Category Archives: Environmental Issues

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 . . .

Pilot program to combat mussels in the Flathead in trouble

Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake

One has to wonder if there’s a connection between the administrative uproar over a pilot program to combat invasive mussels in Flathead Lake and the defunding for supposed budgetary reasons of the organization tasked to oversee the program.

Anyway, here’s a good summary of the situation as it stands right now . . .

A legislatively mandated program aimed at enhancing protection from invasive mussels entering the Flathead Basin is beset with challenges as the group charged with implementing the plan has had its budget dissolved, while two state agencies say its key provisions cannot legally be implemented.

As part of House Bill 622, a bill introduced by four Flathead lawmakers, the Legislature gave the Flathead Basin Commission authority to establish and manage the Upper Columbia aquatic invasive species (AIS) pilot program. The program would add more certification stations in the Flathead Basin, track vessels that require decontamination, and add the use of automated inspection and detection devices.

The pilot program would have been paid for by requiring boat owners launching boats in the basin to purchase a sticker, which was expected to raise between $1 million and $1.5 million and pay for additional inspection stations.

Read more . . .

Document dump delivers lots of reading on fate of Montana’s grizzly bears

Grizzly bear inspects rock west of White Sulphur Springs - Montana FWP
Grizzly bear inspects rock west of White Sulphur Springs – Montana FWP

Lots of interesting reading; lots of useful links. Recommended . . .

Montana’s grizzly bears better hope they packed their reading glasses as they settle into their winter naptime: There’s a lot of homework to finish over the Christmas holidays.

The Flathead National Forest Plan final draft, released Thursday, includes the proposed rules for managing grizzlies in four national forests that share management responsibility for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Public comments are due in mid-February.

On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put out a request for reviews of its draft criteria for habitat-based recovery of the NCDE grizzlies. That same day, it published four peer-review responses to the plan. It also announced a Jan. 3 workshop in Missoula to collect “the input of scientists, the public and interested organizations.” Written responses to the regulations are due Jan. 26.

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North Cascades grizzly recovery effort halted by Interior Department

Grizzly Bear - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS
Grizzly Bear – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS

Wait. What? . . .

Work on grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades Ecosystem has been halted even as the continental United States’ two largest grizzly populations near removal from Endangered Species Act protection.

North Cascades National Park Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich told the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee on Wednesday that her staff had been asked to stop work on its environmental impact statement by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s office.

The order also stalls discussions with Canadian wildlife managers who oversee a similar grizzly recovery process in British Columbia, she said.

Read more . . .

Flathead National Forest unveils revised plan for future management

Flathead National Forest

The Flathead Beacon posted their coverage of the near-final version of the Flathead National Forest’s new forest plan and it’s the best article yet. The Whitefish Range Partnership even gets a nod . . .

After four years thrashing out the details of a proposed management plan for the Flathead National Forest, a blueprint has emerged to guide a wide range of uses on 2.4 million acres of ecologically and economically productive land for the next decade or more.

Land managers hope the final product will strike an accord that balances wilderness, timber production, recreation, wildlife conservation, and other interests, but said divisions will undoubtedly prompt objections from user groups in the next two months.

Still, although he acknowledges that land-use disputes will continue as long as public land exists, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber said the proposed plan considered the needs of all stakeholders — tree huggers and tree cutters, hikers, horsemen, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, cabin owners, boaters, anglers, grizzlies, and nearly everyone else with a stake in the management of public lands on the Flathead National Forest.

Read more . . .

Objection period begins for Flathead Forest plan

Flathead National Forest - view of Whitefish Divide

Here’s a little bit different spin on the just-released, near-final version of the Flathead Forest’s new forest plan. There’s less discussion of the plan itself and more about the difficulties it is likely to face in the courts . . .

The U.S. Forest Service has released the draft record of decision and final environmental impact statement for the Flathead National Forest revised land and resource management plan for a 60-day objection period.

These documents mark the final steps in completing the plan, which the Forest Service expects to guide management for 10 to 15 years. As the Daily Inter Lake reported in October, it’s inching towards completion after four years and considerable controversy.

The draft environmental impact statement set out multiple courses of action for managers to pursue. Of these, Forest Supervisor Chip Weber selected alternative B. In the draft record of decision, he claimed that it “has the best mix of management areas that reflects what I heard the public wanted.”

Read more . . .

Flathead National Forest releases draft record of decision for new forest plan

Lake in Flathead National Forest

The Hungry Horse News has an excellent overview of the near-final version of the Flathead National Forest’s new forest plan . . .

After four years of meetings, field trips and more than 33,000 public comments, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber Thursday released the draft record of decision and final environmental impact statement for the Flathead National Forest plan.

The new plan will replace a plan that was last written and conceived in 1986, but has been amended more than two dozen times over the years.

The new plan, a modified version of alternative B that was set in the draft environmental impact statement, sets the direction for land management of the 2.4 million acre Forest for the next 10 to 15 years, Weber said during an interview with members of the press on Thursday. “This is a highly cherished land,” he said. “…One of the best functioning ecosystems in the world.”

Read more . . .

Comments sought on recovery criteria for Northwest Montana grizzlies

Grizzly Bear - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS
Grizzly Bear – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS

A timely reminder about participating in the ongoing process for delisting grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) . . .

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking input from scientists and the general public on draft criteria for the eventual recovery of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear.

The draft criteria are a supplement to the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, which has guided federal management of these animals since 1982. As the Daily Inter Lake reported last month, this effort could soon bring Northwest Montana bears to a crucial milestone: removal from the Endangered Species Act’s threatened species list and transfer to state management.

“The proposed objective and measurable habitat-based recovery criteria, once finalized, will help inform our recovery efforts as well as any future evaluations regarding the status of these bears under the ESA,” explained spokeswoman Roya Mogadam in an email to the Daily Inter Lake.

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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.

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Some Montana moose just fall over, dead

Moose - Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Moose – Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

An interesting article by Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News concerning the ongoing Moose population study . . .

Several years ago, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks began hearing from sportsmen that there didn’t seem to be as many moose in the woods as there used to be. So FWP decided to embark on a 10-year study of moose in Montana.

Moose have seen marked declines in other regions of the Lower 48. Populations have fallen so dramatically in states like Minnesota that a subspecies of moose there has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Five years in, biologist Jesse Newby has begun to unlock some of the secrets of Montana’s moose, but there’s still plenty learn as to why some populations are doing OK, while others are in decline.

Read more . . .