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Dog sniffs out fish and game violators

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2000

SEWARD (AP) -- Fish and wildlife poachers beware. There's a new breed of law enforcement on the Kenai Peninsula -- a chocolate-colored Chesapeake Bay retriever to be exact.

Flash, short for his registered name of Happy Feet Wing Flash, is the new partner and companion of Jeff Bryden, U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer.

And he's the only wildlife detection dog in the state, Bryden said.

Instead of sniffing out narcotics, Flash is learning to detect the difference between a rainbow trout and a salmon or between goat meat and beef.

That's a valuable tool for Bryden, whose job it is to make sure people are harvesting the right fish and game and in the correct season.

The 2-year-old retriever proved his worth recently when his nose led him to a stashed catch of rainbow trout along Ptarmigan Creek. Rainbows from that stream are only to be caught and released.

Bryden suspected the uninformed fishermen's activities were illegal when they cautioned the officer against Flash accidentally eating their catch, as Bryden and the dog walked along the shore.

Flash, who has learned to overcome his instinct to retrieve while working, signaled his owner to the illegal catch by barking and scratching. The fishermen were cited and their fish confiscated, Bryden said.

It's important that Flash leaves his find undisturbed for evidence-gathering, which is a difficult task for a retriever, Bryden said.

''Ideally I get a scratch and a bark,'' he said. ''There's something in the dog's characteristics you learn from working with him day in and day out that tells you there's something over there and then I work him a little more.''

Flash also is indispensable for tracking wanton waste cases, even to the point of finding spent shell casings, which can help lead to hunters who take animals for trophy and who do not utilize all the meat.

Bryden uses specific commands to let Flash know what it is the two are searching for.

''If he comes to a salmon fillet, he should pass over it. But if it's a rainbow fillet, he should mark it,'' Bryden said.

Bryden has been working with Flash about two months within the Seward Ranger District. The retriever was being trained for field trial competition in California when Flash was recommended to Bryden as possibly meeting the criteria of a wildlife detection dog.

The retriever was selected for his ability to handle well around people and for his woolly undercoat that permits him to work comfortably in wet, cold weather common to the peninsula, Bryden said.

But not everyone was thrilled with Flash's arrival.

Flash spends his off-time at Bryden's home in Moose Pass. That doesn't sit well with Bryden's 9-year-old black Labrador, Agent, who was the alpha male of the household until Flash showed up.

''He's a little jealous,'' Bryden said. ''We have discussions on it on a regular basis. Each have their own dish and stay in different parts of the house.''

It's particularly tough for Agent to watch Flash load up in Bryden's truck each morning to go to work while he stays behind.

Agent has congestive heart failure, so Bryden can't work him like he used to, he said. So when Bryden comes home after working with Flash all day, it's Agent's turn for some quality time.

This winter, Flash will be riding the snowmachine with Bryden, working to improve the odds of locating those who choose to steal wildlife resources.

As for now, both Flash and Bryden continue to learn from one another.

''I knew going into this that I would need to devote a lot of time and energy,'' Bryden said of his work with Flash. ''I want to make sure this program succeeds because it's got my name on it. And if that means putting in extra hours, that's what I'm going to do.''

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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Ski bums not filling those ski resort jobs

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Where have all the ''ski bums'' gone? Time was when itinerant skiers would roam from ski hill to ski hill, working for low wages, but skiing when they wanted.

But the ski bum labor market isn't what it used to be.

The demise of ski bums delighting in a winter of adventure while working the slopes caught the attention of one former ski bum, now the human resource director for Big Sky Resorts.

''I'm one of those old ski bums myself. We all aged into having to have more dependable jobs than we did back then,'' Robert Jenni said.

Jenni remembered how in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was happy to get work at ski resorts just for the opportunity to enjoy the powder in the off hours. Young people flocked for jobs in ski resort kitchens, grooming trails, selling tickets and operating lifts. College students prided themselves on landing a ski hill job.

Low unemployment and more discerning job seekers have changed that.

''I'm not sure we always even knew what we were paid,'' he said and laughed, although he remembered once being promoted to a professional ski patrol job that paid the princely wage of $5.50 an hour.

Nowadays, any job at Big Sky pays more than that with many more incentives tossed in to attract enough employees to fill some 900 jobs at the resort south of Bozeman.

