Category Archives: Commentary

Louisa Willcox: Do sleeping bears hold secrets for human health?

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

Here’s an interesting op-ed from the Billings Gazette centering around the weird, wonderful process of grizzly bear hibernation.

For more information on bear hibernation, see these posts: Bear hibernation linked to changes in gut microbes and Grizzly studies may provide help for human obesity.) . . .

By now most of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears are snug hibernating in winter dens, safe at last from human dangers.

But in the darkness below the snow, mysteries and miracles unfold, apropos of our Christmas season. Researchers have long known the basics of bear hibernation. These bruins don’t eat or drink or excrete waste for between 150 and 180 days. But when grizzly bears crawl out of their dens in spring, they are specimens of health. They lose very little bone strength or lean muscle mass, though they may lose as much as 30 percent of their fall weight.

Unlike deep hibernators like ground squirrels, bears are not unconscious during their winter slumber, which allows mother grizzlies to give birth in the dead of winter to a cub or two, each the size of a teacup, which she groggily nurses in her den until sometime during April or even May.

How does a mother bear pull off this feat? Part of her secret involves obesity. Gorging on foods ranging from bison to ants, she packs on several pounds a day during her late summer and fall feeding frenzy.

Read more . . .

In Yellowstone (and Glacier), warming brings changes

Yellowstone National Park sign at the North Entrance - Jim Peaco, NPS, October 1992

The New York Times put together a spectacular interactive presentation on the effect of climate change on Yellowstone Park. In our own back yard, Glacier Park is undergoing similar changes. Kudos to Debo Powers for spotting this one . . .

On a recent fall afternoon in the Lamar Valley, visitors watched a wolf pack lope along a thinly forested riverbank, ten or so black and gray figures shadowy against the snow. A little farther along the road, a herd of bison swung their great heads as they rooted for food in the sagebrush steppe, their deep rumbles clear in the quiet, cold air.

In the United States, Yellowstone National Park is the only place bison and wolves can be seen in great numbers. Because of the park, these animals survive. Yellowstone was crucial to bringing back bison, reintroducing gray wolves, and restoring trumpeter swans, elk, and grizzly bears — all five species driven toward extinction found refuge here.

But the Yellowstone of charismatic megafauna and of stunning geysers that four million visitors a year travel to see is changing before the eyes of those who know it best. Researchers who have spent years studying, managing, and exploring its roughly 3,400 square miles say that soon the landscape may look dramatically different.

Read more . . .

A call to defend the Badger-Two Medicine

Badger-Two Medicine Region
Badger-Two Medicine Region

Here’s one of the more elegant of the recent crop of op-eds encouraging Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to appeal a recent court decision to restore oil and gas leases to the Badger-Two Medicine region . . .

Today, Native Americans serve in the U.S. military at the highest rate per capita of any ethnic or cultural population, and Montana is home to more than 6,000 tribal veterans, many of them Blackfeet. As a Pikuni (or Blackfeet) warrior and veteran of the United States Marines, it is my duty and obligation to protect my country and lands, as well as to uphold the tribe’s traditions and culture while safeguarding its natural resources for future generations.

Recently a Washington, D.C. District Court reversed the government’s decision to cancel decades-old leases in the Badger-Two Medicine, an area sacred to the Blackfeet and the source of clean water for our Tribe. Once again, we find ourselves fighting against the threat of oil and gas development. As Veterans Day approaches, I am joined by the Blackfeet men and women of the Armed Forces in asking Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke to defend the Badger-Two Medicine.

Read more . . .

The ‘bad actor’ law and common sense

Southern Cabinet Mountains, as seen from Swede Mountain, near Libby
Southern Cabinet Mountains, as seen from Swede Mountain, near Libby

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. This excellent Flathead Beacon op-ed by Jim Nash lays out the situation very clearly . . .

When Webb Scott Brown of the Chamber of Commerce attacks Montana’s enforcement of a state law that protects taxpayers from shouldering the cleanup bill for mining companies, it’s clearly time to impose an old-fashioned smell test. In weaving together his argument, he got many of his facts wrong.

I live in the community where Phillips Baker’s company proposes to mine. And as the retired owner of a sawmill and wood products company I know the challenges of creating jobs and making a livelihood in rural Montana. I also understand the obligations businesses and their leaders must take on when they seek the privilege of developing our state’s natural resources.

From my perspective, the bad actor law is common sense. It simply says that mining companies and their top executives don’t get another shot at our state’s natural resources if they walked out on their cleanup obligations in the past — unless they’re prepared to pay back the state for cleanup work the public had to do in the company’s place.

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Gianforte says he will meet with conservation groups about WSAs

Kent Peak in the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area - photo by Sally Carlson
Kent Peak in the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area – photo by Sally Carlson

Note from NFPA President:

Despite what the article below says, neither NFPA nor any other Montana conservation group that I am in contact with has been contacted by Gianforte to set up a meeting to talk about WSAs. In fact, many of our fellow conservation groups are being attacked for our strong stands on this issue. This shows how effective the conservation community has been in influencing public opinion on this issue. According to a recent poll conducted by a partnership of Democratic and Republican pollsters, 87% of Montanans say conservation issues are important considerations in their voting decisions. We will keep up the good work!

Furthermore, we must change the language in this debate from “unlocking” or “releasing” WSAs to “removing protection from” WSAs or “losing” these potential wilderness areas forever. Please call Gianforte’s office at 202/225-3211 to express opposition to H.R. 5148 and H.R. 5149.

Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte said Thursday he’ll personally meet with people across Montana — including conservationists — who want a say in the controversial issue about unlocking federal Wilderness Study Areas for multiple uses such as motorized recreation, mining or logging.

“We’ll be meeting more broadly with all the concerned parties,” Gianforte told the Chronicle’s editorial board. “Because we got to hear everybody.”

Gianforte has been criticized by some environmental groups for not taking their input on the issue. The congressman said that’s what he’ll be doing throughout August.

Read more . . .

Excellent commentary on conservation and public lands

Three Types of Public Lands
Three 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.

The Flathead Beacon has posted a couple of excellent, well-reasoned op-eds over the past week.

The first, by Jim McCormack, titled What Happened to the Teddy Roosevelt Conservationist? takes Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to task for gutting the Land and Water Conservation Fund .

The second, Montanans Want a Say on the Future of Our Wild Public Lands by Connie and Mack Long, has some pointed and reasonable things to say about the importance of public involvement when making broad decisions about public lands.

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.

Read more . . .

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.

Read more . . .

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

Will Hammerquist: Manage Public Lands in a Sustainable, Collaborative Way

Will Hammerquist, owner of the Polebridge Mercantile, had a nice op-ed in the Flathead Beacon regarding the effectiveness of collaborative land planning . . .

As the owner of a small business in one of the most remote locations in Montana, my livelihood depends on public lands. And I’m not the only one who has a stake in these places – that was clear when over 30 groups came together five years ago to collaborate about the management of the Whitefish Range on the Flathead National Forest. I’m glad to say that the Flathead National Forest’s most recent revision of their management plan largely adopts the recommendations of the Whitefish Range Partnership.

The forest has taken leadership by listening to the needs and wishes of the community, and I hope that our elected decision makers will do the same. The Whitefish Range Partnership, the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition, and the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act are all shining examples of what is possible when community members sit down at the table and find common ground solutions in land management. We need to look for answers from the people who know the land best, and within the communities that will feel the outcomes the most.

Continue reading Will Hammerquist: Manage Public Lands in a Sustainable, Collaborative Way