30 December 2006

Elk Ivories

Once upon a time North American elk (aka wapiti) had ivory tusks. Today, these vestigal tusks (found in the upper jaw, toward the back of the mouth) are fond memories of the hunt. Some hunters have jewelry made of them. Native peoples often decorated their robes with them. Here are a few from my stash.
The smaller, narrower ivories are from cow elk. Note how the color varies greatly, depending upon what the elk fed on. Also, note the cavity in the lower right center tooth.

Moulton Cross Country Skiing

"The Moulton" is an area about 5 miles north of Walkerville, which is itself on the north side of Butte. I'm not sure of Moulton's elevation, but our home in Walkerville is about 6100 feet elevation and Moulton is considerably higher--say 7000 feet? Moulton has much better snow than Walkerville, in part because of the elevation gain but also because it is well out of the valley.

The parking lot and trailhead for The Moulton is more or less at the end of the road, near the water reservoir. You can drive a little farther up (when the snow is not too deep), but within a half-mile of the parking lot the road is gated where it enters a private land inholding (there are a bunch of cottages on the old dairy farm there).

In the mind of many, the cross country ski trails of Moulton are the best there is. They were laid out by several very knowledgable and experienced skiers at a time before skate-skiing had taken over the land: Paul Sawyer was a senior Olympian and Vermont native, for many years he owned the old dairy farm cottage and he is still the primary groomer; John Mike Downey was an Olympic alternate and Butte native, and he still lives nearby; Rick Appleman is a California transplant who crossed the Sierra once or twice on skis in his youth.
Many cross country ski areas nowadays consist of wide, boring trails. They climb steadily up like logging roads and then descend the same way with few twists and turns. Not The Moulton! Though the trails range from very easy to fairly difficult (green to blue to black diamond), even the easiest trails are not boring. The most challenging trails have steep climbs, equally steep downhills with sharp turns, and gentle flats to double-pole or skate. The trails are narrow enough that you need to pay attention to stay out of the trees on downhill runs. No one is too compulsive about clearing the trails, either, so there is the occasional tree or branch to duck under.
Best of all? The trails are 15-minutes from my front door... Here are a few pics from a morning ski with Emily and RTD.

The ski begins. It's cold out--about 12 deg F. Coat zipped up tight.

Funny how the temperature warms up about 20 degrees in that first half-hour!

Climbing a hill. Nice herringbone technique.

One of several lookouts, and a good place for a quick rest.

Downhill run.

And don't forget to duck!

27 December 2006

The Myth of Student Evaluations

Student evaluations of college faculty are a standard tool used to rate professors in the promotion & tenure process. Most professors realize the limitations of this tool, but of course some administators see it as a simple and objective measure of "effective teaching." Many adminstrators like quantitative measures -- i.e. numerical scores -- so that it is easy to compare one professor with another. We forgive them for this, for after all they are administrators.

Unfortunately, student evaluations -- especially numerical evaluations -- are highly flawed as a measure of effective teaching. These flaws contribute to the decline of American higher education.

William Rundell's study, "On the Use of Numerically Scored Student Evaluations of Faculty," is instructive in this regard. Rundell examined student evaluations of calculus professors at Texas A&M. Students used a 5-point scale to agree or disagree with statements about their professors--questions such as "The instructor seemed to be well-prepared for class;" and "The instructor genuinely tried to help the students learn the material and showed concern."

This was a thorough study. Rundell looked at evaluations from a 4-course sequence. He looked at evaluations from tens of thousands of students in hundreds of sections.

Rundell found two amazing correlations in the data:

(1) The higher the numerical rating for a particular professor, the higher the grades awarded to the students. The conclusion here seems to be that students reward professors that "give" them high grades. I.e. it's quid pro quo: good grades = good evaluations.

(2) The higher the numerical rating for a particular professor (and thus the higher the grade), the lower the grades awarded to students in subsequent sections. The conclusion here seems to be that highly rated professors do a worse job of preparing their students for future courses than do more lowly rated professors. I.e. good evaluations (and therefore good grades) = poor preparation for future courses (i.e. lower subsequent grades).

Wow! So college adminstrators that rely heavily on student evaluations for the promotion & tenure of faculty encourage: (1) grade inflation; and (2) poor teaching.

No wonder many (if not most) college professors are suspicious of numerical student evaluations. We all want to be liked, and even the tenured full professors among us are likely to inflate grades and "dumb it down" if we are rewarded with higher evaluations. For the untenured among us, well, what would you do if your job depended on it?

After reading Rundell's study several years ago, I wondered how easily student evalutions could be manipulated. I could not repeat Rundell's study, but I could test another idea I had heard about. I performed a little test in two sections of a summer course. In section A, I daily repeated several phrases from the student evaluation. I worked through these phrases in order, so that by the end of the semester students had heard me repeat each of the phrases several times. E.g. on a given day I would say "I always try to be well-prepared for class;" and "I am concerned about your performance in this class and I genuinely want to help you." In section B, I taught everything the same way except I did not repeat the phrases from the evaluation form.

The result? At the end of the semester, students in section A gave me an average score (on a 1 to 5 point scale) that was considerably higher than section B (4.5 vs. 3.8). Wow! Just by repeating some set phrases, I could let my administators know that I had become a better teacher.

This said, I like student evaluations and will continue to use them. In part, I will do so merely because administrators require it. More importantly, however, in addition to the mandatory quantitative forms I also use qualitative questions (e.g. "What can the instructor do to improve your learning in this course?"). Thoughtful students -- whether they like or dislike me and my style of teaching -- answer such questions with genuinely useful information, such as asking for review sessions, or complaining about class discussions where students drift off-topic.

It is sad that some administrators use numerical student evaluations as a major measure of teaching effectiveness. I know some professors who have been denied promotion and/or tenure because their numbers "did not look good."

In one case, an administrator did not like the "dumbell distribution" (i.e. bimodal distribution). The professor's average evaluation score was fine, but it was split between students who rated the professor very high and those that rated the professor quite low. The professor's explanation that they were simply trying to prepare students for a subsequent course went unheeded, never mind the implicit conclusion that perhaps many of the students had been ill-prepared for the current course.

In another case, an administrator did not like it that a large proportion of students had dropped the professor's course. In that case, it seems as if the prof were being rate on the basis of negative evidence.Without knowing why students dropped the course (maybe it was scheduled at 8 am!), it was a big leap to say they dropped because of ineffective teaching. Nevermind that this same adminitrator had tried their hand at teaching, and there had been a mass exodus of students from their section to another professor's section! Well, I suppose we are most critical of others when we see in them faults that we cannot recognize in ourselves. Maybe that's why some professors become administrators in the first place?

See Rundell http://www.math.tamu.edu/~william.rundell/teaching_evaluations/article.html and (for a brief summary) see http://lohman.tamu.edu/summarypapersrewards/rundell1.htm.

14 December 2006

Elk Steaks, Cornbread, and Thou

My wife Jan is out of town this week. This gave me time to replace the mixing valve on the old Sears washer that started acting up at the beginning of hunting season, clean up the skull from the big buffala (aka bison) I shot two years ago for the high school history club and that I've been meaning to give to my friend Don back east, and to take a turn at chairing the film series at the Venus Rising Cafe (my flicks were Lucas' "THX 1138" and Lynch's "Eraserhead"). But I get lonely, and hate sitting down to supper with just Roly The Dog and Phoebe The Cat drooling over my plate.

And so I took three or four packages of elk steaks out of the freezer. My apologies to Rebecca and Sarah over at http://women4wildgame.blogspot.com/ -- I have not the patience to age my elk 4 weeks and I worry about temperatures in the mud room where I hang my game climbing over 40 degrees what with global warming and all... Anyway, I thawed the elk steaks and plunked them in my favorite marinade of red wine, olive oil, juniper berries, garlic, thyme, parsely and some other secret ingredients I can't recall just now.

And then I emailed a bunch of friends. Most of my friends are fellow faculty at Montana Tech and they are in the death throes of finals week. Grades are due tomorrow, I think--though I'm not really sure since I'm on sabbatical this semester and don't look at the calendar much. I was sure to invite about twice as many folks as what I had steaks for, knowing that some colleagues wouldn't have time to check email and some would be sitting in their office every night 'til 1 am grinding out those grades (sorry, Bill).

And sure enough about half showed up: Chad, the newest member of the Tech Comm Dept (he's a homeboy who went off to the big leagues and decided to return); Henrietta my Department Head & her pardner (a "wanna-be" hunter himself) Howard Smith; Don & Andrea ("DnA"--they are biochemists who have discovered a couple of cures for cancer) from chemistry; David from chemistry (he's a computer modelling chemist who also pioneers innovative teaching methods); and Simon, a visiting multi media artist in my department (he's the one that drives the huge old campervan with the 4-cylinder engine he rebuilt himself from an old block with a rifle slug in it).

