Blackfeet bison hunt goes bad for well-known Montana singer

Jack Gladstone’s first hunt may be his last.

The well-known Montana singer, who has received the 2016 Governor’s Arts Award along with other honors and touts the nickname “Montana’s troubadour,” is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe. As such, he secured one of the first tribal permits to hunt bison near the Yellowstone National Park boundary earlier this month. This is the first year the tribe has exercised its treaty rights to hunt Yellowstone bison when they migrate into Montana near Gardiner and West Yellowstone.

But after tangling with the tribe’s game wardens, Gladstone would be happy never to hunt again.

“Because I’m a tribal member they have the authority to make my life unbearable on the reservation,” he said. “I’m very, very troubled.”

Blackfeet tribal attorney Derek Kline did not respond to a phone call to his office.

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Yellowstone bison

A bison grazes along a frozen riverbed in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park on Feb. 12. Bison that migrate out of the park near Gardiner and West Yellowstone in the winter often become targets of tribal and state hunters.

BETHANY BAKER, Gazette Staff

Gardiner hunt

Few bison were migrating out of Yellowstone when Gladstone arrived in Gardiner on Feb. 7 with his wife, Patti, son-in-law Tyrel Hulet, and his friend Sam Miller. The extra folks were there to help Gladstone butcher and haul a bison if he was lucky enough to shoot and kill one of the large animals.

But the scene near the park boundary was offensive to veteran hunters Hulet and Miller. Tribal members sat in their trucks until bison wandered out of the park far enough to legally shoot. Some of the animals were injured and ran back into the park.

“It wasn’t what I expected for a hunt,” said Hulet, a Columbia Falls resident.

“That was troublesome,” Gladstone agreed.

“It was pretty wild,” said Miller, a Kila resident. “The dynamics were strange.”

The firing line, as some people refer to it, is a constant source of complaints to the Park County Sheriff’s Office.

“There are a lot of state and tribal hunters congested in a small area,” said Sheriff Scott Hamilton of the Beatty Gulch region just outside the park boundary. “People block the road with their vehicles. And some locals are upset with the way the bison are taken. There are a lot of shots, not all of them clean shots. It’s difficult for people to watch that.”

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Elk

Some Blackfeet tribal hunters were using their bison tag to shoot elk in the Gardiner area.

BRETT FRENCH/Gazette Staff

Elk instead

While at Beatty Gulch, one of the Blackfeet game wardens, three or four of whom journeyed to the area to monitor their tribal hunters, spread the word that the bison tag could also be used to take an elk. One of Gladstone’s friends shot a spike bull on Feb. 9 above Gardiner off Travertine Road. Wardens arrived, checked the hunter’s license and there was no problem.

“The next morning I had elk fever,” Gladstone said after helping his friend.

So he and his crew returned to the area to see if Gladstone could find an elk. Because Hulet and Miller had been warned that they couldn’t be near Gladstone when he shot, they all stayed in the truck while Gladstone stalked a cow elk about 250 yards from the end of the road. He shot, the elk died, and his family and friends walked over to help gut and haul the animal back to the truck.

A Blackfeet tribal warden showed up when the group was almost done. He told them to move the gut pile farther away from the road. They complied, loaded the elk into the back of Hulet’s Ford F-250 diesel and tried to drive away but were flagged down by wardens.

That’s when chief game warden Keith Lame Bear showed up. When contacted by phone on Tuesday, Lame Bear said he was too busy delivering emergency rations to outlying tribal members to discuss the incident.

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Gardiner Basin

The area north of Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance, called the Gardiner Basin, is historical winter range for the park’s bison

BRETT FRENCH, Gazette Staff

Citations, accusations

“He accused us of hunting,” Hulet said. “We tried to tell him we were there just to help (Gladstone) get it out of the woods. He said, ‘You have blood on your hands. You’ve been hunting.’”

Gladstone’s crew countered that other people were being allowed to help tribal hunters with their bison, including a group of nontribal members who spend part of the winter near Beatty Gulch, and they weren’t being cited.

