Category Archives: Commentary

Dave Hadden: Teck hasn’t gotten the job done

Lake Koocanusa
Lake Koocanusa

Dave Hadden’s recent op-ed in the Flathead Beacon is yet another reminder of why we really don’t want open pit coal mining in the transboundary Flathead Drainage . . .

The Beacon’s June 20 story detailing Teck Coal’s selenium pollution of Lake Koocanusa was barely off the presses when the company had responded with a letter to the editor (June 25) denying that its water treatment plant is failing. Either the Beacon got its facts wrong, or Teck’s conveying false facts. Which one has the long nose?

This is what Teck said in its letter to the editor: “The water treatment facility at our Line Creek Operations is operating and successfully achieving design specifications for reducing selenium and nitrate concentrations in treated water.”

This is what Teck’s Director of Environmental Performance said recently: “We [Teck] clearly and fully violated the intent of the facility, but we have met the requirements of the permit.”

Translation (and just as claimed in the Beacon article) Teck’s water treatment plant is releasing less selenium, but a chemical variety of selenium that is up to 200 times more available for absorption by aquatic organisms. This means that the water treatment plant has worsened the selenium pollution problem.

It’s hard to figure why Teck continues to claim it has succeeded when it has failed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked in the 1800s that, “The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.” Teck hasn’t gotten the job done. It hasn’t cleaned up the Elk River, its pollution continues to flow across the border, it continues to mine coal, and the province of British Columbia has rewarded the company for not succeeding by not revoking permits for four new big mines.

At this point in time Montanans can be assured that we’re the settling pond for Teck’s mining in the Kootenai watershed as a consequence of BC inadequate and broken mine evaluation, permitting, and enforcement process.

Dave Hadden, director
Headwaters Montana

Timothy Egan: The last best empty place in America

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.

Timothy Egan, a frequent op-ed contributor to the New York Times, wrote this punchy tribute to public lands . . .

At dawn the woodpeckers start in, hammering heads against tree trunks, and you wonder if there’s a better way for a bird to make a living. Oh, the avian migraines. Twilight lingers till nearly 11 p.m.; if there’s a decent moon, you can fish in the silver light of Montana’s longest days.

When the sun is high, you swing from a rope tied to a cedar tree and drop into the great grip of the Kootenai River current, then swim back to the raft, to float and cast a fly line and look at ospreys and take in the grandeur of this land — your land, my land, an immense national forest.

Teddy Roosevelt left his initials on the outside wall of the community hall of Troy, a little shrug of a town along the river. But he left much more than that here in the far corner of northwest Montana and all over the West: an endowment to every American, rich and poor alike, their inheritance of public land.

Read more . . .

New book great read on botanists of Montana

Montana's Pioneer Botanists - cover
Montana’s Pioneer Botanists – cover

Rachel Potter reports that Montana’s Pioneer Botanists: Exploring the Mountains and Prairies got a good review from Chris Peterson over at the Hungry Horse News . See our previous post for more information about this book . . .

From the Native Americans to Morton Elrod, a new book, “Montana’s Pioneer Botanists,” takes a biographical look at 27 botanists and their impact on the field in Montana.

Editors Rachel Potter and Peter Lesica have crafted not a dry biographical tome, but a bright and lively read full of colorful photos, illustrations, and interesting stories about the early efforts to catalogue, identify, and study Montana’s rich plant life and history. Eighteen authors,including Potter and Lesica, contributed to the book.

Potter said it took about five years to put the book together and gather the essays and photos. Some of the essays are 30 years old and she searched around the country for the historic photos. Potter and Lesica decided to put the essays together after they did a program of Glacier Park’s botanists for the Park centennial in 2010.

Read more . . .

Gov. Steve Bullock statement on the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana - Bob Wicks/BLM
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana – Bob Wicks/BLM

This is a direct, to-the-point statement just released by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock concerning efforts to “review” the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument . . .

Today, I sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke urging that no changes be made to the designation of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

In May, Secretary Zinke began a review of over 20 National Monuments from around the country pursuant to an Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump. The Missouri River Breaks was one of the monuments designated for review. As part of this process, Secretary Zinke reached out to me for my comments and recommendations regarding the Missouri Breaks National Monument.

