Category Archives: Environmental Issues

Wolf population declining in Yellowstone

Wolf in Yellowstone National Park - Jim Peaco, YNP
Wolf in Yellowstone National Park – Jim Peaco, YNP

Disease and migration have reduced the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park by half since 2003 . . .

The gray wolf population in Yellowstone National Park has dropped to about 80 wolves, officials say — less than half of the high population mark in the park.

While Yellowstone leaders won’t have an accurate count until the fall after surviving pups are visible, the park’s top biologist doesn’t expect numbers to rise dramatically after litters are included in population estimates.

“Unfortunately, many of them die. Gray pup survival is about 7 percent,” Doug Smith, long-time project leader for the Wolf Restoration Project in Yellowstone, said in a Wednesday video broadcast on the park’s Facebook page.

Read more . . .

Another lawsuit challenges Flathead Forest plan

Flathead National Forest
Flathead National Forest

As promised, Friends of the Wild Swan and the Swan View Coalition have filed suit against the new Flathead Forest Plan . . .

Two environmental groups have filed suit against the Forest Service and other federal agencies claiming the new Flathead National Forest plan doesn’t do enough to protect grizzly bears and bull trout.

The suit, filed by Friends of the Wild Swan and the Swan View Coalition, claims road rules under the new plan reverse a decades-old policy that closed roads in the 2.4 million-acre Forest.

The suit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the two groups.

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Court rejects water permit for mine near Cabinet Wilderness

Leigh Lake below Snowshoe Peak, highest point in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness - Wikipedia image
Leigh Lake below Snowshoe Peak, highest point in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness – Wikipedia image

Hecla Mining, which is trying to establish two mines on the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, lost a round in district court last week . . .

A Lewis and Clark County District Court judge has struck down a water permit issued by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for the proposed Rock Creek Mine near Noxon.

The decision by Judge Kathy Seeley last week is the latest in a series of setbacks for Idaho-based Hecla Mining Company, which is trying to permit and develop two copper and silver mines in Northwest Montana. But environmental groups cheered the decision and said it was a major step forward in protecting the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, which sits directly above the proposed mines.

“The court’s rulings safeguards some of the purest waters in the lower 48 from the destructive impacts threatened by the Rock Creek Mine,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien. “The ruling also affirms that the state’s job is to protect Montana’s waters from the benefits of all Montanans — not to give those waters away to corporate interests without taking a hard look at the impacts.”

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Satellite imagery helps spot Glacier Park’s huckleberry patches

Huckleberry shrubs turn bright red in fall - USGS photo
Huckleberry shrubs turn bright red in fall – USGS photo

Researchers have developed a new tool to spot huckleberry patches in Glacier Park . . .

The average huckleberry is about as big around as a pencil eraser. But now we can spot them from space.

Several years of refinement have allowed researchers in Glacier National Park to tease apart landscape photos and pinpoint huckleberry patches. The method works on both aerial and satellite photos.

That could qualify as classified intelligence for some secrecy-bound huckleberry hunters. U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist Tabitha Graves and biologist Nate Michael joked they could be endangering themselves by revealing berry hot spots.

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In Badger-Two Medicine, Interior to defend Solonex cancellation, but lets Moncrief lease ride

Badger-Two Medicine Region
Badger-Two Medicine Region

This is likely not as bad as it sounds. The feds are going to dig in and fight the Solonex lease in the Badger-Two Medicine region. The Moncrief lease doesn’t even have a permit to drill and would require a huge battle just to get past that step. I’d guess the government made the pragmatic determination to concentrate their resources on the larger threat. If they win against Solonex, the Moncrief lease is probably toast, too.

Anyway, here’s the write-up . . .

In a dramatic change of course, attorneys representing the U.S. Department of the Interior filed paperwork announcing they will not defend the cancellation of one of the last remaining oil and gas leases on the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine, an area flanking Glacier National Park that holds cultural and ecological significance to members of the Blackfeet Nation.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Whitefish native, had previously said he would defend the lease cancellations.

While members of the Blackfeet Nation expressed disappointment and frustration in the Interior’s decision not to fight an appeal by lease-owner W.A. Moncrief Jr, the Interior Department is expected to defend the cancellation of a second lease held by Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, which is also being fought on appeal.

