“Allowing that the economic, recreational and societal benefits of bear hunting, as is, are immeasurable, Maine cannot afford to lose the bear referendum. To do so not only would encourage the continual erosion of the outdoor traditions, cultures and heritage symbolic of the state, it also would degrade and dishonor the DIFW’s extensive bear-management program — arguably the most respected nationwide. Think about it.”<<<Read More>>>
Press Release from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded $148,800 in grants to acquire and enhance elk habitat in Pennsylvania as well as help fund more than 20 youth hunting heritage and other projects around the state.
The grants directly affect Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Bradford, Bucks, Cameron, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Dauphin, Elk, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Lycoming, Perry, Philadelphia, Potter, Sullivan, Tioga, Washington and Westmoreland Counties. Three other projects have statewide benefits.
“We have a long history in the state of Pennsylvania and this latest round of grants demonstrates our continued commitment to improving elk country there,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “A good chunk of the funding went toward the purchase of prime elk country in Elk County’s Benezette Township which is now protected and open for the public to enjoy.”
RMEF has approximately 11,000 members in Pennsylvania. Allen thanked them and the local volunteers who raised the grant funding at banquets, through membership drives and other events. He also thanked volunteers and members around the nation for their dedication to conservation, elk and elk country.
The grants will help fund the following projects, listed by county:
Armstrong County—Provide funding for parents and boys and girls in grades K-12 attending the Armstrong County Sportsmen and Conservation League Youth Field Day where they learn about water safety presented by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plus other outdoor skills such as fishing, archery, trapping, wildlife identification and calling, compass reading, and shooting muzzleloaders, shotguns and .22 rifles.
Beaver County—Provide funding to purchase equipment and supplies to add muzzleloader as a club and youth field day activity for Aliquippa Bucktails Young Bucks Youth Club participants.
Bedford County—Provide funding for the Bedford County Sportsmen Club’s Youth Pheasant Hunt for youth ages 12-16; provide funding to help purchase ammunition for the Everett Sportsmen Junior Rifle Club which serves 64 members, many of which move on to shoot at the collegiate level; and provide funding to help offset the cost of ammunition for the Everett High School Rifle Team.
Cameron County—Continue long-time habitat enhancement work with herbicide, lime, seed and fertilizer treatments on 2,050 acres of herbaceous openings in the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northcentral Region (also affects Elk, Clearfield, Clinton and Centre Counties).
Dauphin County—Provide sponsorship funding and volunteer support for the Capital Area Sportsmen Youth Field Day in Harrisburg where more than 300 youth participated in archery, fishing, shooting, fly tying, boating safety, canoeing, a Cherokee Run obstacle course and other activities.
Elk County—Provide funding for disking, fertilization and the planting of clover and desired grasses and natural forbs on 16 acres of reclaimed surface mines at State Game Lands #311 to benefit elk, elk viewing and hunting in an area visited by more than 100,000 people annually; provide $100,000 of Torstenson Family Endowment (TFE) funding to acquire and open 81 acres of prime elk habitat in Benezette Township to the public which also includes parking areas and walking trails to enhance elk viewing; provide funding for the Elk County Sportsmen for Youth 2014 Field Day where youth ages 10-14 participate in eight different hands-on events dealing with hunting, fishing, trapping and conservation.
Fayette County—Assist the Fayette County Sportsmen’s League in providing six months of weekly training for youth in preparation for the regional and statewide Pennsylvania Youth Hunter Education Challenge competitions.
Fulton County—Provide volunteer manpower and funding for the Fulton County Sportsmen for Youth Field Day at Camp Sinoquipe near Ft. Littleton where boys and girls ages 10-15 take part in outdoor-related activities ranging from small bore and black powder rifle shooting, clay bird shooting and archery, to trout fishing, fly tying, waterfowl retrieval, wild turkey hunting tips and hunter safety, furbearer trapping, ATV safety and wildlife education (also affects Franklin, Huntingdon and Perry Counties).
Greene County—Provide co-sponsorship and volunteer manpower for Hunting Hills Youth Day which introduces boys and girls from across the Tri-state region to bird dogs, shotgun shooting, rifle shooting, muzzleloader shooting, archery, nature walks, history of firearms, fishing, turkey calling and gun safety; and provide funding for the Hunting Hill Hawkeyes, Greene County’s Scholastic Clay Target Program team, in order to promote the program’s mission and teach young people the fundamentals of gun safety and the value of wildlife conservation.
Lycoming County— Provide funding and volunteer support for the Consolidated Sportsmen of Muncy Creeks Fishing Derby for boys and girls ages 12 and under to get out and fish (also affects Sullivan County).
Philadelphia County—Offer funding for the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist Program which trains a corps of citizen volunteers who provide education, outreach and stewardship toward the conservation of natural resources within their communities by providing service to local organizations through projects such as invasive species removal, habitat restoration, citizen science, educational materials development, public presentations and educational program support. Since 2010, volunteers engaged in 3,880 hours of conservation outreach and stewardship, contributed more than $84,000 in conservation value and impact to more than 65 partners in southeastern Pennsylvania, reached more than 6,017 people through outreach and education, improved 257 acres of habitat through stewardship service, and completed 1,281 hours of continuing education in natural sciences (also affects Bucks, Chester and Lancaster Counties).
Sullivan County—Provide funding for a day of hands-on instruction about Pennsylvania’s elk herd, shooting, archery, Native American culture, water conservation, and wildlife identification through tracks, scats and skulls for sixth grade students in East Lycoming and Sullivan County School Districts. Sponsorship of the program began in 1993 (also affects Lycoming County).
Tioga County—Provide funding for more than 100 boys and girls and their parents to learn about shooting and safety, wildlife identification, orienteering, fishing and turkey calling at the Tioga County Sportsmen for Youth Field Day (also affects Bradford and Potter Counties).
Washington County—Provide co-sponsorship and volunteer support for the Roscoe Sportsmen’s Association Youth Day where boys and girls ages eight to 16 receive hands-on outdoor skills experience in fly tying, turkey calling, firearms safety, wildlife conservation, ethics and sportsmanship as well as archery, trap, muzzleloader, pistol and rifle shooting (also affects Fayette County); provide volunteer manpower plus funding to cover the cost of materials and supplies for the 12-week Roscoe Sportsmen’s Association Junior Trap League; help offset practice fee and travel costs for members of the California Hill Gun Club competing in the state Scholastic Clay Target Program; and provide funding for the California University of Pennsylvania Sport Shooting Association which provides a setting for Cal U students to learn proper gun safety, continue to practice and compete in pistol, rifle, and shotgun disciplines while at college, and introduce first-time participants to the shooting sports.
Westmoreland County—Provide funding for a guided hunt for first-time hunters in order to engage youth in the excitement of pheasant hunting at the Kingston Veterans and Sportsmen Club Mentored Youth Pheasant Hunt.
Statewide—Provide funding for the Wildlife Leadership Academy (WLA) which empowers high school students from across the state to become ambassadors for wildlife conservation in order to ensure a sustained wildlife legacy for future generations. The WLA begins with rigorous five-day summer field schools that focus on wildlife biology, conservation, leadership skills and teamwork development lead by wildlife biologists, media professionals and educators. Over the last seven years, the program assisted more than 150 students who conducted 745 outreach projects, engaging in more than 3,300 contact hours with the public and reached an audience of greater than 15,000 people across the state; provide funding for the Wildlife Society Northeast Student Conclave which brings students in majors related to wildlife and natural resource conservation together with professionals in the field to gain hands-on experience as they learn skills through workshops and compete in an intercollegiate quiz bowl; and assist with the cost of awards given to shooters at the Scholastic Clay Target Program state competition and various regional competitions.
TFE funding is only used to further RMEF’s core mission programs of permanent land protection, habitat stewardship, elk restoration and hunting heritage. RMEF volunteers and staff along with representatives from partnering agencies and universities use science-based criteria to select conservation projects for grant funding.
RMEF volunteers and staff select hunting heritage projects to receive funding.
Partners for the Pennsylvania projects include the Pennsylvania Game Commission and various business, university, sportsmen, wildlife and civic organizations.
Since 1985, RMEF and its partners completed 341 different conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Pennsylvania with a combined value of more than $22.8 million. RMEF also made ten land acquisition purchases that opened or secured public access to 8,546 acres of Pennsylvania elk country.
