Mountain High 

With barbecue season in full swing, the stocks of frozen elk, deer and other Montana harvests are quickly diminishing in freezers across the state. Simultaneously, Montana’s hunters are pulling out their maps, resighting their rifles and poring over their 2005 hunting regulations, which just happen to be some of the most liberal we’ve seen in quite a few years.

And while you’ve missed the deadline if you’ve not yet applied for your antelope, moose, sheep or goat tags, late-blooming hunters have plenty of time to secure enough permits to harvest deer or elk to fill the freezer for another year and beyond.

But beyond the typical cornucopia of animals that our wildlife management agency monitors and maintains, Montanans will likely be able to hunt another big game animal, in-state, that officially doesn’t even live within the state’s borders.

Yes, a mere six months after bailing out of an almost identical plan to issue a handful of bison tags, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has approved two hunts that would allow the killing of 50 bison during a 90-day period.

Last year’s hunt was cancelled when Gov. Brian Schweitzer expressed concern that the plan would cause a(nother) black eye for the state’s continued adherence to the archaic Interagency Bison Management Plan, a policy that includes harassing and slaughtering bison who follow the paths of their ancestors by migrating out of Yellowstone National Park to graze or give birth.

While FWP has addressed some of the issues that killed the plan last year, glaring problems still exist, not the least of which is the fact that bison aren’t recognized as living in Montana. While bison have clearly populated the state in massive numbers for millennia, the state’s extraordinarily powerful beef lobby prevents the animal from being recognized as a native species—or Montana as natural habitat. It’s also effectively stopped the development of a sane or balanced wildlife management plan to protect the animal’s future.

So instead of managing these icons as wildlife as they do all the other native critters that live here, the state manages bison through its Department of Livestock. Given that, it should come as no surprise that the state classifies bison as “a species in need of disease management,” and, with rifles at the ready, shoos them back into Wyoming with ATVs, helicopters, snowmobiles and other wasteful methods.

The Buffalo Field Campaign, alongside an unlikely alliance of hunting groups and animal rights activists, have (unsuccessfully) pushed the state hard to adopt a more reasonable policy towards these animals for years. But for the second time in as many years, the state will again put the cart before the horse and conduct a hunt on an animal it doesn’t consider wildlife, without managing for its habitat—like it does every other hunted species in the state.

Although the state was called premature by nearly everyone paying attention when it announced its proposed hunt last year, it’s worth noting that more than 8,000 people applied for the chance to shoot a buffalo. (Many of those applications went to non-hunters attempting to prevent the bison from being shot.)

And while FWP assures the public that it’s committed to a fair-chase hunt, few of Yellowstone’s three million annual visitors who watch the docile, tourist-conditioned animals would compare approaching or shooting a bison to any action “fair”-er than shooting a sofa, or perhaps a cow.

If you’ve got opinions on the way the state is proposing to initiate yet another controversial hunt, be sure to get your comments in before Aug. 15. But first, learn more at, and then send your two bits to: Attn. Bison Hunt Regulations, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 1400 S. 19th Ave., Bozeman, MT 59718, or via email to

If you haven’t yet commented on the Lolo N.F.’s Forest Plan Revision, now is the time. At 7 p.m. on July 21 at the DoubleTree Hotel, the Missoula District will host the third meeting with the intention of helping determine how these public servants can best manage your forest. This meeting in particular will focus on what the press release is calling “the Lolo Peak Ski Area Proposal,” and will quite likely be an interesting discussion.

So if you’re a forest user, don’t be left out—call district ranger Maggie Pittman today at 329-3948 to learn more, then show up and make yourself heard.

Get on the water and celebrate the imminent return of a clean river to our city at the Fourth Annual Milltown to Downtown Flotilla and community celebration July 16. Meet at the Milltown Dam at 1 p.m. by taking the free 12:30 shuttle from the Pattee Street take-out (between Holiday Inn-Parkside and Higgins Ave. bridge) or the Doubletree Hotel (parking lot between Doubletree and Jiffy Lube). Bring an inner tube, rent a canoe or bring your boat and join the estimated 2,500 floaters as they head downstream, celebrating the hard work of the Clark Fork Coalition to get the useless and poisoned dam removed. Later, at Caras Park, you can score tunes from Eden Atwood, beer from Bayern Brewery, lotsa food, activities and an auction. The whole dam thing is free, so learn more at 542-0539.

