Category Archives: Environmental Issues

Rally for public lands on January 11 at high noon!

Rally for Public Lands - January 11, 2019
Rally for Public Lands – January 11, 2019

Reminder: There is a rally for public lands in Helena at noon on January 11. The following write-up is shamelessly stolen from an announcement sent out by Dave Hadden of Headwaters Montana . . .

What are you doing next Friday, January 11, 2019?

I plan to be in Helena at the Public Land Rally organized to tell the Montana Legislature to keep public lands in public hands and protect Montanans’ public land heritage.

You may have noticed that public lands across the West have come under increased pressure (some would say assault) from private interests seeking energy, minerals, timber, or personal benefit from the nation’s public lands.

The Montana Legislature’s majority membership has a history of listening to and favoring those private interests, including efforts to transfer public lands to state ownership – for possible dispossession to private ownership.

The Legislature convenes for its biennial 90-day session on January 7. We think it’s appropriate for them to get an early message from citizens from across the great state of Montana to support public lands and all the social, economic, environmental, and spiritual sustenance that they provide.

Numbers matter, as in the number of people who show up! Check out the event’s Facebook Page here. Send the link to friends and ask them to join you in Helena on January 11, at high noon! . . .

Final Flathead Forest Plan signed!

Flathead National Forest
Flathead National Forest

They did it! Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber signed off on the new forest management plan. The final “Record of Decisions” for the forest plan, and the associated Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear amendments were published in the Federal Register on December 27. The region-wide grizzly bear amendments go into effect immediately. The Flathead Forest Plan takes effect 30 days after publication (on January 26, 2019, presumably) . . .

Despite the government shutdown, U.S. Forest Service supervisors last week signed a new management plan for the Flathead National Forest, along with amendments that standardize grizzly bear management for the Lolo, Kootenai and Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forests.

The plan, more than five years in the making, covers aspects of forest management from timber harvest to wilderness areas to mountain biking. Forest Supervisor Chip Weber says the groundwork for the announcement was put into place before the government shut down, and represents the culmination of years of groundwork with a variety of groups, individuals and companies.

“It provides the sideboards for how the forest will be managed for the next 15 to 20 years.”

Read more . . .

Additional reading…
Quietly, Flathead National Forest releases its final Forest Plan (Hungry Horse News)

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 . . .

USPS features two Montana rivers for 50 years of Wild and Scenic Rivers

The Flathead and Missouri rivers are featured in a stamp series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968 - USPS photo
The Flathead and Missouri rivers are featured in a stamp series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968 – USPS photo

Spoiler: The Flathead River (well, actually, the three forks of the Flathead River are the wild and scenic part) is featured on one of the stamps. There’s a lot of interesting background here . . .

The sun was rising on the Missouri River when Bob Wick of the BLM took a photo that in 2019 will become a stamp celebrating Wild and Scenic rivers.

Wick was just downstream from Hole in the Rock Campground on the White Cliffs section of the Upper Missouri River. That put him 63 miles from Fort Benton and 20 from Coal Banks Landing.

He remembers steam rising from the river on that September morning. Just enough forest fire smoke was in the sky to turn sunrise a vibrant orange. Cottonwood leaves were starting to turn yellow.

Read more . . .

Grizzly recovery planning faces cloudy future

Grizzly bear feeding on bison carcass near Yellowstone Lake - Jim Peaco, NPS
Grizzly bear feeding on bison carcass near Yellowstone Lake – Jim Peaco, NPS

Here’s a good summary of the challenges facing grizzly recovery planning, by the inimitable Rob Chaney . . .

Was the bear that dug up earthworms on a Stevensville golf course last October a sign of the end or the beginning of grizzly recovery in Montana?

That question occupied everyone at last week’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) winter meeting in Missoula after a second attempt to delist grizzlies from Endangered Species Act collapsed in court. But the two-day gathering adjourned without revealing how to answer the court critique or how to deal with new grizzly issues. They range from how to fill grizzly-deprived places like the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to how to get more than a dozen state and federal agencies to share their bear conflict reports for analysis. That means continued participation from top agency decision-makers, who were in noticeably short supply at the Missoula meeting.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Department of Justice must decide by Dec. 21 whether to appeal the latest defeat of its Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem delisting. If the federal government doesn’t appeal, grizzly managers face several choices for the future. The direction they pick will say a lot about how the Endangered Species Act handles a high-maintenance animal like Ursus arctos horribilis.

Read more . . .

Trump administration wants to ease drilling restrictions protecting sage grouse

Sage Grouse - BLM photo
Sage Grouse – BLM photo

Uh, oh. The Trump administration is proposing the relaxation of drilling restrictions intended to protect sage grouse populations and keep the bird from landing on the Endangered Species List . . .

