31 December 2007

Rifles for the NEW Deer & Elk Hunter

When veteran hunters get together, there will be talk of rifles. And there will be disagreement. To one hunter, a 7.87mm SuperDuper Magnum is just the thing for whitetailed deer at short woods range, whereas another hunter claims that an old blackpowder cartridge with a trajectory like a rainbow is the ticket for elk at long range across open parks...

To a new hunter, it's very confusing. The idea for this blog came from a conversation with a friend, Matt Hamon. He taught with us a few years here at Tech before moving on to Evergreen--a little closer to the ocean he so dearly loves! Matt took to deer hunting with Howard Smith (also a novice hunter) and me, and shot a few deer with my 257 Roberts and Howard's 270 Winchester. He's considering a rifle purchase, and wonders which is "best."

This post is aimed at new hunters like Matt. The advice is straightforward, simple, and sound. You veteran hunters with preferences for obscure cartridges and magnums with man-killing recoil will not agree. But it's just what the new hunter needs to know.

The .243 Winchester
Those who plan to hunt only deer (whitetails or mulies): buy a 243 Winchester bolt action with a 4X scope. The 243 is based on a 308 Winchester cartridge (i.e. the 7.62 NATO round) necked down for a 6 mm or 0.243" bullet. The cartridge is accurate, shoots flat, and has light recoil. The 243 cartridge is also short, so it fits rifles with lightweight actions. [Note: "Winchester" refers only to the cartridge designation, and not to a Winchester-brand rifle.]

"Flat shooting" refers to the trajectory. You can zero or sight-in a 243 at 200 yards and shoot deer from 0 to 250 yards without holding high or low. A 100-grain bullet (the ideal weight for deer in a 243) will leave the muzzle at about 3,000 fps, shoot about 1.5" high at 100 yards, and 3" low at 250 yards.

"Light recoil" means a 243 won't kick much, which means you can practice shooting A LOT. Practice makes perfect. All hunters should shoot a box (20 rounds) or so of ammo as practice each year prior to hunting season. A new hunter should shoot at least 100 rounds as practice.

Shoot from various positions. Start off shooting from a comfortable bench (ideally at target range), then practice from the prone, kneeling, sitting, and offhand positions. If you don't already own one, buy a .22 rimfire rifle or even an airgun (BB or pellet rifle) so that you can practice more often and cheaply. PRACTICE with your 243, and don't be satisfied until you can consistently shoot 5 rounds into a 2" group at 100 yards.

All major riflemakers chamber the 243 in a bolt action rifle. You can buy one new for a few hundred bucks, and good deals are to be had at pawn shops and second hand gun stores. Bring a veteran shooter with you when buying a second hand rifle.

My friend Bill King, of Bradford, Pennsylvania, proved the worth of the .243 Winchester cartridge to me with the fifty or more whitetails he killed with his. Most were bucks, and most were taken with a single shot. Many other hunters have used the 243 with similar success.

The .270 Winchester

Those who plan to hunt both deer and elk: buy a 270 Winchester bolt action with a 4X scope. The 270 is based on a 30/06 Springfield cartridge (the U.S. Army round adopted in 1906) necked down for a .277" bullet.

The 270 rifle will typically be a little longer and heavier than a 243. Most deer hunters will be happy with the 130 grain bullet, which shoots a little flatter than a 243 with a 100 grain bullet, and is considerable more powerful. In theory, a 150 grain bullet should be better than the 130 grain bullet for elk. However, many good elk hunters who use the 270 tell me they find little difference in actual "killing power," and the 130 grain bullet works just fine for elk.

For elk, I would suggest that the hunter use a "premium" bullet. Partition bullets made by Nosler are a good choice, as are the solid copper bullets made by Barnes. Either is rugged enough to drive deep into an elk without blowing apart--even if the bullet strikes a heavy bone, or if the bullet angle is less than ideal.

The recoil or kick of a 270 is slightly more than a 243. In a well designed rifle with a recoil pad, this recoil is still light enough for any man, woman, or child (above the age of 12 or so) to shoot comfortably.

Like the 243, the .270 Winchester is available in a wide range of makes and models.

About Handloading

I strongly advise the new hunter to take up handloading. It is safe and easy. Handloaded ammunition is far cheaper to shoot, it gives you a fantastic choice of bullets and loads, and it will bring the highest potential in accuracy and power from your rifle.

