Why We Fight for Flathead Wildlife

Published on 11/05/22

This is why we fight for wildlife habitat and public access.

Over the last three years Flathead Wildlife, the Montana Wildlife Federation and a host of other groups supported the acquisition of the Bad Rock Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Located near Columbia Falls, the 772 acre parcel was owned by Glencore/Columbia Falls Aluminum Company. Bounded by the Flathead River, the property was relatively undeveloped and hosts a variety of wildlife. The Flathead Land Trust led the effort to raise the $590,000 matching funds for the purchase, FWP’s Habitat Montana contributed $2.5 million and LWCF made up the remaining $4 million. The acquisition was approved by the FW Commission and received final approval by the State Land Board in November, 2021. So instead of becoming a high priced subdivision, the area will remain as wildlife habitat and a migratory corridor.

Youth Hunter with Bull Elk

Due to the relative small size and proximity to Columbia Falls, FWP manages the general hunting season for youth hunters by reservation only to control pressure. Here’s one of the first youth hunters, 13 year old Schafer VandeVoort, in the new WMA with a beautiful bull elk.

Photo provided by Schafer’s proud mom, Rachel Schmidt.

Church Slough

Published on 03/19/22

Waterfowl are starting their migration north. Freezeout Lake is a spectacular stop-over but there are many smaller important resting places,200 acre Church Slough in the Flathead Valley is one.

Church Slough

10 years ago a developer petitioned Flathead County to move a county road along Church Slough to develop waterfront property. Flathead Wildlife intervened, arguing the county road was the best place to watch wildlife and the only option for the public to launch a boat. After negotiations, a 1.75 acre parcel was donated to the county to develop a public boat access and viewing spot. Flathead Wildlife then successfully petitioned FWP to close Church Slough to boating from March 1 to April 10 so resting waterfowl would not be disturbed.

Class at Church Slough

A group of 7th graders from Evergreen School are viewing waterfowl aided by Denny Olson from Flathead Audubon and Laura Katzman from the Flathead Land Trust. Waterfowl included tundra swans, Canada geese, redheads, pintails, mallards and widgeon along with bald eagles with the Swan Mountains as a backdrop. Watch for waterfowl numbers to increase soon, the peak at Freezeout is usually around March 25th.

March President’s Letter

Published on 03/12/22

Click the link below to download the complete March FWI Newsletter.
FWI March Newsletter

I once worked for a fish hatchery manager who grew up on a ranch in the 1920s near Bluewater, south of Laurel. He said one day his Dad came home and said “You’ll never guess what I saw”. The kids guessed everything from elephants to hot air balloons. But when his Dad said “I saw a deer”, they were all dumbfounded, they had never seen a deer there. If you know that country it now has abundant deer, as does most of Montana.

President Jim Vashro 8211 turkey

The recovery of wildlife in the American West is one of the world’s great conservation stories. Unlimited market and subsistence hunting in the late 1800s decimated the seemingly limitless wildlife populations in Montana, by the turn of the 20th century wildlife was just a memory in major parts of Montana. Starting as early as the 1860s in territorial Montana hunters started asking for controls on harvest and protection of habitat. Rod and gun clubs sprang up in most major Montana communities to press for current and future conservation of wildlife. Early conservationists Teddy Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell came to their calling due to their experiences as hunters. They were followed by other visionaries such as Aldo Leopold and in more recent times Valerius Geist, Shane Mahoney and Montana’s own Jim Posewitz who helped develop the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

1. Wildlife resources are conserved and held in trust for all citizens by the government. This was a radical change from Europe where wildlife is owned by royalty. In America wildlife is owned by all of us (public) for common benefit.

2. Wildlife cannot be slaughtered for commercial purposes. While some parts such as furs can be sold, sale of wildlife meat is prohibited.

3. Wildlife is allocated by law. Regulations determine how wildlife is managed, hunting seasons and bag limits protect from overharvest and fairly apportion harvest between hunters.

4. Wildlife may only be killed for legitimate, non-frivolous purposes. Wildlife shall be taken by legal and ethical means (fair chase) and for legitimate purposes such as food and fur, self defense or protection of property.

5. Wildlife is an international resource. Wildlife does not recognize political boundaries so it will be managed cooperatively.

