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.


The Great America Outdoors Act – Signed!

Published on 08/04/20

The Great America Outdoors Act

The Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law today by President Trump. The Act provides full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million per year and appropriates $9.5 billion to address backlogs in federal maintenance and development on federal lands such as national parks, forests, rangelands and wildlife refuges. Montana has benefitted greatly from LWCF, receiving more than $600 million over the last 50 years for fee title and conservation easements on wildlife habitat, fishing access sites, securing public access, municipal swimming pools and tennis courts and shooting ranges. Increased LWCF funding could be critical for funding programs such as conservation easements on corporate timberlands recently purchased by Southern Pines Plantation.

Over the years funding for LWCF has fluctuated greatly. Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act follows on permanent reauthorization of LWCF last year and should pay dividends for future Montana generations.

Flathead Wildlife, Inc. thanks Montana’s congressional delegation including Senator Steve Daines, Senator Jon Tester and Congressmen Greg Gianforte for their leadership in getting LWCF permanently reauthorized and funded.

Click on this link to see an article from NBC Montana. (photo above from this site)

The Great American Outdoors Act

Lost Trail Conservation Area

Published on 07/15/20

Flathead Wildlife, Inc. (FWI) strongly supports the proposed Lost Trail Conservation Area. FWI is the oldest (64 years) and largest sportsmen and women group in northwest Montana. Our primary goals are preserving our hunting and fishing heritage, protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat, preserving and enhancing public access to public lands, and involving youth in the outdoors. The proposed Lost Trail Conservation Area could support all those goals.

The 9,225 acre Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge provides excellent habitat for a significant elk herd along with whitetail deer, moose and waterfowl. The area also sustains mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, lynx, coyotes, wolves and black and grizzly bears. The NWR is a key part of linkages for movement of animals. But the Lost Trail NWR is essentially an island, surrounded by mainly private land. The recent sale of the bulk of those lands to Southern Pine Plantations raises concerns about future development and associated loss of habitat, linkages and public access. FWI strongly supported the proposed conservation easement of 7,274 acres of Weyerhauser lands by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks immediately south and adjacent to Lost Trail NWR. That CE effectively nearly doubled the potential of the refuge. The proposed Lost Trail Conservation Area would build on that with the goal of protecting up to 100,000 acres within an 116,000 acre area. CEs would exclude residential development while protecting traditional uses such as timber harvest, grazing, wildlife habitat, wildlife linkages and public access.

This proposed Conservation Area is well timed hopefully to take advantage of increased funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund if the Great Outdoors Recreation Act to permanently fund LWCF passes Congress. Flathead Wildlife commends USFWS for your foresight and strongly supports moving ahead.

Jim Vashro, President, FWI

Find notice and documents at:

Scoping Comments accepted until August 6. Comment to:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Attention: Ben Gilles

922 Bootlegger Trail
Great Falls, MT 59404

President’s Message – February 2020

Published on 02/09/20

President Jim Vashro

Hunter and Elk

Most of us grew up surrounded by family and friends who helped us learn hunting and fishing. Mentoring is the fancy term for taking someone under your wing. It’s really hard for someone without support to learn the necessary skills, the learning curve is steep and daunting. In this age of urban living, single parent families, hectic schedules and video games many give up early or don’t even try. That’s why the numbers of hunters and anglers are flat or falling. That’s why it’s important for all of us to turn around, reach back and help someone along like we were helped.

A friend, Bob, was recently called on a damage hunt in SW Montana. Call it mentoring or just going to help a friend, I have a few more years’ experience hunting elk than he does so I volunteered to tag along. We left Kalispell at 5 am, by noon we were looking at a LARGE herd of elk with no cover. Long story short, they proceeded to mosey us into the ground so we backtracked and found about 100 straggler elk. They were 400 yards away with only heads showing and no cover over one ridge. After looking at options, there was a herd of horses between us and we gambled the elk wouldn’t notice a few more legs. It worked like a charm, by the time the horses got squirrelly, we had bellied within 100 yards of the bedded elk. It took a lot of arm-waving, several cows finally stood and Bob proceeded to shoot his first – and second – elk (two tags – seemed like a good idea at the time). Earlier this fall Bob had shot 2 antelope, when we drug the cows together his comment was “WOW”. That was followed by a marathon of quartering, game carting and sledding a mile to the road, 8 miles hiked total, 18 hours awake by the time the elk were in the back of the truck at 11 pm, gourmet dinner at Town Pump at midnight. In other words, a typical day of elk hunting.

