Last caribou herd in lower 48 ‘functionally extinct’

Caribou in Jasper National Park, Canada -Photo by Annie K on Unsplash
Caribou in Jasper National Park, Canada -Photo by Annie K on Unsplash

From the New York Times comes another object lesson on the effects of unbalanced industrial development . . .

The battle to save the so-called gray ghosts — the only herd of caribou in the lower 48 states — has been lost.

A recent aerial survey shows that this international herd of southern mountain caribou, which spends part of its year in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and Washington near the Canadian border, has dwindled to just three animals and should be considered “functionally extinct,” experts say.

The Selkirk herd had been disappearing for the last several years.

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New U.S. spending bill requires scrutiny of Kootenai Watershed issues

Kootenai River
Kootenai River

A provision in the recent federal budget bill requires the EPA to get off the dime and work with U.S. and Canadian agencies to do something about mining waste in the Kootenai Watershed . . .

Stemming the flow of dangerous mining contaminants spilling from Canada into the Kootenai River watershed was listed as a priority in the 2,232-page government-spending bill signed by President Donald Trump, marking a hard-won victory for advocates of the endangered river and the communities it supports.

Inclusion of the beleaguered river system in the massive spending bill is another in a recent series of significant steps toward tackling a decade-long problem brewing in the transboundary Kootenai River watershed, where toxic contaminants leaching from upstream Canadian coal mines in the Elk River Valley of British Columbia continue to threaten Montana’s prized aquatic ecosystems.

Spearheading the latest charge to bring attention to the Kootenai is U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, who helped draft the annual budget bill as a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, and who for years has been mounting pressure on the U.S. and B.C. governments to develop a bilateral water quality standard for mining contaminants, including selenium, sulfates and nitrates.

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Carolyn Kormann: Ryan Zinke’s Great American Fire Sale

Here’s a well-researched piece by New Yorker staff writer Carolyn Kormann discussing U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan ZInke’s efforts to open up more public lands for resource development. Kudos to Debo Powers for spotting this one . . .

Not long ago, the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, began distributing “vision cards” to its employees. The front of each card features the B.L.M. logo (a river winding into green foothills); short descriptions of the Bureau’s “vision,” “mission,” and “values”; and an oil rig. On the flip side is a list of “guiding principles,” accompanied by an image of two cowboys riding across a golden plain. Amber Cargile, a B.L.M. spokeswoman, told me that the new cards are meant to reflect the agency’s “multiple-use mission on working landscapes across the West, which includes grazing, energy, timber, mining, recreation, and many other programs.” Individual employees, she added, can opt to wear or display the cards at their own discretion. But, according to the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which obtained photos of the cards and shared them with the Washington Post, supervisors in at least two B.L.M. field offices have been verbally “advising that employees must clip them to their lanyards.” Some workers, speaking to the Post anonymously, said that they felt they had no choice but to comply.

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Hecla Mining challenges its ‘bad actor’ label

Hecla Mining wants to dig a couple of mines along the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. Montana wants reimbursed for cleaning up an old mess first. Hecla is challenging this in court . .

An Idaho mining company was due in a Montana courtroom on Thursday to challenge its designation by state officials as an industry “bad actor” because of pollution tied to its CEO.

Hecla Mining Co. wants a judge to block the Montana Department of Environmental Quality from suspending permits for two new silver and copper mines the company has proposed beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, a remote, 147-square mile (380-square kilometer) expanse of glaciated peaks near the Idaho border.

[April 12,] State District Judge Matthew Cuffe scheduled afternoon arguments in the case.

The Coeur d’Alene-based company and its president and CEO, Phillips S. Baker, Jr., were issued violations letters last month because of ongoing pollution at mines operated by Baker’s former employer.

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Amy Robinson: The importance of Wilderness Study Areas

Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana - photo by Zack Porter
Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana – photo by Zack Porter

Amy Robinson, Northwest Montana field director for the Montana Wilderness Association, has a well-written piece in the Flathead Beacon on Wilderness Study Areas . . .

Lately we’ve heard a lot from our politicians about public lands and specifically Wilderness Study Areas. I’ve worked on public lands challenges, and wilderness protection, for nearly six years in Northwest Montana. This is a topic I know something about.

What are these Wilderness Study Areas? These areas are the headwaters for our communities, our backyard playgrounds, our open, quiet, wildflower-filled prairies, buttes, breaks and badlands. In some places, grizzlies dig for army cutworm moths, wolverines roam free, wildlife graze on winter range, and people hunt, fish, hike, climb, ski, backpack and generally find opportunity for rejuvenation. These areas were protected by Congress in 1977.

What’s it all about? Three bills were recently introduced to Congress. One by Sen. Steve Daines and two by Rep. Greg Gianforte. Together, these bills remove protection from 29 different areas totalling over 800,000 acres across our state. These are public lands that are managed either by the U.S Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. All of these areas have historically been recognized as special and worthy to be considered, and managed, for future Wilderness designation. These protections do matter and are above and beyond the roadless rule. This is something we should all care about and pay attention to.

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All the world’s forests in one day

Flathead National Forest
Flathead National Forest

March 21 was International Day of Forests. On that occasion, Planet posted some very interesting satellite imagery . . .

Forests do a great deal of good for the planet — from purifying our air, to providing habitat for wildlife, protecting watersheds, preventing soil erosion, and more.

For International Day of Forests this year, we wanted to celebrate the beauty and magnitude of forests across the entire globe. So we embarked on downloading imagery of all forests captured by our fleet of Dove satellites over the course of a single day.

