Jeff Hagener, Director
Montana Department Fish Wildlife and Parks
On October 1, 2013 I had occasion to drive thru and hike parts of Spotted Dog Wildlife Management Area as part of a bowhunt in HD 215. I have attached a couple of photos to document grazing conditions that Montana Chapter Backcountry Hunters and Anglers do not feel are appropriate for a Wildlife Management Area managed by FWP. We also are compelled to discuss the current motorized uses occurring on the WMA.
As background, I spent 32 years with the US Forest Service, both as fisheries biologist as well as District ranger for 10 years managing roughly 3330,000 acres of western Montana public lands. Both as fisheries biologist and District Ranger, I had extensive experience and exposure to management of livestock as well as the effects of poor management.
We fully understand the current grazing lease was imposed on the Department when the purchase of Spotted Dog lands was finalized. However, it is our understanding that this lease is expiring in the next year or two. The upcoming lease expiration will be an excellent opportunity to get it right next time.
As you can see from the photos, the stream channel condition and alteration by years of mismanagement of cattle has had a devastating effect on channel form, stability and function, and fisheries habitat values. Woody riparian plants expected to be on such a stream are largely gone, replaced by bluegrass and noxious weeds. I would expect that any FWP fisheries biologist would collaborate my opinion on the extreme adverse effects of livestock. At one time I expect this stream had dominantly woody plants such as willow and alder and likely extensive beaver activity in the moderate and low gradient reaches of all the streams on the WMA.
In my experience there is little choice but to remove livestock for some time from riparian areas to restore vegetative and desirable stream conditions. The usual rhetoric of applying rest rotation to solve all grazing issues has not been demonstrated to restore streambanks in such deteriorated conditions. In my opinion, within an FWP managed WMA , all the dependent wildlife and aquatic species need to have priority in stream and riparian management over any livestock grazing. Stream channel experts familiar with restoration expect such channels take 15-20 years of no domestic grazing to restore both channels and woody riparian vegetation.
The other photo shows that the excessive grazing use extends beyond the riparian areas. Houndstongue, thistle and other noxious weeds are common, and will expand given the overuse by livestock. Given the values of winter range as a principle reason for Spotted Dog acquisition, livestock grazing should only be used to remove very rank upland grass communities occasionally.
Motorized Uses and Elk Security
As I walked the WMA it was virtually impossible not to encounter a motorized route. Virtually none of these routes have any watershed drainage features. Many are left over logging roads or skid trails with additional user created ridgetop and meadow routes. These routes are in densities that are adversely affecting elk use on the WMA. As Lyon, et al studies have documented, road density in excess of one mile per section have a 50% or greater decline in habitat suitability for elk.
The Deerlodge NF has an ongoing travel plan process that the WMA should collaborate with now to reduce the open motorized routes to a level compatible with results of elk/road studies. I would be happy to send you a list of elk motorized use studies if you do not have them available.
Montana Chapter Backcountry Hunters and Anglers supported the Spotted Dog purchase. However, our expectation was that the area would be managed to optimize wildlife and fisheries values. It is time to make this area an example for the rest of landowners to appreciate and to make sportsmen proud of the management by MDFWP.
Greg Munther, Chairman
Montana Chapter Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
Attached: 2 photos