Stand Up for Public Lands

Here’s important information from Wilderness Watch:


Stand up for Wilderness, Public Lands and Wildlife!

You don’t need us to tell you America’s wildest public lands and most endangered wildlife face a tenuous future with a virulently anti-wilderness Congress backed by the Trump Administration. It’s not an exaggeration to say in the next two years the Wilderness Act itself and America’s public lands legacy will literally be on the line.

As part of our online community you play a crucial role in protecting America’s timeless wilderness heritage.

That’s why we are asking you to TAKE ACTION right away and let the new 115th session of Congress know that you expect them to stand up and protect America’s wilderness, public lands and wildlife.

Specifically, please let your senators and representative know that you strongly oppose:

• Any version of a “Sportsmen” Bill that weakens the Wilderness Act by allowing temporary road construction, water developments, or any kind of habitat manipulation or modification in Wildernesses by state or federal agencies;

• Efforts to weaken the Wilderness Act to allow mountain bikes or other mechanical transport in Wilderness;

• Attempts to overturn new regulations adopted by the USFWS and NPS that help protect bears, wolves, coyotes and wolverines in national wildlife refuges, national parks and preserves in Alaska;

• A bill that would force a land exchange to build a 10-mile road for King Cove through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness in Alaska;

• All legislation that would sell off or transfer America’s federal public lands.

Wilderness Watch and supporters like you have often been the last line of defense standing between America’s National Wilderness Preservation System and those who would harm it.

Together, with your help, we’ll continue fighting anti-wilderness and wildlife-destroying proposals in Congress, in order to defend the Wilderness and public lands we all love.
For more information about Wilderness Watch go to  


Peace be with you,
** Ron

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Posted in Backpacking, hiking, camping, Life in Montana, Nature, Public lands, Wilderness | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Untrue Facts.

I recently attended a presentation by the American Lands Council offering information about why they believe federal public lands should be transferred to states.

Their stated goal is that they “want a healthy environment, abundant recreation, & safe, vibrant communities.” But, they claim, “one-size-fits-all federal bureaucracy is giving us just the opposite.”

To make her point, CEO Jennifer Fielder made a very convincing presentation of slanted, biased, out-of-context, half-truths.

We have to agree with the American Lands Council motherhood goal. But their reasoning for disposing the federal lands hardly passes any “fact check.” The devil is in their details.

  • Fire vs. logging. ALC shows a 100-year graph indicating the amount of logging has decreased dramatically over that period as wildfire has increased dramatically. The graph is factual, and is pretty to make a point, but the correlation of the two trends has been disproved by science. Logging preventing wildfires has too many facts against it. The Jocko Lakes fire occurred in a very intensively logged area that didn’t seem to slow the fire down much. When it blew up the fire spread from 10 acres to 300 in a matter of a half an hour. By the end of the next day it had raced unimpeded to 18,000 acres, making its way to 25,000 over the next few days finally being corralled at 36,000 acres. That area included a wide variety of logging methods from clearcuts to individual tree cut.


    This logged area did not slow the spread of a fire in 2007. The fire tolerant Western larch are in the process of annual needle cast. Numerous new seedling are well established.

  • Fielder’s statement that fires sterilize soils eight to ten feet deep is indicative of the accuracy of her other facts. I mentioned that to a soil scientist and she laughed saying maybe eight to ten centimeters, possibly eight to ten inches under a big burn pile that cooks for a long time. Again look at the hot Jocko Lakes fire and you’ll see all green now — not sterile soils.


    This area was burned with a very intense, stand replacing wildfire in 2007. Nine years later is supports a lush new stand of sapling trees and other vegetation. Although the ground was ashen for the first season, it certainly isn’t sterile.

  • Economic case. ALC loves the fact that the federal government only returns 87 cents for every dollar spent, while states make $14. A simple comparison of profit ratio doesn’t even come close to showing the real picture. A local example where DNRC draws in $100,000/year of lease payments but won’t spend $3000 to plow snow for access to their cabin leases is one example. DNRC only allows public motorized use on roads belonging to other agencies so they have no road maintenance responsibilities. DNRC manages no developed campgrounds or other public facilities that require maintenance expense. It is no surprise that a land management agency that provides minimal public service while focusing on maximizing income can make $14 for every dollar spent. An environmentalist recently said “it is a vital mistake to see a living forest as a pile of lumber instead of an enormously complex ecosystem.”
  • Public access. ALC states 22,000 miles of roads have been closed (to the applause of some) on NFS land over the last 10 years. But how many are still open? How many of them were constructed as temporary logging roads to start with? How many of them are so thick with doghair lodgepole and alder that a person can hardly walk on them? Again, more distorted information. Recreation access to Montana DNRC lands is on a “Pay to Play” basis.

