…An elk bugle echoes down and around us in the half-light of early morning, as the towering walls of Dark Canyon take over the skyline. The high, whistling notes are nearly overcome by the falls above, the waters now airborne, flying from the cliffs towards Anthracite Creek. We catch our breath as we climb up the Devil’s Staircase, towards the great unknowns of the Ruby Range and the perils of the Ragged Mountains…
No, this is not the scene of some campy, dramatic flick, as mysterious and foreboding as it may sound. But it was the backdrop, with some poetic license included, of a monumental event in the big game hunting world. It is here, in 1899, that John Plute of Crested Butte, Colorado looked down his rifle barrel and laid down one of the largest set of elk antlers ever recorded.
He has quite a history, this bull, and I can only imagine that his story only survives because of luck and some divine providence. It is said that Mr. Plute was a good hunter, and he often traded wild game for the goods that he needed. More than likely, he was usually not too concerned about the size of a bull’s headgear. Perhaps, in this case, he was.
He was also known to be a colorful character. An inveterate bachelor, a miner, and a mountain man, he traded the head to the local saloon keeper in payment of an overdue bar bill. It later passed to the stepson of the saloon owner, who dragged it out of storage and submitted the first unofficial measurement of its antlers in 1955.
The formalities took a little longer yet, until it was officially recognized by the Boone and Crockett Club as the new World’s Record Elk in 1961, The final score came in at a jaw-dropping 442 3/8 points.
Photographs simply don’t convey the magnificence of this specimen, and you can barely fit it within the view finder anyway. In person it is very nearly overwhelming, and it takes some time to evaluate its true size as the eye struggles to gain perspective.
The rack at its greatest spread tapes at over 51 inches, with 7 points on one side and 8 points on the other. One antler has a basal circumference of over 12 inches, and two points are more than 25 inches long. When first mounted many years after the kill, it was fitted with the biggest elk cape to be found. It was probably not quite big enough.
I have been fortunate to hunt some of the nation’s top trophy areas, and I have come across some big bulls in my time. A 325″ class bull is bigger than many elk hunters will ever encounter; a 350″ elk will really get your attention. I have yet to ground check a Boone and Crockett class elk, though it has not been for lack of trying.
Once, on a Colorado bowhunt, I very nearly harvested a bull that most certainly was approaching that magical 400 point plateau. The memory of that guy can still keep me up at night, and I doubt that I will ever forget the sense of awe he installed within me. I can hardly imagine another 40 or 50 inches of bone on top of his skull.
The Plute bull was the World Record for over 30 years, and many thought that it would never be beaten. The glory days of elk hunting appeared to be long gone, after all, …or were they?
In 1995, the elk hunting world shook once more when an antler buyer purchased a head that he had seen in the back of a pickup truck. Killed by an Arizona cattle rancher in 1968 and never measured, it was eventually determined to be bigger than the bull of Crested Butte. Even then, it only beat out the existing world record by less than 1/2″ of total score.
Obviously, Mr. Plute never knew just how big his elk really was. It does not sound that it would have mattered much to him anyway, though I probably should not speak as if I know. Very little has been passed down about his everyday doings, or his end. Some have said that he died while breaking a spirited horse; others have said that no one really knows. Perhaps the truth of his ultimate fate is lost upon the winds and snow fields of the wild lands that he roamed, like many men of his era. In my way of thinking that only adds another layer to the legend, and to the mysterious nature of a place that once held a bull such as this.
It is impossible to know the full extent of this elk’s legacy. No doubt his genetics still warms the blood of his countless descendants, banked for the day when they can fully express their immeasurable potential. Who knows how many elk like him, have lived, and died, without being seen?
The head now hangs at The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce, which might seem an ignominious end to such an important animal. Perhaps it may not be the best place to honor him, but I do not get to make that kind of choice. For most, he is a curiosity and a fine tourist attraction, though I doubt that the uninitiated can grasp its true significance. For my part I am grateful for the opportunity to admire him in any way that I can.
The Dark Canyon of Anthracite Creek has yet to hit my eyes for real, but it will. I am drawn to it, curious too, and my hunter’s eye wants to see what it will see. Hunt there, I will, just to say that I did. I hope that John Plute would approve.
Most of all, I would like to think that a giant elk like him still roams those mountains. In my dreams I see him there, hanging back in the dark timber just out of reach of mortal men, suspended on the edge of time and the longing of hunter’s soul.
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Today was a special day in my hunter’s world. It began like most Rocky Mountain winter days, but by evening I had acquired an elk for the freezer and two new hunting buddies.
Elk meat is a prized commodity in our household and one elk provides satisfying meals for many months. Hunting buddies, on the other hand…well, they are a gift of a lifetime. I am extremely fortunate to have several and I cherish them, but hey, I’m happy to add some others.
My new buddies just happen to be brothers, and like many good hunting companions they innocently possess unbridled enthusiasm, a refreshing ability to gaze upon everything around them as if for the first time, a natural wide-eyed curiosity, and the willingness to do anything required of them to make for a successful outing. Of course, like most people they have their own unique personalities and levels of hunting skill. In this case, they happen to be smaller than most and have some trouble in deep snow or rough country. They are named MacKenzie and Connor, and they are six and eight years old. They already love elk and elk country. In fact, they live in some of the best elk habitat that Colorado has to offer. But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…
I have known these two since they were born, and I’ve known their father, Pat, for a quarter century or so. Pat and I have shared a lot of elk camps together, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for a lot of money, unless of course I could use it to go on more hunting trips with him. He is one of the finest hunters I know, and he is lucky to be blessed with a wife who understands his passion, and surely knows that she could not stop him anyway. Certainly it’s no wonder that “the boys” as we call them, take to the outdoors as naturally as elk bugle. Pat tells me that there was a time he could leave the house without them tugging at his coat tails, but he can’t really remember when that was. It’s just the way it should be, I say.
Call it a genetically inherited instinct, or say, a natural affinity for the wilds, these boys love the mountains and it is an uplifting thing to see. Pat has trained them right, of course, having brought them along whenever he could even when it meant carrying them. He’s patiently endured the myriad challenges presented by a partner who can’t tie his shoes or zipper his own jacket. He has always been the unwavering teacher in the face of emergency potty breaks, snarled fishing reels, and miscellaneous meltdowns. It’s just the way it ought to be, says he. I love and respect him more than ever for that.
Always happy to lend support over the years, I’ve done my share and have been quick to offer whatever advice a four-year old can comprehend. Mostly, I’ve never missed a opportunity to ask them an important question. Something like, “Hey Boys! – I just want to know one thing – Are you going to pack my elk? It became our personal joke and was always a great question to ask at parties, causing them to fly off with hysterical giggles and laughter and to repeat it to their young friends who do the same. It’s not often that you get a chance to train a group of small ones in the proper order of hunting priorities. After all, middle age now stares me squarely in the paunch, and frankly, I’m gonna need the help.
