We’re less than a week away from the Roaring Twenties, though fortunately for hunters, not the 1920s, a decade known for flapper dresses, dapper Jay Gatsby and a rather bleak outlook for wildlife.
The 2020s offer much better prospects. OK, maybe not on the fashion front, but contemporary American hunters live in a golden age, with wildlife populations at or near peak levels.
Not all the news is great: sage grouse continue their downward trajectory toward endangered status and bobwhite quail have disappeared across much of the southeast, where they once thrived. But in much of their range, turkeys, geese and whitetail deer thrive at near nuisance levels.
The story for fisheries is mixed. On inland waters in the West, trout thrive, as do bass just about everywhere else, demonstrating the efficacy of catch-and-release as protection for fish populations, while still allowing anglers to angle.
Off shore the story isn’t so rosy. Back in Gatsby’s day, any old sport could fill a wicker creel with the wild salmon that choked the Northwest’s coastal rivers with finned protein. Those epic salmon runs are now mostly gone, and sadly, the effects of that collapse ripple through ecosystems from Puget Sound to the Idaho Panhandle.
Still, as we enter our own Roaring Twenties, it’s worth looking back on some of the good and bad developments in Montana during the Teen decade.
Stream Access Law Wins Again
The Teens were a great decade for Montana’s Stream Access Law as the state Supreme Court confirmed the public’s right to access the Ruby River at a trio of bridge crossings upstream from millionaire landowner James Cox Kennedy’s spread. Access was blocked at the bridges in the Double Oughts, so the Public Land and Water Access association sued, back in 2004. The case was finally resolved in 2016.
The decision, coming as it did on the heels of the Court’s unanimous 2009 ruling in favor of access on Mitchell Slough, a branch of the Bitterroot River, left the Stream Access Law on as sturdy of footing as anytime in it’s history. Both cases were direct assaults on the access, and both, thankfully, failed to undermine the law, considered the gold standard for river access in the West.
Land Access Doesn’t Fare as Well
Despite wins on the water, access, sadly, is like the stalemate in the trenches during World War I. Two Montana access fights that drew national attention in the last decade will certainly continue unresolved as the ’20s begin.
Texas energy developers Dan and Ferris Wilks would like to exchange a landlocked BLM parcel in the middle of their N Bar Ranch north of Lewistown for land north of Fort Peck Reservoir where access was lost due to a previous road closure.
The N Bar sits in the middle of the Durfee Hills, in some of the best elk country in central Montana.
Multiple attempts to push the deal through have failed, but I don’t expect we’ve heard the last of this sometimes testy land swap. It might make sense for the BLM to unload a landlocked parcel, one that can only be reached by aircraft, no matter how good the hunting once you arrive.
On the flip side, access advocates worry that such a deal might encourage land-swap extortion in the future.
And of course there’s the Crazies.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.