“There were a lot of other people running around doing the same thing,” Miller said. “I definitely felt like it was pretty personal.”

Hulet said at first that Lame Bear asked if they had enough cash to pay the $500 fine for unauthorized hunting. Hulet told him they didn’t carry that kind of money. Then the fine was raised to $12,000 for Hulet and Miller. As collateral for the fine, the wardens ordered the truck towed and impounded, the rifle and elk confiscated. Gladstone was charged with providing false information to a game warden for saying Hulet and Miller weren’t hunting with him.

“I was kind of dumbfounded,” Miller said. “It was almost like a ransom situation.

“It felt like I didn’t have any rights at that moment.”

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Bison helpers

Buffalo Bridge volunteers annually gather outside Yellowstone National Park to salvage bison parts from hunters near Gardiner while also offering help to those who fill a tag.

LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

Standoff

As the argument heated up over whether the tribal wardens had authority over nontribal members off the reservation, a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden arrived. He called the Park County Sheriff’s deputy, who then called the sheriff.

“I’ve never been faced with that situation before,” Sheriff Hamilton said.

So he called the state attorney general’s office. Deputy attorney general Melissa Schlichting told him if the truck had been used in the commission of a crime, it could be seized. She later learned that advice was incorrect.

“We were operating under the idea that there was an agreement between the tribe; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Yellowstone National Park,” she said. “But I was uninformed.”

After reviewing the situation the next Monday, she said no tribal game wardens have authority to seize property or even cite nontribal members for any civil infraction off the reservation.

“They can only cite tribal members for violations of their code,” Schlichting said.

“It’s really confusing, hence why we were caught flat-footed, not knowing what applied and did not apply,” she added.

Sheriff Hamilton was uncomfortable with the situation, just one of several problems and complaints surrounding bison hunting near Gardiner that his office has to deal with every winter.

“My agency expends a lot of overtime and resources down there,“ he said.

The standoff in the streets of Gardiner left Gladstone angry and ashamed.

“It was a very confusing time for the county sheriff and state game wardens,” Gladstone said. “I felt a degree of shame for the optics, they were horrible.”

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Jack Gladstone
Jack Gladstone, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe, went hunting for the first time in early February after receiving a tribal permit to hunt bison outside Yellowstone National Park. The hunt ended in a confusing enforcement incident by tribal wardens.

Rebecca Drobis

Negotiations

Luckily for Gladstone’s group, he had driven to Gardiner, as well, so they had a car to return home in. But the fight was not over. He appealed the fines and impoundment to the Blackfeet Nation Fish and Wildlife, aided by his attorney.

“My desire is to straighten out this approach because this looks like hell,” Gladstone said. “It’s the only way to force change.”

After long negotiations with tribal officials, they agreed to drop Hulet’s and Miller’s fines and return the truck and rifle, but not the elk. Gladstone is also prevented from hunting bison for a year.

“I say thank you,” he said, because his first — and possibly only — hunting trip turned out so badly he’s in no hurry to repeat the experience.

Gladstone agreed to talk about the situation because he fears that the way the Blackfeet Tribe is now conducting its bison hunt is unsustainable.

Sheriff Hamilton agreed that the hunt — which also involves other treaty right tribes in addition to tribes that are awarded two state bison tags — is getting congested. Montana recognizes the treaty hunting rights of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Nez Perce Tribe, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation.

“Calls actually picked up about a week ago when the Blackfeet showed up,” Hamilton said. “They came in with a large number of hunters, took 40 or 50 bison” in a couple of days “and didn’t coordinate with the other tribes. So they ruffled some feathers.”

Last Sunday, more than a week after the truck was confiscated, Hulet got his pickup back from Gardiner. The tow fee was $455. Gladstone also paid a $350 fine to the Blackfeet Nation Fish and Game. With attorney fees, the final cost of not getting an elk was close to $5,000.

“This was quite the ordeal,” Hulet said.

“It was a crazy situation,” Miller said. “It didn’t feel like anything American.”

Gladstone apologized for his part in the “misunderstanding.”