For starters, buy a simple "Lee Loader." Then, as you advance, you can move up to fancier equipment such as an RCBS bench press.

I took "Hunter Safety" from Mr. Giddings in 1966. As a part of the course, he taught us to use a Lee Loader. I saved a few dollars and bought my own soon afterward, and it has been one of the great investments of my life.

About Rifle Actions

Buy a bolt action rifle. Most importantly, they are simpler and safer for the novice hunter. They are also generally more accurate and stronger than other actions. And they are more suited to handloads.

About Magnums

You will hear some hunters extoll the virtues of their "magnum" rifles. Let them. Ignore any advice they give you to buy a magnum cartridge, and stick with the 243 or 270. Magnum is a generic term for a large cartridge case that uses more powder and shoots a bullet at a higher velocity.

A magnum rifle cartridge usually recoils more than a standard cartridge. Though many hunters -- especially men -- will not admit it, nearly all human beings are sensitive to pain. Big recoil = pain. For this reason, most hunters that use magnums practice less than they would if they shot a standard cartridge. Also, many develop the habit of flinching when the rifle goes off. Flinching = inaccurate shooting.

About Scopes

The 4X scope is hard to beat. It is lightweight and simple, and has adequate magnification for shooting deer and elk at reasonable range (250 yards or less). Until recently, it was THE common or standard rifle scope.

The 3X-9X variable power scope has become more common in recent years, and might be offered as a "combo" deal when you buy a rifle. This is OK, though be sure to shoot your variable scope with the dial set on different magnifications. Some scopes -- especially cheaper ones -- will change focus and point-of-impact (i.e. where the bullet hits) when you turn the dial. Not good. For this reason, you might want to leave your variable scope set at 4X if you hunt in the woods, or 6X if you hunt on the open prairie.

23 December 2007

The Moulton Journal: Winter Solstice Party, Moonlight Ski

How often does the Winter Solstice occur with a full moon? With that happy coincidence this year, and a dump of fresh snow, a large group of friends converged on Don & Andrea Stierle's ("DnA") cabin at The Moulton. Highlights of the party included food (of course), dancing naked around a pyre (well, just kidding about that naked dancing), and moonlight skiing. Here's Andrea, the gracious hostess (for info on DnA's research, see the recent New York Times article at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/09/us/09pit-.html):

At least one of two things is necessary, I think, if you are going to live in Montana. ONE, you need to like snowy, cold weather and the kind of outdoor activities (such as skiing) that go along with it. And/or TWO, you need a good circle of friends with whom to socialize. Without at least one of these, you will gradually succumb to cabin fever as the blustery storms of November turn to the long dark days of December, or when the bright and sunny but frigid cold days of January and February turn to the brief false hopes of spring that come in March, or when winter settles back in for the duration of April only to give way to renewed false hopes of spring in May which leads to a big snowstorm in June that bends your lilac blossoms to the ground.

Here are some of those friends, heading outside and circling a large pile of beetle-killed lodge pole pine slash:

Don't stand too close--that's Bill "The Pyromaniac" Macgregor dancing around the woodpile, pouring on the gasoline (we really should do an intervention next year, and hand him a can of #1 diesel instead):

Feel the burn. Without the annual winter solstice pyre, the days would grow shorter and shorter as the light of the sun and all are hopes grew dimmer and dimmer. Next thing you know, we'd all be building religious shrines on the ridges, such as "THEIR Lady of OUR Rockies" (see http://www.ourladyoftherockies.com/). Thankfully, that's not happening. This crowd will settle for a good old pagan bonfire:

And a ski, helped out by the Good Samaritan Groomer (aka Paul Sawyer) who spent that morning laying down the corduroy. Turns out there wasn't much moonlight, thanks to a heavy cloud cover that helped keep temperatures at a reltively balmy 8 or 10 deg F. Here's Butch Gerbrandt, Emily Munday, and RTD at Amalgamation Junction:

At the Winter Solstice we are like Robert Frost's traveler (or Emily), standing long and contemplating alternative futures for the New Year. All good wishes for whatever path you take:

Emily Munday Brings Home the Christmas Tree

In America today, how many families go out and cut their own Christmas tree? Hell, in America today, how many families even have a real tree? Since it is a rare experience, yet a nostalgic one for many, I thought it worthy of a blog entry.

