Final nail?

On Sunday September 14th, I took Finn on an evening walk in the forest, along the spur road that leads to my Sound of Music Hill. This blog has tons of photos - of the girls, wildflowers, vistas - taken there the past couple of years.This particular road used to have tank traps where it spurs off the main access road, keeping trucks and cars out, but last fall it was smoothed over and improved so that those wanting to take a look-see before bidding on timber sale lots could have access. This saddened me, but other than the teen Saturday night parties just off the main road, I never saw any people or vehicles, just cows, deer and elk all spring and summer.

All that changed on that walk with Finn. This part of the forest, this walk, is no longer an option.

At the end of the "improved" road, there's a four wheel track that leads up a hill, right along the edge of the forest boundary, to the ridge that opens onto the field and view I dubbed Sound of Music Hill. As Finn and I walked up that hill, I noticed this:

My first, albeit naive thought was, "Wow - quite the tree house!" Then I realized it was a hunting stand. My heart sank. My favorite place was polluted. Desecrated. I think I swore out loud.

While I had a sense that stands were allowed in this wild, wild west mentality of a state, I simply couldn't believe that it was OK to build something so permanent. This stand used eye-bolts to secure the platform to the trees. And the trees chosen as the stand's base were clearly on forest land: the one with a blue stripe painted around it means "do not cut" and the other with the red blaze (on the right) is a designated boundary marker!

Then, looking around, I noticed this barrel:

Again, in my naive mind, I thought it was a burn barrel. There was nothing around it that day, and I wasn't about to investigate too closely (thinking there could be traps about), especially with Finn.

Spooked, and disgusted, I quickly left.

I called a friend at the New Meadows District Office of the Payette National Forest; she referred me to their Law Enforcement Officer, Rob Bryant. I called him on Tuesday afternoon, September 16th, and was lucky enough to catch him in his office. I described what I'd seen, and he said he was working 'till six that night, did I want to show him where it was?

Hell yes!

I arranged to meet Rob in the snowmobile parking lot a quarter mile above my house and just inside the forest boundary. I figured we'd ride up in his vehicle. Leaving mine down below, I hoped whoever was building this stand - should they be there - wouldn't be able to peg me as the snitch. Since I often park in that lot when taking the dogs for walks on the dirt road south of there, my car wouldn't stand out.

Rob arrived and we drove toward the scene of the suspected crime. On the way up, Rob told me that the barrel was likely a bear bait barrel, which - if it had a Fish & Game tag attached - was probably legal and not under his jurisdiction anyway. But the tree stand was. Rob said that when I mentioned eye bolts on the phone, that got his attention. Apparently hunting stands can be constructed legally, so long as they're taken down at the end of hunting season, and don't damage the trees. Rob said usually hunters use slings and ropes to attach them to trees.

He also warned me that hunters put all sorts of really smelly, gross stuff in bait barrels, so I should be ready for an assault to the nose.

We drove in the spur road, to the end, and parked. I led Rob up to where the stand was. Even in the two days since Finn and I had been by, the stand had been improved and added to. Kind of creepy. Who could it be? One of my neighbors? Maybe that idiot bear-baiting Boise doctor who has a house above mine and comes up a few weekends each year, the one I've seen out on his ATV in the spring with a big bag of dog kibble, admitting he's baiting bears.

This day, there were a bunch of rotting apples at the base of the barrel (photo above) and - after letting Rob walk up close and inspect it first - I looked inside:

Dog kibble, hot dog buns, fish heads, fish eggs, apples, who knows what else? Awful. Pitiful.

My mood was about the same color as the barrel: red. Angry. Pissed. Who the hell does this? And why is it legal? What's so manly about baiting a bear into an area where you're waiting, safe and sound in a tree, to blow it away?

Rob's inspecting around the barrel in the photo above. It was chained to a tree, and a Fish & Game tag (a plastic band that looks a lot like Lance Armstrong's Livestrong wrist bands) with a number was attached to the chain. Rob said he could track down the hunter with that number.

Rob said often hunters put out movement-sensing cameras in such set-ups. While I'm thinking, "Great - now the hunter will know who brought Rob here," we both scanned the surrounding trees but couldn't find one.

Rob climbed up onto the platform to see if there was anything else up there. He'd already concluded the platform was illegal because of the method of construction. He pointed out to me where sap was already bleeding out of the trees where one of the eye bolts had been driven in. As if the tree were crying, forced to be part of this nightmare.

Rob took photos as well. After about 15 minutes at the site, we started walking back down the hill toward his rig. Rob explained he'd track the person down and talk to them about it. Most likely he'd issue a warning if the guy claimed ignorance, but that if he the guy's caught a second time, it's an automatic citation and fine.

Just as we rounded a bend close to Rob's car, a young guy (early 20s?) came walking up the hill, carrying a bucket. Of bait! Quickly realizing this was "the guy" and not wanting to make myself obvious, I kept walking toward Rob's vehicle and let Rob talk to the guy alone.

While waiting, I took this photo:

Clearly the guy didn't think he'd done anything wrong, or he wouldn't have parked right next to a law enforcement vehicle and walked up the hill with his bait. With regard to the bait and barrel, he hadn't done anything wrong, at least in the eyes of Idaho's hunting gurus.

After Rob talked to him and gave him a warning, he returned to his vehicle and we drove down the hill. Rob said the guy was working construction, is new to the area, and was told by a friend it was OK to use bolts, that they wouldn't hurt the tree. Yeah, right. Hard to say how much of that is true - he did look on the slow side, to me - but Rob said the guy promised to dismantle the stand. Turns out he's working on a house under construction right above me; he probably stole the lumber and hardware from the job site, and was clearly heading up there most days after work to add to his death trap. I was able to get home and into my garage before I saw his truck go barreling down the hill through the development, driving in a way that indicated he was mad. Good. I don't think he'll make the connection between me, and my house. Thankfully I didn't have the girls with me or he'd have been able to figure out who I was and where I lived just by seeing them in my yard.

Rob suggested I call him if the stand is still there after a few days. I'm not sure I want to go back up there - for fear of the hunter discovering who I am and where I live - but also because the guy told Rob that he'd seen lots of small bears come through there. He was waiting for a big one. I may ask a neighbor to check on it.

My Sound of Music Hill has been ruined. I cried that night. I've been struggling mightily with living in this state. Lately lots of small things have accumulated to reach a LEAVE crescendo, and this bear baiting incident, just as hunting season gets going here which means the dogs and I have very limited access to the forest without fear of being shot...well, this might be the final big nail in the coffin.

I want to go home to western WA. Yes, there are hunters there. But fewer. Last I knew, bear baiting and bear hunting with dogs was illegal. The entire state isn't open to hunting, like here. The culture of WA isn't about hunting and ranching and killing anything/everything that scares you, like here. In WA, there are no wolves or wolf-haters looking for any excuse to shoot anything that resembles a wolf. There are open-minded, intelligent, liberal-thinking people back home. A few days ago, Seattle-area dog camp friends were in town for an afternoon; talking with them reminded me how much I miss having conversations with well-informed, aware people. I'm tired of hearing about the elk some guy got when I pick up my mail at the post office, or the wolf the local rancher shot after it "got into his livestock" as I do my grocery shopping. It's all the locals talk about. Enough!

There might yet be some small tacks and nails left to pound into my Idaho coffin, but it's mostly built now. It's just a matter of the how and when of returning to WA. When I find a job, I'm gone from here and returning there. Can't wait. The girls and I will breathe easier when we're on trails, and Finn...well, Finn doesn't care, he just want to be with me, wherever I am.