The Black Pearl

It has been said that the two happiest times in your life are when you buy a boat and when you sell the boat. I’ve owned a few boats in my life, so let’s go over the trials and tribulations of owning one so I can help you skip some heartache.

Let’s draw up a boating schedule for the average Idahoan. Unless you’re floating the rivers up North steelhead fishing, you probably fish April through August. That’s 22 Saturdays. If you’re lucky there’s only one Saturday per month with bad weather such as rain or typhoon type winds. Now we’re down to 18. Then let’s say you have to work maybe eight Saturdays. Now we’re down to 10. Then some animal lover will schedule a wedding or graduation in the middle of primo fishing season. Now we’re down to only getting to fish eight Saturdays.

You can make adjustments to match your individual scenario but you get my drift — our days fishing are limited and precious. I say all of this to point out, buy a new(er) boat motor. You don’t want to spend your few precious free days sitting at the boat dock working on a boat motor or getting hauled to jail because in a fit of rage you emptied your 30-06 into a dysfunctional boat motor while witnesses filmed you.

Katy and I had just gotten married when we bought a decent looking boat at a ranch auction. Our first free Saturday, we went to the lake only to discover that the motor was froze up. After a trip to the boat house and $2,500 later we were headed back out two weeks later.

Same scenario. Boat wouldn’t start and me and Katy’s grandpa blew across the bay.

Back to the boathouse, stern talk to the scalawag mechanics and we were finally in the saddle. Not that I recommend watching this movie but shortly thereafter Katy and I watched the show “Money Pit.” It was about a young couple that bought a house and all of the fiascos that they encountered while remodeling it. I think they drew up the plot around what we had encountered with our newly purchased boat and we never received any royalties!

I learned then, no more free time than I have, I’m not going to buy a boat with an old motor. In fact, I’m in the market for a new boat right now. Sure, I wouldn’t mind buying a used one if I could find one 1 to 3 years old in pristine condition but other than that, I’m going to buy a new one. It’s not worth the pain to get a good deal on a 400-pound paper weight called a boat motor.

Which brings us around to my old faithful, tried and true 12-foot little jon boat. We bought it the first year we got married 37 years ago. It is great for sandpits, small lakes and floating smooth rivers. We’ve caught boatloads of fish in it. Up until two years ago, all that we’ve ever had were electric motors. Then two years ago we got a 2.3 hp Honda motor, which was a slice of heaven.

So according to me, it’s been a great fishing/bowfishing boat. To winterize it, flip it on its side against the fence and that’s it. It doesn’t have to be stored inside. Snow means nothing to it. The sun can’t hurt it. Sure, once me and the kids were floating the Boise River and went over a diversion dam and knocked a hole in the bottom and had to get that patched but that’s the only maintenance required other than spray painting it every few years with two or three cans of $1.50 spray paint.

In case the haters happen upon this article I guess that I’d better go ahead and mention a few wee downsides to the boat that we affectionately named the Black Pearl and hoist a pirate flag up her flag pole — well, dowel rod — when she is on the high seas.

According to the scoffers of which there are many, they’ve come up with derogatory names such as “The Coffin,” “Carp 1” or “The Edmund Fitz Terror.”

One time while walleye fishing we’d barely gotten out of the sheltered bay where the boat launch was and encountered some gale-like winds and 2- to 3-foot waves. My buddy told me to take him back. He said he’d seen a pay phone. He’d call his wife to come get him and I was free to keep fishing.

Another time my buddy Ron Spomer and I were bowfishing on Lake Lowell. Well, the winds blew up and we had a good mile to go to get back to the truck. Ron was up in the bow singing the Edmund Fitzgerald song while changing the words to Edmund Fitz Terror and free lanced in a few other words. He swears there were 5-foot waves but I think they were only 3 ½-foot. But it is a little disconcerting when you only have 2-inches of clearance in the back.

And then a couple of times the electric motor died right when I got within 50 feet of the dock and I blew off into oblivion. One time on Lake Lowell luckily there were two firemen watching that fished me out when I blew up in the logs and almost lost everything.

Then multiple times I’ve blown up on shore with a boat full of water which even in a little Jon boat can be tough to flip over to dump.

So, there are a couple of minor inconveniences with operating a little jon boat on the high seas. So, if someday you’re zipping to the dock trying to beat an incoming storm and see a semi floating jon boat, please stop and rescue the women and kids off the sinking craft. Don’t worry about me, I’ve driven it submarine style numerous times. I’ll be OK.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Bear Creek Trail offers great spring hiking

The trail we were hiking was high above the creek bottom. This gave us a great vantage to look down on some of the open spaces of grassy meadows dotted with a few juniper trees and rocks.

In one section of brush maybe 50 yards away, I spotted large, donkey-like ears poking up. I studied it for a minute and noticed a long face staring up at me. It was a moose bedded down in the grass and brush. It seemed to be looking at us and wondering if we were something to worry about.

