Ravalli County Fish & Wildlife Association has an abundant, rich history that dates back to the late 1800s
What started as a “gun club” back in the late 1800s is now an organization committed to working with other conservation groups, legislatures and the wildlife to maintain Ravalli County’s outdoor resources. Read the timeline below.
Late 1800s – Early 1900s
- The RCFWA was referred to in an article dated June 24, in The Westerns News as the “local gun club” when Joe Booth, deputy state game warden was called to Hamilton to answer complaints that the lumber mill was blowing shavings and sawdust into the river. Mr. Booth furnished the company (ACM) with plans for a fish ladder which will be installed when the water goes down.
- Another article dated August 29, in the Western News voiced concerns from “the gun club” over the amount of game taken by the Indians from the Jocko Reservation in the Mineral Hill country in the West Fork Forest Reserve and that the miners on Hughes Creek were not allowed this same privilege.
- Though there was a nucleus of elk in the southeast portion of the Valley, the Club raised freight money to have over 100 Yellowstone elk shipped to the Bitterroot in 1912.
- A few other notes of interest I found in our records. Pete Smithey; (unknown address) 500 prairie chickens flew over his home in one flock, about 1899. Glen Kohls; Shot some prairie chickens as late as the early 1930’s north of Woodside. Rainbow and brook trout were not in the Bitterroot River until Marcus Daly released them from his hatchery east of Grantsdale in the 1890’s. The state of Montana purchased his hatchery in 1940 and stopped operation there in 1961. Mrs. Marcus Daly released Mr. Daly`s Chinese pheasants and Bob White quail soon after his death in 1900. This was probably the start of these birds in the valley.
- During the 20’s and RCFWA was known as the Hamilton Sportsman`s Club. They were incorporated in 1927 in order to own property for fish rearing ponds. (unsure of where these were or what happened to them.)
- State Game Department management for the valley was based almost entirely on the Club`s recommendations. Activities were related to predator control, installing fish barriers and distributing salt for deer and elk.
- In the early to mid 1940’s, emphasis was placed on predator control of various birds and mammals. (Some of these are illegal at present time.)
- 1943; the Club recommended open season on doe deer with a limit of 400 in the East and West Fork.
- 1945; The Club recommended the State Department of F & G close hunting of Hungarian partridge in the Bitterroot.
- 1945 – 1950; Sent resolutions to F & G and Federal Government against use of cyanide and 1080.
- 1946; An elk herd of 376 was counted in the Gird Creek area.
- The Club paid $400 for fish screens on the Republican Ditch, along with money from the Missoula Club and F & G.
- A resolution was send to Congressman Mike Mansfield to defeat firearm registration.
- 1947; >October, 1500 Chinese pheasants were released, 500 were one-year old birds.
- Voted $90 to Johnson Flying Service for dropping 6 tons of salt on elk ranges. (This practice is illegal at present time.)
- 1948; Sent resolution to F & G for flyway duck hunting seasons, not based on state boundaries.
- New incorporation papers changing the name from the Hamilton Sportsmen Club to the present Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association.
- 1949; RCFWA and the public donated $286 for hay for winter elk feeding. (Illegal at present time)
1950 – 1970
- 1950; The Stock Farm ditch was seined and 800 -900 legal size fish up to 2 pounds were released into the Bitterroot River.
- 1952; Planted trout for F & G in 23 Bitterroot high lakes.
- 1954; 80 members at a regular meeting at the height of a cattle – elk range use controversy. (No other information on this)
- RCFWA paid for lumber and members made elk proof panels for 15 – 20 hay stacks.
- 1954; 400 pounds of grain purchased for farmers to feed upland birds. 500 pheasants released this year.
- 41st Annual fund-raiser netted $350.00
- 1955; $480 appropriated to the education committee.
- Recommended F & G discontinue pheasant release program in favor of pheasant habitat improvement program.
- 1958; Appropriated $500 for water in perpetuity out of Painted Rocks Reservoir for fish habitat. Since that time F & G has been paying this fee.
- 1963; Planted more fish in high lakes.
- 1964; Recommended to the F & G there be no year around open season on trout fishing in the Bitterroot river.
1970 – 1990
- 1971; Voted $250 to the Montana Wildlife Federation for legislative lobbying.
- 1975; Cumulative total of about 250 books, $1500 value placed in the Hamilton Public library.
- Mid 1980’s – Current; Working with F & G to manage for age diversity in mule deer herds.
- 1983; Started hosting our first sit down banquet and auction in Florence. It was moved to Hamilton in 1994.
- Little information is found regarding projects during this time and all minutes were destroyed in the 2003 fire at Teller Wildlife Refuge where our records were stored. Previous years information had been condensed and in a file with secretary.
1990 – 1996
- 1990; The beginning of the “Nick Kramis” Conservation Award to deserving persons who have worked hard and tirelessly for the benefit of wildlife.
- 1991; Spearheaded a lawsuit, along with other wildlife clubs in the state against the Department of State Lands in objection to what we felt were poor management practices for the state lands in the East Fork regarding the grazing of domestic sheep in an area where big horn sheep inhabit. After winning this suit, State wide guidelines were instituted on public lands.
- Mid 1990’s; Donated to the F & G for goat surveys.
- Donated towards sheep signs on the East Fork road.
- Nominated the Ruffato Ranch for the Land Stewardship award.
- Built, distributed and helped set up wood duck boxes and Canadian goose nesting platforms.
- 1992; Donated towards the Como Dam project.