Bob is very capable and probably could have pulled this off by himself but having some extra ideas, extra help and a lot of encouragement made for a successful hunt, good memories and a pile of meat. I hoped I helped, thanks, Bob, for letting me tag along. I’m almost healed up. In my haste to get going, I forgot to throw my GPS in my pack. Walking out in the dark, the map app on Bob’s phone led us straight to the truck. I’ll have to have Bob teach me how to do that, mentoring goes both ways.

Mentoring can take many forms. FWP is exploring the idea of pairing experienced hunters with young hunters who have no hunting adult in their life. Warden Sergeant Jon Obst is teaching an adult ed class at FVCC called Let’s Go Hunting to give first time hunters the necessary skills and confidence. Flathead Wildlife will be helping with a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman ice fishing workshop and a Let’s Go Fishing Open house aimed at beginners. See details later in this newsletter.

Take a youngster or adult hunting or fishing. It will help them get started right. It will enlist more people to protect and preserve our hunting and fishing heritage. And it will help you find that spark you felt when you first started hunting and fishing.

The preceding opinions are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the goals and policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.

President’s Message – January 2020

Published on 01/08/20

President Jim Vashro

While I’m writing this a 30 MPH wind is driving rain and 36 degree temperatures. Not exactly great ice fishing weather! A couple of early cold snaps laid down some ice but this weather is thinning it out. So far this is a repeat of 2019. Then mild weather limited ice fishing options early, then heavy snow in March produced miserable slush. Despite all that we had some fun ice fishing.

Ice Fishing Fun

Ice fishing is a great break in the winter, some exercise to work off those holiday pounds, a chance to get outdoors with family and friends, and a chance for non-boaters to get to fish perch and kokanee. Add to that, a combination of low oxygen at depth and brighter light from above will compress fish like kokanee into a narrow layer. If you can figure out where that band is, you can have unbelievably fast fishing and the fish out of cold water are tops for eating. Northwest Montana is a top ice fishing area. Although the fish aren’t always large, action can be fast. One-third to ½ of all the fishing on some lakes occurs during winter. Perch and kokanee are the most sought after but anglers also chase pike, lake trout, rainbows and cutthroats, crappie and lake whitefish.

Always practice Safety First! Cold water really decreases your ability to function. What would be an inconvenient dunk in summer can become life threatening in a few minutes in winter. First and last ice provides some of the best fishing but also marginal conditions. Two of our party broke through the ice near shore on our last ice fishing trip last spring, we cut it a little too close. But the kokanee bite was hot.

Always let someone know where you’re going. Better yet, go fishing with a friend. Stay apart walking out and stay to the beaten path. If you explore, drill test hoes as you go. Carry lifesaving ice picks around your neck, they won’t do you any good in your sled. Carry a throw rope. Commercial models are available but you can make ice picks out of wooden dowel, cord and cut-off nails and a throw rope out of 50’ of polypropylene rope (it floats) tied to a plastic jug. Carry – and use – ice creepers. I’ve seen people with broken arms and head concussions from spills. On a recent rip the lake looked like an ice rink and creepers were the only way to move.

If you already ice fish, introduce someone to the sport. Pictured are FWI members Kendal and Shelly Bortisser, daughter and boyfriend, all on their first ice fishing expedition. Tony Anderson provided the expertise, we both provided equipment and they all caught fish, had fun and enjoyed fresh fish for dinner. FWI’s Bill Nyberg, wife and I took some other beginners out on another first trip. The weather was pretty nice but the chill eventually set in for some. A portable ice shack and heater quickly warmed things up.

Introduce new people to the outdoors. It makes the trips more fun and attracts more people who will help fight to protect our outdoor heritage. I’ll be teaching a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) ice fishing workshop this winter. I really enjoy teaching the women, ranging from age 18 to 80. Younger women are looking for new outdoor opportunities. Too often raising a family limits opportunities to get out. So I get a lot of women who have raised their families and are now looking for new activities or looking to take up where they left off 20 years ago. Many fished with a boyfriend/husband/Dad that are now gone. Guys don’t always make the best teachers, we tend to “Do” instead of “Teach”. So many women want to learn the skills so they can be more self-sufficient. They welcome the confidence to know they can go on their own and be safe and successful. Two women from last year’s BOW ice fishing workshop really took it to heart and made numerous trips afterwards, catching a pile of fish and having fun. That’s what Success looks like. Introduce someone to the outdoors.

The preceding opinions are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.