Today, we are wholeheartedly engaged in what can only be called a “meat hunt”. We know that there is a small herd of elk not far above the house, and it is late afternoon before everyone is gathered and we prepare to sneak up and over the ridge. The boys have geared up like old pros, which of course in many ways they are. They have watched a multitude of elk from their picture window, probably before they were interested in much else. They know the elk trails and the difference between a yearling and a big cow and where the herd is likely to run if they are spooked. Connor is next to me when we start off, and he does his best Indian imitation while pointing out tracks along the way. He shows me where he last saw the elk, and as we near the top of a small rise we see the oh so typical head up frontal view of a smart old cow. We’re busted, and I’m wheezing up through the oak brush and slippery rocks for position.
The first group of cows is moving and I wait, hoping for a better shot and about to lose my opportunity. Luckily, a mature cow is bringing up the rear. It’s not the easiest shot in the world, nor the toughest, but I’ve not been shooting well for a couple of seasons and I take some extra time to draw a bead. I squeeze the trigger and she drops in her tracks. “Nice shot Mike”, I hear from my six-year-old guide. Sweet words to be sure when your luck has been a little off for a little too long, and out of the mouths of babes at that.
We stand around the downed animal and I am truly grateful. Pat heads off to help another member in our party, and I am left alone with the two boys and a beautiful sunset in a clear, cold December sky. The boy’s seem quite content to hunker down in the snow and watch, and help. I become aware of the fading sky and the mountain peaks over their shoulders and think that they are exactly where they want to be. They wear these mountains like a warm woolen blanket, and there is room underneath for me, and for us all.
I stand before the elk and bow to the four directions and give thanks, party because it is something I have come to do to show respect, and partly for effect, as I know they are watching. What are you doing, they ask? Why did you look in that direction first? It’s obviously time for me to answer some questions.
I decide to quarter the cow for easier handling, and when my knife comes out they really become interested. Something about boy’s and knives, I guess. “Why are you doing it that way, they say?”. Where did the bullet hit? How many teeth does it have? How old is it? Mike, your elk tooth wedding ring is all bloody is it going to be O.K.?” And so on and so on.
I warn them several times to stay clear of my knife in case I slip, but they never miss an opportunity to touch or prod or examine in some way this elk. Their mother has sternly warned them to not ruin their cloths, and both their father and I reminded them more than once. For all the good it does. They want to be close, to smell its’ smell and lay their fingers on its teeth. Even in death, they want to become part of its life. These two are hunters, make no mistake, and I’m proud to be with them on this mountain at this moment in time when two young people chose to join us all in the adventure that we love.
They were quiet for a while, and I was working to beat the darkness. I saw their heads come up and they smiled and looked at each other like they had a thought at the same time. “Hey Mike!, they say proudly. You know what?…we’re gonna pack your elk”.
I stare at them for a moment, and then clandestinely wipe a bit of moisture out of the corner of one eye. It is not an easy maneuver to perform with a heavy backstrap in one hand and a sharp blade in the other.
“That’s right, I say. I’m sure glad you guys are here”.
“The country knows. If you do wrong things to it, the whole country knows. It feels what’s happening to it. I guess everything is connected together somehow, under the ground.” – Lance Williams, Koyukon Elder, 1975
“When you see a new trail, or a footprint you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing.” – Uncheedah, The Grandmother of Ohiyesa
Animal signs and tracks have always fascinated me, no doubt encouraged by the knowledge that a living, breathing creature just laid them down and might be standing just over the next rise. Tracks are a record of nature’s wanderings and little doings, scratched and scribed on mother earth’s own back. They are placed there, as new each time, for those who wish to follow and investigate.
Temporary and ephemeral, they sing with animal promise and life eternal, bursting of meanings far greater than their small impression would indicate. They speak of purpose and plan, reward and desire, and adventure for all.
Tracks lead, I must follow. I aspire to ponder the possibilities of their message, and to attempt to practice what they may wish to teach. I wish could read them better. Maybe I can decipher them in this lifetime. I am determined to try.
I am a particularly fond of elk, and I am a dedicated student of elk tracks. Their shape intrigues me, and I like the way they cut deeply into the ground as if searching for the planet’s center, releasing the earth’s rich, dark aroma to mingle with their heavy musk. There is nothing subtle about the way that an elk marches through life, churning and slinging dirt and mud while becoming even more solidly rooted to the ground. It grounds my wandering boots as well. They pull me deeper into the ground with each step. I feel freer, calmer, and more fully connected to my life.
Their tracks tell their story, and I gain insight and know the characters more intimately through the added layers of each successive chapter. It is a long and complex tale. I have trailed along wherever and whenever I could. Later, my mind wanders, and I am on the move again, reliving old trails and experiences even when my body is somewhere else.
The characters in this tale are many and varied, each with their own unique qualities, motivations, and point of view. I can read the developing plot on the ground, at my feet, and just ahead. Here are tracks large and small, first meandering slowly, then running. Some are evenly spaced and calm, some are random and hurried. Yearling elk lay them down, as do old dry cows, new-born calves, and antlered bulls small and large.
They document the every day struggles, their hopes, their fears, joys, and occasional sufferings. I can picture in my visions the upturned head of an alert mother, nostrils quivering and searching for unwanted and dangerous scents. Ahead of her, I see a battle-scarred old warrior bull, standing tall in its last footprint, bugling and aching for a fight. It’s all written upon the ground, in the signs of animals and tracks.
Tracks have led me to vibrantly green, sundappled forests so beautiful it was difficult not to cry. It was tempting to lie down there forever, quiet and unmoving, until my body turned to stone, left to weather and crack and fall upon the earth.
I stood again, to wind my way through sage covered flats, with pounding rain and fog so thick that one is forced to look only down, watching the rain drops from your hat land squarely in the elk track below. Shielding my eyes from stinging, wind-driven snowflakes, I have waded through the unbearable snows of a terrible winter to find a calf’s last struggles against barbed wire and fence, too high.
More than once I have explored an anxious trail of tracks patterned by a solitary elk, and observed the paw prints of a mountain lion, or a bear, on top. Moving on intently, I have found only piles of hair or a few shards of bone in the last impression, with no elk left to pursue.
Backtracking upon tracks I was stepping on, I have been confronted with the reality of mountain lion or bear tracks covering my tracks, in turn. Tracks have led me to the center of nowhere, and back again. On the way I found myself, staring back. I am always looking for the next track to chase, eager to discover where it may lead.
