Category Archives: Environmental Issues

Suit claims 2018 Forest Plan violates grizzly protection standards

Grizzly bear in early fall - Montana FWP
Grizzly bear in early fall – Montana FWP

This landed a little later than expected . . .

Four environmental groups filed suit in federal court Aug. 5 against the Forest Service, the Department of Interior and the Montana Logging Association challenging the 2018 Flathead National Forest plan.

The suit was not unexpected. The groups, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, Swan View Coalition, and Friends of the Wild Swan have maintained the that the Forest Plan, which was crafted over the course of several years, was, in essence, illegally handling the way the Forest would manage roads into the future.

At the heart of the case, the plaintiffs maintain, is the new plan disregards road closure standards that were set in the previous plan.

Read more . . .

House passes the Great American Outdoors Act with bipartisan support; bill heads to President’s desk

Coal Ridge, July 21, 2018 - W. K. WalkerSometimes, an election year is a Good Thing . . .

On a day that has already seen a historic win for our public lands, the news got even better when the House passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) this afternoon by a 310-107 vote.

The bill, which the Senate overwhelmingly passed back in June, now moves to the president’s desk.

This is a tremendous victory for public lands in Montana and across the country. Most notably, the bill will provide full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of our nation’s most critical conservation programs. LWCF has been essential to hundreds of public lands projects across Montana, including the acquisition and development of numerous state parks, the construction and maintenance of public trail systems, and the development of boat ramps, campgrounds, and fishing access sites. The fund, which disburses royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling, has contributed over $600 million to Montana projects in its 55-year existence. The bill will also provide some $9 billion to address the maintenance backlog facing our national public lands.

Read more . . .

Tester introduces Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act

A rainbow arches over the Badger Two Medicine, early July 2020

Good news! It’s been a long time coming. Let’s see if it makes it though the legislative meat grinder . . .

Montana Sen. Jon Tester has introduced a bill that would permanently protect the Badger-Two Medicine Region just south of Marias Pass and Glacier National Park.

Tester, a Democrat, announced the bill Wednesday.

“A few weeks ago, the Blackfeet Tribe and the people of Montana won a huge victory for our public lands when the last oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine was remanded to a lower court,” said Tester. “Now it’s time we build on this momentum and continue the fight to safeguard this sacred area, which is why I am introducing legislation that honors the will of the Blackfeet Tribe and of public lands owners across our state by permanently protecting the Badger-Two Medicine for future generations.”

Tester’s Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act designates 127,000 acres in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest in Glacier and Pondera counties as the Badger-Two Medicine Cultural Heritage Area…

Read more . . .

Headwaters Montana will close doors at end of 2020

Announcement from NFPA President Debo Powers:

Headwaters Montana has been a sister organization to NFPA for decades and Dave Hadden has been one of the most effective conservation advocates of all time in both local and transboundary issues.  We are sorry to see Headwaters Montana close, but we are excited about continuing the Jack Potter Glacier National Park Stewardship Award and the Loren Kreck-Edwin Fields Wilderness Scholarship Fund. (See details below.)

Here’s the full text of the announcement from Headwaters Montana . . .

Headwaters Montana LogoHeadwaters Montana announces with mixed emotion our board of director’s decision to close our conservation organization by the end of 2020. We want to extend our profound gratitude to all of you who have supported and followed our work. Our successes year after year would have been impossible without your moral and financial support. So, Thank You! We are grateful!

Briefly, we decided to close for several concurrent reasons. First, as executive director I am retiring at the end of the year. Second, our long-tern “President for Life” Edwin Fields passed away in February and the board thinks this event in combination with my retirement is a signal to bring things to a close. And lastly, Headwaters does not have the financial capacity to bring in my replacement; we simply can’t afford to continue

Founded in 2007, Headwaters has filled an important niche in the northwest Montana conservation landscape. We have specialized in working on issues not covered by other local groups. Trout groups, wildlife groups, bird groups, open land groups, smart growth groups, lake groups, and other groups all exist in the Flathead and Kootenai regions. Headwaters has functioned as the only local grassroots groups that works on long-term conservation goals of protecting water and wildlife across the transboundary frontier with British Columbia, a critical conservation corridor.

Our particular focus on transboundary issues with British Columbia included protecting the North Fork of the Flathead River Valley from coal mining in the BC headwaters that culminated in the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2014.

