Category Archives: Environmental Issues

The fate of the Flathead

Zebra Mussel Shells Cover a Lake Michigan Limestone Beach in Door County Wisconsin - PJ Bruno
Zebra Mussel Shells Cover a Lake Michigan Limestone Beach in Door County Wisconsin – PJ Bruno

Thompson Smith, chair of the Flathead Basin Commission, has an excellent op-ed in the Flathead Beacon discussing the importance of aggressive efforts to block further spread of invasive mussels throughout Montana’s waters . . .

In early November, state officials announced the first documented presence of zebra and quagga mussels in Montana, after positive tests at sites in the Missouri River system.

For the Flathead Basin, these devastating invasive species are now at our doorstep: just a few hours away for people hauling boats from Tiber Reservoir.

In coming days, our ability to protect Montana’s remaining non-infested waters will be determined by the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) legislation and rule-making now being finalized in Helena. What is emerging appears to be a far more robust AIS program, and it should be passed. But the devil is in the details. Experts point to a number of deficiencies that must be addressed.

First, it is important to understand that if invasive mussels do become established here, they would ravage both the aquatic environment and the economy. Tiny, razor-sharp shells would coat and clog every hard surface — rocks, boats, pipes, docks, dams. They could ultimately cause the collapse of native fisheries, a vital cultural resource and linchpin of the recreation industry. They would wreak havoc with irrigation systems, power facilities, and municipal water supply and treatment.

Once established, invasive mussels are virtually impossible to remove. The whole game is prevention.

Continue reading The fate of the Flathead

Montana recognizes National Invasive Species Awareness Week

From a Montana Mussel Response press release . . .

Zebra mussels
Zebra mussels – via Wikipedia

National Invasive Species Awareness Week comes at a unique time for Montana, as Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation continue their joint efforts to implement a plan to fight aquatic invasive mussels.

“We take the fight against invasive species in Montana very seriously and continue to be vigilant in addressing threats to Montana’s critical infrastructure, economy and recreational way of life,” said Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

NISAW runs from Feb. 27 through March 3 to raise awareness and identify solutions for invasive species at the local level. The Montana Invasive Species Advisory Council encourages Montanans to participate in local events and offers ways you can help observe.

Continue reading Montana recognizes National Invasive Species Awareness Week

Humans leading cause of US wildfires

Ten wildfires burn over 200,000 acres in Southern California, Oct 2003 - MODIS image, NASA
Ten wildfires burn over 200,000 acres in Southern California, Oct 2003 – MODIS image, NASA

Nationwide, the latest research claims 84% of wildfires are human-caused . . .

Wildfires can start when lightning strikes or when someone fails to put out a campfire. New research shows that people start a lot more fires than lightning does — so much so that people are drastically altering wildfire in America.

Fire ecologist Melissa Forder says about 60 percent of fires in national parks are caused by humans: “intentionally set fires, buildings burning and spreading into the forest, smoking, equipment malfunctions and campfires.”

But the average for all forests is even higher. The latest research shows that nationwide, humans cause more than 8 in 10 — 84 percent.

Read more . . .

Additional reading:
Humans sparked 84 percent of US wildfires, increased fire season over two decades (Science Daily)
Human-started wildfires expand the fire niche across the United States (original publication in PNAS)

What light pollution costs us every night

The Milky Way near the Grand Canyon - Bob Wick, BLM
The Milky Way near the Grand Canyon – Bob Wick, BLM

Astrophysicist and science writer Ethan Siegel has a great article on the importance and increasing rarity of dark skies. It’s a short read, but very informative, with lots of photos and data. Recommended reading . . .

If you don’t have pristine, dark skies, you might never connect to the Universe. But there’s hope.

Human vision is ill-adapted to true darkness, but our eyes can provide us with stellar views of the night sky. Since the invention of artificial lighting, however, our views of those natural wonders have diminished precipitously.

Read more . . .

As Forest plan unfolds, a mountain bike-wilderness debate re-emerges

Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone
Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone

Here’s a pretty good article by Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News about bikes in wilderness — specifically, about allowing mountain bikes in a possible North Fork wilderness area . . .

As the Flathead National Forest puts the finishing touches on a final Forest plan, one issue is rising to the forefront: Should bicycle use be allowed in areas that are recommended wilderness?

Central to the debate is proposed wilderness in the North Fork. Under alternative B in the draft plan, there’s about 80,000 acres of recommended wilderness in the plan in the upper end of the Whitefish Range north of Red Meadow Creek. Recommended wilderness is generally managed as wilderness, but under alternative B, the plan would allow continued mountain bike use in the region.

Read more . . .

Proposed bill could help fight weeds in wildlife areas

Spotted Knapweed along Pacific Northwest Trail in Flathead NF, Sep 13, 2014 - William K. Walker
Spotted Knapweed along Pacific Northwest Trail in Flathead NF, Sep 13, 2014 – William K. Walker

Here’s an interesting  and potentially helpful bill recently introduced in the Montana House of Representatives . . .

