New developments along
the southern boundary

Game Range Ramblin's

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


September 20, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson


Early last Friday morning, I was heading out to pick up trash bags and safety vests from the Highway Department in Missoula for cleaning up litter along FWP's Adopt-A-Highway section of Highway 83, near the Game Range. A glance at the fuel gauge convinced me to pull into the nearest gas station first.

I really do appreciate the conveniences I find at the gas pump these days. Like the option of paying at the pump with a credit card. And, the automatic shut-off feature on the nozzle that allows you to walk away and wash your windshield while you're filling up. But, these amenities, and the fact that you no longer have to talk with anyone to purchase gasoline, leave a lot of time for the mind to wander.

Of course, there have been some awful places for the mind to dwell over the past week or so. So, I tried instead to focus on something else. Like the subject for this week's Game Range Ramblings.

I was thinking it might be a good time to offer a bit of clarification on what's happening with the new buildings just a mile north of Clearwater Junction, on the east side of the highway. My subconscious was simultaneously occupied with the task of removing some particularly stubborn sun-baked bug splats from my windshield.

I wondered if some people who saw the new construction are attributing it to FWP, and have always assumed that the land is part of the Game Range. Actually, the land was deeded to the old Boyd Ranch and was part of the Game Range until 1966, when FWP exchanged it to Harold "Bud" Lake. It's my understanding that Mr. Lake then established the store at Clearwater Junction that we know as Stoney's. A quarter-mile wide strip of property along the east side of the Highway is still private land today. Its boundary against the Game Range (just a little more than one mile north of the Junction) is clearly defined by a barbed wire fence heading east from the shoulder of the first curve on Highway 83. Its east boundary against the Reinoehl Conservation Easement is also fenced and can be seen running parallel to the Highway.

Still the pump was pumping, so I dipped the squeegee in the dirty water and moved to the back window of my topper. As my mind drifted back to this column, I thought I should mention that the Lake property was platted in 20-acre parcels for many years before a law was passed that requires public review of subdivisions smaller than 160 acres. These parcels, of which there are seven between the Junction and the Game Range, have been on the market off and on throughout my 14 years in this particular job.

In the 1990s, FWP took a long, hard look at the lands it might try to protect from development around Clearwater Junction. In order to qualify for FWP's Habitat Montana Program, candidate lands must be critically important wildlife habitat. Clearly, the south-facing grassland slopes on the Reinoehl Ranch, which form part of the south boundary of the Game Range and serve as part of the primary winter habitat for the Blackfoot-Clearwater elk herd, qualified as critically important habitat. Subsequently, FWP and Claud Reinoehl agreed that FWP would exchange its fee title ownership of 254 acres on the west side of Highway 83 for a perpetual conservation easement on 600 acres of the Reinoehl Ranch. FWP also retained a conservation easement on the 254 acres it exchanged.

Claud died on July 10, and I will miss him. He was a pleasure to know.

Well, by now I was back on the streets of Missoula, headed once again for the Highway Department. I was reflecting back on how the flats along the Highway, in Mr. Lake's ownership, just didn't shake out as critical to wildlife, and never qualified for FWP funding to purchase a conservation easement there. So, it was only a matter of time before the lots would begin to sell and the homes would be built.

"Geez, what is this guy's problem?" I wondered aloud when a fellow in a large, Coca-Cola delivery truck kept interrupting my composition with loud honks. As hard as I strained in all windows and mirrors, I couldn't see any emergency vehicles that I might be blocking, and I couldn't deduce what kind of obstacle I might be to his appointed deliveries. Finally, when we both stopped at a red light, I cracked my door open to look back and ask what was wrong.

But, before I could speak, my jaw dropped open. There, protruding from the place where my gas cap should have been was the nozzle from the gas pump, still perfectly positioned where I had put it earlier. The long, black, rubber hose trailed behind dramatically. The guy in the Coke truck, with his mission accomplished, was satisfied and now greatly amused.

You can look up the word "humble" in the dictionary, and you can say you know what it means, but it is the involuntary feeling of humility that cannot be described until you have driven away from a gas pump with a big part of the pump still attached. Thankfully, the owner was very easy on me when I returned with the nozzle and hose. "It's a good thing EPA made us install the safety releases on these pumps or we would probably be in flames by now," she observed.

Things turned out so well, in fact, that I made my litter-picking appointment on time, joined by fellow volunteers John Firebaugh and Bob Wiesner. As we drove by the Lake property and the new buildings later that morning, we commented on the pleasing appearance and the platform for an osprey nest that had been installed. Looks like we're going to have nice neighbors.

And, what did my wife, Sharon, think of all this? "I'm not looking forward to your senility," she informed me.