough room for grizzlies, which need a lot of space, we pretty much keep entire watersheds and ecosystems intact that sustain an abundance and diversity of species – including us.  As Doug Seus, founder of Vital Ground (a national nonprofit focused on the protection of critical grizzly habitat) succinctly puts it: “Where the grizzly walks, the earth is healthy and whole.”

Such thoughts and more buzzed around my brain as I watched that sow and her cubs in that high-mountain meadow on that chilly August morning. Then it struck me: I had spent so much time alone in the wilds because in the wilds I could truly be myself. In nature, in the wilds, there are no societal-created norms, judgments and expectations. Everything is what it is. A grizzly might judge me as a threat or feast but doesn’t care who I fall in love with and sleep with. I was fighting to defend and protect wildness, naturalness and the freedom of wild grizzlies while denying and suppressing my own wildness, naturalness and freedom. Like the grizzlies, I am what I am and do what I do. I want to (and should be) given respect, space and left alone to be myself. I accepted myself that day while watching those magnificent and tenacious animals. In no small way, those bears helped save my life.  (I often joke with friends that grizzlies made me gay.)

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  Wildlife and wild places preserve truth and reality of life, death, and our primeval connection to this Earth. To deny that is to deny ourselves; to destroy it is self-destruction. To embrace, understand and accept it is to embrace, understand and accept our own innate nature and wildness.

Everything is what it is; including us. We are part of it all. We ignore that at our own peril. I learned that from wild grizzlies, in a wild high-mountain meadow, in a truly wild place. 

Let’s keep it wild.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It's That Jaeger Time of Year

It’s about 2 am after one too many shots of Jagermeister and I am peddling my cruiser bike home on a dark night along an empty Missoula street. Periodic street lights guide my way among a hodgepodge of shadows cast by Norway maples planted long ago between sidewalk and houses.  Then there, in front of me, smack dab in the middle of Park Street, stands a deer.

It’s not unusual for whitetails to wander this part of Zootown, being as close as it is to Pattee Canyon and South Hills – a quiet neighborhood scattered throughout with lush, nutritious lawns, city parks and schoolyards inundated by fattening, assumingly delicious domestic grasses, shrubs and forbs. But this was a rare, large, handsome buck with an intimidating rack of antlers, fully polished, with chest puffed in a proud pose reminiscent of Bambi’s dad.  It was like a scene from Northern Exposure.

So I stopped and gawked at him gawking at me. In my goofy state of mind I couldn’t help but narcissistically hope he was equally impressed. He was obviously confused.

He seemed rather rutty -- which is no surprise considering the chilly autumn evenings we’ve been having.

When I was a Marine training in the Black Forest of Germany I met a seasoned Jaegermeister who told me about the vision of Saint Hubertus, the Patron Saint of Hunters, (an image now the label on fruity, bitter green bottles of liquor) who, on a Good Friday around 680 A.D., while skipping out on church to hunt the forested Ardennes, came upon a white, ghost-like stag with a Christian crucifix appearing between its antlers. Perhaps the good Saint was a bit tipsy. Since long before it became more associated with late night bombs the symbol has traditionally been pinned upon the hats of German Jaegers to bring good luck.   
I sensed no predatory desire to make winter meat of this particular animal on this particular night on Park Street. But somewhere mixed among surprise and awe emerged a slight, primeval yearning of anticipation for the approaching predatory season.  There’s already a hint of cool yellow on aspens and larches in the high country.

Yup: It’s that time of year in Montana and I am, if nothing else, a hunter.    

The Jagermeister label contains a verse written in German from the poem Weidmannsheil by a forester, hunter and ornithologist named Oskar von Riesenthal (1830-1898) that translates: 

It is the hunter's honour that he
Protects and preserves his game,
Hunts sportsmanlike, honours the
Creator in His creatures

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bears Without Fear: A Book Review

We fear bears, bears fear us and fear leads to conflict. Bears ultimately suffer. 

My biggest fear regarding bears is that we won’t give them the respect and space enough they need and deserve to survive into the future. Bears are neither the mystical beasts nor the dangerous vicious killers we sometimes make them out to be; they are bears. The more we get to know and understand them the less we fear them and the better we can all get along.   

