Genuine Montana working cattle "RanchLife" as experienced by an absentee landlord.

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Name: Kenneth W. Duncan
Location: United States

I am a technology entrepreneur who was lucky enough to purchase a Montana working cattle ranch in 1995. I still work in technology in Utah but love to help our ranch manager manage the ranch and love to work at the ranch (www.ranchlife.com). I started this BLOG to give readers a glimpse of Montana ranching through the eyes of an absentee owner.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

"Wild"Life at the HPR

Marie and I and Marie's 85-year old mother, Betty, drove to the HPR on Thursday evening of this week and stayed until early Saturday afternoon. On Saturday morning we drove to LakeSide (guest area) to see how things looked. There was a lot of snow and it was beautiful. I noticed a dead Porcupine in the snow on the lawn near the LakeView cabin. Some very strong animal had killed the Porcupine as it was missing its head and even its internals, both of which were located within a few feet of his torso. Closer examination led me to suspect that the Porcupine was killed by a Mountain Lion. The cat's tracks were discernible in the snow and we know that there are cats in the area. Closer examination revealed that the Porcupine was eating the limbs off a pine tree that we planted in 1997. Shortly after we planted the tree Porcupines ravaged the young tree, to the point of almost killing it. Now, it appears that after taking a few limbs off the tree the Porcupine was attacked and killed by the Mountain Lion. It doesn't take long for a Porcupine to kill a tree and it doesn't take long for a hungry cat to kill a Porcupine. How nice that the cat saved our pine tree! Left to her own, Mother Nature again balances the habitat.

Speaking of balancing habitat, our environment and nature, on Friday Urs and I had a meeting with some federal agency officials to review a conservation plan. I pointed out how we would want to balance the interests of our native Westslope Cutthroat Trout in Painter Creek with the Sage Grouse in the upland areas along Painter Creek. I was then given a review of the habitat of the threatened Sage Grouse. I noted that when I awoke on Friday morning at our ranch and looked outside I noticed on our front lawn that there were 11 young Sage Grouse grubbing for food on our domestic Kentucky Bluegrass lawn! It was clear that they had also been living underneath our deck. I saw the Sage Grouse two more times over the weekend, once in the front yard again and once in the sage brush (their normal habitat) behind our home. Just when we think that we've got a wildlife or fowl habitat figured out, reality trumps science. It should be noted that with environmental groups using the Sage Grouse as an excuse to restrict or remove cattle grazing on public lands, our experience in the last 10 years is that with our cattle numbers not decreasing the Sage Grouse population, mostly on lower deeded lands, is up significantly.

I also need to relate an experience Urs and I had with federal government representatives working on our conservation plan (associated with EQUIP cost sharing for improvements to protect species and be more efficient in grazing) that we had the threatened Westslope Cutthroat Trout in both Painter Creek and Browns Canyon Creek. One of the young government employees (logically) thought that all of the Weslope Cutthroat Trout were on the "west slope". I reminded her that the Westslope Cutthroat Trout did something that Lewis and Clark couldn't.......they crossed the Great Divide without horses!

We saw hundreds of elk again on this trip. They were on the hills above Watson Creek on BLM lands. They looked magnificent against the "white" mountains.