September 18, 2014

Fattening Up for the Long Winter

MooseFatteningWinter

Photo by Al Remington

Is IDFG Placating Idaho Sportsmen?

It’s disgusting that I even need to ask such a question, but how are sportsmen supposed to feel and react when they’ve been lied to, abused verbally, demonized, ignored, laughed at, had tax money stolen from them and basically treated like a piece of worm-infested porcupine scat?

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) is sending out “kits” to moose hunters and asking them to:

1. Take a blood sample,
2. Saw off a slab of moose liver, and
3. Pluck some hair.
BTW – In looking at this letter (posted below), I don’t see anywhere in that letter any instructions on safety precautions needed for when hunters do IDFG’s dirty work. Perhaps it is contained in the kit itself somewhere. If there are readers privy to this information, could you please let me and readers know? It is very important.)

Each hunter then must make a mandatory stop at an IDFG office where each hunter will complete a “MANDATORY” check of the moose. This in addition to the request sent out recently to Idaho sportsmen asking that they report wolf and grizzly bear activity. Really? Why not report polar bear movements or those of penguins? Why now? Why are fish and game officials all of a sudden interested, or seemingly so, in what sportsmen think, see or do?

According to what is written on a letter sent to moose hunters by IDFG, the reason for this action is to: “improve moose management through a better understanding of disease in wildlife populations.

Isn’t it just a little bit too late? Where were these concerned wildlife managers when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) were lying to the American people telling them that wolves would have no significant impact on game herds or the spread of disease? (Please find this in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the (re)introduction of wolves to the Northern Rockies.)

The wolf recovery team decided that it would not even bother to offer any kind of investigation into diseases that are carried and spread by wolves because any existing information was: “limited,” “poorly documented” and “can never be scientifically confirmed or denied.” These claims came at a time when there existed no fewer than 300 scientific studies worldwide just about the tapeworm Echinococcus granulosus.

And today the World Health Organization includes on the “Fact Page” that: “More than 1 million people are affected with echinococcosis at any one time.”

When an individual, at least one who has the capacity to think independently, considers how government officials lied to them, and then how they have been treated before, during and after this crime of wolf (re)introduction was forced down their throats, why would they be eager to help these isolated by choice from the global scientific community elites with their fake task of “improve[ing] moose management through a better understanding of disease in wildlife populations”? It sure stinks of mollification to me.

For years these clowns were offered technical and scientific evident to help them “better understand wildlife diseases” and they plugged their ears, closed their eyes and shouted out loud, like a small child.

For crying out loud, back in 1971 wildlife biologists in Minnesota didn’t “discover” that Echinococcus granulosus tapeworms existed. They were out LOOKING FOR IT in moose.

That 1971 study result showed some of us, but evidently nobody at IDFG or USFWS, two distinct things:
1. “The incidence of E. granulosus and Taenia spp. in the northeast is evidence of a higher timber wolf (Canis lupus) population in this part of the state.”
2. “Data from the aerial census and classification counts indicate a net productivity of 30-35% in the northwest and 9-15% in the northeast. This indicates a difference is occurring in the survival rate of calves in their first six months of life between the two areas. Area differences in nutrition, predation and parasitism may be responsible for these observed differences in net productivity.”

Patrick Karns, in 1971, had a “better understanding” of wildlife diseases. It’s 2014, time for some TRUTH for a change!

This and the 600-plus studies in existence in 2001, when the World Health Organization published their latest scientific data on Echinococcus granulosis and Echinococcus multilocularis, evidently isn’t good enough for Idaho wildlife officials, or any others in this here United States of America. But NOW they want to ask Idaho moose hunters for help in better understanding wildlife diseases.

I’m not a resident of Idaho, nor do I buy a hunting license there, but if I did, my inclination would be to tell IDFG to STICK IT! You didn’t listen then and you won’t listen now. You are just trying to pacify the hunters and cover your own asses. No thanks!
IdahoMooseLetter

A tip of the hat to reader “Chandie” for sending me a copy of the letter.

Outdoorsman History – the Real Reasons State F&G Management Was, and Still Is, Failing – Part I

*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.

Unit33

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.

BigDesertCountry

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).

