I may be getting older, but fortunately my mind is as sharp as ever, perhaps even a bit more honed than most thanks to a very active outdoor life, starting with sitting on the banks of the Ohio River fishing for catfish with my Dad when I was only 3 or 4 years old. Sitting close to a large campfire late into the night, watching for a bite on three or four heavy rod and reel rigs are among some of my earliest memories. And while I have managed to remain somewhat a poor boy my entire life, such memories and tens of thousands of others along the way are priceless. And even if I could sell them, never to remember them again, there are not enough millions of dollars in this world to buy them. Some things are simply "Not For Sale".
Among those memories are my recollections of the first time I ever stepped foot into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area of western Montana. As a kid, I had been a student of outdoor writers like Jack O'Connor, Elmer Keith and Col. Townsend Whelen - and one of my dreams was to someday hunt in a few of the great big game areas they frequented and lavishly wrote about. I wanted to see the great elk herds...hear the bulls bugle...breath the fresh mountain air on a crisp September morning...and enjoy the peace and solitude of the back country. These were indeed "dreams" for a rural Illinois farm boy.
During a stint with the U.S. Marine Corps at the end of the Vietnam "conflict", I worked as a photo-journalist, covering various combat situations, and writing about the individual Marines who made the Corps a force to be reckoned with, a force that was respected by both friends and foes. I also managed to sneak in a few "outdoor" articles for base newspapers, and had my first outdoor magazine article published in Fur-Fish-Game magazine. And when my enlistment ended, I was offered a job as an Associate Editor for GUN WORLD and BOW & ARROW magazines. It seems that one of the people I had befriended along the way was a USMC Reserve major, who owned those publications.
I took some time off that summer and early fall to get out and see some of the country I had only dreamed about as a kid and a young man, and headed for Idaho and Montana. In late August, I hiked into Idaho's Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness for a week, and a week later I made my first hike into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. I was fresh out of the Corps, and in the best shape of my life. Hiking in from the Holland Lake area, on the west side of "The Bob" at the end of the first week of September, I spent a week wandering trails, camping somewhere new every night, and in all covered more than 30 miles of the area. I went to sleep every evening to the sounds of elk bugling, and awoke every morning to the same. I saw or glassed dozens of elk every day...deer were abundant...I saw my first bighorn sheep and mountain goats in the wild...and watched moose feed along the edges of mountain lakes on most days. I was living the dream.
(Photo Upper Left - Montana hunter Keith Steigers with a bull elk he took in "The Bob" during the 2008 September early backcountry season.)
This was before the reintroduction of an entirely non-native wolf into the Northern Rockies in 1994 and 1995. And like elsewhere that these wolves have gained a strong hold, the Bob Marshall area is now suffering from their impact.
When I made the move to Montana in 2007, I was amazed at what had already been lost to these apex predators. That is exactly why I launched LOBO WATCH in 2008. The goal was to keep the spotlight burning brightly on the damage wolves are dealing big game resources, and the severe impact they are now having on livestock producers. Another goal of this effort has been to keep the spotlight on those who are responsible for this disaster, and the lies, deceit and outright fraud behind the Northern Rockies Wolf Recovery Project.
Following is an e-mail I sent to Robert Fanning, founder of the Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd on Labor Day, September 5, 2011 - the day following just what could have been the last day I'll ever spend in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. The e-mail is in regard to correspondence Bob and I have shared on how Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been an integral player in allowing wolves to destroy one of this state's true treasures - an abundance of wildlife and the state's hunting heritage. The following message also shares what has happened inside "The Bob".
(Photo Upper Right - Wolves have had a seriously negative impact on the wildlife of the Bob Marshall Wilderness - just as they have had on the wildlife populations of many other parts of the Northern Rockies.)
I pushed FWP Regional Wildlife Biologist Mike Thompson to the point at the Ravalli County meeting (on August 30) until he stepped up to the chalk board and tried to present the FWP "wolf math"... when he finished, it looked like something Picasso may have sketched at the height of a drunken stupor.