So, Buffalo are over objective, thus the culling will meet desired objective. Kinda like culling all of the elk in Idaho with wolves; the new lower populations of elk which have caused the massive decrease in hunting tags for elk meets somebody’s objectives. Apparently the objective of scarcity, not the objective of abundance. Get out a map. Here is where I rode recently. Bear creek transition camp-bear creek drainage, into Willow Creek drainage, into the South Ross Fork drainage to Bass Creek, to Little Bear Creek, to the Ross creek Johnson creek which makes the South Fork Boise River, Cross the river to Emma Creek, into Emma creek canyon, back to South Fork Boise River, back to transition camp. Observed two separate single elk tracks. Observed no elk through glassing efforts. Not one. That must be the objective. Not one wolf track. Not one howl. That must be the objective.
In articles posted in some Maine newspapers, as well as on George Smith’s blog, the opening paragraph may very well cause readers to think that hunters are the cause of Lyme disease. His statement says, “For more than a century, Maine deer have been managed for maximum populations that benefit deer hunters. But Lyme disease is changing the discussion, and is likely to force Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to reduce deer populations in coastal, southern, and central Maine – even while they struggle to rebuild deer populations in western and northern Maine.”
I have no reason to believe that Smith is attempting to blame the prevalence of Lyme disease on hunters. It is, however, important to choose our words carefully. There is a distinct separation between the management of deer in Maine, or any other state, for surplus harvest(hunter benefit) and intentionally managing deer herds at too high a number in order that disease occurs and/or is spread. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife(MDIFW) does not manage deer populations at high population numbers, regardless of public health and safety issues, simply to benefit hunters.
While the remainder of Smith’s article deals with the facts of how towns and communities are trying to deal with Lyme disease, it is not the fault of hunters. On the contrary. Hunting is one of the proven elements of deer management in which population numbers can be controlled. When wildlife managers are limited through restricted land access, stealing from them the ability to reduce and maintain healthy deer populations, then the results are what some Maine residents are seeing now. If hunters were allowed into these regions and MDIFW were free to “manage” these deer herds as they would like, the issues of Lyme disease would probably be reduced significantly.
Readers need to understand the functions and purposes of wildlife management and in this case the tying of the hands behind the backs of MDIFW deer managers prohibiting them the necessary tools to control deer populations.
IT IS NOT THE FAULT OF HUNTERS!
Press Release from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife:
FRONT ROYAL, Virginia – Burgeoning black bear populations throughout the northeast were among the major topics discussed at the annual Northeast Black Bear Technical Committee meeting in Virginia. Maine bear biologists Randy Cross and Jennifer Vashon joined bear biologists from 16 states and six Canadian provinces for the annual conference, which was held August 27 and 28 in Front Royal, Virginia.
“Nearly all the northeast states are increasing hunting opportunities to try and control black bear numbers,” said Vashon. “New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all recently increased the length of their black bear hunting seasons. Connecticut is considering enacting a bear hunt, and Maryland has been increasing the number of bear permits available.”
The two-day meeting focused on issues surrounding bear managers in the northeast. Among the topics discussed over the two days included reports from subcommittees/
*Bear population management strategies, including population estimates, modeling techniques and harvest strategies.
*Effectiveness of focused hunting in in urban and suburban areas to reduce conflicts between bears and people.
*Developing a standard message for how to react in a bear-human encounter.
*Standardized protocols for responding to bear attacks and the recent bear attack training received by the Southeast Black Bear Technical Committee.
*Summarizing data on care and rehabilitation of orphaned cubs.
*Ongoing predator prey/prey research about black bear and deer.
“The first day involves status reports from each state and province, where bear managers highlight what is happening in their state, and then we hear from our working groups that are tasked with researching certain topics,” said Cross.
Vashon noted that one of the more interesting topics for the working groups was the discussion concerning aversive conditioning of nuisance black bears, where bears are hazed or harassed in hopes that nuisance bear behavior won’t be repeated.
“What the group found was that there was no silver bullet or one tool that was effective, and that aversive conditioning is an effective short-term solution, especially when addressing an immediate public safety issue or when property damage is severe,” said Vashon. That was the result of studies in three different states where biologists radio-collared nuisance bears and subjected them to aversive conditioning after a nuisance bear complaint.
“Dealing with increasing nuisance conflicts is a priority for most eastern states,” said Vashon. “The committee is currently evaluating if increasing hunting opportunity around urban areas can alleviate conflicts. Initial findings indicate that increased hunting around urban areas is effective at removing bears that cause problems in backyards.”
One part that is particularly helpful to bear managers is feedback from the committee.
“These people know their subject and can give you feedback. It helps improve your program based upon the shared knowledge within the committee,” said Vashon.
The Northeast Black Bear Technical Committee first met in Maine in 2002 and has met every year since then. Vashon, Maine’s lead bear biologist, was the chair of the committee from 2007-2010. As chair, Vashon was instrumental in bringing the Eastern Black Bear Workshop to Maine in 2013.
I have, on occasion – okay, well maybe a bit more than occasionally – told the ancient story of how a neighbor came to ask if he could borrow an axe. The man said, “No, it’s Tuesday.” In puzzlement the neighbor asks, “What’s Tuesday have to do with it?” The man replied, “Nothing! But if I don’t want you to borrow my axe, one excuse is as good as another.”
And so we have it. From an article found in the Jamestown Press, the island located in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, is overrun with deer and people are fretting about contracting Lyme disease. The Town Council have approved a plan to allow volunteer hunters to kill the deer with a goal to reduce the deer population on the island down to about 10 deer per square mile. The current density stands at around 50 deer per square mile.
While it is hoped that reducing the deer population, down to something manageable, it will also decrease the incidence of Lyme disease occurring in humans. However, there are those opposed to killing deer to solve the problem.
There is considerable arguments for and against whether culling deer herds in Lyme tick-infested regions reduces Lyme disease. We know that deer aren’t the cause of Lyme disease, they just become a good breeding source for the tick that carries the disease. The thought process is that reducing the number of deer will decrease the amount of tick reproduction. But opponents to killing deer (I guess they would rather kill humans) say reducing the deer population doesn’t do any good…..well, unless of course you lower it to say, 10 deer per square mile and keep it that way and that probably would involve an ongoing management plan that involves continuous harvesting of deer.
Odd that while not the Lyme tick, the winter “moose tick” in Maine is troublesome and biologists there believe that reducing the number of moose would result in a reduction of the ticks. But that’s moose ticks and nothing would be as absurd as concluding that reducing deer numbers would reduce Lyme ticks. Pffft!
But what’s this got to do with the neighbor and his axe? Well, nothing but it does have to do with excuses. Based on the article linked to above, it is loaded with whining, bitching and complaining about everything that won’t work and yet, nobody offers any ideas of what will. Is this a case of people just not wanting anybody to hunt deer and so one excuse is just as good as another?
“So the questions arises, who would you rather believe — Maine wildlife experts who have studied and maintained the health of the bear population for 40 years, or the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States, which boasts that its ultimate goal is the elimination of all hunting, of everything, from big game down to barnyard varmints.”
“These facts evidently don’t matter to a group called Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, which is pushing for passage of the referendum. In a campaign advertisement the group declared, “States that opted to restore fair chase to bear hunting have continued to maintain relatively stable bear populations.” That, of course, is a flat-out untruth.”<<<Read More>>>
Outdoorsman History (Cont.) – the Real Reasons State F&G Management Was, and Still Is, Failing – Part II
*Editor’s Note* – The below article originally was published in The Outdoorsman, Bulletin 56, April – July 2014. It is republished here with permission from the author/editor. This Part II. Part I can be read by following this link. Part III will follow with Bulletin 57.
By George Dovel
In Bulletin No. 55 Part 1 of 3, I provided several examples of how Idaho Department of Fish & Game biologists ignored basic, common sense rules for managing wildlife. I also printed statistics from the Kaminski-Hansen 197-page 1985 study titled: “Wolves of Central Idaho,” justifying that the surplus prey in some of nine Central Idaho forests would support 219 total wolves in 1985.
One-fifth of Those Projected Central Idaho Wolves Were in the two Lolo Zone Units
IDFG published the 1985 Unit 10 and 12 (Lolo Zone) elk population of 20,115 with the hunter harvest of 1,430 elk, which left a surplus of 805 elk. They estimated that annual elk surplus would support 45 of the 219 total wolves in Central Idaho based on an estimated annual kill of almost 18 deer or elk per wolf.
But instead of limiting the Lolo elk harvest to 1,430 or fewer to maintain that annual surplus for wolves to eat, IDFG increased the Lolo elk harvest by 38%! By 1989, just four years later, the Lolo elk population had declined by 4,845, so instead of an annual surplus of 805 elk the Lolo herds now averaged an annual loss of 1,010 elk.