    DNRC Rules

    State lands isn’t exactly free and open to all members of the public. Recreation use is on a “Pay to Play” basis.

  • Acquiring land. The proposal to allow a state or county to select federal lands of their choice would certainly result in high-grading heavily timbered areas to maximize revenue. Major landowners have been working for over a half-century to block up ownership. Picking and choosing pieces of federal land would result in a hodge-podge ownership pattern and would greatly complicate management at a landscape scale. A lumberman says “We’ve found we get greater support for large landscape-level thinking, where you’re considering how to help fisheries, wildlife and fuels reduction, across the landscape.” Stewardship contracts get developed by collaborative groups. Ideally, they bring a roundtable of foresters, environmentalists, homeowners, recreation groups and other stakeholders whose consensus result assures the project meets lots of different goals.”

A better solution to regaining expanded resource management, including timber harvest, is collaboration. Examples are of local efforts scattered around the country are probably only scratching the surface of positive contemporary results. Even one of the Montana representatives pushing the ALC agenda has agreed with collaboration efforts for reaching consensus for forest management.

Transferring public lands to states is a radical proposal for changing management of natural resource lands. It is unfortunate that advocates are resorting to snake oil sales tactics with misinformation that may convince unknowing publics. If it is valid action, they should not have to resort to using misinformation tactics.

Peace be with you,
** Ron

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Transition Season


Season Color Transitions

This time of year we tend to start anticipating a change of season. Whether we are just sick and tired of stinking hot weather, or anxious to get on with the hunting season for the annual excuse to get out in the outback, we like to point at something that signals a good omen.

last-fireThe fireweed plant (known by some as Epilobium angustifolium) is one seasonal indicator of change. It can serve as a summer clock. We like to see the little green sprigs popping up in late spring as a harbinger of summer things to come. As summer moves on we watch the pink flowers climb up the stalk. About the time the huckleberry crop has been gathered into our buckets or the belly of the bear, we notice the fireweed flower is near the top of the stalk. Full flower of late summer means the great outdoors is in full throttle, but switching gear towards fall. Fields of bright pink are fodder for many photo ops. On February 2d Marvin the Marmot accurately predicts it will be six weeks until spring. An old saying says once the Fireweed blooms to the top and goes to seed it not so accurately predicts we have six weeks ‘til winter.


According to these fireweed, winter is about five weeks away — not counting today’s first snow of the season.

Old Native legends tell us every fireweed is the soul of a tree lost in a forest fire. Soon after the embers of the fire have cooled and the ashes cover the ground, the first plant to appear is the fireweed. It grows through the ash pile with its pink to magenta colored flowers for anyone to admire it.






Englemann spruce often have a plethora of cones which could mean the tree is under stress.

Fireweed is a ground level indicator of season change, but we can look at tree top level for other indicators. The tree tip of spruce trees often is loaded with cones ready to sow seeds of a new crop.



Squirrels cut the needle bundle and cone, dropping it to the ground so they can place it in their cache.





Just as the Mutts cartoon squirrel character likes to throw acorns down at passersby, one standing under a ponderosa pine may be bonked by a big cone cut by a red squirrel.

Good news is that the nasty knapweed has done its thing for another year; the bad news is that it has deposited another seven years into its seed bank




Dogbane, commonly called Indian hemp, is a cheery color, but toxic to livestock and dogs.


The low brush dogbane is always anxious to be the first bright shrub color of fall.

We all have a choice of emotions for transition season. We can look forward with elation, industriousness, melancholy, or dread.

Peace be with you,
** Ron

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Snakes in the Grass

I have been fortunate to not have to worry about nasty snakes when living in Indiana, Idaho, Alaska, Oregon and Montana.

My Indiana childhood was spent trekking around woods and waters. Garter snakes, blue racers and water snakes were common. The only poisonous variety was an occasional water moccasin but I never worried about them because I never shared their water. Garter snakes were a non-issue. One of my favorite past-times was patrolling along the creek with my .22 and shooting the heads off the water snakes as they sunned themselves on a log  or twig. My dog liked to catch blue racers and play crack the whip with them. All in all, snakes had more reason to fear me than I had to fear them.