More recently, we have focused on protecting water and fish in the Kootenai River system from the degradation due to mountaintop removal coal mining in BC’s Elk River Valley. We worked to protect the threatened terrestrial wildlife habitat across this transboundary landscape, including the wild core of the Whitefish Range in the Flathead National Forest, the remaining roadless lands in the Canadian Flathead and the Kootenay. (In the U.S. we spell “Kootenai” and in Canada they spell “Kootenay”.) Our work with partners has resulted in millions of dollars for transboundary water quality studies that will lay the groundwork for holding BC accountable for its pollution.

One of the keys to our success has been our willingness to work with almost any stakeholder interested in finding solutions to big problems in open and transparent fashion. The Whitefish Range Partnership exemplified this approach, which we conceived and helped lead over 2012-13. This group of about 30 local citizens and stakeholders met for a year to hammer out a community consensus agreement on a suite of management recommendations for the Whitefish Range as part of the Flathead National Forest management plan revision affecting over 400,000 acres and including an 80,000-acre recommended wilderness.

Similarly, over 2017-19 we pulled together 13 statewide and national groups to form the Montana Wildlife Futures Group that significantly advanced the efforts to find permanent additional funding for non-game wildlife in Montana. We led the Oil Safe Flathead effort to draw attention to the risks and need for action regarding the shipment of Bakken crude oil and other hazardous material along the BNSF rail line running along the Middle Fork Flathead and through West Glacier, Columbia Falls, and Whitefish. We helped the North Fork Trail Association get started as part of citizen effort to help maintain national forest trails.

Around the edges Headwaters Montana accomplished other goals. We are happy to report that the Jack Potter Glacier National Park Stewardship Award, which we created in 2012, will be passed to the North Fork Preservation Association (NFPA). Headwaters will endow this award so that citizens, public employees and non-profit groups will continue to be recognized and rewarded for their effort to protect Glacier Park.

Lastly, when a non-profit closes, it is required by IRS rules to disperse remaining assets to other 501-c-3 non-profits. In 2010, our dear friend and benefactor, Dr. Loren Kreck, bequeathed a substation gift to Headwaters. In addition, the family of Edwin Fields, our recently deceased “President for Life,” will make a gift to Headwaters. We are pleased to announce that the Headwaters board has established the Loren Kreck – Edwin Fields Wilderness Scholarship Fund. This fund will provide educational assistance grants to graduate students with a focus on wilderness advocacy. Once again, the NFPA board has agreed to adopt and manage this scholarship as Headwaters closes its doors.

In closing, we would like to again say, “Thank You!” for your years of support. Our successes are indeed your successes.

Online presentation on history of mining in the North Fork, July 14

North Fork Flathead River
North Fork Flathead River

From a recent Montana Wilderness Association announcement . . .

Join MWA’s Flathead-Kootenai Chapter for the “History of Mining in North Fork Valley” on Tuesday, July 14 from 3 to 4 p.m.

Register here: https://p2a.co/gfGz2n0

Learn about the history of mining in the North Fork Valley with Jedd Sankar-Gorton

There was a nearly 60-year international struggle between mining companies and environmental advocates over the coal deposit at the headwaters of the North Fork and Flathead River.

After all was said and done, Canada and the United States agreed to remove mining rights from the basin forever.

If you’d like to learn more about the long history of environmental advocacy and coal in the international Flathead River Basin, tune in to Jedd Sankar-Gorton’s virtual event on Tuesday, July 14 from 3-4 p.m.

Join MWA’s Flathead-Kootenai Chapter for the “History of Mining in North Fork Valley” on Tuesday, July 14 from 3 to 4 p.m.
Learn about the history of mining in the North Fork Valley with Jedd Sankar-Gorton

There was a nearly 60-year international struggle between mining companies and environmental advocates over the coal deposit at the headwaters of the North Fork and Flathead River.

After all was said and done, Canada and the United States agreed to remove mining rights from the basin forever.

If you’d like to learn more about the long history of environmental advocacy and coal in the international Flathead River Basin, tune in to Jedd Sankar-Gorton’s virtual event on Tuesday, July 14 from 3-4 p.m.

Register here: https://p2a.co/gfGz2n0

Frozen Moose Project begins second round of public comment; online meeting July 16

Flathead National Forest

The Flathead National Forest, Hungry Horse-Glacier View Ranger District, has prepared an environmental assessment (EA) for the Frozen Moose Project.

Project documents, including the environmental assessment and maps, can be accessed at the project Web site under the “Analysis” tab: www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57310.

They will be hosting a virtual public meeting on Thursday, July 16, 2020, from 6:00-7:00 pm. The purpose of the public meeting is to share information with the public about the environmental assessment and to answer questions about the Frozen Moose Project. (See the “Frozen Moose Environmental Assessment Cover Letter” below for details on joining the meeting.)