Folks found me in the kitchen dooryard grilling steaks; as they cooked we huddled in for warmth, drank beer, and watched the stars come and go between the drifting clouds. Steaks done (or some close enough: seared on both sides) we moved inside.

What a feast! David brought his southwest style cornbread baked in a cast iron pan with flecks of jalapenos throughout; DnA a tossed salad with cress and other greens I ought to have a name for; H&H a couple of quarts of ice cream to go with that peach pie I thawed out. The junior professors brought themselves (they were hardly even late to supper), an admirable feat since they are doing exactly what junior faculty should do and that is to stimulate students into producing far more work than any single professor can possibly handle). And somebody brought a pile of brownies. Wow, talk about magic. We ate and talked and ate and talked some more, and only reluctantly did I let my guests go home. But they left a few things.

Two days later: today was one big rush--order a Montana leg of lamb from the butcher for Christmas Eve dinner; sit for a television interview for a book I published nearly 6 years ago but that still seems to arouse interest as a holiday gift; bring my partial plate to the dentist to fix that tooth that popped out when I was eating an elk steak sandwich yesterday (no jokes about tough meat, Sarah & Rebecca); visit George Grant at the nursing home (we watch a movie together once a week); and host THX 1138 at the Venus. Drank lots of coffee (which is why I'm up past 10 pm).

But when I got home at the end of all this, HAH! A half-pound of antelope steak went into the cast iron fry pan. By the time I unwrapped the slab of David's cornbread that I've been hoarding and poured a glass of wine the steak was done. I sat down to this meal, toasted the memory of good friends and antelope, and savored the taste of life worth living. Afterwards, I had a bowl of cherry vanilla icecream. Then topped that off with a scoop of pecan praline and the last brownie. Life is good. Too good to live alone. Hope Jan gets home soon.

12 December 2006

Montana Tech: another Butte secret

"We're not the School of Mines, damnit!" That's often my response to Montana kids (and parents) who believe that Tech is merely a mining engineering school.

I am with the communication program, but Tech also has exemplary programs in fields such as chemistry, environmental engineering, computer science, and general engineering. My program is Technical Communication--meaning that students learn everything from how to write a scientific paper, to how to design a website, to how to make a documentary film. They also learn the social context of their craft; as Mcluhan said, "The medium is the message." We are small group of six diverse faculty, and our interests range from environmental communication to historic preservation. See Montana Tech's Wikipedia entry in the links section.

At Montana Tech, classes are small and faculty have a lot of direct contact with (and interest in) students. This means that from freshman year on students know their faculty. Students have tremendous opportunities to work directly with faculty on research projects and community outreach.

Think of Montana Tech as a Liberal Arts college with a technical focus and cheap tuition. Sort of a public school version of Harvey Mudd. Without the LA traffic and air pollution. And with superb outdoor recreation: trout fishing, wild rivers, backcountry skiing, Alpine ski areas with no lift lines, a northern Rocky Mountain wilderness at our backdoor... Butte is one of the sunniest cities in the northern Rockies, and on most days you can see four mountain ranges from town: the Pintler Wilderness (50 miles to the west); the Highlands (15 miles to the south); the Pioneers (75 miles to the southwest); and the Tobacco Roots (75 miles to the southeast). The Continental Divide (aka the "East Ridge") runs along the edge of town.

The view looking west from Butte.

Of course, I think of my department as especially good -- see the student-designed departmental website at http://www.mtech.edu/hss/ptc/tc/media/ptc.htm. Our students have gone on to a wide range of careers including film, journalism, web design, software documentation, and technical writing. We have an elegant professional website designed by faculty, but unfortunately the institution recently redesigned its website and "they" seemed to have wiped out all the links to our department site. Shit happens (I'll talk about an academic's frustration with administrators some other time!).

08 December 2006

Birds Help the Big Game Hunter

I remember the first moment I caught the connection between birds and hunters. I was 16 years old. Old Joe Urban and I were hunting together. Dad had come home for a few days and had planned to hunt with us, but then did not want to get up early that morning. It was an icy, snowy morning. I was stunned when he reached into the headboard of his bed and tossed me the keys to his new Oldsmobile Toronado: "Take the Olds. You'll get stuck if Joe drives."

Late morning, I was moving carefully and quietly though a poplar copse along Fuller Brook, a tributary of Kinzua Creek on the northern Appalachian Plateau. It was the spot where a little spring enters the brook, straight across the shallow valley from the Beagle Club, where cousin Leo had caught that big brook trout (it weighed a pound) the previous spring. In my hands I held a rifle--the 30/06 Remington pumpgun that I had swindeled from my cousin "Billy Fatass" in a trade for a worthless Savage over/under combination gun. The snow had turned to rain on this cold day in early December. My Woolrich jacket weighed about 40 pounds. I was feeling miserable and looking for a whitetailed deer doe.

A flock of chickadees came to visit. I thought it was just chickadees being chickadees in their own peculiar carefree and trusting way. They gathered around me, and then moved a few feet away. I began to move, and they again swarmed around me, and then again moved a little further away in the same direction as they had moved the first time. Their rhythmic chirping was reaching a fever pitch. They were very excited. Somehow, I do not know how, I knew they wanted me to follow. Maybe it was because my rational mind was numbed by cold and fatigue. I was simply moving through the seams of nature without thinking about it.

So I followed. The chickadees moved a little further ahead and swarmed around a big old blowdown of a black cherry tree. I saw an ear flick and then another. Several deer were bedded in the branches of the blowdown. I shot one--a nice fat doe.

As I gutted the deer the chickadees again flitted around me. "OK, guys, I get it." And so I pulled some of the belly fat away from the entrails and hung it on a limb of the dead cherry tree. The chickadees expressed their exhuberance feeding upside down, feeding sideways, singing the happy song of a good meal.

From that time, as a deer hunter of the Alleghenies, I paid attention to chickadees. I came to think of them as little vultures of the woods, little vultures that knew the places of deer, little vultures that would lead me to the flesh we both hungered for.

On a canoe trip in the northern Ontario Temagami Wilderness, I met an old trapper. He regaled me, my fellow adult leader, and our boy scouts with his adventures. He told us a tale of a pet otter that could open the door to leave or enter the cabin, though it refused to learn to close the door. And he told us a tale of a pet raven that rode on his shoulder and that would fly ahead while making the rounds of his trapline. The raven would check each set and let him know whether an animal was in the trap. In this way, the trapper never had to go close to his sets and leave his scent or footprints unless it was necessary.

Since moving to Montana, I have enlarged my appreciation of birds as helper animals. Chickadees are generally unhelpful here, though I see them often while hunting elk. Both browncaps and boreals (the ones with the white eye liner) are common. They are friendly, but they are not helpful.

Whiskey jacks (aka gray jays or camp robbers) are another matter. They seem to cover a lot of ground in their foraging rounds and like the deer-loving chickadees of Pennsylvania they associate hunters with gutpiles and hence food. They know where the elk are, and I trust them. I trust them to lead me to elk (and occasionally other game), and I also trust them to find downed or dead game that I have shot.

Sometimes the whiskey jacks have alerted me to elk that have already passed by. They seem to think I have the power to make the elk come back. I have followed the birds straight uphill for a quarter mile, moving slowly and carefully, only to find recent tracks where elk passed by. That is OK, for if the snow is quiet and the wind is right and the elk are not disturbed, fresh tracks are nearly as good as a live elk (or a dead one, I might say, but I'm not that confident). And even if the snow is noisy and the wind is wrong and the elk are at a panicked run, well, I still thank the whiskey jacks. I brush the snow away from a log or rock and leave them a handful of granola. They tried to help, and do not understand my weak abilities. They are like small, trusting children who are full of faith, who believe their parents are capable of anything. Sorry guys. I still love you. It's the thought that counts.

Sometimes the whiskey jacks have helped me to find downed and dead game that I have shot. Several years ago, on the broad shallow curl of sagebrush covered hillside behing Old Charlie's place, I shot an antelope. There was a rock large enough to rest my rifle on and it was a good shot. I saw it go down and it did not rise up again. But I was about 300 yards away in featureless sage, and when I walked over to where I thought the antelope had went down I became lost. Up and down, back and forth, round and round I tramped through the sage. Finally, I walked back to the rock--one of the few features I could recognize.

I sat down on the rock, ate a snack, and began piece-by-piece glassing the hillside with binoculars. Nothing. I rose to walk back to where I thought the antelope had last stood. Then I heard it: the cries of several whiskey jacks coming over the top of the ridge. They must have heard me shoot and came to investigate. I suspected what might happen, and so I sat back down. Like trained falcons the whiskey jacks swept down into the sage and marked the downed antelope. I walked over, thanked them profusely with belly fat and strips of liver and the fat-covered globs of kidneys.

