Editor's note: This is the second blog in a series by contributor Wendy Beye, chronicling a restoration effort on Montana's Musselshell River.
Careless Creek is one of the main tributaries feeding the Musselshell River. Its flow begins in the Big Snowy Mountains and is augmented by Swimming Woman Creek as well as by a canal that channels water from Deadman's Basin Reservoir into the river to meet downstream irrigation contract demands. By the 1980s it was a poster child for a problem facing many Western streams at the time: severe bank erosion and the resulting high sediment levels that destroyed its warm water fishery in the last gasping 15 miles of its life.
There was no easy solution to Careless Creek's problems. In 1992 a steering committee made up of representatives from water user associations, state and federal resource protection agencies, the state wildlife division, and agricultural producers hashed out a plan to tackle the creek's ecological degradation. The first task was to determine the causes that led to the creek's condition.
The main culprit was unrestricted livestock access to the creek. Cattle had stripped away protective vegetation and their hooves had accelerated sloughing of the creek's clay banks. Runoff from corrals and a cattle feedlot dumped algae-producing nutrients into the water.Read More ...
By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House
The proposed draft rule
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service
(NOAA)—the two federal agencies responsible for administering the ESA—is
intended to clarify which species, or segments of species, are eligible
They will do this, purportedly, by defining the controversial phrase “significant portion of its range.” What it means for a species to be threatened or endangered in a “significant portion of its range” is not defined in the ESA, and that lack of clarity has led to decades of debate and litigation, and to some decisions that clearly had bent to political pressure.
There’s no question we need a tighter interpretation of the ESA. A Bush-era legal opinion, “The Meaning of ‘In Danger of Extinction Throughout All or a Significant Portion of Its Range,” which had been in place since 2007, allowed some endangered species to be classified under the ESA differently in neighboring states. For example, the policy led to the delisting of the gray wolf in some Western states while not in other adacent ones; a move considered short-sighted by some. But the legal opinion is no longer operative, having been rejected by two federal courts.
Read More ...
“Rants from the Hill” are Michael Branch’s monthly musings on life in the high country of Nevada’s western Great Basin desert.
Our corner of the western Great Basin is tucked into the rain shadow of the Sierra crest, which knocks the bottom out of those big, wet storms that rise in the Pacific and cross California’s central valley before pounding the Range of Light. Here in Silver Hills we average only seven inches of precipitation each year, while just up the mountain at Donner Pass the average is fifty-four inches, which falls in the form of thirty-five feet of snow—a detail that may be of special value if you happen to be travelling by wagon train and don’t have an appetite for the “other other” white meat. We don’t see many clouds above the Ranting Hill, where 300 days of sunshine each year ensure that our passive solar house remains self-heating until well into the cold nights we experience here at 6,000 feet. This winter has so far been especially clear and dry, making clouds in Silver Hills as scarce as city council members uncorrupted by real estate developers. And in an era in which everything I thought was stored on my computer is apparently kept in THE cloud, I find myself doubly troubled by these unbroken skies.
All this stunning high desert cloudlessness has me thinking about clouds. Stratus. Cirrus. Cumulus. Nimbus. These are names so lovely it occurs to me that we should have named our daughters after them. It would at least have made hollering at the kids more entertaining: “Cirrus and Nimbus, take out the trash!” Mostly, I’m envisioning the signature cloud of the western Great Basin, the lenticular. A lenticular is a high-elevation cloud that is flat on the bottom and gracefully arched across its domed top. It resembles a flying saucer, for which it is sometimes mistaken—especially here in rural Nevada, where so few of us are wholly sane, and where we lead the nation in both foreclosures and UFO sightings (are the feds covering up a relationship between the two?). A lenticular forms when the moist air pouring over the Sierra hits the dry air rising from the desert floor, creating a cloud that is essentially a standing wave made visible. As that moist air sweeps over the top of the cloud it vanishes into vapor, which is precisely what makes the lenticular so special: it never leaves home, as do other clouds, which drift across the sky. Lenticular clouds are instead the children of mountain and desert, and it is their essential nature to perish precisely where they are born and shaped, an aerial analog of the stunningly beautiful ecotone below them.Read More ...
By Eric dePlace, Sightline.org
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal Exports
Here are three pictures that help explain why American railways seem to be supporting coal export proposals in Northwest. It’s because railways are very closely connected to the coal industry. Consider:
Coal so dwarfs every other rail-hauled commodity that it is almost as important as all the other commodities combined. (N/B, this picture excludes “intermodal” freight.)Read More ...
I saw the bumper sticker and the headline on the same day.
The newspaper read: Montana’s population estimated to pass 1 million.
The bumper sticker read: Montana is full. Go home.
The Census Bureau says Montana has grown 10 percent over the past decade, and would soon break 1 million people. Barely. How can a state spanning 150,000 square miles, the fourth largest in the union, seem full with “only” a million people? Well, some days it does.
Sure looks full. Image of full moon in the Hi-Line region courtesy Flickr user Nomadic Lass.
You won’t see the bumper sticker on the Governor’s Suburban. He was ebullient at the idea of Montana breaking the million-soul mark. Booster-in-Chief Brian Schweitzer said, "People from all over the world recognize that Montana is the best place to start and grow a small business, raise a family and build a community."Read More ...
