Adaptive Strategies Help
Animals and People

Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder


April 12, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson

"Next time you come by Clearwater Junction, you ought to take a look at what's living in your osprey nest on Blanchard Creek."

That was the advice Frank Vannoy left for me on my answering machine a week or so ago. It took me a while to get up Frank's way again, and to remember to look when I went by. I finally remembered on the way back from Ovando last Sunday afternoon.

As I pulled off to the side of Highway 200, at its intersection with Blanchard Creek Road, the osprey nest on the power pole was readily visible on the south side. And, even after I realized I'd left my binoculars at home, it was easy to confirm that an osprey was perched at the top of a neighboring pole.

"Well, whatever mystery there was is gone now," I mumbled to myself, disappointed that I didn't get a look at the nest more promptly after Frank's call.

Then, I turned my attention to the nest itself. And did a double take.

It was no osprey in the nest, with its gray body filling the cavity completely, and its black neck laid flat like a snake in the grass. The white cheek patch gave it away.

The only thing that poor osprey could do was wait and watch until a Canada goose finished using its nest.

No problem.

Time-share rentals were popular among geese and osprey long before modern humans picked up on the trend. It works because Canada geese begin nesting in early March, and may come off the nest in April. Osprey, on the other hand, arrive later in March and April from wintering grounds in the southern U.S., Mexico, or South America, and can easily wait until late April or May to begin nesting.

And, any of us would have few alternatives but to wait if we wanted what a goose wanted first. The osprey may be the meat eater, but the goose is one of the more aggressive herbivores you'll ever meet.

It will be fun to watch and see if it starts raining yellow, puffy goslings around that power pole in the next few days, and if the osprey successfully regain control of their nest soon afterward.

Speaking of conflict between the species, I'm reminded of last week's incident involving a newborn Hereford calf and a grizzly bear on an Ovando-area ranch. The bear won that one.

When livestock are killed by grizzly bears, the first response falls under the jurisdiction of the Wildlife Services unit of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Personnel from Wildlife Services set snares for the offending bear, in consultation with Jamie Jonkel of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), who would be responsible for drugging and handling the bear if captured. The ultimate fate of any captured bear would be determined by committee, headed by Chris Servheen of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the guidance of the federal Endangered Species Act. The grizzly is listed as a threatened species under the Act.

A bear eluded the snares in the first night after the incident, and none have returned since that time. O. K. for now, but what's the long-term prognosis?

With the apparent increase in grizzly bear observations in the Seeley Lake, Ovando and Lincoln areas in recent years, FWP has increased its priority on helping landowners and the public avoid conflicts. Our Secretary of State in grizzly bear country is Jamie Jonkel. With critical funding assistance from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Defenders of Wildlife and another private benefactor, FWP has been working on a customized solution for the grizzly bear problem on this Ovando-area calving ground.

In this case, the proposed solution is an electric fence. Tests made last summer give Jamie and his cooperators hope that a carefully constructed fence will keep the rancher's calving grounds secure from grizzlies that naturally follow water courses out of the mountains every spring. The real test will come a year from now, if the proposed fence becomes a reality over the summer.

It's only the latest example in a growing legacy of cooperation between agencies and private landowners in the Blackfoot Valley, for the benefit of wildlife and the traditional rural way of life.

Just like the osprey and the goose.

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