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ND House passes protection from public, leaves private land open to hunters

The North Dakota House of Representatives has taken a step toward improving property right protections. A bill that would have helped move the state toward adopting fundamental property rights in regard to trespass was split into two parts. Division one, the segment that would change the law to require the public to ask permission before entering private property (for all purposes except for hunting) was approved by the House of Representatives. The second part would have created an allowance for electronic posting, established an advisory group on access issues and required the group to make a majority recommendation by 2020 or land would be considered closed for hunting purposes. This segment failed. In the end, the remaining portions of the bill passed.

The Senate passed a different version earlier this session – a bill that included the electronic “posting” option, that allowed landowners to select “open to hunting,” “closed to hunting,” or “open with permission.” The bill now goes to conference committee where committee members from both the House and Senate will negotiate, and will need to approve some version of the bill in order to keep the issue alive. If a compromise is found, both chambers must approve it, in order for the bill to become law.

Current North Dakota law allows the public to access on private property unless the landowner has posted signs at various points around their property indicating “no trespassing” or “no hunting.”

North Dakota Stockmen’s Association Executive Vice President Julie Ellingson calls the current statute “archaic” and says this is the closest the state has ever come to updating the law.

“It would have been nice to have had the whole shebang, but we appreciate the vote in the House that allows us to continue working on this issue.”

Lidgerwood rancher and landowner Kathy Skroch, representing District 26 said that her constituents had hoped to see the bill passed in its entirety.

“SB 2315 was going to be a good answer to protecting private landowners’ rights and as it split, it very definitely weakened the bill,” she said.

Skroch said the issue has been a hot one during the session, and she worries that landowners across the state are at a “flashpoint.” She fears that without some fundamental property protections, landowners will “lock the land up so tight, it will be a slamming of the door.”

She hopes the public is gaining a better understanding of the frustration landowners feel about this issue. “We’ve been kicking the can down the road. I’m told landowners are going to take that can, fill it with cement and stick a big ‘no trespassing,’ ‘no hunting’ sign right in the middle of it.”

Skroch said she is still hopeful the state can avoid that situation with some common sense legislation.

Several sportsmen groups are lobbying hard to keep the status quo for hunters.

Darrell Belisle of Turtle Lake spoke on behalf of the North Dakota Bowhunters. In an earlier interview with TSLN, he said he was a part of a sportsmens group that met with the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association since the 2017 legislative session but that the two groups didn’t reach a compromise.

“Sportsmens groups are concerned first about the lack of contact information. We use the posted signs to know who to contact and to know whose land we are on. Our biggest concern is that we’ll lose hunters. This will cause more confusion and we’ll lose even more hunters,” he said.

Hunters have a hard time knowing whose land is whose, he said, and it’s hard to find landowners, particularly out of state ones.

“Personally, myself, I prefer to ask permission even though that land may not be posted,” he said.

“My group respects the landowners’ concern for private property rights but we hope to find a compromise that respects the needs of the solution,” he said. But neither Belisle nor his group have a suggestion as to what that compromise would be.

Belisle believes that allowing property owners reasonable privacy (without a posting requirement) is a violation of freedom of speech. “The first Amendment includes freedom of speech and right now landowners have the right to say what happens on their land. They can say ‘I don’t want trespassing.’ They can say ‘give me a call.’ They can say whatever they want to. But this bill is asking the state to do the speaking for everyone, even those that don’t care. I think that’s a clear violation of freedom of speech.

Skroch said she heard an opponent to the bill say that “owning land is a privilege and hunting is a right,” and that it is only a handful of “selfish, lazy” ranchers who want to require hunters to ask permission before accessing private property.

Significant Lands Package passes Senate, includes Risch Bills benefiting Idaho

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate today passed a package of bipartisan bills, including several provisions authored or sponsored by U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-ID), which would improve public lands management, protect Idaho’s natural landscapes, and increase public access for sportsmen while protecting private property rights. The Natural Resources Management Act included two bills introduced by Risch, the Reclamation Title Transfer Act and legislation to improve a recreation facility at Smith Gulch, and several other bills cosponsored by Risch that would increase public access to shooting ranges, among other reforms.