My life is surrounded by elk and their tracks. apparently, I’ve made sure it worked out that way, without fully realizing it. Tracks lead past my house on their way to hay fields below, and I often stand in them on my way to our garden. Even at work, I look for them out of the corner of my eye, knowing that they are often just yards away from my comfortable shoes.
I work as a security guard, and my “office” is a “shack” at the main entrance of a golf course, country club, and home development. The sprawling property is interspersed with large homes on small lots, with much open space, and for now, many vacant house lots. A river runs through it. Public lands are near and expansive. Elk and mule deer are a commonly seen, along with a variety of smaller animals, birds and waterfowl. I am a most fortunate person.
You might say I have a room with a view. Red rocky ridges, sparkling clear water, and manicured greenery wrap around and fill the big windows of the small building. To the south, Mt. Sopris looms above us and refuses to be ignored. Broad shouldered and solid, with a long, deep blanket of shimmering snow fields below her twin peaks, it is one of my favorite and most comforting friends. The Ute Indians revered her first, and named her “Mother Mountain”.
Somehow I feel that she is watching, and that she is caring and protective of the many beings down below. I look to her often, and wonder what she would have to say about our human doings. She already knows that all is not always well in paradise.
“Mother Mountain” has a grand view of the “eagle tree” on the property, and a section of the development has been declared off-limits to all activity in an effort to honor the pair of bald eagles that raise their young here every summer. It is a grandfather of all trees, a towering ponderosa with heavy, thick branches, perfectly placed on the bank of a sweeping curve in the shallow river.
The eagles have been raising their young here for decades, perhaps millennia, or more. They have seen a lot, these eagles. The place would not be the same without them and it is a credit to the developer and others who planned it.
In the spring and summer people talk of them and wish to see them. They call for the daily eagle report. They are famous, they are legend. Homeowners and club members can see them whenever they wish. Outsiders cannot. We must protect the eagles from disturbance, we say. To appease the general public, we occasionally host a coordinated observation tour to show everyone that all is well in eagle world. It’s the least we can do.
However, limited and brief access does not satisfy the public demand. Most of the excited, would be visitors arrive by vehicle unannounced, without appointment. They wish to watch the eagles and they want to see them very badly. They are curious about their eaglets and they can’t wait to take their picture. One of the parent’s may return with a freshly caught and wiggling trout to feed the young, and they want to encourage them on. For their own reasons they are humans who want to be part of something else, something wild.
Birders and eagle lovers can be very determined folks, and they do not like to be turned away. But we do, because we must, and we can. After all, it is private property, you see. Members only, I’m afraid.
The private in private property can define and expose some harsh realities. It means that something, in this case the eagles, belongs to someone else. They are not for you. When I deprive someone of the eagles, I know that it was not my idea and that I am only doing my job, but that does not make me feel any better. I must wonder, as I turn to Mt. Sopris and ask, what would “mother” say”?
My head is out of the office as much as it is in, and when I slide the door open to greet a guest I cannot help but look in the direction of the river and the eagle tree. Perhaps I can catch a glimpse of that distinctive white head flashing in the light of a low sun, as it soars calmly over the back of an elk on its return to the comfort of the family nest.
After sunset, the night belongs to the elk, particularly during the long, cold nights of winter. I often can hear them calling back and forth to each other, conversing in a language as old as time. They paw and crunch through the snow just out of range of approaching headlights. On moonlit nights I can spot them weaving around the trees near the building, a ghostly apparition that begs me to leave my confines and join them. Unobservable to the casual traveler and yet so close, it is our little secret, the elk and I.
During the worst days of our long winters, the elk congregate on the property to escape the heavy snows of the high country. Skiers on their way to Aspen, most of them apparently from elkless places, slam on their brakes and leave the highway. They can’t believe their eyes. They shower me with questions. Is that an elk? How many are there? Where did they go? How long will they be here? They want to see the elk, and they want to see them very badly. They need to see them. Why are the elk here, they ask? I do not know the answer to that last one, but I am glad they asked. That is the million dollar question, after all.
I want to grant the them access, because I love the fact that they are so completely enthralled with an animal that I love too. Instead, I must say no, and turn them away. It is that private property thing again, rising to rear its ugly head. The elk are standing on private property, I explain. It is a private subdivision and a private club. The message is clear. They are “our elk”, not yours. They may wander about on public land most of the year, but they are “our elk” now. They are not for you. I cannot let you past. I cannot accommodate your request.
Most of the time they look past me and through me as if I’m not there, eager for another elk sighting. They plead and they reason, hoping to gain some toehold to hang on to and work a crack to break my resolve. They cannot believe I am blocking their way, incredulous at my lack of compassion and understanding regarding their need. I stand uninvolved, professional, resolute. They do not know that I wish for them to see them too. I cannot let them see the inner workings of my conflicted mind. If I only could…If they only knew…
The west is not the west that I came to 35 years ago. More populated, yes, but different in ways apart from the addition of people. Attitudes have changed. Colorado has become more and more like…other places. It has never ceased to amaze me how people come here to escape the problems of the place they have come from – and then promptly try to change the new place back into the old place they just worked so hard to escape. Too often our stunning views become valued most for the picture through the picture window in the great room of the palatial house on the new hobby ranch estate.
Here, as in many areas throughout the west, the trophy houses perch like sentinels above the river, on guard against the boatman who pass on the public waters below. In Colorado only the navigable and flowing water is public; the river bottoms and shorelines are private. May the heavens part and jagged thunderbolts smite the poor, unwashed soul who touches the river bottom with the metal of boat or anchor, or wader covered foot. They are watching, and the fish policemen are but a moment away. I should know. I am one.
The fish, of course, belong to the public. The finny creatures are managed by people who work for a public wildlife management agency, which is funded with public funds, paid primarily by private citizens who purchase a public fishing license with their private dollars, which pays for the public fish managed by the public wildlife management agency. Yet, there seems to be some confusion over who owns the fish.
The private property proclamations and numerous no trespassing signs are placed strategically and obviously to remind the boatmen not to stop. The signs imply the desired message. You may pass but do not enter. Wet your lines and be on your way. The area is designated as catch and release, the sign says, so put our fish back too. Like the elk, and the eagle, they are “our fish”, and not for you. I blissfully fished on these river banks many, many times over the years, with the eagles over my shoulders. There were no signs or houses then. I quit fishing here, a lifetime ago. Somehow all of the joy has long since been squeezed out of these troubled waters.
I like my job well enough. Like many people I have too many bills to pay, a mortgage to service, and promises to keep. I must work, but the duty does not particularly suit me. I struggle with my inner wranglings, and find it difficult to relate to people on equal or near equal terms, in an effort to provide what they need. Mind reading and the decoding of a person’s unspoken and true desire is not one of my strong suits. Oh how I wish that it was.
