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Preserving Wildlife in the Public Domain

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Cabinet Resource Group

BULL RIVER, MT – The snow-covered landscape surrounding the Bighorn Lodge in the heart of the Bull River Valley was the perfect setting for the Cabinet Resource Group’s annual meeting in late January. More than 50 people attended the gathering to share in the success stories of the group’s activities over the past year, to hear about the challenges facing them in 2002 and to listen to a couple of presentations about wildlife.

    CRG is comprised of over 200 people. The group is variously based out of Libby, Troy, Noxon, Heron and Trout Creek. They are concerned with management of natural resources on the Kootenai National Forest and surrounding countryside.

    The organization had its beginning in the mid 1970s when an effort was afoot to place a dam across Kootenai Falls on the Kootenai River between Libby and Troy. Concerned residents also swelled the meager ranks of CRG when the Forest Service proposed to pave the Yaak River Road all the way over to Lake Koocanusa, and with the proposal to mine silver and copper at what was being called the Troy Project west of Bull Lake. Since those early days, members of CRG have been engaged in many aspects of the management of public lands and wildlife of northwest Montana.

    In a flyer passed around at the meeting highlighting issues and projects tracked by CRG in 2001, the list included concerns ranging from W.R. Grace’s vermiculite mine near Libby to the idea of turning the Thompson River Road near Thompson Falls into a paved highway; from involvement with watershed councils up and down the lower Clark Fork Valley to addressing the labeling of environmentalists “Green Nazis” in the Flathead; and from access requests to patented mining claims on the east side of the Cabinets to sponsoring the nature education series “Bull River Outdoor Education Programs.”

    The afternoon at the exquisite Bighorn Lodge began with a slide show and talk by Brian Baxter, founder of Silver Cloud Associates, LLC, a company specializing in wildlife research, particularly with lynx, wolverine, fisher and marten. He established the company in 1993 and has since contributed to devising nationwide protocol for research methodologies involving mid-sized carnivores.

    The Canada lynx has been placed on the Endangered Species List as a threatened species, and Baxter’s own work, as well as his efforts with renowned wildlife researchers such as John Weaver of Missoula, has provided a great deal of information to forest managers about these secretive cats of the high country.

    During more than 20 years of experience in the woods, and especially in the past eight years as a lynx researcher, Baxter has become a modest expert on these creatures. The closest relative to the lynx is the bobcat, which is commonly found in western Montana. At a glance, these two animals look much the same, but Baxter shared some key differences to look for when in the backcountry.

    A lynx is generally much bigger than a bobcat, averaging 30 to 65 pounds full grown, to about half that for a bobcat. Both animals have ear tufts, but those of a lynx stick up much higher, and a lynx will have a larger facial ruff. They both have big paws, but a lynx’s paw will usually be up to twice as wide as a bobcat’s. The tip of a lynx’s tail will look as if it was dipped in an inkwell, while a bobcat’s tail may only be slightly touched with black. The long back legs of a lynx give the animal a stooped appearance. Those are what help make a lynx so agile in snow.

    In the January/February 2002 issue of Montana Magazine, you’ll find an article on lynx written by Brian Baxter entitled, “On Silent Feet: Following the Lynx Pathways.” Baxter can be contacted by calling 406-293-6500 or by sending email to [email protected]

    Following a potluck dinner and brief business meeting, the keynote speaker for the night took the floor. Jim Posewitz retired after 30 years with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and founded The Orion Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting ethics and the principles of fair chase among hunters. He is now the Executive Director of the Cinnabar Foundation and is active with the Montana Wildlife Federation. Posewitz is an outspoken proponent of the idea of public ownership of wildlife. He was introduced by CRG President Bob Zimmerman as a “great supporter of sportsmen’s issues.”

    Posewitz introduced to the eager crowd “the greatest conservationist and environmentalist ever known, Theodore Roosevelt.” While hunting in North Dakota as Vice President-elect early in the 20th Century, Roosevelt’s vision for American wildlife began to take shape. He believed the people own the fish, the wildlife and the water. “His passion was the hunt,” Posewitz said, and the conservation of wildlife for future generations.

    The idea of public ownership stemmed from a court case in 1842 regarding a dispute over oysters in the New Jersey meadowlands. A Supreme Court decision ruled in that case that by virtue of the Declaration of Independence these oysters belonged to the people and not a private individual who wanted to pilfer the beds.

    Another case in 1869 resulted in a decision that identified wildlife as a trust to be held for the benefit of all people. Around this time is when George Perkins Marsh was writing about conservation and published the book Man and Nature. This, Posewitz said, was what Aldo Leopold and Gifford Pinchot read that helped shape their conservation ethic.

    So at the turn of the century, Posewitz exclaimed, “We had a leader who gets the idea we need a conservation ethic and a court deciding who owns wildlife.”

    Roosevelt ascended to the Presidency in 1901 and almost immediately, “He begins to create a vast public estate.”

    When he took office there were 43 million acres in the National Forest Reserves. When he left that had grown to 194 million acres. Roosevelt left a legacy of five National Parks, 18 National Monuments, 51 bird preserves and four game ranges, including the National Bison Range in eastern Sanders County. In all, Posewitz said, Theodore Roosevelt set aside 230 million acres during his presidency for the conservation and protection of wildlife.

    The success stories for wildlife since Roosevelt brought to the forefront of national politics the notion of public ownership have been prolific, Posewitz said. For instance, when he was President there were about 40,000 elk in North America. “Now there are nearly one million.” Whitetail deer numbered around 500,000 on the entire continent. That species now numbers 33 million. Wisconsin alone, Posewitz said, harvests 500,000 whitetail deer each year as a means of controlling the population.

    But the fight is still on to keep wildlife in the public domain. “Public land management has been a struggle since Roosevelt left the White House,” he said. “But we have a chance in the next eight years to revive Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. Is it possible to take inspiration from people nearly 100 years dead? Can we have these values – wilderness, wildlife, clear water, public domain?

“Imagine the landscape Teddy Roosevelt looked out on when he was President. It was barren, stripped clean. “A great loneliness of spirit,” he called it. But you look out the window here, see all the wildlife, see the progress we’ve made. We’re winning!”

    For more information about the Cabinet Resource Group you can write them at P.O. Box 238, Heron, MT 59844; or call Diane Mosley at 406-847-2024 or send email to nox2024(at)blackfoot.net.


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Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

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