“We place a high value on our public lands in Idaho and want to ensure they’re accessible for thousands of sportsmen and women in Idaho as well as for future generations,” said Senator Risch. “It’s also important that we not allow federal government interference to hinder the critical role of land and water in our agricultural industry. This legislative package does both and I applaud Chairman Murkowski for her hard work across the aisle to find consensus on these dozens of bipartisan bills.”

S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, reflects a bipartisan Senate-House agreement to bundle together over 100 individual lands bills. This bipartisan package strikes a balance between creating new opportunities for natural resource and community development, primarily in western states, with limited, locally-supported conservation. For a full list of reforms in the lands package, click here.

Provisions Introduced or Cosponsored by Risch in the Lands Package:

The Reclamation Title Transfer Act: Introduced by Risch

The Reclamation Title Transfer Act will streamline the process for non-federal entities, like irrigation districts to obtain the title for Reclamation projects they already operate and have repaid. More than two-thirds of Reclamation assets are operated by these entities.

This bill will give the Secretary of Interior the ability to facilitate qualifying transfers instead of requiring each individual transfer be approved by an act of Congress.

Title ownership increases flexibility, autonomy, and the ability to secure financing for beneficiaries of the projects.

Legislation to Improve a Recreation Facility at Smith Gulch: Introduced by Risch in Senate, Introduced by Simpson in House

Would allow for intended maintenance of commercial recreation services at Smith Gulch in the Frank Church Wilderness.

Owyhee Wilderness Areas Boundary Modifications Act: Introduced by Crapo, cosponsored by Risch

Makes locally supported and intended boundary adjustments in the Owyhee Wilderness in Idaho.

Sportsmen’s Act Provisions: Cosponsored by Risch

Allows the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to lease or permit federal land for shooting ranges.

Allows for the transport of bows in National Parks.

Allows qualified volunteers to assist with wildlife management in parks.

Increases sportsmen access to federal land by establishing “open unless closed” standard for BLM and USFS lands.

Requires the Department of Interior and USFS to identify and publish land that is available to the public for hunting, fishing, and recreation.

Protects federally recognized treaty rights and state authority for fish and wildlife management.

Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA): Cosponsored by Risch

Will increase transparency on politically motivated organizations taking advantage of taxpayer funded lawsuits by creating a database where fees paid under EAJA are clearly listed and available to the public.

–Senator Risch

Grizzlies make problem neighbors

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi and Congresswoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., introduced the Grizzly Bear State Management Act, on Feb. 28, which directs the Department of the Interior to re-issue its delisting decision and prohibits further judicial review of this decision.

“It’s clear that under the Endangered Species Act, grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region are fully recovered, that they should be delisted and management returned to the states,” Enzi said in a news release. “I have been working on this issue for over 20 years, and we already knew back then that grizzly bears had already fully recovered. Unfortunately, we have seen environmental groups take advantage of the court system in the face of wildlife management experts and the science presented before us. Our legislation would finally right that wrong by once again delisting the bears and stopping further frivolous and litigation on this issue.”

“The Grizzly Bear State Management Act stops the abuse of the court system by environmental extremists, safeguards the scientifically proven delisting determination and puts management of the grizzly bear back in the hands of Wyoming,” Cheney said. “I’m pleased to reintroduce this bill and continue fighting for the important work done by the state of Wyoming to establish its own effective grizzly bear management plan. The decision by a Federal District Court Judge in Montana to re-list the grizzly ignores science and reinstates one-size fits all federal management. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and with President Trump to fight for Wyoming’s statutory right to manage wildlife,” said Enzi.

Wyoming isn’t the only state dealing with the pesky predator.

Trina Jo Bradley said when she was growing up on Dupuyer Creek in Montana bears were common and they had to travel in pairs with the dog if they wanted to leave the yard.

“There were several times we had to cut a fishing trip or berry picking excursion short because of the grizzlies,” said Bradley, explaining that with bears moving east and onto the plains, bears are now everywhere including on Birch Creek near Valier where she now ranches with her husband. She says it’s not uncommon to see 10-15 bears in the summer. “When we fence on the creek, one of us has to carry the fencing tools while the other carries a shotgun and watches for bears. We have to be especially vigilant during calving, especially night checking. Walking into a dark barn is creepy anyway, but when there’s a possibility that a grizzly could be waiting inside, it gives me heart palpitations.”