And because there were only 881 long yearling Lolo bull elk to replace the 1819 bulls that were killed during the 1989 hunting season, biologists’ season recommendations killed 938 too many bulls. Yet they kept killing record numbers of bull elk for another six years until April 30, 1996, when Biologist George Pauley sent his famous memo warning Jay Crenshaw they were destroying the elk in 11 of the 12 Clearwater Elk Units.
But the last minute warning was ignored. In 1996 there were not even half enough live male elk left in the entire Lolo Zone to equal the 1,749 bulls that were killed there by hunters a few months earlier in 1995!
IDFG Formed Teams to Hide Its Mismanagement
In the second year of the Canadian wolf transplant, with no Congressional funding to support the approved transplanting, IDFG biologists were doing everything they could to hide the fact that there were no longer any surplus elk in Clearwater Region forests to support even one wolf.
For the preceding 10 years, citizens who hunted elk in the Clearwater Region had watched IDFG biologists encourage hunters to drastically over-harvest bulls. While most of them did not have all of the data the biologists were privy to, they watched the dramatic decline in the number of bulls and replacement elk calves.
Every IDFG employee that I discussed this with then knew exactly what caused the elk shortage after George Pauley’s April 30th memo was circulated. Director Jerry Conley and Assistant Director Jerry Mallet quickly formed elk, deer and outfitter allocation teams to allegedly “seek solutions” to stop the decline of both elk and deer in the Clearwater and elsewhere.
These teams accomplished two things: 1) They allowed IDFG biologists to pretend they had no idea what had caused the elk destruction so they could claim, without proof, it was caused by succession of mature brush fields; and 2) they could slowly reveal their agenda to allow a few privileged hunters to harvest the declining game that every license buyer was paying them to manage, and pretend it was a joint effort involving sportsmen because they had appointed one or two citizens to serve on each team.
Reasonable Harvest Odds Stolen From Average Hunter
They took a lesson from Don Peay in Utah when he formed Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife in 1994. He convinced the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to remove the ability to hunt Utah deer every year from more than half of Utah deer hunters, and gave the good chances to harvest to bowhunters and others who were willing to pay more to hunt animals when they are far more vulnerable.
At the same time that IDFG officials were trying to hide their massive over-harvest of bull elk in the Clearwater Region, they were also trying to hide their refusal to feed the tens of thousands of starving mule deer and elk in Southern Idaho during the 1992-93 winter. Instead of feeding because of wildfires and a temporary winter forage shortage, both Idaho and Utah biologists decided to allow hunters to kill off the pregnant female deer in late hunts.
A look at long-term harvest graphs for both Idaho and Utah clearly shows that when nucleus groups of mule deer were kept alive and healthy by feeding during severe winters such as in 1983-84, deer numbers recovered in four years. But the refusal by Idaho and Utah to feed and keep some breeding deer healthy during the 1992-1993 winter, combined with letting hunters kill off most of the bred females late in 1992 and again in 1993, created unhealthy mule deer herds that have not recovered in 21 years. (see below)
* Includes about 20% whitetails
Although much of the early feeding in Idaho in the 1983-84 winter was accomplished with donations from private citizens or businesses, IDFG claimed it was feeding 16,500 deer, 600 elk and 500 antelope. It was forced to either feed starving big game or lose an extra $440,000 a year from an emergency feeding bill it was pushing through the legislature that winter.
From 1984-1993, it collected ~$4.5 million in dedicated money that was added to the cost of each deer, elk and antelope tag sold, with much of that money eventually set aside in a Winter Feeding Account. Yet hundreds of thousands of dollars were misappropriated from this and other dedicated funds and spent for everything from funding six new positions with crew-cab 4X4 pickups, to give-away hats promoting IDFG’s image.
As with other dedicated funds it promoted, F&G had first convinced a SE Idaho sportsman group to endorse the 1984 legislation with the promise it would always be used to prevent deer, elk and antelope from starving. But when a feeding emergency arose, IDFG found excuses to delay feeding or feed only token amounts to a few animals for the media, which caused more harm than good.
It was F&G officials – not legislators – who wrote the requirement that the money could only be used for emergency feeding, and IDFG also approved three other related uses before the legislation passed. Yet those same officials later told the Legislative Services Budget Director it was the legislators’ fault that they had “borrowed” but never paid back the dedicated money.
IDFG Still Refused to Feed
When IDFG kept refusing to feed during the 1992-1993 winter, residents along the South Fork of the Payette River, who had been feeding over 2,000 deer and elk for two months, called in a Boise TV crew to document some of the thousands of starving animals.
IDFG showed up with two sacks of deer pellets and dumped them in a trough which caused a mad scramble from dozens of mule deer, while elk remained in the background. But as soon as the TV crew left to photograph money donation cans at local stores, the elk moved in and quickly ate the remaining deer pellets.
County Officials Demanded Truthful Answers
Many rural county governments now appear more interested in qualifying for federal handouts than in protecting the annual revenue from harvest of bountiful natural resources. But the Boise County Commission scheduled a public hearing with IDFG in the High School Gym, with several hundred angry residents attending.
The Commissioners asked the right questions and demanded truthful answers. Then the Acting County Prosecuting Attorney sent a formal letter to IDFG Director Conley demanding F&G feed the starving deer and elk properly or face prosecution.
F&G took over many of the feed sites, but declined to provide enough feed at the sites they were feeding and the starvation increased. I was part of a small group of citizens, including Wildlife Rehab Veterinarian Liz Scott and Attorney Sam Routson, who attended a press interview at the Idaho Statehouse to address IDFG failure to feed the starving animals soon enough, or provide enough feed to save them when they were finally forced to feed.
On Feb. 3, 1993, an Idaho Statesman article titled, “Deer starving needlessly, group says,” was followed by the sub-title, “F&G says it’s not true, that deer and elk herds are in good shape.” A photo of 20 malnourished deer, including four of the more aggressive closest to the empty feed troughs and cameraman (see below), supposedly illustrated healthy deer which were not malnourished.
But anyone with even a basic knowledge of mule deer physiology could see at a glance that the 20 deer in the photo were in an advanced stage of malnutrition from which they would not recover. The flat (not rounded) slope of their rumps and the obvious lack of muscle tissue along their spine and covering their ribs identified them as having already lost more than 20-25% of their body weight and they would die – despite suddenly receiving feed pellets containing 40% grain they could no longer digest.
These were not deer that were fed early enough by private citizens to retain all of the bacteria needed to digest high quality forage – a fact supported by observing up to finger-size bitterbrush limbs eaten by the deer in the photo.
And the public believed Veterinarian Liz Scott’s statements in the article (i.e. that she had examined the deer being fed by Fish and Game and they were starving). Donations quickly increased from the Boise area to reimburse the local citizens who had obtained the feed and fed in time to save 934 deer and 1,435 elk.
When F&G was finally forced to supply the feed, it reported the eight tons of hay and 2.5 tons of deer pellets were costing $12,000 per day delivered to the area. If it cost a rancher seven times as much to buy feed delivered to a storage location as the price of the feed, he or she would quickly be bankrupt.
Compare the Condition of Mule Deer IDFG Officials Said Were “In Good Shape” in the 1993 Photo, with Deer Fed Properly by IDFG in This 1949 Photo
Healthy mule deer doe and twin fawns – part of the several thousand deer fed properly on the Payette River Winter Range by IDFG during the extreme 1948-49 winter.
I would have used a more recent photo of a successful IDFG feeding operation than 1949. But I am unaware of any successful emergency feeding operation IDFG conducted since 1950, where citizens did not first feed any game that was saved – and then use the media, their legislators, or posting their property to force the agency to provide feed hunters had already paid for twice.
Whether you are a mule deer hunter, or just someone who enjoys seeing the bountiful wildlife that is our heritage, I urge you to look at the doe carrying healthy fetuses and her two previous fawns that provided 4-5 times as many deer to quickly rebuild a herd facing decimation.
Then fast forward 44 years to the February 1993 photo of the deer heading downhill to the Danskin feed site. During the following weeks, the deer in that photo joined thousands of others that died a painful death because of our wildlife managers’ decision to ignore Idaho law and destroy the famous South Fork of the Payette mule deer herd, as well as most of the other mule deer in Idaho.
Then, despite the largest recorded winterkill of deer and elk during the 1992-93 winter since records were first kept, IDFG and the F&G Commission extended several deer and elk hunting seasons in 1993 and added 2,150 late antlerless deer permits and 3,955 bonus elk permits – a 20% increase for each species. But in spite of the extra late hunting opportunity when both deer and elk are far more vulnerable, hunters killed 15,600 fewer deer and 5,800 fewer elk in 1993!
