Category Archives: Commentary

Rob Breeding: Feeding elk was never a good idea

Deer with Chronic Wasting Disease - Wyoming Game and Fish Dept
Deer with Chronic Wasting Disease – Wyoming Game and Fish Dept

Here’s a good, balanced discussion of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) among Montana’s deer and elk population and the influence of Wyoming’s elk feedlots . . .

Last week the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission asked Wyoming to stop feeding elk during the winter on the feeding grounds in the northwest part of that state. There are more than 20 Wyoming feeding grounds, some at the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, the rest in counties south of the refuge.

The commission’s letter was sparked by the discovery this fall of Chronic Wasting Disease in Montana deer just north of the Wyoming border in hunt units south of Bridger. The disease has infected both mule and white-tailed deer. CWD has since been detected in a mule deer buck killed just south of the Canadian border north of Chester. Since CWD is present in Canadian provinces north of us — Alberta and Saskatchewan — it’s probable the disease has been migrating into Montana across both borders, as well as from the east, where CWD was previously confirmed in the Dakotas.

As far as CWD goes, the commission’s letter probably arrives too late. The disease is in Montana, maybe it’s been here for some time, and evidence from other states suggests eradication is unlikely. The feeding grounds are, or will become, CWD hot spots, but eliminating them now won’t do much to slow the inevitable spread of the disease across Montana.

Read more . . .

Larry Wilson: Loss of funding to Flathead Basin Commission disappointing

Flathead Lake Bio Station

Larry Wilson takes the Montana DNRC to task for eliminating the Flathead Basin Commission’s funding . . .

I am very disappointed that Montana has cut funding to the Flathead Basin Commission. That commission has generated more funds and done more good than most state agencies, so we should probably not be surprised that it is easy to dismantle.

My memory may not be completely accurate, but as I recall, the Basin Commission was the brainchild of a state legislator named Jean Turnage, who later became a Supreme Court Justice. The purpose of the FBC was to monitor and protect water quality in the Flathead Basin. Included were the Park Superintendant, Forest Service Supervisor, private companies and citizens appointed to by the governor and agencies like the Confederated Tribes and others I do not recall.

There was hardly any budget. When I was appointed as a citizen member, the commission was supervised by a member of the governor’s staff who had many other duties and was not easy to contact.

Read more . . .

America’s wilderness is no place for mountain bikes

Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone
Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone

Debo Powers, who has been sending in lots of links lately, spotted this opinion piece regarding a poorly thought out bill that would allow mountain bikes in wilderness areas. Seriously? . . .

Congress is currently considering legislation that would undermine a bedrock law that protects America’s iconic landscapes, our traditional way of life, and the wild landscapes that we’ve safeguarded for generations. This shortsighted proposal should be defeated.

H.R. 1349, introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), would re-write the Wilderness Act of 1964 to permit mountain bikes in America’s wilderness, where they have been prohibited for more than a half-century.

The National Wilderness Preservation System, created by the 1964 law, ensures that some of our remaining wild country remains as it has been for hundreds of years. By law, wilderness areas do not allow road building and other forms of development, and prohibit motorized and mechanized vehicles, including mountain bikes.

Read more . . .

Senator Daines is sabotaging our wild legacy

Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana - photo by Zack Porter
Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana – photo by Zack Porter

From Debo Powers, NFPA President: Conservation organizations around Montana are organizing opposition to Senator Daines’ bill to release Wilderness Study Areas for multiple use. This is an attack on our wild heritage and will be met with fierce opposition. Here is a blog written by John Todd, the Conservation Director for the Montana Wilderness Association . . .

Today, Sen. Daines sabotaged Montana’s wild legacy

He introduced a bill that would strip protection from nearly a half-million acres of our wildest and most pristine public lands. And he did so without holding a single public meeting or a single town hall for Montanans to discuss his bill.

His bill would remove protection from five wilderness study areas (WSAs): West Pioneer (151,000 acres), Blue Joint (32,500 acres), Sapphire (94,000), Middle Fork Judith (81,000), and Big Snowies (91,000).

If this bill were to pass, it would represent the single biggest loss of protected public lands in our state’s history.

Read more . . .

Gov. Steve Bullock: Public lands make America great

A recent email sent out by Montana Governor Steve Bullock . . .

It’s past time folks in the West extended an invitation to the President to get outdoors. A little time in the backcountry has a way of helping us remember who we are and where we come from. It’s hard to spend some time on our state’s public lands without quickly learning some humility, and equally hard to return to your day job without being inspired by all we have in common.

Because where we come from 18 holes might be relaxing, but it’s not the same as sleeping under the stars, watching a herd of elk crest a hill at 5:30 in the morning or feeling the tug of a trout from a blue-ribbon river on your line. If the President had grown up the way we have, he might feel differently about pulling the rug out from under so many people whose livelihoods depend on our access to public lands.

The decision to substantially shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah reveals how at the most basic level he and his administration misunderstand what it means to preserve and protect our history – our heritage – for future generations. 16 presidents have designated 157 national monuments, dating back to 1906 when President Roosevelt first used the Antiquities Act to protect Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. In contrast, the President’s plans add up to the largest elimination of protected areas in American history.

An attack on public lands anywhere is an attack on public lands everywhere, and it flies in the face of who we are as a nation. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from – Manhattan, Montana, Manhattan, New York, or Manhattan, Kansas – public lands belong to each and every one of us. They are one of this country’s great equalizers.

Frankly, it makes me wonder whether or not the President is truly committed to investing in what makes America great. Because a fundamental part of what makes America great is our land.

Earlier this year the halls of our state capitol shook with thousands of voices chanting in support of keeping public lands in public hands. I stood side by side with hunters, ranchers, anglers, sportsmen and women, veterans, grandparents and kids of all ages and declared Montana’s public lands would not be bought and sold to the highest bidder.

That day it didn’t matter where we lived, what we did for a living or whether we voted for a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, or an Independent. What mattered is we stood together, united by our shared values and love of our lands, rivers, streams and most importantly our way of life. Crowded shoulder-to-shoulder, we doubled down on our shared responsibility to manage these lands and our commitment to preserving and protecting them for our kids and our grandkids.

This isn’t an issue that divides us. You don’t have to have a Swiss bank account to spend a day on the river. You don’t have to have friends in high places to explore mountains and trails. You don’t have to own a big piece of property to experience some of the best hunting and fishing in the world. And you don’t have to pay a fortune to experience the cliff dwellings of the Bears Ears to be humbled by an ancient way of life and be left awestruck with a sense of the sacred connection many of the tribal nations know so completely.

This is an issue that unites us. When we experience our public lands and embrace our shared responsibility to care for them, we’re participating in one of the great expressions of our democracy – where we go as equals and return touched by what binds us together.

Those who came before us had the foresight to maintain our history and our hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation legacy for the future. We have always found a way to safeguard that which we cannot replace. Public lands are our history, our heritage – our birthright – and we will not see them diminished.

Not now, not ever. Not on our watch.

Sincerely,

STEVE BULLOCK
Governor

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 . . .