Bradley says there is a difference between tolerating wildlife while ranching and accommodating wildlife to the point that ranching isn’t possible. “Our ranch is home to many different species of wildlife, and we are proud that we can provide a habitat for Montana’s animals. On the other hand, we shouldn’t have to tolerate those animals that don’t respect us. The majority of our grizzlies avoid us, avoid our cows, and are rarely seen. Those are the ones we don’t mind sharing our home with.”

The rancher explains that the problem is the bears that hang out in the yard and aren’t scared of the dogs or people, or the ones that prey on cattle, either for food or for fun. “Those are the ones we will not tolerate. Grizzlies need to be removed from the Endangered Species List so control and management can be handled by the state and the people who are on the ground working with ranchers to mitigate conflicts. Until these bears are managed with a firm hand, there is no hope for any of us to be able to live in relative peace with them.”

Steve Skelton runs cattle near Bynum on the Rocky Mountain front—in what’s considered Zone 1 for grizzlies. Because of the proximity to bears and other predators, the Skeltons established Black Bear Guardians, a working guard dog business. “I ranched here for 15 years, before I left for four. We had bears. Did we see bears ever day? No. If you really looked hard for bears you might see one once a week. We leased this place out, were gone four years and came back in the spring of 2017. The bear population had ballooned because the bears are federally protected. It doesn’t matter if the bear is in your livestock killing them all, you can’t kill that bear; it’s a $50,000 fine and five years in jail.”

Skelton not only worries about livestock but about human safety. “I witnessed my daughter going into her horse barn; she walked through the man door and when she cracked the barn door a grizzly bear ran out through the big sliding door,” Skelton said. “We don’t go in the yard after dark anymore because the bears are right there. We had one ewe get out and she was killed by a grizzly less than 250 yards from my door. We have a guest cabin that is 250 yards the other way from our door. That’s really scary.”

Skelton said ranchers need to portray that these apex predators have changed our lives. “These predators not only make it economically harder for us, but they make it hard to find common happiness. Things that were once okay, like going out to pick berries and choke cherries, we can’t do anymore. The kids used to swim in the creek and they can’t do that anymore.”

“What really galls ranchers – and myself – is when the government introduces these apex predators and then they strip away your constitutional rights. You cannot protect your property and you cannot protect yourself,” Skelton added.

The frustrated rancher said there must be legislation where the bear will be delisted and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks can manage them, much like they do the gray wolf that was delisted in Montana in 2011, allowing for more state control.

(At the time of publication SJ 6, introduced by Sen. Mike Cuff, R-Eureka, which would turn management of grizzly bears back to the state of Montana, had passed the Montana Senate and was in the House Fish, Wildlife & Parks Committee.)

Cyndi Johnson doesn’t own livestock but she and her husband, Ken, are wheat farmers outside of Conrad. Johnson is bothered by the fact that the federal government controls the management of this bear although the original intent of the ESA was to include state and local governments as well as farmers and ranchers in the decision making.

“The first human-bear interaction in my county which caused significant concern was the weekend more than two years ago when a sow grizzly was teaching her two yearling cubs to hunt. They killed 75 ewes, rams, and lambs in two nights “hunting” and they didn’t eat a single one,” Johnson explained, adding that last June their local golf course had to close for a day in order to ‘manage’ a grizzly that wandered into town, putting human and bear life both in danger.

“Bears have been spotted as far as 300 miles from the Front in Central Montana – tipping over bee hives and ripping doors off of full grain bins. I have full grain bins, and that concerns me,” Johnson said. “Grizzly bears have been within a few miles of me. Standard response to these problem bears is usually relocation, if the bear survives the encounter. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always result in a bear who stays put in his new home as they will wander hundreds of miles back to the scene of the crime.”

Johnson is pleased to see Endangered Species Act reform is finally being discussed in Washington. D.C. and cites some commonsense regarding the move to delist gray wolves, that have more than reached their target population, nationwide.