“Nothing like this is ever going to happen again if I have anything to say about it,” he said.

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Don’t turn Grand Canyon into a bison hunting ‘horror show’

To his credit, President Donald Trump recently drew attention to the “horror show” that is elephant trophy hunting, adding in a tweet that he would be “very hard pressed” to see it otherwise. Never has that tawdry business been called out so bluntly, at such a high level, and we could use some similar candor in a matter closer to home – a trophy-hunting horror show soon to be staged in, of all places, Grand Canyon National Park.

It is the project of Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, who has long sought to rid the park of bison. Their iconic appeal is lost on the congressman. And so, he is pleased to report, sport hunters will be “empowered” to go in and systematically slaughter the creatures.

The bison live near the North Rim, where, complains Gosar, they are “wreaking havoc.” They threaten, no less, “the wonder that is the Grand Canyon” and even its “longevity.” With his prodding, the National Park Service has decreed that a population it calculates at between 400 and 600 bison must be reduced to “200 or fewer,” meaning that as many as 400 could be culled.

The fact that the low end of the official population estimate approximates the number that might be killed, or that these expert wildlife managers can’t even survey the current total to within a third, is just one sign of a capricious plan crying out for public scrutiny.

Oddly enough, the Park Service itself has inadvertently given the bison their most convincing defense. Its “Initial Bison Herd Reduction Environmental Assessment”purports to show how intolerable their presence has become, but on close reading only reveals Gosar’s claim of “devastation” – “a bison problem that has reached borderline epidemic proportions” – as the nonsensical, trumped-up case that it is.

In the euphemistic parlance of the scheme, we learn that “reduction actions” are called for because of “soil disturbance” by the bison.

Apparently, that’s an inexcusable offense in the park these days, even though it is elsewhere considered a vital ecological function of this keystone species, and nobody was complaining at the Grand Canyon until sport hunters started lobbying for the cull.

MORE: Bison in Arizona? The story behind how they got here

The herd also stands accused of threatening “erosion potential.” The bison graze, drink water, and pass through streams, inviting further charges of causing “the potential for increasing impacts on vegetation” and “potential concerns about changes to local hydrology.”

“Potential damage” to archaeological sites is cited as yet another transgression, even as the report concedes there is no evidence that any buffalo has so much as stumbled into one of them, causing any actual damage.

“Potential benefits” likewise show the Park Service straining for a rationale to do an obviously cruel thing. You know they’re reaching when we’re informed that wiping out the herd will decrease “the potential for visitors slowing and/or stopping . . . to view bison resulting in potential vehicle-vehicle collisions.”

Have collisions become an actual hazard? Again, no.

And never mind that this particular example of a “benefit” merely reminds us that visitors love to see the buffalo that the Park Service wants to kill.

The sound of gunfire? Yeah, ignore that

On such vague and conjectural grounds, we are supposed to accept as unavoidable the miserable death of these beautiful creatures – whose presence at the Canyon, it becomes clear, is utterly benign, causing no harm to anyone who leaves them in peace.

Unmentioned, too, is that as hunting becomes the norm, surviving bison will increase their rate of reproduction, exactly the opposite of the intended result, although in passing we do learn that the “initial” culling will require three “reduction actions” a week.

This will involve helicopters, ATVs and snow machines for the chase, along with other alterations in “visitor experience” and the “acoustic environment” of what had been a wildlife sanctuary. Translation: Try to ignore the sound of gunfire as the North Rim of the park becomes a game farm for trophy hunters.

Gosar actually submitted a bill, the Grand Canyon Bison Management Act, just to make sure the volunteer hunters may haul off the “full bison” for display in trophy rooms. Hard to believe an act of Congress could be wasted to serve such a silly and squalid purpose, but the “stakeholders” insisted, so he obliged.

And who are they?

His office provides a list consisting exclusively of sport-hunting groups, as if no one else might have an interest in the matter.

The Park Service airily dwells on “values such as visitor experience and wilderness character” (which, of course, the bison are faulted for “potentially” ruining), but we would be wiser to think of our own values and our own character.