I like to play each end of the spectrum of any "numbers" these people throw out. Showing that at the "low end" of wolf reproduction, the growth of wolf numbers is greater than what these liars are telling us. I've read several times, in papers published by Mech (Dr. L. David Mech) and a few others, that the reproduction rate of wolves varies from 25- to 35-percent annually. That would put the typical average increase at 30-percent. (Meaning there are many more wolves than they claim...and the damage being done to wildlife is far more severe than they are telling us.)
Yesterday, I put 15+ miles on foot, up into the Bob Marshall and back out. At daybreak, my two dogs and I (with a small day pack and my 12-ga. semi-auto, with "00" buck, I call "Wolfie Thumper" slung over my shoulder) parked at about 5,000 feet and took the Lodgepole trail up into "The Bob", topping the pass at about 6,500 feet, and dropping into the Jenny Creek basin. Just three years ago, I went into the same area and it was still teeming with elk. On a good morning this time of the year, one could hear 5 or 6 different bulls bugling. Elk were spread everywhere you went, and fresh tracks, rubs and wallows could be found along any ridge side and along any shelf - and especially down in the 500 acre grassy Jenny Creek meadow. It was certainly worth the 5 1/2 mile hike in on the steep trail.
A friend and I walked in to try some wolf calling during the 2009 wolf season, and while we saw plenty of wolf sign (scat on every trail and along every shelf we walked, along with some huge tracks) nothing came to our calling. Perhaps that was due to the fact that there was still plenty of game in the southernmost edge of "The Bob". We could have taken one huge mulie buck, but had not went in prepared to pack out anything other than a wolf skin or two, and fortunately neither of us took the shot.
(Photo Above Left - My hunting partner Will Moore just above the Jenny Creek meadows during a 2009 wolf hunt into "The Bob". Then, elk numbers were still very stable...since then wolves have destroyed the wildlife populations.)
Yesterday was an entirely different story. The area is now a wildlife wasteland. I started my hike in at about 6:45 a.m., topped the pass and dropped into the Bob Marshall at about 9 a.m. The temps were in the upper 30s/low 40s, with no wind. The entire 5 mile walk in, through some beautiful elk country, during the prime time of the day, I did not hear one bugle. Likewise, in the past (2-3 years ago), I most always glassed elk on the surrounding slopes. Not this day. The entire walk in, I did not see a single elk track - fresh or old. I did not see any elk droppings - fresh or otherwise.
When I reached the pass, instead of sticking with the trail, I worked a fairly steep ridge that rimmed the south side of the Jenny Creek basin. In the past, and in 2009, one wide shelf had always been favored by the elk, offering lush grasses and a mile long strip on which to stage rutting or pre-rut activity. Several times the 50 to 100 yard wide stretch of "flat ground" on the otherwise steep slope was (then) being used by so many elk that it was tracked up like a cattle feed lot, with every sapling ripped to pieces by bulls getting in a little sparring practice. Not yesterday. It was, in its own way, kind of eerie to walk the length of that shelf through grasses that reached up to my chest...and fail to find a single elk track or a single bull rub.
And "nothing" is what I continued to find as I dropped down into the meadow. Several water holes along the creek bottom, which in the past had been turned into huge mud wallows by the elk, had not been used all summer, had settled and were as clear and clean as the nearby mountain stream. I walked the length of the meadow, and found three sets of elk tracks...which looked to be about two months old. Then I caught a seldom used horse trail back to the top. In a few places, the overgrowth had nearly reclaimed it. In the past, elk, deer and moose had used the trail more than riding and pack horses, and kept the growth browsed back and the trail open. I nearly lost the trail several times, but managed to get back on track, and worked it slowly back to the top. In 2009, I had walked the trail back up as well, and had absolutely no problem following it. Then, it was literally covered with elk and deer tracks, with a moose track or two thrown in. Not yesterday. During the mile plus climb up that trail and out of the basin, I cut the track of one mule deer - the only fresh track I cut in nearly 5 miles of scouting the once wonderful Bob Marshall Wilderness Area.