“We need to re-evaluate the original ESA and turn back the rules that get in the way of a community’s ability to address the problems we have with bears,” Johnson said “The ESA contains unfunded mandates of which local and state communities bear the cost. It says actions designed to protect a species take precedence over infrastructure and development. For example, in order to repair a road, special barriers must be erected, by construction companies to prevent bears and other wildlife from entering construction zones with the ultimate design including an avenue for wildlife to cross or fences with dirt fill on both sides so critters don’t have to jump or crawl under. My goat raising neighbor is being required, at her own expense, to add tall electric fencing to prevent bears from eating her goats and their food.”

Johnson adds the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks needs to provide resources to encourage better livestock safety, animal feed storage and grain storage in remote areas if farmers and ranchers are to continue having this increase and mobility in the bear population.

New Proposal Addresses Deer Firearm Regulations

Among South Dakota hunters, landowners, and wildlife managers, there has been a rift driving them to heated discussions and multiple new proposals regarding new ways firearm deer licenses are allocated. A fourth revision of the proposal has found some common ground, but many will still have to accept the changes whether they are solicited or not if approved by the Game, Fish, and Parks Commission and the Legislative Interim Rules Review Committee.

Kevin Robling is a Special Projects Coordinator for the South Dakota GFP, taking on contention issues and reviewing strategic plans for the department. He was interested in wildlife management at a young age, and decided he wanted to be a big game biologist at the age of 12. He earned his undergraduate and Master’s degree through South Dakota State University, and recently moved to Pierre to become Department Secretary Kelly Hepler’s policy advisor.

Robling discussed the new proposal and why they feel it’s necessary to move forward in supporting wildlife management. As a department, they strive to provide more hunters their preferred deer license more often, and to get as many deer hunters in the field as possible. Their ultimate end game with this proposal is to reduce the amount of deer hunters that are unsuccessful applicants for multiple years in a row. The current system allows for this to happen.

“The reason this all came about is we are continuously having unsuccessful applicants, year in and year out. That’s been an issue for the department and one of the concerns is if an individual applicant is unsuccessful for two or three years in a row, there’s a chance they might quit trying to get a license and we lose another hunter,” Robling said.

There are six deer firearm seasons each individual deer hunter can apply for each season, including West and East River (Special Buck included), Black Hills, Muzzleloader, Refuge, and Custer State Park.

“Under the current system, a resident applicant could draw a first-choice, first-buck tag for all six of those seasons. The issue is we have 53,524 deer hunters that applied for deer licenses last year, of which approximately 70% of those folks apply for just one season, one unit, one place. We have others who want to hunt all six seasons in different units across the state. We end up with a lot of unsuccessful applicants who don’t draw deer licenses that year, while we have others that draw multiple deer licenses every year because they have their name in multiple draw buckets,” Robling explained.

The new proposal has gone through multiple changes and would now allow for a deer hunter to apply for two, instead of all six, seasons in the first draw. “We have about 6,344 hunters that applied for three or more of the six seasons last year in the first draw. That means the rest applied for two or less, so that’s how many deer hunters this will impact directly each year. Those 6,344 hunters actually submitted 22,292 applications last year, and this would reduce that number to around 12,000 applications because their names are going from being in numerous draw buckets to only two of those six draw buckets.”

The first iteration of the proposal was to only allow one season per applicant, and the new proposal allows for two. Robling said the draw system is complicated and there’s no perfect way to address it, but the main message is that no deer hunter will have more than two licenses until the third draw.

“There are about 36,000 hunters that will only apply for one season, and their draw probabilities will increase. However, we hear from both sides. Some folks are potentially losing the opportunity to submit multiple applications. You go from six to two, and the first proposal was only allowing one license. There was definitely opposition to that concept. The commission had a lot of discussion and different iterations but the department feels like they found some middle ground with the hunters,” Robling said.

While many stakeholders are more satisfied with the new proposal, there are still oppositionists to the new regulations of license allocation. Mark DeVries is a regional vice president for the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and also a member of their wildlife management committee. He’s a rancher near Belvidere, SD and from the perspective of a landowner and also a hunter, doesn’t believe the new proposal will bring a positive outcome.

