Mountain High 

As you may know, the third and final phase of Montana’s bison hunt is underway and is due to end on Feb. 15. Tribal hunts are on a slightly different schedule, but by the end of March, they will be done as well. It would be reassuring to think that the herd would have some time to recover from this year’s loss—at press time, hunters have killed a total of 70 bison—but according to the Buffalo Field Campaign, the managing agencies have threatened an aggressive program of hazing and control once the hunting season is finished.

As the now-annual bison hunt moves into the sad realm of inevitability, a new threat to wildlife in the state is taking shape. Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission has adopted a tentative proposal to allow a wolf hunt as soon as the fall of this year. With only approximately 400 wolves—animals that are technically still protected under the Endangered Species Act—wildlife activists are raising the alarm about a plan that seems to echo what’s taking place near West Yellowstone and Gardiner: A program to remove animals from a population that’s too small to absorb the loss.

According to the proposal, wolf trapping is slated to begin toward the end of 2009, and even wolf pups are to be considered fair game. An open comment period ends at 5 PM on Fri., Feb. 1, so if tossing the brakes on this idea seems like a fight you’re willing to take on, send choice words to fwpwld@mt.gov or FWP–Wildlife Division, Attn: Public Comment, P.O. Box 200701, Helena MT 59620-0701.

Now that we’ve ensured the future for fairy tale antagonists, let’s turn our sights to this week’s outdoor recreational offerings.

We begin with Missoula’s favorite alternative to a bad resort, Montana Snowbowl, where the 25th annual Trailhead Telemark Challenge Race Series begins with the seed race on Thu., Jan. 31. The series runs for six weeks and works like this: Racers, who sign up in teams of four, are matched up with someone of similar ability in order to create the most challenging contests each week. Sign-up begins at 6 PM, with the races beginning promptly at 7:15. Call 549-9777.

Once you’ve either spectated or participated in the merriment up Grant Creek, be advised that somebody else has plans in store for you. Actually, lots of people have plans for you over the weekend of Feb. 1–3, so let’s begin with the Rocky Mountaineers, who offer up a three-day trip to their cabin on Little St. Joseph Peak. The rough outline involves skiing the 3.5 miles to the cabin on Fri., then doing as much skinning and downhilling as you want on Sat., with the option of sticking around for more of the same on Sun. Grab your skis and skins and give Paul a call at 728-6881.

Another group of folks who want your attention—and your greenbacks, to be sure—are the organizers of the Whitefish Winter Carnival, a three-day blowout that includes the following as highlights: The Penguin Plunge at 12:30 PM on Sat., Feb. 2, which is a fundraiser for the Special Olympics, the Whitefish Mountain Resort (WMR) Torchlight Parade and Fireworks Bombardment later that evening and the Sun., Feb. 3, kickoff of the WMR 60th annual Doug & Rollie Smith Downhill and Super G, a week of big racing for
skiers of all levels. Get yourself just a little more info when you visit whitefishwintercarnival.com or call WMR at 862-2900.

Another posse looking to rope you in is the boosters of the Big Hole Valley, where Winter Fest takes place from Sat., Feb. 2–Sun., Feb. 3. Day one includes an Equine Ski Joring Competition, in which folks with boards on their feet are drug—dragged?—behind a horse. What beats me is how you win an event such as this. Anyway, the second day includes a four-person Nordic relay race, and it’s all set in the under-visited and beauteous Big Hole Valley, so call 834-3264 or visit bigholevalley.com.

Another outlet for your competitive streak comes on Sat., Feb. 2, at Bridger Bowl, where the Skin to Win Randonnee Rally begins at 8:30 AM and offers different courses to match your skill level. A mandatory meeting takes place at 5:30 PM on Fri., Feb. 1, at the Bozeman Public Library, so you really need to get your head in the game, son. Call 587-2111.

Finally, Tue., Feb. 5, is the day to head down to the University of Montana campus—either in person or virtually—to sign up for the outdoor adventure of your choice. Two trips take place on Sat., Feb. 9—a Beginner’s Cross-Country Ski Trip and a Telemark Ski Class—with the Snowshoeing and Track Identification Trip going down on Sun., Feb. 10. I know you hate to spend time thinking about the future, but one thing I know is deadlines. Call the UM Outdoor Program at 243-5172.

Slap on an extra pair of long johns for me, and keep the e-mails a-pourin’ in.
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