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DeSmet Fourth Graders
Visit Game Range

May 4, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson,
Wildlife Biologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder

It's easy to overlook the educational value of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range. That is until the "Thank You" cards arrive from grateful students and teachers.

Today, my morning is brightened by a stack of colorful and very original works of art from Mary Maier's fourth graders at DeSmet School in Missoula. I wish you could see them! Each depicts a scene from last week's field trip to the waterfowl ponds on the Cottonwood Creek side of the Game Range.

Mary was scrambling for transportation and funding before the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) solved the problem by chartering a bus for the trip. "It's a cheap way for us to further our mission," according to Jason Hobson of RMEF. "They learn a lot about wildlife."

Let's open a few cards and read about what they learned.

"Dear Mike Thompson, I liked the Blackfoot-Clearwater Management Area. I thought it was fun because of the birds. My favorite bird was the tree swallow. I thought it was cool. Thank you a lot! Sincerely, Cerra Dawn Clark."

"Dear Mr. Thompson, Hi! How are you? I am fine. Thanks a lot for the trip. It was a lot of fun. I liked it when we went and watched the water birds. My favorite bird was the osprey. Sincerely, Terri Lynn Johnson."

I don't remember seeing an osprey, but then I didn't see the coyote either.

"Thank you for taking us to the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area. I loved seeing the herd of elk, and hiking up the mountain. The yellow-headed blackbirds were so awesome, so was the red-winged blackbird. So was the coyote. Thanks for taking us before the May 15th opening date. Your friend, Sherika Fernando."

It made quite an impression on several students that we allowed them to visit the Game Range before it opens to the public on May 15. I'm glad they learned that the property is closed from November 11 through May 14 every year to provide sanctuary for elk and deer on their critical winter-spring range. In addition to eliminating human-caused stress to the migratory herds, the closure also provides a unique educational opportunity to view diverse wildlife in large numbers in a natural setting. We mitigate the disturbance to wildlife from research and educational activities by personally supervising tours and avoiding sensitive areas.

We did see about 50 elk in the burn overlooking Cottonwood Creek.

"Dear Mr. Thompson, Thank you for taking us to the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area. I meant to tell you that my friend and I saw two albino elk and about four bulls. It was VERY fun!! Thank you, Colin Cook."

Colin, I admit I didn't see the osprey or the coyote, so you may have seen albino elk. But, I'd sooner think you saw some really sun-bleached animals, as I have during my spring flights. A true albino lacks pigment and has pink eyes.

"Dear Mr. Thompson, Thank you for letting us see so many kinds of animals. It was fun to find the conk. Thank you very much. I caught a frog. It was fun to go on the trip. Sincerely, Christopher Andrew Kasauskas."

Levi Hughes decorated the cover of his card with a superb drawing of an American avocet, great blue heron, "bunny," and elk pellets (we saw the pellets everywhere). The inside cover of a card from Nikkiah L. Kapron was decorated with an illustration of the pond with goose nesting platforms. The highlight for most of the class was the red-tailed hawk and nest we discovered high atop a burned out pine.

"Dear Mr. Thompson, I really liked all of the sites that you let us go through and explore on our field trip. Thank you for letting us go through the field and go through the hills to see what kinds of wildlife lived there. My favorite bird was the red-tailed hawk that was on top of the tree. I also liked the music of the birds and the way they flew and soared through the sky. Thank you, Natasha Roesler."

Lakiesha Mraie Sipp-Angst remembered the burned tree with a hole about the size of a basketball clear through it. Ann Wilson reminded me of the bluebirds. Robert Wamsley drew a great picture of the red-tailed hawk flying over its nest. Nathan Sterrett drew a wonderful picture of sky, mountains, wetland and bull elk that would make a terrific tee shirt or poster. I even received a card from the teacher, with exceptional cover artwork of a "staring owl" by Joellie Rasmussen.

Some kids never grow up. "Dear Mr. Thompson, Thank you for letting us go on a field trip to the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area. My dad and I really liked it. I liked seeing the elk and the beautiful wildflowers. My dad liked seeing all the elk. Sincerely, Sabrina Ketron." Dad was a parent supervisor for the tour.

I was glad we didn't bump into the wildlife Jack and Belinda Rich saw in the wee hours of Sunday morning. They reported sighting two adult grizzly bearsone black, one blondeon Woodworth Road. From their behavior, I'm worried these bears may be spending too much time around cattle. Apparently, they walked down the road in front of the Rich vehicle for about a mile before ducking off on the old Dreyer Ranch. Can grizzlies be herded?

Probably about as easily as a group of fourth graders on a day at the Game Range.

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