“There are guys that have been hunting out here for 15-20 years, and the landowners want to keep the relationship with them because they know and trust them.” DeVries believes the new proposal may not directly affect landowners, but is afraid it will impact their already existing partnership between them and the hunters they allow on their lands each year. If the hunters aren’t allowed the licenses they’ve had in the past, they won’t be able to hunt on these lands. The landowners will have to adapt to a larger quantity and unfamiliar deer hunters, which may cause private property issues.

DeVries said he hasn’t heard too much uproar from ranchers, but observed that “the safest place for a giant buck is in a room of all these people that disagree because they’d rather shoot each other.” In a country where political and social divisions are obtrusive, DeVries’s point hits home.

If the new proposal passes, the draw dates will all be moved up to June, as opposed to staggered dates running from June to September. Robling said 47,000 of the 53,000 deer hunters wouldn’t see a difference in the online application process except for the option to use preference points in the second and third draws along with free preference for youth and a bonus preference point for first time applicants. The new proposal doesn’t affect youth or archery season applicants. Robling said the allocation number of licenses will remain the same; it’s the distribution of those licenses that would be changed.

Despite the difference in opinions, both sides are eager to find a solution and make a decision that will benefit the vast majority of deer hunters, wildlife management, and landowners. Robling said balance is what the GFP strives for, but finding that balance proves to be difficult at times.

“Our hunting heritage relies heavily on user participation and without hunters, we don’t have wildlife management and that’s where our concern lies. We want to increase participation the best way we can, in as many ways we can.

GFP Commission proposes a turkey hunting restriction, changes to turkey transportation

GFP Commission Proposes Turkey Hunting Restriction in Lake County and Changes to Turkey Transportation

PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) Commission proposed a change in the way hunters can legally transport turkey carcasses.

The Commission proposed changes to the transportation requirements for turkeys in an effort to accommodate transporting entire carcasses; making it easier for hunters traveling long distances after a hunt. Those changes eliminate current requirements and allow a hunter to transport desired parts along with the beard, leg and foot bearing the tag to simply accompany those desired parts of the turkey when transported from the place where taken until the bird has arrived at the domicile of the possessor. The proposed change does not require the transportation of the beard if a person is licensed to take “any turkey.”

The Commission also proposed to close Lake County, south of State Highway 34, to archery turkey hunting due to recent and planned transplants of in an effort to establish a wild turkey population in this area.

The GFP Commission will consider adopting these proposals at the Pierre RedRossa Convention Center. To comment in person, the public hearing will be held Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. CST. Individuals can comment online at https://gfp.sd.gov/forms/positions/ or mail them to 523 E. Capitol Ave., Pierre, SD 57501. To be included in the public record and to be considered by the Commission, comments must include a full name and city of residence and meet the submission deadline of 72 hours before the public hearing (not including the day of the public hearing) per HB 1006.

–Game, Fish and Parks

Inaccessible public lands topic of recent report

Private lands that “land lock” public lands are at the center of a report released by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Fund and hunting GPS technology company onX, titled “Off Limits, But Within Reach: Unlocking the West’s Inaccessible Public Lands.”

The report seeks to promote access to some of the 9.52 million acres of public lands currently inaccessible without an easement across privately held land. Sporting access, the report reads, was once more readily acquired but as land ownership patterns have shifted, sportsmen and women are more frequently encountering no trespassing signs, major barriers to hunting and fishing.

The report cites data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the 72 percent of Western hunters who depend upon public lands for some or all of their access. As companies like onX have provided GPS technology to locate quality hunting and fishing locales, the report suggests access has become more vital to outdoor enjoyment. This same technology alternately provides users with a pinpoint location in relation to property boundaries to all but eliminate the potential for trespass on private land, even without signage or fenced boundaries.

The partnership utilized onX’s technology to analyze “where locked gates prevent Americans from hunting and fishing on public land and just how much of that land is inaccessible to the citizens who own it.” The analysis breaks down acres with no permanent, legal access by state, most of the acres left inaccessible to hunters and anglers are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. Wyoming has the lion’s share of “locked” acres with 3.05 million, followed by Nevada, 2.05 million; Montana, 1.52 million; New Mexico, 554,000; California, 492,000; Oregon, 443,000; Colorado, 269,000; Utah, 443,000; Arizona, 243,000; Idaho, 208,000; South Dakota, 196,000; Washington, 121,000; and North Dakota, 107,000.

