Ankle-Deep and as Carefree as We Can Be on Montana’s Smith River

What does the future hold for this beloved waterway, built on a history of local collaboration and respect?

The crew is spread from here to hell and gone. Everybody is happy.

Dana, Allen, Kay, BJ, Margaret, and Cinclair are lounging in camp chairs they purposely planted in the rushing water. They are ankle-deep in the Smith River, one of Montana’s jewels and one of the West’s most famous floats. The temperatures are somewhere north of 90, and the parents and grandparents are cooling off after a round of chores that come with a five-day river trip.

The permitted section of the Smith runs for 58 miles and cuts through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

Grace is trying to get Chandler and Jillian to don their lifejackets and float through a riffle. The excited squeals of a ten-year-old and a six-year-old bounce off the canyon’s walls. Sophie and Claire are hiking to a rock outcropping across the river. Their progress is monitored closely by the riverside cocktail drinkers, who worry about snakes and climbing injuries. Jake is snorkeling, trying to find the river’s famed rainbows and browns. Kendall is awaiting Jake’s report as he sorts his fly box.

Cellphones are useless and nobody is thinking about Trump or Clinton, police shootings or terrorism. Our world has been reduced to the river’s quiet rhythm, buzzing insects, and the occasional roar of upstream winds. Our cocoon is enclosed by the canyon’s alabaster cliffs, the green hues of the forest, and painfully blue sky.

Jake Thornberry looks for rising trout during a gray drake hatch. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

The Smith’s Ancestry: Cooperation
Each year, more than 5,000 people experience this public treasure slicing between the Big Belt and Little Belt Mountains in central Montana. With a permit, you can fish 59 miles of the Smith, productive trout habitat stretching through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, even though 80 percent of the river’s banks are privately owned.

Use of this beloved river is the result of cooperation, ingenuity, and patience. The Smith is an economic driver today because of the foresight of Montanans, who started lobbying for its public use nearly 75 years ago.

“The cooperation that has led to the Smith’s success as an economic driver has also created a group of people who are invested in the river,” said Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. “We are all tied by the fact that we love the Smith and we don’t want it to change.”
People, including state officials, first floated the idea of a state park in 1953, but it failed due to fears that a park designation would draw crowds who would trample the special area and impinge on private landowner rights. Undaunted, a small group of Montana officials kept working to find a way to keep the river bottoms from being lost forever to private interests.

Mergansers are one of the many wildlife species that are found on the Smith River. Other species include Canada geese, deer, elk, beavers, and a variety of raptors. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

In 1970, public use of the river corridor got a boost from the Governor’s Council on Natural Resources and Development, which recommended that the Smith River not be developed as a state park but as the Smith State Recreational Waterway. This would permit the exchange of state lands for private lands and help set aside funding for acquiring easements.

Through a series of meetings between Smith River landowners and FWP starting that same year, a collaborative was formed to manage the river’s ever-growing use. In 1989, the Montana Legislature passed the Smith River Management Act, and in 1993, FWP instituted a permit system with daily launch limits. The state also negotiated leases of private property to create camping areas.

Regulations have evolved over the years and the river’s management is now a sterling example of how disparate interests—the Forest Service, counties, private landowners, business owners, state officials, and the recreating public—can partner to use public water that is largely surrounded by private property.

Wildflowers are a bonus on the picturesque float. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

A New Challenge
But the Smith River and its legion of fans face a new challenge: The Black Butte Copper Project. Tintina Resources, a Canadian subsidiary of an Australian mining corporation, is proposing a $218-million copper mine around Sheep Creek, which provides roughly half of the Smith’s headwaters. Mine-backers tout the company’s strong environmental record, plus the possibility of job creation and tax revenue. They say $2 billion in high-grade ore is ready to be mined by more than 200 people.