On the other hand, my desire is clear. I would prefer to be glued to a hot track, or directly connected to a pulsating and surging fish. I want to be the eagle, to fly away, circling ever upward and screaming fiercely in a bold, blue sky. I do my best to smile. No one has ever asked my opinion about anything substantial. In the end, I am a glorified Walmart Greeter, waving contentedly like a trained and tethered circus monkey, guarding a lifestyle at my back that I could never attain financially, but would never chose if I could.
To be fair, many of the residents love the elk and respect and cherish the gift of wildlife around them. They wish to help much more than harm. Most of the rest are nice enough. Some of the others, not so much. Some of the not so nice have long since moved away. Selling out, they were eager to move on to the next better place and conquer new-found worlds. Godspeed. I wish them well.Still, innocents abound. Only recently, a woman stopped to talk to me on a chilly and uneventful evening. She wanted to tell me her story of a deer, closely reliving it as she spoke. It was standing on her drive as she left the house, passing very close to her driver side window as she drove away.
Se had my undivided attention, as I am happy to talk deer. I was happy that she was happy to talk about a deer. She was captured by the sight, describing the encounter with wide-eyed animation. Then she exclaimed, “scarrreeeeey!”. Scary, I thought. You were scared….of a deer. A pie eyed yearling doe, harmlessly chewing grass and ready to bound away at the slightest provocation. Did I hear correctly?
I stood speechless and dumbfounded, and I am sure it read on my face, though I tried to hide it. What could I say to this nice lady? How could I respond in a manner that would make any sense? My mind could not work fast enough to process the statement or understand all of its pregnant ramifications. We were two ships passing in the middle of the impenetrable black night, and our cargoes could not be interchanged at sea. I had no frame of reference to draw from, no common ground to reach for, nor stable platform to commiserate from. I could only offer a curious smile, left to cock my head, and ponder how anyone could be so tragically out of touch from the natural world.
It reminds me of a similar story, from a similar place, told to me several years ago by a security guard who had manned his lonely outpost for more than a decade. The gated community was unfenced and surrounded by tens of thousands of brush and forest and home to a variety of rocky mountain wildlife. The entry gate was not a security gate at all, consisting of one bar which could be raised or lowered by the guard. He told of a homeowner who called late one night to inquire if he had perhaps had a sighting on her cat, which had been missing for several days. He jotted down the information for his report, doing his best professional security guard imitation. Trying to help, he sadly and patiently informed her that, since the cat had been missing for an extended period of time, she might want to consider the possibility that the cat had been captured and killed by one of the area’s many coyotes. She grew quiet on the other end of the phone line, than disconnected. The guard felt bad that he had been the one to broach the subject of bad news.
A short time later, the woman called back to yell and scream expletives, and then added “How dare you let that coyote through the gate”. She demanded the phone number of his supervisor, which he promptly passed along without additional comment, not wishing to add any additional flame to the fire. He never forgot about the incident though, and laughed gleefully as he told it, still not quite believing himself that it was true.
He said he wished he had told her that he would now be sure to interrogate all coyotes arriving at the gate. By the way, this is the same man who tracked Ted Bundy, a noted serial killer, through the snow at night after he had escaped from the county courthouse in Aspen, but that’s another story.
Coyotes are bad actors as far as many people are concerned. They receive a lot of press in our neck of the woods, most of it not favorable to the coyote. Not long ago our security office received a complaint. A coyote had grabbed a small dog from an unfenced yard in full view of the owner. There was nothing they could do. The dog was not seen again, and it was a traumatizing occurence for all concerned, particularly the dog. apparently, there had been a report of a suspicious coyote submitted the previous month. The homeowner wanted to know why the security staff had not been on top of the situation. Why had we not done more to prevent the incident? Why, indeed? It was just being a coyote, and doing what a coyote does.
It can be said that gated communities have complex and conflicting issues all their own, mostly because they lack exactly what is most obviously missing – community, and the comforts and security of it. People often become isolated, separate, and disconnected from each other. Money only magnifies the distance between them and it cannot save you from yourself. A pile of currency may humor the fantasies and massage the ego, but in the end the burdens of wealth may make real things worse.
You cannot contain nor confine the natural world, no more than you can hold it out. You can try to hold her at bay and at arm’s length, but in the end fences and guards cannot accomplish the desired effect and will only delay the inevitable. Humans can deny their interconnectedness to nature, but that does not make it true.
I think about these things while on patrol. I can not help it. Perhaps I think too much, and read too much meaning into circumstance. I see a vacant lots with elk standing on them, and think about the homeowner who sent in a photographer to take a picture of his property. He thought it would be a great selling point to pass around to prospective buyers. I wonder if he had considered that once sold, and house built, there would be no room left for the elk to stand. I drive about, stop to rattle doorknobs, check windows, look for coyotes and other suspicious characters. What do I say when I find one? Will they listen? What would they like to tell me?
I wonder what other people see and why they see it. They see elk tracks on expensive turf, ripping away and tearing at their summer fun. They see elk chewing on expensive trees and ornamental shrubbery. They see a sales pitch, a paragraph and photos in a glossy brochure in a carefully crafted promotional campaign. They see a nuisance, or an asset, depending on the need. They see competition, and not cooperation. They see profit, but only for themselves. Elk are something they own and can do with what they choose.
I see an animal having more and more trouble finding solid ground on which to live. I see an animal searching for the critical winter range of a valley floor, wondering where it has gone. I see a field where tall grass once waved in the wind, now smothered over with choking and lifeless asphalt. I see an animal staring at a tall wire fence near the shoulder of a busy highway, dodging cars and trying to find a way to put its nose in the river for a drink of water.
In my mind’s eye I see a mystical creature walking in a frost covered autumn meadow. I see young elk calves frolicking and playing tag on the green grass of summer, some with light spots on their skin. I see hunting camps and friends, animated and laughing. I see tired men sweating under heavy loads of meat and horn, winded and worn out from a hard day, but energized. I see steaks sputtering on a hot aspen fire, with good, smoky whiskey and cold, clear, creek water to wash it down. I see a young boy, now a man, describing his first kill while beaming with a grin so wide that it fills the sky. I see a father standing behind a boy who is so proud that he can not speak, but says it all with one look. I see more than I can comprehend. I do not have the words. I see way too much, and maybe not nearly enough.
Some time ago I walked around to the back of an empty, imposing house and came upon the sight of elk tracks on the concrete patio and walkways of a protected, hidden yard. Tall evergreen trees surrounded us like a natural cathedral. It had just snowed, and the tracks stood out like a beacon in the dazzling sun.
The sight stopped me quite dead in my stride. It was as if I had walked squarely into the solid concrete walls of some plainly obvious yet unseen building, as a great hand with extended finger descended from heaven to point them out in quivering disgust.