The key to unlocking the gates to the private lands for access to public use, the report said, is funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The report alleges that lawmakers have little sway over forces affecting hunting and fishing in the United States but can control the fund.

“If elected officials are serious about improving public land access for hunting and fishing, they need to pass a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund with full, dedicated annual funding,” authors wrote.

In past years, LWCF funding has purchased privately held acres to allow for public access to landlocked and difficult to access acres.

PRIVATE LAND

In an editorial that originally appeared in the Billings Gazette by Western Landowners Alliance’s Member and Advancement Officer, Cole Mannix, Helena, Mont., said the issue of allowing access to public lands across private lands is nothing short of contentious but is based on mutual interests. While some appreciate the land for its recreational opportunities, Mannix said, others see the land as a “place to work and carry on the ranching traditions that thankfully have preserved much of our open space and wildlife habitat.” The ranching operations that strived to be economically sustainable, he wrote, have helped keep the landscape in tact for all users.

While the public lands seem to stay at the center of the debate, Mannix said the significance of the private working lands to the conservation of habitat and water resources as well as the production of food, ought not be overlooked.

“Functional and intact private ranchland is critical to the well-being of rural communities, agricultural productivity and bio-diversity, from native vegetation to our most iconic species,” he wrote. “Considering the rapid loss and conversion of agricultural lands and their synergistic association to our public lands, perhaps we should be dedicating as much energy to the challenges of maintaining their viability as we are to the issues surrounding access through them.”

Cheyenne, Wyo., attorney Frank Falen said the purchase of private lands that checkerboard public lands can be positive for landowners if the case is one of willing buyer, willing seller. With the checkerboard of landownership referenced in the report, Falen said a tremendous number of private acres would have to be purchased to allow access, or a large number of road access agreements. Many private landowners already come to agreements with hunters and anglers to allow access across their land with little issue. Falen said local entities are oftentimes affected by the federal purchase of private lands and that land being then removed from tax rolls.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in 1964 and is funded not by taxpayer dollars but by royalties from oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. The funds are intended to protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects. According to the LWCF Coalition, $214 million of fund dollars were used to purchase private lands in 2010.

According to an article in Forbes, the LWCF was created to “assist in preserving, developing, and assuring accessibility” to a quality and quantity of outdoor resources for recreational and conservation purposes. The article said property is purchased from landowners at fair market value, and typically garners bipartisan support. However, opponents to the fund’s reauthorization cite maintenance backlogs on federally owned lands purchased through the fund, calling the backlog proof that the fund ought not be reauthorized, “if at a minimum, to prevent further acquisitions that cannot be maintained.”

According to Nicolas Loris and Katie Tubb, Heritage Foundation, the LWCF should not be funded as permanent reauthorization is tantamount to an “admission that the federal government should be able to acquire more lands in perpetuity.” The Heritage Foundation cites the same issue as Forbes, the government’s inability to maintain its 640 million acres. Many opponents call for the transfer of public lands from the federal government to the individual states.

“If you put those lands in state control, that could be a plus in some states,” Falen said. “In some states, like Nevada, that probably if you’re in agriculture, it might be quite a bit different because that state has changed a lot.”

A change of jurisdiction in states like Colorado could significantly affect agricultural producers.

“There are certainly issues when you’re neighbors with the BLM where it’s not always fun,” he said. “A switch when you don’t know what the switch is comes with a risk.”

Falen, who specializes in private land ownership, said few issues related to the Water and Land Conservation Fund have crossed his desk in recent years.

The hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation economy is valued at $887 billion, according to the onX report.

Archery hunter breaks arm in grizzly bear attack near Gardiner, Montana

An archery hunter was attacked by a grizzly bear Saturday near Gardiner, sustaining wounds to his arm and face.

The hunter and his partner were in the Beattie Gulch area and surprised a sow and cub at very close range. The sow charged and attacked the lead hunter and the partner used bear spray to stop the attack. The bear turned its attention to the partner, who sprayed it again, and the two bears fled the area. The bear’s response was normal given that it was a sow with a cub and the encounter happened at very close range.

