Daily wanderings with the dogs behind my house this winter in once familiar territory is now disorienting, unrecognizable, and almost wild. The landscape around this part of Idaho has been covered in record breaking snow depths. Desolate and barren. I’ve been obsessed with three bare trees, some wooden fence posts, and barbed wire that dominate the monochromatic landscape. During near whiteout conditions these guide our way. Some of the fence post tops are painted bright orange. I’ve counted the space between the orange ones many times, it’s about every 10-13 posts.
The deep-to-your-waist snow pack is making survival for some creatures more difficult. We trudged along following a single set of elk tracks on the frozen ground for about a mile before the tracks disappeared over a fence and out of sight. The elk, was probably heading to the next ranch in search of food left out for wintering cow herds.
Chukar hunters know that public lands in Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington house these amazing birds, and that these lands are under constant threat of being sold out from under us. This threat is intensifying dramatically with the new administration. Rarely do we get an opportunity to express our opinions at a public meeting with a politician involved in the effort to remove public lands from the people who have footed the management bill for them.
This Saturday, February 18th, from 11-12 p.m., the tiny town of Council, Idaho is offering the chance for us to express our opinions about this issue. Idaho Representative Judy Boyle, from Midvale, will be on hand, hopefully to listen to her constituents’ concerns. Representative Boyle has been perhaps the most ardent agent hoping to transfer federal land to Idaho, and with the support of her federal colleagues in Washington, chances are better than ever that these lands will be transferred to the state. If that does happen, those lands that you and I have hunted birds and big game on for generations will most likely be lost to us forever.
If you have an opinion about this, please come to the meeting. I’m betting they aren’t expecting a lot of people. Show up and make your voice heard. Be respectful, but be knowledgeable. Here are a few resources that might help if you’re not already familiar with them:
Idaho Constitution, Article XXI, Section 19: “…the people of the state of Idaho do agree and declare that we forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries [of Idaho]… [and] this ordinance shall be irrevocable, without the consent of the United States and the people of the state of Idaho.” In other words, Idaho cannot legally accept federal land without our permission, and U.S. Congress’s permission. Congress is basically saying, “Go ahead, Idaho, take it.” We don’t have to agree.
Idaho’s Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden, has said that the land transfer effort will fail in court because of the language in Idaho’s Constitution, yet Idaho taxpayers continue to foot the bill for Representative Boyle’s efforts to pursue this issue.
The American Lands Council, which sounds like a pro-public land group, is anything but. Visit their website and fact-check it: you will find that this group, funded by the Koch Brothers, owners of the second largest private company in America, is engaged primarily in securing mining and oil extraction rights throughout North America. This is the real impetus behind the public land transfer effort. Don’t be fooled by their rhetoric, which is designed to misdirect and obscure their goal: get more oil, by any means necessary.
There are lots more resources out there about this. If you care about keeping these lands for all to use, under the sensible and fair “multiple use” doctrine that has worked to keep these lands open to all of us — hunters, ranchers, hikers, fishermen, and every other kind of outdoor recreationist — for generations, then make your voice heard. Call, email, text, Tweet, and otherwise contact your state representatives as often as possible. They are listening. I hope they actually hear us.
During upland hunting season about the only time we stop to catch our breath on the steep terrain is to retrieve a bird from our dogs’ soft mouths or to give them some cool water from our backpack hydration system. On some of our longer hikes we’ve run out of water. I’ve never once hesitated to give them my last drop. I’d rather go thirsty first.
Water hogs (or “whores,” as I affectionately call them), the thirsty boys have earned it. On average, if we hike 5 miles they go about 15-20 miles. Usually, three to four times the distance. We know this because the dogs wear GPS collars whose data we download on our computer when we get home.
Looking through some photographs from the past couple of seasons of upland hunting, I noticed a theme. I like the photos, they make me laugh. Today, I need that more…
Who knew the chukar hunting community was so diverse as to make it downright like the rest of the world? All along I was under the impression that to be a chukar hunter meant that you were beyond the pale of unethical, uncivil, un-whatever behavior. After all, to be a real chukar hunter means you have to have the lung capacity and cardiovascular superiority that corrolates higher on linear regressions to posit higher level brain function. How drastically has my bubble burst?