Conservation groups, such as Trout Unlimited, are concerned, arguing that Montana’s long list of hard-rock mining issues—the state has 17 Superfund sites—show an industry unfit to make claims that they will be good neighbors. The “good neighbor” argument isn’t gaining traction with locals either, according to rancher Willie Rahr. “Mining companies have been saying, ‘We have the best, newest technology’ for generations,” Rahr told the New York Times in 2015, “but something always happens.”

Early efforts to slow Tintina’s progress have been mixed. The mining company is currently awaiting state approval, and if all goes according to plan, the mine could be functional as early as 2020. Montana TU’s Farling said that timeline is unrealistic, but he is keeping a close eye on the slow-moving permit process. All the while, he continues to make the argument that the Smith is a sustainable economic driver—fishing alone generates $8 million annually—while the mine is unsustainable, shortsighted, and risky.

The very handsome author of this article smiles despite a daylong rainstorm on our fourth day. Photo by Margaret Wimborne

Looking Downstream
Back on the river, our camp chairs have been fished from the water and now ring the fire pit. Stars start to pop from the darkening skies. Fly rods and snorkeling gear have been stowed and three generations of two families discuss the river’s future. As carefree as we are out here, there’s room for concern.

Naturally, our crew decides the mine is too risky, but we have faith that the people who enjoy the famed river will unite, like they have in the past, to make a case for protecting this river and its headwaters. We don’t need to mine for riches—the real treasure was realized 75 years ago.

Guns Up! Top U.S. Retrievers Meet in Kansas

“GUNS UP…DOG TO THE LINE.”  Those simple words may not mean much for many folks, but if you own a retriever breed of dog – whether they be Labrador, Chesapeake, Golden, Flat- or Curly-coat retrievers, Irish water or Boykin spaniels, even standard poodles – and you run hunting tests, these words mean you and your dog are about to have some fun.

Hunting tests were born from field trials where handlers and retrievers are tested on their ability to mark and retrieve live shot birds or thrown dead birds (sometimes out to 400 yards!) and handling their dog on blind retrieves. In a blind retrieve, the handler guides the dog to a bird it has not seen by with a system of whistles and hand signals

Field trial dogs compete for first, second, third and fourth places in the event. Trial placements accumulate points toward a dog receiving the title of Field Trial Champion or Amateur Field Trial Champion.

Ed Arnett, TRCP’s Director of the Center for Responsible Energy Development, with his dog Rip at an AKC Master National event. Photo courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Several decades ago, some avid hunters that trained their retrievers for hunting and field trials conjured up the idea of a program where trained retrievers were tested under various hunting situations and scored against a standard of performance, rather than a competition among dogs. Live birds are shot or dead birds thrown in similar ways to field trials but at shorter distances and in scenarios more resembling that of true hunting situations for either waterfowl or upland birds.

Today, the North American Hunting Retriever Club, the United Kennel Club, and American Kennel Club all administer hunting retriever tests. All have different levels for young dogs, those at a middle stage of their training, and the most advanced dogs that can do it all – triple or quadruple marked retrieves, complex blind retrieves, honoring (sitting still and watching while another dog is working), sitting still to a flushing bird – the polished hunting companion. For the AKC program, dogs are awarded a Junior, Senior or Master Hunting Retriever title after qualifying the appropriate numbers of tests.

The pinnacle of the AKC hunting test program is the Master National, where each year the best of the Master Hunting Retrievers gather to run a week-long event to see who is at the top of their game. A dog must pass at least six Master tests in the 12 months after the preceding years’ Master National in order to qualify to attend that years’ event.

Master Hunting Retrievers are tested to the maximum of the standard set by the AKC. To obtain this high standard, judges use terrain, wind direction and other factors when placing birds for marked and blind retrieves so as to provide a significant challenge for the dogs.

I have been running and judging AKC hunting retriever events since 1992. I started my life with retrievers in 1991 with the goal of having a good hunting companion. After reading several books and articles on training, I discovered the hunting test programs and once my new puppy was of age to run tests, I was hooked!