One of the blessings where I lived in the St. Joe and Clearwater areas of Idaho was there were no poisonous snakes or plants. I don’t ever even remember seeing a snake during the two years I lived in southeast Alaska. The only variety of the 10 Montana snakes I’ve seen in my rambling around my home in western Montana are the common garter snakes.

But the summer I worked in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas was a different story. I was the new kid among a crew of older local men. They delighted in filling me with stories about how the place was crawling with poisonous copperheads and rattlesnakes. They cautioned me about how difficult they were to see because they blended in so well with the leaves and litter on the forest floor.


See that snake?

The first few days as I was traipsing around the forest I found myself paying more attention to where I was stepping than what I was supposed to be paying attention to. I soon became a nervous wreck jumping and jerking with every snap of a twig or motion of a stray leaf. After about three days I decided I couldn’t go on like that and determined to just go about my business, not letting a puny snake ruin the wonder of the wonderful environment around me. Of course it was prudent to be aware of my surroundings and careful where I sat or stuck my hands.

With all the recent terrorism and mass murder events, it seems some people are beginning to be fearful of going about their routine, not knowing when the snake in the grass will strike. They could strike in a movie theater, night club, airport, or any large gathering.

The world is full of snakes, but we can’t allow them to overly influence us. We need to go about our business, but stay alert to our surrounding. Humanoids and other critters have evolved with survival of the fittest being the rule. A primary survival instinct is to be alert to the surroundings and ready for fight or flight.

I did see a bunch of copperheads in the Ozarks that summer. And hardly any of them were more than three feet from my feet. I think the reason why they were all so close is because I didn’t give them any exceptional regard and only noticed them just as I would a toad or anything else in the environment. The only rattlesnakes I saw were a few killed by others on the crew.

In today’s environment we need to be aware of our surroundings, recognize what we need to be threatened by, and allow trained professionals to take care of the real dangers. Our attention needs to be focused on the positive things in our world.

Peace be with you,
** Ron

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Go hiking and camping.


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Be Very Afraid

I’ve never been concerned about the chatter for transferring federal lands to the state because I always presumed those people don’t know what they are asking for. Other than being frustrated about the modern quagmire of legal challenges and budget constraints preventing everything everyone want to do or want done on federal public lands, I’ve never seen a specific example of what the state could do better.

But recently during a road trip through the Midwest I woke up one morning very afraid the proponents for transferring federal land to the states can probably make a compelling case to the majority of people in this country.

Understandably it is difficult for urban people to appreciate the freedom of open space. But even people of rural America seldom have access to public land for outdoor recreation. They can go to a city park, or a state park (which is often just a larger version of a city park.) But otherwise, even the pastoral setting of farm land and tree farms most often includes fences or unfriendly signs. As a farm boy I roamed around as much as I wanted, but that was before most people started posting their lands.

So when someone comes along with a sales pitch claiming federal land is not being managed to its full economic capability, or much of it is “locked up” for only people who want to walk, it will be an easy sell to people who are oblivious to the personal value of federal open space. Those who lack appreciation or understanding of wildland values can be swayed that State control would be better, even it they don’t know better than what.

Many of us want to leave a legacy of our public lands to our seventh generation, and protect that which is integral to so many of our lifestyles. We need to figure out a way to make people in other states (and our own Congressmen) as ardent about Montanan’s constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment on our federal lands as some people are about protecting their second amendment rights.

Peace be with you,

** Ron

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It’ll Take More Than Blue Paint

Examples of state land (blue) surrounded by private land (yellow.)

Examples of state land (blue) surrounded by private land (yellow.) Intermingled National Fores lands (green) and small private land (white) also complicate identification of landownership.

Recently there was an article in the local daily newspaper suggesting a way to “enhance access to public lands” in Montana is to “paint the corner posts on all state land sections blue.” The author thinks that would make it so “any member of the public would know immediately whether the land they seek to access is public….”

Well, that may identify the state land, but it wouldn’t necessarily make it available to any member of the general public. First of all, assuming they could get there without trespassing on private land, according to our State statutes, anyone without a valid hunting or fishing license would need to go online or journey to the nearest district DNRC office and purchase a $10 State Land Recreational Use License.

State lands isn't exactly free and open to all members of the public

State lands isn’t exactly free and open to all members of the public

Then, if the road wasn’t a federal, state, a dedicated county road or other road regularly maintained by the county, or other road which has specifically been designated open by DNRC, vehicles would be prohibited and they would have to walk, or wait for winter and access it via a snowmobile. Off road vehicle travel is prohibited. Maps are of limited use because the only roads and trails able to be shown on a map are ones which a specific organization holds a license or easement to be responsible for maintenance and liability.