6. Hunting, fishing, and trapping shall be democratic. Every citizen, regardless of wealth, social standing, or land ownership, is allowed to participate in the harvest of fish and wildlife within legal limits.

7. Science plays a key role in managing wildlife. Wildlife populations are sustained and managed by agency professionals.

This Model has served us well. Along with laws, hunters agreed to pay for wildlife management through license fees and excise taxes on sporting goods. Hunting is conservation. But special interest groups continually try to claim wildlife for their own special benefit and gain such as through Ranching For Wildlife or regulations that will benefit a select few. Hunters must remain vigilant to protect the Public Trust now and for future generations.

Jim Vashro

_The preceding comments are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc. _

Click the link below to download the complete March FWI Newsletter.
FWI March Newsletter

FWI February Newsletter

Published on 03/12/22

Download the complete FWI February Newsletter by click on the link below.

FWI February Newsletter

January 2022 President’s Letter

Published on 01/10/22

I recently signed onto the Op-Ed below with 17 other elk hunters. Moose, sheep and goats are ultimate trophies but luck of the draw means most of us will have few, if any, chances to hunt them. That makes elk the top hunting trophy for most Montanans. But elk are at a crossroads. Access is getting more difficult, different interests are competing for an advantage over others in bagging an elk. The Montana Elk Management Plan is getting a much needed make-over, adopted 16 years ago many parts are no longer relevant. FWP Director Hank Worsech also just announced he was going to form an additional elk management group. There’s no word what that will look like or how that will interact with the ongoing Management Plan committee. And the Montana Legislature has introduced many bills to impact hunting for elk and other wildlife. Concerned Montana hunters are forming a citizens’ coalition, The Montana Citizens’ Elk Management Coalition, to hopefully find some common points of interest amongst all the users – hunters, landowners and outfitters, to offer up common sense solutions and ensure average Montanans have a voice in the process. It won’t be easy but elk are worth it.

The thoughts in the attached file (Montana Citizens Elk Management Coalition) are mine and don’t necessarily reflect the goals or policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc. FWI will have an opportunity to decide whether to join the Coalition.

— Jim Vashro

January 2022 Newsletter

Presidents Message – November

Published on 12/04/21

I shot a buck 3 days before Thanksgiving, 57 years to the day since I shot my first deer. That thought brought a flood of emotions. I can still picture that first buck bouncing through the timber into an opening, then turning broadside and stopping. You’ve got to love mule deer. There have been a lot of deer since then and this one wasn’t a whopper but I’m happy to say my heart was pounding while I waited for this one to step into the clear. I hope I never lose that thrill.


I was hunting on some Flathead Ridge Ranch property. We’ve seen some seismic shifts in land ownership the last few years in northwest Montana. Thank goodness private landowners like Mark and Robyn Jones were willing to put most of their 127,000 acre Flathead Ridge Ranch into Block Management. There are many other landowners who are willing to grant access if you do your homework. And corporate timber companies like Stimson Lumber, FH Stoltze Land and Lumber, Green Diamond Resources and Southern Pines Plantation are cooperating to provide access through Block Management and conservation easements (more on that elsewhere in this newsletter). I also hunted a lot of Block Management in the Missouri Breaks this fall. When you think about it, it’s a big leap of faith for landowners to open their lands to people toting firearms, driving vehicles and building fires. We need to thank them when we can, treat the land like our own and respect the privilege we’ve been given because the thoughtless actions of a few can make that all go away.

This was a tough year with record high temperatures and little or no snow. I’ve only heard of rutting buck activity in the last week. I hope your hunts were fun and safe, created memories with friends and family and maybe even put some venison in the freezer. As I look at a forecast for temperatures in the 50s tomorrow and my lawn greening up, I’m contemplating whether I’ll be using my lawnmower or snowblower first.

Jim Vashro
Flathead Wildlife President

Download the link below and read the FWI November Newsletter

New attached file


Published on 06/25/21

There are numerous bears and mountain lions close to residential areas around the Flathead. People should always be aware, carry bear spray when appropriate, and keep attractants such as dog food, bird feeders, garbage, and chickens out of reach.