President’s Message – Oct 2019

Published on 10/07/19

President’s Message by Jim Vashro


Through a lot of hard work and luck, my family has basically lived on wild game for nearly 50 years. Other than an occasional beef steak for the grill, we eat deer, elk and antelope. We like the taste and health benefits of wild meat. That’s why an x-ray of lead bullet fragments in a deer, scattered well beyond the entrance hole and bloodshot meat, gave me pause. Standard bullets will commonly lose 30-40% of their lead on impact. Lead is nasty stuff, causes kidney and brain damage, weakness, and memory loss. I figure I need all the brain cells I have at this point. Initial tests didn’t show hunters to have higher lead levels but a follow-up study did show increased lead levels after eating hunter-killed venison but the levels subsided over time. Lead has been banned from gasoline, paint and plumbing and, of course, waterfowl ammo. I don’t reload, for many years I shot common factory ammo. Hoping for better accuracy and performance, I switched to premium ammunition. It costs about 50% more but accuracy did improve. After seeing the x-rays, I tested non-lead (copper) ammunition. My Savage can get fussy about what it is fed, the first brand didn’t group well. But the second brand, Wow! I was shooting MOA groups. Even more impressive was performance. On a quartering shot on a cow elk, the bullet busted ribs going in, drove through the lungs and far shoulder and was under the hide on the far side. The cow made a few wobbly steps and collapsed. The 180 grain recovered slug had mushroomed perfectly and weighed 179.6 grains. 99.8% retention. A similar angled shot with a 20 gauge 240 grain slug on a whitetail buck yielded the same results. And that 20 gauge slug gun shoots 2” groups at 100 yards with copper sabots. All my other shots on 20-30 animals have been pass through. An interesting thought is that copper bullets need speed to mushroom. Since copper bullets penetrate well with retained weight, it is possible to shoot a lighter bullet (150 gr. or 165 gr. vs 180 gr. 30 caliber bullet) for more speed and a flatter trajectory while still getting great penetration.

There are other positive points. Local bird rehabilitators Kari Gabriel and Beth Watne have taken in sick raptors with lead poisoning from bullet fragments, presumably from scavenging carcasses. California and some refuges have now banned the use of lead-based ammunition for big game hunting. And, of course, starting in the early 1990s, lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting. Duck hunters had to adapt but have found steel and other options to be lethal when used correctly.

Downsides? Copper ammunition isn’t stocked everywhere. You’re not going to find it in a gas station in eastern Montana so you have to buy ahead. It’s about the same price as other premium ammunition, sales and rebates can help. More ammo manufacturers are adding copper bullets to their line-up, watch for prices to fall and availability to increase as happened with waterfowl ammo. Shooters also complain about increased copper fouling and a loss of accuracy. When you think about it, all rifle ammo is copper clad and produces copper fouling. Some claim that jacketed bullets add about 5% tin, reducing fouling but that isn’t much. Good old Hoppes No. 9 is good for removing powder residue and crud but it takes a lot of brushing and soaking to really get any copper fouling out. Better to use a different solvent specifically made to remove copper. I should probably clean my rifles better anyway.

The previous statements are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.

President’s Message – Sept 2019

Published on 09/09/19

FWI Photo of President with deer in pickup

On September 11, 2001 I was driving to bowhunt in SW Montana when news came over the radio about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York. After several phone calls to my wife we decided I would go ahead and hunt. The next day I ran into a bowhunter from New York state. He hadn’t been listening to the radio, I told him he needed to call home! At the same time some friends had been drop camped to hunt caribou in Alaska. One mentioned to the others “Have you noticed there are no planes flying?” That is highly unusual in Alaska, they hadn’t rented a Sat Phone so they had no idea all planes had been grounded. Their outfitter tried to sneak out and get them, he was intercepted by two Air Force F-16s who indicated he needed to land NOW. It was several days before planes could retrieve hunters, even then commercial flights were still grounded so they ended up buying a pickup and driving home nonstop. 9/11 was a Game Changer.

Now another Game Changer has hit in the form of CWD in Lincoln County. CWD is no longer just something happening over east of the mountains, it is on our doorstep. It’s just a matter of time until it works its way east to areas we hunt. There is no drug or vaccine for CWD, currently the only strategy is to dramatically reduce game populations in infected areas. That reduces the chance for animal to animal contact and pressure for animals to outmigrate. That means lower game numbers in infected areas, both through CWD mortality and increased harvest. CWD also hits bucks and bulls harder so that could change game management strategies. FWP established a CWD Management Area around Libby and put out 600 whitetail doe B tags, they sold out in 2 hours. The hope is to harvest and test 200 whitetails to determine the prevalence and distribution of CWD. To date CWD has been found in 7 out of about 117 animals near Libby but those were high-probability animals, visibly ill or road kills.