Julie and I were out on an afternoon hike up Bear Creek on the southwest side of Palisades Reservoir last week. It was one of those spring days when you got a dose of nearly every kind of weather. The temperatures weren’t too bad when it was sunny, but then it would change to cloudy, windy, sprinkle a bit of snow, think about raining and go back to being pleasantly sunny — all in the space of half an hour.

The moose was about 2.2 miles up the canyon and started to stand and move after we gawked at it, snapped photos and asked it how it was doing. It appeared to be on the skinny side and had odd discolorations. Sadly, I think the creature was having some health issues.

All of the peaks in the region were still snow-covered above 8,000 to 9,000 feet. There’s still plenty of snow to melt off. Bear Creek is running high with murky spring flows. It will be a while before it becomes appealing to hiking anglers.

Bear Creek can be a fun fishing outing in late spring and early summer when spawning cutthroat trout swim up the creek. The spawners return back to the reservoir usually shortly afterward. There is a resident population of trout in the stream, but they tend to be smaller.

A few horseback riders have already braved the stream crossings this year. Hikers can avoid the several stream crossings on trails built higher along the canyon. I would rate the trail easy to moderate most of the way.

The trail is also open to mountain bikes and motorbikes.

At 2 miles up the trail, the canyon widens to some nice meadows and you come to the Forest Service Currant Creek station. Getting to the cabin requires crossing the stream.

About another 3 miles up the creek, you come to the North and South forks of Bear Creek. The trail forks here and the North Fork trail eventually leads to the Fall Creek trail system. The South Fork trail continues all the way to Skyline Ridge Road. Expect several stream crossings along the South Fork route. Unless you’re on a horse, the stream crossings can be a problem until the creek calms down in mid-summer.

Bear Creek is a popular trail in summer and is usually day-hiked or biked, but farther up the canyon, there are some attractive backpacking campsites. Julie was picking out a few sites to put her tent on an overnighter.

A good resource for directions for this trail and other regional trails can be found on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest website. Look for the summer recreation map and guide.

Jerry Painter is a longtime East Idaho journalist and outdoorsman.

Hunting the wily North American whistle pig

I don’t want this to be a Dr. Phil article, but have you ever set down and thought about why you enjoy getting out hunting, fishing, backpacking and mushroom hunting? There’s something rewarding about getting outdoors, living off the land and feeding your family. But it’s also a good excuse to get out and enjoy God’s creation.

But then I think another factor is that we live in a high-speed world. I know I do. For the last two and a half years, I fly out three weeks and am home a week. On top of that, I have to get in 325 articles per year — just picked up 46 more articles in January — and conduct 40 to 60 seminars per year. And I’m not the only one that lives a high-speed life.

I think a big reason we like to get out is to clear our heads of all of the worldly bull. When you’re outside we don’t worry about psycho bosses, 401Ks, America’s current situation or whatever other stresses you’re currently enduring. When you get outdoors you can escape from it all and live a simple life.

But even then, if you’re a writer, the world tries to invade your quiet time. I remember once I’d been running, gunning non-stop for a few months and came home and took my daughter backpacking. Just me and her. One day I thought uh-oh, I’ve got to get to filming, I had 19 items to test on this trip. I made a commitment on that trip that I was going to get in control of things. Sure, if a company sponsors you then you have to perform but to me getting outdoors is something pure. Some of the best memories of my life are when my family hunted/fished. I want to keep things simple like that and not commercialized.

So with the above said, I just got back home from a whistle pig hunt out in the ranch country in southeast Oregon. I’d just got home from a three-week trip and it was nice to get out with not a care in the world. I’m on Pro-staff with Umarex airguns. They’ve labeled 2022 as “The Year of The Airgun” and are hitting it hard. We were planning a TV show on airgun hunting for whistle pigs. Things didn’t come together but hunting whistle pigs on a regular basis in the spring is a big deal for me, so I took off for a couple of days this week.

If you can get away for a few days or can only slip out for an afternoon, there’s nothing more relaxing than an airgun whistle pig hunt. Just by the very nature of airguns you expect it to be a kicked back fun hunt.

It’s also a great hunt to take your kids on. They don’t have to be quiet, or set still for hours and you won’t be encountering frigid weather. You’ll have some great daddy/daughter talks. It’s the ultimate daddy/kids hunt and hunting with airguns adds the icing to the cake. Plus, airguns are quiet so you don’t even need to wear hearing protection.

If your little girl doesn’t want to kill anything, no biggie. There are a ton of cool airgun targets on the market now. Spinners, shooting galleries and so forth. Or, if you’re on a tight budget take a bagful of tin cans and plastic bottles filled with water. I still like shooting them, don’t you?

I went on this hunt by myself and had a great time even though the hunting was tough. There just weren’t many whistle pigs on this ranch, which is not the norm. Usually there are thousands upon thousands. The plague must have swept through this year, which happens periodically in colonies.

But despite the low numbers, I did get enough shooting to make it fun so I’d highly recommend you go this week. Due to the ammo shortages/exorbitant prices the last couple of years, hunting with airguns is the perfect way to go and almost makes the Umarex slogan “2022, The Year of The Airgun” prophetic!