The hunters were in tall sage brush and didn’t see the bears until they were less than 15 yards away.

The 57-year-old hunter was taken to the hospital for surgery to his broken arm. Both hunters were carrying bear spray.

General big game season opens Oct. 20. Hunters should expect grizzly bears to be active through hunting season.

Anywhere in the western half of Montana is grizzly bear country. Hunters should carry bear spray and be prepared to use it, hunt with a partner and always let someone know where you are hunting.

–Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Return of the sauger to Wyoming waters

Over 100 years ago, sauger fish were abundant in the North Platte River.  

By 1948 a U.S Public Health Service report said that the North Platte River from Casper to the Nebraska state line was so polluted from raw sewage and refinery waste being dumped into the river that there were doubts the species could ever be recovered.  

Seventy years later the river has made a dramatic comeback, and this summer sauger were released into the river by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.  

Sauger are closely related to the walleye, a popular sport fish around the country. They are also native to many drainages in Wyoming east of the continental divide and have continued to live in the Wind River, Big Horn River and Powder River drainages according to Matt Hahn, Wyoming Game and Fish fisheries supervisor.  

“They look like walleye, but sauger are better adapted to live in a river versus a lake,” Hahn says. “What we’re hoping is the sauger will stay in the river better and provide a popular sport fish for people. They are good eating and they’ll grow pretty decent size, over 20 inches, so that stretch of the river is just perfect for a sauger fishery where it wouldn’t make a good trout fishery.”  

The past sixty years of restoring the river to healthy conditions has been a group effort according to Hahn and WGF public information officer Janet Milek, as a general realization around the country caused people to look for more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to dispose of waste.  

By the mid-1940s, most of the larger-bodied native fish had disappeared from the Platte and looking back, Hahn says it’s a major success story, turning the river around and getting stable flows to where the North Platte is now one of the best fisheries in the state. 

Returning the native species to its original habitat was a natural progression to return the North Platte River to what it used to be. Upstream, the river is home to some of the best trout fisheries in the state and downstream where the river warms, conditions are just right for the return of the sauger.  

The first load of 6,000 sauger was released into the river below the Dave Johnson Power Plant in June of 2017, although, due to survival rates from the original hatchery, it was much less than they were hoping for. The second load of 110,000 sauger was released in June of this year. Hahn says that the fish won’t be able to migrate farther upstream because of a dam, but he is hoping the fish will go downstream to Glendo Reservoir in the winter, then they can run up the river in the spring for spawning.  

Hahn says the Wyoming Game and Fish are hoping to stock about 100,000 sauger each year for three consecutive years before they stop to monitor the populations and see how the fish are doing on their own.  

“We’ll do a combination of netting downstream in Glendo Reservoir in conjunction with electro-fishing in the river. We can do actual population estimates in the river through electro-fishing where we come up with a number of fish per mile,” he says. “We can look at a number of things like growth rate, condition and diet analysis and how many younger fish there are that would indicate successful reproduction.”  

Because all of Wyoming’s fish hatcheries are for trout, Wyoming Game and Fish’s fish culture section trades Wyoming-raised trout with other states in order to get the sauger needed to stock the river.  

“It was a big effort thanks to our fish culture section, they did a lot of work and spent a lot of time to make these different trades,” says Milek.  

Although Milek was unsure of the exact trade agreements, she says that multiple states were involved.   

“One thing our guys try to do is create diversity for anglers,” Milek says. “So this is just another species to add to that diversity.” 

Changing times: Landowners increasingly rely on hunting lease managers

Many ranches throughout the country are a hunter’s paradise. Ranchers’ efforts to conserve the land and optimize it for cattle operations also result in prime habitat for wildlife and a cooperation between hunters and landowners can be mutually beneficial. 

Cardinal Charolais on the Prewitt Ranch near Hillrose, Colo., is home to about a 60-acre augmentation pond and the native grasses typical to the Colorado sandhills nearest the river. Pat Gebauer has hosted a hunting club for more than 20 years. The group of hunters invests in the club for the privilege of hunting the ranch- mostly for waterfowl- and Gebauer invests the funds back into habitat on the ranch. 

