North Forkers prepare to “shelter in place”

COVID-19 Symptoms InfographicCOVID-19 is now considered a global pandemic with cases rising exponentially around the world. This disease can cause pneumonia and death and there is no vaccine against it and no cure. People over 60 are most at risk. There are probably many more infected with the virus in the U.S. than has been reported due to the lack of testing across the country.

In Montana, as in many states in the country, schools are closed and events have been cancelled in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus and avoid overwhelming our hospitals which is happening in Italy right now.

The North Fork is a good place to isolate oneself and many North Forkers have prepared to “shelter in place” for the duration of the threat. However, as North Forkers continue to travel and make trips to town, the chances increase that the virus will find its way to the North Fork. Please exercise precaution when returning to the North Fork and delay getting together with friends and neighbors until you are certain you haven’t brought home a nasty souvenir.

North Forkers who have gone to town have reported empty grocery shelves and a long line at Costco as people stock up.

Below is the latest notice from Governor Bullock regarding the coronavirus.

Continue reading North Forkers prepare to “shelter in place”

Frozen Moose way more than just logging

Whitebark Pine Closeup, 2016 - W. K. Walker
Whitebark Pine Closeup, 2016 – W. K. Walker

Here’s a good overview of the North Fork’s Frozen Moose project . . .

The Forest Service aims to accomplish much more than homeowner protection from wildfires through the Frozen Moose Project. That was the message presented by Glacier View/Hungry Horse District Ranger Rob Davies at the North Fork Interlocal meeting held last week in Kalispell.

The proposal, an 8,000-acre fuels reduction project entailing non-commercial thinning, commercial timber sales, and prescribed burning on Forest Service land in the North Fork of the Flathead hopes to fulfill many other objectives, Davies told the crowd.

During thinning and logging operations, the agency hopes to push the forest composition towards more fire-resilient species, favoring tree species like larch and Douglas fir, which are more disease and insect resistant, drought tolerant, and with their thick bark, more fire-resilient.

Read more . . .

Researchers spend years building datasets for elusive wildlife

Canada lynx sitting - US Fish and Wildlife Service
Canada lynx sitting – US Fish and Wildlife Service

Here’s an interesting piece on the efforts over the last 20-plus years to collect data on rare, elusive species like the Canada lynx . . .

In a state where regal mountains and unconfined rivers demand attention and esteem, there exists also the less obvious, but no less significant creatures that call these places home. And one would be hard-pressed to find a Montanan who hasn’t acknowledged a simple creed: our state wouldn’t be as special if our wild landscapes lacked wildlife.

“These animals are part of Montana’s history, and when some of these species start dropping off, like you lose a lynx here or some grizzlies there, then you lose the essence of our state’s culture,” said John Squires, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula.

Squires has devoted decades of his life to researching some of Montana’s most elusive animals, the ones most humans will never witness in their natural habitats. At the heart of those efforts is the threatened Canada lynx, an incredibly rare and snow-dependent cat facing potential removal from the federal Endangered Species List despite there being a lack of sufficient scientific evidence to support delisting.

Read more . . .

Appeals Court hears oral arguments in Badger-Two Medicine oil and gas case

 

The sun sets over the Badger-Two Medicine area near Browning in March 2016 - AP

As we mentioned yesterday, the latest chapter in the battle over oil and gas leases in the Badger-two Medicine region opened with oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

The Missoulian has an excellent report on the hearing . . .

The legal battle over oil-drilling leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area continued Tuesday, with attorneys for the leaseholder accusing the U.S. government of “arbitrary and capricious” behavior and lawyers for local environmental groups emphasizing the land’s environmental and cultural importance before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Reagan-era drilling leases in the Badger-Two Medicine, a territory next to the Blackfeet reservation held sacred by members of that tribe, have drawn controversy for years. In late 2016 and early 2017, the Bureau of Land Management cancelled the leases held by Solenex LLC and W.A. Moncrief, Jr., drawing a lawsuit from those firms. In September 2018, Judge Richard Leon in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered them reinstated.

In the legal wrangling that followed, Moncrief reached a settlement and agreed to relinquish its leases. But Louisiana-based Solenex is still defending its lease from appeals filed by the federal government and a coalition of Montana environmental groups, represented by Earthjustice. The U.S. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from attorneys representing that group, the federal government and Solenex Monday.

Read more . . .

Last Badger-Two Medicine energy ease on the line

Badger-Two Medicine Region
Badger-Two Medicine Region

The next chapter in the battle over oil and gas leases in the Badger-two Medicine region opens today with oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

The Flathead Beacon has a good article, including links to online information . . .

Last October, leaders of the Blackfeet Nation celebrated a major victory in their mission to furnish permanent protections on the Badger-Two Medicine area when Moncrief Oil relinquished an energy lease spanning more than 7,000 acres along the Rocky Mountain Front.