Nearly every year that Jan & I have been married (is it really 30 years?) and for some years previous, we have found and cut our own tree--usually in a quasi-legal fashion on public land. The preference is for a local, native species, and they have run the gamut from red cedar to Eastern hemlock to white pine to black spruce. In the years I worked on Ben Anderson's Christmas tree farm in high school, there were exotics such as Scotch or Austrian pines. After moving to Montana, we settled on the Douglas fir as our favorite--they are generally full, well shaped, and have "friendly" needles.

A week or so ago, I was all ready to bring home a tree. Then Emily called, still in the painful throes of final exams. She has joined the tree hunt every year since birth. For the first few years she rode in a Snugli, a Gerry babypack, or on a sled. And so I caved in (sorry, Jan) and said, "Sure, I'll wait until you're home, and we'll cut it two days before Christmas."

In Montana, you can cut your own tree on Forest Service land or on state land. We headed to a familiar piece of state land in the shadow of Butte. It abounds with Douglas fir, an invasive species that is crowding many areas that historically were grassy parks providing good forage for elk and deer. For this reason, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has been laboriously clearing these areas of trees. It would, of course, be much more efficient and natural simply to burn them, but with so many houses at the "wildland interface" that option isn't feasible.

Here's the Tree Slayer herself, home to Montana from the wilds of Boston University:

In search of the perfect tree, the cold wind nipping at her nose:

And with the perfect tree found, she unsheathed her vorpal blade:

And the Tannenbaum fell snicker-snack:

A mere half-mile drag from the truck:

Hence to the warmth of the waiting trusty Toyota, steel steed of steeds:

Then to the house, where Jan ("We shoulda had this done a week ago!") had the decorations waiting:

Decorations including Emily's precious construction from the 2nd grade:

Heirlooms from Grandma Beryl:

And our first decoration, given to the high school couple by Jan's Aunt Mary. "You rock, Woodstock!":

Merry Christmas, folks!

21 December 2007

The Moulton Journal: Last Ski at Mill Creek?

The Moulton area just north of Butte/Walkerville has picked up some snow the past fewe days, so my every-other-day trek over to the "Mount Haggin Skiing Area" near the Mill Creek pass might be over. It will be good to get back to the challenging and varied Moulton trails, and why drive 25 miles when you can drive 5?

The snow in the Mill Creek pass area is very good, and though it's about the same elevation as Walkerville it is typically about 10 deg F cooler. Typically, green Swix kick wax (0 to 10 deg F) is about right for an early morning ski, but here's Roly-the-Dog (RTD) posing on a recent "extra blue" morning:

The cooler weather on the Big Hole side of the Continental Divide has not deterred the pine beetle invasion. Entomologists tell us that it takes a week or so of c. -30 deg F weather to suppress the pine beetle population. These cold spells were common up until the late 1990s, however since then Global Warming has really kicked in. Our annual precipiation is about the same as the longterm historical average, but overall temperatures average consideralby warmer, and extreme cold spells just don't seem to occur at all. Here's a view of dying lodgepole pines along the flanks of Sugarloaf Mountain. Given the rapid spread of the beetles, probably the trees that are still green will be dead within a few years:

Wednesday of this week was downright balmy. The Mill Cr pass area received several inches of fresh snow, early morning temperatures were near freezing, and RTD & I paused while I corked some purple wax into the kickpockets of my skis. This also gave me a chance to photograph a tiny "snow spider"--they are common in the winter when it warms to near or above freezing, and must have antifreeze for blood:

Here's RTD posing for a "first tracks" pic on our way up the Little California loop:

Up along the level, top-most portion of the trail, a big cow moose dashed across the trail just a hundred feet or so ahead of us, making me glad that RTD is well behaved about such things. Moose can get downright pissed over dogs that chase them, as Dave & I found out when my little hound, Nellie, chased a big bull moose in the Highlands. It turned on her, and luckily we were not far from Dave's truck.

18 December 2007

Thomas Pynchon: Against the Day

As a freshman in college, I was blown away by Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow(1973). His deft use of scientific lore and legend helped shape my interest in the history of science and technology. His connection to Cornell University -- he began as an engineer (similar to Kurt Vonnegut, who studied biochem, and was at Cornell a decade or two prior to Pynchon), discovered creative writing, and perhaps heard Henry Guerlac's lectures on the history of science -- also shaped my decision to take the PhD in the history of science from Cornell's L. Pearce Williams (a Guerlac student who, like Pynchon and Vonnegut, took some time off from college to serve in the US military).