- Campaigned to get the brow tine only regulation instituted for elk.
- 1993; Initiated the Dick Ormsbee Scholarship.
- 1996; Club had 40 acres donated to them by 5 past club members; HS Thane, TM Skinner, Fred Lewis, Claude Johnson and VC Hollingsworth.
1998 – 2004
- 1998; Initiated a seed wheat and shrub program for club members.
- 1999; Initiated a 2nd Scholarship called the “RCFWA Memorial Scholarship.”
- 2001 – 2003; Donated money to Teller Wildlife Refuge for habitat improvement.
- Mid 1990 – 2004. Continue to support the I -143 effort of eliminating game farms from the State and the ban of canned shooting.
Mid 1990 – 2004; Continue to support the I -143 effort of eliminating game farms from the State and the ban of canned shooting. The bill passed and any legal suits against it, (including State Supreme) failed.
2004 – 2008
In an effort to update the history of RCFWA from 2004 on, the dates may not be 100% correct and many times, references made to projects, research, etc. spanned over many years. Several candidate forums were held during the years from 2004 -2016. Also, RCFWA hosted many well attended presentations of either wildlife programs or research projects.
2004- 2005; Formed the Citizens Watch Group for trail heads with signs on roads leading to those trail heads. Money donated to protect river access to the Bitterroot River Protection Assoc. Worked to keep a proposed land swap from taking place that was not to the benefit of citizens in the Bitterroot Valley. The Elk Working Group (EWG) was formed. This included various other organizations, along with outfitters, FWP, etc. It was during the beginning of this Committee when objective numbers for elk were initiated. This was a result of legislation passed directing FWP to control elk numbers state wide. Along with objective #’s, survey flights were started recognizing and adjusting for “un-huntable” elk, those elk where hunting access is very, very limited. On several occasions, RCFWA members paid for extra surveys conducted prior to big game season be conducted on the CB Ranch. After several years, the EWG was disbanded.
2006 – 2007; the first Bitterroot River Clean-Up was held. Each year RCFWA members vote to help out monetarily for that project. Supported and donated to a purchase and then exchange between RMEF, DNRC , FWP & and the Wetzteon ranch. Eventually, additional land was added to both Calf Creek & the Three Mile Game Range. Members ultimately donated $5.000 for this exchange.
There was a By-Law amendment that added both a position and a vote for the past president.
Members continued to send letters against any land exchanges that had limited or no public access to Ravalli County residents.
$1,000 was donated to the Lee Metcalf Refuge for food plots.
**A resolution was passed at the December general meeting for a standing $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of a poacher.
2009 – 2013
2009 – 2010; A memorial fund was established for mule deer research. Ultimately with $10,000 of private money and RCFWA money, a mule deer telemetry project was conducted on 10 does. The project, though small gave FWP some insight to migration, fawn recruitment, etc.
There was one last senate bill proposed to overturn the Supreme Court decision on the takings issue from I-143. Members supported a bridge access bill, where the public can access waterways from bridges.
The private gate across Hughes Creek which keeps the public from accessing F.S. land was discussed. In 2018, the gate is still there and a suit to remove it is in litigation.
In an effort to stem an outbreak of pneumonia, FWP took a pro-active approach and destroyed 66 sheep in the East Fork Herd This was an innovative approach which seemed to work.
RCFWA donated $2,000 to FWP for a mule deer survey in HD250.
2011-2012; RCFWA received permission to post signs in HD 270 that it’s a permit area only. Trophy mule deer areas were established in HD 270 & 261 in 1998. In 2012 more signs were posted in HD 261.
$5,000 was donated to FWP towards an elk research program.
$7,500 was donated to FWP for a lion density study.
2012 was the first year that members purchased Cooper Rifles. Tickets are sold through-out the year with drawings being held at our annual Fund-Raiser. This is the same year that RCFWA moved its banquet & auction venue to the 1st Interstate Building.
2013; Members volunteered and participated in working on bank stabilization along the Veterans Bridge on the North end of Hamilton.
The first Teller Youth Conservation & Education Expo was held on May 4th. $600 was donated to sponsor one youth to the Theadore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch Camp.
2014 – 2018
2014; Increased the 2 valley scholarships from $500 to $1,000. $3,700 was donated to FWP for further north valley elk research. $1,300 was donated to the Youth Expo for youth camps.
2015; RCFWA members voted to donate $5,000 per year for 3 years to the Youth Expo to help get youth involved in outdoor activities.
2016; $4,700 was donated to FWP wardens for decoys. $8,000 was donated to the Bitter Root Land Trust to help preserve open lands in Ravalli County. Though the association has always been non-profit, it filed for and received its 501(c) 3 status.
2017; Donated $1,000 to the town of Stevensville to pay for the development of a boat launch as Stevensville Access site until something better can be done. (There was a landowner – FWP conflict for a while) RCFWA members donated $2,000 to the Bitter Root Land Trust to help in purchasing land along the river just south of Hamilton.
2018; Increased the number of scholarships to 3, each one for $,1000.
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We wouldn’t be able to help conserve and preserve our beautiful Ravalli County without the help of donations like yours.
PO Box 238
Hamilton, Montana 59840
***** PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS NOT THE MONTANA FISH, WILDLIFE & PARKS WEBSITE. IF YOU HAVE WILDLIFE RELATED ISSUES ON YOUR PRIVATE PROPERTY, CONTACT MT. FWP AT 406-552-5500. FOR OTHER WILDLIFE ISSUES CONTACT 1-800-TIP-MONT