This year, I was honored with the opportunity to judge the prestigious Master National event, along with seven other retriever enthusiasts and dedicated judges. The popularity of the program and quality of dogs has increased dramatically and the number of Master Hunters qualifying for the National event has more than doubled in recent years. In 2013, the number of qualifying dogs exceeded 830.

We will test these dogs on land, in the water, and land/water combination. If a dog gets through a total of all the series of tests we throw at them, they will receive a qualifying score, a big orange ribbon and a silver plate. If a dog can pass the Master National at least three times, they will enter the Master National Hall of Fame.

The author’s dog, 2-time Master National Qualifier Merganser’s Classic Rip-N-Tear MH (1996-2007) Photo courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Why does any of this matter to the average sportsman andwhy is it important to conservation? Most hunters will tell you they just want a good huntin’ dog and don’t need to run trials. Running field trials or hunting tests no doubt takes time and money, and titles for the dog may not mean anything to most hunters – but it’s the training that is the most critical piece.

What represents “good” is in the eye of the beholder, but a well-trained retriever in the field is an extension of a good sportsman-conservationist. The ability for a retriever to mark birds and be handled to a crippled bird quickly is critically important for recovering all shot game.

While there are no valid statistics on the amount of lost game when hunters don’t use a dog, use a poorly trained dog, or one that is well-trained, my experience has been that having a well-trained retriever conserves game. I am far more likely to find a downed bird and retrieve all of my shot game when I have a well-trained retrieving machine with me in the field. I suspect if surveyed, most waterfowl and upland hunters would agree.

The 2013 AKC Master National runs from September 21st to the 29th in Fall River, Kan.  If you are nearby, come watch the best of the best retrievers in the country, or follow the action on the Master National website and blogWatch a little of this event, join a retriever club, and train for and run these tests – and you just might good hooked like I did!

TR Quote Friday

TR Quote Friday

Morel Mushrooms: Wild Game’s Best Friend

If you’re like me, you are always looking for different ways to prepare wild game. One of my favorite accompaniments to grilled elk is sautéed morel mushrooms.  Considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, morels have a delicious nutty flavor that pairs wonderfully with grilled backstrap, and they are a lot of fun to gather.

Two bags of morel mushrooms.

While expensive at the store, morels can be picked for free in the same woods where you hunt deer and elk. Morels appear in the spring months when the weather begins to warm, and can be found in cottonwood bottoms, woodlots and mountain forests. In the high elevations of the West, morels can be picked as late as July. As a general rule, when you’ve bagged your tom turkey, the time should be right for picking

Morels must always be cooked. Raw, they are toxic and will make you sick.

Morel pickers generally have their best luck finding the mushrooms in recently disturbed areas, such as forests that burned the previous summer, or in cottonwood bottoms with significant beaver activity. From my experience, fires can be the most productive morel picking areas and a single person can gather several pounds in a day if the conditions are favorable.

Morels can easily be dried in a food dehydrator and then stored for a long-time. I generally set aside a bowl of fresh morels to use in the near-term and I then dry the rest and use them for special occasions throughout the year.

If dehydrated, morels can be saved for a long time.

When grilling deer or elk steak, sauté onions and morels in butter and finish the mushrooms with a splash of sherry. When the onions are caramelized and the moisture is cooked out of the morels, I pile the mushrooms and onions on top of elk or venison steaks. The blend of flavors is hard to beat, and guests always ask for seconds.

Morels can be used in an almost endless array of meals. You can stuff them with sausage, use them in gravy and get fancy with French cuisine.

While morels are fairly easy to identify, always do your research and know what you are doing before eating wild mushrooms. Morels must be cooked before eaten. Raw morels contain a toxin that will make you sick. That toxin is removed when they are cooked.

Try morels with deer or elk steaks.

Check out our favorite morel recipes at Honest-food.net.

T.R.ivia: African Pet

Post the correct answer to win a copy of “Last Stand Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet” by Todd Wilkinson.

Theodore Roosevelt kept which exotic African mammal as a pet?

Image Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.