If you’re a kid on a paper route budget all you need is an airgun and a tin of pellets. But like all of our outdoor endeavors, if you can afford them, these items will enhance the hunt and make you more successful. Here’s some gear I’d recommend.

AIRGUNS

On this hunt I took the Umarex .25 cal. Gauntlet and .22 cal. Origin. I like PCP airguns but they are more expensive and complicated. The cheapest airguns to shoot are the break barrels. I have a Ruger Blackhawk. I’d recommend using a .22 or the .25 is even better. The .177 doesn’t have as much whoomph.

OPTICS

A lot of airguns come with a scope. My Origin didn’t so I put a Burris Droptine 4.5-14x on it. I like higher magnification because you’ll be shooting small game. Make sure your scope is airgun compatible. Spring action break barrels can be tough on scopes. You’ll want binoculars to help find the little prairie rats. I like 10x binoculars.

MISCELLANEOUS GEAR

You’ll want a bi-pod to shoot off of. I use the Bog Adrenaline. If you’re a kid, get two ½-inch dowel rods and tape them together 6-inches from one end and spread them out to shoot off of.

Take a pad to set on. Or better yet a lightweight backpacking chair so you’re elevated and can see over the brush.

All pellets are not created equal. I’ve tested a million brands and JSB are the most accurate. Check out their Hades or Knock-Out pellets. Or their Diabolo Dome shaped pellets work great too.

And lastly, while you’re out in the high desert country, slow down and enjoy your surroundings. I saw a boatload of white-faced ibis on this hunt. One time my 87-year-old buddy Roy shot a whistle pig. I was watching through my binoculars and said you got him. About that time a hawk swooped down and snatched him up so I corrected myself and said: “You had one!”

Once, a badger ran out and grabbed one. Badgers are beautiful but they’re the Michael Tysons on the high desert. Stay away from them.

Now’s the perfect time to grab an airgun and get out and enjoy nature. Have fun.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Bear hunting: Part II

Two weeks ago in the article titled “Bear Hunting: Part I” we talked primarily about a bear’s spring appetite and about how to bait for bears. This week let’s cover spotting and stalking. There are a few hunting units in Idaho in which we can’t bait. In some of the units that makes sense and in some it doesn’t. I understand it not being smart to bait in grizzly country. It’d be dangerous for you and for someone else if they happened to stumble upon your bait after a grizzly had claimed it as their “kill.” But in a few of the units I’m not clear why we can’t bait. But regardless, spotting and stalking can be a fun and intense way to hunt.

If you’ve never heard of spotting and stalking, here’s how you do it. You need to climb up on top of a mountain or ridge and get set-up. To really be able to glass you’ll need a good spotting scope. Everyone is on a budget but on this purchase, don’t leave any pennies in your pocket and you’ll never regret it. I’m going to be using Burris optics this year. Most optic companies offer multiple options from lower price points on up to their elite line but again, buy the best that you can afford.

Spotting scopes come with straight or angled eyepieces. If you’re sitting in a blind in flat country or checking shot placement on the range, a straight eyepiece works fine — but for glassing the mountains, I’d recommend an angled eyepiece.

You determine what you prefer but I’d recommend a 15-30x for most glassing opportunities here in Idaho, but granted out in the Owyhees you may want a higher power. Spotting scopes come in variable powers such as 15-30x, 20-60x, etc. But remember, if you buy one that is too big and bulky it will be a pain to lug around.

Due to their high magnification you’ll need to use a tripod to stabilize them. You can spend as much as you want on tripods. Some of the carbon fiber ones are well over $1,000. I have a cheaper one!

You may be glassing for extended amounts of time so if you’re not comfortable, then you won’t be able to hold still. At the least, carry a foam pad to set on but a couple of years ago I started using an Alps Mountaineering Dash backpacking chair. It is lightweight and low profiled. A backpacking chair is better than a foam pad because it slightly elevates you off the ground so you can see over the grass and brush.

To really cover the actual art of glassing itself would take a whole article in and of itself. I’ll have an article on “Glassing For Big Game” within the month on the Burris website so you can read it to learn more but, in a nutshell, here are a few tips.

To glass for bears in the spring, most people run up after work and glass in the afternoons. You’ll want to climb up on top of a mountain or ridge where you can have some good viewing. Don’t set right on top of the ridge where you’re sky lined. Set right off of the top. Get behind a rock, log or small bush so you’re semi-concealed.

Bears will start moving about bear-thirty (near dusk). They’ll come off of their beds and move out into open areas to graze. It will almost remind you of a cow grazing except they’ll be by themselves and not in groups.

As the snow melts, green grass starts popping out. It is fresh and tender so they’ll follow the snow line up. By this, I don’t mean that they’ll be right at the snowline but somewhat so. I don’t know what they’re called, but they like to eat the yellow flower tops off at this time.

I’ve walked up on bears grazing like cows. One time I got within 17 paces of one. He was grabbing grass by the mouthfuls and ripping it loose like a wolf. When you spot one you need to study the situation right fast. Is it moving along quickly? If so, by the time you hike one-half to one mile over to it, the bear will likely be gone. Is it grazing in one spot? If so, great.