Though whiskey jacks do not seem as common in the sage brush hills where I hunt antelope or in the mountain mahogany canyons where I hunt mule deer, they do show up now and again--especially after hearing a rifle shot.

According to Native American stories, ravens too are a hunter's helper. Though I love and admire ravens, I have not found this to be true. Several times I have followed ravens that seem to be leading me somewhere--but after a mile or so without seeing elk I have given up. Perhaps the ravens are trying to lead me to elk that are still miles distant, and I have not stuck with the chase. Or perhaps they are trickster ravens, enjoying a game of fool the hunter, avenging themselves because of stupid hunters that shoot ravens.

07 December 2006

Butte America

Butte America.

Butte sunrise, looking west to the Pintler Wilderness, December 2006

Not "Butte, Montana." Butte was long referred to as "the black heart of Montana" because of the abuse of political power by the Anaconda Copper Company. Montana residents who were not of Butte or Anaconda resented this abuse, of course, and came to regard Buttians and Anacondans as Other. Buttians responded by divorcing themselves from their own state, and emphasizing the national importance of Butte. Hence, "Butte America."

Today we are just a burnt over mining town. But -- unusual for a mining town -- Butte was not merely a boomtown or a temporal flash in the pan. Mining persisted here for a century. Even today copper mining plays a significant if small role in the local economy. This persistence led to a sense of place and a cultural rootedness that set Butte apart from other mining towns. Even when the crash came, many Buttians did not leave.

A herd of antelope along the road, just west of town.

And some non-natives, like me, found our way here and we stuck, too. Why? Well, to begin with, "Butte is only 15 minutes from Montana." First rate hunting, fishing, backpacking, skiing, and other outdoor opportunities are at our back door. Furthermore, Butte is incredibly friendly and welcoming. Some days the 20-minute/1&1/2 mile walk from my college office to home can take 2 hours. People want to say "Hi." They want to talk. They want to know how my daughter is doing at college, how my wife is doing in her job, how my dog is doing, how many days it took me to kill my elk this year... God, I love my adopted town and its people.

One of my elk hunting spots, as seen from one of my cross country skiing spots.

For the same reason, of course, I can get very angry with my adopted family. Butte -- and Montana Tech, the college where I teach -- can be incredibly backward. Trying to get ahead by driving backwards and looking in the rearview mirror. But lots of locals -- including many Butte natives -- "get it." They too realize that our future will NOT look like the past. That our future needs to embrace cultural changes that restore our lives. God, I love my adopted town and its people.

04 December 2006

Global Warming is Here

Global Warming is Here, an essay by Montana Tech faculty members Pat Munday*, Butch Gebrandt**, Rick Appleman***, and Andrea Stierle****

A big crowd of Montana Tech students and faculty packed into the Digger Den to watch “the former next president” Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. The film is about the scientific, social, and political dimensions of human-caused global warming—a phenomenon now universally accepted by the scientific community. As the film points out, of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles about global warming in the past 10 years, none (zero) deny that human use of fossil fuels is contributing to global warming. Of articles in the popular press, however, about 53% question the phenomenon. The creation of controversy where little controversy actually exists is a convenient method of mass distraction—a tactic with which the Bush administration is quite comfortable. But the data provided by Gore transcends political ideology and creates a compelling picture of climate trends that should concern all but the most committed optimists.

Think terrorism is the greatest threat to civilization as we know it? Think again. Global warming could lead to widespread crop failures, famines, and the catastrophic flooding of places like New York City and San Francisco.

To appreciate the threat posed by global warming, think how thin and fragile is that boundary layer we call the atmosphere. Earth is about 8,000 miles in diameter, and the portion of the atmosphere in which we can live and breath is only about 5 miles thick. Imagine a model of Earth that is 3-feet in diameter. The thickness of the breathable atmosphere on this model would be only about 0.02 inches—the thickness of just 5 sheets of ordinary paper.

The science of global warming is not new. In the 1860s, British physicist John Tyndall studied the way that gases absorb sunlight and heat up. In 1899, American physicist T. C. Chamberlin studied this effect on the Earth’s atmosphere and predicted that the heavy use of fossil fuel would lead to global warming. The causal link between carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere – much of it from the human use of coal and oil – and global warming was a lively scientific controversy from the 19th century until the 1950s. Since that time, the global warming has become as accepted as Darwin’s Law of Evolution or Newton’s Law of Gravity.

The most significant recent contribution to the science of global warming came with a paper published by Michael Mann and others in 1999. Data was assembled from various sources showing 1,000 years of global temperature fluctuations. This now famous “hockey stick” graph (see Figure 1) shows that recent levels of global warming are unprecedented. Recent global warming has reached a point that is far above any “natural” fluctuation that has occurred in the past millennium. The primary cause of global warming is carbon dioxide, and a graph of carbon dioxide levels shows the same “hockey stick” form (see Figure 2).

The politics surrounding global warming are of great concern. The Bush administration has been very active in suppressing science regarding global warming. Government reports have been “buried,” other agency reports have been rewritten by administration officials, and federal research funding has been pulled. In the near future, expect to see congressional investigations into the Bush censorship of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. Because the Bush administration refuses to acknowledge the reality of global warming, it refuses to act in a politically responsible manner to reduce carbon dioxide emissions or develop a plan for dealing with the consequences. Of course, one can always infer that a political opponent is (at best) irresponsible in dealing with issues of scientific and ethical importance. The Bush administration has made it easy for Gore to make such a claim. For example, Bush hired Philip Cooney, a former energy industry lobbyist, as chief of staff of his Council on Environmental Quality. The New York Times reported in 2005 that it had obtained internal White House documents which proved that Cooney had unilaterally edited the national climate change reports during 2002 and 2003 to water down its conclusions on global warming. While never denying Cooney's editing of the documents, the White House claimed that such changes were part of the “normal adjustments in language” to government documents.

In Montana, any discussion of global warming must include a discussion of coal. Montana has the most coal reserves of any US state—120 billion tons. That is 25% of the country’s reserves. Montana uses around 7 million tons per year and distributes more than 41 million tons of coal per year. This is about 4% of the country’s coal supply. 54% of Montana’s electricity is produced by coal. Montana has 5 coal-fired power plants and 6 proposed new plants. Coal-fired plants are the primary source of carbon dioxide. 98% of carbon dioxide emissions in the US come from burning fossil fuels. Montana emits 35 tons per person per year (8th in the nation). Coal-fired plants report emitting 92% of the mercury in Montana’s air.

Is coal burning in Montana contributing to global warming? Consider the following facts:

1. Since 1999, Montana’s wheat yields have been 15-30% less than the previous 10 years. Models developed by MSU on global warming impacts on Montana agriculture predict a further 20-40 % decrease in yields.
2. Of the 150 glaciers present in Glacier National Park 100 years ago, only 26 remain.
3. In Montana, spring melt-off occurs 15 days earlier than 50 years ago, according to University of Montana Scientist, Steve Running with the Montana Climate Center.
4. Snowfall in the Missoula area has fallen from 55 inches to 40 inches, and the number of frost-free days has increased by 15 in the last 50 years.
5. Flathead Lake reported the highest ever mid-lake temperature on July 22, 2003—76 deg at the deepest point.

While statistics alone do not conclusively prove the extent of global warming caused by burning fossil fuels, they certainly don’t indicate global cooling!

Over your lifetime, expect big changes in Montana because of global warming. Farmers, ranchers, anglers, and skiers will suffer—as will all of us who depend upon a plentiful supply of water. The average temperature will become about 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. Rain and snow fall will decline by 5 to 20 percent. Precipitation will come in the form of more intense storms. Winter will begin later, and snow pack will melt off earlier. Global warming exacerbates wild land fire, pine beetle infestations, and disease; so much of our forest will transition to grassland. Montana will come to look a lot like Utah.

Given Montana Tech’s strength in environmental and other engineering programs, global warming is of particular interest for our faculty and students. Engineers are applied scientists that use proven science to solve real world problems, but the science of global warming is not yet well understood. This makes it difficult for engineers to evaluate possible solutions and determine the best course of action. This is not to say that various actions are not obvious. We can get started right now by controlling population growth, reducing the consumption rates of fossil fuels and thereby reducing the sources of carbon dioxide. However, to evaluate more complex solutions, a much better understanding of the sciences behind global warming is needed.

What do engineering students at Tech learn about global warming?