That was the lowest harvest since seasons were closed or shortened and antlerless hunting halted in 1976 by Director Greenley. A crowd of angry hunters attended the December 1993 Commission hearing, demanding to know why F&G had destroyed Idaho’s mule deer herds.
During an intermission in the hearing, Greenley walked up to state Game Manager Lonn Kuck and said, “Lonn, you’ve destroyed our mule deer – now what are you going to do about it?” Kuck did not answer him.
Kuck Predicted the End of Public Hunting
On Nov. 29, 1993, Attorney Sam Routson and I had met with Kuck to convince IDFG to stop lying about the extent of big game losses from starvation during the 1992-93 winter. I showed him a photo of 100 elk racks that had been removed from bulls that died from malnutrition in Garden Valley, and produced 160 elk “ivories” taken by one resident from 80 dead elk.
I reminded him that after he was hired it was legal for a hunter to kill five mule deer in Idaho by hunting in three separate units and killing one female, and he agreed. He also admitted that thousands of deer and many of the elk that had been fed by Fish and Game had died because the feeding was not conducted properly, but said we were wasting our time because the public hunting we had known would be gone in another decade.
At a joint legislative hearing in January 2004, residents of Eastern Idaho presented petitions signed by thousands of citizens demanding that IDFG Director Jerry Conley be fired. But instead of being defensive, Conley set up a joint hearing with Rep. Golden Linford’s Resource Committee in February, to destroy the credibility of the citizens who had circulated the petitions seeking his firing.
He played a misleading videotape in which the same group of deer running in front of the helicopter was seen at various locations to make it appear there were still thousands of live deer in the Big Desert. He even recorded part of a comment taken out of context from a critic to make it appear he was saying, “The deer are still there.”
Then Conley falsely claimed this critic had told hunters IDFG had machine-gunned 300 deer rather than feed them. Finally he told the Legislators that the mule deer would be “completely recovered in a couple of years.”
New Emergency Big Game Feeding Rules
But the truth prevailed and, in a rare example of asserting their authority, the Idaho Resource Committees ordered F&G to prepare, and the Commission to adopt, a set of “fail-safe” rules to prevent such a mass starvation from ever happening again.
Those Rules were written by District Conservation Officer Brent Hyde of Emmett, the son of an Emmett veterinarian. His knowledge of keeping animals healthy, and his participation in the feeding, and in the hearings conducted by the Boise County Commission and Prosecutor, along with the private citizens who conducted the feeding, provided the basis for his recommendations.
His sole recommendation that was not approved by IDFG “top brass”, or even shown to all the Commissioners, was to subcontract all emergency feeding to private citizens approved by the Board of County Commissioners in the county where the feeding takes place. The Biologists were not willing to lose the chance to shortcut feeding the animals and instead use the money to promote their so-called ecosystem management/biodiversity agenda.
Legislature Makes Feeding Rule Permanent – With Full Force of Law – Effective April 3, 1995 to the Present as Follows
The F&G Commission unanimously adopted the feeding rules they were presented by biologists, and in 1995 the Idaho Legislature gave them the full force of law as permanent IDAPA Rule 13.01.18 The Rule specifies that the Commission and the Director delegate the authority to declare a feeding emergency and expend funds on feeding to the Regional Supervisors.
It also established stockpiling feed:
“Over the years, the Department has identified a number of locations where emergency feed should be stockpiled for probable winter use. It is impractical and cost prohibitive to purchase feed and transport it to these locations after snowfall. The Commission and Director declare that the maintenance of this stockpile constitutes a feeding emergency and authorize the expenditure of funds to maintain the stockpiles.”
It further states:
“In most years and areas, snow depths, temperatures and animal body condition do not create adverse conditions for wintering animals. Unusual weather conditions, limited winter forage, or other circumstances may create critical periods of stress for animals or force them into areas involving public safety. The Commission is unable to manage the big game populations for extreme weather. Therefore, emergency feeding of big game is appropriate under certain criteria.”
Then it lists the four criteria, any one of which will justify declaration of a feeding emergency:
a. Actual or imminent threat of depredation to private property.
b. Threat to public safety, including traffic hazards.
c. Excessive mortality which would affect the recovery of the herd.
d. Limited or unavailable winter forage caused by fire or unusual weather.
In 1996 our feeding advisory committee requested the Idaho F&G Commission re-publish its official Winter Feeding Policy, which it did, dated 1996:
“In most years, snow depths and temperatures do not create adverse conditions for wintering animals. However, there are times when unusual weather patterns may create critical periods of stress when winter forage becomes limited, unavailable, or animals are forced into areas involving public safety. We recognize that we cannot manage game populations for these extreme weather situations – nor should we. When the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, through investigation by field personnel, determines that a critical situation exists, . . . the department will provide artificial feed to wintering game animals only during those periods of critical stress.
“The intention of this policy is to provide emergency feed for big game animals only during those periods of critical stress and not as a sustaining program which would carry larger game populations than the range can normally support.”
In other words, both the IDAPA Rule, with full force of Idaho law, and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission’s official Big Game Feeding Policy require IDFG to provide artificial feed during the occasional winter when deer or elk are unduly stressed. Yet fanatical biologists continue to refuse to obey either and their ‘rubber stamp” Commission allows them to do so.
Colorado Research Proves Emergency Big Game Feeding is a Valuable Cost Effective Biological Tool
In 1994, our newly legislated Winter Feeding Advisory Committee requested information about emergency feeding from other western states. Instead of relying on opinions based on the myth of “natural balance” or a handful of early “studies” that provide more questions than answers, Colorado is the undisputed leader in thoroughly researching virtually every aspect of emergency big game feeding.
In 1973 the former Colorado Division of Wildlife and Parks split off from Parks and developed two pelletized formulas that were digestible even when mule deer in captivity were undergoing excessive weight loss. But there is a vast difference between starving with an empty rumen in a pen, and starving with a rumen full of indigestible woody stems in the wild where energy demands are also much greater.
The CDOW researchers selected the pelleted formula that was best suited for their area and had it manufactured as wafers so it could be fed on top of the snow in individual piles. During the severe 1978-79 winter when conditions indicated 30% of adult females would die unless they were fed, they began feeding.
The feeding was considered a remarkable success and the decision was made to research every aspect of winter feeding during and after the next severe winter to set the record straight. Five years later, the extreme 1983-84 winter resulted in the largest group of wild big game animals ever fed in a lower 48 state.
CDOW fed 30,000 deer, 10,000 antelope and 5,000 elk at a total cost of nearly $4 million. It selected 5,000 deer in different locations for the research, including deer that were not fed, those that were fed only two pounds per day, and those that were fed free choice.
Although some of the deer that were not fed had access to limited natural feed, all of the study deer were checked repeatedly through June 15, 1984, to determine condition and their ability to produce healthy fawns. Among adults, only those receiving free choice feed showed steady improvement in body condition, and the females produced healthy fawns (see mortality below).
During Colorado’s reported “worst winter in recent times,” only 30,000 – five percent of the estimated 600,000 Colorado mule deer – were fed. The calculated cost-to-benefit ratio using only the $250 carcass (human food) value of each of the 14,400 extra buck deer that were ultimately harvested by hunters as a result of feeding, was reported as $3.6 million with a feeding cost of about $1 million.
However the multiplier value, including license costs and trip expenditures by all participating hunters – not just those who killed a buck – was calculated to be $1,268 per buck deer harvested. So instead of just 3.6 times the cost of feeding, the total measurable economic benefit to the area for the increased buck harvest was estimated at 18.3 times the million dollar cost.
Despite The Massive Financial Benefit from Emergency Feeding, IDFG Still Refuses to Feed
While Colorado continued to look for and act on winter feeding emergencies, IDFG pasted a bunch of their excuses for not feeding mixed in with the Commission’s 1996 Feeding Policy on its website. The severe 2007-2008 winter provided a perfect example of this travesty.
On August 4, 2007, IDFG conducted a Mule Deer Management Workshop at Idaho State University pushing its anti-winter feeding message. Invited speaker, CDOW Biologist Richard Kahn, claimed that Colorado no longer feeds mule deer during a severe winter, relying entirely on improved natural forage for mule deer survival.
Yet five months later, on January 9, 2008, CDOW’s Gunnison Area Wildlife Manager, J. Wenum, announced that although mule deer were in good condition, deep snow and colder temperatures in the Gunnison Basin were causing deer to deplete their energy reserves too early. “We know from experience that the snow conditions could soon start to take a toll on deer.”
From 20-30 CDOW employees and 80 volunteers fed pelletized wafers to a maximum of 9,500 deer at 134 sites and nearly 600 antelope at 12 sites. They used snow cats and a ‘copter to feed 14 tons of hay daily to 3,200 elk.
