Category Archives: Commentary

Thompson Smith: An urgent call to save a guardian of the Flathead

Thompson Smith, former chair and a three-term governor appointed citizen member of the Flathead Basin Commission, has an excellent op-ed posted to the Flathead Beacon this week concerning the potential de-funding of the Flathead Basin Commission . . .

Montana’s crown jewel is in imminent danger from a plan to marginalize the Flathead Basin Commission (FBC) and force out its excellent Executive Director Caryn Miske.

John Tubbs, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), recently proposed zeroing out the entire staff budget of the FBC. The official reason is that the budget impasse between Democrats and Republicans is now forcing agencies to cut 10 percent. That doesn’t pass the smell test. Within the DNRC, only the FBC is being targeted for a cut exceeding 70 percent – even though it constitutes just two-tenths of one percent of the department’s total budget. In fact, the proposed cut would actually result in Montana losing funding, because every year the FBC’s Miske has raised well over a half-million dollars in grant funds to bolster protection of the Flathead from the menace of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

If approved by the governor, this cut would destroy Montana’s best and most accomplished watershed organization in the AIS fight. It would also come down at a critical moment, with non-native mussels now confirmed in Tiber Reservoir, less than a three-hour drive from Marias Pass. Continue reading Thompson Smith: An urgent call to save a guardian of the Flathead

Stop the blame game

NFPA President Debo Powers had this op-ed published in the Hungry Horse News recently…

I was too busy working as a volunteer fire lookout this summer to immediately respond to the outrageous and opportunistic comments made by Senator Daines, Congressman Gianforte, Secretary Zinke, and Secretary Perdue at the Lolo Fire. To use a time when many Montanans were evacuating their homes, firefighters were risking their lives, and all of us were tired of breathing smoke to start a “blame game” and push a political agenda was insensitive and unethical.

This has been one of the hottest, driest summers we’ve ever had and everything wanted to burn … whether it was grassland or former timber plots or old growth forest … everything wanted to burn. And given a spark, it did just that.

Land managers have been working diligently for a decade on thinning and fire mitigation projects on public lands that are adjacent to private land. These projects have been very helpful, but in a drought like this one, nothing will stop wildfire. Our leaders need to, not only be supportive of land management projects, but also be looking for solutions to the bigger, more complex, problem.

The fact is that our fire seasons are longer, drier, and hotter than ever before. Ninety-seven percent of our scientists say that this is the result of our over-consumption of fossil fuels which produce more greenhouse gases than the natural world can handle. The planet is getting hotter at a faster rate than can be explained by natural cycles. We are now seeing the results in horrific fire seasons. Rather than playing the unproductive “blame game,” real leaders should be working together, pushing for real solutions to address this complicated problem, like renewable energy and decreasing the use of fossil fuels.

Debo Powers

How Doug Chadwick’s Willful Optimism Just Might Save A Species

Book cover - Tracking Gobi Grizzlies by Douglas Chadwick
Book cover – Tracking Gobi Grizzlies by Douglas Chadwick

Montana Public Radio did a nice segment on North Forker Doug Chadwick and his new book Tracking Gobi Grizzlies: Surviving Beyond the Back of Beyond. Thanks to Patti Craig-Hart for spotting this one . . .

‘I mean I don’t know where all this is going, but I can’t believe we’re letting the fabric of the natural world unravel without more of a hullabaloo about it because it’s essentially our greater selves.’ — Doug Chadwick

Sarah Aronson: What do you call it, you say every naturalist is . . .

Doug Chadwick: A stunted 11 year-old. They’re an 11 year-old who saw a rock and just has to go turn it over and go “Ooooo wow. What’s that?!” And they don’t change.

There’s a lot of wonder in that.

Well look, the earth offers an infinite supply of it [wonder] and I’ve never figured out how anybody can be bored. And people say, “Well, but I’m not into that nature stuff,” and that confuses me too because, look, there are 10 trillion cells in our body—human cells. There are more microbial cells than that in our body and they consist of thousands of species of yeast and bacteria and archaea, another microbe group, and there’s more microbial DNA is us than there is human DNA, so whenever someone says, “Well you know I’m just not into that nature stuff,” I go, “But nature’s totally into you!”

Read more/listen to the full interview . . .

Wildness at stake

Debo Powers spotted this long, but interesting, article on the dangers of unconstrained growth in the Gallatin Valley. Many of the concerns,  lessons and hard choices are applicable to our region as well . . .

In the stillness of a summer morning, haze from wildfire smoke thickening the air, Randy Carpenter arrives for a hike up Sypes Canyon in the pastoral northern outskirts of Bozeman, Montana. Ascending into the Bridger Mountain foothills, we talk about how “crazy” it feels these days “in town”, how quickly new subdivisions are springing up in fields that a year ago were covered with wheat.

And then Carpenter starts in, reciting some jaw-dropping statistics that seem abstract until we reach an overlook and gaze clear-eyed into an uncertain future.

Before us, and stretching for nearly 40 miles to the next muted horizon is the Gallatin Valley, one of the fastest-growing semi-rural settings in America. Carpenter, known for his work as a career land use planner, says it won’t be long, given current trend-lines, before the vast chasm of space fills in with exurban development.

Read more . . .

NYT: Let forest fires burn?

Glacier National Park Thompson Fire 2015 at Sunset
A column of smoke from the Glacier National Park Thompson Fire could be seen rising over the Rocky Mountain Front at sunset Aug. 12, 2015. The remote backcountry fire has burned about 14,900 acres. (Photo by Jonathan Moor)

This article from the New York Times most definitely does not serve as the starting point for an informed discussion on wildfire management. It does, however, highlight some interesting issues . . .

With long strides, Chad T. Hanson plunged into a burned-out forest, his boots kicking up powdery ash. Blackened, lifeless trees stretched toward an azure sky.

Dr. Hanson, an ecologist, could not have been more delighted. “Any day out here is a happy day for me, because this is where the wildlife is,” he said with a grin.

On cue, a pair of birds appeared, swooping through the air and alighting on dead trees to attack them like jackhammers. They were black-backed woodpeckers, adapted by millions of years of evolution to live in burned-out forests. They were hunting grubs to feed their chicks.

Read more . . .

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