Kneeling in the snow by a gleaming steel barbecue, I felt light-headed and unsure. The earth moved beneath me as I did my best to control my revulsion and rising anger. Why the full force of it hit me so hard that day and at that particular moment I do not know. But it was real, and it was painful.
There is something terribly striking about the placement of elk tracks on concrete. It is an assault on the sensibilities of common sense and a great festering wound upon all that is spirited and free. It screams of wrongness and wrong-headedness, and of cleverness driven past it’s acceptable limit. The tracks document a trail of horrible mistakes and destructive paths. It is a unconscionable sacrilege.
No man should have to witness it, nor bear it. No man should have to try. The snow will melt and the tracks will disappear, leaving behind them only the promise of what might have been. I can read meaning into most kinds of animal tracks, but no matter how hard I may try I can find no sign on the cruel and heartless soul of concrete walks and driveways. I am, and have always been, a hunter. I must have fresh tracks to follow.
At that moment I see through other eyes, from some other time. A hint of memory flashes and reveals this place as it looked long, long ago. I see the ancestors there, huddled in the mist beneath heavy robes of fur, watching, waiting. I see their spears and primitive weapons, eager to sink their sharpness into hide and flesh. I feel their footfalls and their labored breath heaving in their chest. I feel the spear’s blade upon my hand, at the razor’s edge of all things. They are but a heartbeat away. They walk upon sacred ground and I can see no concrete under their feet. They may wish to look you squarely in the eye and disagree with your opinion as to owns this place. They told me so themselves.
This I know. The earth is the most patient of all living beings. She measures time in a fashion quite incomprehensible to our limited and mortal minds. The putting greens of the once great golf course will soon vanish into the recovering landscape, reverting to more normal flora and natural grasses as tall as a man. The houses will fare badly in the coming storm and other elements, and will eventually succumb to leak and decay as they list and slide to their knees upon the welcoming ground. Even the unforgiving concrete will crack and crumble, to be pounded into sand by the hooves of countless four leggeds, then carried away effortlessly by the healing winds. The land cannot and will not be owned, only borrowed for a brief moment along with the nurturing grace of god.
We do not own the elk, the eagle or the fish. Left to their own devices, they will remain here long after we are gone. Yet, if we are not careful they will disappear on our watch, to die the death of a thousand cuts and little insults. Our race will leave behind only the foul memories of a petulant child. Our legacy will be defined by the actions of disrespectful tourists, scratching impetuously and carelessly atop an improbable blue ball as it hurdles and spins through the limitless universe. How can we be so unaware of the magic at our feet?
Mother Earth asks only that we treat her with reverence and respect, and she is happy to provide all that we need in return. “It’s not to late”, she whispers. Can you hear her? Her heart is our heart. It is our choice.
Either way, life on this planet will continue in one form or another, with or without the puzzling, and sometimes troubling beast, called human. I will follow her track until then.
“one of the best aspects of our community is that we have the freedom to control access” (anonymous homeowner). Categorized under the ever more popular category – “You can’t make this stuff up!’.
“You live in a place full of light bulbs and chrome and rare fillets and box top contests. But when you die, you die in a place of mountains and sky, earth and fire, stars and the sea.” – John D. MacDonald, All These Condemned.
*This unique collection of new nature essays forthrightly addresses the environmental conditions and concerns of the 1990s. The contributors include an anthropologist, a filmmaker, and several novelists and fly fishermen and women as well as established nature writers like Wendell Berry, Gary Nabhan, and Bill McKibben. Subjects range from hiking in Alaska to viniculture in France, and the tone and style vary from the Swiftian satire of Robert F. Jones to John Murray’s personal meditation and Wendell Berry’s passionate biblical rhetoric. Yet these diverse essays are bound by a single theme summed up succinctly by Mary Katherine Bateson: “Ethics follow efficacy.” Because we humans have become so many and so powerful, we must become environmentally responsible; we must reform our greedy, exploitative relationship to the natural world and learn to share the planet’s wealth with other species and future generations. – Joan S. Elbers
Love him, or not, old news or not, can the prosecution and subsequent guilty plea of Ted Nugent for illegally taking a bear in Alaska in 2009 be considered fair, or just? Looking back, has anything changed, for the better, or worse, as a result of that fact?
Watch this video, in Ted Nugent’s own words, and you be the judge.
I, for one, say absolutely, not…I would also add that it’s not only about Ted. It’s about you, and us, and outdoorsmen everywhere. In the end, it is an underhanded backdoor attack on personal liberty and the fulfillment of our hunting heritage by an unelected and vindictive administrative state.
Shame on them!
How would you feel if this had happened to you on your long dreamed of, and expensive, hunting trip? Are you prepared to punch your tag and go home, should your arrow cut the hair of a bear – a hit that obviously has done no mortal or permanent damage? *Would you think it equitable to lose your hunting privileges in the United States and Canada for a number of years because you continued to hunt out your trip.
It’s certainly getting to the point where one must consider long and hard before ever loosing a shaft, or sending a well aimed bullet downrange. Obviously, that has always been the case if you are a thoughtful and ethical hunter. Yet, the consequences of a poor hit on a game animal are more serious than ever.
Could a law as illogical and dangerous as this come to my state of Colorado, for example, or the state in which you live?
Perhaps it already has. If you doubt that, you might want to take a long look at the regulations associated with the legal constructs of “Failure To Pursue”, “Dead-head and Shed Hunting Laws”, “Illegal Possession of a Big Game Animal”, and “Donation of Game Meat”, to name just a few. I can assure you that it will be an eye opening experience.
You might also ask yourself when the agencies of power, and the people within them, initially wrote, or rewrote, the laws in question. Do they really work in the field, in the real world…our hunter’s world? I am a biologist who has bowhunted for fifty years, and no lawmaker ever asked me for my opinion. And apparently I did not get the memo on the true meanings of the updated regulations, either. You?
And while we are at it, have you ever considered the subject of who really owns the wildlife of the realms? It would seem such an easy question to answer, particularly if you are a private land owner. Again, I can assure you that the answer may surprise you, though that is a topic for another time.
So, be careful out there! Know that your actions can and will always be scrutinized, for better or worse, by yourself, the hunting community, the non-hunting public, and the courts.
And don’t forget to study the latest round of game law regulations, no matter how voluminous, or confusing, they may be…
I have recently been accused of “beating a dead horse with a dead camel” for revisiting the trouble with Ted. Maybe that’s true, but this type of insufferable, bureaucratic harassment is an issue that is very much alive for me.
Because I hunt. A lot…and I would like to continue to do so until I can hunt no more. It would be nice to do so without constant threat of fine and penalty for violating some new, obscure, and poorly written regulation that has no grounding in common sense or sound wildlife management.