Environmental engineers are general engineers with a broad foundation in math and four basic sciences including chemistry, biology, physics and geology. The global warming problem requires a math background including non-linear differential equations with time-varying coefficients and a powerful understanding of statistics (including non-parametric methods). All of the basic fields of science are required for one to begin to understand global warming. You need more than the basics, though—including atmospheric chemistry, geochemistry, soil biology and the modeling of ecosystems experiencing stress and undergoing rapid changes. In four years it is not possible to cover all of these disciplines at the depth required and that is why the global warming problem requires a vast interdisciplinary team approach.

Tech’s Environmental Engineering degree program includes most of the scientific and engineering pieces necessary to understand the global warming problem, but there is no specific class such as Global Warming 101 where we pull all of the pieces together. Maybe we, as an institution not department, should offer such an interdisciplinary class. It definitely would be timely given the vast global implications, and it would be a wonderful learning experience too!

We can avoid the worst consequences of global warming if we act NOW. Fuel-efficient vehicles, alternatives like solar and wind energy, halting population growth, and carbon sequestration all must be part of the solution. Federal, state, and local government can all help us along this path. The work of engineers will be crucial. Personal choices, too, are important. What are you doing to minimize global warming?

* Pat Munday, PhD, is a professor with the Technical Communication Department and a former engineer. He took his PhD in the history & philosophy of science & technology.

** Butch Gerbrandt, PhD, is a Professional Engineer, and the Department Head of and a professor with the General Engineering Department.

*** Rick Appleman, PhD, is a Professional Engineer, and a professor with the Environmental Engineering Department.

**** Andrea Stierle, PhD, is a Research Chemist with the Chemistry and Geochemistry Department.

Environmental Clean-up and Social Restoration

Winter is settling in over the upper Clark Fork. We have put the hunting rifles away and it’s time for the Thanksgiving/Winter Solstice/New Year’s round of parties and feasts. With the major Superfund decisions behind us, it’s also time to pause and think about where we are at in this environmental process.

All across America, people are beginning to link environmental clean-up with cultural renewal. Like grief, we seem to experience this process in stages. First there is denial: “Say it ain’t so, Marcus! Surely Butte will always be the richest hill on earth?” Next, there is industrial-history-as-Toxiland-theme-park: “OK, kids, let’s ride the roller coaster at Copper Mountain, and then we’ll head over to the Mine Tunnel of Terror.” At some point, reality takes over. We are indeed living in a post-industrial world, and the future will not look like the past.

Butte, I think, is tottering at this point. It’s a scary place to be. We need to cope with whatever second-rate clean-up we get from EPA and Arco, beg for a few more scraps, and spread scarce dollars over a big landscape.

EPA is allowing Arco to leave most toxic waste in place—you know, “cover it up” instead of “clean it up.”

Most waste will be capped and then protected with fencing and other institutional controls. These postmodern fields will be a monument to our industrial past, and must be protected and maintained in perpetuity.

Toxic house and attic dust will be cleaned up on a limited basis, and only if home owners insist. Never mind the routine roofing, rewiring, and attic renovation jobs that go on everyday and cause toxic exposure for contractors and residents.

Only time will tell whether Butte’s cultural renewal can take place despite such limitations.

Butte-Silver Bow will likely get a few more scraps from its side-deal with Arco. In exchange for the county’s complicity in the proposed Superfund remedy, the county gets 49 million dollars for things like historic preservation, health studies, and the in perpetuity treatment of contaminated water and maintenance of waste caps. The county hopes to make a million dollars or so per year as interest, available over the next one hundred years. Some of this money will be available for redevelopment.

Like the money available from the state’s Natural Resource Damage Program, these Arco trust fund dollars could be used for cultural renewal.

A new citizen’s group, the Butte Restoration Alliance, is forming. The group will advise Butte-Silver Bow government on projects for the community.

We should maintain a healthy critical attitude toward this process. Projects funded by the state’s Natural Resource Damage Program might give us a model of what to expect. Projects have fallen roughly into three categories.

In the first category, we simply fix the leaky pipes left by a century of corporate neglect. New waterlines for Butte and Anaconda fall under this category.

In the second category, we enhance public access to natural resources. The Butte-Anaconda greenway and Milltown pedestrian bridge fall under this category, as do acquisition projects that convert private holdings to public amenities. By simply connecting people with nature we hope to restore an appreciation for and the use of natural resources.

In the third category, we actually restore damaged resources. Projects that rebuild streams to function naturally and support native fish are a fine example of this. Instead of regarding nature as an economic resource to be converted into dollars, nature is a sustainable resource—something that we can become a part of without wrecking or significantly altering. There have not been many such projects.

But here we have a key criterion for authentic environmental restoration and cultural renewal: sustainability. If our activities impoverish the local ecosystem or if our restoration of natural resources requires heavy-handed maintenance in perpetuity, then we have failed at our task. A restored culture will require citizen participation and educational programs, as well as day-to-day activities wherein we live our goals. Shopping at the local farmers’ market, catching a wild trout in the river that runs through it, and attending the local arts festival: all are simple but tangible indications that environmental restoration and cultural renewal are succeeding hand-in-hand.

The twentieth century was the era of non-sustainable industrial growth and environmental pollution. Let this new century be the era of restoration and renewal.

For more news about the Butte Priority Soils remedy and other Superfund issues, please check out CFRTAC’s website at www.cfrtac.org.

From Butte to Missoula, we deserve a clean, healthy, and accessible Clark Fork River. It’s your river. Wade in, and help make the future.

[this post is a modified version of a KUFM radio commentary I did on behalf of CFRTAC]

Cross Country Skiing begins

Last week I skied into my elk kill site to see how things were going. The bones are gone with the exception of the skull--which is picked clean. All that remains of the entrails is the fiber that was in the grassbag--even the stomach lining has been eaten. The birds have quit visiting the kill site, but the coyotes are still coming by to mark it.

I've also skied around some of the trails at the Mill Creek (aka "Mt Haggin") area since last week. It's nice that the club officers seem to have given up their long campaign against dogs. The club lost a lot of members and support over that failed policy. The ski area is on state game range (bought with hunting license money) and Fish, Wildlife & Parks has consistently told the club it may not ban dogs. The campaign was carried on mainly by a couple of anally-fixated groomers (dog tracks mess up the beautiful trails etc).

It was a little cold this morning -- about 0 deg F when I set out at sunup -- and still had not reached 10 deg F when I finished my loop. Back in Butte, the weather felt balmy and maybe it is above freezing by now.

The Mill Cr trails tend to be very wide highways and overgroomed (the snow is practically packed into ice). The skate skiiers love that, of course, but I prefer narrower more intimate trails--such as the ones at Moulton, just north of Butte. Also, Moulton is only a few miles from my house, whereas Mill Cr is over 20. But Mill Cr will have to do until we get a little more snow in the Butte area.

There are still some elk hanging around the ski area. I was surprised, and thought the cold weather (20 or so below) would have sent them all to winter range in German Gulch and at Mt Fleecer etc. There are also moose, of course--though from the tracks it looks as if the snowmachines have been seriously harassing them in their willow bottom refugia. Damned motorized recreation--the 90% of riders who follow no rules give the 10% of riders who are good & ethical a bad name.

28 November 2006

Rifles and Hunting Memories

A note from a friend set me to thinking about the subject of cartridge selection. For those of us whose lives revolve around the out-of-doors, it is an interesting subject that also connects with the selection of gear & style for fishing, skiing, camping, hiking, etc. But because research shows that nearly all hunters are shaped by childhood experiences of hunting, I’ll bet that rifle/cartridge selection is more conditioned in this way than is the selection of other outdoor gear.

In my own case, I was fortunate to have been raised by my grandfather and to have experienced hunting with him and many of his friends. They were a dedicated lot who hunted everything they legally could (well, and sometimes some things they legally could NOT): white tailed deer & black bear, turkeys & pheasant & ruffed grouse & woodcock, squirrels & cottontail rabbits & snowshoe hares, and ‘coon & fox.

Gramps worked with Bernard Dutka, who owned a truck garage. During hunting season most anytime and throughout the year at lunchtime men gathered around the big coal-fired potbelly stove. They argued cartridges and rifle & shotgun actions and philosophical questions such as, “Who owns the deer?” and “What does it mean to be a good hunter?”

Gramps hunted deer and bear with a Winchester M55 takedown 30-30 with open sights (ivory bead front) and Mr. D used a Savage M99 300 with scope. I could never shoot Gramps’ 30-30 well, in part because I found the narrow steel butt plate and sharp comb punishing. He was deadly with it, however, up to about 200 yards. The M99 was by far the most popular rifle model, with a few in 250-3000. Other choices ranged from the Courteau family’s proclivity for 410 shotgun slugs (they didn’t kill many deer) to my uncle’s 270. One guy who always killed his buck swore by his Savage bolt action 22 Hornet. For some reason there were very few military surplus rifles (“sporterized” or otherwise), which seem to be fairly common in Montana. I began with a lightweight Sako in 308. It was my Dad’s new rifle and he foolishly boasted that if I killed a buck my first year (I was 12) the rifle was mine. Mr. D helped insure that I did indeed kill a buck, and he also insured that Dad kept his word. I still have this rifle, and I’ve killed a bunch of elk with it since moving to Montana in 1990.

