Game Range Ramblin's
Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder
August 3, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson,
Being accountable for land management actions may not be as much fun as working with hundreds of enthusiastic people to purchase the land in the first place.
But, now that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) have become co-owners of the newest 856 acres of public land on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range, the fun part is over.
Let the accountability begin at the battered, blue, metal gate across the highway from the day-use area at Salmon Lake State Park.
You can locate it on the map (which accompanies this article) by finding Highway 83 and following the highway southward from the top of the map to its intersection with a string of heavy, black dots. Those dots depict the west end of the road known locally as the Boyd Mountain Loop Road. This road is the main access for motorized vehicles across the RMEF/FWP lands recently purchased from Plum Creek Timber Company in Phase I of the Game Range 50th Anniversary Project. The Phase I lands are outlined on the map with a solid black line.
The Boyd Loop Road and the blue gate were traditionally open to the public from May 15 through hunting season each year, prior to 1998, when Plum Creek determined a need to close the loop at both ends. Since then, I've heard from quite a few people who miss the good old days.
So, what's up there that's so attractive to people? Well, mostly it's the hope of finding elk and deer during hunting season.
Hunting District (HD) 282, which includes Boyd Mountain, has always been a great place for folks to hunt who can't kick around the hills as hard or long as they used to. These people always appreciated being able to drive into occupied elk and deer habitat and having a good chance of killing an animal within reasonable dragging distance of their vehicles. Under any other circumstance on public lands, such an accessible hot spot for elk and deer would be overrun with hunters and ruined, but it works in HD 282 because only a limited number of A-7 licenses are issued for the rifle season. During the archery-only season, hunter numbers in HD 282 are not limited by a special license drawing, but elk are only occasional residents on Boyd Mountain before the snow flies.
Now that FWP owns the blue gate, we would like to reinstate traditional access on Boyd Mountain and swing it open. However, there are some logistical hurdles.
For one thing, FWP doesn't own much more of the entire Boyd Loop Road than the gate itself. Alright, we do own some of the road as well, but as the map shows, only about 2 miles of the road system is contained on FWP property. The rest of the 10-12 mile loop is on Plum Creek land. So, if we just swing open our gate, we potentially put recreationists in the position of ending up at a locked gate on Plum Creek land at the far end of the loop, rather than being able to continue across the Game Range to Cottonwood Creek and Highway 200.
At that point, the fun would surely be over for all of us.
Neil Crawford, Plum Creek's forester for Boyd Mountain and surrounding Plum Creek lands, has been a pleasure to work with. Neil offered that Plum Creek would be willing to open its gate on the far end of the Boyd Loop Road, and allow motorized travel across their lands on top of Boyd Mountain.
Soon, hunters will be driving the Boyd Loop Road again, and looping over Boyd Mountain from Salmon Lake to the Game Range headquarters.
But, not before September 1. Although FWP was not an advocate of the road closure when Plum Creek implemented it in 1998, we have noted some benefits to wildlife, especially around some of the wetlands that lie along the road edge. We would like to maintain this security area for nesting birds and other wildlife with a closure through the summer months.
Also, the closure will give us a chance to mow a tall, dense stand of knapweed that FWP inherited on the full length of the road surface. That way, we can reduce the amount of knapweed seed that people will carry on their bumpers and grilles from Boyd Mountain to other parts of the Game Range or other properties. We will follow up with a roadside weed spraying treatment later this fall, when weather conditions for spraying are more favorable, so that we won't encounter this weed situation again next year.
So, plan to find the old blue gate open on September 1 this year, with a sign beside it to verify that the road is actually designated open for driving. But, please don't plan to come out with a load of firewood. As in the past, firewood cutting is not allowed on the main Game Range, including Boyd Mountain. Plum Creek is a cooperator with FWP and DNRC in this longstanding policy on the Game Range as well. You see, dead trees and downfall are wildlife habitat, too.
Sometimes the best explanation is to remember the Game Range's official namethe Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area.