Have you ever noticed that people who don’t have much to say often talk about the weather? It’s like they just need to be saying something, but there’s not much going on upstairs, so, let’s talk about cold, or hot, or snow, or wind. One of the ways this manifests itself frequently, I’ve noticed, is on the front page of the Bismarck Tribune. Whenever the front page photo is not a hard news photo, but rather a shot of a fall canopy of leaves, or a kid skateboarding, or a duck swimming on the river, the caption turns into a mini-weather report. “Freddy Skateboarder spent yesterday afternoon coasting downhill to his friend’s house on West Avenue C. The forecast for today is for more nice weather, but turning colder by next month . . .” It’s like, the copy editor had nothing else to say about Freddy, so he threw in the weather report. (Note: I wrote this last night, and damn near fell off my chair laughing this morning when I read the caption under the front page photo in today’s Tribune.)
Do you read North Dakota Outdoors, the magazine of our state’s Game and Fish Department? Inside the front cover, Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand writes a column called “Matters of Opinion.” That’s what he calls it. But truth be told, there’s not much opinion there. Mostly it’s a weather report. At least it has been for the past year or so.
Now I’ve been reading North Dakota Outdoors for 40 or 50 years, I suppose. Not sure how long it’s been around, but I saw some 1955 copies laying on my North Dakota bookshelf the other day. Had a 15 cent price tag on the cover. About what the most recent issue is worth today, if “Matters of Opinion” is any indicator. (Don’t get me wrong—the price is still reasonable, just ten bucks a year. But you get what you pay for.) I chuckled over the March 1955 issue, which carried a note on page 2 from the Game and Fish Commissioner that read “This issue of North Dakota Outdoors does not have the make-up to which its readers are accustomed, but do not be disturbed as the change is only temporary. Carol Green, former editor, has left the Department, and until a replacement is found the magazine is being thrown together by Wilford L. Miller, Upland Game Research Leader.” Bet old Wilford liked that! Wilford only had to “throw it together” for a few more issues. A new editor was on board for the July issue. And Wilbur got a reward—he was bumped upstairs to Chief of the Game Management Division.
But I digress. What I really want to write about today is Terry Steinwand’s monthly weather report. My November issue arrived in the mail late last week. I was sitting at the table yesterday having a snack and reading the magazine. I read Steinwand’s “Matters of Opinion” for November and said a very bad word, very loudly. And then I said it again. Here’s why.
I’ve been hunting this fall. A lot of my friends have been hunting this fall. We’ve all noticed the same thing. Wildlife populations are down. We’re not complaining. Yet. This happens. Wildlife populations are cyclical. And yes, weather does have a lot to do with it. But I am sick and damn tired of the same old crap every month in Terry Steinwand’s “Matters of Opinion.” Here’s what he wrote this month that caused me to say a bad word:
As North Dakotans we tend to be pretty resilient and have tremendous endurance given the weather patterns we experience, especially over the last three years . . . Once again (in 2011) we experienced heavy snow that began at a somewhat normal time of the year, but didn’t seem to quit until much past normal . . . Wildlife and people on North Dakota’s landscape have had to endure three consecutive hard winters, and wildlife populations are down due to a number of factors. We’ll always have our challenges living on the Northern Plains, but it also makes us who we are. As the saying goes, “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”
Innocuous enough, but what pissed me off was that I had been reading the same thing over and over in his column, month after month. For the record, let’s review Terry Steinwand’s column, “Matters of Opinion,” in North Dakota Outdoors, for the last year. Excerpts:
- October 2011
Around the mid-1980s, pheasant and sharp-tailed grouse started showing up on the landscape with more frequency. This was largely due to an increase in habitat, mainly Conservation Reserve Program acres, and some mild winters that provided good overwinter survival.
- August-September 2011
2011 will go in the record books, and in the memories of all, as nothing short of incredible, and in some instances, disastrous. We endured a third consecutive severe winter . . .