Bernie’s Truck Garage also functioned as a sort of butcher shop, especially in the evening on the first day or two of deer season, and on the weekends. By the age of 11 I was skinning and quartering deer in exchange for the hide—which usually sold for about three dollars. It seemed like a lot of money at the time. On a busy evening I might skin and quarter six or so deer, but in those days a buck was hard to come by and there were usually just two or three. The two-day long doe season could be very busy, and my grandmother got angry because I would be at the garage until nearly midnight. I needed help with the meat saw but handled the skinning myself. The experience was especially rewarding because I could also take in the hunting talk of the men, and because I could observe the various ways deer were shot. Single shots through the ribs or to the neck; multiple wounds with gut shots, broken legs, and bloodshot haunches; and tales of wounded deer never found. I like to think this experience (along with my own mistakes, truth be told) made me a little choosy about how and where I shoot deer.

At the same time I was reading every magazine article about hunting and rifle/cartridge selection that I could get my hands on, which is how I learned of Ned Roberts .257 wildcat based on 7 X 57 Mauser. We also had a renowned custom rifle shop – Clare Taylor & Don Robbins -- near my town. They built mostly bench rest competition rifles, but were advocates of small bore high velocity cartridges, and I absorbed some of their enthusiasm. Somehow, all of this culminated in my buying the Winchester M70 Featherweight—the only new rifle I’ve ever bought. For some reason, I have always been skeptical of new commercial calibers (though I esteem wildcats), especially the so-called magnums. I’ve had four friends and hunting partners who used magnums (two 300 Winchester fans, one 7mm Remington, and one 338 Winchester). Three were lousy-to-mediocre shots, and at least one of them has come to terms with the problem and given up the magnum. My dear deceased friend Ray Ott shot the 7 mm, and he shot it as comfortably and as accurately as I shoot my little 25 Roberts.

As for bullets, until recently I used Hornaday’s 100-gr soft point and was happy enough with their two inches at 100-yards accuracy. Several years ago I switched to Nosler’s 100-br boat tail “ballistic tip”—primarily because a friend gave me a few to try out, and they proved to be phenomenally accurate (sub moa) in my rifle. A dozen or so deer and three antelope later, and I am a little uncertain about their performance—they seem to be more “explosive” than the Hornaday, especially at close range. I’ll give them another year or two on deer and antelope before switching back.

Just this year, because I anticipated my hunting apprentice using the 25 Roberts for elk, I tried some 100-gr Barnes all-copper X bullets. They are very accurate, also, and did a very good job on AJ’s cow elk. He shot her high through the lungs at long range (well over 200 yards) and the bullet made a big hole, taking a rib on the way out. Elk can go a long ways on a high lung shot, and this cow did (well over a half-mile)—but she also ran only downhill and was pretty well bled out when AJ & I got to her. I decided against the heavier (115-gr or 120-gr) Barnes because they are a very long bullet (copper density being lower than lead) and the heavier bullet would have to be seated very deeply, cutting into powder capacity. Also, I have shot Nosler and other 115-120 gr bullets in this rifle, and they never shot particularly well. 87-gr bullets shoot about as well as 100-gr, but I quit killing ‘chucks and coyotes and foxes a long time ago.

27 November 2006

The "25 Roberts" rifle (aka .257 Remington Roberts)

Lying awake and trying to find my way into sleep one night during this past hunting season, like pearls on a string I began sliding along the memories of deer killed by my 25 Roberts. I lost count and fell into sleep somewhere past sixty. More important to me were the seven individuals whom I could recall having used the rifle. Though it is a mere material fetish, it gives me great pleasure to connect the lives of these friends and family members through an elegant piece of wood and steel.
When I was a kid, I read an essay by Jack O'Connor about the 257 Roberts--probably on the pages of Outdoor Life magazine. A few oldtimer friends of my grandfather hunted with the 250-3000 Savage M99 lever action, and that cartridge carried quite a mystique. When O'Connor declared the 25 Roberts to be far superior to the 250-3000, I knew I had to have one.

It took awhile. After dozens of deer shot with everything including a 222 Remington, 20 ga shotgun slugs, and a 308 Winchester, I was working at an oil refinery in Bradford, Pennsylvania, and had a little folding money to spare. It was the late 1970s, and Winchester had reintroduced its M70 Featherweight. A local gunshop ordered me one in 25 Roberts.

It proved to shoot accurately with 50 grains of IMR 4350 pushing 100 grain Hornaday softpoints. I've since reduced that load to 48 gr, since occasionally with warm weather the load has proved a little too hot--leading to cratered primers and sticky ejection. For bullets, I've switched to 100-gr Nosler "blue tip" boattail softpoints, a super accurate bullet suggested by my friend Don Kieffer (from whom I recently re-acquired a 25-06 Browning, after having traded him the rifle some years prior to that). I also like the 100-gr Barnes all copper bullet--it is accurate, holds together on elk, and has not caused the copper fouling problems reported by some.

The 25 Roberts is a low recoil round that kills deer and antelope very well. I do not like shooting big magnum rifles and the flinching (bad shooting) habits they induce in most users. The 25 Roberts is also light to carry, something I appreciate when stalking mule deer up and down the rugged canyons of the lower Big Hole River valley. While the 25 Roberts is not the best choice for an elk rifle, it did kill a nice bull elk (1 shot) last year that happened to be feeding with a bunch of mule deer. Also, my hunting apprentice AJ used the little rifle to kill his elk cow this year. The first shot was at rather long range (well over 200 yards), and the second shot (delivered after the cow made it to the bottom of a steep walled valley and lay down, where AJ caught up with it) was probably superfluous.

On many deer hunts over the years, hunting partners have used my 25 Roberts to kill their deer. Sometimes, this has been after they missed a deer with their own rifle. I think some people are just careless about working up a good load in their own rifle and shooting it enough to have confidence in it (and to KNOW it’s sighted in!) but this has lent my rifle an almost magical reputation.

Visit to Boston & Keene, New Hampshire

Daughter Emily is in her first year of college at Boston University, and so Jan & I decided to visit over the Thanksgiving holiday. Andy & Sarah, our good friends from the Cornell years, live in Keene, New Hampshire, about 2 hours from Boston. They generously invited us for a few days--along with Emily's boyfriend Sam, who traveled with us, and their friend Calvin, who traveled from Colgate in New York State.

Sam left his classes at University of Montana-Missoula a day early, and we picked him up early one morning at his Mom's house in Butte. Our nearly-six-hour drive to Salt Lake City airport was broken up with a lunchtime visit to friends Brent & Karina at Pocatello. Brent teaches high school science & math, Karina is a gifted interior decorator who paints floral patterns on walls, and they have two young school age kids. Adler and I were fishing buddies at our Mussigbrod Lake campout last summer.

We arrived in Boston's Logan Airport VERY early in the morning, picked up the car (a PT Cruiser?), dropped Sam off with Emily at BU, and then Jan & I spent about 2 hours making the "15-minute drive" back to hotel near the airport. Glad there wasn't much traffic!
Calvin flew into Logan the next morning and we were on the road again. What a relief to arrive in Keene, have Andy hand me a beer, and kick back. Andy & Sarah's daughter, named Emily after "our" Emily, is now 11-years old and in Middle School. Sarah's mother, Jane, lives next door. She was off spending Thanksgiving with her son & family at her old Vermont home, and she was so kind to offer Jan, Emily, and I the use of her house.

Andy is a gifted teacher and dedicated academic, though he does not get on too well with his college administration and most colleagues. But we talked about teaching, the lessons of history and literature, and the work of literary critic Harold Bloom. We watched a taped Bloom interview that Andy uses in his classes, and I am now very interested in Bloom's How to Read and Write. Andy has often acted as a sort of teacher to me, and I deeply appreciate the insights and passion he brings to ideas.

Thanksgiving Day began with a race. Andy has become a marathon runner, but also likes to run some shorter races like Keene's 4.5 mile Cranberry Run. His goal was to string 7-minute miles together, a goal he missed by seconds. Sarah also ran--her first registered race, I think.

Inspired by the morning's events, I took Jane's overweight but very lovable Golden Retriever, Heide, for a long walk. Later, the day brought a wonderful meal, more good conversation, and the joy of friends spending time together.

