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Biodiversity: Another win for bison restoration

Montana court says bison are not livestock

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A Yellowstone bison. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Montana district court judge this month rejected yet another attempt by ranchers to block the restoration of bison in the northern plains. The ranchers sought to have wild bison classified as livestock rather than wildlife, but Montana District Judge John McKeon ruled last week that wild bison are wildlife under state law — regardless of their confinement in quarantine.

A legal classification as livestock would have transferred jurisdiction over quarantined bison from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to the Montana Department of Livestock—a move that threatened to impede any future efforts to restore native bison as a wildlife species in appropriate portions of their historic habitat.

“This ruling rightly discredits what amounted to a stealth attack on future efforts to restore wild bison in Montana,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represented Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation in opposing Citizens for Balanced Use’s argument. “Wild bison are classified as wildlife under Montana law. Now it is time to restore wild bison as wildlife on the Montana landscape.” Continue reading

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Biodiversity: Yellowstone bison get more room to roam

bison, buffalo

A bison grazes near a highway in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A long-running battle over Yellowstone bison was at least partly resolved this week, as a Montana judge upheld a state policy allowing the animals to roam outside Yellowstone National Park without facing harassment and death.

The state rules were challenged by ranchers opposed to allowing bison to graze in the Gardiner Basin, just north of the park, important habitat in the winter and early spring. Federal and state biologists decided last year to allow bison seasonal access until May 1 of each year, opening critical foraging lands when higher elevations in the park lack spring grasses for bison and other grazing animals.

“Today’s ruling represents a victory for all those who want to see wild bison as a living part of the Montana landscape,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who defended the bison policy in the case on behalf of the Bear Creek Council, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Yellowstone region’s bison herds are the descendants of the last wild bison in the American West, and today they stand as some of the last genetically pure bison in the world.  The court rejected the idea that the law requires slaughtering these magnificent animals whenever they cross the park boundary.”   Continue reading

Search is on for missing hikers in Glacier National Park

Cutbank Valley in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Wintry weather hampers rescue crews

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Winter-like weather in the northern Rockies has hampered the search for two missing hikers in Glacier National Park. The two men, 32-year-old Neal Peckens from Virginia and 32-year-old Jason Hiser from Maryland, were reported missing Oct. 12 when they missed their flight home.

National Park Service rangers believe the men  departed from the North Shore Trailhead at Two Medicine on Tuesday, October 9. According to their backcountry permit, the men planned to camp at the Oldman Backcountry Campground on Tuesday night and return to Two Medicine on Wednesday, October 10. Continue reading

Montana faces lawsuit over lynx impacts from trapping

A lynx in Colorado. Photo courtesy Tanya Shenk, Colorado Division of Wildlife.

At least four lynx have been killed by traps intended for other species

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A ski area expansion like Peak 6 might displace one or two lynx, but that’s nothing compared to the direct mortality that has occurred from legal trapping in Montana.

At least nine lynx have been caught in traps since the species was listed in 2000 and four are known to have died — as a result, four conservation groups say they will sue the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission for permitting the trapping.

“Montana has failed to safeguard lynx from the cruel vicissitudes of traps and snares, and that has resulted in the death and impairment of several animals, which impedes lynx recovery,” said Wendy Keefover, carnivore protection program director for WildEarth Guardians. Continue reading

Wildfires shutting down gas fields in Wyoming, Utah

52 major wildfires burning on about 900,000 acres across the West

A hillside explodes into flames on the Arapaho Fire in Wyoming. Photo courtesy USFS.

A smoke plume rises from the fast-growing Arapaho Fire in Wyoming. Photo courtesy T. Moxham/USFS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even as firefighters gain control of the large and destructive fires in Colorado, large wildfires continue to burn around the West, including Wyoming, where the Arapaho Fire, on the Medicine Bow National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland, blew up to 75,000 acres Sunday.

The fire, between Casper and Laramie, has destroyed an undetermined number of structures and burned so fiercely Sunday that it created its own weather. Firefighters focused on structure protection in the Harris Park subdivision to try prevent additional damage to residential areas.

Driven by winds and fueled by the same dry conditions that contributed to the recent Colorado infernos, the Arapaho Fire showed extreme behavior Sunday, at times growing at the rate of 1 mph. Firefighters are concerned that it could become a monster fire if it becomes established in the Friend Creek Drainage.

More than 500 firefighters are already trying to contain the fire, with an incoming Type 1 management team slated to take over command. The Arapaho Fire is burning in dense, dry forest, with plenty of beetle-killed timber and down, dead fuels.

Also in Wyoming, the 45,000-acre Fontenelle Fire has been growing about 4,000 acres per day. According to the latest update, large fire growth continues to place substantial strain on helium plant construction (delaying contributions to the nation’s critical helium supply and employment of 300-plus construction workers), as well as oil and gas production.

