Category Archives: Science

Impromptu ‘Science March’ in Polebridge

Science March in Polebridge, Apr 22, 2017 - Debo Powers photo
Science March in Polebridge, Apr 22, 2017 – Debo Powers photo

Debo Powers reports . . .

Visiting biologists staged an impromptu “Science March” in Polebridge on Earth Day, April 22, in solidarity with hundreds of thousands in Washington DC and around the globe who marched to support science and research-based policy. Several North Fork residents joined in making the statement in front of the Polebridge Mercantile.

“Era of Megafires” Presentation at FVCC, April 25

Wildfire Plume - USFS
Wildfire Plume – USFS

From the official press release . . .

Wildfire plays an important and integral role in our forested ecosystems. Local fire history records show that our forests have evolved with fire for thousands of years. We have successfully suppressed 98% of wildfires in the greater Flathead Area since approximately 1930, and the resulting accumulation of fuel creates an environment conducive to large fire growth. It’s important for our community to understand wildfire and promote a proactive approach to mitigating impacts to our communities; private property, airshed, watersheds and forest ecosystems.

On April 25th, the community is invited to a public event and conversation at the Flathead Valley Community College, Arts and Technology Building Room 139 at 6:00 p.m., for an “Era of Megafires” presentation. This 70-minute multi-media traveling presentation by Dr. Paul Hessburg, will help our community understand the issues surrounding Megafires, so collectively we can move toward solutions that can change the way we receive wildfire and related smoke. Dr. Hessburg has conducted fire and landscape ecology research for more than 27 years.

The “Era of Megafires” presentation will be followed by a question and answer session around topics that are relevant to the community in order to identify local challenges and local actions. Typically, different communities face different obstacles when it comes to wildfire preparedness and resilience.

The intent of this presentation is to significantly reduce the amount of loss we are experiencing by developing a collective understanding of fire, approaches to wildfire management, and how landowners can engage.

The “Era of Megafires” is brought to you by Flathead Area FireSafe Council, Northern Rockies Fire Science Network; Southwestern Crown Collaborative, Montana DNRC/Kalispell Unit; Flathead National Forest, Flathead Valley Community College and FireSafe Montana. For more information, contact Mike West, Flathead National Forest at 758-3539, or Ali Ulwelling, MT DNRC at 751-2270.

Mountain lion kitten cause for excitement and concern

Mountain lion kitten P-54 - Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area - NPS photo
Mountain lion kitten P-54 – Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area – NPS photo

This is a seriously cute photo, but the attached story offers a lesson in habitat isolation and its worrisome effects on genetic diversity . . .

Admit it. You only clicked on this story because of the photo of that insanely cute mountain lion kitten. You just wanted to gaze into her (yes, it’s a her) milky blue eyes.

That’s fair.

But there’s more to the story of this kitten. Researchers have named her P-54. She’s no more than a few months old. And – this is the sad part – it’s likely that she’s the product of inbreeding.

The kitten was born amidst the urban sprawl of Southern California in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the largest urban national park in the country. The recreation area is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, agricultural fields and greater Los Angeles.

Read more . . .

Researchers looking at Montana’s cutthroat trout population

Native westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout stranded in a pool in Ole Creek. Courtesy Jonny Armstrong USGS
Native westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout stranded in a pool in Ole Creek. Courtesy Jonny Armstrong USGS

A group of researchers just published a thorough study of the effects of hybridization on Montana’s cutthroat trout population . . .

Cutthroat trout, a prized and legally protected fish species in Montana, are increasingly threatened by a growing trend of hybridization with non-native rainbow trout, according to research published last month in the scientific journal Global Change Biology.

A group of researchers from the University of Montana, the U.S. Geological Survey, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the University of Alaska analyzed Montana’s historical fish-stocking records and 35 years’ worth of genetic data collected by state biologists, finding that hybridization between the two species is increasing across remaining geographic range for genetically pure cutthroats.

For decades, fisheries managers in Montana and elsewhere in the Western U.S. stocked rivers and lakes with non-native rainbow trout, a popular sport fish that easily established breeding populations in the state’s waterways. The state abandoned the practice in 1969, but interbreeding between rainbows and the closely related cutthroats has resulted in a proliferation of hybrids and has eroded the native fish’s genetic pool throughout most of its range.

Read more . . .

Steve Gniadek receives Conservation Achievement Recognition award

Steve Gniadek in “the Bob”, July 30, 2014
Steve Gniadek in “the Bob”, July 30, 2014

NFPA member Steve Gniadek received a well-deserved Conservation Achievement Recognition award from the Flathead Audubon Society recently. There’s a nice write-up on their web site, where you’ll likely learn some things about Steve you never knew . . .