25-Year 89% Destruction of Lolo Elk Herd
1985 1989 1992 1994(95) 1997(98) 2002(03) 2006 2010
20115 15270 13044 11197 7746 4691 5110 2178
+805 -4845 -8919 -7071 -12369 -15424 -15005 -17937

(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).

Selected Lolo Zone Elk Harvest
Elk Sex 1985 1989 1990 1992 1995 1996 1997 1998 2010
Female —- 156 —- 200 168 638 277 7 0
Antlered —- 1819 —- 1447 1759 599 316 187 124
Total Harvest 1430 1975 1764 1647 1927 1237 593 194 124

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.

SoldierBar

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.

JimMorgan

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.

Bull in Velvet

BullinVelvet

Photo by Al Remington

Is the Answer to All Game Issues to Punish the Sportsman?

MooseTicksPity the person who read Deirdre Fleming’s article in the Portland Press Herald on Saturday. Saturday was the annual moose lottery drawing event, this year held in Presque Isle, Maine and I believe the article was a lead-in to this event. However, the article appears to be an attempt at placing the moose in all of the United States in peril due to winter ticks, weather, presence of man, climate change, starvation, climate change, more starvation, climate change; oh and did I mention global warming?

And not one single word about predators having an effect on moose populations. Not one! More proof the predator must be protected at all costs because a protected predator population will result in the demise of hunting.

For anyone reading the article, more than likely they went away confused due to all the contradictions presented from information provided by some state and provincial wildlife representatives and some guides or other non professional wildlife personnel. More importantly the reader probably left with crap in their head about anything of importance as to why it appears the moose is probably going through a cyclical population swing. Isn’t this more proof wildlife managers don’t really know that much about what effects moose populations and all attempts to regulate numbers falls back onto the sportsmen who fund the programs to manage game species like the moose…..even if the management methods are wrong?

It is like a broken record, reading article after article, after article about how global warming is the root cause of all lousy wildlife management, or lack thereof, plans and implementation. When an arrogant and ignorant, politically minded, puppet president, Barack Obama, delivers a commencement address and chooses to destroy the event of many of the graduates, speaking about climate change and how it is “proven” science, lie, lie, lie, lie, how can we ever hope that anyone will actually get it, even to the point of having enough intestinal fortitude to at least ask a question or two?

And what has happened to any sense of logical thinking? All the talk is about those damned winter ticks and how they are killing off all the moose. And what’s doubly frustrating is that very few, if any, people have a clue about winter ticks. What happens with winter ticks and the media is the same as what happens to every news event of any kind worldwide; one person repeats something they heard and it just gets passed on with never a media person or even wildlife manager taking the time to vet the information to discover truth. Truth be damned! Knowledge be damned!

Maybe Maine’s Lee Kantar, head moose biologist, is on the right track and will figure this all out before the moose are actually all gone in Maine and written off as the result of the BIG LIE – global warming.

Several years ago I asked Mr. Kantar about whether or not winter ticks on moose were killing the animals. His response was one that I found no reason to quibble over because at that time I also knew very little about the winter tick. He told me that ticks will not, by themselves, kill a moose, but the effects of the ticks throughout the winter, would leave a moose in a weakened stage and more susceptible to the throes of harsh Maine winters and predation. It wasn’t too long and that position morphed into one of more ticks on moose are causing increased deaths of moose. In addition, Kantar said that Maine was not as susceptible to the winter tick in Northern Maine because of a colder climate than Vermont or New Hampshire. Now he’s saying he’s not sure of that either. At least it appears he is willing to change his position as he gains knowledge.

Maine has decided to reduce the number of moose permits for the upcoming hunting season. The reason given is that wildlife biologists believe that the moose population in Maine has taken a hard hit. Logic would tells us, if it is true that the population of moose has shrunk, that the number of permits issued should be reduced. It’s always the hunter that bears the brunt when it comes to population controls for game animals…..with few complaints I might add. But in this case is this the right thing to do?

The first problem that Maine is facing, as are other states doing the same thing, is that too much emphasis is being placed on managing wildlife, including game species, according to social demands. Nothing could be worse for animal populations than to control them due to the desires of the public to “view” wildlife, mostly from the comfort of climate-controlled vehicles. This is quite absurd, and yet there is never any talk of how this might be affecting our animal health and populations.