It may look like the bear is in the wide open but start to sneak up on it, suddenly when you get closer the terrain will look totally different than over on the ridge when you were glassing. So look around right fast for some landmarks. A patch of yellow flowers, burnt stump or a big tree. That way when you get over there you can more quickly locate your bear.

If possible, it’d be nice to have a buddy stay at the spotting scope and direct you to where the bear is. It’s against the law to use radios for this purpose but you can use predetermined hand signals. For instance, pointing to the right means the bear is to the right, straight up means it is up higher and so forth.

When you get close, be looking for a solid rest to shoot off of.

Well, as is the norm we still have a lot more info but no more room. Good luck!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Finding some anniversary worthy outdoor fun

Sometimes you have to endure some sour to enjoy some sweet.

That was the case with last week’s trip to some of Utah’s fun backcountry haunts. We had to pass through lots of urban sprawl to get to the wonderful outdoors.

Our excuses for driving down to Utah Valley last week where we once lived about a hundred years ago include: The weather was a bit better (at least it wasn’t snowing down there), we had friends and family to visit, there were two fun canyons filled with rock climbing routes and we had a wedding anniversary to celebrate.

At first we thought about staying at an Airbnb, a bed and breakfast or a motel, but we didn’t realize that it was graduation week at Brigham Young University and the pickin’s were slim. So being the cheap rascals that we are, we crashed at my brother’s house. It turned out to be a type of bed and breakfast after all.

The first day we drove up American Fork Canyon toward the north end of Utah Valley. This canyon features dozens of hiking trails, Timpanogos Cave National Monument and nearly 1,000 bolted rock climbing routes.

The narrow winding canyon is mostly National Forest land featuring several campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads. A fee is charged to use the facilities, similar to a national park. We avoided the fee areas and parked at a pullout alongside the road and hiked up to one of the limestone cliffs. The canyon is also popular with cyclists.

There is a guidebook for climbing in the canyon but it is not up to date. It was printed in the late 1990s and climbing route development has nearly doubled since then. The only up-to-date guide is the online information found on Mountain Project. Warning: Download the information to your phone or other device before entering the canyon because cell service is spotty once in the canyon.

Despite it being the middle of the week, and the middle of the day, we were not alone at the crags. We chalked that up to it being a rare nice spring day and the fact that, like us, Utahns would rather play than work.

Because we lacked specific info about the climbing area, we used the iffy method of finding fun rock climbs: We winged it. We walked past the routes and said, “That one looks fun, let’s give it a go.” A couple of local dudes (a technical name for rock climbers) showed up at the wall we were climbing at and climbed a nearby route they said was named “Platinum Blonde” and recommended it. In my book, platinum blonde are a bit suspicious but this route turned out to be the best climb of the day.

The second day of our Utah Valley adventure was spent in Rock Canyon. This narrow canyon winds up into the Wasatch Mountains just behind The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Provo Temple. That landmark makes it an easy canyon to locate. It features popular hiking trails and hundreds of rock climbing routes — many of which have been developed in recent years. Once again, the online Mountain Project is your best guide, unless you have a local “dude” to show you around.

We found a couple of walls to climb on not far from the trailhead to occupy us for several hours. Looking around we realized that we barely scratched the surface of things to explore in this canyon. Some climbers we met were launching into some tall, multi-pitch bolted routes in the canyon, while others, like us, were sticking to single pitch climbs.

If you go here, expect to see people. Because of two nearby universities, people have a variety of schedules allowing them to get outside at all times of the day and during the week. We noticed a steady stream of people entering the canyon during our Thursday morning visit. Plus, Utah Valley has lots of people. Expect some company.

Jerry Painter is a longtime East Idaho journalist and outdoorsman.

Access vs. excess: Increasing recreation use of woods, waters raises tough questions

Better access to the outdoors was one of the top reasons people moved to Montana over the past decade, a recent study found.

The Montana State University research discovered newcomers are most often trekking to lakes and other water bodies, or taking in cultural and community activities. Along with these activities, parks, trails and campgrounds were popular places to visit.

This is no surprise to Bozeman residents who have seen their community’s population soar. With the increase in new townspeople and visitors, problems at popular recreation sites have increased, said resident Richard Lyon. He cited heavy trail use, difficulty finding parking, long lines of cars to reach the Bridger Bowl ski area on powder days and a surplus of dog poop left in the woods as examples.

This prompts the question: Are we loving our woods and waters to their detriment? If that statement is true, what is the solution to overcrowded campgrounds, fishing access sites and trails? Should we build more? Where would the funding come from? Should prices for facilities like campsites be raised, or should more people (including nonresidents) be taxed to help pay for things like boat launches? The answers can be elusive.