T.R.ivia: Bull Terrier Bite

How well do you know T.R.? Give our Wednesday Win trivia challenge a try.  Roosevelt’s Bull Terrier, Peter, caused international drama when he________

Image courtesy of dogbreedinfo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave us a comment below or email your answers to info@trcp.org by Friday for your chance to win a season one DVD of “MeatEater.

Farmers and Fishermen to Switch Places for Conservation Exchange

Why would a South Dakota farmer want to trade places with a Louisiana Gulf fisherman? The TRCP launched an exchange program this summer to answer that question and seek solutions to conserve America’s great native prairies and coastal waters.

In the TRCP “Barnyard to Boatyard Conservation Exchange,” three South Dakota farm couples will travel to Cocodrie, La., in July for a three-day educational outing to learn about the trials and triumphs of managing businesses reliant on healthy Louisiana Delta and Gulf of Mexico ecosystems, complete with a fishing trip along Louisiana’s Cajun bayous.

Subsequently, three couples engaged in commercial fishing, tourism and recreational fishing from the Louisiana Delta region will travel to Sioux Falls, S.D., in August to participate in an intensive, three-day briefing on the innovations and realities of grain and livestock farming and ranching, capped off by a trip to the Sioux Empire Fair.

In the nation’s capital and around the country, the TRCP works to strengthen laws, policies and practices affecting fish and wildlife conservation by leading partnerships that influence decision makers.

“Our hope is that these six couples will return to their communities and stress the need to take action to conserve our nation’s natural resources for future generations,” said Tim Kizer, private lands field coordinator for the TRCP. “This is not a quick fix. It will take time. Some long-held opinions and practices must change, but we are in this for the long haul. This exchange is about equipping people with the tools to make a difference for their own futures, as well as those of their children, neighbors and their new friends thousands of miles away.”

Reporters interested in attending the Barnyard to Boatyard Exchange should contact Cathryn Kennedy, cathryn@cathrynkennedy.com (612.309.3951); Pam McCarthy-Kern, pam.mck@earthlink.net (612-360-0647); Katherine McKalip, kmckalip@trcp.org (406.240.9262) or Tim Kizer, tkizer@trcp.org (479-530-8855).

Meet Dawn and Patrick Scheier

DAWN & PATRICK SCHEIER  (Pronunciation note: Scheier rhymes with tire.)

Scheier Farms: Near Salem, SD

Row Crops: Corn & Soybeans

Acreage: 1,600; also farm with brother for a total of 3,000 acres

Family: 3 adult children: Rebecca Lacey, 24; Ben & Brittany, 22. Ben is part-time farming with his parents.

History: Patrick is a fourth generation farmer. His great-grandfather homesteaded in South Dakota. Patrick grew up on the family farm five miles from his current farm. He started his own operation in 1980 and married Dawn in 1983. Both are full time farmers now. Previously they had operated cow-calf and hog operations.

Conservation: Some no till, shelter belts, & grass ditches

Why are you participating in the Conservation Exchange?

Dawn: I like to learn. TRCP is a lot about wildlife preservation, and South Dakota is a good hunting area. I also want to learn about the Dead Zone; we hear a lot that. They (Louisiana fishermen) provide food too. It will be interesting to see and hear their perspectives.

Patrick: The fishing interests me the most. I want to learn about that area – learn about governmental regulations they (Louisiana fishermen) face, environmental issues…what they go through. And they can learn about what it takes to farm here.

What Else: Dawn is a public speaking volunteer with Common Ground, a consumer education program about farming and how food is raised, funded through the corn and soybean check-off dollars.

July Fourth Giveaway

Do you want a chance to win the greatest book of hunting stories ever?

In celebration of America’s hunting heritage, we’re giving you a chance to win “The Gigantic Book of Hunting Stories.”

So why haven’t you signed up yet? (Trust us – it’s easy.)

Take 10 seconds and throw your name in right now.

Independence Day is a big deal and we want to give you an extra reason to celebrate.