Read more . . .

Prescribed burns scheduled for Flathead Forest this spring

Map of 2018 Spring Prescribed Burns - Flathead NF
Map of 2018 Spring Prescribed Burns – Flathead NF

According to this morning’s press release, the Flathead National Forest has a number of prescribed burns scheduled for this spring, weather and circumstances permitting.

Two of these projects are on the North Fork.

The Ninko Cabin Fuels Reduction “targets 3 acres of hand piles associated with fuels reduction adjacent to Ninko cabin along Whale creek road north of Polebridge.”

The Big Creek Administration Site burn “targets 3 acres of hand piles adjacent to the Big Creek learning center facility north of Columbia Falls.”

For more information about these projects, contact the Hungry Horse/Glacier View Ranger District at 406/387-3800.

For specific fire ignition dates and times, follow the forest’s Facebook or Twitter profiles at https://www.facebook.com/discovertheflathead and https://twitter.com/FlatheadNF.

Read the full press release for forest-wide burn project information.

Carol Edwards: Grizzlies should be protected, not hunted

Grizzly Bear - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS
Grizzly Bear – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS

NFPA member Carol “Kelly” Edwards has had an op-ed published in several local and regional papers advocating against hunting of grizzly bears . . .

Letter written to Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming…

As a neighboring Montana citizen, I am so proud of my state wildlife officials for having resisted pressure from “special interest groups” that somehow believe that they should have the right to shoot the very creatures that the rest of us are all spending our tax dollars to save. We want them, and the places they need in order to survive and thrive, protected. If you like all of your bears stuffed, hanging on walls, or in captivity, then you belong in a museum, a zoo, or a bar. You don’t belong in charge of live bears or their living conditions.

Our states can continue to thrive and expand our economic opportunities if we just take care of these critters and keep the things and places that live only in our northwest Rocky Mountain areas alive and healthy. They are a magnificent heritage.

These bears amaze people. Visitors come from all over the world for a chance to see one of these magnificent creatures. They, in themselves, not to mention our other magnificent top predators, and all those who form the chain of wildlife, create a base for an ever-increasing economy for those states that still enjoy their presence. You, of all people know that by far the large majority of our state earnings come from out of state visitors, and people who move here for the “quality of life” (read: clean air, water, beautiful scenery and access to the awesome public lands, natural parks and wildlife that live in them). It is a fiction that we have to sell “kill permits” to rich hunters, in order to keep wildlife around. This is just robbing Peter to pay Paul, a silly strategy no matter where it’s applied.

Think of our states and their traditional economies: mining, timber, hunting and some cattle and sheep ranching. Any way, you see it, no matter whose fault it is or isn’t, the climate and the shortage of water, especially in the west of the country, is making agriculture and animal husbandry very difficult to impossible, and it’s getting worse all the time. What happens when all the ore, oil, gas, forests and grazing and water for the animals are gone? Are we all just going to up and leave the stubble and rubble and poisoned water?

Our state needs a modern economy, a sustainable economy. It’s time to help the rest of us preserve a valuable resource that belongs to, and can earn a living for, all of us here in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Don’t kill the golden goose, er, bear.

Carol Edwards,
Polebridge

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

The Flathead Beacon describes a number of events that are planned to observe the 50th anniversary of Wild and Scenic Rivers Act . . .

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and a raft of events and activities are slated to launch this month to observe the milestone of a landmark decision that helped furnish protections on a suite of Montana waterways — the three forks of the Flathead River and the White Cliffs stretch of the Missouri.

Organized in part by Glacier Guides and Glacier Raft Company, which operates near West Glacier, the suite of events to observe the historic Act are well suited for the Flathead River system, where the idea for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was born as a way to safeguard certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing state for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

The Middle Fork Flathead River originates in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and flows 98 miles to its confluence with the North Fork Flathead River near Columbia Falls. In the 1950s, famed wildlife biologist John Craighead was fighting the proposed Spruce Park Dam, which would have backed the river up 11 miles, writing that wild rivers were a “species close to extinction” and were needed “for recreation and education of future generations.”

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Seems like the whole world is watching Glacier Park’s bear cam

Black bear emarges from den in a cottonwood tree in Glacier National Park, late March, 2018 - courtesy of Glacier National Park
Black bear emarges from den in a cottonwood tree in Glacier National Park, late March, 2018 – courtesy of Glacier National Park

Every year the buzzards return to Hinckley, the swallows come back to Capistrano and Montana’s bears ease out of hibernation . . .

A sluggish black bear that spent its winter denned high up inside a cottonwood tree in Glacier National Park is slowly awakening, and the world is watching as the sleepy bruin ploddingly emerges from its lair, yawning and scratching and prompting a collective “awww” from across the globe.

After observing the bear on March 23, park employees installed a webcam and began streaming live footage of a prominent hole in the cottonwood’s trunk where a branch broke away, allowing the bear to take refuge in the repurposed digs last fall and enjoy its winter slumber undisturbed. The footage features two views, a close-up and a wide-angle shot, using a telephoto lens with a 30X optical zoom so as not to disturb the bear.

Although the distance from the camera to the tree is 357 feet, the view looks spectacularly close. At times the bear’s ears and tufted bedhead can easily be viewed through the portal, through which the bear occasionally pokes its head and yawns adorably, or climbs out onto the cottonwood’s branches to explore.

Read more . . .