Category Archives: News

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.

Read more . . .

Glacier names Yellowstone chief ranger as new deputy superintendent

Pete Webster, Glacier National Park deputy superintendent
Pete Webster, Glacier National Park deputy superintendent

From the official press release . . .

Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow has selected Pete Webster to be the park’s new deputy superintendent.

Webster will be responsible for leading the park’s division chiefs in identifying park priorities, addressing complex operational challenges, and long-range planning. In recent years the park has faced numerous challenges related to rising visitation, invasive species threats, and wildfires among others.

He has served as the chief ranger at Yellowstone National Park since 2015.

“Pete has proven himself to be an exceptional leader in the National Park Service,” said Superintendent Jeff Mow. “We are very fortunate he’s accepted this new post to offer expertise on some of our most challenging operations.”

Webster and his family have strong ties to the Glacier region. While still in college, he first moved to St. Mary in 1986-87 for a summer job at a local hotel. Webster returned to Glacier as an intern in 1988, as a seasonal park ranger from 1991-93, and as the sub-district ranger in St. Mary from 2004-08.

A native of the Detroit, Michigan area, Webster holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State University. He and his wife Dawn will live in the Flathead Valley with their youngest son, who will enter high school in the fall.

He replaces Eric Smith who moved to Texas last fall to serve as superintendent of Lake Meredith National Recreation Area and Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument.

Roland Cheek reflects on a lifetime in the backcountry

Here’s a fascinating interview with Roland Cheek, a local writer and long-time outfitter in the Bob Marshall Wilderness . . .

Roland Cheek clung to his dream even when his tenacity caused marital strife, threatened his family’s financial stability, lodged him crosswise with the U.S. Forest Service and pushed him to the edge of exhaustion.

Adversity made regular visits during his early years as an outfitter and guide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Roland embraced tenacity again later when he decided to become a writer, even though he had limited formal education and had twice flunked English in high school.

Read more . . .

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.

Read more . . .

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.

Read more . . .

As public lands access funding dwindles, local communities pitch in

Several Types of Public Lands
Several types of public lands: Flathead National Forest is in the foreground, left and right; Montana’s Coal Creek State Forest, including Cyclone Lake, is in the middle distance; Glacier National Park stretches across the background.

As public lands management funding decreases, visitation continues to increase. NPR posted an interesting article about local efforts to deal with this issue . . .

Across the western U.S., towns surrounded by public lands are facing an increasing bind: They’re seeing a huge surge in visitors coming to play in the forests and mountains surrounding them, which is leading to an economic boom. But, at the same time, federal funding to manage these lands has been drying up.

“There are these dramatic increases in recreational uses of public lands, and at the same time dramatic declines in recreational budgets,” says Megan Lawson, a researcher at the Montana-based think tank Headwaters Economics.

A recent analysis [PDF; 15.8MB] by the group showed that visitation to U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land has risen by about 15 percent over the last decade, while budgets for programs that support recreation in those agencies has fallen by a similar amount.

Read more . . .

It’s that time again: As bears awaken, the usual precautions are in order

Grizzly bear near Trail Creek in North Fork Flathead region, Montana. April 11, 2017 - by Diane Boyd
Grizzly bear near Trail Creek in North Fork Flathead region, Montana. April 11, 2017 – by Diane Boyd

Spring has sprung. The snow is melting. The birds are returning. The potholes are propagating. And the bears are coming out of hibernation . . .

They’re back.

Black bears tend to den at lower elevations than their grizzly cousins and have made appearances in the region on the cusp of April.

For example, black bears have been seen feeding on road-killed deer. Bear tracks also have been spotted on the road to Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park.

Both black bears and grizzlies will be actively seeking food in the days and weeks to come after months of hibernation.

Read more . . .

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.

Read more . . .

Governor Bullock announces Grizzly Bear Advisory Council, calls for applicants

Sow grizzly bear spotted near Camas in northwestern Montana. - Montana FWPThis may be worth following up on. Here’s the official press release. (Also, the Missoulian has a good summary: Bullock to create citizen panel to discuss future management of grizzlies in Montana.) . . .


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock today announced that he will establish a Grizzly Bear Advisory Council to help initiate a statewide discussion on grizzly bear management, conservation and recovery. The Council will be selected through an application process that ends April 12th.

“The recovery of grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone ecosystems is a great conservation success. Still, official federal delisting has yet to come to fruition,” Bullock wrote in a memo to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Martha Williams.

“Legal uncertainty has created a void requiring our leadership,” Governor Bullock said. “As bears continue to expand in numbers and habitat, we must identify durable and inclusive strategies to address current issues and prepare for the future. This advisory council represents a key step toward Montana embracing the tremendous responsibility and opportunity of long-term Grizzly Bear recovery and management.

Montana is home, in whole or in part, to four grizzly bear recovery zones designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS): the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE); the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE); the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem; and the Bitterroot Ecosystem. While grizzly bear numbers have surpassed recovery objectives in the GYE and NCDE, they have yet to reach recovery levels in the Cabinet-Yaak and Bitterroot.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are officially under the jurisdiction of the FWS, but much of the day-to-day management of bears in Montana is done by FWP in partnership and with oversight of the FWS. The FWS delisted the GYE grizzly bear population under the Endangered Species Act in 2017, but a federal court decision last fall relisted the population. This delayed the delisting process for the NCDE and resulted in an appeal of the GYE decision by the State of Montana and others.

Grizzly bear populations continue to expand, in some cases into areas they have not occupied for decades. Management challenges and conflicts have increased. FWP, along with partner agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and the FWS, work together to respond to conflicts as they occur. However, the situation has become increasingly complex as bears move into areas of Montana outside of existing recovery zones, such as the Big Hole Valley, Little Belt Mountains, and the plains east of the Rocky Mountain Front.

Developing strategies to ensure a timely and appropriate response to these conflicts and addressing the needs of communities and landowners most impacted in these areas are key priorities identified for the advisory council’s deliberations.

“We’re excited to work with this advisory council, and we see this as a great opportunity to find a way forward that reflects the values and needs of Montana as it relates to grizzly bear management,” FWP Director Williams said. “A council that is inclusive in its composition will allow for the balanced discussion we need to have.”

The Grizzly Bear Advisory Council will be tasked with considering broad strategic objectives, such as:

  • Maintaining and enhancing human safety;
  • Ensuring a healthy and sustainable grizzly bear population;
  • Improving timely and effective response to conflicts involving grizzly bears;
  • Engaging all partners in grizzly-related outreach and conflict prevention; and
  • Improving intergovernmental, interagency, and tribal coordination.

The Council will focus on providing recommendations to the Governor’s Office, FWP, and the Fish & Wildlife Commission that are clear and actionable on how to move forward with grizzly bear management, conservation and recovery. It will consider several pressing issues including bear distribution, connectivity between ecosystems, conflict prevention, response protocols, outreach and education, and the role of hunting and necessary resources for long-term population sustainability.

Governor Bullock is looking for a broad cross-section of interests to serve on the Council, including livestock producers, wildlife enthusiasts, conservation groups, hunters, community leaders, Tribal Nation representatives and outdoor industry professionals.

Council application information can be found online at http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/species/grizzlyBear/default.html.