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.