The second problem is Maine and some other states may be looking at this issue with moose and ticks the wrong way. We are being told that Maine has monitored, or perhaps better described as, have been aware, of winter ticks on moose as early as the 1930s. I’m sure the ticks have been around since forever. It appears Maine, according to other reports, has been monitoring ticks on moose since 2006. This past year appears to have been a record tick year.

According to the Portland Press Herald article linked to above, Mark Latti says that Maine’s moose population spiked up to 76,000 animals in 2012. In the grand scheme of things, it was not that many years ago when moose were protected and feared on the brink of extirpation in Maine. So what changed? Well, the protection helped but due to an outbreak of spruce budworm, enormous amounts of clear-cutting of forests took place, resulting in prime moose habitat.

Isn’t it a logical conclusion, or at least shouldn’t it prompt a question, that along with the increase in moose numbers, we watched the tick population grow as well? There must be a correlation and yet mum seems to be the word. With the exception of a rogue comment here and there that there needs to be fewer moose in order to reduce tick infestation, nobody is talking about or asking about this seemingly logical conclusion.

Instead, all the focus wants to be on fake global warming nonsense. Nonsense because every single dire prediction that has been made since this “inconvenient truth” was dumped on the citizenry by greedy, politically-minded dupes, has NOT come to fruition. And yet we beat Al Gore’s drum for him. We blame everything on global warming and the result becomes that we don’t find the scientific truth in anything, including the correlation between moose and tick.

But there seems to be some hope coming out of Vermont. In Fleming’s article, Vermont’s Director of Wildlife for the Fish and Wildlife Department said his state increased the number of moose permits in order to reduce the effects of winter ticks.

A decade ago, Vermont biologists increased moose hunting permits to reduce the population because they believe that a smaller moose herd – now estimated at 2,300 statewide – is less susceptible to the parasite.

The habit has always been when numbers are down, reduce hunting opportunity to bring the numbers back up. As I have pointed out, one of the problems with this plan is that too much emphasis is being put on social demands rather than scientific reality. All wildlife should be managed at healthy levels. It appears common sense to me that 76,000 or more moose in the State of Maine are too many and thus, the result is a very unhealthy moose herd, suffering from the effects of winter tick infestation. Moose are suffering, inhumanely perhaps, and unnecessarily. Shouldn’t we then be considering increasing the number of moose permits in order to reduce populations which will reduce the presence of ticks? In addition, let’s get away from the notion of building wildlife numbers to artificially high numbers in order to provide lazy people with a chance to spot a wild animal.

An Example of Balance of Nature

“The population prior to 2000 increased significantly from low numbers in the late 1970-80s due to good forest cutting practices. Wolf numbers were kept in check due to an outbreak of mange, and black bear predation on calves was kept in check until the spring hunt was cancelled in 1999.

Then came the perfect storm of moose disasters.

From 1999 to 2004, 12,000 more bears moved into moose neighbourhoods due to the spring hunt cancellation, white-tailed deer numbers skyrocketed due to mild winters over the past 10 years, and the number of wolves climbed. It’s worth noting that at the same time, the MNR implemented licence fees for wolf hunting and subsequently lowered harvests as well.”<<<Read More>>>

OntarioWMUMap

Winter Ticks in Moose Documented Since 1930s

The headline above is essentially the statement made by Maine’s head moose biologist Lee Kantar. Specifically he said, “Winter ticks have been documented in Maine since the 1930s. Periodically, there are peak years when the number of ticks increase substantially.”

In a weekly column in the Sun Journal by outdoor writer V. Paul Reynolds, he states that: “Biologists reported from tagging station information last fall that the tick count on harvested moose was the highest in ten years!”

Isn’t then the logical progression of questions to be asked as follows?

1. If winter moose ticks have been “documented” since the 1930s has there also been “documented” complications similar to those that are now supposedly killing Maine’s moose?

2. If we have been utilizing a moose hunting season, if only by lottery in limited numbers, to assist with the management of moose populations since 1980 when 700 moose permits were issued, during the past 33 years has MDIFW “documented” any irregularities in moose populations due to the winter tick?

3. Can we assume that checking for and “documenting” winter ticks on moose has taken place at tagging stations since Maine’s first modern-day moose hunt in 1980?