Despite my abiding love for Gravity's Rainbow and V., I was deeply disappointed by Pynchon's novel Vineland (1990). I turned to Cormac McCarthy and other (lessor) writers, and totally missed the publication of Pynchon's Mason & Dixon (1997). It's at the top of my winter reading list, however.

Against the Day is a great novel and embodies the very best of Pynchon's writing skills. The story is solidly grounded in historical details such as the labor struggles of the western mining camps, there are fantastic myths based on real phenomena such as the double refraction of Iceland spar, strong believable characters such as Dally Rideout and Kit Traverse work their way into your heart, and there is plenty of outrageous goofiness such as the crew (the Chums of Chance) manning a sci-fi version of a zeppelin (the Inconvenience). While there are also a lot of pesky loose ends that seem to get lost along the way, no one ever accused of Pynchon of writing in a tight Hemingwayesque style.

As a fantastic literary device, the Chums of Chance are delightful. They get to use super sci-fi devices to transport through the center of the earth and to communicate with other times. Their Dickensonian names -- ranging from the youngest crew member, Darby Suckling, to the second in command, Lindsay Noseworth -- are a good clue of what this crew is all about. And, given that they self-referentially speak of a series of dime novels about their adventures, they are solidly out of the Cervantes Don Quixote tradition.

I especially love this novel for its focus on the optimistic, global labor movement of the late 19th/early 20 the century, and the way that optimism was dashed on the rocks of The Great War (WWI) and the emergence of international corporate control over society/economics/politics. Much of the action centers on the mining camps of the American West, and the brutal suppression of the movement by the Rockefeller or Carnegie-like Scarsdale Vibe. Although many of the characters spend time in Mexico or Europe, they are there as emigres from the American labor movement, and their actions draw out parallels to and connections with the Zapatistas and World Anarchy.

In the novel, many of the Western Federation of Miners ("Miners Union") struggles take place during the silver boom and in places such as Leadville and Telluride, Colorado (historically known as the "Colorado Labor Wars"). The struggles and the mythology, ranging from Joe Hill of the IWW "Wobblies" to the tommyknockers that haunted the underground, are common to the mining history of Butte, Montana. Butte gets a few mentions in the book--mainly as another mining camp where union activists and company thugs (Pinkertons, etc) have met. And of course, the WFM was founded in Butte in 1893.

Pynchon readers will like this book, as will all those who have the patience for an 1100 page novel, the wit to follow the twists and turns of several interwoven plots, and a keen appreciation for fine American literature.

14 December 2007

Venison Sausage

Like many people I have known in my life, the longer I live the more I appreciate them. So it is with Grandma Beryl (nee Fitzgibbons) Munday. She was a tough old Scot-Irish Presbyter. When I was a child, I thought she was the meanest woman on earth. After Gramps died, however, and she no longer got up each morning at the butt-crack of dawn to cook him breakfast, she really mellowed.

Gram liked staying up late at night watching horror movies and reading, and for 50-some years of marriage she had been seriously sleep deprived. After Gramps died, she often sat in her chair with a cat on her lap reading until 1 or 2 in the morning, and then slept until 10 or sometimes later. When Jan & I lived nearby, we'd sometimes stop in after an evening on the town, and Gram was always ready for a glass of beer.

Gram didn't waste much. She cooked deer kidneys, picked a chicken carcass down to the bones, and made wonderful venison sausage. Here's the recipe.

You'll need a grinder. An old "armstrong" manual grinder like the one she left to me will work just fine:

For this batch, we'll use about 10 pounds of scraps left over from butchering a whitetail. Strips cut from the ribs, 1" - 2" chunks cut from the shanks, and anything else that didn't go into steaks, roasts, stewmeat, or stir-fry meat:

Add to that about 5 pounds of fatty pork scraps. Cheap bacon (our supermarket sells bags of bacon scraps) works well, and if you use salt pork you can use somewhat less:

Mix in a slew of spices and flavorings. Amounts are about 2 teaspoons for each of the spices, about a cup of dark brown sugar, and several (or more) hot peppers if you'd like:

Not shown are fennel seeds, about 4 tablespoons of which get added and mixed in before the second grind. Mix the spices, venison, and pork together and run through the grinder on a coarse setting. Gram's grinder has a single "plate" (cutter wheel) that reverses for fine and coarse grinding. Depending upon how sinewy and tough your venison scraps are and how efficient your grinder is, you might have to pause after every few pounds of meat, remove the plate, and clean out the sinews that are clogging things up. Here we are after mixing in the fennel seeds and switching the plate for the second (and final) grind:

This bulk or pan sausage is good for breakfast patties, and Jan likes it for dishes such as lasagna. Enjoy!

