Farewell, Woody, We're
All Going to Miss You!

 

Game Range Ramblin's



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

 

 


February 1, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana


by Mike Thompson

Birds of a feather stick togethersuch as two veteran employees of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), both of whom served for many years in Seeley Lake.

So it was that retired game warden, Jay Haveman, accompanied Woody Baxter on a recent trip to Glasgow, Montana.

.

Above, Woody Baxter, always popular with school kids for the many field trips
and programs he presented, was given quite a going away party by Seeley Lake
Elementary students.

 

It had been a long trip. Over the Great Divide. Through the Golden Triangle. Across the wide Missouri. The idle chit chat had run out the day before. There had been long periods of silence. The men occasionally withdrew deep within themselves, observing, absorbing, pondering. Finally, they arrived at Glasgow, near the Fort Peck Dam.

They were overcome. Finally, after another long silence, Woody shared his first impression.

"Boy, it sure is flat."

Jay mulled this over for a few moments, then nodded solemnly.

"One thing about it, Woody," he offered, "If your dog ran off, you could sit here and watch it 'til it died."

Now, that's flat.

It reminds me of the scene in "Never Cry Wolf." This would be the point in the movie where the pilot heaves the young biologist's belongings out onto the ice, and flies away cackling maniacally, finally leaving the biologist utterly alone in total silence.

But, truth is stranger than fiction. Woody was looking for an apartment.

What have you people done to our Woody?

For about 10 years, it seems to me, Gary "Woody" Baxter has served as the Blackfoot River Ranger in FWP's Parks Division, based in Seeley Lake. In that time, he and his truck with the canoe on top have become FWP's most widely recognized symbols in the Blackfoot, possibly even surpassing the smiling bear head.

(Be that as it may, I will retire on the day I'm told to wear a likeness of Woody's face on my sleeve.)

He has single-handedly increased FWP's level of partnership and cooperation with other agencies, private landowners, hunters, anglers, outfitters, campers and tubers all across his area of responsibility. He's done it with a ready smile, a bundle of jokes, and a genuine interest in other people and their concerns.

But, even more important than his personality has been his ability to bring action and follow-through from the larger FWP agency to back up his individual presence at the bargaining table or along the river bank. This is the time consuming work behind the scenes that has measurably improved recreation opportunities in the Blackfoot and opened doors wider for others in FWP and other agencies to work more creatively in local communities on projects involving fisheries and wildlife management.

If you were a rafter, kayaker, canoeist, or other recreationist in trouble onor underthe water, your best chances of rescue were if Woody was on the scene. And, remarkably often, he was. Woody is a highly trained and experienced expert on the water, an attribute that I sometimes think has been overlooked by those of us who don't yet owe our very lives to him.

As a wildlife biologist, I especially appreciate Woody's substantial efforts at monitoring, protecting, and educating people about the loons in our area. Along with many of you, Woody shares much of the credit for the successful loon nest-sites that remain on the Clearwater Chain and surrounding lakes.

So, it was fitting that at Woody's going away party in Missoula, FWP's Regional Parks Manager, Lee Bastian, presented Woody with a beautiful carved and painted likeness of a loon to remember us by. "I'll put it on my desk in Glasgow," Woody promised.

"Nobody will know what it is," I warned him.

Glasgow?

Actually, it's a promotion. Woody will have a position equivalent to that of his current immediate supervisorRegional Parks Manager, in this case for all of FWP Region 6, encompassing the northeastern quarter or so of Montana.

As Jay so poignantly observed, it is a blank canvas. For someone like Woody Baxter, this is a tremendous opportunityto build a recreation program literally from scratch.

You know, I poked a little fun earlier at you folks in Seeley Lake, wondering what you could have done that would drive anyone from the Rocky Mountains to Glasgow. But, I should be serious for a moment and share a sentiment Woody wrote last month about the people he knows and has worked with in the Blackfoot and around Seeley Lake.

"I have recently been offered a job with FWP 'in the Far East' part of Montana," he wrote. "I accepted and will be moving on the 5th of February of this year. Of course, I had a little reluctance about leaving the mountains, but even a stronger feeling of uncertainty comes from the thought of leaving the wonderful friends and working relationships I have with you folks. Such an association will probably never be duplicated for me."

Don't kid yourself, Woody. You'll never be short on friends, wherever you go.

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