Other game changers, hunters will be allowed to remove only boned meat and clean skull plates from CWD areas, not carcasses. It is always a good idea to wear gloves when butchering and to avoid contact with spinal fluids. Hunters everywhere need to stop dumping butchered carcasses and scraps in the woods, everything should go to landfills. Dumping an infected carcass from elsewhere is the most likely way CWD got to Libby. Don’t shoot an obviously ill animal, report it to FWP.

CWD has not been shown to infect humans but it is recommended to not eat infected meat. Instead, dump them in landfills and apply for a replacement tag if the season is still open. FWP will test animals taken in CWD areas but outside that you will need to pay yourself if desired. Tests currently cost $17.50 per animal. That doesn’t pencil out when deer licenses only cost $16 so FWP is losing money needed for management. But testing takes up to 2 weeks so you may have already butchered your game.

Prions aren’t alive so they can’t be killed in conventional ways. Bleach doesn’t touch them, it takes 1300 degrees heat, a little higher than I usually BBQ. You can bleach and rinse equipment but there’s no way to know they’re completely clean if you’ve gutted an infected animal. CWD is a Game Changer.

Jim Vashro
FWI President

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

President’s Message May 2019

Published on 05/06/19

Jim Vashro
May, 2019

work projects

“The world is run by those that show up.” Flathead Wildlife’s day to day business is run by 4 officers and a Board of Directors. They manage a budget, formulate FWI comments on outdoor issues, and organize meetings, work projects and fun events. It is important work to keep Flathead Wildlife, Inc. relevant and to protect our natural resources. You can help in several ways.

First of all, join and/or renew your membership. Second, recruit friends and relatives to join. Having more members means Flathead Wildlife can educate more people and have more influence on decision makers. Third, volunteer for projects. There are a lot of projects that agencies aren’t doing or where agencies need help. Projects are an investment in our, and our children’s, future. Projects can be a lot of fun and they make the Flathead a better place to live. Last of all, consider stepping up as an officer or on the Board of Directors. That requires one 2-hour meeting on the last Wednesday of the month and possibly reading some materials. It’s a small investment in our outdoor heritage. We currently have several vacancies; Jim Cross, Scott Johnson and Doug Bolender have decided to step back after years on the Board. I thank them for their years of service, and I know they will continue to show up as needed. So FWI needs candidates for secretary, treasurer and at least one Board member, we will have elections at the annual meeting and BBQ on May 8 at Lone Pine State Park starting at 6 PM. Please consider stepping up. Don’t worry, there’s a good Board and officers still in place, we can do on-the-job training. ☺ You will be more involved in resource decision making and shaping our outdoor heritage. It means investing a few extra hours each month to read materials and attend a meeting. Without you, agencies will make their own decisions and you may not always like the outcome. And I thank the remaining Board members and officers for their continued dedication.

The picture above is a good example. Landowners blocked a county road leading to 65 acres of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (your) land on McGregor Lake in 2001. FWI originally joined in a lawsuit with Flathead County and FWP in 2009 against the landowners, resulting in a court ruling to reopen the road. When the landowners didn’t comply, Flathead County plowed one lane open but did nothing more. It was up to FWI to bring suit in 2017 to restore the road. Last July FWI signed a settlement agreement that fully reopened public access. In the interim, FWI joined FWP in clearing the right-of-way of encroaching trees. That’s your FWI Board of Directors in the picture at work on your behalf. It was a fun and satisfying day.

Sportsmen’s and service clubs are seeing a decline in membership in general. Facebook and social media seem to be where it’s at. Let me tell you, you can post a picture and a comment, but Facebook won’t be organized enough to bring pressure on government agencies, file a lawsuit, clear a right-of-way or do habitat enhancement. The Flathead Wildlife Board organizes meetings, comments and work projects. It’s a small investment in your outdoor heritage and your children’s heritage. Otherwise, the next time you drive up your favorite road, you may run into a gate. Or find your favorite season has been cancelled or drastically changed. The keynote speaker at our annual meeting on May 8 will be the always entertaining Jim Posewitz who will talk about the role of citizen groups in managing our natural resources. Come join the fun. And join the Board.

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