Protect Habitat Montana

Published on 02/11/21

By Jim Vashro

I’ve lost three hunting spots on corporate timberlands in the last two years. I’ve always appreciated the privilege of hunting those lands but knew they could be sold. One sale blocked a road leading to thousands of acres of US Forest Service where I’ve hunted for over 30 years. The hunt for new spots is hindered by a rash of new “No Trespassing” signs.

Public lands, owned by you and me, are our ace-in-the-hole for recreating. A couple of proposed bills on Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Habitat Montana program this legislative session would ban fee title purchases, put conservation easements under final State Land Board approval and require no net gain of state lands. Who thinks we have too much, much less enough, public land?

For 30 years Habitat Montana has been a win-win for recreation and timber management. F.H. Stoltze and Stimson Lumber have been leaders in negotiating conservation easements that maintain their logging while protecting water, wildlife and access. The recent conservation easement with Southern Pines Plantations on Dredger Ridge more than doubled the effectiveness of the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge. Over the years non-governmental organizations acquired and transferred tens of thousands of acres of timberlands to agencies in the Stillwater, Swan, Clearwater, Lolo and lower Clark Fork. Two parties just purchased over 400,000 acres of Southern Pines Plantation west of Kalispell, fortunately, they seem open to discussing options. Purchase of the proposed 800 acre Bad Rock WMA near Columbia Falls would protect deer, elk, grizzly bears, waterfowl and provide hunting access for youth and persons with disabilities. The alternative is a subdivision where wildlife and the public aren’t as welcome.

FWP owns 388,000 acres of land and has 563,000 acres under conservation easement under Habitat Montana, along with state parks and fishing access sites. That is 1 percent of Montana. That is a sore spot for some who don’t believe agencies should own any land. FWP has never had a lot of money for lands so it has had to be very strategic. Acquired lands had to provide exceptional habitat and/or substantial public access and undergo extensive public scrutiny.

To start, a willing landowner must step forward. Landowners may want a conservation easement to keep the family ranch afloat. In some cases, they no longer want to own the lands but want the lands they’ve nurtured for a lifetime available for wildlife and public access. Proposed lands have to pass extensive analysis, two votes by the Fish and Wildlife Commission and have broad public input and support.

We’re talking about places like the Sun River Game Range, Freezeout Lake, Wildhorse Island, Lewis and Clark Caverns, Makoshika, Madison Buffalo Jump, Bannack and the Thompson Chain of Lakes. These special places are part of the fabric of Montana, preserving history, geology, wildlife, access and drawing visitors who spend money and support jobs.

Governor Gianforte lists protection of public land and increasing access among four core principles guiding his Administration. Outdoor recreation is a $7.1 billion force in Montana with Habitat Montana lands a major contributor. But to grow our economy, protect public land and increase public access, Habitat Montana needs additional revenue and no new restrictions on land acquisition or burdensome bureaucracy on conservation easements. Habitat Montana is an intersection of private and public property rights that works to benefit all of us. Montanans are paying attention and should fight any bills that would crimp or undo our best conservation and access program.

Jim Vashro is a retired fisheries biologist, president of Flathead Wildlife and Board member of the Montana Wildlife Federation

Selenium Limits in Lake Koocanusa/Kootenai River

Published on 12/13/20

Read an article from Flathead Beacon:

New Rule Finalized to Protect Lake Koocanusa from B.C. Mining Contaminants Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s board of review voted 5-1 in favor of protective selenium criteria for fish

By Tristan Scott // Dec 12, 2020

Selenium Limits in Lake Koocanusa/Kootenai River

Lost Trail Conservation Easement

Published on 12/13/20

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER Daily Inter Lake | December 11, 2020 9:35 AM

Terry Zink of Marion is a lifelong bowhunter and houndsman and his comment about the Lost Trail Conservation easement was brief, but meaningful.

“I believe the residents of Marion and the Flathead Valley will appreciate this easement,” Zink said.

Zink made his comment during Thursday afternoon’s Montana Fish and Game Commission hearing on the proposed easement that will protect more than 7,000 acres of wild land favored by elk and deer as well as several other species.

Not long after Zink spoke, the Commission voted unanimously to approve the purchase by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Jim Vashro of Flathead Wildlife also has strong feelings about the easement and its potential effects.