Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hellooooo, is that you St. Peter?

So to continue on about my trip to the north part of the state last Wednesday. Jack (WCA Executive Vice President) does a great job of exceeding the speed limit and the same time participates in the conversation without taking his eyes away from the road for more than a few minutes at a time. At one juncture we had to decide either to take the Keller ferry route or the Grand Coulee dam route. Luckily we chose the dam route because we later learned the ferry is closed for repairs which would have added a long detour to our route. We arrived in Malo Washington which is kinda like a bedroom community for the massive cities of Republic and Curlew.

The tour started at the Malo Grange hall which had many luxury amenities such as both indoor and outdoor bathroom facilities. There were many cattlemen and women and some community members as well as many people that work for various government agencies. I was happy and impressed as the meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance. There were some opening remarks, introductions and discussion and then we boarded 3 school buses to start our tour. It was raining pretty steadily that day and would continue to rain most of the day. Our first stop was the Malo community corrals just north of town. These corrals have been used for many years by cattlemen in the area to hold and ship calves to market and sometimes as a place where auctions were held. Users of these corrals must be a Ferry county cattlemen’s member, a Washington Cattlemen’s member and also pay a small per head fee for use of the corrals. It was great to see that there are still places where a community can work together for the betterment of everyone and (sit down for this) WITHOUT government mandate!

We then reloaded the busses to head up Tonasket creek to view a solar powered well stock watering project. This is when the fun began. I was in the first bus and we were about half way up the mountain to where we were going when we hit a rock, bounced sideways and spun out. We walked the rest of the way to the well and eventually our mode of transport made it to us with some towing and tire chains. At this point I was very amused that only a bunch of cowboys would try to take some school buses to somewhere that probably should not be traveled to in a jeep. At this stop we also learned about the county and states efforts to use an insect that consumes a noxious weed and has helped to improve the range in the area.

We next proceeded to another part of the Strandberg ranch where the focus was about native and non-native grass species as well as the importance of United States forest service grazing permits to cattlemen in the area. When government agencies own 85% of a county it makes sense that the local private landowners and the government agencies work together for their mutual benefit. It seems as if this is becoming more difficult all the time which seems to be 90% caused by governments over regulation and inflexibility in being able to manage those lands. The buses negotiated the narrow roads fairly well and I was glad that we usually had fairly level ground on both sides of us as we bounced along in the rain. We eventually made it back to the grange where we had an excellent BBQ beef lunch.

After lunch we once again loaded the busses to travel up the South fork of St. Peters creek and to Mt. Leola. I know now that it is called St .Peters creek because if you travel the road in a school bus on a rainy day there is an excellent chance you may meet St. Peter. Holy crap, narrow switch back roads, tight turns, greasy mud and depending what part of the switchback you are on sheer cliffs that look to extend for miles. I have been on roller coasters that offered less tense moments than this trip up the mountain. I knew we were in serious trouble when the government people were shaking in fear and the cattlemen were all scribbling out directions on the back of snuff cans about who got their cows if we did not make it through this ride. With the help of St .Peter we did eventually make it to the top where we had a long discussion about range monitoring, wildfires, wilderness issues and the reintroduction of wolves and how each affects our industry. The discussion went extra long because I really do not think anyone wanted to get back on the buses and it also gave the bus drivers more time to swig some whiskey.

There was no assigned seating on the buses and I noticed that our bus had about as much tread on the tires as a stockcar on a Monday morning. I kind of hung back and when my original bus was full hurriedly boarded the bus with the best tire tread. What I had not taken into consideration was this bus was driven by a woman so I still felt my chance of meeting St. Peter or worse was fairly high on the trip back off the mountain. Then our driver decided to be first bus in line going down the narrow road. I was thinking that it would be best to be last so that when the first two buses plummeted off the cliffs we would at least know where to slow down and proceed with caution. I will admit that our lady driver did a spectacular job of keeping any of us from meeting our ends and got us safely back to the grange hall. Thanks to all who helped put together a great tour and an informative day.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is Big head clover aka Trifolium macrocephalum.

Today’s picture is an example of how you build a runaway truck ramp in Northeastern Washington! Some lady was nice enough to stop while I was taking this picture to explain that it was not finished or operational yet! Too funny.