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Enjoy those huckleberries? Thank a bumblebee

A very interesting article by Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News about the importance of bumblebees to the huckleberry crop . . .

The next time you grab a handful of huckleberries, you just might want to thank the bees — bumblebees that is. Research by Montana State University and the U.S. Geological Survey has found that there’s about six species of bumblebee and one Andrenidae species of bee that pollinate Montana’s huckleberry bushes.

Prior to 2014, researchers weren’t sure what insects exactly were pollinating the iconic bush, USGS scientist Tabitha Graves said during a talk last week at the Flathead Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society.

The bees are critical to berry production. Experiments in the field have shown that bushes that are isolated from bees make a fraction of the fruit compared to plants that are pollinated by their fuzzy friends.

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Yellowstone grizzly meetings to focus on reducing conflict, mortality

Grizzly sow and cubs near Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park - Jim Pesco, NPS
Grizzly sow and cubs near Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park – Jim Pesco, NPS

Kudos to Debo Powers for spotting this piece in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle . . .

Wildlife managers will talk this week about preventing run-ins between grizzly bears and humans, a discussion that comes after environmental groups pushed officials to reconsider a decade-old report that lined out measures meant to reduce those conflicts.

The Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, meeting in Bozeman on Wednesday and Thursday, will consider grizzly bear death trends and the effectiveness of efforts to avoid people-grizzly conflicts that often end with bears being killed by government officials.

It will be the first time the panel of state and federal government officials from Idaho, Wyoming and Montana has met since a coalition of six environmental groups urged it to reconsider a 2009 report that included a few dozen recommendations to prevent those encounters.

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Op-ed: The Flathead Forest Plan a win for conservationists

Flathead National Forest
Flathead National Forest

Appearing in the Flathead Beacon yesterday, was a thoughtful op-ed by Chris Ryan and Kathleen McAllister in favor of the recently completed Flathead National Forest Plan, written by a couple of folks who should know quite a bit about it . . .

The U.S. Forest Service recently completed a new management plan for the Flathead National Forest (FNF) that will guide decisions on the forest for the next 20 to 30 years or more. The plan addresses a dizzying array of management issues – including municipal watersheds, wildlife habitat, protected lands, outdoor recreation, and much more – over 2.4 million acres that cover the Mission Mountains, the Swan Range, and the Whitefish Range.

Those of us in the conservation community have focused our attention on the places the FNF plan recommends for Wilderness designation. This recommendation means the Forest Service will protect these places until either Congress designates them as Wilderness or at least until the agency completes its next FNF plan.

The FNF plan represents a vast improvement over the previous plan, which recommended around 98,000 acres for Wilderness. The new plan recommends over 190,000 acres, nearly double the previous recommendation. That increase is worth celebrating.

The plan is by no means ideal for conservationists. Wilderness-worthy lands such as Bunker and Sullivan Creeks and low-elevation, critical habitat adjacent to the Mission Mountains Wilderness did not, unfortunately, receive the Forest Service’s Wilderness recommendation. The Jewel Basin recommended Wilderness was reduced in size under the new plan, a significant loss for a landscape that would have been designated Wilderness had Reagan not pocket vetoed the 1988 Montana Wilderness Bill.

Continue reading Op-ed: The Flathead Forest Plan a win for conservationists

The fate of our lakes

Flathead LakeThe Flathead Beacon did a nice follow-up on last week’s Montana Lakes Conference in Whitefish . . .

Scientists whose cutting-edge research on lakes spans the globe converged last week on the shore of Whitefish Lake for the inaugural Montana Lakes Conference, where they discussed a suite of emerging lake science and management issues, ranging from the threat of climate change on glacial retreat and invasive species to protecting the water quality and clarity of Flathead and Whitefish lakes.

“The reason that’s so important is because a lot of lakes are not so clean,” Jim Elser, director of the Flathead Lake Biological Station, told conference attendees, highlighting the research projects his faculty of experts are employing to maintain lake quality.

Organized by the nonprofit Whitefish Lake Institute, the conference at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake brought together diverse panels of experts to explain the roles of research, resource management, education, local lake associations, and citizen science to address the myriad challenges bearing down on lakes and the communities that depend on them.

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