11 December 2007

Cross Country Skiing Begins

The late end to elk hunting season and a very busy end to the semester (final exams, theatre of the oppressed, senior thesis presentations...) delayed the longed for gratification of living at 6,000 feet in the Northern Rockies of Montana: cross country skiing. Though the snow is a little sparse on the Moulton trails near Butte, snow conditions are excellent just over the Divide (and a half hour away) near Mill Creek Pass (aka "Mt Haggin ski area").

John Wulf, who enjoyed grooming the ski trails, died recently (http://www.legacy.com/MTStandard/DeathNotices.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonId=89926071). Roly The Dog and I dedicated our ski to John's memory. John is now in good company, since "all dogs go to heaven."

We did the Little California loop--it's about 10 km long, and it's a few km in and out from where L California meets the Crooked John loop. Trails are a bit boring, like skiing a logging road: up, up, up and then down, down, down. And the trails are cut w-a-y t--0--0 w---i---d---e. They're like 4-lane highways. Plus some groomer who did not know better laid the track right down the middle, which made it hard to skate on those gentle downhills. But there are fantastic views to the Pintler, here Mount Haggin (c. 5 miles away):

And I like the sense of history from the remains of the Anaconda Company's logging operations:

Can't wait for Moulton to get a little more snow, so RTD & I can enjoy skiing closer to home on the world's best classic trails.

Too Late for Opportunity? Superfund & Theatre of the Oppressed

A group of students from my Politics of Technical Decisions class presented a two-act play about the town of Opportunity, Montana, and the problems posed by the adjacent Arco-British Petroleum hazardous waste repository. The play uses techniques developed by Augusto Boal in what he called Forum Theatre or Theatre of the Oppressed. Boal's techniques give us a way to confront social injustice and to imagine resolution.

Historical overview: Beginning c. 1910, the Anaconda Copper Mining (ACM) company smelter in Anaconda stored waste in a series of settling ponds near Opportunity. By the time ACM closed in the 1980s, the ponds spread over 5 square miles and held about 160 million cubic yards of toxic mine waste. With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implementing remedies for the many operable units in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin complex of Superfund sites, the ponds -- now owned and operated by Arco-British Petroleum -- became a regional repository for toxic mine waste cleaned from Butte, Silver Bow Creek, Milltown, and other areas. Residents of Opportunity suffer from dust storms blowing from the waste repository, fear their ground water will become contaminated, and do not want the stigma of a large, barren, toxic waste repository in their backyard.

The aerial view (above) shows Warm Springs, MT. The Arco-British Petroleum waste repository is the prominent, bright (no vegetation) feature south of Warm Springs. The town of Opportunity is directly south of the waste repository. East of the repository and across I-90 are the Warm Springs Ponds--another Arco-British Petroleum Superfund site.

Cast: Jackie Dumke as ACM and Arco-BP; Gretchen Miller as Opportunity; Will Thornsberry as Milltown; Schylar Canfield as EPA.

Act I of the play opened with ACM (Anaconda Copper Mining corporation) counting its rich wealth of copper (above).

ACM dumps its toxic mine waste on Milltown (above).

The EPA orders Milltown to "Get rid of that." (above)

Milltown brings the mine waste to Opportunity, which clearly wants no more of it. (above)

Despite Opportunity's pleas, the EPA seems unable or unwilling to help Opportunity. (above)


Act II of the play begins with Opportunity approaches Arco-British Petroleum, seeking a solution to its toxic mine waste problem. (above)

Opportunity pleads with Arco-British Petroleum. (above)

But Arco-British Petroleum tells Opportunity, "It's too late." (above)

Opportunity goes to the EPA, but is again told, "It's too late." (above)

Then, the audience becomes involved.