(Photo Upper Right - A backcountry camp in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, along Jenny Creek, in September 2008 - when bugling elk could be heard every morning. This was the last camp LOBO WATCH founder Toby Bridges will probably ever have in "The Bob".)
When I intersected the main trail, I heard a pack string headed up and out. My two dogs and I deserved a long rest before heading the 5 1/2 miles back down to the truck, so I sat down on a log to rest, and to wait for the horses and mules to top out. It turned out to be a young outfitter and his wife, who were bringing their camp out - even though it was only the second day of archery season. They shared that their camp had been about 12-14 miles into "The Bob". I asked why they were already bringing their camp out. The two shared that they had gone in a week earlier, and had seen nothing on the way in. They had left most everything packed in the panniers, setting up only what they needed to camp comfortably until they got in some scouting (for the early September 15 rifle season). Even that far back, they could not find any game - and only saw a few sets of tracks. They felt it was a waste of their time to set up camp for the upcoming season.
"It's not good...it's really bad...The Bob has been lost," he shared with honest anguish in his voice.
This will forever be a horrible way for me to remember the Bob Marshall. But that is how I will remember "The Bob". I do not have any intentions of ever going back into the area. The only good thing about yesterday's walk into "The Bob" is that I also did not see any fresh wolf sign. I did not cut one visible wolf track, and while I did likely see several dozen piles of wolf scat - all of it was at least 2 or 3 months old. Even the wolves have abandoned the area due to the total lack of game.
What kind of lame Governor...what kind of lame FWP Director...what kind of lame FWP Supervisors...what kind of lame FWP biologists would allow this to happen to what was once a true jewel in the "Crown of the Continent"???? ANY and ALL FWP directors, supervisors, managers, and biologists, past and present, should be thoroughly investigated, and ANY and ALL who have played a supporting role in this wildlife disaster need to, at least, be removed from their position if they are still serving, and ALL lose any retirement benefits for their disservice to this state and to its citizens! Some likely need to serve some time behind bars.
It is exactly what MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks...Idaho Department of Fish and Game...and especially what an arrogant and far over rated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service DO NOT KNOW about wolves which is now systematically destroying one prime big game area after another. The northern Yellowstone elk herd has been destroyed...the Lolo elk herd has been destroyed...the West Fork of the Bitterroot elk herd has been destroyed...and the list could go on and on. Now, we can add the big game herds of the Bob Marshall to that list.
(Chart Shown Here - This chart, courtesy of www.saveelk.com, shows the REAL WOLF NUMBERS of the Northern Rockies. The dramatic losses of elk, moose, deer and other wildlife supports these numbers more than the lies of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.)
Robert Fanning has thrown his hat into Montana's 2012 gubernatorial race, vowing if elected one of his first priorities will be to give MT FWP and the FWP Commission a thorough overhaul, and to purge its ranks of those largely responsible for the loss of the state's big game herds to wolves - and to openly reveal what FWP does not know about the true number of wolves in the state, or the impact those wolves have had on big game herds. Early on, gubernatorial candidate Ken Miller claimed it was time for the same. However, recently he has become quiet on the issue. Not Fanning, he is now making a "no holds barred" attack at this issue...and those responsible.
Now is the time for all Montana voters to press all candidates for all offices to take a stand against wolves.
One Montana senator, Joe Balyeat of Bozeman, has sharpened a pencil and put a cost to the annual negative impact wolves are having on income, wildlife losses, the impact on livestock production, the costs to landowners and ranchers, property values, lost hunting opportunities, financial support of FWP through permit/license sales, loss of tourism, and the overall impact to the state's economy, and has come up with a surprising figure. According to his calculations, wolves are now stealing $120,000,000-plus every year from this state. And Joe is a Certified Public Accountant.
Wolves have not made one single positive impact on this state. It's time to end losses, like the loss of the Bob Marshall's once abundant wildlife, and to rid our political ranks of those who fight efforts to drastically reduce the number of wolves in Montana. - Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH
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