On Friday we visited the family cottage at Silver Lake. Sarah collected white pine and hemlock boughs for decorating, and we all reminisced about good visits there in summers past. I think this might have inspired Jan & Sarah to buy lobsters for supper--a treat greatly appreciated by everyone (including Jane, who returned home Friday before dark). Before supper, Emily Wilson demonstrated an immediate knack for using my little digital camera. She made an investigative documentary about laxatives. According to Emily, Sam, and Calvin, colleges routinesly add laxatives to cafetaria food. EW's documentary included a discourse into epistemology (led by Andy): If people believe something, does that make it true? Well, as Emily argued, it increases the likelihood that it could be true. Hmmm... I think Emily & I will read& discuss Plato's Socratic dialogues over Christmas break. After supper and a lively game of dictionary (talk about majority opinion creating truth!), we all called it a night.

We guests left for Boston the next morning, where Emily was an excellent guide to the Commons, Quincy Market, street performers, and the Italian restaraunts of the North End. Wow. Hard to believe she has only been there a few months. Jan & I had a similar experience as college students in Philadelphia, and we still have warm memories of that city.(Photo L to R: Jan, Emily, Sam, and Calvin)

I am very thankful to live in Montana. After driving from Salt Lake to the Montana line, we stopped for pie & coffee at Jan's Diner in Lima. Though still 2 hours from Butte, we were home.

20 November 2006

Dragging Elk and the Food Chain

It is a perverse joy, I suppose, but one reason I like hunting elk in remote areas far from roads is that you have to bust your ass to get the dead elk from the kill site to your truck. This can involve using a wheeled game cart along old logging roads, dragging elk or elk-on-sled through snow, and boning out meat to carry in a backpack.

This year, I killed my elk up a little valley along the Continental Divide from where I was parked--and easy 2-mile drag through a fairly open and gently sloping downhill valley. Better yet, there was 6 or 8 inches of new snow to ease the sled's travel. Best yet, my wife had found a dog sled harness at GoodWill and so my pal RolyTheDog was able to help.

On some of the downhills, RTD could move the 1/2 elk on her own. Good dog!

An elk kill is a big shot into the food chain. Of course, I always hope to retrieve my elk before it is found by coyotes, wolves, or bears that have not yet gone into hibernation. So far, I've been lucky in this respect. Moving the field dressed carcass well away from the kill site (entrails and other cast off parts) helps, as does covering the carcass with branches, pissing at several nearby spots to mark your turf, and hanging a neckerchief or other article of clothing nearby.

This year, I was surprised to find a weasel (ermine, when they are dressed in winter white) on my carcass. To be more exact, it was under the carcass. Initially I thought, "Oh great. The little bugger has chewed through the hide and eaten into the meat, and probably marked it to boot." (Weasels make a seriously bad odor when they mark.) But no, to my joy, the weasel seemed to have merely made a sleeping spot under the warm, well insulated hide. Tracks showed that it had been feeding on the rich fat surrounding some of the entrails. As I loaded the carcass onto my sled, the weasel watched intently, tunneling under the snow and poking its head up here and there. Too bad RTD scared it off. You can see the weasel in the pic if you look for the black tip of its tail and its two eyes.

As RTD and I approached the kill site, we also got a lesson in bird dominance order. The ravens had been on the gut pile, and they circled overhead and croaked their complaints at our approach. Immediately, though, the whiskey jacks (gray jays) moved in, feeding both on the gut pile and on the body cavity fat that I had hung in a tree for them. When I moved up to the gut pile to gather more fat to hang in the tree, the whiskey jacks moved away but a flock of chickadees came in to feed. They pecked away at the scraps even as I was hanging more in tree. Little vultures, them chicadee-dee-dee--dees.

17 November 2006

Ruby Valley deer hunt

I am privileged to sometimes receive permission to hunt on a beautiful, well-managed ranch in the Ruby River valley (pic above). The place is full of whitetailed deer, sandhill cranes, turkey, pheasant, etc. As a restoration project, it was planned by a friend of mine -- Chris Boyer -- and it is a wonderful example of a how a cow-hammered property can be remade so that it functions both as a cattle ranch and as a nature preserve.

The ranch is an easy hunt (almost just shooting and not hunting really), but is an especially good experience for novice hunters. The ranch is laid out into large blocks with hunter access carefully controlled. You do not need to worry about moronic road hunters, careless shooters wandering through "your" area, or too many hunters chasing the critters off to neighboring properties.

I drove over for a late afternoon hunt last week, and shot two whitetailed does after watching many deer (including seven bucks, two of which were trophy-size) for an hour. Interestingly, after I shot the first it took only 5 minutes or so for the deer to calm down. If they do not see or smell you, then the noise of shooting and act of killing does not seem to disturb them.

AJ wanted to hunt a whitetail, and though I had hoped hunting season was over I agreed to show him this marvelous place. Saturday pre-dawn found us sneaking along a fenceline into our hunting block, watching dozens of deer, and having our hearts stopped by pheasant flushing at our feet. We sat at field edge in unmown hay, but the deer within shooting range were either bucks or fawns. The does get hunted hard in the Ruby, and they can be a little scarce toward the end of hunting season.

With sunup most deer retreated from the fields, and so I sent AJ to a hunting stand just inside a brushy wood bordering the field. Because he has sometimes shot unnecessarily and because I thought he was ready for it, I gave him only a single cartridge for the rifle. Then I walked a wide circle and approached the hunting stand along another brushy border. As I neared the stand, I heard the bark of my little 25 Roberts.

AJ was bending over as I approached and he said to me, "Every animal you kill is a gift." Good student, this lad. And he now has enough meat to feed his family for the entire year.

[Below is a little poem I wrote about my daughter Emily's hunt in this same place. Pat Munday
© 2005]

Tsik, Tsik, Tsa

Kalahari hunters listen to the stars, they sing “Tsik, Tsik, Tsa.”

Late afternoon in Montana’s most beautiful river valley,
In a state full of beautiful river valleys,
Full of people thinking they live in Montana’s most beautiful river valley.

But there we were, Papa and Daughter,
Sprawled behind a fallen cottonwood,
Examining dried raccoon turds for fur, seeds, small bits of bone.

Peeking over now and then,
Surveying the field,
Willing a white-tailed deer into being.

Turkeys on the jackleg fence
Hop down to feed in wheat stubble,
Clucking soft, contented, confident chatter.

Pheasants too: Cackling; Miffed; Muscled out.

Sandhill cranes along the wood line,
Hooting and hollering on hallowed ground,
Pterodactyls on native soil.

The sun touches the western ridge,
Flocks of blackbirds fly to roost,
Pleasant distractions.

Then from thin air a young deer,
Innocent in the ways of the world,
Feeds ten feet away.

New coat fuzzy in soft light of dusk,
Harbinger preparing the way,
More muzzles peak from brush yon side of jackleg fence.

Daughter watches, memory of flesh recalls a dark clear night,
Just a baby Mother held her up arms outstretched,
“The stars are the greatest hunters, “Tsik, Tsik, Tsa.””

Mother doe and fawn leap the fence,
Six feet high touch softly down look around,
Surveying the field.

Daughter rests rifle on fallen tree,
Sights, breathes deep, squeezes,
Will she release this trigger?

At dawn stars faded fast,
She aimed and pondered, pondered and aimed,
Declined to kill a deer whose time had not come.

Rifle crack marks the time,
Child comes of age,
Star destiny fulfilled.

Papa watches the doe,
Hears the bullet smack,
Three leaps bring doe to ground.

One hundred and fifty steps later
Daughter bows to death,
Reaches out to earth’s gift.

The knife’s work is done,
Entrails pulled into a neat pile,
Liver and heart laid carefully aside.

Meat for the table,
We are blessed, “Tsik, Tsik, Tsa.”

Successful Elk Hunt

I hunted elk hard this year, but it just did not seem to be happening. So the other night I took stock of myself and decided to just be the predator and quit thinking about it so much. I thought about my little .308 Sako, the rifle Dad bought in the early 1960s, and boasted he would give to me if I shot a buck the year I turned 12. I don't believe he thought I would do it. It shot out of its first stock and is cracking the replacement (no nearly 20 years old) at the rear of the receiver. It eroded around the muzzle (don't leave the muzzle taped between hunts) and had to be shortened a bit and recrowned. But it's a wonderful, lightweight woods rifle and it shoots true.
Well, early morning next day found me walking up a low ridge along a small valley tight to the Continental Divide, six inches of heavy wet snow on the ground and more coming by the moment. I repeated my simple mantra "Elk, I will use you well and honor your memory."

Passing along the familiar path of Allen's flume (a 14-mile long conduit to float logs from the east to the west slope of the Continental Divide c. 1900 for the Anaconda smelter), I came upon one of the few braces left standing (see pic).