4. If, as stated above, the tick count on moose reported at tagging stations this year, was the highest in ten years, then there must have been higher tick counts prior to 2003?

5. If there have been higher tick counts on moose “documented” since 1980, what then was the result of moose mortality estimations during those times?

6. We know that so-called “scientists” during the 1970s were attempting to find ways of scamming money out of taxpayers by claiming that the world was going to freeze to death because of global cooling. That didn’t work so the same and other so-called “scientists” tried scaring people with global warming. If winter ticks have been “documented” since the 1930s and according to so-called “scientists” we have gone through a global cooling period, a global warming period, and are now entering into another global cooling period, how then can so-called scientists, wildlife biologists, environmentalists and all the other “ists” claim that global warming is the cause of increased numbers of winter ticks? Especially if we surmise that there must have been higher tick counts prior to the past ten years.

Without spending a great deal of time plotting data and thoroughly examining reports such as Lee Kantar’s 2006 report Status of the Maine Deer Herd and William Krohn’s Historical Ecology of the White-tailed Deer in Maine, it appears as though there may be a correlation between high tick counts followed the next year by a severe winter. I believe the last event similar to this year may have happened in 2002-2003. Of course if this is true, then one might be able to blow the global warming, winter tick correlation out of the water; which wouldn’t be a bad idea as I personally believe the global warming attribution to everything under the sun, pun intended, is nothing more than a poor distraction that wrongfully disrupts real and good scientific study.

One would also have to wonder if and what the similarities are in moose populations in New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota and Canada. It may be as simple as a natural event of warm, cold, ticks, moose and when there’s too many of some or all, things happen. Nature isn’t in balance. It’s a dynamic and changing existence – and with all of this, we must include the changing dynamics of the effects of predators.

Gorby Falling Down on the Job?

Earlier I posted some history from a book called “Away From it All” by Dorothy Boone Kidney. In that post it was about attacks on humans by bears and the history of the Lock Dam on Chamberlain Lake in the Allagash of Northern Maine.

The same friend who sent that information also sent me a short quip about gorbys, the Canada jay, and how one of the jay’s names is “moose bird” because the moose allows the gorby to land and ride on him or her and feed on ticks. We have recently learned that a combination of a harsh winter and an overabundance of winter ticks, a gorby’s delicacy, killed a lot of moose. Are there just too many moose with ticks that the gorby can’t keep up? Or not enough gorbys?

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Time Running Out to Apply for Maine Moose Hunting Permit

Online applications must be completed by 11:59 p.m. on May 14. You can apply online now at www.mefishwildlife.com. Don’t wait until the last minute!

This year’s moose permit lottery winners will be announced on June 14 at the Moose Lottery Festival at the University of Maine Presque Isle.

Permit winners and their subpermittees will be able to hunt in one of the Department’s 25 wildlife management districts (WMDs) which cover more than 21,000 square miles.

For more information on the moose lottery, visit www.mefishwildlife.com.

Maine Official Says Moose Population Holding Steady, BUT……..

According to a report found on WCSH-TV website, Lee Kantar, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife moose biologist, says he believes the moose population is holding steady in Maine, even though 13 of the 60 cow and calf moose collared this year for a moose study have died.

Personally, I would have a difficult time being so optimistic as I believe that to be an unusually high mortality rate. However, Kantar seems to pass it off as the result of a severe winter and winter ticks.

However, I find one statement in this report disturbing.

Biologist Lee Kanter is heading up the program in Maine. His study is ongoing, but he suspects it will reveal a higher than average mortality rate among calves. Adult moose will continue to reproduce so Kanter believes we’ll see just a blip in the population.

The problem with this statement is it fails to state the not so obvious to most people; that even though adult moose will continue to reproduce, there will be fewer of them to do that. Recruitment is a term used to describe the number or percentage of new-born moose that survive their first winter. For a herd to “hold steady” it means that recruitment must at least equal the loss of adult reproducing moose.

If a recruitment rate is smaller than adult moose loss over a sustained period of time, the herd will continue to be decimated. It appears Kantar is betting on an easing of severe winters and his claim that ticks will fall off moose into deep snow and die, will lessen the effects of ticks next winter.

It would have been helpful if Mr. Kantar, or the person filing the report, had been more forthcoming on why Kantar suspects the mortality on calves to be “higher than average.”