A Touch of the West

Reminders of Ranch Life Liven Up Rehberg’s Office

Posted November 21, 2007 at 2:50pm

Aside from visiting the National Zoo, it’s hard to find wild animals in Washington, D.C. Sure, there are pigeons, the occasional black squirrels and even a few deer running around Northwest. But truly wild creatures are rare, unless you happen to be in Rep. Denny Rehberg’s (R-Mont.) office.

Rehberg keeps a wide array of animals — albeit mounted or stuffed ones — in his space on the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building. On a recent tour, he showed off each of his pets.

“That came last Thursday,” he said, proudly pointing to a giant buffalo head mounted high above a black leather couch. The addition was a gift from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, one of the largest wildlife foundations in the country. “I’m afraid while I sleep on the couch … it’s going to flip off and hit me with the horns or something,” he said, laughing. [IMGCAP(1)]

Rehberg has lived out of his office since 2002, when he decided it was more practical to sleep on a couch beside his desk and shower in the Members’ gym than to commute back and forth from an apartment. Each morning, he rolls up his sleep kit and puts it in the closet, transforming the space from a bedroom back into an office with a wilderness feel.

Behind his large desk, Rehberg has a stuffed black wolf that stands on all fours and seems to peer over his shoulder as he works.

The Congressman’s staff has taken to telling curious visitors that the wolf is in the witness protection program, as black wolves are protected in the United States. “That’s a Canadian animal,” he noted with a laugh.

There is also a large, brown elk head opposite the buffalo. The animal was a gift from former Rep. Ron Marlenee (R-Mont.). According to Rehberg, upon winning his election in 2000, Marlenee promised him any gift he wanted. The Congressman asked for a buffalo head that had hung in Marlenee’s office back in the days when Rehberg was a staffer, but the former Congressman never sent the animal. Eventually, Rehberg hung a “jackalope,” a fake animal, on the wall instead and began telling people that Marlenee had gone back on a promise.

“The story finally got back to him so he finally drove that out,” Rehberg recalled, pointing to the elk. “He shot it.” [IMGCAP(2)]

Asked if the decoration scheme has generated much pushback, Rehberg was quick to say it hasn’t. Active management of wildlife is important to preventing overpopulation, he said.

“I would suspect that somebody from Montana is not going to get a lot of backlash for having animals presented in a Congressional office,” he said. “We have a tendency to support hunting.”

Hunting isn’t the only Montana cause represented in Rehberg’s office. The Congressman has worked to get American Indian tribes in the state recognized nationally. One such group is the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana, which has about 190,000 members throughout the United States and Canada.

In the 1890s, an Indian agent came to the tribe’s reservation, cut its rolls and sold much of its land. Members subsequently scattered, while hundreds were herded into boxcars and dropped off at the Canadian border. The tribe, which repeatedly has asked the federal government for recognition only to have the decision postponed, presented Rehberg with a rattle made of a turtle shell in appreciation for his help.

“They gave this to me quite a number of years ago as a thank you for working as hard as I have on trying to get them recognized by the Department of Interior so that they can qualify for some of the programs within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health and such,” he said, giving the rattle a shake.

When he’s not busy legislating, the Congressman is back on his ranch in Montana with his wife and three children. He grew up on the same ranch, handed down from his great-grandfather. A large photo of the ranch rests against the wall behind his desk near photos of his three children, bringing a bit of home and a lot of the West to the Cannon building.

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