We are excited to present our first 2017 Conservation Achievement Recognition to Steve Gniadek who is clearly one of the most dedicated conservation-minded people in the Flathead. Steve, who has assimilated extensive and diverse wildlife experiences throughout his career, is now a happily retired wildlife biologist living in the Flathead Valley. But Steve is no ordinary retiree, he is one of those passionate and committed individuals who believes that his fortunate and exciting life of public service requires that he continue to give back his time and energy to the local community.

Read more . . .

What light pollution costs us every night

The Milky Way near the Grand Canyon - Bob Wick, BLM
The Milky Way near the Grand Canyon – Bob Wick, BLM

Astrophysicist and science writer Ethan Siegel has a great article on the importance and increasing rarity of dark skies. It’s a short read, but very informative, with lots of photos and data. Recommended reading . . .

If you don’t have pristine, dark skies, you might never connect to the Universe. But there’s hope.

Human vision is ill-adapted to true darkness, but our eyes can provide us with stellar views of the night sky. Since the invention of artificial lighting, however, our views of those natural wonders have diminished precipitously.

Read more . . .

How a guy from a Montana trailer park overturned 150 years of biology

Lichen on blue rock along American River, Folsom, CA
Lichen on blue rock along American River, Folsom, CA

Here’s a fascinating story from The Atlantic magazine.

Remember learning about lichens in high school or college biology? Turns out, you learned it wrong. Sort of. And a persistent fellow from Montana proved it . . .

In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.

Read more . . .

Chuck Jonkel, world-renowned bear expert and advocate, dies at 85

Chuck Jonkel
Chuck Jonkel

This is truly the end of an era. Chuck Jonkel passed away Tuesday at age 85.

Rob Chaney of the Missoulian wrote a first-rate obituary. Recommended reading . . .

Grizzly bears emerging from their winter dens will encounter a changed landscape: Longtime grizzly advocate Chuck Jonkel has died.

“Mr. Jonkel was truly a pioneer in grizzly bear science,” said Leanne Marten, Regional Forester for the Forest Service’s Northern Region. “Montana will miss him greatly. Everything we know about grizzly bears is due to Mr. Jonkel’s expertise.”

Jonkel died Tuesday evening at his home in Missoula. He was 85.

“Tim Ryan from the Flathead Reservation came down on Monday and did a Salish smoke ceremony for Dad, and then (Blackfeet singer) Jack Gladstone and Patty Bartlett sang him off on Tuesday morning,” son Jamie Jonkel said. “We took him down by the river for the ceremony, and he really liked that.”

Read more . . .

‘Plants of Inland and Coastal Wet Belts’ presentation on April 20, 7pm

April 20, 2016 - Plants of Inland and Coastal Wet Belts

The Flathead Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society presents a talk by Rachel Potter on ‘Plants of Inland and Coastal Wet Belts’ on Wednesday, April 20 at 7:00 pm in the North Valley Community Building 235 Nucleus Ave, Columbia Falls . . .

Rachel Potter, founder of Glacier National Park’s Native Plant Nursery and Revegetation Program, will share pictures and stories from kayak and canoe trips to British Columbia’s Bowron Lakes Provincial Park and southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Her program will be part travelogue and part plants.

Rachel’s program will begin promptly at 7:00 pm. Prior to her program, a general board meeting will take place, starting at 5:30. All are welcome to this general meeting. Both will take place at North Valley Community Building (Teakettle Hall) – look for the North Valley Physical Therapy sign, 235 Nucleus Ave, Columbia Falls.

Bear hibernation linked to changes in gut microbes

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

Two years ago, we mentioned the weird stuff that goes on when bears hibernate. Here’s another article along those lines . . .

Each year, bears hibernate for the winter. They gorge themselves on food to pack on fat, but somehow avoid health consequences. Now, scientists have found that the bears’ shifting metabolic status is associated with significant changes in their gut microbes.

“The restructuring of the microbiota into a more avid energy harvester during summer, which potentially contributes to the increased adiposity gain without impairing glucose metabolism, is quite striking,” said Fredrik Backhed, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The composition of gut microbiota can influence the amount of energy harvested from the diet. In fact, microbiota shifts in people who are obese and in those with type 2 diabetes.

In this latest study, the researchers collected fecal samples from wild bears during hibernation and in the active period. Then, the researchers analyzed the microbes living within these sample. The scientists found reduced diversity in the hibernation microbiota…

Read more . . .