A bill that could pump more than $2 million annually into the fight against noxious weeds in wildlife habitat drew unanimous support from weed managers, wildlife managers and conservation and livestock groups Tuesday.

House Bill 434, known as the Montana Wildlife Habitat Improvement Act and brought by Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend, creates a new grant program and advisory council administered by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Under the act, the Legislature could appropriate up to $2 million to weed control from funding the state receives through the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, a federal excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition.

“What we see is a stealth problem really infringing on wildlife habitat,” Flynn, who has been outspoken about noxious weeds in his four terms as a legislator, told the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.

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Wilderness study areas stir lively debate in hearing

Big Therriault Lake - Kootenai National Forest
Big Therriault Lake – Kootenai National Forest

Rep. Kerry White’s House Joint Resolution 9 drew plenty of fire at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing last Monday . . .

Advocates for releasing Montana’s wilderness study areas to multiple use argued at a state legislative hearing that 40 years was long enough to wait for a decision.

But those in favor of wilderness protection pointed Monday to several errors in Rep. Kerry White’s House Joint Resolution 9, and claimed the lands had more value for outdoor recreation than timber harvest.

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Tester announces legislation to expand Bob Marshall Wilderness

Grizzly Basin - added to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area under the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act - Zack Porter photo
Grizzly Basin – added to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area under the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act – Zack Porter photo

All that work by the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project over the past decade is finally paying off . . .

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester on Wednesday announced legislation that would add 79,000 acres of public land to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex while expanding access to snowmobilers and mountain bikers and boosting forest restoration projects with timber harvest.

The Democratic senator introduced the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act in Seeley Lake at Rich’s Montana Guest Ranch, adjacent to the 1.5 million-acre wilderness area, surrounded by outfitters and wilderness advocates.

The act would expand the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area to include Grizzly Basin and the Swan Front, the Scapegoat Wilderness Area to include the North Fork of the Blackfoot and Monture Creek, and the Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas to include the West Fork of the Clearwater.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, a coalition of loggers, ranchers, outfitters, recreationists and others that formed a decade ago to find collaborative solutions for public land uses in the Seeley Lake and Ovando area, crafted the proposal that became Tester’s legislation.

Read more . . .

Also read: Tester announces new wilderness bill for Blackfoot-Clearwater (Missoulian)

Can you be friends with a bear?

Grizzly Bear - Thomas Lefebvre, via Unsplash
Grizzly Bear – Thomas Lefebvre, via Unsplash

Can you be friends with a bear? This brings to mind a famous line from the original “Indiana Jones” movie: “You go first.”

Still, someone asked the geeks at Gizmodo (of all places!) this question. They, in turn, asked a number of experts for comments and put together a surprisingly interesting article.

Mild spoiler: Shannon Donahue, Executive Director of the Great Bear Foundation, wrote the best, most elegant answer . . .

Late last year, a photo of a bear officiating a wedding in Russia went viral. The picture turned out to be fake, but its popularity says something significant about our conception of the species: Despite thousands of years of contrary evidence, and at least one harrowing documentary, human beings still on some level want to view bears as big, cuddly, forest-dwelling dogs.

Are we wrong to feel this way? Can a human and a wild bear have anything approaching a pet-like, or at least, non-lethal relationship? The example of Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell, of course, haunts this line of questioning. But the experts we spoke with—people who have studied bears, lived among them, and worked to conserve their natural habitats—would reject the idea that any kind of bear-human bond will inevitably end in bloodshed. More or less all agree that every bear is a wild bear—that even if it playfully nuzzles you, or spends twenty years riding a tiny bicycle in your traveling circus, the odds of it suddenly mauling and/or eating you alive remain high. But opinions differ on just how close our two species can get, and what “closeness” can really mean, when you’re dealing with a thousand-plus-pound forest creature.

Read more . . .

No invasive mussels detected in Flathead Lake

Zebra mussels
Zebra mussels – via Wikipedia

Evidence of invasive mussels at Tiber Reservoir last November triggered an extensive survey for Flathead Lake. So far, so good . . .

The Flathead Lake Biological Station reported that more than 130 water samples from 30 locations on the lake came back negative for invasive mussels, researchers said Friday.

Following the November 2016 announcement of the first detections of invasive zebra or quagga mussels, the Flathead Lake Biological Station, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Flathead Lakers immediately collected and analyzed more than 130 environmental DNA (eDNA) samples from across Flathead Lake. The results for all of the samples did not identify any traces of the aquatic invaders, the research facility’s staff announced Feb. 17. However, lack of detection does not prove that the mussels have not arrived in the Flathead system, according to a news release from the station.

In addition to being analyzed at Professor Gordon Luikart’s Montana Conservation Genetics Lab on the University of Montana campus, the samples were also sent to an independent U.S. Geological Survey lab in Wisconsin with years of experience working on zebra and quagga mussels. The Wisconsin lab’s results are also all negative for mussels, confirming the results from Luikart’s lab, researchers stated.

Read more . . .