The Missouri River Breaks offers world-class, once-in-a-lifetime public lands hunting opportunities for trophy mule-deer, elk, and bighorn sheep. Opportunities like these attract over 130,000 visitors to the area every year and provide an annual influx of $10 million to the local economy. The local economy has come to depend on this. In addition to attracting more visitors, the region has sustained growth in many measures of local economic health and prosperity—including a 23 percent increase in real capita income.

Finally, the Missouri Breaks has remained largely unchanged for over 200 years. The monument designation helps keep it that way for our children and grandchildren to share. For these reasons, I strongly recommended that no changes in the size or to the designation of the Monument should be made.

Places like the Missouri River Breaks are important to Montanans and play a significant role in our way of life. These public lands are our heritage and support an unmatched quality of life. I will continue to fight to preserve public access to our lands, rivers, and streams and I oppose any effort that jeopardizes or calls into question the future of the Missouri River Breaks or any other part of our public lands heritage.

As Secretary Zinke continues his review of the Missouri River Breaks National Monument designation, I urge you to reach out to him HERE to share your own comments and experiences within the area.

Sincerely,

STEVE BULLOCK
Governor

Glacier’s headwaters: Water tower to our continent

North Fork of the Flathead River - ©Mark LaRowe
North Fork of the Flathead River – ©Mark LaRowe

A few days ago, the National Parks Conservation Association released their Summer 2017 Field Report for the Northern Rockies. In it was an article by Michael Jamison, Crown of the Continent Program Manager, that is highly relevant to the North Fork, as well as any other region downstream of the Canadian Rockies. By permission of the author, it is reprinted here in its entirety . . .

People tend to think Glacier National Park is all about mountains.

And people are wrong.

Glacier is also about water: icy cold water rushing clean and clear across gravel and stone; whitewater plunging over cliff-band falls; sky-blue water eddying into lakes set like sapphires into the deep green of wilderness.

From the summit of the park’s Triple Divide Peak, meltwater flows west to the Pacific, east to the Atlantic, north to the Arctic by way of Hudson Bay. Glacier is water tower to a continent, spiked by peaks sharpened on a grindstone of Pleistocene ice.

I recently flew north out of Glacier, over a long slice of Alaska—another place branded by its mountains. Chugach. Wrangell-St. Elias. The Aleutians and Brooks and Chilkats.

But Alaska, like Glacier, is not really about mountains.

What I saw unfolding below was, again, a wild country defined by water: an endless winding coastline; miles of muskeg pooling like quicksilver; rivers washing the feet of mountains, slicing tundra and stone, spilling sediment braids into an ocean the color of steel.

Montana and Alaska are alike in this way. They also share a common headwater: British Columbia.

Continue reading Glacier’s headwaters: Water tower to our continent

George Wuerthner: Wildlands are of global significance

Here’s an excellent guest column in the Flathead Beacon by George Wuerthner discussing the importance of reserving wilderness areas and listing several in this corner of Montana still in need of protection . . .

The announcement by Montana Sen. Jon Tester that he would be introducing legislation to protect approximately 80,000 acres in the Blackfoot Clearwater area adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness is to be commended. I have personally hiked all the areas included in this legislation and can attest to its important to the ecological integrity of the larger Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

The Monture drainage with its wonderful larch forests that glow golden in the autumn, and the North Fork of the Blackfoot with its deep emerald pools holding exceptional bull trout and cutthroat trout populations are both critical gateways to the larger Bob Marshall complex.

The Grizzly Basin portion of the Swan is the critical scenic backdrop to the Seeley-Swan highway and the West Fork of the Clearwater segment is a needed wildlands connection corridor between the Mission Mountains and Swan Range.

What Tester, and those supporting the legislation, recognize is that Montana’s wildlands are of global significance. These patches of self-willed landscapes are critical to ensuring the continued survival of many wildlife species, carbon storage, watershed protection, and the source for inspiration.

Read more . . .