There are other ways to manage bison

A humble herd of 500 or so buffalo, in a country where some 50 million were annihilated, carries no burden of justifying its existence.

These creatures deserve better and we should expect better of ourselves, by managing them in ways that don’t leave blood trails, with a view to fertility control instead of lethal culling.

Consider a program carried out on Catalina Island, off the coast of California, once the unlikely habitat of 600 free-roaming buffalo. Its population stands today at 150, and is held there by an immunocontraceptive vaccine (porcine zona pellucinda, or PZP) administered by marksmen directing darts at the females. The vaccine indisputably works, and there is no reason it could not be employed at the Grand Canyon.

If relocation is in order for some of the herd, there are resourceful ways to accomplish that as well, as happened when the park’s wild burros were captured and transported to sanctuaries.

YOUR TURN: Birth control is an easy fix for wild horses. Why ignore it?

Among other groups, the Humane Society of the U.S. is prepared to take on the assignment, working with Arizona authorities and the Park Service. Their methods challenge the old “game-management” mindset of domination, violence as the answer to every problem, and rank exploitation dressed up as high science.

They offer a benevolent approach, inspired by respect and empathy, and who doubts that they better represent public opinion than the trophy hunters do?

Alas for the noble buffalo, all of their imagined offenses now bring imminent punishment. To spare the bison will take swift action by the media, others in Congress, our governor, and most importantly the public demanding to know why wildlife sanctuaries in law are not sanctuaries in practice.

Enough with the bogus studies, scandalous insider deals and volunteer butchers. Now let the real stakeholders speak up, extend our compassion to these grand and worthy creatures, and stop a bad idea dead in its tracks.

Matthew Scully, a Phoenix-area resident, is a former senior speechwriter to President George W. Bush and the author of Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.

READ MORE:

Arizona park officials suggest hunting to combat bison problem

Grand Canyon overwhelmed by those interested in shooting bison

Donald Threw His Sons a Bone.

As you’ve probably heard by now, U.S. President Donald Trump just threw his trophy-hunting, bloodthirsty billionsire sons a major bone by making HUNTING AFRICAN ANIMALS AND BRINGING THEIR HEADS TO THE U.S. IS LEGAL AGAIN.

What a thoutful early Christmas gift from daddy dearest to do for a pair of savage sons, one of whom was quoted recently enjoying the sport of hunting [and therefore, presumably, killing] even better than golfing.

But what if one of them were to follow in daddy’s footsteps and get themselves elected president, as Geoge W. Bush did?

In other words, What If Junior Takes Over?

A scary thought indeed–especially for the wildlife!

Sun Tzu: the Art of War For the Wildlife

Like any other technological advancement, the internet is a tool that can be used for good or evil. Social media is a great venue for educating and rallying caring people and amassing an army of kind folks to work together for a positive change.

At the same time, it can also be a meeting place and breeding ground for sick minds sunk so deep in the gutter that hate oozes from every pore. The general public is now well aware of the problem of pedophiles and stalkers trolling the internet, but there’s another malevolence out there they don’t hear much about—mainly because the crimes committed by these psychopaths are legal.

I’m talking about the prideful trophy hunters showing off their kills on Facebook; the sneering wolf hunters and trappers who post their grotesque triumphs on webpages where they know they’ll be viewed by people who are already so distraught that one more image may push them over the edge. It’s part of the game to them, to see who snaps first. Don’t be their next victim.

My advice to those of you who, like me, can’t stand seeing another NRA leader gloating over a dead water buffalo, or country star hunched over a bear he murdered with a bow in a fenced in canned hunting compound, or a wolf-hunting website designed just to turn the stomachs of kindhearted wolf advocates: don’t go there—at least for a day or two. Take some time off if you need to. Hold on to the anger, but try to pace yourself. Wars are not won by those who are blinded by rage or lost in a pit of depression. There’s an art to war; it takes self-discipline and careful strategy to be victorious.

Rome wasn’t toppled by the first invading army; like the decadence of sport hunting, it had to crumble from within first.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson