Sunday, August 31, 2014

Montana Upland Bird Hunting: Sage Chicken Certified...

Our bird season opens tomorrow. Over the past 15 seasons or so it's become sort of a tradition for us to open the season chasing sage chickens.

I can't recall ever discussing why sage chickens, when we could put mountain grouse, sharptails, Huns, even doves, at the head of the opening day docket, But a big part of it is close to home, big , empty, public land, no hunters (we rarely see another hunter, opening day or otherwise), we enjoy eating sage chicken (I know, I know most of the rest of you consider "coyote bait" or worse, your mistake but why beat a dead horse) but mostly in deference to Kate the Wirehair's obvious love affair with our biggest grouse. Yes, she did point 13 other upland birds during her 12 season run and being a bird dog and all it does seem pretty silly of me to say she "loved" sage chickens above all. Like hell man, what makes you think your bird dog is any different than you who would be lying not admitting the best bird is the one you happen to have lined up in your sights at the moment. Right...But...

consider the long drive home following several weeks gunning eastern Montana and North Dakota where she put on clinics at just about every stop...Huns, sharpies, roosters. Where it seemed each morning she leaped out the camper door wearing a perpetual doggie grin and that stare down you just could not translate any other way...C'mon boss, drag ass and where to next, we got birds to kill and time's a wastin'. 

Now on the long drive home, lying between us on the front seat head up, somehow awake, alert as if we hadn't yet hunted a lick; silently staring down the center-line of the highway, we suddenly pass from endless wheat and alfalfa into wall-to-wall sagebrush...You guessed it, the little bitch starts bawling...who-o-o, who-o-o...stop the damn truck you fool, sage chickens, let me at 'em! As I say, "Sage Chicken Certified."

Kate's been gone now a couple but Annie's on deck, ready once again to pinch hit for big sister. And in the morning we will head out somewhere in the vast sagebrush sea, surrounds our little town and blankets much of southwest Montana. But this time around will be different. Caving under pressure from the usual special interest groups--livestock, developers, miners, environmental, save-the-planet, whackos, you know the culprits--and the politically motivated USFWS wielding its considerable big stick--threatened listing of yet another endangered species--Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks decided to toss a bone and of course, as we all know, the easiest bone to pick up and toss is, you guessed it again, the Hunter. Thus...

...season kaput in something like 14 counties,cleave in half what's left...in other words instead of a 60 day season, take 30 and be glad of it...And no, I'm not stupid, realize full well it could have been far worse. But I'm not buying, not for a minute, shutting down the season for good, as was the original proposal, denying a small handful hunters, who kill an admitted handful birds annually will make even a small drop in a badly leaking bucket.

Until the powers that be stand up, get the guts, if you prefer, and address the real issue--habitat degradation--sage chicken populations will continue to plummet. We hunters know all too well once a hunting opportunity is lost it is highly unlikely to ever re-open; lacking hunters who is left out there to champion their comeback...with apologies to Thomas McGuane, should sage chickens be lost, smash the state!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Montana Bird Hunting Forecast 2014

Fish, Wildlife and Parks rundown on the current status of Montana's upland game birds.
Gray (Hungarian) Partridge

While no formal surveys are conducted for huns in Montana, various observations along with weather and habitat conditions suggest huns will be average to below average again this season. Observations in Regions 4, 6, and 7 suggest average numbers. Observations from Region 5 suggest numbers will be below average and lower than last year.

Mountain Grouse

Observations in western Montana suggest average to slightly above average numbers of all species. Preliminary information from Region 5 suggests overall blue grouse and ruffed grouse numbers will likely remain below the long term average.

Montana is experiencing a large decline in CRP acreage along the northern tier of the state, which may have an impact on hunting experiences in Regions 4 and 6. In this area, spring "crow counts"—where wildlife biologists travel specific routes to count and record the "crowing calls" of cock pheasants to determine population trends—were 42 percent above the long term average. Region 7 reported that populations will vary between fair to near the long-term average in good habitat. In northwestern Montana, weather in Region 1 resulted in below average numbers on the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area. Region 3 reported average numbers for southwestern Montana. In Region 5, pheasant crow counts varied but were below the long-term average. Overall, Region 5 expects the 2014 season will be similar to last year’s season.