More

This topic was addressed in part by a three-person panel during an MSU Osher Lifelong Learning Institute talk on April 8. Participating in the discussion were: Patrick Cross, executive director of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation; Pat Doyle, marketing director at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; and Alex Sienkiewicz, district ranger for the Yellowstone District of the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Cross started out the discussion presenting some statistics emphasizing the situation in his neck of the woods. Wilderness visits to the Custer Gallatin National Forest increased from 207,000 in 2009 to 440,000 by 2014, a 110 percent jump.

At the same time, the Forest Service nationwide has seen a 48 percent decrease in staffing since 2002 and a 27 percent decrease in appropriation dollars, adjusted for inflation.

“These are the wilderness rangers, these are the trail crews, these are the people who are there to help mitigate the impacts we’re seeing from the increased visitor use,” Cross said.

Another statistic emphasizing the growth in outdoor trips is National Park Service visitation. It has jumped from 26 million visitors in 1974 to 297 million in 2021. Nearby, Yellowstone National Park set a new attendance record last year with almost 4.9 million tourists.

At Montana State Parks, visitation jumped by almost 1 million between 2019 and 2020, according to Doyle. There was little room for increased use at campgrounds, he added, because many were already at 70 percent to 80 percent occupancy before the pandemic.

At what price point does a fee hike discourage participation and lessen competition for scarce resources like camping spots? Wouldn’t fee hikes make outdoor activities more elitist? Public lands are, after all, not just those who can afford to pay to play.

With state park facilities seeing more use, Doyle said a variety of problems have arisen such as more human waste, more garbage and parking violations, resource damage and an increase in the number of people not paying day-use fees.

“It’s an exciting time to be in outdoor recreation, not that it doesn’t have a lot of challenges,” Doyle said, but he enjoys seeing people visiting places they may have ignored until the pandemic. Now, he added, park visitors are learning more about Montana’s story.

Nothing new

Similar crowding problems prompted conservationist Aldo Leopold to pick up his pen in 1949, Sienkiewicz noted by reading a passage the author wrote.

“Recreation became a problem with a name in the days of the elder Roosevelt, when the railroads which had banished the countryside from the city began to carry city-dwellers, en masse, to the countryside,” Leopold wrote in Conservation Esthetic. “It began to be noticed that the greater the exodus, the smaller the per-capita ratio of peace, solitude, wildlife, and scenery, and the longer the migration to reach them.”

Sienkiewicz said, “This change has been occurring for a long time. I think Aldo probably thought he was pretty novel 75 years ago writing that, but it seems to have been going on for a long time. I think what we are seeing is rapid growth in use levels and volume.”

He went on to question whether the issue is one involving the number of people and crowding or if “other variables are at play.”

A recently published study in the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire was able to provide some answers by surveying visitors to the region during the peak of the pandemic.

“Study findings suggest visitor crowding and conflict, followed closely by visitor access and equity, should be a top priority for management and policymakers,” the researchers wrote.

They go on to write that high- and middle-income visitors are better at adapting to “pandemic related impacts” while low-income visitors are not. Also, “female visitors were significantly more susceptible to negative experiences and impacts.”

Education

To address the findings, the study’s authors suggest resource managers consider educating visitors before, during and after a recreation experience “in recreation norms, trail etiquette, (diversity, equity and inclusion), and Leave No Trace principles.” The education should focus on out-of-state visitors and residents of adjacent communities, they added.

Old truisms still make sense, such as: If you pack it in, pack it out. Leave only footprints, take only photographs. But what’s the best way to reach people, especially those new to outdoor activities who may know the least? Is a social media blitz across a multitude of platforms in order? Who will pay for these public service announcements?

At Montana facilities, FWP’s Doyle said his agency has chosen to market the benefits of responsible recreation rather than telling people what to do.

He pointed to some of the state’s partners in the tourism industry who have switched from a “destination marketing model” to “destination stewardship.” The state has a variety of recreate responsibly messages including: know before you go, plan ahead, explore locally, respect wildlife and build an inclusive outdoors.

The state is also using messages to encourage visitors to lead by example, Doyle said. The tag line that emphasizes this tack says: “Enjoy Montana’s state parks in a safe and responsible way that inspires others to follow in your footsteps.”

Educating agencies is also important, Sienkiewicz said.

“I believe that ecological data that helps managers make rational decisions that aren’t based on opinions or inclinations … the degree to which we can understand, not just ecology without humans but ecology with human uses on the landscape allows us as public servants and resource managers to make better decisions.”

‘Hedonism’

Writer Todd Wilkinson, whose website Mountain Journal covers a variety of environmental topics in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, recently wrote about the problem he sees with advertising recreation in Montana when trails, rivers and lakes are already deemed crowded by many people’s standards.

“Will the blind promotion continue?” Wilkinson questioned in a recent story. “What are the limits for how much pressure Greater Yellowstone’s wildlife can take? When is enough enough, and will conservation organizations take the lead in helping the public, land management agencies, and developers realize what the threshold of enough is?”