One thing is also clear. It’s also about time to stand up and be counted, as my pioneering, bowhunting father used to say. I can still hear him now – everyday!
*The Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (IWVC) is a United States interstate compact (an agreement among participating states) to provide reciprocal sharing of information regarding sportsman fishing, hunting, and trapping violations and allows for recognition of suspension or revocation of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses and permits in other member states resulting from violations concerning hunting, fishing and trapping laws in order to prevent poaching across state lines.
Illegal activities in one state can thus affect a person’s hunting or fishing privileges in all member states. The IWVC obligates members to report wildlife violation convictions to Compact members, gives the members the capability to honor each other’s suspensions, and provides the method to exchange violator data between member states. A conviction in one Compact member state may cause them to be barred from participating in hunting, fishing, and trapping in all member states, at the discretion of each state.
Below is Ted Nugent’s full statement regarding his guilty plea on Tuesday in Alaska of illegally killing a bear. It’s entitled “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
“Not a day goes by where an American outdoorsmen doesn’t confide in me that due to the increasingly complex, illogical hunting and fishing regulations across the nation, that it would not surprise them that they have unintentionally violated a game law at some point in time. Other outdoorsmen routinely express their frustration about regulations that serve no purpose and cannot possibly be explained in terms of wildlife management.
“America is increasingly drowning in just such strange, goofy regulations and requirements. As logic crusader John Stossel recently exposed, our federal government releases roughly 80,000 pages of new regulations each year, confusing, ambiguous, weird illogical regulations that serve no meaningful purpose other than to feebly attempt to justify bureaucracies already off the rails. It’s way past bizarre.
“The ‘you don’t need to read it, you just need to sign it’ health care bill argued before the Supreme Court was almost 2,000 pages long of extraordinarily complex rules and regulations. Sarcastically, Supreme Court Justice Scalia stated that reading the bill was a violation of the 8th Amendment’s (protection against) cruel and unusual punishment clause.
“Regrettably, state hunting regulations have also been ravaged by the over-regulation beast. In Alaska, the hunting regulation book is 128 pages long. Alaska trapping regulation is 48 pages.
“Alaska is not alone. Numerous other states have seen incredible expansion of their hunting regulations over the past few decades. In Texas, the summary of hunting and fishing regulations is 85 pages. The hunting regulations in California are roughly 140 pages long.
“Even with an increasing mountain of often confusing and complex hunting and fishing regulations to abide by, sportsmen have a legal and ethical obligation to know and abide by these regulations, no matter how goofy they may be. I have said this for decades and will continue to do so as we fight to make them sensible.
“I have hunted in Alaska for almost 40 years. It is a spectacular, beautiful place that offers incredible big and small game hunting cherished by sporters from around the globe.
“In 2009, I returned again with my sons to Alaska to hunt black bear. What I was unaware of is that the specific region where I hunted had a new and unprecedented requirement that a bear hunting tag was considered to be “filled” even with a non-lethal hit on the animal. For sixty years, every “tag” regulation in every state and Canadian province has declared that you tag the animal upon taking possession of the animal.
“The first arrow I shot on that hunt was obviously a non-lethal shot where the arrow literally glanced off the animal’s rib, as seen clearly on stop action video. The bear leapt, stopped, looked around, and slowly ambled off, confused but unhurt by the disruption. After diligent effort by my son and I, we were convinced that this bear was alive and well. We then continued our hunt and ultimately killed a beautiful black bear.
“I filmed the entire hunt including the first non-lethal arrow and put it on my television program Spirit of the Wild on Outdoor Channel for tens of millions of viewers to witness. Airing the hunt on television proves beyond all doubt that I had no willful intention to violate any hunting regulation.
“Was I negligent in not knowing the Alaska bear hunting rule for the specific region I hunted that year? Absolutely. For my negligence, I have been charged with a violation and I plead guilty. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person ever charged with violating this new, unheard of law. Lifetime AK hunters, guides, outfitters, even the resident judge at my hearing were unaware of such an unprecedented regulation.
“While I disagree with Alaska’s requirement that a tag is considered to be “filled” even on a non-lethal hit, that was the requirement at the time of my hunt. Had I known of that requirement, I would not have hunted that region because I fundamentally disagree with it, and I certainly would not have hunted another bear.
“I have promoted the grand, honorable hunting lifestyle all of my life and will continue to do so. Hunting, fishing and trapping are the epitome of true conservation.
“What I also pledge to American outdoorsmen is to work to repeal onerous, unscientific, counterproductive rules and regulations that make no sense such as the seven states where hunting is banned on Sunday, making 50% of the season illegal for the average hunting families in those states. Idiotic laws such as these are a hindrance to real conservation and the critical need for recruiting new hunters. Such arbitrary laws serve no scientific purpose that benefits the management of wildlife value whatsoever.
“The outdoor lifestyle cannot be preserved for future generations of sportsmen by constructing such a labyrinth of confusing, unscientific and oftentimes counterproductive regulations and rules. Reversing this trend is my focus.
“While I have never intentionally violated a hunting regulation, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and I am truly sorry, and have paid dearly. There is even less of an excuse for ignorant laws.”
“One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am –a reluctant enthusiast…a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still there. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards”.– Edward Abbey
*I recently became a member of Hunter Nation, and just received this welcome letter in my inbox. Like many things, it’s all about the message, and I could not agree more with the sentiments expressed so passionately to us all.
I thought that you might like to read it too:
Messages from Mark
Mark DeYoung, Hunter Nation CEO
Support of All Legal Hunting Methods
Hunter Nation supports all hunting and all methods of legally harvesting game. At a time when hunting is misunderstood and under attack around the world, we as hunters cannot continue to fight amongst ourselves. Hunters are a proud and usually self-reliant set of individuals. Some of us enjoy bow hunting, others long-range hunting, some prefer the challenges of a muzzleloader, while others are all about shotguns. Some hunt whitetail deer, some hunt elk, and still others are driven by the quest for mule deer or a variety of wild sheep species. Then there are the bird hunters who pursue turkey, pheasants, waterfowl, quail, dove and more. All too often these different pursuits are compared to each other in a kind of competition about the difficulty or which hunt takes more skill. Does it really matter what our game of choice is or how we hunt? Isn’t it much more important that we all come together as a united band of hunters dedicated to protecting and preserving our right to hunt? Shouldn’t ALL hunters stand as one and support each other in defending ALL legal and ethical hunting?