Snow Depths in Southern Idaho also Required Regional Supervisors to Begin Feeding – but They Did Not
An “IDFG Headquarters News Release” dated Feb. 11, 2008, titled “Emergency Winter Feeding,” described how snow depths along the entire South Fork of the Payette River winter range were two and one-half to three times as deep as normal, exceeding 36 inches at Garden Valley and more than 48 inches at Lowman; and how the criterion for winter feeding – including a minimum snow depth on the south facing slopes of 18 inches – had been exceeded since they checked snow levels on January 7, 2008.
Several Residents had asked both IDFG and the feeding committee to begin feeding in mid-Dec. when the snow was getting deep but they declined. And the Feb. 11th news release indicated that even by that late date Reinecker had not taken any of the required steps to prepare for a feeding emergency (e.g. stockpiling feed on site before snowfall, preparing access to feed sites, etc.).
Sportsmen/Landowners Feed & Save Deer
Like their anti-feeding counterparts in the other four central-southern Idaho regions, SE Region Supervisor Mark Gamblin and the SE Region Winter Feeding Advisory Committee ignored the 18” snow-depth and sub-zero temperature criteria that had already been met – and the IDAPA Rule that required Gamblin to begin feeding.
In order to save the deer in their area, West Side Sportsmen’s Assn. landowners Joe Naylor and Kent Howe began feeding the deer in early January 2008. Using deer pellets they had previously purchased, and stockpiled on site – as IDFG is required to do but does not do. Then they reportedly purchased an additional 26 tons from Walton Feed in Montpelier and stored it on site.
They fed at established sites, carefully selected to prevent unhealthy crowding, and they also provided feed to other landowners where feeding was indicated. The West Side group then requested a February 9, 2008 meeting with F&G to ask why IDFG was not feeding starving deer.
When IDFG emerged from that meeting, feeding emergencies were declared in the SE Region, the Upper Snake Region and, in a news release two days later in the Southwest Region. Finally on Feb. 19th the Upper Snake Region began to feed pelletized beet pulp to mule deer wintering next to the sand dunes near St. Anthony.
They advertised that they would slowly accustom the malnourished deer to digest high energy deer pellets but said they could only feed some of the deer and the rest would die. As with every other IDFG feeding operation, they selected how many dollars they would spend on feed rather than how much feed was required to free choice feed a specific number of animals. At an average of only three pounds per deer per day, the 32 tons of pellets they provided would feed 1,200 wintering deer for only 18 days.
Some of the more aggressive deer no doubt died from the stress of “rushing the troughs” and consuming too much “hot feed” before their rumen micro-organisms adjusted to it, and most of the rest died from malnutrition caused by an inadequate supply of feed. But State Wildlife Manager (now Assistant Wildlife Bureau Chief) Brad Compton told the media IDFG spent more than $200,000 to feed 1,000 elk and 2,500 deer – yet he said the $57 average cost per animal didn’t even save any fawns.
A freedom of information request to SE Region Supervisor Mark Gamblin revealed the Region spent a total of only $8,976.50 for deer pellets and delivery, to feed a total of 1,230 deer in the SE Region. That is an average of only $7.30 per deer fed and the feeding was done solely by private citizens who also had to pay for all the rest of the feed.
Unlike the media claim by Compton, most of those fawns were saved, and the 1,230 deer fed by private citizens in SE Idaho account for 49% of the 2,500 Compton claimed were fed statewide – yet the tiny amount IDFG paid for reimbursement accounted for only 4% of his claimed cost.
The Fourth Amendment to the Feeding Code
For the past 30 years I have watched several Idaho legislators amend the F&G winter big game feeding Code Section in efforts to restore accountability to a corrupt agency that circumvents their every effort. On Feb. 3, 2012, the Senate Resources and Environment Committee held a hearing to consider a fourth set of amendments to force IDFG Regional Managers to spend the money in the feeding account solely for emergency big game feeding.
The alternative misuse of unused feeding money for so-called winter range improvement that was tacked on the 1984 legislation, prompted me to recommend removing the feeding money from IDFG and prorating it to county governments where feeding takes place. Instead, in SB 1321, the Committee changed the law so that all of the feeding money must be used for emergency feeding – specifically to purchase only pellets, blocks or hay.
The bill also required IDFG to send each Resource Committee a report by July 31st, detailing how funds in the feeding account had been spent during the preceding fiscal year. I supported the legislation until it was sent to the 14th Order for amendment.
When the amendment was included, it used some unique language to also allow “the purchase of seed or other material that can be shown to directly provide feed or forage for the winter feeding of antelope, elk and deer.” That may give the Deputy Attorneys-General an excuse to let F&G steal more money from the feeding account.
It is important to understand that winter deer or elk survival is threatened on average about one out of every six or seven years – although it did happen in back-to-back Idaho winters 64 years ago. No magic “seed” is going to produce forage that is available for grazing or browsing under deep snow and ice.
The claim that big game animals become addicted to a winter feed area they visited only once in their lifetime has no basis in fact. Yet IDFG propagandists continue to pretend there is no difference between emergency big game feeding once every few years, and operating an annual supplemental feed site.
The reason Wyoming allowed no elk hunting and almost no mule deer hunting in the rut was to preserve as much body fat and muscle tissue as possible to extend their ability to survive until green forage is available to meet their daily TDN requirement.
The extended hunting seasons in many Idaho units magnifies the importance of beginning free choice feeding immediately at the first sign of excessive weight loss or abnormal winter conditions.
Read or Go Fishing – Not a Tough Choice
I am fully aware that few people will take the time to read the five pages and study the photos about winter feeding – especially during the month of August when a weekend fishing or camping trip makes a lot more sense. I might have added illustrations of cell wall contents escaping after the first hard frost when the luscious north slope grasses lose their value and the process of slow starvation soon begins.
In Part 3 of 3 in the Aug-Sep 2014 Bulletin, I’ll include a brief discussion of the Bighorn Sheep fiasco, and what Sheep Biologist Jim Morgan published about IDFG when he finally quit his job and joined the tree huggers. That Bulletin will also include some pretty shocking facts about wildfires that you probably won’t see in print any place else.
By the way, in 2011, the Colorado Parks Department was losing money big time so they decided to re-combine it with the Division of Wildlife which was still making money. But now CDOW&P is losing money and, with the emphasis on biodiversity and ecosystem management, it will be interesting to see if it feeds during the next severe winter.
*Editor’s Note* The below article was first published in The Outdoorsman, Bulletin 55, Jan-Mar 2014. It is republished on this website with permission from the author. This is Part I of a three-part series. Part II will be republished soon.
By George Dovel:
The first time I worked with Idaho Fish and Game employees was when Idaho’s Aeronautics Director Chet Moulton called one afternoon and asked if I would fly my helicopter to the Owyhee County Court House at Murphy and fly two game wardens as close as I could land to an airplane crash site in the snow-covered Owyhee Mountains.
According to Moulton, the sole occupant of the Piper Tri-Pacer was flying on instruments after midnight on a flight plan from Nevada to Boise. To prevent a landing with limited equipment at Boise’s Gowen Field, the pilot turned right and headed for Mountain Home Air Base which was equipped for a GCA (Ground Controlled Approach).
After making the turn, the pilot flew into a rock face above the 8,000 foot level on War Eagle Mountain. Once the snow-covered wreck was located by a jet pilot, Moulton flew over the crash site and determined no one could have survived the impact.
The pilot’s family insisted Moulton organize a rescue team in case the pilot was still alive, but Moulton declined because of extreme weather and the probability that it would take several hours to extricate the pilot’s corpse from the tangled metal tubing in the wreckage. The younger game warden urged me to take them to the site anyway and said we would be back at the Murphy airstrip in an hour with the pilot’s body.
But the experienced game warden agreed with me that it made no sense to risk spending the night on a rocky cliff with storms that would make it difficult – if not impossible – to maintain minimum engine temperature for starting, while protecting the copter from snow and ice buildups. It took several hours the next day to extricate the pilot’s remains from the wreckage and when Moulton unzipped the body bag at Murphy the critics were silent.
Conflict between Game Managers and Biologists
My respect for the complex tasks performed by game wardens soon helped me to understand the conflict between experienced game wardens, and the inexperienced biologists who relied on theories they had been taught – rather than on facts learned from experience.
Although the game wardens endorsed my helicopter flying and I had plenty of other customers, the only times IDFG called on me were when my competitor couldn’t perform the task. For example, I was in Wyoming winding up a USGS survey when I received a message from IDFG asking if I could stop on the way back to Boise and herd some antelope into a trap.