- July 2011
The worth of CRP as quality wildlife habitat is especially evident when, like the last three winters, cold and snow settle into the state in fall without a hint of leaving until spring.
- June 2011
We have to continually monitor the habitat available and how it affects the resource, and ultimately how it affects everyone. The last few years of unbelievable wet conditions have influenced everything from fish to farmers.
- May 2011
Two heavy snow events took place right in the middle of northern pike spawning efforts on Lake Oahe. Bad roads and icy temperatures didn’t stop the pike from their spawning run . . .
- March-April 2011
Finally, winter is over. I’ve been around for quite a few years, living in North Dakota for most of them, and I can’t remember a winter that seemed so long. Maybe it was because of the snow that came during the November deer gun season and didn’t leave, or maybe the seemingly thousand times I had to remove snow from my driveway . . . The last few winters have been fairly difficult for people and wildlife alike.
- February 2011
I know I’m not alone in saying that it’s already been a long winter, made so by almost daily accumulations of snow. While the weather wears us down, challenging our hardy Northern Plains’ attitudes, imagine how the deer, pheasants and other animals in the state feel . . . These animals are being challenged by the third harsh winter in a row.
- January 2011
We’re again into the start of a new year and for the third consecutive winter we have more than our fair share of snow to contend with. I know we live on the Northern Plains and have learned to deal with these kinds of conditions, and in some situations have even come to relish them . . .
Okay, Terry, we get it. Three bad winters in a row is bad for wildlife. In fact, you’re so good at staying on message, I’d almost think you worked for John Hoeven. Oh, wait . . .
But here’s what got me so ticked off that I said a bad word: What else has been going on in North Dakota lately that might be affecting wildlife? What else? Only the biggest disruption of wildlife habitat since the homesteaders broke the native prairie to plant wheat. But worse. Never, ever, in our history has the North Dakota wildlife population faced the challenges it faces today from oil development.
But not once did the man responsible for protecting and enhancing wildlife in North Dakota mention that there’s an oil boom going on in our state. And it’s not just missing from his “Matters of Opinion” column. Nowhere in the last year’s issues of North Dakota Outdoors is there a mention of an oil boom. Not once. It’s like our Game and Fish Department has buried its collective head in the sand (or somewhere else). No time to deal with that. Too busy checking the weather, I guess.
Well, I’d like to know what Game and Fish is doing to deal with this huge threat to our wildlife. Outdoors seems like a logical place to keep us up to date.
Okay, this turned into more of a rant that I anticipated. But ever since the Game and Fish Department sat on their report on the impact oil development on wildlife for more than a year (see that story here), I’ve been fed up with their seeming inattention to what’s going on in western North Dakota. Winters happen. Winters come and go. I’m old enough to remember the years in the ‘60’s when we had no pheasant season because of harsh winters. We can’t do anything about winters (except write about them).
But we can react to man-made crises like oil booms. I’m not a biologist, so I can’t make specific recommendations. But the Game and Fish Department is awash in biologists, and here’s what they wrote in the report I just referred to:
“It should be understood by all North Dakotans that the jobs and revenue associated with the O/G industry could come with a very high cost to our quality of life; namely diminished hunting and outdoor recreational opportunities through the loss of habitat due to direct and indirect effects of O/G development.”
It has now been 17 months since those biologists gave their report to Director Steinwand. In their report, they made 14 recommendations for things that could be done to help alleviate the impacts of oil and gas development on wildlife in North Dakota, and five more things that could be done to offset impacts which cannot be avoided. Those are 19 things (if you click on the links and scroll down, you can read all 19) that are not going to happen unless Game and Fish takes the lead in making them happen. I’d like to know how many of those recommendations are being implemented, if any.
Seems to me that would be a good subject for the Game and Fish Department’s editors to address in their magazine. And for the Game and Fish Director to address in his “Matters of Opinion” column. And they could just leave the weather reports to the Bismarck Tribune.