Our national hunting community is also divided into organizations dedicated to a species, a region, a method of hunting, etc. These self-imposed divisions can weaken our overall influence and the strength of our voice as hunters. Various conservation and hunting organizations are important, and they are focused on doing good work for their constituents and the species they are focused on supporting. Hunter Nation applauds their efforts, accomplishments, and commitments. Hunter Nation also realizes that unless hunters and conservation organizations come together and form a broad coalition we risk being overwhelmed by the powerful and well-funded anti-hunting community. Hunter numbers continue to decline, and hunting continues to suffer from attacks by the more organized and more influential animal rights and environmental groups. Sadly, we even have hunting groups that fight against proven conservation techniques, multi-use public lands, and traditional hunting methods.
Here at Hunter Nation, we are committed to helping create a more influential and powerful voice for all hunters. We appreciate and value the traditional hunting heritage of this great nation and believe that action is required NOW to ensure hunting’s future. We are working to support the delisting of wolves and return all predator management decisions to state agencies who are best able to manage their herds and flocks. We are working to educate hunters and legislators across the country on the benefits of hunting as a key conservation tool. We are working to form partnerships and build coalitions to enhance the influence of hunters in both state and national level legislative processes.
We encourage you to get engaged in hunting-related issues, speak up for hunting and our traditional way of life, and get educated on the threats and opportunities facing hunting and hunters. Hunters must stand united and proud in our commitment to God, Family, Country, Conservation and Hunting.
As you enter the woods, plains, and wetlands in pursuit of game this fall we wish you safety, luck and success, whether that means harvesting an animal or just enjoy the hunt with friends and family.
Thank you for being a member of Hunter Nation. Together we can win the fight to preserve and protect our hunting heritage.
“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher “standard of living” is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech”. – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Sportsmen argue EPA ignored sound science, prioritized advancement of Pebble mine over fishing industry.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited CEO, (571) 274-0601
Nelli Williams, Trout Unlimited Alaska program director, (907) 230-7121
ANCHORAGE, AK – Trout Unlimited, represented pro bono by Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its recent decision to withdraw protections for the Bristol Bay region of Alaska. Called the Bristol Bay Proposed Determination, the protections would have limited the scope and scale of impacts from the proposed Pebble mine to the world-class salmon, trout and water resources of the region.
“The practical effect of the EPA’s decision was to help out a mine that would devastate a fishing and hunting paradise,” said John Holman, who grew up in the area and is a second-generation owner of No See Um Lodge, a Trout Unlimited member business. “I cannot in good faith pass a business down to my family that will become a financial burden if the Pebble mine is built. Who does our government work for? This decision made it seem like the EPA and our elected officials are writing off thousands of American jobs, and businesses like mine so a foreign mining company can obliterate the land I depend on, then walk away.”
Trout Unlimited’s lawsuit alleges the EPA ignored science and the potential impacts of developing the mine when it withdrew the Bristol Bay Proposed Determination, and in doing so violated the Administrative Procedures Act and Clean Water Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a permit to Pebble if the EPA’s decision on the Bristol Bay Proposed Determination is overturned.
“Billions of dollars have been spent in attempt to restore salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, Bristol Bay sets records for its salmon returns year after year. All we need to do is have the humility and common-sense to leave this landscape alone,” said Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Sacrificing a place as such as Bristol Bay for some gold is a short-sighted fools-errand. We are not a litigious organization, but we and millions of other sportsmen and women will not allow greed to compromise the most important salmon fishery on the planet.”
The Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska supports the world’s most abundant sockeye salmon run, Alaska’s best Chinook salmon run, and a world-famous trophy rainbow trout fishery. These fisheries are the foundation for a robust sportfishing industry, a rich cultural history and subsistence way of life supporting more than 30 Alaska Native Tribes, and a valuable commercial fishing industry. Bristol Bay fishing—including sport, commercial and subsistence—accounts for thousands of sustainable local jobs and more than $1.5 billion in annual economic activity.
Citing this unique and wild character, and the economic and cultural importance of the region, the EPA prepared the Bristol Bay Proposed Determination after years of scientific research and multiple peer reviews, with many thousands of Alaskans and millions of Americans voicing support for protecting the region.
“Any action that jeopardizes this fishery and extremely unique place is unacceptable,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “The proposed Pebble mine is widely opposed by anglers and hunters across Alaska and the country. This lawsuit is a step to hold the EPA accountable to their own science and American sportsmen and women, not a foreign-owned mining company.”
“Look at what’s at stake and the maddening progress Pebble is making here at our expense,” said Nanci Morris Lyon, local resident and owner of Bear Trail Lodge, a Trout Unlimited member business. “Contrary to science, the will of the people, and common sense, Pebble is advancing toward their key permit, thanks in part to agencies giving them handouts. This lawsuit calls that out. We can’t afford Pebble in Bristol Bay, and that means we need science, oversight, integrity and persistence.”
“Removing the Proposed Determination was one of the most poorly justified decisions in the history of the Clean Water Act and is an affront to the fisheries, local communities, and sportsmen and women around the world,” said Wood.
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. In Alaska we have worked in the Bristol Bay region for almost two decades along with thousands of members and supporters including dozens of businesses that depend on the fishery of the region. Follow TU on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and our blog for all the latest information on trout and salmon conservation. For more information on the Save Bristol Bay campaign go to SaveBristolBay.org.
Major overhaul of state, federal hunting regulations to simplify rules to address safety and wildlife management is essential…Hunting and fishing regulations should be as simple as possible, Nugent writes.
Recruit, retain, reactivate is known as the 3R battle cry for the future of conservation in America. With the tragic (and what I believe to be the self-inflicted) decline in hunter numbers across the country over the years, if those of us who truly cherish this extraordinary American conservation heritage and vital lifestyle fail to step up and get cracking to reverse this scourge like we mean it, believe me when I tell you, all is lost.
We know all about the dramatic change in the geographical population drift from rural to urban. We all know about the intentional dumbing-down of America by left-wing dingbats in academia, media, Hollywood and government to deny the necessity of annual hunting season harvests.
It is painfully apparent that certain technological advances in the world have attracted more and more sedentary homebodies to avoid the great outdoors.
There are many dynamics at play against us here, but I am convinced that with a genuine, united effort by those of us who care, these unacceptable, culturally suicidal trends can be reversed.
I recently wrapped up a cross-country musical tour where I met with an average of six to 20 (or more) hunting enthusiasts per night for 42 nights in 38 different cities.
Coupled with the last 50 years of doing the same for 6,756 concerts, I can assure you that I have met with and listened to more hunting families face to face and up close and personal, than maybe any human that has ever lived.
First and foremost on everyone’s mind are the mind-numbing volumes of nonsensical regulations that literally scare sporters en masse out of the sport. Would-be hunters are scared to death of getting busted for such ridiculous arbitrary rules as bow case and gun case laws.
It has been stated many, many times that the average state hunting and fishing regulation booklets are so voluminous and confusing, oftentimes illogically contradictory, that one would require a team of wildlife specialist lawyers to translate them for us.