Statewide, male attendance at leks averaged 13.1 males/lek, which is 54% below long-term average and down from 14.9 males per lek last year.  The continued drop is likely a function of cool, wet conditions during the brood-rearing season in 2013 which led to low brood survival.  The drop in abundance was more apparent in eastern Montana; abundance estimates in southwestern Montana were stable but still below long-term average.  Consequently, hunters can expect numbers to be near average to well below average in areas open to sage-grouse hunting.  Preliminary reports suggest nest and brood success are excellent in 2014 which may mitigate additional declines.

Sharp-tailed grouse
Region 6 reported fair to average numbers in good habitat. Lek surveys and other observations in Region 6 indicate sharp-tail numbers will be near the long term average across the region. General observations from Region 5 suggest below average numbers. Region 7 reported that sharp-tail populations will be near the long-term average where habitat conditions are good.


Region 5 reports that chukar numbers remain below average but may have some potential for improvement this year.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Massive Mine Tailings Pond Blowout Makes “Coexist” Video Sadly Laughable

...Photo, Video Links and Article courtesy Field &Stream/Hal Herring

It’s turned out to be a tough summer on the headwaters of British Columbia’s famed Fraser River, as one of mining’s largest disasters plays out in and above Quesnel Lake. On August 4, a roughly 1000-foot-long tailings pond dam on an open-pit copper and gold operation called the Mount Polley Mine blew out in spectacular fashion. The video of the blow-out is astounding and depressing—almost 6 million cubic yards of mining waste, carried along by 10 million cubic yards of contaminated water, scouring creeks, leveling forests, destroying roads and sweeping the whole mess into Quesnel Lake, which feeds the Quesnel River. Watch Here

What the long-term effects will be on Hazeltine Creek (which before the spill was about six feet across, and is now a gulch over 150 feet wide), Quesnel Lake, and the Quesnel River are unknown. The Quesnel is a major tributary of the world-famous Fraser River, and is the spawning grounds for an estimated 1.5 million sockeye salmon each year, an essential part of the Fraser fishery that on very good years (which this one is expected to be) sees an estimated 23 million sockeyes come upriver from the Pacific Ocean. The fishery employs thousands of people and is a major part of British Columbia’s $2.2 billion salmon economy.

On August 10th, mine operators were still pumping water from the blown-out tailings pond down Hazeltine, because the wastewater lake was refilling at an alarming rate and threatening another breach. Imperial Metals, the owner of the Mount Polley Mine, may face a $1 million (Canadian) fine for the breach.
If there is any humor to be found here at all, it’s very dark, and it’s on video. Before the disaster, the Canadian-owned Pebble Partnership, which proposes to create the world’s largest open pit mine in Alaska on and in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, was using the Mount Polley Mine as an example of how the Pebble Project would pose no threat to the world’s greatest salmon fishery. “It’s not about trading one resource for another, it’s about mining and fisheries coexisting,” says the cheery narrator of the cartoon.

The advertisement vanished from the Pebble Partnership’s website after the Mount Polley dam collapsed, but my friend Sarah Gilman at High Country News found it hiding out in the jungles of the internet, and gave it a new home in her blog.

It is well worth the very short watching time. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150630434280437

I spent some time watching it back to back with the blowout video linked at the beginning of this post, and then I went home, gathered up my son and daughter and my wife and dog, and we went fishing and swimming in the river west of our house. I suggest you do something similar.

...Hal Herring
PS After reading and watching we too--Gale, Annie and me--packed up and went fishin'...
On another track I'm once again accepting comments ; click "no comments" and feel free (note to sickies Do Not Bother, AX is sharp and...over and out...Chuck