Kevin Van Tighem of Canmore, Alberta, knows bears and (considering all the time he’s spent around bears since he was a child in the early 1960s) it’s probably safe to assume a few bears know him. A naturalist, hiker, hunter, fisherman and biologist who recently retired as the superintendent of Canada’s Banff National Park, Van Tighem has combined his extensive knowledge and experience with research and fine writing to produce a wonderful, informative book called Bears Without Fear (Rocky Mountain Books, 2013).  

“They haunt the edges of the forests of our imagination,” Van Tighem writes. “Since the dawn of time, humans and bears have lived uneasily together. . . There was a time when humans had little defense against bears. Now, in most cases, bears have no defense against us.”

With human populations and development continuing to expand, and critical bear habitat shrinking, how can we ensure wild bears always grace our planet?  “Bears and humans can share our increasingly crowded world safely,” Van Tighem writes. “But for that to happen, we need to learn to respect bears for what they really are, and to see that the choices we make almost always affect bears and other wildlife.”

Through facts, stories and photos Van Tighem’s book helps us better understand bears and how to live with them. Sections include the history of bears in human cultures, myths about bears, and the natural history and habitats of black bears, grizzlies and polar bears.  A section about bear research includes studies on how to reduce human-bear conflicts, and the book concludes with lists of places to see bears and tips for keeping ourselves and bears safe while in bear country. 

"While it remains true that bears are capable of attacking and killing people, it remains no less true that they almost always chose not to,"  Van Tighem writes. “The most dangerous thing about a bear is not its claws, teeth or disposition; it’s how we react to it.”

When we destroy their habitat, cause unnatural mortality, or they perceive us as an imminent threat to their young or their food, Bears don’t have a lot of choice as to how they react. 

We do. 

“Past human choices have brought us to a time when almost every bear species in the world is under threat,” writes Van Tighem. “The choices we make tomorrow – about resource development, roads, agriculture and tourism, as well about our own personal behavior in bear country – will determine the future of the dwindling bear populations that survive today.”

Bears Without Fear is packed with knowledge to help us better understand bears; let’s hope it helps us all make better choices. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chief Mountain: Alienating the Sacred

Photo of Chief Mountain by Riley McClelland
“There is something innate to human nature, something basic to our civilized sensibility that recognizes certain distinctions of worth in reality. And the name we have traditionally given to the highest of these is ‘the holy’ or ‘the sacred.’”  -- Patrick O’Neill

It’s difficult to know what’s sacred nowadays.  Money seems to top the list. I suppose one person’s “sacred” place is another’s gas and oil field.  Apparently, for some folks, a gas and oil field is sacred.

Why else would anyone consider drilling for gas and oil around Chief Mountain in northwest Montana along the border of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Nation. The Chief is a prominent peak along the Rocky Mountain Front, a rugged 200-mile overthrust wall of steep, reef-like mountains rising from the Great Plains.  Elk, bighorns, pronghorn, 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. 

Prayer Flags near Chief Mountain. Photo by Jason Davis
If anything remains sacred, this is the place.   

Seven years ago while 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, mostly around the Badger Two Medicine area south of Chief Mountain.

Working as a professional conservationist I had to be cautious about using emotional arguments, about calling a place “sacred,” but instead focus 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 Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front 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.”  

If only everyone were as passionate and emotional about sacred places.  

While working along the Front, 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 two remedies; Medicine Grizzly Lake and Chief Mountain. “Go there,” he said. “You’ll feel better.”   
The mountain has been sacred to the Blackfeet for hundreds of years and remains sacred to many First Nation people throughout North America who travel to the mountain for sweet grass ceremonies, placing prayer flags and other religious rites. In the early 1900s as white settlers came through they observed native burial sites along the base of the Chief.


We hear the term and pass it along.  We portray and pretend modern-day Native Americans have mythical and mystical connections to land as if it were genetic. Some of them do. Others, like most of us, will sacrifice the sacred for money to buy homes, cars, televisions, gas, heat and food on the table. This is why the Bureau of Indian Affairs recently leased a large swath of land aroundChief Mountain for gas and oil development with the blessing of some tribal leaders and members eager for profit. Others are angered, sickened and saddened. The Blackfeet are as divided as the rest of us on such things. 

