Court rejects water permit for mine near Cabinet Wilderness

Leigh Lake below Snowshoe Peak, highest point in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness - Wikipedia image
Leigh Lake below Snowshoe Peak, highest point in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness – Wikipedia image

Hecla Mining, which is trying to establish two mines on the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, lost a round in district court last week . . .

A Lewis and Clark County District Court judge has struck down a water permit issued by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for the proposed Rock Creek Mine near Noxon.

The decision by Judge Kathy Seeley last week is the latest in a series of setbacks for Idaho-based Hecla Mining Company, which is trying to permit and develop two copper and silver mines in Northwest Montana. But environmental groups cheered the decision and said it was a major step forward in protecting the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, which sits directly above the proposed mines.

“The court’s rulings safeguards some of the purest waters in the lower 48 from the destructive impacts threatened by the Rock Creek Mine,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien. “The ruling also affirms that the state’s job is to protect Montana’s waters from the benefits of all Montanans — not to give those waters away to corporate interests without taking a hard look at the impacts.”

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Satellite imagery helps spot Glacier Park’s huckleberry patches

Huckleberry shrubs turn bright red in fall - USGS photo
Huckleberry shrubs turn bright red in fall – USGS photo

Researchers have developed a new tool to spot huckleberry patches in Glacier Park . . .

The average huckleberry is about as big around as a pencil eraser. But now we can spot them from space.

Several years of refinement have allowed researchers in Glacier National Park to tease apart landscape photos and pinpoint huckleberry patches. The method works on both aerial and satellite photos.

That could qualify as classified intelligence for some secrecy-bound huckleberry hunters. U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist Tabitha Graves and biologist Nate Michael joked they could be endangering themselves by revealing berry hot spots.

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Glacier names Yellowstone chief ranger as new deputy superintendent

Pete Webster, Glacier National Park deputy superintendent
Pete Webster, Glacier National Park deputy superintendent

From the official press release . . .

Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow has selected Pete Webster to be the park’s new deputy superintendent.

Webster will be responsible for leading the park’s division chiefs in identifying park priorities, addressing complex operational challenges, and long-range planning. In recent years the park has faced numerous challenges related to rising visitation, invasive species threats, and wildfires among others.

He has served as the chief ranger at Yellowstone National Park since 2015.

“Pete has proven himself to be an exceptional leader in the National Park Service,” said Superintendent Jeff Mow. “We are very fortunate he’s accepted this new post to offer expertise on some of our most challenging operations.”

Webster and his family have strong ties to the Glacier region. While still in college, he first moved to St. Mary in 1986-87 for a summer job at a local hotel. Webster returned to Glacier as an intern in 1988, as a seasonal park ranger from 1991-93, and as the sub-district ranger in St. Mary from 2004-08.

A native of the Detroit, Michigan area, Webster holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State University. He and his wife Dawn will live in the Flathead Valley with their youngest son, who will enter high school in the fall.

He replaces Eric Smith who moved to Texas last fall to serve as superintendent of Lake Meredith National Recreation Area and Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument.

Roland Cheek reflects on a lifetime in the backcountry

Here’s a fascinating interview with Roland Cheek, a local writer and long-time outfitter in the Bob Marshall Wilderness . . .

Roland Cheek clung to his dream even when his tenacity caused marital strife, threatened his family’s financial stability, lodged him crosswise with the U.S. Forest Service and pushed him to the edge of exhaustion.

Adversity made regular visits during his early years as an outfitter and guide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Roland embraced tenacity again later when he decided to become a writer, even though he had limited formal education and had twice flunked English in high school.

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In Badger-Two Medicine, Interior to defend Solonex cancellation, but lets Moncrief lease ride

Badger-Two Medicine Region
Badger-Two Medicine Region

This is likely not as bad as it sounds. The feds are going to dig in and fight the Solonex lease in the Badger-Two Medicine region. The Moncrief lease doesn’t even have a permit to drill and would require a huge battle just to get past that step. I’d guess the government made the pragmatic determination to concentrate their resources on the larger threat. If they win against Solonex, the Moncrief lease is probably toast, too.

Anyway, here’s the write-up . . .

In a dramatic change of course, attorneys representing the U.S. Department of the Interior filed paperwork announcing they will not defend the cancellation of one of the last remaining oil and gas leases on the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine, an area flanking Glacier National Park that holds cultural and ecological significance to members of the Blackfeet Nation.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Whitefish native, had previously said he would defend the lease cancellations.

While members of the Blackfeet Nation expressed disappointment and frustration in the Interior’s decision not to fight an appeal by lease-owner W.A. Moncrief Jr, the Interior Department is expected to defend the cancellation of a second lease held by Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, which is also being fought on appeal.

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Enjoy those huckleberries? Thank a bumblebee

A very interesting article by Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News about the importance of bumblebees to the huckleberry crop . . .

The next time you grab a handful of huckleberries, you just might want to thank the bees — bumblebees that is. Research by Montana State University and the U.S. Geological Survey has found that there’s about six species of bumblebee and one Andrenidae species of bee that pollinate Montana’s huckleberry bushes.

Prior to 2014, researchers weren’t sure what insects exactly were pollinating the iconic bush, USGS scientist Tabitha Graves said during a talk last week at the Flathead Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society.

The bees are critical to berry production. Experiments in the field have shown that bushes that are isolated from bees make a fraction of the fruit compared to plants that are pollinated by their fuzzy friends.

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Yellowstone grizzly meetings to focus on reducing conflict, mortality

Grizzly sow and cubs near Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park - Jim Pesco, NPS
Grizzly sow and cubs near Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park – Jim Pesco, NPS

Kudos to Debo Powers for spotting this piece in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle . . .

Wildlife managers will talk this week about preventing run-ins between grizzly bears and humans, a discussion that comes after environmental groups pushed officials to reconsider a decade-old report that lined out measures meant to reduce those conflicts.

The Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, meeting in Bozeman on Wednesday and Thursday, will consider grizzly bear death trends and the effectiveness of efforts to avoid people-grizzly conflicts that often end with bears being killed by government officials.

It will be the first time the panel of state and federal government officials from Idaho, Wyoming and Montana has met since a coalition of six environmental groups urged it to reconsider a 2009 report that included a few dozen recommendations to prevent those encounters.

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As public lands access funding dwindles, local communities pitch in

Several Types of Public Lands
Several types of public lands: Flathead National Forest is in the foreground, left and right; Montana’s Coal Creek State Forest, including Cyclone Lake, is in the middle distance; Glacier National Park stretches across the background.

As public lands management funding decreases, visitation continues to increase. NPR posted an interesting article about local efforts to deal with this issue . . .

Across the western U.S., towns surrounded by public lands are facing an increasing bind: They’re seeing a huge surge in visitors coming to play in the forests and mountains surrounding them, which is leading to an economic boom. But, at the same time, federal funding to manage these lands has been drying up.

“There are these dramatic increases in recreational uses of public lands, and at the same time dramatic declines in recreational budgets,” says Megan Lawson, a researcher at the Montana-based think tank Headwaters Economics.

A recent analysis [PDF; 15.8MB] by the group showed that visitation to U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land has risen by about 15 percent over the last decade, while budgets for programs that support recreation in those agencies has fallen by a similar amount.

Read more . . .