Wilkinson goes on to quote Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director of American Rivers, who wrote in a guest column for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle: “Recreation is about taking. It’s a form of hedonism. Conservation is about giving. Sometimes that means giving up the opportunity to recreate in certain places or at certain times of the year to protect wildlife. Sadly, far too many recreationists take without giving anything back. That’s why our conservation deficit is worsening in Greater Yellowstone and our wildlife is increasingly under siege.”

Interestingly, the MSU study of newcomers found that many “report high levels of engagement in their new community, including volunteerism, attendance at public meetings and establishing social connections.” Whether this volunteerism and public involvement is aimed at conservation issues was not addressed.

Another question Wilkinson poses relates to recreation and wildlife: “How does putting more humans into spaces populated by sensitive species better the survival prospects for animals actually living there?”

Partners

One thing all three MSU speakers agreed on is that partnerships are key to getting things done. Doyle cited the recreation partnership on the Clark Fork River that was established to address the mass of students floating the stream on inner tubes during the summer. He also pointed to a partnership with the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center at Cooke City that has increased education while reducing avalanche deaths. At one time Cooke City was unfortunately known as the most dangerous place in the United States to snowmobile.

These groups speak to the “recreate responsibly” ethos Montana State Parks has been advertising, Doyle said.

For the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation, volunteers were key to building and maintaining 58 miles of trails last summer, clearing 1,324 logs and installing 1,666 water bars. The group also relies on volunteers to educate trail users through an ambassador program. These people provided a 435 percent increase in volunteer hours last year, Cross said.

“The partnerships are a great complement for the agency crews but they’re not supposed to be a replacement,” he added. “So I think there’s more work we can do to support our partners.”

He suggested Montanans reach out to the state’s congressional delegation and urge more funding for federal land management agencies to do the conservation and recreation work important to residents and visitors.

Environment

The increase in recreation is coming at a stressful time for the environment. Drought continues to wreak havoc in much of the West. Lower, warmer water stresses fish and the entire aquatic ecosystem.

Drought is also increasing the risk and occurrence of wildland fires. Should Montana counties adopt zoning ordinances requiring people who build in rural areas to make their homes and surrounding lands fire resistant?

Should certain areas be set aside through planning to ensure wildlife have corridors to migrate, especially as the land they are utilizing is developed or becomes less productive because of drought or fires?

“I would argue there’s a lot more complexity at play in this conversation, and it’s not a simple problem or challenge, if we want to frame it that way,” Sienkiewicz said.

He also said he’s somewhat hesitant about saying increased recreation is a problem. There are many benefits — from health and wellness of individuals to financial boosts for economies, along with building a coalition that supports wild places, clean air and water.

“I love it when people use their public lands,” Sienkiewicz said. “It makes my heart sing. I don’t necessarily like adverse impacts, I don’t like loving-it-to-death problems, but I also feel like these are problems that we can manage through policy.”

Mushroom hunting

If we can get a light shower and then it turns warm for a couple of days — then it should be mushroom season, yippee!! The problem is, you think it’s about to bust loose and then it gets cool. I don’t know what to think and I don’t think the poor lowly mushrooms do, either.

In an effort to really lower your self-worth, think about it this way. It’s embarrassing enough to get outsmarted by a fish with a brain the size of a pea, how much more is it when you get outsmarted by an inanimate object — for instance, a mushroom!

As alluded to above, to kick off the mushroom season we need a light rain and then for the temp to get warm for a day or two. With this magic formula, it seems they can pop up overnight. Being a mushroom hunter is the most frustrating, and at the same time, rewarding outdoor activity there is.

I’ve been a mushroom hunter for 43 years. You’d think that I could write a knowledgeable article on the subject but some years I feel like a beginner. It drives me nuts to see some bozo write an article on finding morels. According to their article you just have to go out in the woods, look around old logs and then proceed to fill a pillowcase. I read an article like that and want to brand BOZO on their forehead. They’ve obviously gone out one time with someone that knows what they’re doing, found a mess and are instantly setting themselves up as the world’s leading authority on mushroom hunting.

Granted, my mushroom picking self-esteem is a little low right now. I went out for a little bit yesterday afternoon to see if any were out yet, even though I knew they wouldn’t be but I don’t want to take a chance of missing the short season. I found zero. Zilch. I feel like Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog. I stuck my head out, didn’t find any mushrooms and am ducking my tail and going back down in my hole for another week or so.

But despite painting such a doom and gloom picture, surely any day now they are going to start popping up. And when they do, you want to be there. Morels are the tastiest fungi in the world next only to the truffle in England. They are not only my favorist (is that a word?) outdoor food but probably my favorist food ever.

Mushroom hunting gives you an excuse to go hiking in the mountains and if you’re up there bear/turkey hunting why not kill two birds with one stone? To my knowledge there are about eight to 10 edible mushrooms in Idaho. I only feel safe picking two species. One time I thought, you know, this is dumb. I’m up there going to all of the expense and spending time hunting so why not learn to identify all of the edible species? So I found out about a mushroom picking club and started attending their meetings. Unfortunately, I still only feel comfortable picking my original two species.

