Late last year, Montana DNRC managed to kill funding for the Flathead Basin Commission. The FBC had been getting a little too pushy, especially in regards to Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) prevention efforts. Well, it appears those annoying folks popped right back up as an independent organization named Watershed Protection Advocates . . .
A new player has emerged in the fight for the protection of the region’s waters, and next month the Watershed Protection Advocates of Northwest Montana will begin filling out its own “report card” on other agencies in the region.
The new advocacy group was formed by a number of former Flathead Basin Commission board members after the Flathead Basin Protection Fund pulled its financial support of the commission.
Watershed Protection Advocates is chaired by former Flathead Basin Commission chairperson Jan Metzmaker, and former Flathead Basin Commission Executive Director Caryn Miske is the sole contractor for the new advocacy group. Miske was terminated form her position on the commission in February following a series of allegations of misconduct made by Department of Natural Resources and Conservation officials.
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.
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.
Thompson Smith, former chair and a three-term governor appointed citizen member of the Flathead Basin Commission, has an excellent op-ed posted to the Flathead Beacon this week concerning the potential de-funding of the Flathead Basin Commission . . .
Montana’s crown jewel is in imminent danger from a plan to marginalize the Flathead Basin Commission (FBC) and force out its excellent Executive Director Caryn Miske.
John Tubbs, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), recently proposed zeroing out the entire staff budget of the FBC. The official reason is that the budget impasse between Democrats and Republicans is now forcing agencies to cut 10 percent. That doesn’t pass the smell test. Within the DNRC, only the FBC is being targeted for a cut exceeding 70 percent – even though it constitutes just two-tenths of one percent of the department’s total budget. In fact, the proposed cut would actually result in Montana losing funding, because every year the FBC’s Miske has raised well over a half-million dollars in grant funds to bolster protection of the Flathead from the menace of aquatic invasive species (AIS).
This is an informative article about the issues surrounding invasive mussels in the Flathead Basin. Many of these problems are administrative, but the biggest one is not: DNRC Director John Tubbs wants to grab the money allocated to the Flathead Basin Commission and use it elsewhere . . .
A legislatively mandated pilot program designed to enhance protection from invasive mussels in the Flathead Basin is facing challenges on two fronts.
As part of HB 622, the Legislature gave the Flathead Basin Commission authority to establish and manage the Upper Columbia pilot program. The program would add more certification stations, track vessels that require decontamination, and add the use of automated inspection and detection devices.
The commission also could petition the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt rules for the Flathead Basin that would require inspection of all vessels before they launch; prohibit or restrict some vessels, including waterborne airplanes and aquatic weed harvesters; and close waters where invasive mussels have been detected until a containment strategy was implemented.
Here’s a long but important article on the past, present and future of the Flathead Basin Commission . . .
Long before Montana’s state government created the Flathead Basin Commission to safeguard its waters, sprawling coal deposits lay hidden in the wilds of British Columbia, untapped and untouched. They ran in seams beneath a skinny track of wilderness just north of Glacier National Park, at a site overlooking the Canadian Flathead River, which spills south, crosses the international boundary and becomes the North Fork Flathead River.
Against all odds, that coal remains hidden today — still entombed in the strata, thanks in large part to the region’s foremost water-quality watchdog group. But even as the transboundary Flathead enjoys permanent protections from future mining or drilling, the fate of the legislatively established Flathead Basin Commission hangs in limbo due to looming budget cuts that threaten to render the group inoperable.
On the heels of slumping state revenue and skyrocketing firefighting costs, Gov. Steve Bullock is directing most state agency directors to trim 10 percent from their budgets. To achieve that goal, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director John Tubbs has recommended cutting the Flathead Basin Commission’s entire budget for fiscal year 2018, which totaled $148,932, as well as its budget for fiscal year 2019.
Thompson Smith, chair of the Flathead Basin Commission, has an excellent op-ed in the Flathead Beacon discussing the importance of aggressive efforts to block further spread of invasive mussels throughout Montana’s waters . . .
In early November, state officials announced the first documented presence of zebra and quagga mussels in Montana, after positive tests at sites in the Missouri River system.
For the Flathead Basin, these devastating invasive species are now at our doorstep: just a few hours away for people hauling boats from Tiber Reservoir.
In coming days, our ability to protect Montana’s remaining non-infested waters will be determined by the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) legislation and rule-making now being finalized in Helena. What is emerging appears to be a far more robust AIS program, and it should be passed. But the devil is in the details. Experts point to a number of deficiencies that must be addressed.
First, it is important to understand that if invasive mussels do become established here, they would ravage both the aquatic environment and the economy. Tiny, razor-sharp shells would coat and clog every hard surface — rocks, boats, pipes, docks, dams. They could ultimately cause the collapse of native fisheries, a vital cultural resource and linchpin of the recreation industry. They would wreak havoc with irrigation systems, power facilities, and municipal water supply and treatment.
Once established, invasive mussels are virtually impossible to remove. The whole game is prevention.
From the Sunday, January 11, 2009 online edition of the Missoulian . . .
The coal was here, hidden by a thin skin of wilderness, long before Rich Moy arrived; and it was still here, against all odds, when he left.
That, he considers, is at least some sort of success, although much more work will be required to keep it there, buried beneath what’s wild.
“In many ways, it’s been a stalemate for 30 years,” Moy said. “We haven’t lost much ground, but we haven’t gained any, either. The Canadian Flathead and the wilderness north of Glacier National Park have been and will be a flashpoint of international controversy.”
When Moy arrived on this backcountry battlefield, nearly three decades ago, the then-new controversy centered on a proposed Canadian coal mine to be built just a few miles north of Glacier Park.
When he finally retired last month, on the last day of 2008, the now-old controversy centered on yet another coal mine proposed in the headwaters, and a second coal mine in the river bottom, and a gold mine, and a phosphate mine, and an ongoing search for coalbed methane.
“In all these decades,” he said, “the British Columbia government has never wavered in its desire to industrialize the Flathead.”