When I arrived above the 8,000 foot level beside the Lost River Range, I was told these were the highest altitude antelope in Idaho. Later that day I learned that my local competitor had not been able to herd any antelope, and when he brought in a pilot from Wyoming to fly his helicopter, the pilot wrecked it trying to outmaneuver them.
In addition to gathering wild horses for Idaho ranchers for several winters after the BLM ordered them removed from federal land, I had learned how to herd antelope in Wyoming. Antelope can easily be teased into racing a helicopter, but as with any other herd of wild animals, it is necessary to establish herd control in order to make an escape later less likely.
Despite the intricate low-level flying at altitudes exceeding the helicopter’s ability to hover without a ground cushion of air, the biologist in charge insisted I carry a passenger. When I approached a large herd of antelope, they typically spread out in front of me, with a doe positioned on each end ready to run in opposite directions.
As I Was Establishing Control of the Herd My F&G Passenger Pulled out a Pistol and Shot an Antelope
The doe to my left began to lead the bunch that way and I quickly cut them off and just as quickly headed for the doe on the right who was now leading the herd in a new direction. As I halted that escape, my passenger suddenly pulled out a pistol and fired several bullets into her.
I told him he could either get out of the helicopter and walk back or sit quietly and leave his weapon in its holster. Once I gained control of the herd, I got them into the wings and several concealed F&G employees followed my previous instructions to help crowd them into the trap.
But as I was shutting down and securing the helicopter, the employees entered the trap and lined up on one side forcing the terrified antelope to repeatedly jump against the opposite side of the trap. They later explained they were trying to entangle the antelope in the trap netting so they could grab and restrain them. But for every antelope that became entangled in the taught netting, at least two more were on the ground with the telltale crook in their neck caused by lethal injury when they hit the net with their frenzied jumping.
Every winter I spent some spare time traveling with a well-known Idaho veterinarian who also treated captive wildlife, including those at the Boise Zoo. It was obvious this F&G crew did not know how to handle trapped antelope to minimize death losses.
I discussed the issue with the biologists and explained that it was much simpler and less harmful to let the animals settle down first instead of increasing their stress, and then use small “capture” nets to partition or immobilize them for handling and testing. My vet friend sometimes roped individual deer for treatment or testing at the zoo, but I would not suggest this except to a proficient roper.
IDFG Opposed Hiring Vet for 30 More Years
The biologists seemed more interested in hiding the dead and injured antelope from the public than testing more animals, and told me they had trapped plenty of antelope in my single run. I was happy to leave this destruction and I began to suggest to several legislators that an experienced veterinarian be added to the F&G payroll.
But there was strong opposition from IDFG to including a professional, trained in prevention of disease, to its “management.” Then as now, IDFG’s ability to convince most urban legislators of their alleged expertise was combined with giving favors to knowledgeable legislators who did not oppose the Department’s no-Vet agenda for another 30 years.
FWS Experiment Finds Pilot Makes a Difference
When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hired me and a well-known helicopter flying service from Missoula to make a duplicate count of spawning steelhead and their redds (spawning beds) in north central Idaho, it proved something I already knew. One of two experienced observers flew with one pilot and then the other team flew and counted the same stretch of water. But even when we switched observers and which ship flew first, the one flying with me counted a few more fish and redds on each stretch.
The other pilot was a highly experienced mountain helicopter pilot who had my respect, but I had grown up interested in the wildlife I saw daily – whether I was hunting, fishing or trapping, or just looking for critters as I traveled or rested. Later as a pilot, I became accustomed to adjusting my altitude, airspeed, flight pattern and angle to be sure my passenger had the chance to see what I saw.
My Aerial Tracking Experience Pays Off
One early spring I was called to pick up an outfitter who was severely injured in a horse accident in rugged terrain in Wyoming’s Teton Wilderness. After he was safely in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery, I called my wife to tell her I’d be home the following day.
She told me the Deadwood Reservoir dam tender’s wife had started driving in from Boise via Scott Mountain Road after being told it was open, but had never arrived. Her vehicle was found on the road in deep snow before she even reached the Scott Mountain Ridge, and airplane and helicopter searchers had been unable to locate her tracks for two days and nights due to rain and additional snowfall.
I told my wife I’d be home that night and expected to find the missing person just after daylight the next morning. I flew over her vehicle at daylight and located and followed her vague ski trail via the occasional indentation or track protected by overhangs.
I saw where she had lost a ski on the Deadwood side of Scott Mountain and she had made the mistake of following it downhill on the steep mountain side. She knew not to drop into the impassable jungle that is the Deadwood River there, and had waited as airplanes and helicopters flew over her – but failed to see her in plain sight because they weren’t looking in the right place.
Less than 10 minutes after I flew over her vehicle, she was bundled in my helicopter, consuming warm food and liquid. A few minutes later we landed at the FS search headquarters at the Garden Valley airstrip for a medical check-up but they insisted, over her objections, that I fly her on to Boise for testing and observation at the hospital.
I’ve mentioned these incidents in an effort to help readers understand that regardless of a pilot’s hours and flying skill, only a small number of pilots are qualified to count or herd game animals, or know what to look for in difficult aerial searches. I knew that a back country woman in her 50s, driving alone on an un-traveled dirt road that could quickly become impassable to her vehicle, would probably carry emergency snow shoes or a pair of trail skis, and clothing for emergency survival.
Passengers Should Never Tell a Pilot How Heavy to Load the Aircraft or How to Fly
When I commented on the high altitude antelope trapping biologist’s insistence on my carrying a passenger, which interfered with the Bell 47G-2 operation at that altitude, I did not explain why I did not balk at carrying the extra weight. It was partly because a person familiar with the animals’ usual location and movements might save time and needless searching.
Also, I had logged a thousand take-offs and landings at or above 10,000 feet with a USGS survey crew using tellurometers to measure distances between mountain peaks in Wyoming. So over-revving the engine for 1-3 seconds or “milking” the pitch control to recover the rpm lost maneuvering in thinner air had become second nature.
Game Census Flights are Not Sightseeing Trips
An IDFG employee who had flown with me in a helicopter called and arranged for me to fly him on a “green-up” deer census in an airplane. The area was steep but generally lacked a dense tree canopy and I told him I would prefer to use a 1955 Cessna 180 which provided good front seat viewing and extra power and speed, rather than the Piper Super Cub I would normally have used.
But when I arrived at the airport to pick him up, he was accompanied by two biologists who he insisted would also fly as observers. I told him their added weight would handicap our ability to fly close enough and slow enough to accurately identify juveniles, but he began teasing me and said I could adjust my flight pattern to compensate.
It was a typically calm morning with only a handful of high scattered clouds and I was flying the grid patterns and leaving extra room to clear the saddles. But as I approached the next saddle from above, I suddenly encountered turbulence and a severe downdraft where neither would normally have existed without wind.
Instantly I recognized the mountain wave and tumbling air currents that were pulling us toward the ground but we were already out of other options. As the stall warning horn came on, I extended the flaps ten degrees which allowed us to squeak through the pass just above the treetops and cross the saddle.
I increased the vertical distance from obstructions which left us too high to easily differentiate between the fawns and adults, and we mutually agreed to end the flight prematurely rather than record inaccurate information. Yet one of my passengers reportedly later blamed my alleged lack of fixed-wing experience for my inability to keep them in position for an accurate youth-to-adult ratio count.
Mountain Waves Are One of Several Flight Hazards Most Biologists Know Nothing About
I doubt that most readers, including biologists who choose to fly game counts when conditions are less than ideal, have even heard of the natural phenomenon called “mountain wave”, although it is fairly common from late fall through spring – especially in Western States with prominent mountain ranges. Light plane pilots may experience the inability to climb over long distances, but unless they see and recognize the telltale lenticular (lens-shaped) clouds, they may not realize what is causing it.
Although I often saw lenticulars near the Owyhee Mountains south of Boise, my first episode in the U.S. happened when I was ferrying a helicopter to California from our repair facility at Boise. I checked with weather when I refueled at Reno, and the forecast for crossing Donner Summit at my altitude was clear with light winds.
But shortly after take-off as I was climbing to 8,000 feet to clear the 7,100 foot summit, Reno Weather broadcast a Pilot Report of severe turbulence from a jet pilot at 18,000 feet on the California side. I altered my course and climbed to 12,000 feet but after I crossed the summit I began to experience a severe downdraft that I couldn’t out-fly despite my light gross weight.
Continuing my attempt to climb, I headed for the closest open ground toward the ocean and finally stopped my uncontrolled descent at 3,000 feet above sea level.
