NFPA board member Roger Sullivan was involved in this case . . .
The Montana Supreme Court has halted an expansion of a Westmoreland-operated mine that supplies the Colstrip power plant with coal. The court’s decision vacated an 8-year-old permit that allowed Westmoreland to pull 12 million tons of coal from the Rosebud Mine located in southeastern Montana.
The environmental concern at issue related to water quality impacts to the East Fork of Armells Creek, an intermittent stream that flows into the Yellowstone River. The Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club argued that allowing strip-mining operations in AM4, a 49-acre parcel in Area B of the mine, would result in material damage to the waterway by increasing the creek’s salinity to the detriment of one of its established beneficial uses: the support of aquatic life.
The order, authored by Chief Justice Mike McGrath and signed by the court’s six other justices, largely affirmed a lower court’s ruling. It nullifies the AM4 permit, disallowing mining in that area. Prior to arriving at the Montana Supreme Court, DEQ’s decision in 2015 to approve the expansion had been weighed by the Board of Environmental Review (a quasi-judicial, governor-appointed body) and the Sixteenth Judicial District Court.
When Rich Janssen flips through the 2023 calendar, he sees months of missed opportunities to tackle a multi-national environmental crisis that has united tribal and First Nation governments spanning the U.S.-Canada border as few causes have before.
Last year’s calendar isn’t much different. Neither is the year before that.
For decades, open-pit coal mines located in the Elk Valley of southeast British Columbia (B.C.) have leached selenium, nitrate, and sulphate into the Elk and Kootenai rivers. Since 2012, Indigenous leaders from the Ktunaxa Nation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and the Kootenai Tribes of Idaho (KTOI) have been urging Canada and the U.S. to address the water quality crisis.
The North American wolverine will receive long-delayed federal protections under a Biden administration proposal released Wednesday in response to scientists warning that climate change will likely melt away the rare species’ snowy mountain refuges.
Across most of the U.S., wolverines were wiped out by the early 1900s from unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns. About 300 surviving animals in the contiguous U.S. live in fragmented, isolated groups at high elevations in the northern Rocky Mountains.
In the coming decades, warming temperatures are expected to shrink the mountain snowpack wolverines rely on to dig dens where they birth and raise their young.
The decision Wednesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service follows more than two decades of disputes over the risks of climate change, and threats to the long-term survival of the elusive species. Officials wrote in the proposal that protections under the Endangered Species Act were needed “due primarily to the ongoing and increasing impacts of climate change and associated habitat degradation and fragmentation.”
The Flathead National Forest is processing a flurry of requests for outfitting and shuttle services this winter, with proposals ranging from guided snow-bike, snowmobiling, skiing and snow-shoe tours to therapeutic “forest bathing.”
Officials with the Flathead National Forest (FNF) are soliciting public input on requests for nine temporary special-use permits authorizing outfitting and guiding activities from approximately Dec. 1, 2023, through May 15, 2024. According to a news release announcing the proposals, each request meets the criteria to receive a special-use permit under a categorical exclusion, which is the least-intensive form of environmental review.
Eight of the proposed special uses have been approved for one-year permits in the past; however, each proposal requires approval on an annual basis. One new proposal by Glacier Nordic Club is also under review.
Thanks to Tristan Scott for shining a spotlight on continuing train-caused grizzly bear mortalities (Flathead Beacon, Oct. 4, 2023). The late Dr. Charles Jonkel first raised the alarm in the 1980s when he learned that grain spills were attracting grizzlies that were subsequently killed on the tracks. In the early ‘90s I represented Glacier National Park on a working group that resulted in the establishment of the Great Northern Environmental Stewardship Area (GNESA), with the goal of reducing the risk to grizzlies and other wildlife. BNSF provided funding for a state bear management position, and other mitigation measures. There seemed to be progress with the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). So, I was shocked and disappointed to learn there has been little recent progress, and that BNSF has not committed to funding the measures identified over 20 years ago. The HCP is long overdue, and BNSF needs to make a permanent funding commitment to mitigate the impacts from train traffic. Some have argued that BNSF is foot-dragging until the grizzly is delisted and protective provisions are no longer required. Chuck Jonkel used to speak about the million-dollar grizzly, that each bear was worth that much to the state (in tourism revenue and iconic status). Even with an expanded population since the 1980s, the per bear value is probably well more than a million today. Regardless of ESA protections, grizzly bears are a significant natural, cultural and spiritual resource, part of our identity as Montanans. The public must demand accountability by BNSF and a commitment to minimize mortality and the management of a healthy and sustainable population of grizzly bears and other wildlife.
When did “road ecology” become a thing? It certainly sneaked up on some of us.
Anyway, anyone who is paying attention realizes that the North Fork’s ability to maintain a balance between people living on the landscape and its unique, healthy variety of native species is coming under increasing pressure, especially during tourist season. The North Fork Road, the primary corridor for the bulk of the visitor traffic, is part of this experience — and not always in a good way. As the traffic load increases, it’s not just suspensions, tires and air filters that suffer, it also impacts the local animal population, changing their behavior, challenging them with new risks and, especially as traffic increases, forming an actual physical barrier across the landscape.
[Updated original April 30 post on May 3 to incorporate various “The Last Best Ride” errata.] The Flathead National Forest has released a “Special Uses Scoping Letter” dated April 26 (PDF, 194KB) discussing this year’s batch of pending Special Use Permits (SUP’s). There has been no press release yet. I suspect we’ll see one next week.
I have had no opportunity to do a deep dive yet, but there are ten SUP’s that affect the North Fork to a greater or lesser extent. I have highlighted those items in the scoping letter and added links to their project documentation. They range from the usual collection of hiking, biking and motorized activities, to a trail run up Nasukoin Mountain, and a late-September marathon from Big Creek to Columbia Falls. Details, including maps, are posted on the forest’s “Projects” page: https://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/flathead/landmanagement/projects. The cover letter lists contact information for comments and inquiries.
Note that most of the project permits impacting the North Fork are not being handled by Hungry Horse-Glacier View Ranger District personnel. Also note that the Forest Service is only responsible for activities occurring on their lands – the marathon, for instance, is mostly a city/county/state issue.