More information about the project, including how to submit a comment, and connection information for the virtual meeting can be found on the project Website.

Questions or comments about the Frozen Moose Project should be submitted to comments-northern-flathead-hungry-horse-glacier-view@usda.gov.

Associated documents…

Press Release – “North Fork fuels reduction, timber, and restoration project seeks second round of public comment”

Frozen Moose Environmental Assessment Cover Letter

Status of Special Use Permits in the North Fork

 

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

Here’s an excerpt from a note Rob Davies, Hungry Horse/Glacier View District Ranger, sent around yesterday (July 2) concerning the issuance of special use permits in the North Fork. This is not quite officially final information, but it is unlikely to change in any meaningful way. The full email text is available here: https://www.gravel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Special-Use-Permits-in-the-North-Fork-Email-July-2-2020.pdf

NW Adventures, ATV Guiding,   I have decided to not issue a permit in the North Fork based on comments received during scoping.   This company will still be permitted and operate on the West side of the Whitefish divide with one exception, they will be allowed to take clients to Red Meadow Lake and depart back to the West.  They will not be allowed to travel beyond Red Meadow Lake and they will not be able to take clients to Red Meadow Lake on weekends or Holidays.    Due to the COVID situation they are not expected to have as many clients as they were hoping for in their proposal.

Whitefish Shuttles.    Van tours and livery service to several trail heads, short hikes and bike tour in the North Fork will be permitted.  They expect much reduced numbers of clients and trips due to the COVID situation.

Cycling House, Bicycling tours cancelled due to COVID.

Adventure Cycling, Bicycle tours, cancelled due to COVID.

Spotted Dog Cycles:   Bicycle tours cancelled due to COVID.

Two of the five permits that were proposed in The North Fork will be issued this year, and they are only valid for 1 season.  The proponents would have to reapply if they wish to operate next year.

Court upholds cancellation of Solonex’s Badger-Two Medicine oil and gas lease

The sun sets over the Badger-Two Medicine area near Browning in March 2016 - AP

Solonex lost big in court this week in their effort to retain their oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine. Unless the case goes to the Supreme Court, that puts paid to the last lease in the region . . .

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. upheld the cancellation of the last remaining federal oil and gas lease in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine region adjacent to Glacier National Park on Tuesday. The historic decision protects lands and waters sacred to the Blackfeet and critical for wildlife habitat, advocates for the region noted.

The 6,200-acre lease, held by Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, was one of many issued by the federal government in the early 1980s. Since then, with the leases under suspension for environmental and cultural review, other companies voluntarily retired all holdings in the Badger-Two Medicine, noting the area’s rich natural and cultural values. Solenex, however, filed a 2013 lawsuit demanding the right to begin drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine backcountry.

In March 2016, the Obama Administration responded to that Solenex demands by canceling the company’s holding, saying the lease had been improperly issued in violation of environmental law and without required tribal consultation. Solenex again sued, seeking to overturn that decision, and a federal district court ruled for the company in September 2018, reinstating Solenex’s lease. But today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed that ruling, and restored the cancellation of the Solenex lease.

In their ruling, the Appeals Court judges fully vacated the lower court’s judgment . . .

Read more . . .

Moncrief Oil permanently retires 7,600-acre lease in Badger-Two Medicine

Badger-Two Medicine Flowers

Some good news for the Badger-Two Medicine region: Moncrief Oil has retired their oil and gas lease. Only the Solonex leases remain in contention . . .

One of two contentious oil and gas leases is no longer a threat to a sacred wild land south of Glacier National Park.

On Tuesday, the Wilderness Society announced it had reached an out-of-court settlement with Moncrief Oil to permanently retire a 7,640-acre oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. That leaves one 6,200-acre lease owned by Solonex LLC still in play.

“The Wilderness Society thanks Mr. W.A. Moncrief, Jr. for his willingness to negotiate, and we are pleased to have been able to secure the retirement of this lease. We look forward to working with our partners in the Blackfeet Nation and other stakeholders to obtain permanent protections for this important area of our nation’s public lands,” said Wilderness Society president Jamie Williams in a statement.

Read more . . .

Expanded touring & guiding on the North Fork: summary of routes, maps, dates and ‘service days’

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

For those of you interested in more information about the Forest Service special use permits being considered for touring and guiding in the North Fork, Rob Davies passed along a very useful “summary of the routes, maps, dates, and service days that folks asked about at the meeting last Tuesday night.“ (Note that Rob must be working some long hours. I got his email a little after 930pm yesterday evening.)

Read the document here (PDF format)