The Trump administration moved forward Thursday with plans to ease restrictions on oil and natural gas drilling and other activities across millions of acres in the American West that were put in place to protect an imperiled bird species.

Land management documents released by the U.S. Interior Department show the administration intends to open more public lands to leasing and allow waivers for drilling to encroach into the habitat of greater sage grouse.

Critics warned the changes could wipe out grouse colonies as drilling disrupts breeding grounds. Federal officials under President Barack Obama in 2015 had adopted a sweeping set of land use restrictions intended to benefit the birds.

Read more . . .

Feds ponder plans after grizzly delisting setback

Grizzly bear on kill in winter - Jim Peco, NPS
Grizzly bear on kill in winter – Jim Peco, NPS

Here’s an excellent write-up on the current status of removing grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List . . .

For the second time in a decade, the officials charged with getting grizzly bears off the Endangered Species List have to rethink their future after a major court setback.

A 2007 federal move to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming failed when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife couldn’t show the bears could withstand the loss of traditional food sources like whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout.

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) oversaw years of field work that concluded the bears could find alternate foods, and the federal government published a new delisting rule for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 2017. Last September, another federal judge found it lacking and returned Yellowstone grizzlies to Endangered Species Act protection.

Read more . . .

Also read . . .
Montana wildlife officials move ahead on grizzly regs despite federal delisting stall (Missoulian)

Thesis discusses environmental governance in the Transboundary Flathead

North Fork Flathead River, May 16, 2018 - by William K. Walker
North Fork Flathead River, May 16, 2018 – by William K. Walker

Many of you have met and interacted with the steady stream of University of Montana geography students visiting the North Fork over past years. One of them, Jedd Sankar-Gorton, used his studies of the Transboundary Flathead as the basis for his master’s thesis. Here’s an introduction to his work written by Lois Walker…

Jedd Sankar-Gorton recently graduated with an M.S. degree in Geography from the University of Montana. His master’s thesis focuses on efforts to secure joint U.S.-Canadian protections for the upper reaches of the Flathead River from 1974-2014. It’s worth a read. For the benefit of future researchers, he has pulled together in one place an extensive body of reference material related to preservation efforts in the upper Flathead.

While this study primarily discusses proposed coal mining in British Columbia, it draws attention to other potential environmental threats to the river, as well. In the broader context, he highlights the thorny diplomatic challenges that governments around the world face as they try to design and implement effective management of transboundary waters. The bottom line is that, although we have secured some basic protections for the Flathead, there is still much that can be done to improve dialogue with our Canadian neighbors and craft more coordinated environmental management of the river system.

Read/download:
40 Years on the International Flathead River: An Assessment of Environmental Governance by Jedd Sankar-Gorton (PDF, 1.35MB)

Grizzly bear conflicts an increasing concern

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

A major subject at last week’s NCDE meeting was the increased conflicts between humans and grizzlies as the bears continue to spread out into their original range . . .

Once teetering on the brink of extirpation, there are now more than 1,000 grizzly bears roaming more than 8 million acres of land known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), which stretches from the top of Glacier National Park to Missoula.

But the booming bear population also comes with a new challenge: what to do when those grizzlies stray beyond the core of the NCDE, an area that includes Glacier National Park, parts of the Flathead and Blackfeet Indian reservations, five national forests and large swaths of state and private land. That challenge was the main focus for wildlife and land managers gathered in Missoula for the bi-annual NCDE meeting on Nov. 20.

During the daylong meeting, state and federal wildlife managers updated attendees on the regional grizzly bear population. This year, there have been 50 confirmed grizzly bear deaths or removals from the NCDE. Three of those mortalities (a term used by wildlife biologists whenever a bear is removed from the NCDE population, even if it’s going to a zoo) occurred recently in the Flathead Valley. On Nov. 8, a young male grizzly bear was struck and killed by a train near Columbia Falls. And in the last month, two adult females died near the Hungry Horse Reservoir. Both of those bears died of natural causes.

Read more . . .

Northwest Montana grizzlies will stay on endangered list a while longer

Grizzly bear sow with three cubs - NPS photo
Grizzly bear sow with three cubs – NPS photo

Grizzly bears in this corner of Montana will stay on the Endangered Species List a bit longer while federal officials evaluate the impact of an adverse judicial opinion on delisting the Yellowstone grizzly population . . .

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday it no longer plans to propose removing the population of grizzly bears in and around Glacier National Park from the endangered species list this year.

“We were on track to try and have a proposal, or at least have an evaluation of recovery and a potential proposal, out by the end of the calendar year,” says Hilary Cooley, the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, at an annual meeting Tuesday on grizzlies in what’s known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, or NCDE.

She says a federal judge’s September opinion on last year’s delisting of a different population of bears in and around Yellowstone put a wrench in those plans.

Read more . . .