More on Wyoming wildfires here. Continue reading

Three avalanche deaths in Montana

New snow and strong winds made for unstable conditions in the mountains around Cooke City. This side was triggered by a snowmobiler which resulted in a fatality. PHOTO COURTESY GALLATIN NATIONAL FOREST AVALANCHE CENTER/ JON MARSHALL. Click for more images.

New snow atop faceted base equals unstable snowpack

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Winter recreation turned deadly in the Rocky Mountains of Montana during the New Years weekend, as two snowmobilers and a backcountry skier died in separate avalanches, according to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.

With a thick layer of faceted crystals near the ground, the avalanche hazard spiked Saturday after a snowstorm hit the northern Rockies, and powderhounds ventured out into the backcountry in search of fresh snow.

Similar conditions are likely to prevail in Colorado when the snow comes. Visit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center online for more info. Continue reading

Experts surprised by intense fires in beetle-killed stands

Montana wildfire observations will increase understanding of fire behavior in changing Western forests

The Saddle Complex fire burned so intensely that it created its own weather, which further fueled the fire. PHOTO COURTESY MAGGIE MILLIGAN.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Fire experts said they were surprised by the intensity of a pair of fires that burned in Montana this summer during less-than-extreme fire weather. The fire moved through areas of beetle-killed lodgepole faster than some previous fire modeling suggested.

The rapid spread of the two fires was probably the result of a perfect mix of fuels, including recent  beetle-killed lodgepole pine with flammable red needles, stands of older beetle-kill in the gray stage. Live trees and an a full-grown understory that provided ladder fuels.

The observations could help experts gain a better understanding of how fires will behave in beetle-killed forests. Some previous fire observations, in Yellowstone, for example, suggested that pure stands of dead gray-stage lodgepoles could actually slow the spread of a blaze, and some fire modeling has also suggested that the gray trees are not as susceptible to fire. Continue reading

Weather: Pinpointing La Niña impacts in Montana

Good fishing in Peru often means good powder skiing in Montana

New research shows links between La Niña conditions and weather in Montana.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — For many climate buffs, a recently reported link between ocean temperatures off the coast of Peru and weather in Montana won’t come as a surprise. The effects of El Niño and La Niña on the North American storm track are well-known, but the new study from Montana State University helps pinpoint the connection.

Joseph Caprio analyzed 100 years of data to show that, when the average surface temperature of the ocean near Peru is warmer than normal from November through March, fishing off the coast of Peru will be poor and Montana will experience El Niño from the following December through June, with generally warm and dry weather.

If the average surface temperature is cooler than usual from November through March, fishing off the coast of Peru will be good and Montana will have a cool, wet spring, like the one experienced this year during La Niña, Caprio said. Continue reading

Yellowstone River: Experts struggling to clean heavily oiled debris piles; some may have to be physically removed

Containment booms placed across the Yellowstone River to capture spilled oil. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE/DAVID ROUSE.

High-pressure water can do more damage than good, some experts say

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The EPA and ExxonMobil are close to agreement on a plan to clean up the oil from a broken pipeline in the Yellowstone River in Montana. EPA officials said Wednesday they are reviewing a revised plan that was submitted this week and will make a final decision early next week.

Meanwhile, cleanup experts are still puzzling over how to clean the oil coating shoreline debris and vegetation.

Wednesday, cleanup crews tested high pressure water hoses to clean oil off the flood debris. According to the EPA’s afternoon briefing, the meth proved ineffective and probably won’t be used as a cleanup technique.

Some cleanup experts say using high pressure hoses can cause added damage. Long-term monitoring of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska showed that using high-pressure hoses to clean beaches actually forced the oil down deeper into the crevices between pebbles, resulting in longer-lasting environmental impacts, said Dee Bradley, a New Mexico-based oil spill cleanup expert. Continue reading

Grizzly kills hiker in Yellowstone National Park

An adult grizzly bear in the brush. PHOTO COURTESY THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

Rare attack is the second bear-caused fatality this year in the North American wild

SUMMIT COUNTY — A hiker in Yellowstone National Park was killed by a grizzly bear sow Wednesday morning (July 6) after surprising the bear and her cubs along the popular Wapiti Lake trail.

It was the first time since 1986 that a visitor to the park has been killed by a grizzly, according to a press release from the National Park Service.

Altogether, about 28 people have been killed by bears in the past 10 years. Bearplanet.org maintains a listing of known bear attacks.

Last summer, a camper was killed by a grizzly in late July in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest. Several other campers were injured in the same incident, when a bear bit or tore through several tents. Continue reading

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