The violent clear air turbulence that injured five United flight attendants in January 2014, and a separate incident that injured three United crew members and threw passengers against the ceiling in February, do not exist in some “waves” that still create long distance downdrafts.
The Facts about “Sightability” Counts of Big Game
I flew most of my big game counts north of the 40th parallel in Idaho and Wyoming and several in portions of Montana, Nevada and Utah. In most winters, there were one or several significant winter snowstorms where most of the deer and elk were brushed up during the storm, but then emerged in the warm sunshine and new snow to forage when the storm ended.
As a small group of mule deer travel through the new snow foraging, and then leave 17 bed depressions where they rest and ruminate (chew their cud), the pilot and observer expect to count 17 deer even before they see them. Under these ideal count conditions, it is possible for a trained observer to count deer and elk on most limited winter ranges with a very high degree of accuracy.
When IDFG flew the Unit 33 big game census in Jan-Feb of 1994, 97% of the live deer and elk were found in the handful of high-density subunits along the South Fork of the Payette River. There were no tracks in the fresh snow in the 5-25 foot depths above the river– and thus no live animals to count.
In 1974, New Zealand biologist Graeme Caughley insisted biologists needed a “sightabilty model” to make up for the game they failed to see when conducting aerial surveys. Since then, biologists and statisticians have been inventing and constantly re-designing sightability models that often magnify the errors rather than eliminate them.
The July 1987 issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management published a study titled, “Visibility Bias During Aerial Surveys of Elk in Northcentral Idaho,” led by U of I Statistician “Oz” Garton. The study used the percent of radio-collared elk not seen during aerial surveys to estimate what percent of the total elk were not seen.
But Garton and his graduate student brazenly ignored 30 years of research by more than a dozen lead biologists. All of those researchers had concluded that lack of snow cover, search rate, animal behavior, and different observers were the primary causes of failure to observe a high percentage of known elk.
Instead, Garton’s graduate student wrote, and The Wildlife Society accepted and published the following Conclusion: (emphasis added)
“Multivariate* analysis indicated that visibility was significantly influenced by group size and vegetation cover. Snow cover, search rate, animal behavior, and different observers did not significantly affect visibility of elk. A sightability model was developed to predict the probability of observing elk groups during winter aerial counts.” (*a number of independent mathematical variables used in statistical analysis)
Aerial Survey Contradicts Statistician’s Conclusion
Yet I was hired to fly three long-time IDFG employees in a deer and incidental elk survey in Unit 32 that came up with a very different conclusion. Each of us was given a digital counter and asked to press once for each animal we observed – no more and no less.
As in the big desert country in SE Idaho, locating most of the deer and elk following a winter storm in Unit 32 is easy.
I was careful to let observers on both sides of the Cessna get a view of each deer and any elk that we observed, and I sought out older males – especially in brush or timber – that are not as prone to move when an aircraft first flies in their vicinity. The totals recorded by a game warden observer were identical to mine but the totals from the other two were very different.
Both were biologists but the first one recorded only two-thirds as many total animals as I had and the second recorded nearly twice as many as I had. Obviously neither had the ability to spot and count game animals.
Given ample time, most observers can spot running animals, but the vast majority of observers I have flown and some hunters I have guided, cannot see standing deer or elk in timber or brush – even when there is nothing but air between them and the animal. Yet those same people keep re-designing sightability models which they claim will correct the vastly different numbers the two biologists recorded in Unit 32.
Always Wait for Ideal Count Conditions
IDFG biologists and their career statistician from the University of Idaho claim they only see an average of 40-50% of the animals that exist under count conditions ranging from ideal to very poor. Why waste thousands of dollars trying to count under less than ideal conditions, and/or in mild winters when the animals are not concentrated in a few high-density subunits?
They normally count only a small number of high density subunits in a very small percentage of the total units once every 3-5 years. So waiting even a couple of years for ideal winter count conditions would keep Garton and his crew of biologists from constantly re-designing a sightability model that has never provided accuracy.
Because it is usually not possible to get an accurate ground count unless the animals are fenced, with many observers walking 15 or so feet apart, I learned that flying a handful of subunits either slower or twice under ideal count conditions as Alaska does, provides a reliable sightability correction when deemed necessary. I used a still camera or a self-leveling 8mm video camera to get better accuracy with good success on large herds to prevent undue stress.
Why Fly a Survey and Ignore the Results?
Although I am a strong advocate of accurate game counts, they are an obscene waste of time and money if the information is not used properly to correct deficiencies promptly. The deliberate destruction of Idaho’s Lolo Zone elk herd, beginning in 1985, provides a classic example of the fanatical “Do Nothing – Have Nothing” philosophy that replaced wild game management.
Following the statewide 10-year program including multiple bear harvests implemented by IDFG Director Joe Greenley in the 1970s, in a program lasting until 1985, biologists in Units 10 and 12 (the Lolo Zone) reported an elk population of 20,115. This allowed an annual harvest of 1430 elk and created an annual surplus of 805 elk.
The 1985 wolf prey research by Kaminski and Hansen calculated that the sustained 805 elk surplus would support 45 wolves at a maximum consumption of nearly 18 deer or elk each per year. But by 1989, F&G had increased the annual Lolo Zone elk harvest by 38% and eliminated bear control resulting in a decline of 24% in the Lolo elk population to 15,270 (see 25-year Lolo population chart).
(Unit 10 and Unit 12 elk counted in separate years in 1994-2003)
Row One shows Lolo Zone total elk population
Row Two shows change from 805 surplus to 17,937 deficit
This meant the Lolo Zone could no longer support any wolves on a sustained basis – even if all hunter harvest was eliminated. But there were only 881 yearling bulls in the 1988-89 winter count to replace the 1,819 bulls that were subsequently killed during the 1989 hunting season, so the bull harvest should have been cut by more than half – but wasn’t (see Lolo Zone Elk Harvests below).
Even if IDFG had cut the 1989 bull harvest in half, there were not enough elk to feed bears and other predators without reducing their population. Reducing predators to restore a healthy balance and shortening hunting seasons created the elk abundance in the early 1900s and again in the 1970s to 1985.
But four record Lolo Zone elk harvests in 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1995 averaging 1,828 each, and the lack of yearling bull elk and surviving calves to replace all adults that were dying is proof that Idaho biologists were either “brain dead” or deliberately destroying the Lolo Zone elk.
In the 1991-92 winter count, there were only 521 yearling bulls to replace the 1992 harvest of 1,447 bull elk. And in the 1994-95 count there were only 438 yearling bulls to replace the 1995 harvest of 1,759 bulls.
Although it is universally accepted that there must be at least 25 elk calves per 100 cows to justify any take by hunters, the Lolo Zone calf-to-cow ratio was only 19.6:100 in 1991/92 and dropped to 14.5:100 in 1995/96.
Managing Wildlife Requires Math, Common Sense
Interpreting the above information is not rocket science, or practicing so-called “ecosystem management” or some other theory that is not based on science or fact. It requires only use of common sense and grade-school math – made even easier with a simple pocket calculator.
On April 30, 1996, IDFG Elk Researcher George Pauley provided a memo to Clearwater Region Wildlife Manager Jay Crenshaw stating F&G had over-harvested bull elk in 11 of the 12 Clearwater Units. He said it caused a 25% decline in bull numbers from 1993-1996, and warned that calf recruitment (survival) had declined a “dramatic” 34% in those units, causing a 41% decline in yearling (replacement) bull numbers.
Pauley’s memo warned Crenshaw the downward trend in elk would continue unless significant harvest management changes were implemented in 11 Units.
But Crenshaw ignored two decades of Lolo Zone elk research confirming that lack of natural forage was not the problem, and increased the number of cow-calf hunt permits in the Lolo Zone from 350 to 1900 in 1996.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Crenshaw left the same number of cow/calf permits in 1997. But despite unlimited either-sex archery elk seasons from 8/30-9/24 and the same bull seasons, and cow/calf hunts from 10/10 through 11/30, hunters only killed 277 cows and 316 bulls.
In 1998 the same either-sex archery seasons continued, but the number of “any-weapon” hunters was limited and all late elk hunting ended on Nov 3. The total kill reported by hunters in the Lolo Zone was only 194 elk, yet there still weren’t enough replacement yearling bulls and the cow-to-calf ratio was only 6.6:100.
IDFG, Commission Ignore Minimums
New 1998-2003 Management Plans for deer and elk were published but the minimum Lolo Cow Elk Objective was, and still is, based on the record low 1997 and 1998 counts. The fact that the published minimums were meaningless to Department officials and the Commission became obvious near the end of a Commission meeting when Commissioner Fred Wood, M.D. addressed Commissioner Richard Meiers, D.D.S.
