Category Archives: Commentary

Op-ed: The Flathead Forest Plan a win for conservationists

Flathead National Forest
Flathead National Forest

Appearing in the Flathead Beacon yesterday, was a thoughtful op-ed by Chris Ryan and Kathleen McAllister in favor of the recently completed Flathead National Forest Plan, written by a couple of folks who should know quite a bit about it . . .

The U.S. Forest Service recently completed a new management plan for the Flathead National Forest (FNF) that will guide decisions on the forest for the next 20 to 30 years or more. The plan addresses a dizzying array of management issues – including municipal watersheds, wildlife habitat, protected lands, outdoor recreation, and much more – over 2.4 million acres that cover the Mission Mountains, the Swan Range, and the Whitefish Range.

Those of us in the conservation community have focused our attention on the places the FNF plan recommends for Wilderness designation. This recommendation means the Forest Service will protect these places until either Congress designates them as Wilderness or at least until the agency completes its next FNF plan.

The FNF plan represents a vast improvement over the previous plan, which recommended around 98,000 acres for Wilderness. The new plan recommends over 190,000 acres, nearly double the previous recommendation. That increase is worth celebrating.

The plan is by no means ideal for conservationists. Wilderness-worthy lands such as Bunker and Sullivan Creeks and low-elevation, critical habitat adjacent to the Mission Mountains Wilderness did not, unfortunately, receive the Forest Service’s Wilderness recommendation. The Jewel Basin recommended Wilderness was reduced in size under the new plan, a significant loss for a landscape that would have been designated Wilderness had Reagan not pocket vetoed the 1988 Montana Wilderness Bill.

Continue reading Op-ed: The Flathead Forest Plan a win for conservationists

Groups call for new methods to reduce grizzly bear deaths

Grizzly bear claws dead tree looking for insects - Jim Peaco-Yellowstone National Park
Grizzly bear claws dead tree looking for insects – Jim Peaco-Yellowstone National Park

Another interesting item from Public News Service…

After a record number of grizzly bear deaths in 2018, groups are calling for an update to a decade-old report on conflict prevention.

Six conservation groups have sent a letter to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee.

They’re urging members to develop new recommendations for avoiding conflict involving bears, people and livestock and also evaluate how well the 2009 report was implemented.

Read more . . .

Poll: Montanans agree conservation is important for state

From Public News Service . . .

A large majority of Montanans consider themselves outdoor fanatics and believe the state’s natural resources should be protected, according to the ninth annual Conservation in the West Poll from Colorado College.

Eighty percent of respondents in Montana say they are outdoor enthusiasts – the highest number among the eight western states polled.

Montanans also appear to reject the Interior Department’s energy dominance agenda, with 60 percent preferring to protect clean air, water and wildlife habitats, compared to 30 percent who want to pursue more domestic energy sources.

Read more . . .

Chris Peterson: Thoughts on habitat

Mountain Goat - David Restivo-NPS
Mountain Goat – David Restivo-NPS

Hungry Horse News editor Chris Peterson has a well thought out editorial in this week’s paper . . .

I ask you this: Why is it that when I want to take a photo of a trophy-sized deer, elk, moose, bighorn of mountain goat, I go to Glacier National Park?

Glacier has a full suite of predators, big and small. It has wolves, mountain lions, black and grizzly bears, coyotes and lynx all roaming the landscape, gobbling up game, right?

Why if I was to listen to all the Fakebook experts there shouldn’t be hide nor hair of any game species in the Park. The wolves alone would have eaten them all up by now and what was left the bears would have scavenged, right?

Read more . . .

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.

Read more . . .

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.