And we would still get in trouble!
We all need to relentlessly hammer our elected employees and state and federal game departments to demand a major overhaul of state-by-state and federal hunting regulations to simplify the rules, which ought to address safety and wildlife management 101, and nothing else.
Hunting and fishing regulations should make the activities as attractive and simple as possible, and what works in one state should be the model for all states.
Wildlife biology does not change at some mysterious line between regions. Habitat and population dynamics, along with annual game counts should dictate harvest rates and policy. Period.
If you are sick and tired of bureaucrats wasting our hard-earned tax dollars hiring so called “sharpshooters” to kill our deer, bear, elk, cougars and wolves for us, start that essential, American, activist fire in your deer-hunting world to demand accountability and fairness in our sport.
The list of absurd rules and regulations ruining our sport across the country would take up an entire “Gone with the Wind” tome, and we all know what they are.
Fire up your fellow sporters to get engaged with the We-the-People, do-or-die political process. Do it now!
Visit us at HunterNation.org to unite and galvanize the most powerful voting force in America: the licensed hunting families of the United States.
Are you a wimp on the sidelines? Or are you a real American in that swirling dust in the arena?
Let’s get it on.
Michigan’s Ted Nugent is an award-winning musician and writer, with numerous best-seller books including “Ted, White and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto,” “God, Guns and Rock ’n’ Roll,” and “Kill It and Grill It.”
*And may I add, that I could not agree more, …and don’t get me started. You…?
MISSOULA, Mont.—A recent thinning treatment designed to enhance wildlife habitat in New Mexico marks the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s 12,000th lifetime conservation project.
“This milestone is a credit to our volunteers, members, partners and all others who support our mission,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “Without them we simply could not do what we do to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.”
The project took place in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish on BLM-managed land approximately 120 miles southwest of Albuquerque. Crews used chainsaws to remove pinion and junipers encroaching into grasslands, meadows, canyon bottoms and established mature tree stands.
Such encroachment blocks the growth of diverse natural forage for elk, mule deer and other wildlife. It also triggers soil erosion and watershed impairment.
“The Pelona Mountain area is a region we are very familiar with,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “Dating back to 1994, RMEF worked with our partners to carry out 15 different projects there including thinning, prescribed burns and the construction and repair of wildlife water developments.”
The projects benefitted nearly 21,000 acres of wildlife habitat within Game Management Unit 16E, an area used for hunting and other recreational activities.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded 35 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of nearly 235,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 7.5 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org, elknetwork.com or 800-CALL ELK.
You can see the original press release, as well as a video Here.
In August, Gov. Jared Polis gave sportsmen and women a tool to protect migration corridors in Colorado. BHA welcomes this executive order (EO), and we thank the governor for his leadership on this bipartisan issue. If you’d like to thank Gov. Polis for this action you can follow this link.
The Importance Of Wildlife Habitat
In 2004 a group of seven hunters and anglers came together around a campfire to discuss the tenets of our hunting heritage. The conversation that ensued shaped the core mission and values of what Backcountry Hunters & Anglers would become and would shape our focus, making us the outspoken, fastest growing organization for our public lands, waters, and wildlife habitat that we are today.
Our hunting heritage depends on healthy populations of wild game. Habitat is fundamental to supporting these populations, and it is incumbent upon us as sportsmen and women to be outspoken advocates for protecting it. We are losing this habitat every day. Subdivisions, roads, trails and energy fields are being steadily developed to meet the demands of a population expected to nearly double in size by 2050. Since 2001, Colorado has lost more than half a million acres of habitat, nearly the size of Rhode Island. The habitat we’re losing is widespread – leading to increasingly fragmented landscapes on which wildlife depend. This change has been incremental, but ceaseless – difficult to recognize at times but very real and deserving of our attention.
Development of wildlife habitat is impacting migration routes, oftentimes altering the course of these historic routes and sometimes cutting them off altogether. For wildlife such as a mule deer with a strong fidelity to historic migration routes, these changes can take a significant toll – severely limiting movement between critical ranges, the food and refuge they provide, and putting them and other game species on a collision course along our highways and roadways. This can limit mule deer access to food and refuge, concentrating populations into smaller and smaller areas and creating barriers to movement.
If not properly planned and mitigated, such development can depress native populations of wildlife like mule deer. As hunters, anglers and conservationists, we have a duty to help advance commonsense solutions that help ensure our wildlife continues to thrive alongside human development. Colorado hunters, anglers and decision makers have worked to advance policy solutions and funding mechanisms that ensure wildlife habitat conservation is at the forefront of land use planning decisions in the state.
What Does This Executive Order Do?
While the EO doesn’t formally designate protections for migration corridors, it does take a number of positive steps to support and direct Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Department of Transportation and other important stakeholders to better protect migration corridors moving forward.
The EO directs CPW to gather the best available science and to lead public outreach and education efforts around seasonal habitat and migration corridors. This will enable CPW to fill in data gaps and identify the biggest threats facing wildlife habitat and migration corridors. This also will allow CPW to better understand the current functionality of habitat and migration corridors, allowing for the strategic prioritization of habitat and corridor protections where they are needed most. The EO also directs CPW to identify potential sources of funding to support research and implementation.
The EO directs DNR to identify opportunities to ensure the ongoing conservation of seasonal habitat and migration corridors. This means that DNR will be considering migration corridors in new and existing agency policies and permitting processes moving forward. This also means DNR will be working with private land owners and neighboring states to protect seasonal habitat and migration corridors.
The EO directs CDOT to enable safe wildlife passage and to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and to incorporate the maintenance of wildlife migration into all levels of its planning process. This is a great step. Wildlife crossings will play a key role in maintaining and improving the functionality of migration corridors impacted by roadways and highways in Colorado. This EO also directs CDOT to actively seek partnerships and financial support outside of the agency to effectively implement these conservation measures.
The EO directs CPW and CDOT to enter into a memorandum of understanding by the end of 2019 to access current processes and practices, identify new opportunities to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and to restore, conserve, and protect migration corridors across public roadways. Both CDOT and CPW are directed to identify prioritize areas for crossings based on the best available science.
Our ability to protect migration corridors in Colorado was recently strengthened by Secretarial Order (SO) 3362 in February of 2018. This order provides basic guidelines to support collaborations between the federal, government, states, and private landowners; it prioritizes the use of the best available science, and it helps identify funding to support this work.
This is a great step for Colorado, and BHA looks forward to working with our state, agency and community partners to move this work forward. Whether we’re partnering with community outreach efforts with CPW, contributing to citizen science, or showing up to advocate for wildlife habitat, the Colorado Chapter of BHA will be there.
We need your help. If you’d like to volunteer or get involved please contact us!