Just past sunup I cut the track of a young wolf (or, at least, a small one). A lone track, unlike a hunt along a ridge further down the valley earlier this week when I cut the tracks of big wolf and pup. I was tracking a big band of elk moving from open park to northside bedding grounds when the wolves cut in on my hunt. The tracks told the story: just as the elk were starting to bed, the pup rushed headlong into them. The wolf just ambled along at some distance, letting the pup have its head. The pup was of course no threat to the elk (and I doubt the lone adult wolf was, either) but it certainly made them scatter. I tracked another two miles but gave up when they headed through a valley and toward another ridge.

So this morning I let the wolf go its way, loping toward the open parks along the ridge top where the elk might still be feeding. Toward the place I intended to go. Perhaps the wolf would move the elk down to me if I stayed between the parks and thicker bedding grounds. And perhaps it did, for shortly after two elk passed just below me. I did not see them in the small, thickly growing trees and tag alders but heard their heavy hooves as they passed behind me, caught my scent, and fled. From the way that they passed through the low hanging branches without knocking much snow away, I was sure they were cows. And where there are two there are often more.

Swinging a wide circle from where the two cows had bolted I could feel that familiar tapping in my chest and kneeling down saw elk. Everywhere. All around. Several below me were already moving away, probably having cut my track or picked up my scent. A big cow just above me was bedded in a treewell. Though just 40 yards distant, I could barely make out her form. When she stood I shot her (just above and behind the heart, as it turned out). She ran down the hillside 100 or 200 yards, slumped into the snow, and I approached and shot once again. Before I had knelt to thank her and the mountain, the whiskey jacks (gray jays) were squawking for their share.

I field dressed the cow and hung some belly meat in an aspen for the hungry whiskey jacks. I like to keep on the good side of them, since occasionally they tell me where the elk are. After removing the tenderloins, I rolled the cow over, split along the spine, removed the backstraps, snicker-snacked the ribs with my vorpal hatchet, removed the spine, and finished splitting the elk. I dragged the two halves a hundred yards or so from the butchering site, covered each half with branches, pissed to marke the area and fend off coyotes (or this young wolf), and packed out the tenderloins and backstraps and heart and liver.

It was less than two miles in, and I hoped to return home, fetch the game sled, and have both halves out by dark. By the time I patched up the game sled (AJ's elk took its toll) and returned, it was nearly 3 pm. After setting a path with the first half, I was bushed and the sun was touching the Pintler ridges. I'll return today for the second half.

Thank you, Elk. I will use you well, and honor your memory.

13 November 2006

AJ's Mule Deer Buck

I stopped by AJ's place at dark-thirty a.m. Today was to be his second mule deer hunt. As regular readers know, AJ is my 14-year old hunting apprentice.

At first light, we arrived and parked at the south end of the ridge marking Dave's Deer Mine. Deer were flooding out of the alfalfa field and up the steep, rocky ridge. Even if there had been a buck among them, it was a little early to shoot. More importantly, I wanted AJ to hunt a deer and not merely shoot one.

We climbed the ridge, moving carefully and not trying to overly spook the bunches of deer that seemed to be all around us. It was a very foggy morning, and only in fits and spurts could we see more than a hundred yards or so. Though we did get a good look at a dozen or more deer, we could not put horns on any of them, and so continued along the ridge toward the saddle. At the saddle, the fog began to lift a bit.

We spotted a small herd of deer on the ridge across from us, and one was a good buck. It was much too far to shoot; after the first day's deer hunting disappointment, I was determined to keep the range well under 200 yards. Unfortunately, as the fog lifted the wind shifted and when they scented us the deer vanished into the rocks and trees at a crest in the ridge.

And so we continued working our way along the ridge's spine, swerving left and right to glass the rocks and sage and mountain mahogany on either side. Though we saw several bunches of deer, there seemed to be no bucks among them. It was the tail end of the rut, the large herds had broken up, and I feared the bucks might have left for another area.

But then we saw a few mulies feeding far below us, and as we glassed the grassy cleft between two finger ridges we saw more and more deer--mostly bedded. At 500 or 600 yards, it is difficult to see a small-antlered buck through our lightweight binoculars. When two deer began butting heads however, I knew they were bucks even before we caught a few flashes of sunlight from their antlers. This was a perfect setup for a stalk: we could back down the ridge, stay out of sight, and peek over from a prominent outcrop only a hundred yards or so from the deer.

We nearly reached that prominent outcrop when the volley of shots began from across the river. The shots were clearly being aimed toward us, though at a much lower point at the base of the ridge. We could see the four hunters, at least two of them with their rifles rested on the hood of the truck. At first I thought they might be shooting at "our" deer, but then I could see that the furthest finger ridge would block their view into the grassy cleft.

But the racket did spook our deer, and we could see the first of them beginning to move up the cleft between the finger ridges--directly at the spot where we had been sitting when we first saw them. No matter. We hurried over to the edge of the ridge, found a waist-high rock, and I unslung my knapsack as a rest for AJ to shoot from. The deer were now in a perfect single file, moving slowly but purposely along.

Toward the rear, a big forkhorn paused to look back. AJ had already spotted him. The rifel roared, the little buck flopped down, and the rest of the herd continued up and over the ridge.

Death seldom comes easily, and we watched as the deer struggled, kicked, and tried to raise his head. He was largely obscured by rock and sagebrush, and I advised AJ to shoot again only if he had a clear shot. This proved unnecessary, and within a long minute or so the buck became still and never moved again.

We approached cautiously, partly because of the steep slope and partly because I have several times seen "dead" deer jump up and run. We admired the deer, thanked the deer and the mountain, and then the work began.

It was a fine shot, a hunter's shot. The bullet had angled in from high behind a shoulder and exited through the liver and one lung.

As always, it was a rough drag down the mountain side, through the sagebrush and over the rocks. We dropped into the coulee that drained the cleft, and though there was not much of a trail there was some snow and that helped ease the drag. As we neared the railroad tracks, I sent AJ back to the truck for the bike and I sat down to enjoy the sun, the sight of an osprey fishing the river, and my lunch.

I also watched the idiots who had shot from across the river walk up the railroad tracks cans of beeer in hand.
they found the one deer they had killed with their 7 or 8 shots, field dressed it, and begin dragging it out over the rough ballast between the tracks.

AJ arrived--much more quickly than I expected. It would have taken me a half hour or longer to reach the truck, and at least that long to return (including a pause for lunch!). We loaded the buck on the bike, setting his pelvic opening over the saddle, tying one leg to a handle bar, and the other leg and neck to the other handle bar. [I thank Rick and Sam Douglass for demonstrating this method to me many years ago, when Sam was about AJ's age.]

AJ skinned the buck that afternoon, and butchered it the next. After only one previous lesson (on his elk), he did a good job with little help. Quick study, this boy.

And now I need to find an elk for my own freezer. I hunted a certain big elk bull for the 3rd time Saturday, and for the 3rd time he outwitted me. So much for "three time's a charm." From here on, I'll be very happy to take an elk cow, thank you very much to the hunting gods.

06 November 2006

Hunting Elk in Montana

Elk season is like moonlighting at a second job.

Opening day (Sunday two weeks ago) found AJ and I high up on a ridge along the Continental Divide. The pic at left shows our view at sunrise: a valley filled with icy fog, and the peaks of the Pintler Wilderness like islands across a sea.

Several groups of hunters had put camps into this area, and it seems to have move the elk out. We did see some late in the day as we glassed through binoculars to ridges a mile or so away.

Over the course of the week, I got out once or twice more. One morning I drove a forest road up a Big Hole tributary, parked at about 7,500 feet, and hunted the whitebark pines and scree edges. The snow had warmed and refrozen and so was very noisy. But I used my time well, and spent the day following a large black bear track (see pic, below).

Though I never caught up with or glimpsed the bear, it was interesting seeing where it had raided squirrels' nut caches and crossed rugged areas of scree (see pic, below).

It was a glorious day to be in the mountains, and when the snow warmed up and quieted down, I said goodbye to the bear and walked down a ridge above the east side of the drainage where I had parked. I would walk a few steps, lean against a tree, pause, smell, listen, and glass the trees and deadfall. In the past I have found elk bedded on this ridge.

This day, however, they had crossed from the north side of the ridge just ahead of me. I smelled them and then saw the fresh tracks in the snow. I began following, but within an hour the day began to cool, the snow again settled into a noisy crust, and when I did get close to the elk they ran on ahead.

A day or so later I hunted another familiar place -- on a "low" ridge (7500 feet) along the Big Hole River. I hoped the snow would be quiet on the north slope and allow me to stalk closely to a bedded elk. The snow was quiet but the wind swirled and shifted. The elk -- a large, lone bull -- twice circled ahead of and above me and (as I knew from reading the tracks) watched me pass by.