I envy and can only imagine the bond native people once had to the land and wildlife. They understood they were part of it. In a small way, I think I can relate: Through a lifetime of hunting, fishing and roaming remote and wild places, for as long as 10-weeks at a time, I've developed my own intimate connection to wildlife and wild places.  People close to the land often find reverence for it.  The sacred is what sustains us. This may be why many people today regard gas and oil as more sacred than wild places--or at least worth sacrificing the sacred for.  Our society is so divorced from our planet we forget that clean air, clean water and wild places still sustain us all.  That's why we crap in our kitchen. 

Elders from Southern Alberta’s Siksia Band pass on this tale: Near the end of days a Great White God will appear from the top of Chief Mountain and upon his departure the mountain will crumble and be destroyed. 

Perhaps that Great White God is dangerously addicted to gas and oil and willing to alienate the sacred.

Note: Leases don’t always result in drilling but it’s a step in that direction. In 2006 Questar Corporation donated leases to Trout Unlimited ensuring that no gas and wells would go in. If you'd like to help stop development near Chief Mountain please sign this petition now. To learn more, click here: Save the Sacred Chief.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Bipartisan Call for Climate Action

I was serving as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation (an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation) when Larry Schweiger took charge of the national organization in 2004. At the time, many hunters, anglers and others in Montana were concerned about his plans to make climate change a top priority. Now, nine years later, most everyone agrees climate change should, indeed, be a top priority for all of us who cherish wildlife and wild places. Larry has proven to be a true leader. Let's all heed his good advice and ACT TODAY! 

A Bipartisan Call for Climate Action
By Larry J. Schweiger
President and CEO, National Wildlife Federation

Nearly a decade ago, I returned to work at National Wildlife Federation with a commitment to confront climate change. I knew from the latest scientific findings at the time that a change in climate would disrupt historic weather patterns and threaten fish and wildlife with massive extinctions. I also understood that what befalls nature would befall humanity.

Since that time, the scientific warnings have grown much louder, the evidence more definitive and the consequences more menacing. Yet because carbon-polluting industries hold sway in the halls of the U.S. Congress, lawmakers have done little to end the carbon emissions that are triggering the planet’s fastest rate of climate change in 60 million years.

On June 25, I was in attendance when President Obama gave what will one day be seen as his most important speech. “Science, accumulated and reviewed over decades, tells us that our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind,” he explained. “The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. Last year, temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record—faster than most computer models had predicted it would. These are facts.”

The president then warned that “all weather events are affected by a warming planet. The fact that sea levels in New York, in New York Harbor, are now a foot higher than a century ago—that didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy, but it certainly contributed to the destruction that left large parts of our mightiest city dark and underwater.”

With the nation experiencing larger forest fires in a longer fire season, “western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland,” he added. “Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s. And we know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief.“

Yet because so many members of Congress are under the influence of polluters, they continue to ignore the overwhelming body of climate science and they refuse to pass any carbon-capping legislation. The president has been forced to use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule-making authority to regulate carbon, setting forth a series of important but insufficient measures that he can take without congressional action to begin addressing this defining threat to life in the 21st century.

On August 1, the president received an unexpected boost for his call for climate action from an unlikely chorus of former EPA administrators who served under presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Together, they published “A Republican Case for Climate Action” in The New York Times, an op-ed that began: “Each of us took turns over the past 43 years running the Environmental Protection Agency. We served Republican presidents, but we have a message that transcends political affiliation: The United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally. . . The costs of inaction are undeniable.”

Calling the president’s plan “just a start,” the former Republican EPA administrators—William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, William Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman—urged Congress to put a price on carbon and made clear “More will be required. But we must continue efforts to reduce the climate-altering pollutants that threaten our planet. The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.”

Despite this stark warning from four of our finest EPA administrators, leaders in the House of Representatives continue to pretend climate change is not a problem. The many bad environmental bills passed by the Republican-led House outrages me as a former Republican committee member from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
In his speech, the president challenged us with these words: “So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren. As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.”

Regardless of our political party affiliations, we must heed President Obama’s challenge. We must unite to solve the climate crisis, and demand that lawmakers face reality to protect our children’s future. 

Are you with me on this?

If you are with Larry (as I certainly am and we all should be) PLEASE take action today. Here are three simple things we all do right now: 

1) Learn more about the National Wildlife Federation and Climate Change here: NWF and Global Warming

2) Sign this letter: Help Polar Bears Win Against Big Polluters

3) Check out this list from Conservation Hawks of actions we should all take: TAKE ACTION! 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Our Wild World Unraveling: Thoughts on Climate Change from a Hunter, Fisherman and Backpacker

Summer 2015: Up north in Alaska temperatures are increasing twice as fast as most other places; Rivers and lakes are getting as hot as 80 degrees; Thousands of salmon and trout are dying; Wildfires are raging through subarctic forests; The permafrost is thawing; Villages are sinking.

