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Reflecting on Ramblings
is Not Always Flattering

by Mike Thompson,
Wildlife Biologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Seeley Swan Pathfinder
August 13, 1998

I was admonishing Jamie Jonkel for falling behind in his reading and writing of "Game Range Ramblings" when he took a swing below the belt.

"How now, brown cow?" he replied, as if he'd been waiting a long time to deliver that low blow.

It took a few seconds for his meaning to become clear, but that only served to intensify the eventual result. "Oh my gosh. I wrote those words," I admitted, which thoroughly delighted Jamie. When he could catch a breath, he explained. "When I first hired in and was assigned to write a 'Ramblings' column, I thought I'd better review past articles and get a feeling for it." He paused to wipe a tear from laughing so hard, and took another deep breath. "The first one I read began, How now..." He couldn't go on, but he'd already made his point.

One benefit of having written 300 "Game Range Ramblings" is that they are now too numerous for me to remember. But, in observance of this 300th contribution, I'd like to take a break from the routinely professional and highbrow demeanor of this column to relive some of those magical moments from the past. I prefer to think of them as editorial opportunities that Gary Noland missed.

Let's start by completing the thought that began with the burning question, "How now, Brown Cow?"

"Brown Cow does very well, thank you. That is, Brown Cow Elk and her hundreds of neighbors that winter on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range." A high standard of communication to maintain, Jamie, I'll grant you that. And, it was achieved after only 32 columns, back in the winter of 1992.

My personal favorite followed within only a few weeks. Ross Baty authored the cult classic, "The Asbestos Squirrel of Blanchard," an inspired account of a red squirrel that he discovered in the middle of an expansive charred landscape, following the 7,000-acre fire of October 12, 1991. "It would have been a miracle for any creatures that couldn't escape to survive the intensity of the fire in this area - even if they were wearing asbestos suits and gas masks," he observed. Indeed.

We began this column back when we were still discovering fundamental truths about the Game Range elk herd, using radio telemetry. One update began as follows:

"Pathfinder readers will recall that 16 bull elk were drafted for service one year ago. They reported to their local trap-sites on the Game Range in December. There they received physicals (blood work, fecal analysis, dental inspections and body measurements) and uniforms (metal ear tags and radio collars). Then they began survival missions that were monitored by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. This is their report."

In fact, elk trapping and tracking were so much a way of life that the first Christmas without elk trapping prompted withdrawal and an exceptionally corny message:

"Christmas Day of '93

All's silent on the Game Range.

Twasn't always so, the old elk know,

Some Christmases have been strange!"

Christmas Day of '87,

All biologists should have been home.

But, down with tradition - can't trust intuition!

Mark Hurley was still on the roam."

It went on, but didn't get any better.

I have been accused of trying too hard, and this description of helicopter spraying for knapweed is probably a good example. "The serenity of dawn in a metropolis of over one million spotted knapweed plants was broken by an approaching UFO. One knapweed said to the other, 'Look up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plant. Oh, no! It's Ron Gipe in his helicopter, and he's loaded for knapweed!' "

It does occur to me that I got away with this stuff once, and maybe I should leave well enough alone.

So, instead, I'll close with a little know fact, that I rediscovered while flipping through the files. Apparently, Governor Racicot reads the Pathfinder occasionally, and on December 3, 1993, he responded to a "Ramblings" column I wrote on a wildlife-friendly timber sale that Steve Wallace designed. Steve is the Clearwater Unit Manager for the Montana Department of State Lands. The Governor wrote,

"Frequently, we hear about conflicts between logging and wildlife. Seldom do people take the time to acknowledge when things work well. Your efforts speak well for the working relationships between the two departments and for both you and Steve Wallace as resource professionals."

Some things never change. This column is still producing bloopers for your delight or disgust, and Steve and I are still cooperating. It strikes me that the needs and opportunities for cooperation between FWP, DNRC, Plum Creek, BLM, the Lolo Forest, adjacent landowners, recreationists and all other citizens interested in the Game Range have never been greater.

I see great things coming, and I fear we'll barely scratch the surface in the next 300 "Ramblings."

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