He told the Commissioners it was unethical to end the meeting without taking action to correct the critical elk problems in the Clearwater Region, and told Meiers they both would be guilty of malpractice if they did that in their medical practice. Yet none of the other Commissioners indicated a desire to even briefly discuss possible solutions.
In 2010 there were only 23 yearling bulls to replace the 124 that were killed by hunters and there were only 13.4 calves per 100 cows. The calculated 2011 and 2012 published Lolo Zone elk harvests were 83 and 100, but no Lolo census info has been published for four years.
For half a century the Clearwater Region provided 45% or more of the elk that were harvested in Idaho. At the risk of overwhelming readers with too much mixed information in a single article, I selected the Lolo Zone as an example because: 1) every adult hunter who hasn’t been living in a vacuum has heard of it; and 2) the exact same thing is happening in other units that formerly provided abundant wild game for thousands of hunters to harvest.
IDFG’s Bighorn Sheep Fiasco – another Example of Wildlife Exploitation to Increase IDFG Revenue
Several times I assisted IDFG Biologist Jim Morgan in his study of Bighorn sheep near Challis, and he kept hinting he wanted to observe sheep in a wilderness situation. I offered to provide the transportation, food, and a tent camp, and be his free assistant to study the largest Bighorn population in Idaho and he quickly accepted.
Photo taken by author while landing a plane on Soldier Bar, a Forest Service airstrip located on a north-slope bench on the south side of lower Big Creek in the Idaho Primitive Area – designated the “Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness” by Congress in 1984.
Soldier Bar airstrip is about in the center of the Frank Church Wilderness Area, which contained 2,500-3,000 Bighorn sheep long before graduate biologist Dwight Smith studied them from 1949-1952. Looking west in the photo above, Big Creek flows in toward you on the right side about halfway up the photo, and makes a gradual turn exiting the photo near the bottom right corner.
The tiny bit of rocky south-slope hillside that can be seen to the right (north) of Big Creek is part of the winter range inhabited by both sexes in the winter – but only by ewe-lamb groups the rest of the year. An estimated 95% of the land seen in this photo is summer range for ram bands – including the largest one for years.
Every March, while there was still some snow on Soldier Bar, a bachelor band numbering 10-12 rams would cross Big Creek and spend two or more weeks on Soldier Bar until the sun got higher and melted most of the snow. Then one day the rams would all suddenly stand up and follow their leader into the high country.
I set a single well-equipped wall tent on the South side of Soldier Bar and rented a Cessna 180 with retractable skis to pick up Morgan in Challis and fly him to the Bar, which still had snow covering it. At that time the short runway headed straight toward a patch of trees left of the center of the photo, and landing on that one-way strip on skis with a sudden tailwind before touchdown was the beginning of a learning experience for my passenger.
Each day we walked the half mile of trail down to Big Creek with our gear loaded on stout aluminum pack boards, and spent the day counting or photographing sheep. We also captured several ewes and tested and collared them for future observation.
Because I had outfitted from the Taylor Ranch for several years and put up hay to feed my stock for several winters, I spent a lot of time observing the bighorns on an open hillside with three benches across from the ranch. In most of those years, a 2-3 inch snow in the high country in Sept. briefly drove the large ram band down to the ranch.
Although that storm made killing a ram like the proverbial “shooting fish in a barrel,” I was very aware of the need to preserve several of the older rams in each bachelor band. Each spring the dominant ram continued to lead the young rams into the high country, teaching them how and where to escape predators and get fat on the north-slope forage before the Nov.-Dec. breeding season.
Even when I was guiding two return deer and elk hunters who always hunted together, I allowed only one of them to kill one old ram in the “Soldier Bar” band when early snow forced them onto the ranch during the first two weeks of September. The other hunter had to settle for a 5-1/2-year-old-ram from another less accessible location, which was legal – but hardly a trophy.
1952 Study Found a Healthy Bighorn Population
When Dwight Smith conducted his three-year Bighorn study, in late winter he counted an average of 75 rams and 40 surviving lambs for each 100 ewes in the Idaho Primitive Area. In 1952 he suggested allowing a limited number of hunters to hunt Bighorns during the first 14 days in September, but restricting them to killing only mature rams at least 8-1/2 years old.
That meant hunters would concentrate only on old trophy rams, some of which would probably die of natural causes anyway the following winter.
By not killing the 7-1/2 year olds, there would be at least one mature eight-year-old the following spring to lead the bachelor band into the high country.
Everything about Smith’s recommendation made sense, except for Sept. storms, to hunt a “trophy” species in scattered spots that lack a huntable population. Yet IDFG rejected it because “it did not provide a ‘viable’ income.”
F&G Approved Unlimited Number of Hunters in 1956
F&G initially supported 50 tags in the two-week season for a four-year trial, from 1952-1955 – but with only a minimum 3/4-curl rather than protecting all but trophy rams. Nearly 50 hunters each year killed an average of 18 rams so F&G began a general two-week open season in 1956.
As hunters began bringing home more old rams, the number of tags IDFG sold quickly increased from 131 in 1956 with 20 rams reported killed, to 379 in 1959 with 59 rams reported killed. During the five years from 1959-1963 the average number of rams killed each year was 55, and tags sold increased to 552.
However the bachelor bands were being depleted when they came down to winter range early, and some juveniles were remaining with the ewes and lambs and breeding their mothers and sisters. When I brought documentation of this and the poor ewe-lamb ratios to the F&G Commissioners, IDFG’s Big Game Manager told them the rams had changed their migration and some of the lambs were concealed where I couldn’t see them.
I then spent many hours photographing those sheep from late fall through the following spring lambing. The ram band from Soldier Bar had been slaughtered after I quit outfitting and the decline in lambs was obvious.
But when I showed this new documentation to the Commission and requested they restore limited controlled hunts, the Big Game Manager insisted I had altered the photographic evidence to suit my own agenda. This is when I decided to invite Jim Morgan to perform the counts and gather his own evidence.
When Morgan counted the lower Big Creek Bighorns on their winter range in early March, he recorded a ratio of only 19 mostly-young rams and 13 lambs per 100 ewes. This was only one-fourth as many rams and one-third as many lambs as Dwight Smith had counted before the 3/4-curl September general season was implemented.
Former IDFG Bighorn Sheep Biologist Jim Morgan on lower Big Creek. He is measuring immobilizing drug for insertion into Cap-Chur gun dart prior to capturing ewe for tests and collaring. Photo by author.
The remaining snow had recently melted from the open South slope benches across Big Creek from the Taylor Ranch, and Morgan photographed rivulets of water running down the steep south slope below the first bench. He explained to me that this was evidence of excessive use by livestock, and possibly by deer or sheep.
In 11 years I had never seen any animals on that lower steep South-facing slope. Even the Bighorns walked along or beside a gradual switchback trail on the west side to reach the lower bench.
Rather than explain that, I told him we would return in three weeks and he could photograph that steep hillside again for comparison. Then I walked him down a portion of the lower Middle Fork of the Salmon River below the mouth of Big Creek and showed him acres of bluebunch wheatgrass, and other native grasses emerging, combined with thousands of virtually untouched curl-leaf mountain mahogany bushes (“trees”).
Three weeks later after I flew Morgan back in to Soldier Bar, we hiked to the steep slope across from Taylor Ranch where he had photographed the rivulets. But instead of the erosion damage he had predicted, he saw a smooth new stand of healthy native grass emerging.
I gave Morgan an old photo I had taken of 11 rams waiting on Soldier Bar for the snow to melt before heading into their high country range for ~seven months of the year. Then I described how rams from two bachelor bands sounded like two 2X4s hitting together during their head-butting contests on the rocky ridges overlooking the Taylor Ranch benches.
And later, when the older rams followed a ewe in estrous in single file, I told him how one would viciously slam any younger ram broadside that dared to join the procession. I described an old blue ram with a crooked hind leg that forced him to walk with a limp, yet he was the undisputed leader of the Soldier Bar Bachelor Band until I allowed a hunter to take him.
I told Morgan that the young rams he saw with small ewe-lamb groups remained with them rather than head for the high country because there were no older rams leading bachelor bands for them to follow. Hunters found those same rams with the same ewe-lamb groups when the season opened in September as well as during the breeding season in November and December.
This guy has lived a long and productive, healthy life thanks to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine hunters who fund and support proven, sound wildlife management. He’d prefer to put his trust in Maine’s wildlife managers than a group of mentally disturbed animal perverts.
And this bear is locked and loaded, ready for action!