Our world is rapidly unraveling from the top down.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, our leaders continue to deny and evade the issue and do little to nothing. But it's not like an overwhelming force of Americans are demanding action. It's far easier for all of us to just look the other way.

It's not going away. It's getting worse.

I am not a scientist or a wildlife biologist. However, I am an avid hunter, fisherman, backpacker, hiker, mountain biker, backcountry skier and snowboarder who deeply cherishes the wildlife and wildlands surrounding my home. That is what brought me to Montana when I was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1986, and it's what keeps me here. It's my passion and love for wildlife and wild places—inspired by my hunting and fishing—that keeps me fighting for the conservation and protection of fish and wildlife habitat and the wild places that sustains them.

The scientific evidence regarding climate change, and the consequences of human-caused release of global warming pollution, is conclusive and overwhelming, with even stronger evidence seeming to come forth every week. Those of us who are close to the land, and spend time among wildlife in wild places, are seeing much of this evidence first hand:  Warmer temperatures, shorter winters, less snow pack, earlier snow melt, less water and more drought.

Several years ago, I hiked from my front porch in Missoula to Waterton, Alberta. During this ten-week, 800-mile backpack trip, mostly off trail, I only crossed three roads, traveling through the Rattlesnake, Mission Mountains, Bob Marshall, Great Bear and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas, and Glacier National Park. This is some of the wildest, most unique and precious country left in the United States, providing the last strongholds for rare, threatened and endangered species such as grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions, lynx, wolverines and pure strains of Westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout. With strong populations of elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose and other wildlife, these places also provide some of the best hunting and fishing left in the nation.

But even here, in such remote, wild places, I witnessed evidence of what scientists and wildlife biologists have been warning us about for years. Snowpacks, so crucial in the arid West for supplying water to our rivers and streams, are rapidly declining. Diminished water flows makes for shallower, warmer streams, with less oxygen, making it more difficult for coldwater fish such as trout to survive. Increasingly, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks are implementing summer closures of rivers to fishing to protect trout overly-stressed from hot, dry conditions. On my journey, I also saw large chunks of forest impacted by increased occurrence of mountain pine beetle, which scientists are linking to trees being less resistant to insect and disease because of drier, more stressful conditions, and was particularly concerned by the rapid death of most white bark pines, which provides an important food source for grizzlies and other wildlife. I also walked through large expanses of charred forests burned by recent wildfires. Our western forests evolved with, and are adapted well to fire. However, drier conditions, combined with an increase in dead trees from beetle infestations, are resulting in more frequent, more damaging fires than what historically and naturally occurred, with serious implications for wildlife. Towards the end of my adventure, while hiking through Glacier National Park, I could visible notice a profound decline in the size of glaciers I have visited in past trips. Many scientists are predicting the glaciers in the park will be gone by 2020.

I know and have worked with hunters, anglers, outfitters, guides, ranchers, county commissioners, tribal leaders and others throughout Montana and the West, and I hear similar reports and concerns from them about changes on the landscape, and its impacts to water, fish, wildlife and our western way of life. What I hear from fellow hunters and anglers is consistent with a survey commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation, examining the attitude of hunters and anglers regarding Global Warming; We hunters and anglers are witnessing the effects of global warming and believe immediate action is necessary to address it. Eighty five percent of us believe we have a moral responsibility to confront global warming, and eighty percent of us believe our nation should be a world leader in addressing this issue. I am definitely among the 75 percent of hunters and anglers who agree that Congress should pass legislation that sets a clear national goal for reducing global warming pollution with mandatory timelines.

Trout Unlimited has compiled some particularly startling predictions: If current trends continue, we could lose up to 60 percent of our western wild trout populations, 90 percent of our bull trout populations and 40 percent of our northwest Pacific salmon populations by 2050. Trout and salmon require cold water, and climate change equals warmer water and less water.