A week ago Saturday I hunted mule deer in the lower Big Hole with AJ, and mildly chastised him for missing two bucks. It was his first time shooting at big game, and he might have been a little excited. On Sunday he hunted with a family friend, so I hunted deer alone and shot a fat little forkhorn ( see pic at left). I saw a larger buck on the backside of the ridge, but shooting it would have meant (A) a big stinky mulie buck; and (B) fording across the river with the carcass to reach the nearest road. I wanted to be home by noon and those little bucks are tasty.

This past Saturday we set off on a favorite hunt. Parking at a pass along the Divide, we hiked east a mile and then set off north down a ridge that parallels the highway for about five miles. We jumped elk at first light, and they ran across the high shallow valley to two hunters on horses where one cow was shot. The elk ran back to a ridge across from us and whistled several times. The snow was so noisy that a stalk would have been futile.

We continued down the ridge, turning our faces from a harsh 40 mph wind, and dropped into an isolated but sheltered spot where some loggers lived in drafty, tiny cabins 120 years ago when they were cutting cordwood for the Anaconda copper smelter. This is a big wide-open landscape, and only in the past 20 or so years has it begun to recover from the horrible effects of clear-cutting, acid smelter smoke poisoning, and soil erosion. Still a bit of a moonscape, there are also lush patches of bunch grass and thickly wooded bedding areas.

Just above the cabins we moved 200 yards apart through one such bedding area. A cow and calf moose nearly ran me over, and I saw one of the largest bull moose tracks I've ever seen in Montana. I also disturbed a band of elk and they ran behind AJ. He heard and saw them, but wisely did not hazard a shot at hard-to-see elk running full tilt through thick timber. We rested out of the wind, ate a snack near one of the cabins, and planned how we would hunt a high ridge to our east.

We climbed to the south end of the ridge, and AJ went along the "front" (west) side to seek out a sheltered spot to sit and watch the north end of the ridge. I went along the back side and moved through a dense stand of whitebark pines. There was abundant mule deer and elk sign. A bunch of mulie does ran past me, and when I heard AJ shoot, I worried that perhaps he had shot a mule deer buck. This is a long, long, ways to haul a deer.

But he excitedly ran down to me, explaining that about 20 elk had crossed the ridge. He was not going to shoot because they were all in full gallop, but three paused momentarily and he had taken aim on a cow. And he had shot her. A good shot, from about 200 yards away. From the foamy pinkish blood I knew it was a lung hit. As we carefully and slowly followed her down the steep slope, she left a good blood trail. Periodically, there were great gushes of blood, and I theorized that it was a high lung shot, and that the chest would fill with blood and then she would blow it out. As AJ followed the blood trail through thick cover, I circled out to the edges just in case she broke out. But she did not, and when AJ got to the bottom I heard him shoot again. He had found the cow down and unable to stand, and had taken a finishing shot. I congratulated him on this first kill, and we paused to admire and thank the elk.

I removed the ivory tusks, handed them to him, and explained their significance as a memory and treasure from the hunt.

"Now the work begins," I found myself saying--just as my grandfather said countless times to me after shooting a whitetailed deer on some Allegheny ridge. AJ made neat work of the field dressing, with a little instruction and a guiding hand. He removed the tenderloins, set them aside with the liver and heart, and we rolled the carcass over. He split it along the spine and removed the backstrap from each side. I then used my little hatchet to snicker-snack the ribs away from the spine and to finish splitting the carcass at pelvis and brisket.

We dragged each half to a shaded, snowy spot, and covered the meat with branches from a Douglas fir. then loaded our knapsacks with backstrap and tenderloin and liver and heart, and began the trek out.

Sunday we returned with my game sled and I threw the backpacks in the truck, "just in case." We dragged the first half out with the sled, which was hell: dry ground, grass, willow & alder thickets, and aspen stobs & deadfall along the beaver dams. It took three hours. So for the second half we brought the backpacks and AJ built a nice warming fire while I boned out the meat. This was much easier, given the dry and rugged trail out. We made it out of the canyon at dark, hung the elk half and put the bags of boned out meat in my mudroom. (see pic, below) Yesterday I picked up AJ after school and we cut & wrapped the first half. Today we'll cut & wrap the second half. Tomorrow or the next day we'll grind the scraps into sausage.

AJ is a happy hunter, and a little bit lucky to have killed an elk in his 2nd day of hunting. His family will have about 150 pounds of meat in the freezer. Prime, tasty, and "all natural." And as the oldtimers say (God, I think I'm turning into an oldtimer), the harder it is to get an elk out of the woods, the better it tastes.

Later this week, I think my body has recovered enough to go elk hunting for myself. And we still need to find AJ a mulie buck to top off his family's freezer.

26 October 2006

Treason and the Big Hole Watershed Committee

[photo at right: hayfields flooded during a drought with the Big Hole River closed to anglilng (August 2006)]

The Big Hole Watershed Committee began in 1995 as a group of diverse stakeholders that wanted to: (1) Address the problem of the Big Hole River being chronically dewatered; (2) Address the problem of the Big Hole River grayling going extinct.

Though it appeared that some progress was being made, the past few years have seen a halt or maybe even regression in reaching these goals.

[photo at left: diversion dam near Maiden Rock; note that the irrigation ditch is in the LOWER left portion of the photo, and the river channel is in the UPPER left portion of the photo.]

What are the causes for this?

1. The watershed committee was not so diverse as we deluded ourselves into thinking it was. Moderate groups such as the Montana Wildlife Federation were not given a place at the table. This made the omission of Other groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity (which had driven the grayling issue by petitioning for Endangered Species listing) more grievous.

2. The watershed committee claims to speak for critical stakeholders who do not accept the act of ventriloquism. This became graphically evident in the spring of 2003 when prominent upper river basin irrigators mocked the watershed committee's efforts at drought management, stating "You'll get our water when you pay for it;" and "We hope you succeed in getting other irrigators to let water go by their headgate, because we will take every drop of it."

3. The watershed committee is incapable of reining-in these and other irrigators--such as the downriver (from Maiden Rock to Twin Bridges) irrigators that seriously dewatered the river in summer 2006--in some cases with what proved to be illegal diversion dams.

4. The watershed committee regards stakeholders that speak out for their own interests as traitors. Guides and outfitters, conservation groups, and individuals--all commit treason if they refuse to be silenced, if they refuse to let the watershed committee speak on their behalf.

There is hope for the Big Hole Watershed Committee. But the watershed committee must learn to embrace and not silence diverse voices. Consensus and the alliances that support it can be challenged at any time. If the watershed committee continues to suppress or ignore criticism,* the group will simply become irrelevant. The number of dissidents is growing.

* By criticism, I mean actions as well as words. Actions speak louder than words: actions of irrigators who refuse to conserve water in a drought year; actions of irrigators that build illegal diversion dams; actions of irrigators that flood their fields with water while the river is closed to angling.

17 October 2006

An Elk-scouting Hike

I picked up AJ Saturday morning and we set out on a hike to scout elk in an eastslope Pintler spot.

There was scattered snow beginning at 6500 feet or so elevation. We spoke briefly with a gang of Kalispell bow hunters who had been camped there a week, but saw very few elk. They were, of course, hunting way way way too low. I did not tell them that.

By the time we drove above 7000 feet, I had to turn the hubs in to climb across the icy spots.
We saw no elk tracks until we neared the 7600 foot elevation where we parked. There was fresh bear sign too. There were no man tracks. ZERO. The elk had been feeding extensively in the small openings and parks at this elevation, but had of course left early in the morning and ascended to their bedding grounds.

Photo: A mouse came to the end of its road, taken by a small hawk.

They were bedded in the whitebark pines at 8000 to 8200 feet in 3 to 4 inches of snow. We smelled them and circled around, intending to come in from above.

Because it was such a gorgeous day, we made a big circle--hiking up to the Continental Divide and eating our lunch [see photo of AJ with RolyTheDog] on the westslope scree. Out of the snowy trees and in the sun it was a pleasant spot. There was no elk sign at this elevation, but there had been a couple of very large mule deer bucks around, and we cut a set of wolf tracks that ran through a low pass.

As we headed back down toward the truck we busted up the elk herd at about 8200 feet. We were walking fast and talking loud but we were in amongst them before we knew it. RolyTheDog had a ball making little chases, and we got a glimpse of a cow and calf. There were tracks of a large bull along with 12 to 15 cows/calves. It was thick cover and the trees and ground were shaking as the herd ran off in several different directions.

Lots of snow coming this morning--looks like we might have an average weather year!