One of the things that makes the arrangement successful, Gebauer said, is the third party who oversees the club. The manager ensures that the hunters are aware of the expectations and communicates between the two. The club on this ranch adds new members infrequently, as most of the members have been hunting Gebauer’s ranch for years, but new members are added only through existing members. Even then, he said, they’re on a trial basis until it’s clear that they’re a good fit for both Gebauer and the other members of the club. 

“They all know when they join, they are on a trial basis and they have to do things they way we want or they don’t get to come back,” he said.  

If and when someone isn’t allowed to return, Gebauer said the manager is especially valuable as he takes care of the details and leaves Gebauer free to tend to the business of ranching. The manager began as one of the first hunters on the ranch rather than through a traditional property management service but Gebauer said the relationship and his job make hunting on the ranch easier for everyone. 

Gebauer has been intentional in keeping the club’s size small, he said.  

“We found the members who could afford to pay a little more money and to have fewer members rather than needing to have 20 members to raise the same amount of revenue,” he said. 

That revenue has been invested back into habitat, electricity for bubblers on the ponds, and other improvements. Gebauer added augmentation ponds years ago and, rather than adding multiple, small ponds, the property lent itself to a larger pond which has been a natural fit for hunting. 

In Nebraska, Jordan Maassen is managing and selling properties for recreational hunting through his job at Lashley Land Brokers.  

Maassen sells recreational hunting properties and said it’s not a sign of a declining number of ranches but a sign of differentiation. 

“It’s more along the lines of finding some other opportunities for some income potential,” he said. “Maybe they don’t utilize the ground themselves during hunting season and someone else is willing to and pay to do it.” 

Maassen said, much like on Gebauer’s ranch, groups of hunters will contact his office to secure a lease on a piece of property prime for hunting. By having a group of hunters, Maassen said the hunters are oftentimes able to secure a larger lease and it’s a more beneficial relationship for both hunters and landowners. 

By utilizing his office, Maassen said both parties see a benefit. Most of the hunting properties Maassen deals in provide hunting for waterfowl, turkeys, and some upland birds like pheasants and quail. He said he’s even seeing an increase in coyote trapping and calling which can also be a benefit for livestock owners who are seeing an increase in the predators. 

“When we put together leases on hunting properties, the landowner is protected liability-wise,” he said. 

Through this lease, the landowner’s expectations can be better communicated to hunters who are, oftentimes, not from the local area. This is one of the benefits of using a management group to secure a hunting lease, according to Russell Spencer, a turkey hunter from Colorado. By depending on a local expert, he is more able to secure the best lease for his purposes and budget so his free time can be used for hunting. 

“Before, when hunters were neighbors, they got along pretty well and both sides had a pretty good understanding of what was expected from both sides,” Maassen said. “Now, a lot of out-of-staters are coming in to hunt and either they don’t know the rules of the state they’re coming into or they don’t care. Not all of them are completely respectable but that’s only a few.” 

Maassen said many of the landowners who hire him to manage their hunting leases in their stead do so to avoid conflict and inconvenience. Through Maassen’s land management, items are in place to keep the hunter and landowner on the same page and protected.  

“If (hunters) are going to put a little money down, they’re going to want to come back again,” he said. “They’re not going to want to spend the money and then blow their opportunity to come back out here.” 

Different types of hunting leases are dictated differently. Turkey hunting leases, he said, are often by the bird while waterfowl is often per limit or even per gun, per day. If a landowner is interested in professional lease management, Maassen said he will visit the property and design a package specific to that property and what it can offer hunters. 

Lease management also eases communication so someone like Maassen can communicate to the landowner when hunters will be on the property.  

“It’s peace of mind,” he said. “It makes sure the landowner is protected from someone trying to manipulate the situation. It puts a third party in charge so you don’t get any hostility toward each other. Plus, the landowner is protected and the hunters have a pleasant experience and success.” 

While some landowners provide lodging, the majority Maassen deals with do not, which he said is one more way revenue is funneled into small towns. With Nebraska’s popularity with outdoorsmen, many hunters contact Maassen directly to take advantage of his network rather than knocking on doors asking permission to hunt without any background knowledge.  

 

Open Season 2018: Hunting, Fishing & Outdoor Recreation