Others can speak more authoritatively about the importance of wild places, wildlife, and associated hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities to the economy of Montana and the West. And it's true. In Montana alone, more than one million people enjoy our state's abundant wildlife each year, contributing more than $880 million to our state's economy. But more importantly, our nation's wildlife and wild lands—along with related hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational pursuits—provide unique cultural, social and even spiritual values not only for us Montanans, but for all Americans. This is why great American leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt fought so long and hard to protect what remained, in his day, of our nation's wildlife and wild places. Today, our wildlife and wildlands face threats that Roosevelt probably could never have fathomed. But I am confident he would not have shied away from the challenge. Neither should we.

This is not, nor should be, a partisan issue. In Montana, I know Republicans, Democrats and Independents who all share a concern about global warming, and a desire to see something done about it. For those who are still not on board: I urge you to take a closer look at the scientific evidence and consensus, set aside partisan politics and various industrial and corporate pressures, and tackle this issue with the sense of urgency and immediacy required. We have a moral obligation to do what we can and as quickly as possible.

The consensus in the worldwide scientific community is overwhelmingly unanimous, undeniable and strong, as is the actual on-the-ground evidence. To deny this is happening at this point is akin to denying the world is round and cigarettes are bad for you. It's time to wake up and do something.

My son Cory and I at a rally in Glacier National Park 2007
We need to all urge our politicians and leaders to take immediate steps to curtail green house gas emissions; develop more conservative, responsible energy policies that include alternative and renewable sources of energy, more efficient ways of using energy, and reduce our need to burn fossil fuels.

Even with immediate, yet important reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, changes will continue with negative impacts to fish, wildlife and wild places and so it is also critically important that any legislation regarding climate change include funding specifically dedicated to help states protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat. By protecting and restoring critical habitat, we can help ensure that fish, wildlife and wild places will be more resistant and resilient to change, better adapt to change and be more likely to survive change.

All of us need to help spread awareness and persuade and rally other citizens to these efforts -- We need to urgently send a message loud and clear: The time for action is now!

What we do? What can you do? We can all do our best to keep informed, inform others and demand action. Below are some links to effective hunting, fishing and conservation organizations focused on climate change, with plenty of information, facts, statistics and suggestions and guidance for taking action. Check them out and get involved today -- our our hunting, our fishing, our wildlife, our wild places and our wild world depends on it.

Montana Wildlife Federation

Trout Unlimited

Conservation Hawks

National Wildlife Federation

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

Seasons' End (Bipartisan Policy Center)

Note: This essay is an updated version of my testimony presented before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: Climate Change and Wildlife Hearing, February 7, 2007. Unfortunately, little has been done since then and many politicians and American citizens continue to deny and evade the issue. 

An Inspirational Sidewalk Stumble Upon Theodore Roosevelt

Downtown Berkeley, California
“I ask of you the straightforward, earnest performance of duty in all the little things that come up day by day in business, in domestic life, in every way, and then when the opportunity comes, if you have thus done your duty in the lesser things, I know you will rise level to the heroic needs.” — Theodore Roosevelt, University of California in Berkeley, May 14, 1903.

January 25, 2013, Berkeley, CA:  Friday morning, on my way to work, I was pleasantly surprised to quite literally stumble upon this engraving on a city sidewalk: “1903 President Teddy Roosevelt Speaks.”

It inspired me to do a little homework: Roosevelt was friends with then UC Berkeley President Benjamin Ide Wheeler and had promised to visit the campus on a whistle-stop speaking tour of western states. After speaking in San Francisco on May 13, Roosevelt crossed the bay to Oakland on a tugboat and, at midday on May 14, 1903, swept into Berkeley on a special train. The San Francisco Chronicle described it this way: “As the President appeared and made his way out under the cloth canopy at the front of the stage, the vast audience rose in a body and sent up mighty cheers which rolled back and resounded through the ravines of the hills.”

The next day Roosevelt met writer and naturalist John Muir in nearby Oakland and they traveled together by train and stagecoach to Yosemite.

Roosevelt with UC Berkeley President
Benjamin Ide Wheeler, 1903
“I spent a delightful three days and two nights with him,” Roosevelt wrote of the trip. “The first night we camped in a grove of giant sequoias. It was clear weather, and we lay in the open, the enormous cinnamon-colored trunks rising about us like the columns of a vaster and more beautiful cathedral than was ever conceived by any human architect. All next day we traveled through the forest. Then a snow-storm came on, and at night we camped on the edge of the Yosemite, under the branches of a magnificent silver fir, and very warm and comfortable we were, and a very good dinner we had before we rolled up in our tarpaulins and blankets for the night. The following day we went down into the Yosemite and through the valley, camping in the bottom among the timber.”