The good news is that we’re not as abnormal as I once thought (assuming “normal” – whatever that is – is a positive characteristic). My first clue was a kind of blind-side: I just this morning went to one of my favorite blogs to see what the Bionic Man (my euphemism for the purveyor of Tucker’s Chukars) was up to with all this crappy weather. He tends to find more birds and take more birds than the average bear, so I like to read his blog to get simultaneously depressed and inspired (a personal quirk I’m not proud of but have accepted as part of my “aging gracefully” resolution). Therein I learned of a brouhaha with another fixture in the chukar hunting community, the origin and precise nature of which eludes me after several hours of social media “research” and at least as many beers. In the immortal words of Rodney King: “Can’t we all get along?”
As if that bubble-bursting weren’t enough, quick in the wake of this horrific discovery of the chukar-hunting community’s normalcy, I get a comment on THIS blog from someone taking a rather profane exception to another reader’s comment — tongue-in-cheek perhaps, or something else — which I debated on approving because it was a bit off-color from what I’m used to seeing. Jesus. Hotflash (and I’m not menopausing!). Cool IT, please. And if you want to troll on this blog, please don’t. It never was my intention to provide a forum for that kind of Trumpish behavior (no offense to any supporters of the president-elect, but really: this should be a space for civil discourse).
What we should be focusing on, instead, in my humble opinion, is the defeat, the chastisement, and the literal or figurative (your choice) obliteration of the kinds of “hunters” who congratulated themselves recently with the following road-sluicing public document:
I’m still trying to get my head around the weather, what the right thing to do is if your chukar hunting jones just ain’t gettin’ satisfied as the calendar heads to that lonely last day of January and you KNOW you have got to make it at least until September 1st with some seriously pent-up hounds chomping at the bit and lots of other stuff that will no doubt make you very cranky. It’s a tough job, that long waiting period. Right? And every year, I swear, I fail miserably at doing that learnin’ I promise myself I’ll do about these fascinating partridges. But thanks to some very kind and civil readers (you know who you are) who have given me some great suggestions (“compensatory mortality” and “chukar populations Christensen” especially), I’m gonna do it. In the meantime, stay — or get yourself — cool. The freaky winter should help.
After yesterday’s post, I decided to take a spin down to Hells Canyon to see what it looked like, and see if there was any hope for the chukar. Expecting to see pure white, I was pleased to find a sort of belt of burned-off terrain, which had plenty of open ground. Above it and below it was pure white, and this open ground was occupied by a huge herd of elk, but at least there’s some safe haven for some birds.
Down lower, we watched four chukar hiking around in the snow near the road (see the video below). It was interesting watching them – they’re clearly trying to find stuff to eat, and it’s slim pickins for sure. They weren’t too concerned about us, and we didn’t linger.
Here’s these tough birds at work:
About 200 yards up the road we saw this:
Nature is red in beak and talon. For a half second, I thought I could maybe get out hunting again, but even if the weather warmed, it wouldn’t make sense. For anyone. And then I checked NOAA: another foot of snow predicted for this area, with temperatures going back down from the 36 degrees we saw today.
Yesterday a pheasant rooster turned up at our bird feeder and gorged himself for more than an hour. Our house is about 400 yards from the nearest cover any self-respecting pheasant would consider. Surely a sign the Upland Apocalypse is upon us. I’d hoped we’d see a turn toward some burn-off so I might get out one more time before the end of January, but with the continued frigidity and snowfall it looks like the fat lady has indeed sung. I’m looking for a fork to stick in myself. We’re done.
I worry the birds are, too. Done for, more like. I keep hearing about herds of chukar on the road and gangs of road-sluicing morons taking advantage of the desperate birds. If there’s any hope for some leftover breeders, the road killers are doing their part to prevent that from happening. It’s a shame we’re looking at yet another upcoming season of super-low bird numbers.
And Fish and Game, in their brilliance, have rejected the many requests by sportsmen to end the season. I’m not a biologist and don’t know a lot about over-winter survival for chukar, but it only stands to reason that adding more mortal pressure to an already maximal environmental stress on a species isn’t a recipe for success. I don’t get it. I’m sure one of my smarter readers can clue me in on this.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope we see some good numbers of birds in the fall. If we do, I’ll be even more impressed with these feathered phenoms. But I’m preparing for another disappointing year. In the meantime, I have lots of amazing memories of this great — but shortened — season. I hope you do, too.