April 13, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson,
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
by Mike Thompson
If the ink hasn't dried on this week's Ramblings column, I wouldn't be surprised. I was so close to missing the deadline this week that I feel like I'm coming to you live in your living room.
Of course, I'm not without an excuse. Things started unraveling on Monday of last week. Spring has finally, reluctantly arrived, so FWP began its annual elk trend counts. Every morning for a month or so, Region 2 wildlife biologists will rise at 4:30, walk outdoors, stare at the sky, wet a finger and lift it to the wind, walk back indoors, turn on the television and worship The Weather Channel until the pilot calls and a decision is made about whether it's a good day to float an airplane in and out of the canyons in our western Montana mountains. Spring started for me with a smooth, gorgeous flight on Monday morning.
I didn't have much time to savor it. As soon as we landed, I was on my way to Bozeman (by car) to participate in the thesis defense for Jeff Short, a graduate student in Range and Animal Sciences at Montana State University. Jeff conducted a cattle grazing experiment on the Game Range to study the effects on spring forage for elk and deer.
I didn't get back from Bozeman until Monday evening and then it was time to rise for the morning ritual once again. This time, we weren't rewarded with weather that satisfied us, so I headed directly for the office and attended a meeting of staff from the Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP). NRDP is administering funds awarded to the State of Montana for damages to water, fisheries, wildlife and vegetation in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. I was curious as much as anything, but I was also prepared to present a proposal for funding a conservation easement on a private ranch near Drummond. I didn't really understand whether this project would qualify for these funds, but I learned that the answer may well be yes.
All I needed to do was submit an application to FWP's Region 2 Supervisor in one week. How tough could that be for someone who cranks out Ramblings articles about nothing in an hour or two?
Then someone showed me the application form. Thirty-six pages. Single spaced. Fine print. "Attach additional sheets as needed."
But, there wasn't time to worry. Wednesday was booked with a field inspection of Frank Vannoy's lease on Game Range lands along Blanchard Creek and the Clearwater River. We discussed weed control strategies and the possibility of a rest-rotation grazing system that would incorporate some of his pastures with the Game Range pastures. Then it was on to an evening meeting about the conservation easement I mentioned earlier.
Thursday began with a very interesting discussion with the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Seeley Lake on wolf recovery and the status of wolves in our local area. It ended late into the evening with a meeting of 30-40 houndsmen in Missoula to discuss their observations of a widespread decline in mountain lion numbers across western Montana.
I had planned to present this information to you this week, but as you may recall, I'm out of time for any writing that might require accuracy and analysis.
So, I moved merrily into Friday, flying at dawn, and keeping an appointment to inspect forest stands on the Game Range in the afternoon. And, that application form for obtaining an NRDP grant hadn't shrunk a bit.
Well, that's what weekends are for. So, I started both days with a morning flight, walked old Jake and fed him pancakes (after all, it was the weekend) and then shackled myself to the application process each afternoon for as long as the first warm, sunny days of spring would allow. By Sunday evening, the night before the application deadline, I knew I was in over my ears.
My office phone interrupted me at about 9:00 P.M. Ron Gipe had returned from flying helicopter surveys for Idaho Fish and Game and would be ready to pilot a survey of bighorn sheep for me on Tuesday. Normally, this would be good news, but I knew I would need to be working on the grant application on Tuesday after obtaining the deadline extension I could see I would need from the regional supervisor.
Oh well, there was nothing to do but go to bed because 4:30 A.M. would arrive before you know it. By the time I hit the ground at the airport on Monday morning after counting elk at Bearmouth, I was psyched for that application. I spent the first couple hours in the office calling people and clearing my schedule. Then I commenced writing. I thought I had it whipped by 11:30 that night until I turned to the budget form.
I kid you not. These people want me to account for every pencil and piece of paper that might be needed to complete this conservation easement. I was in no condition for this without a fresh outlook on life.
So, it's Tuesday morning. It's also my deadline for this article. Gary, I very much appreciate your patience with me when this happens, and I hope not to get us in this situation again anytime soon. But, now I'm off to work on that budget and beg more forgiveness from others.
By the way, did anyone notice April 15th looming? Thank you, Sharon!