North Fork stalwart and NFPA board member Alan McNeil passed away unexpectedly last Friday, November 29. Cause of death was a heart attack. Our hearts go out to his mother Cecily, his brother Bruce, and especially Alan’s daughter Fiona and son Henry. We’ll post more information as it becomes available.
Over at the Missoulian, Rob Chaney leads with an article about some important folks we lost during 2017. You’ll see some familiar names here, including the NFPA’s own John Frederick . . .
Many Montanans who changed the way we study, see, and strive for the places we hold dear left for the Big Sky in 2017.
Here’s the Missoulian’s take on the final draft of the new Flathead Forest Plan . . .
With the clock ticking on a 60-day objection window, people who play in the Flathead National Forest have a lot of homework to study.
U.S. Forest Service analysts made many changes to backcountry areas in their draft forest plan released this month. The proposal recommends a new wilderness area between Whitefish and Polebridge. It might increase mechanized access around the Jewel Basin by Bigfork, and could affect hunter access in popular elk country.
“The draft plan adopts a large part of the Whitefish Range Partnership agreement, including 80,000 acres of recommended wilderness that was never recommended before,” said Amy Robinson of Montana Wilderness Association. “And it looks like there’s more recommendation for high-intensity recreation area in the southern range than was in the last draft.”
Although there’s no effort in place to restore grizzly bears to the Bitterroots, they should repopulate the area on their own, given enough time . . .
While the potential for grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Mountains was a topic of discussion during last week’s annual meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, area wildlife managers say they don’t think any have established residence here — yet.
The Bitterroot National Forest and the Bitterroot-Selway Wilderness area are prime grizzly bear habitat, notes Dave Lockman, a wildlife biologist with the forest. As their population continues to increase elsewhere, they’re expanding their ranges.
Lockman noted that a grizzly bear sighting was confirmed in 2016 in the upper Big Hole River area, and that one was identified on private property on Sunset Bench southeast of Stevensville in 2002. That bear is thought have crossed the Sapphire Range from the Rock Creek drainage. In addition, a black bear hunter killed a mature male grizzly in 2007 in the North Fork of Kelly Creek on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, about 60 miles north of what’s considered the Bitterroot ecosystem. That bear was genetically associated with the grizzly populations in the Selkirk Mountains in northern Idaho.
Here’s a good overview of the issues surrounding H.R. 1349, the recently introduced “Wheels Over Wilderness” bill. The NFPA even gets a mention . . .
Advocates of designated wilderness with a capital “W” worry that a new congressional proposal could allow another w-word access to federally protected lands — wheels.
Specifically, mountain bikes, which are currently prohibited in congressionally designated wilderness areas, but also other wheeled devices. As the measure to allow them moves forward, however, it has pitted some user groups against one another while drawing wide opposition from environmental organizations.
A bill introduced to Congress last week by California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock would amend the 1964 Wilderness Act to allow the use of certain wheeled devices, including mountain bikes, in Wilderness areas — a use that has historically been prohibited on the nation’s 110 million acres of federally protected land.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.