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Land Management

Clark Fork Outfitters under new ownership

Land Management, well now. That encompasses a lot of territory, so to speak (pun intended), but the resident critters of the land are undoubtedly a part of land management. For the private land manager it tends to be a matter of perspective and goals.

If the land manager, who is usually the land owner, considers some of the critters to be pests, then it is a matter of decreasing habitat and killing off as many as possible. I have a neighbor who has issues with bears getting into his trash, being too bold, and possibly threatening his family. For him, the bears are to be eliminated through hunting them or killing them to protect what is his.

I personally prefer to decrease the habitat for bears which means making sure the trash is unavailable for them, making sure fruit trees are enclosed in tall, strong fencing, that bird feeders and dog food are unavailable to them, keeping multiple dogs on my property, etc. The same goes for deer, elk, moose and the like, whom I prefer not to eat my wife’s garden and I will make life uncomfortable for the moose who wander too close to the house by running them off, and generally making it an uncomfortable atmosphere for them but without actually harming them.

However; many land owners want those critters on their property, enjoy seeing them and do not mind if they munch some or all of the food available, if not actually feeding them. For those land managers it is a matter of increasing the habitat needs of the animals they wish to attract or sustain on their property. This may include planting food plots, utilizing wildlife forage species in seed mix, planting unprotected fruit tress, creating nesting tress, putting out feed, or otherwise improving the basic habitat needs such as food, cover, breeding grounds and travel routes.

For public land managers it gets very complicated though. The USFS is mandated by Congress to manage the public forest lands for wildlife, water quality, timber and recreation too! Well, that gets pretty tough, because first off, one wonders what did Congress mean with this mandate? Are we talking about managing every acre for each of these uses or managing for each of these uses throughout the entire area drainage and/or drainages in a larger area? Personally, I think the latter makes more sense, and I believe, from my experience with government, industry and private landowners, as well as, my education in both timber management and ecosystem management, that it is neither practical nor possible to manage every acre for every use and/or aspect of the mandate. It can be done with wise and proper management but conflicts are bound to occur.

The government agencies have a tough mandate now even more complicated by the wolf populations being on the rise. Make no mistake. I am a firm believer in restoring the forest ecosystems to a more natural state, but of course, the impact of man and society must be taken into consideration. Given that the human predator is nowhere as efficient or successful as wolves or any other predator, the needs and impacts of humans and their communities must be factored into the management regime. This means keeping wolf populations in check. As former outfitter/guides in the Frank Church Wilderness, David Meers (who is the designated outfitter for Clark Fork Outfitters and the business manager as well), and myself both have seen the effects of wolf populations which are out of proportion to the ungulate populations. We have seen firsthand the effects of these most efficient predators on the elk and deer populations, as well as the success of the human predators too.

Another case of conflict of interest may be the use of the National Forest for commercial hunting. However, there does appear to be a conflict between those who would use hunting unit 4A for their own personal hunting and the outfitter who has the exclusive right (through the Outfitters and Licensing Board), to bring in out-of-state hunters who pay the outfitter to provide guides, lodging, food, packing and processing of the game which are killed. I know this is an issue because I have purchased Clark Fork Outfitters, a big game outfitting company operating in unit 4A, near Clark Fork, and my guides have been run off the road, had stands and personal effects stolen from their rigs, have been insulted and have even had hunters firing off many rounds when they detect my guides working in a particular area.

Now, Clark Fork Outfitters has evidently previously been under the ownership of a person who was not well liked, not trusted and whom, as I hear it, was considered a dishonest and unethical business owner. This I have heard from many different folks in the Clark Fork community.  At this point I am not sure if the animosity is because the previous owner was so disliked or because the local hunters resent “their” hunting area being shared with those who would make a profit from the land and associated hunting. The thinking goes, as I understand it, that those individuals consider hunting unit 4A their personal hunting ground and resent a business making “profit” (which I do not expect for a few years) by selling off the big game to “rich” out-of-state folks.

I would like to make it clear that I, the designated Outfitter/Business Manager David Meers, and the guides employed by him intend to operate with the utmost integrity regarding both the way in which our hunts are conducted and also with respect to the local community. Clark Fork Outfitters would like to be a partner in game management with the community. We would like to have community input on how to improve our relationship with the community and to make sure we do not “step on” long term personal hunting spots of local residents. We have plans for a community meet and greet/suggestion-type gathering in which the community can let us know how we can better serve the them and decrease animosity within the community.

I would like to point out that we do employ two Clark Fork residents, which considering the relatively small population of the community is significant on a statistical basis and all of our employees, as well as my family who owns the business, are locals who have lived and raised their families in the area. We put a lot of money into the Clark Fork community, donate hunts for charity causes, contribute to the Rocky Mountain Elk foundation, Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited. We want to be very active in improving the habitat for and populations of the forest critters, namely the big game species, so that all hunters will have a renewable and consistent source of wild game.

But the main point I would like to make is much more esoteric, if you will, because like it or not, the large population centers of the eastern U.S., as apposed to the western half of the U.S., do fund the majority of subsidies for the National Forests, which are far and above located in the West. Through tax dollars which support the national forest and park systems, the east monetarily supports the majority of habitat improvement for our local hunting grounds. The out-of-state hunters provide not only a higher dollar amount for licensing and tags, but also pay more per capita in taxes which go into the management of our public lands. They put a lot of money into the western communities too, while here hunting and recreating in the National Forests. All monies from their licensing and tags go to the state Fish and Game agency for habitat improvement and land management. And, while not on a per-capita basis but on sheer volume of donations, they do provide the majority of funding for groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

It seems to me, that given the disproportionate share of the cost of maintaining and enhancing the western national forest and parks for habitat of big game species, they have a right to hunt these western hunting grounds. Given the higher volume of taxpayer money and income to the communities they provide, they are well within their rights to utilize Western Outfitter’s services to hunt this land which they pay for but are unfamiliar with. They do not know how to hunt these mountains, as well as the locals do, so hiring a guide service is the best way for them to be able to enjoy the land and the game they help pay for.

We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the local community. I invite anyone who has questions or concerns to contact me.

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Author info

Michael White Michael White is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker - Sterling Society and a consultant for Northwest Group In-Land. He has a BS in Forest Resources & Ecosystem Management and specializes in land, ranches and homes with acreage.

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