''We discount meals, lodging, ski passes,'' he said. ''We've increased work options, trying to schedule more four-10s so they get more ski time. We've juggled more of the night schedules because everyone wanted the night jobs so they could ski days. Now we split them into two nights-two days to mix it up.''

Because of the dearth of applicants, Jenni said the resort recruits overseas, using a Work Experience USA program that screens prospects from all over the world. The program offers a 10-week, three-month and four-month work visa program. Jenni said he rarely interviews the applicants.

''They take care of all the screening, even the language rating,'' he said.

The language problem is negligible since Big Sky filters those with less English-speaking skill to less public positions. The language rating is often a source of amusement. On a scale of 1-5, some Australian applicants only rated 3, he said.

But Big Sky depends on the international connection.

''We rely for about 10 percent of our employees from that program,'' Jenni said.

Big Sky also has had to offer other perks, especially since housing is limited and expensive. More than an hour from Bozeman, the resort provides dormitory housing with about 300 employees grabbing the $160 per month accommodations.

Jenni wishes more housing could be provided, especially ''nondormitory, so we could attract the more mature employee.''

Other ski resorts, especially in posh Utah and Colorado areas, note housing costs are one of the biggest obstacles for employers. Even with a decent wage, it still may not cover housing costs for ski resort workers.

Resorts also cite the trend of employees wanting much more than a ski pass. More job seekers ask about 401-K plans, insurance and other benefits. They may find a job with a high tech company more attractive than the old glamour of slapping on the slats for a downhill romp.

''Because the work is seasonal and often part-time, it's pretty tough to provide many of those kind of benefits for most of the employees,'' said Doug Wales, Bridger Bowl marketing director.

But Bridger Bowl, just north of Bozeman, does provide free skiing for employees and their spouses.

So does Red Lodge Mountain, said director Marcella Manuel.

''We also provide free passes for the other ski areas,'' she said.

Red Lodge, southwest of Billings, is fortunate that its labor force remains fairly steady, with about 80 percent of its employees returning. That's far above the national average for ski resorts of 35 percent.

''We have to do less recruiting. We generally advertise in local papers,'' Manuel said.

There are plenty of job openings at Red Lodge, according to those posted with Job Service in Billings, ranging from ski instructor to lift operator, kitchen helper and child care.

Pay ranges from minimum wage to about $8 an hour, but there are jobs that pay as much as $14 an hour at Bridger Bowl, Wales said.

''The more skilled jobs, of course, pay more and the competition for them is tougher,'' Manuel said.

Bridger Bowl has one asset Big Sky and Red Lodge do not -- a ready labor force from Montana State University. But even with a college campus nearby, Bridger Bowl can't depend on a steady infusion of students, Wales said.

''It's not like it used to be. More job seekers know there are plenty of jobs that don't require a 20-minute commute,'' he said. ''And, the unemployment rate over here is only 1.8 percent.''

Wales, like Jenni, recalls former times when ski bums easily filled the spots. He was one of them, taking a job after graduating from the University of Montana in Missoula.

''I kind of came in the back door,'' he said. ''This is my 11th season.''

To fill Bridger Bowl's 240 jobs, Wales said they rely heavily on seasonal workers from other jobs. The summer fly fishing guide becomes the winter lift operator; the grad student in transition may hire on until finding a more steady career niche.

For Manuel, Red Lodge's work force includes the summer ranch hand or carpenter.

''We get most our people from right around here, which is mostly ag country,'' she said. ''I don't think we have one college student who thinks it's cool to work at a ski resort.''

Red Lodge will fill about 200 jobs, she said.

''We don't have all the hotel jobs Big Sky has, although we have four restaurants, so we do need cooks and dishwashers as well as ski instructors.''

For Manuel, like Jenni and Wales, the ski bum past landed her the job she has held for 17 years.

''I was lucky. I knew I wanted to live near skiing and Red Lodge was the perfect fit. I love the town and got to do the work I wanted,'' she said.

Big Sky, as a destination resort, faces a bigger challenge filling its jobs because the business has become much more service-oriented, Jenni said. Only about one-third of the jobs are directly involved with skiing. The rest are hotel, kitchen and customer service related.

''We definitely see a change in how aggressive we have to be to hire,'' he said. ''We pay, probably on the average, $7.50 an hour and we keep looking for ways to add to the benefits.''

Full-time employees have a 401-K plan and health insurance program, ''something in my day which would have never come up,'' he said. ''Back then, it was 'just show me the snow.' ''

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