So to get you started, the first season go with an experienced picker that can train you. If you don’t and make a mistake and pick the Angel of Death … let’s just say, you and God had better be on pretty good terms because you will be in the judgment room muy pronto.

So where do you find them? I’ll tell you some generalities but as soon as I say that, I’ll find them in some random spot. When you find them at one elevation everyone will tell you to move higher after a few days. I do find some by old logs but I also find plenty just randomly throughout the woods. I find a few on the uphill banks on old logging roads.

I don’t recommend looking on grassy slopes but one year I found a ton on a grassy hillside in the forest. But I haven’t found them there since. Usually it’s smart to go recheck the same good spots every year. Check out old stump holes, especially in old burns. My old buddy Roger Ross said to look under firs. Problem is, I can hardly differentiate the difference between a pine tree and an aspen.

I’ve got one spot on an old logging road that isn’t a low spot but slightly so. I find them there every year. I find them in semi open areas that are somewhat shaded.

The indisputable world’s best scenario is last year’s forest fires. They can be magical. I remember at one such old fire I found 17 almost underneath a fallen lodgepole. The stump holes had a million. The open burn area had a quadrillion. So if you know where old burns are from last summer/fall, hit them. If you don’t know of any, go check with the Forest Service.

One year, I knew where some prescribed burns had taken place. No one else had hit it yet. I thought that I had scored big time. Unbelievably, I didn’t find a one there.

If you find some on a steep hillside, check above and below. The spores will flush downhill and I’ve found a bucketful in one spot in this scenario.

I’ve never actually done this but one time I was theorizing with a lady at the Forest Service office. We were kicking ideas back and forth and she said she’d always been tempted to check the soil temp but kept forgetting to. I bet she is onto something. I bet their popping up is directly linked to the temp of the soil.

Well, we’re out of room. Good luck.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Savoring those rare few nice days in spring

Finding nice weather Saturdays in early spring in eastern Idaho is rare.

It’s as rare as a running Chevy Corvair automobile. The word Corvair shakes loose an old memory.

My high school friend Rick owned a Corvair that, when we could get the thing to run, we proudly drove around our tiny Oregon town. He thought it was his good fortune to have bought it for $100 back in the early ‘70s, even though the car was only a few years old. The rear-engine car had the dubious honor of being named one of the most unsafe machines in America. Rumor was that if you had a head-on collision the force could send the steering wheel shaft like a javelin through the chest of the driver (I usually sat in the passenger seat). It was engineered with the precision of a homemade go-kart. Other awesome features included push-button dashboard shifting, a radio that got one station and bald tires — we loved it (when we could get it to run). We never seemed to get any girls to ride along with us (but that may not have been just the car).

But back to our outdoor activities: Last Saturday, my sweetheart and I had a few hours available on a rare sunny Saturday afternoon, so we headed over to the Menan Buttes. The north butte, on Bureau of Land Management land, boasts a fun trail leading up from the west side.

When we arrived, there was a massive trail run race finishing up, and cars were parked for a hundred yards along the road. Normally, the paved trailhead parking lot is enough to accommodate the usual amount of visitors.

The trail runners were doing the Spitfire Ultra Challenge race with distances ranging from 5K to 50K.

The 3-mile trail starts off steeply up the side of the extinct volcano and eventually tops out on the rim of the butte. From the rim, the trail circles the volcanic crater and offers great views (on clear days) of the surrounding Snake River Plain. There are a few trail signs telling visitors about geology, local critters and history.

For more information on the Menan Butte Trail and how to get there, go to www.blm.gov/visit/north-menan-butte-trail.

The south butte is mostly private property and doesn’t offer much for hikers.

To the west of the north Menan Butte is an Idaho Fish and Game wildlife management area for those interested in bird watching and seeing other critters.

On Monday (another rare nice weather day), Julie and I and a friend spent a few hours checking out some new rock climbing routes at the Boot Camp Wall, a crag along the Blackfoot River canyon east of Firth.

I had been there a few times before, but some new routes had been installed since my last visit.

When we arrived we felt like we had stepped into a pleasant summer day. If it wasn’t for our friend’s commitment to teaching online piano classes at 6 p.m., we probably would have stayed well past dinner time.

Of course, Monday was as rare as a Corvair automobile because when the rest of the weekdays arrived, nasty chilly spring days returned.

Jerry Painter is a longtime East Idaho journalist and outdoorsman.

Caribou-Targhee National Forest urges visitors to use caution and prevent resource damage as they venture out this spring

With snow melting at lower elevations, the urge to get out on the Forest creates the need for everyone to respect our natural resources through responsible outdoor behavior. Winter is still alive and well at higher elevations. Take for instance the Ashton/Island Park area, which still has over a foot of snow on many of the roads. This also includes paved roads, like the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, which will not open until the middle part of May.

Visitation to the Caribou-Targhee National Forest is increasing as more individuals turn to the outdoors to rid themselves of cabin fever. “We ask that people be considerate and recreate responsibly,” said Mel Bolling, Caribou-Targhee Forest Supervisor. “Many forest roads are still covered in snow. Those that aren’t, are in the awkward time between snowmelt, mud and dry conditions, and severe resource damage is possible.”