The New Rocky Mountaineers are heading to the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness July 16, and they’ve got the range’s highest point—the 10,463’ Warren peak—in their sights. Join them on a nice trail trot followed by a steep, ax-necessary snow route up the peak’s northwest couloir. “This is a very beautiful snow climb with a nice run out which makes it great for beginners,” says trip leader Gerald Olbu, so if you’ve never been up on this promonitory, make it happen by calling 549-4769.

He’s baaaaaa-aaaack…Mushroom guru Larry Evans is back from chasing the morel harvest across the Great White North’s great black swath and he’s ready to share his fungal connection on a Sierra Club trip along Alice Creek July 19. Lying next to the Scapegoat Wilderness at the head of the Blackfoot River, this sweet spot is chock-full of critters and wildflowers, too, so sign up for this primo outing by calling 549-1142 or emailing

On July 23 the Montana Natural History Center is heading out for an “Into the Woods Saturday Discovery Day,” a forest ecology exploration intended to provide those present with a chance to read Western Montana’s geology, wildlife and native plants. Starting at 8 a.m., folks will read prose from nature writers en route. The course runs $20, $15 for members and less for kids. Learn more at

REI is hosting a “Backpacking 101” clinic July 21 at 7 p.m. to get you started on your first backpacking trip. “Experienced adventurer” Bob Reider will share tips on gear, conditioning, leaving no trace and good local trips for all abilities. You’ll even score a free key-chain carabiner, so show up or call 829-0432 for the beta.

The Five Valleys Audubon Society is off to catch and band birds near Seeley Lake July 16 and they’d like you to join them. Gather together a day’s worth of food, water, appropriate footwear and clothing and then meet at the Adams Center parking lot at 7 a.m. to carpool. You’ll get “up front and personal [with] a variety of warblers, thrushes,woodpeckers and other species,” so don’t delay in calling Elizabeth Johnson at 327-1525 to get in the know.

The Glacier Institute has a plethora of outings planned within the craggy peaks of the continent’s crown this week and they’d like you to participate. On July 17, join Chris Ruffato for “Many Glacier Geology,” an orientation on the birth and transformation of Glacier’s mountains located in what just might be the most spectacular place accessible by car in the state. This “strenuous” (and informative) hike climbs 1,400 feet over its 12 miles and includes some of the more easily-accessible-but-still-spectacular vistas in the park. Log on to or call 755-1211 to get in the game.

Or join Cristina Eisenberg July 16 for a “Field Sketching on the Trail: Earth Renderings” course along the shores of Lake McDonald and McDonald Creek. With an emphasis on burnt landscapes and panoramas, participants will learn the intricacies of shading, layering and “recreating soft hues in vibrant light.” The course is appropriate for both beginning and advanced artists, and runs $55. Log on to or call 755-1211 to learn more.

And photographers take note: Tom Ulrich will lead a “Photography in Glacier Country” course emphasizing scenic and wildlife photography July 21–24. The course is geared towards beginning and intermediate photographers interested in learning “the secrets for creating great compositions and making the most out of outdoor lighting” from Lake McDonald to Logan Pass. Your $425 ($365 for members) gets you lodging at the institute’s Field Camp, too, so log on to or call 755-1211 to shoot sharp.

And on July 21, bear authority Chuck Jonkel will lead “Glacier’s Grizzlies and Black Bears,” a trip that will allow you to “visit their homelands and learn about their foods.” On an easy three-mile hike in the heart of great bear country, participants will search high and low for bear sign—while learning the intricacies of staying safe in the presence of great bruins. The course runs $50; log on to or call 755-1211 to learn more.

Cross-country mountain bikers should hit Big Mountain’s Tuesday Night Race League, starting July 12, for “friendly competition and community spirit” among riders of all abilities. Register day-of from 4:30–6 p.m. for the $10 race, or drop $35 to cover entrance fees for the entire series. For more information, log on to or call (406) 862-7669.

Last and perhaps least, anyone making it to the bottom of this week’s (extended!) column might find the following note interesting:

After three years of rehashing monotonous non-profit press releases into (hopefully!) relevant form, and digging deep pits into multi-layered and overly optimistic corporate ski reports, this mountain junkie is leaving his posts as outdoor columnist and photographer at the state’s only kick-ass paper to pursue greener pastures. It’s been a rewarding and incredibly informative run. I’ve built great relationships with people who do the important work of empowering newbies to have revelatory adventures and explore our state’s humbling locales safely, week after week and year after year. I could not have asked for more.

Both posts—staff photographer and outdoor columnist—have already been filled by the next round of energetic and talented journalists, full of their own brand of piss and vinegar and chomping at the bit, so don’t hesitate to give them hell, too. See you on the summit!

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