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Montanans today are enjoying a time of abundant wildlife. It didn't happen by accident.

Instead, it took a century of hard work by the countless individuals, government agencies and research by the state's universities to bring wildlife populations back from the brink of extermination.

A new book, "Montana's Wildlife Legacy - Decimation to Restoration," chronicles the state's wildlife recovery from its low point by the end of the 1800s to its abundance today.

Written by Dr. Harold Picton, professor emeritus of wildlife management at Montana State University, and Terry Lonner, retired chief of wildlife research for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the book is a natural extension of the FWP film "Back From the Brink." It's must-have reading for anyone who truly cares about the state's wildlife.

Liberally illustrated with more than 600 photos, illustrations, tables and maps, the 302-page book contains the only complete record of Montana's wildlife trapping and transplants, plus much more.

As the authors describe it, "The fur trade, hide hunting, mining, homesteading, logging and livestock industries in the 1800s had a significant impact on (the state's) wildlife. Montana had more homesteaders than any other state or territory. Exploitation of wildlife resources during the settlement of Montana produced a catastrophe by the end of the 19th century.

"At the beginning of the 20th century, elk were known to occur only in the Sun and South Fork of the Flathead River drainages and Yellowstone National Park," they continued. "Only 3,000 pronghorn antelope remained, and American bison were almost extinct, reduced from millions at the beginning of the 19th century to only a few hundred at the end of the century.

"Furbearers, especially beaver, were severely depleted. Wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions were nearly erased from Montana's landscape," they wrote. "Pheasant, turkeys and Hungarian partridge had not yet been introduced."

From that low point in the state's wildlife history, the authors chronicle the recovery.

"Montana's wildlife restoration and conservation is truly a classic endeavor extending through six generations, five wars, an economic collapse and the greatest North American climate disaster of the 20th century," they wrote. "Citizen leadership arose in generation after generation and melded with the leadership and science furnished by the state and federal agencies and universities to bring about this successful effort in wildlife restoration."

The book is a treasure trove for many reasons. You can read a complete history of the state's wildlife. The old-time photos are spectacular. There are profiles on wildlife species. And then, there are all the little things that you pick up along the way.

For example, did you know?

• Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, sometimes referred to mule deer as "jumping deer," because of their unique, bouncing gait when they run away. That running style is actually called "stotting."

• Montana's first Fish and Game Board was established in 1895. It established a four-month hunting season limiting big-game hunters to eight deer, eight bighorn sheep, eight mountain goats, eight antelope, two moose and two elk per year.

• Sportsmen in Butte undertook the first elk transplant in the state in 1910. The Northern Pacific Railroad agreed to transport elk from Gardiner to the Butte-Anaconda area for $5 per head. That $5 represented a couple of days pay at the time.

• The ring-necked pheasant introduced into Montana is a hybrid of several pheasant species from Europe and Asia. They were first introduced before 1895.

• Pronghorn antelope are the second-fastest land mammal on earth (the African cheetah is first), able to reach speeds of more than 50 mph. But for distances over a quarter-mile, pronghorns would win over every other animal on earth.

• A rubber raft was used to float crated mountain goats down the South Fork of the Flathead River to the Black Bear airstrip between 1948 and 1953.

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• The largest skull of inland grizzlies on the Boone and Crockett list is from the Jordan area of the Missouri Breaks. It was collected in April 1890.

• Fur farms were common in Montana from 1920 to 1945. The primary species raised were beaver, red fox and mink.

• Montana's wolverines represent the majority of the wolverine population in the lower 48 states.

• In 1986, the first documented wolf den in Montana was found in Glacier National Park, 50 years wolves' their disappearance from the state due to predator control.

• In 1980, field surveys found only 13 successful bald eagle nests in Montana. By 2006, there were 279 successful nests.

The book was published by Media Works Publishing in Bozeman. It sells for $29.95 and can be purchased at regional offices of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Billings, Bozeman, Miles City, Glasgow, Great Falls, Missoula and Kalispell or at FWP headquarters in Helena. You can also purchase it online at www.MontanasWildlifeLegacy.com or by calling 406-587-3583. The book is also being carried by some sporting goods outlets and book stores.

For hunters or anyone who cares about the state's wildlife, it would make a good Christmas gift that keeps on giving every time you have a question or want to learn a little more about the wildlife of Montana.

Contact Mark Henckel at henckel@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1395.

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