Volunteers, FWP Commission, and Bear Avoidance
Tactics Come Through

Game Range Ramblin's

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



June 7, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson


I was basking in the afterglow of the final approval from our Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Commission for Phase II of the 50th Anniversary Project, and looking forward to the fourth annual fundraising banquet of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), when I should have been paying attention to the sow with cubs that loomed just ahead of me on the trail.

Sometimes, you have to be lucky.

As I mentioned last week, the Commission meeting was held on June 6 in Helena. Our local Commissioner, Rich Lane of Missoula, is the newly appointed Chairman of the five member Commission, which serves at the pleasure of the governor.

Rich came to the Commission with a history of interest in the 50th Anniversary Project from his previous involvement with RMEF. And, as regional manager of Smurfitt-Stone Container Corporation, Rich has expressed his satisfaction in seeing foresters and wildlife biologists working together to find and expand their "common ground" on the Game Range.

The Commissioners questioned FWP's regional and Helena staff quite thoroughly at the Helena meeting, causing tiny beads of sweat to form on at least one brow before they released the pressure with their unanimous vote in favor of the Phase II proposal.

As you may recall, Phase II would bring the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) into ownership of approximately 3,000 acres of Plum Creek inholdings within the Game Range, and would bring FWP into ownership of an additional 1,080 acres of the best winter habitat on the Game Range (now owned by DNRC). FWP would exchange the upper-elevation portion of the old Dreyer Ranch to DNRC.

That was Wednesday, but I hadn't finished mulling over the results in my mind by the time I began a little field reconnaissance on Friday afternoon, in habitat that proved to be occupied by a small family of black bears, the largest of which being in poor humor.

I was stuffing my map back into my pocket and was taking a few unconscious steps down the trail when I heard, then saw, a loud commotion in the larch seedlings and serviceberry about 100 yards ahead. (O.K., it might have been 200 yards. I didn't take the time to pace it off!)

In the next instant my eye picked up a black ball of fur in the top of a tall snag. So, we were no longer dealing with the hopeful possibility that it was an elk or some other benign species causing all the fuss in the brush at the base of the snag. And with a "wooof!" it became discouragingly clear from which side of the brush the creature would emerge.

My side!

It was a first for me. I'd bumped into quite a number of bears at a lot closer range than this, but none had made an objection before. This time, I took the huffing noises and puffed-up, bouncing advances toward me as a sure sign that this mama bear had heard and smelled just about enough from me.

At that moment, I was not at all sure whether I would be attending the RMEF banquet in Seeley Lake on Saturday, as planned.

Fortunately, my encounter with a bear and cubs didn't cause a change in plans for the next day. Even the weather smiled on us with a parting of the storm clouds for a few hours while the fundraising banquet was being held at the Double Arrow Resort in the afternoon and evening of June 9. It was another in a growing record of huge successes for the Blackfoot-Clearwater (Seeley Lake) Chapter of RMEF.

It is the dedication and energy of this core group of volunteers in our local community that has fueled all phases of the 50th Anniversary Project. The Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter, chaired this year by Conrad Rowe, and co-chaired by John Keller, deserves the lion's share of credit for FWP and RMEF's purchase of the first 856 acres of Plum Creek inholdings in Project Phase I last year by raising almost $1.1 million in gifts and matching grants. And, it is the power of their continuing commitment and interest that keeps agencies working hard on the land exchanges that would complete Phases II, III and IV.

Truthfully, there would be no 50th Anniversary Project, and no hopeful prognosis for the future integrity of the Game Range, without the fortuitous formation of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter in 1998. On behalf of everyone in FWP, I thank you for everything you've accomplished, and I pledge our best sustained effort in return to take good care of the habitat you've given FWP to manage.

Thank goodness Mama Bear accepted my gesture when I spun on my heels and continued my walking pace uninterruptedin the opposite directionso that Sharon and I could lend a hand here and there on banquet day to those who keep giving of themselves for wildlife and the quality of life in Seeley Lake.

On Monday, June 18, in Room 325 of the Capitol Building in Helena, Governor Martz and the rest of the Board of Land Commissioners will decide whether DNRC and FWP will proceed with closing on the Phase II land exchanges, or go back to the drawing board with our chances for success severely damaged. The meeting begins at 9:00 A.M., and is open to the public.

Wild horses couldn't keep me from attending. But, I think I'll stay out of the hills until the 19th, because wild bears might.