The majority of the five million acres of Montana state lands are under lease to private entities that have priority over any general recreation use by the public. I’m even hesitant to call DNRC land “public.” Leaseholders have the right to require the public to register with them to travel, or deny access, on their leased state land. If not hunting, shooting a gun may require prior notification to the lessee.

Welcome to your state land.

Welcome to your state land. Walk on the road that has been there for over a half century.

Once getting onto State DNRC lands with the necessary licenses and abiding by the access requirements, the public is only allowed to have open fires in designated campgrounds if on leased or licensed state land. Pets must be kept on a leash or otherwise under the control of the recreationist.

I certainly agree that we need “an effective way to increase public access to public lands,” particularly state lands. But a first chore for the governor and the legislature would be to change the laws concerning public use of state land to allow the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to accommodate general outdoor recreation use. Otherwise, the State land doesn’t seem to be very public.

Peace be with you,
** Ron

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Go hiking and camping.

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Shave and a Haircut

Two Bits. Haircuts for twenty-five cents were before my time. But my first haircuts were free because my dad clipped my brother and me. Of coarse, after I got a little older and became aware of the barber alternative, Dad’s clips fell out of favor. Not so much because he didn’t do a good job, but because I think the old hand clippers pulled out as many hairs as they cut. I’m not sure whether the clippers were dull, or whether Dad moved them forward faster than he squeezed the handle.


Needs a haircut

I’ll always remember one time I overheard him tell my little brother Rick that it was time for a haircut. I wasn’t in the mood for a hair pulling so I snuck out of the house and climbed up the big maple tree in the front yard to lay low until the coast was clear. Summer-time barbering was done outside to reduce clean up needs. Dad brought the kitchen chair out, Rick sat down in the chair, and Dad wrapped the bath towel around his neck to start clipping. The portable “barbershop” was set up directly below me. As Dad clipped Rick he was musing about where I had disappeared. He wondered aloud several times and hollered for me to come a couple times as he was finishing with Rick. When he was done he lamented that I’d just have to go without a haircut because I couldn’t be found. I’ve always wondered whether or not he knew where I was all the time.

Anyway, a few days later I was able to go to the grown up’s barbershop — such as it was. In the interest of economic diversity, Pete’s Tavern owners Bob and Vi Powell had built a little 12×16 barbershop out back to meet the hair-shortening demand of the little town. Appointments weren’t required because the barber was usually sitting in his chair and just had to get up to make room for you. Sometimes he’d be chatting with a non-customer who would become a spectator. I enjoyed hearing his banter and loved the sound of buzzing from real electric clippers. But the real highlight of the whole experience was after the barber had finished he’d always ask me if I wanted him to put “monkey grease” on my hair. It’s been many years since I’ve heard “A little dab’ll do ya” for the greasy kid’s stuff.

My Dad wasn’t the end of my free haircuts though. While attending Army OCS my buddy and I traded haircuts. That was a simple matter of running the clippers back and forth across our heads until no hair was left to cut. But the most memorable haircut I had while in the Army was in Vietnam. While on patrol in a local village we thought it would be a good idea to patronize the local barbershop as a sign as good faith. The villagers always were smiles during the day, but you could never tell whom the Cong were that would be prowling at night. We couldn’t speak the language, but since we were in a building with a barber pole out front, we all figured out that haircuts were in order. Things started out a little nervously but we gradually relaxed as the barbering proceeded. That is — until the barber finished my haircut, grabbed a chopstick and began to stick it in my ear. I grabbed his hand with visions of an ice-pick-in-the-ear murder. He only chuckled, bowing and trying to assure us of peaceful intentions. He then demonstrated that the chopstick was how they cleaned ears. That was the first and last time I ever had my earwax cleaned with a chopstick. These days I only stick my elbow in my ear.

Haircuts through the subsequent years became uneventful. But for some reason after I had gone to one barber for several years she caused some gray to creep onto my head. She also gave me a once-in-a- lifetime moment though. She was preserving the old time barber tradition of shaving with a straight razor. So one time she demonstrated her skill on me and I felt like I was in an old western movie, all lathered up,  with a six-shooter under the cape waiting for the bad guy to come in. No blood was shed.

These days haircuts have devolved into a non-event. You make your appointment online, show up at the appointed time, the beautician checks the recipe for your preferred style on the computer; e.g., #2 on the side, #4 on top, and you’re done. How soon will it be until robots take over the barbershop?

Peace be with you,
** Ron

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