Recently, I participated in a spirited response sequence to an blog post
in HCN on yet another heated debate about motorized vs. non-motorized
travel on public lands. The article's author, Marian Lyman Kirst,
described non-motorized travel as "quiet" use, a handy, aggregate term
that is widely used to describe activities such as hiking, bicycling,
kayaking, and horseback riding. Unfortunately, these interest groups are
often portrayed as diametrically opposed to any of the "loud"
activities involving motors - ATV, jet-ski, and dirt-bike riding, for
Like Kirst, I confess my allegiance to the former group. If I'm out on public lands, I've got binoculars, reins, or oars in my hands. Still, I chafe at absolutes. I've had bad encounters with the "loud" crowd, true, but also friendly ones. Same goes with "quiet" folk. We all have some impact, and we all have to share the trails, so we might as well learn to put up with each other.
There is one "loud" group, however, that I confess I sometimes have a hard time with: target shooters. It's not that I'm anti-gun. My spouse is a Marine Corps vet, and many members of my family are gun owners. I also understand that shooting ranges can get crowded, and that an outdoor environment presents a more challenging scenario for practice. Those who go to areas traditionally used for target practice, shoot off some rounds in a safe manner, and then clean up after themselves have my grudging respect.
Editor's note: This is the first blog in a series by contributor Wendy Beye, chronicling a restoration effort on Montana's Musselshell River.
The waters of the Musselshell River originate in the Little Belt, Crazy, and Castle Mountains in central Montana. Several small creeks join forces west of Martinsdale and gather momentum as they flow east and then north, carving a meandering 500-mile path (closer to 200 miles as the crow flies) through ancient seabeds to meet up with the mighty Missouri's waters in Fort Peck Reservoir.
In Montana's late twentieth century drought years, the Musselshell was notorious for seasonal “de-watering” as ranchers tapped it for irrigating parched fields, leaving fish and the mussels for which it was named trapped and suffocating in intermittent pools along its route.
An abandoned Milwaukee Road railway grade built in 1906 constricted the river's flow and straightened many of its oxbows. The construction of Highway 12, one of Montana's main east/west travel arteries, further interfered with its natural floodplain, allowing spring floodwaters to race downhill without soaking deep into the soil. Many acres of wetlands were cut off from their annual replenishment by the levies and became incorporated into hay meadows, losing their value as nature's sponges.Read More ...
Happy New Year. Or, I should say, happy election year. From now on, the national battle for president (as well as the house and the senate) shifts from a vague threat to an actual election. But not just any election, because the 2012 result could represent a significant threat to Indian Country.
No matter who or which party wins, there will be ginormous changes in federal programs and dollars that are invested in Native American communities. Remember both Democrats and Republicans are promising significantly less spending as we enter a new era of contraction. The reasons for that policy shift are complicated by the nation’s debt levels and the the country's aging population.
Still, there remain major policy differences between President Barack Obama and his field of Republican challengers about how to make these cuts and what alternatives might be put in place to cushion the blow. The Obama administration has done a pretty good job of protecting funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, recognizing decades of underfunding. That protection will no longer be certain if any of the Republican candidates are elected. In fact, the more strident G.O.P. candidates promise to eliminate the BIA and to strip tens of millions of dollars from IHS.
Elections are about choices. Do we choose to participate? And, if we do, what person or party is the better alternative? And, most important, can we win the day?Read More ...
Until Dec. 28, there were two former Western governors seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
One remains in the race. Jon Huntsman, Jr., was governor of Utah from 2005 until he resigned in 2009 to serve as U.S. ambassador to China. He hasn't gained much traction to date -- a reputation for sanity has not been much of an asset in this contest -- but polls show he might do well in the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary.
At least Huntsman got invited to most of the GOP debates. The other former Western governor, Gary Johnson of New Mexico, was nearly invisible. He appeared at only two debates out of 18. That helps explain why the two-term governor (1995-2003) left the Republican Party on Dec. 28 and announced his candidacy for the presidential nomination from the Libertarian Party.
The announcement came at a press conference in Santa Fe, where he said he had been "disappointed by the treatment I received in the Republican nomination process. I had hoped to lay out a real Libertarian message on all the issues in the Republican contest. The process was not fair and open."
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By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House
It seems like every week there’s another article about the future of western water—how much we’ll have, where it will come from, and who will get it. Since it’s key to our sustainability and growth, it’s something we ought to be talking about. But there’s a key element that is largely ignored in the mainstream media: the role of American Indians.
One exception is a recent article in the Denver Post, about the completion of a huge new reservoir outside Durango. While the Nighthorse reservoir holds enough water to serve over 300,000 households per year, it was not built exclusively to serve our bulging ‘burbs.
Animas Las Plata Project showing Lake Nighthorse, Durango, Colo. Image courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.
Lake Nighthorse is part of the Animas-La Plata Project, which was born of a settlement between the federal government and the two tribes that live in Colorado—the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Utes. The water will be shared by the Utes and by five other entities, including the State of Colorado, the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy, the Navajo Nation, the San Juan Water Commission and the La Plata Conservancy District. Fully two-thirds of the water will be set aside for the tribes.
The agreement settles some complex and protracted water conflicts, and its enactment also offers an opportunity to take a look at the history of tribal water rights and what they mean for the future fights over the so-called “new gold” of the West.
The bottom line on tribal water rights was drawn when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Winters v. United States in 1908. The Court said that when Congress set aside land for American Indian reservations—for the purpose of transforming tribes from nomads to farmers—it implicitly set aside enough water for them to make use of that land.Read More ...