Thoughts on habitat

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I ask you this: Why is it that when I want to take a photo of a trophy-sized deer, elk, moose, bighorn of mountain goat, I go to Glacier National Park?

Glacier has a full suite of predators, big and small. It has wolves, mountain lions, black and grizzly bears, coyotes and lynx all roaming the landscape, gobbling up game, right?

Why if I was to listen to all the Fakebook experts there shouldnít be hide nor hair of any game species in the Park. The wolves alone would have eaten them all up by now and what was left the bears would have scavenged, right?

I hate to admit this, but the boy and I spend roughly 200 days a year in the woods, roaming around. We see all sorts of cool stuff, which means hours on end away from Fakebook and its experts. Thatís the way we like it.

Why, not too long ago we went on a short hike and we saw two sets of lions tracks and two sets of wolf tracks and counted eight deer on a mile-long stroll.

Whatís going on?

Itís habitat, folks. Good habitat makes it good for game. Now donít get me wrong, wolves, lions, bears and coyotes all eat their fair share of game. For a couple of winters we could almost count on a cow moose showing up about December to feed in the willows along a stream we like to visit. But last winter when the snows got deep the wolves ate her.

Did they kill her? I donít know. All I found was her skull, picked clean by the ravens and magpies, and part of her spine. The wolves had a trail run down to her carcass. Admittedly, I wasnít real pleased about it.

But such is life in Glacier, where the natural world runs pretty much unchecked by man.

The habitat is still good, however, and it wouldnít surprise me if another moose shows up in the future. A few years back I did a long ski through the backcountry of the North Fork. The deer were yarded up in a meadow known for its wolves.

One spring I counted 31 deer in a North Fork meadow that I know also has a resident wolf population.

I asked a biologist how this could be. His answer struck me as spot on. He likened it to New York City. A lot of people live in New York because itís a good place for humans to live. They donít suddenly all move just because one gets whacked once in awhile.

Before the Europeans settled North America, there were 50,000 grizzly bears, millions of bison, 10 million elk and who knows how many wolves, lions and coyotes.

Today, with our freeways, and subdivisions, strip malls and ranchettes, thereís a fraction of that. For example, thereís about 1 million elk in all of North America, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thatís why itís important to support organizations dedicated to preserving habitat ó organizations like the Flathead Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the stateís Habitat Montana program, to name a few. On a federal level, we have to get the Land, Water and Conservation Fund renewed.

Donít think the LWCF is effective? If you live in Columbia Falls, all you have to do is look out your window. A big chunk of the Whitefish Range is primarily owned by F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. About 10,000 acres was recently put under a conservation easement primarily using LWCF monies. Ditto for thousands more acres that were owned by Weyerhaeuser adjacent to the Stillwater State Forest.

Itís all excellent habitat and will remain open space in perpetuity. And that is something to really howl about.

Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.

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