And they talked, and talked, late into the nights.
Prior to their trip, Roosevelt and Muir didn’t always see eye to eye. Muir, a founder of the Sierra Club, valued nature for its spiritual and transcendental qualities and was more of a preservationist. Roosevelt, an avid hunter, pushed for the sustainable use of natural resources and was more of a conservationist. But both men strongly opposed reckless exploitation. So the two set aside their differences, focused on their common love for the wilds and not only became lifelong friends but, together, became an even more potent force for the protection of wildlife and wild places – including, of course, many of the places where I now love to hike, camp, backpack, fish, hunt and explore.

Roosevelt with John Muir, Yosemite, 1903
We can learn a lot from Roosevelt and Muir.
Right after his trip with Muir, before heading back to D.C., Roosevelt stopped and gave a speech in Sacramento urging the citizens of California to do everything in their power to use forests and streams wisely and “preserve the natural wealth.” He ended with this: “We are not building this country for a day. It is to last through the ages.”

And Friday morning, on January 25, 2013, after I serendipitously stumbled upon a Berkeley sidewalk, Roosevelt helped renew my enthusiasm for and dedication to my work – to continue doing my small part to help protect and advance this great American conservation legacy.

We can sometimes find inspiration at unexpected times in surprising places.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wolves and the Abandonment of Science, Reason and Logic

July 24, 2012

In a sad, but justified move, the family of Olaus Murie recently demanded that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) cancel the organization’s Olaus J. Murie Award because of the RMEF’s “all-out war against wolves” that is “anathema to the entire Murie family.” 

I conceived and created the Olaus J. Murie Award (with coordination and approval from the Murie family) on behalf of the RMEF in 1999, when the RMEF was a science-based conservation organization. The award recognized scientists working on behalf of elk and elk habitat in honor of Olaus Murie, who is widely considered the “father” of modern elk research and management for the ground-breaking work he conducted at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the 1940s. He also wrote “Elk of North America” in 1951 – the first, most thorough and comprehensive scientific treatise on elk and elk management, which has since been updated several times by the Wildlife Management Institute.  (I have read Murie’s book several times, and was honored to have written a chapter for the most recent edition, North American Elk: Ecology and Management.

Since then, the RMEF got rid of all the good leaders who not only helped create and shape the RMEF, but had solid, impressive backgrounds in wildlife biology, ecology and science-based wildlife management.  The organization now ignores and defies science and panders to outfitters, politicians and hunters who have little understanding of wildlife and, in particular, interactions between wolves and elk.  The group has abandoned principle for income and popularity.

During my ten years as the conservation editor for RMEF’s Bugle magazine, I wrote many award-winning science-based articles and essays regarding wildlife, ecology, natural history and wildlife management.  Several of those stories focused on science that the RMEF itself helped fund showing clear, solid evidence of improvements in the health of habitat and elk herds living among wolves; how wolf predation was mostly compensatory and not additive; how elk behavior, habits and habitat choices changed in the presence of wolves, and many other interconnected complexities that factored in such as habitat conditions, habitat effectiveness, vulnerability,  bull-to-cow ratios, breeding behavior, calving and calf survival rates.  In those days, the RMEF helped convey and disseminate accurate information to keep people informed , supporting the kind of good, solid science that Olaus Murie himself began and would have been proud of.

Today, the RMEF is run by a former marketer for NASCAR and the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, with no understanding of wildlife or elk ecology, who has called wolf reintroduction the “worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison herds;” continues to erroneously claim wolves are “decimating” and “annihilating” elk herds; who viciously attacks anyone who disagrees; and does what he can to keep the truth from being published.  (Myself and other science-based writers have all been banished from writing for Bugle, with no explanation.)

This, despite the tremendous recoveries and improvements to elk and other wildlife habitat in Yellowstone thanks to wolf recovery; that there are now more elk in Montana (and more hunting opportunity) than ever; that I see as many elk as always in the country I hunt, and that Montana outfitters are claiming the best elk hunting success in years.

Good for the Murie family! The RMEF has become a disgrace to the good, science-based research and management that Olaus Murie began and promoted.