Rob Breeding: Americans like their public lands public

Lake in Flathead National Forest
Lake in Flathead National Forest

The Flathead Beacon has a persuasive op-ed by Rob Breeding concerning the public lands transfer movement . . .

So far 2017 hasn’t been a great year for those who want to transfer federal public lands to the states, beginning an inevitable process of turning these public lands over to private hands.

That may seem counter intuitive as the anti-public lands crowd is on the ascendancy politically. Sometimes in politics, however, it’s better to have an issue you can use to rally supporters and fuel fundraising campaigns, rather than be in a position to enact policy to change the situation you’ve been railing against.

So it goes for the opponents of public lands. After the 2016 election they seemed closer than ever to their goal. What these politicians don’t seem to get is the people they represent do not share their anti-public land zealotry.

There may be a bit of political buyers’ remorse here.

Continue reading Rob Breeding: Americans like their public lands public

NYT: Public Lands in Private Hands?

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.

Jimmy Tobias, currently an environmental reporter and, for three summers, a trail crew worker in this corner of the country, has a strongly worded op-ed in the New York Times regarding public lands transfer . . .

The Senate’s confirmation this week of the former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke as secretary of the interior has revived concerns about the future of public lands in the Trump administration. While Mr. Zinke has branded himself as a Teddy Roosevelt-style conservationist — and resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Convention last year to protest the party’s support for transferring federal lands to states or private groups — his record is spotty…

My generation and those that follow have much at stake in this battle. We stand to lose our ability to hike and camp, to bike and boat, to hunt and fish and explore freely in these superlative places. We also stand to lose the opportunities for meaningful work, civic engagement and spiritual fulfillment that our public lands provide…

Read more . . .

Can you be friends with a bear?

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

Can you be friends with a bear? This brings to mind a famous line from the original “Indiana Jones” movie: “You go first.”

Still, someone asked the geeks at Gizmodo (of all places!) this question. They, in turn, asked a number of experts for comments and put together a surprisingly interesting article.

Mild spoiler: Shannon Donahue, Executive Director of the Great Bear Foundation, wrote the best, most elegant answer . . .

Late last year, a photo of a bear officiating a wedding in Russia went viral. The picture turned out to be fake, but its popularity says something significant about our conception of the species: Despite thousands of years of contrary evidence, and at least one harrowing documentary, human beings still on some level want to view bears as big, cuddly, forest-dwelling dogs.

Are we wrong to feel this way? Can a human and a wild bear have anything approaching a pet-like, or at least, non-lethal relationship? The example of Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell, of course, haunts this line of questioning. But the experts we spoke with—people who have studied bears, lived among them, and worked to conserve their natural habitats—would reject the idea that any kind of bear-human bond will inevitably end in bloodshed. More or less all agree that every bear is a wild bear—that even if it playfully nuzzles you, or spends twenty years riding a tiny bicycle in your traveling circus, the odds of it suddenly mauling and/or eating you alive remain high. But opinions differ on just how close our two species can get, and what “closeness” can really mean, when you’re dealing with a thousand-plus-pound forest creature.

Read more . . .

House vote poses threat to 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.

Here’s a pointed discussion of Rep. Zinke’s vote in favor of a House rules change that would ease the transfer of public lands out of federal control . . .

Keeping federal public lands public is a big issue in Montana and the West. It’s an issue that Rep. Ryan Zinke campaigned on in his successful bid for re-election. In his first term, Zinke frequently described himself as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, strongly committed to protecting and preserving public lands owned by the people of the United States.

He stated unequivocally that he is against the transfer of federal public lands to states. States such as Montana are rich in public land but lack the staff to manage our priceless American heritage. One concern about the land transfer movement is that cash-strapped states would turn around and sell the land.

So after Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, tucked a provision in the House Rules bill that could make land transfer legislation easier to pass, we expected that Zinke would have something to say about it. The House approved the rules package 233-190 with the Bishop provision that exempts any future land transfers from the budget scrutiny that otherwise must be given to bills that would reduce U.S. revenue or increase U.S. spending. Zinke was among the GOP majority voting for the rules package on Tuesday, the first Congressional work day of 2017.

Read more . . .