The news provided a capstone to a monumental effort by the Blackfeet and numerous other stakeholders determined to preserve one of the last best places and rid the region of the looming threat posed by energy holdings.

It also meant that one oil-and-gas leaseholder still remained in the Badger-Two Medicine area, a place held sacred by the Blackfeet and which provides habitat to a range of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, wolverine, elk, and cutthroat trout. It serves as the headwaters of two drainages, Badger Creek and the South Fork Two Medicine River, which together water the reservation and the northern plains of Montana.

Read more . . .

Flathead National Forest announces new forest supervisor

Kurt Steele with wife Melissa and son Jack at USFS Fish Lake Campground in Idaho
Kurt Steele with wife Melissa and son Jack at USFS Fish Lake Campground in Idaho

Kurt Steele, Chip Weber’s replacement as forest supervisor takes over in mid-February.

From the press release . . .

Kurt Steele has been named forest supervisor for Flathead National Forest. He’s expected to begin work in mid-February. Steele has been the deputy forest supervisor for the Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forests for the past three years.

“I am very pleased to welcome Kurt to the Flathead National Forest,” said Regional Forester Leanne Marten. “Kurt is a proven leader who welcomes new voices and diverse perspectives, and has dedicated his career to public service.”

In addition to his current service as deputy forest supervisor, Steele has completed three recent temporary forest supervisor assignments on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho, the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois. Prior to his current position on the Nez Perce-Clearwater, Steele served as a district ranger on the Superior National Forest in Minnesota.

“I am tremendously honored to serve the public and forest employees as Flathead National Forest’s new supervisor,” said Steele. “I look forward to engaging with our partners, local businesses, and surrounding communities as we write the forest’s next chapter together. The Flathead Valley is an incredibly special place, and my family and I are excited about the opportunity to be able to settle in here and raise our family in this welcoming, community-oriented area.”

Continue reading Flathead National Forest announces new forest supervisor

Local environmental groups raise objections over bike paths in griz habitat

Sow grizzly bear spotted near Camas in northwestern Montana. - Montana FWP
Sow grizzly bear spotted near Camas in northwestern Montana. – Montana FWP

The Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan and Brian Peck are concerned that the Flathead Forest is not adequately evaluating the impact of establishing new trails . . .

Two local environmental groups have raised objections to a planned bike and pedestrian path network north of Columbia Falls in the lower Whitefish Range, claiming it could result in more conflicts with grizzly bears and displace other wildlife.

Grizzly bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Many biologists, however, believe the population locally has recovered; while others disagree,

The Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan and Columbia Falls resident and wildlife consultant Brian Peck are all claiming the Forest Service should take a cumulative approach and create an Environmental Impact Statement that encompasses several other projects that add trails to the Whitefish Range and areas near the Hungry Horse Reservoir.

Read more . . .

Forest Service seeking public comment on Frozen Moose Project

The Forest Service has big plans for the upper North Fork — including a lot of forestry and restoration work . . .

Frozen Moose Proposed Action map 1 - north half
Frozen Moose Proposed Action map 1 – north half

The Glacier View District of the Flathead National Forest is asking for public comment on the Frozen Moose Project. The project area is on National Forest System lands from Red Meadow Creek to the Canadian Border. The project proposes several types of management activities to reduce fuels in the wildland-urban interface, improve the resiliency of vegetative communities, improve aquatic ecosystems, and provide a mix of forest products. These proposed activities include 3,552 acres of commercial vegetation treatment, 4,630 acres of noncommercial vegetation treatments, road management activities, and other aquatic restoration activities.

Frozen Moose Proposed Action map 1 - south half
Frozen Moose Proposed Action map 1 – south half

Maps of the proposed action, detailed descriptions of activities, and information on how to comment can be accessed at the project Web site: www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57310. Hard copies of the proposed action documents are available by request or can be reviewed at the Hungry Horse-Glacier View Ranger Station (10 Hungry Horse Drive, Hungry Horse, MT, 59919). Please contact Sarah Canepa, project team leader, if you would like more information about the project at (406) 387-3800 or sarah.canepa@usda.gov.

Montanans willing to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ for conservation

HunterHere’s an interesting press release regarding Montanans’ attitudes towards general conservation. Not surprisingly, they’re for it, even to the extent of targeted tax increases. (Kudos to Debo Powers for spotting this one.) . . .

Montanans are willing to “put their money where their mouth is” when it comes to conservation, according to a new survey.

The Montana Outdoor Heritage Project has released results of its summer survey of more than 11,000 residents, or about 1% of the state’s population.

More than 80% of respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support more dedicated conservation funding – even if it means higher taxes.

Read more . . .

More reading: Link to survey report