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1998 Was A Very Good Year

by Mike Thompson, biologist
Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Game Range Column
December 31, 1998


You only have a couple of days left to make good on your New Year's Resolutions for 1998.

Reflecting on the past twelve months, it's been an interesting year for wildlife management around Seeley Lake and in the upper Blackfoot Valley.

Newly initiated research projects dominated the New Year's holiday. Milo Burcham and the University of Montana had just captured 12 moose in the Garnet Range, mostly in the Elk Creek drainage near Garnet Ghost Town, and radio-tracking work was getting started.

John Squires and associates from the Northern Rockies Research Center and University of Montana were beginning to capture and radio-collar lynx in the Clearwater drainage, and Rich DeSimone's FWP crew was starting a mountain lion study that would eventually cover the entire Garnet Range from Avon to Bonner.

Wildlife populations and managers were still dealing with the aftermath of the hard winter of 1996-97. We got the mild winter we needed in 1998 to help pregnant females produce the first good crops of newborn deer and elk we had seen since 1996. FWP and the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission also contributed to the recovery of white-tailed deer populations in 1998 by enacting restrictive hunting regulations that protected does from legal harvest in most hunting districts.

On the Game Range, FWP caught up on a backlog of wood control needs in May and June of 1998, with herbicide treatments across 2,300 acres of spotted knapweed and 160 acres of leafy spurge (acreage includes some private and corporate land leased by FWP). Funding for this major cooperative effort was provided by FWP, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, BLM, Plum Creek Timber Company and Warren Creek Ranch.

Speaking of Warren Creek Ranch, they were awarded the lease on the Dreyer Ranch Unit of the Game Range, and spent their first growing season in residence. It was a year for finding and learning about fencelines and the quirks of a strange irrigation system. In spite of being unfamiliar with the place, they still managed to cut and remove a good hay crop, while keeping the fences up in the highest priority locations. In the fall, they also were able to reseed the old grainfields beside Woodworth Road, which should produce a good stand of grass forage for elk, deer, cranes and cattle next summer.

Change was contagious in 1998. FWP and the Bandy Ranch decided to revamp their long-standing lease arrangement on the Game Range. The result is a proposed rest-rotation grazing system involving portions of the Ranch and the Game Range to benefit wildlife and the livestock operation across both ownerships. FWP and the Bandy Ranch would like to recognize Glen Greene, from the Natural Resource Conservation Service office in Deer Lodge, for his work and advice in developing this cooperative grazing system.

Many of us at FWP will remember 1998 as the year our long-suffering ideas and visions for the Game Range took wing in the form of the 50th Anniversary Project. It was born at a meeting of the Game Range Citizens Advisory Council in the spring, and grew into a preliminary agreement among 25 representatives from seven organizations in November. The objective is to bring 7,800 acres of Plum Creek inholdings within the Game Range into state ownership, and it is much more easily written than accomplished. But, there was magic in this 50th year, and we hope the magic continues through the hardest work yet to come in the 51st.

Have you marked your calendars for the grand Anniversary Celebration on June 12?

For FWP wardens and many residents across western Montana, 1998 will be remembered as the year the bears came to live with us. Berry crop failures and a very dry midsummer brought exceptionally, ridiculously, high numbers of black bears into our back yards, and into inevitable conflicts. Just like the lingering effects we still see in deer and elk populations from the hard winter of 1996-97, the effects of the 1998 food shortage will surely be felt in black bear populations for a few years to come.

The 1998 hunting season was disappointing for many big game hunters, but waterfowl hunters have enjoyed a great season, with continental and local goose populations at modern-day highs. The 1998 lion hunting season got started with a bang in December. The quota for the Seeley Lake area was filled in only 11 days, with a total harvest of 16 females and 10 males. This area seemed to attract an unusually high proportion of our region's hunting pressure in early December because other parts of west-central Montana were virtually snow-free, and were not conducive to tracking cats.

It was a momentous year for land conservation in the Blackfoot Valley. Several important conservation easements were donated or purchased, beginning with the Reinoehl Conservation Easement (acquired in exchange by FWP, and located along the southern boundary of the Game Range) in January, and ending with a conservation easement donated by the Potter family on the famous E-L Ranch (donated to The Nature Conservancy, and located south of Clearwater Junction) in November. We owe a debt of gratitude to these and other landowners unnamed in this article who have taken important steps to guarantee open space and wildlife habitat forever. Forever.

As for me personally, I resolved to get back into shape in 1998, so I'd better be running now. Does anybody know of any sure-fire, three-day fitness programs? Emergency room personnel, please stand by!

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