Know the rules before you go! Soggy spring conditions on trails, roads and hillsides leave land and water resources in a vulnerable condition. Vehicle use on saturated trails, roads and hillside areas can easily damage the land causing permanent ruts, bog holes and erosion. Driving cross-country by motorized wheeled vehicles is prohibited on National Forest lands. This includes driving off-road to avoid a mudhole or snow drift which damages resources, creates ruts and is considered an unauthorized route. Ruts and bogs create additional maintenance needs that are costly to repair. Regardless of how many times you’ve visited the area in the past, you need to consider the current condition of the trails or roads you intend to use.

The Forest asks users to stay on designated travel routes and use good judgment regarding travel on roads and trails.

Take a moment to contact your local ranger district before heading out. Several winter wildlife closures remain in place to protect wildlife. Activities such as shed hunting in these areas can have major impacts on already weakened animals that have used much of their energy reserves to survive the winter. Additional closures or restrictions can be made at any time for resource protection or public safety.

Bear hunting: Part I

I struggled deciding whether to write about bear hunting this week or mushroom hunting since they are both time-sensitive topics. I think what I’ll do is to write about “baiting for bears and scouting” this week, mushroom hunting next week and then follow up with another bear article the third week.

Unless something else more fun pops up in the meantime!

So, let’s say you want to go bear hunting this spring. I’ll give you a few pointers to help you out.

Twenty years ago I’d be up bear baiting and bear hunting on opening day, which is April 15 in most units. But really, bears aren’t in the groove, eating good until later in the season in most units.

Think about it for a minute. They’ve been hibernating and fasting for nearly six months. If you’ve ever fasted then you know that day one after the fast you might not feel like eating a bowl of salsa and chips along with a plateful of spicy enchiladas! Your stomach is a little off kilter. Same with bears. They come out and eat grass/flower tops at first and pass their plug. Which basically corks them up for the hibernation period.

As a general rule, right when they come out of hibernation you’ll see them at the snowline, right? That’s because the vegetation is springing up when the snow melts and is tender. When I say at the snowline, I don’t mean within two feet of the snowline. But as the snow melts and tender green grass pops up, they do follow that. I don’t know their scientific name but they go along eating the yellow flower tops as the snowline melts and moves uphill.

The first thing we have to do is determine where you’re going to bait. You don’t want to waste time baiting where there’s no bears, do you? Think back to last year where you were seeing bear signs. Or go out scouting now. Bears eat high-fiber diets so they leave a lot of signs. Find where there’s a lot of signs or a dark secluded canyon and hit it.

You don’t want to bait too close to a road/trail or hound hunters can drive by and run your bears after you’ve done all of the hard work to get them coming in. You also don’t want to park your truck out in the open where everyone passing by knows that you’re baiting in that area.

You don’t want bears free feeding. Chain a barrel to a tree so they can’t drag it away. Cut a hole about 10-inches in diameter about two-thirds of the way up. This way bears will have to stick their paws in the hole and dig out bait. If you just dump it in a pile they can come in, gorge and leave. You want to slow them down and make them hang around longer. Can you just dump it on the ground though? Yes, it’s just not the preferred method. You’d be surprised at how much bait the ravens can carry off. And barrels also prevent foxes, coyotes and wolves from eating your bait.

A barrel also protects your bait from the rain so it doesn’t mold or rot as fast. A snap top lid is nice. That way you can remove the top, fill the barrel and then snap the top back on. If you bait correctly and get four to six bears coming in, they can put down the chow!

Their stomachs are somewhat queasy at first when they come out of hibernation. I have hauled literally tens of thousands of pounds of meat up to the mountains for bear bait, but in early spring, meat is not necessarily the best bait.

In late summer when bears are binge feeding, storing up fat for the winter, they will eat virtually anything. But given a choice, I still say that they can be selective. One time I laid out a bushel basket of fruit, melons, peaches, vegetables, cereal, donuts, etc. A bear went through and picked out what he preferred. So given a choice I am convinced that they have preferences. Years ago I’d buy loads of old bread and donuts from a day-old bread company. I’d dump out piles and they’d dig through and eat all of the Hostess Twinkies. But if nothing else is available, yes, they will eat anything. Make sense?

A lot of times what bait you use is really determined by what is available to you. If available, small bait is nice. Like let’s say dog food. That means they have to stick their paw in and scoop up food. They can’t gorge and run. If you put out big chunks of meat they’ll come in and grab a piece and take it off in the brush and only afford a fast shot.

I love baiting because it allows you to study a bear. You have time to ensure that it’s not a sow with cubs. You have time to make sure it isn’t rubbed bad. Is it the color phase that you want? Is it big enough?

There’s a misconception out there in the bunny hugging world that all you have to do is to hang a donut on a limb out in the forest and Boo-Boo and all of his buddies will come stampeding in. It’s not quite that simple. It takes a lot of hard work and strategy. And after they start hitting your bait you need to refill it every two to three days.

Good luck!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.