In a "what if" approach to history, Nancy Mccourt takes over as Milltown, teams up with Opportunity, and together they insist that the ACM manage its own wastes instead of spreading it all over the landscape as a free garbage dump. (above)

Sean Eamon takes over as the contemporary Arco-BP, and offers money to Opportunity in return for accepting the waste repository. Anaconda got a golf course from Arco-BP, so what does Opportunity want that money can buy? Opportunity sees the money as a partial solution, but still wants assurances regarding human health issues such as clean water and blowing dust. (above)

Glen Bodish takes over as EPA, makes an effort to find out what Opportunity wants, questions Arco-BP about its long term management plans, and ponders the agency's obligations to the American public. Bodish-as-EPA also insists on bringing the relevant parties together as a group exploring solutions. (above)

Andrea Stierle (first from right) steps in as Science, playing an advisory role to EPA and suggesting more ideal solutions--such as hauling all the waste from the Arco-BP repository and other sites back to the Berkeley Pit. (above)

Serge Myers (first from left) takes over as Opportunity and along with actors and the audience generally supports this option: Use the Berkeley Pit as THE repository for ALL Superfund toxic waste in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. (above)

Thank you, audience, for your participation in this lively event and for your thoughts on this important issue!

For more about Opportunity, see George Niland's Opportunity Citizens Protection Association blog at http://opportunitycpa.blogspot.com .

07 December 2007

Too Late for Opportunity?

“Too Late for Opportunity?”

Butte’s Venus Rising Café, 3 – 5 p.m. Monday, 10 December 2007 Admission free.

A short, two-act play about the Arco-British Petroleum toxic waste repository near the town of Opportunity, Montana.

Modeled on Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed,” each act will be performed several times. After two repetitions of the second act, audience members will be invited to participate by taking the place of an actor and redefining that actor’s role. Performances of the second act may be continued so long as audience members are willing to participate.

The play will be introduced with a brief historical overview by Matt Vincent of the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program.

The play is a production by a team of students from Pat Munday’s “Politics of Technical Decisions” class at Montana Tech. Students will play the Anaconda Company, ARCO-BP, the Environmental Protection Agency, Milltown, and Opportunity.

For additional information, please contact Pat Munday at pmunday@mtech.edu or 496.4461.

30 November 2007

Giving Thanks for Environmental Activists

A version of this commentary aired on KUFM, Montana Public Radio, as part of a regular series I do for the Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee (www.cfrtac.org).

Elk season is over. It’s time to clean and put away the rifles. The snow is calling. Purple wax on those cross country skis will be about right.

Give thanks for Pilgrims and Indians and turkeys and elk. And thank the activists that helped bring environmental remedy and restoration to the Clark Fork watershed. Without activists, Arco-British Petroleum would have held even greater sway over the Environmental Protection Agency, and Montana’s Natural Resource Damage suit against Arco-BP might have died for lack of legislative support (i.e. funding).

Instead, Montana obtained 215 million dollars nearly a decade ago as a partial settlement. If we can believe a recent Missoulian newspaper editorial, Montana and Arco-BP will soon resolve remaining claims. Now that’s a holiday present!

The money we have received has done some good. A recent Fish, Wildlife & Parks electrofishing survey of Silver Bow Creek found significant numbers of trout. Most – including a few native westslope cutthroat trout – were found near the confluence with German Gulch. A few were found closer to Butte. Good on the Montana agencies and citizen activists that helped make this possible.

Butte’s George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited played a critical role, working with the Butte-Anaconda Greenway Board, insisting that the recreational project include riparian and stream enhancements. Furthermore, George Grant TU’s restoration project along German Gulch Creek – a Natural Damage Program funded project – enhances the overall restoration of our Silver Bow Creek watershed. Again, thank these activists. This stuff doesn’t just happen unless a whole lot of volunteer citizens put in a whole lot of hours at meetings, in writing grants, and on managing projects.

I’m an environmental philosopher, and believe "the glass is half full and the glass is half empty.” Retired FWP fisheries biologist Wayne Hadley cautions that we should not expect too much, too soon, of Silver Bow Creek. After all, there is a tremendous amount of toxic mine waste outside of the flood plain that is not being cleaned up, and that material may re-pollute much of the creek.

We’re in this for the long haul. I don’t reasonably expect to have good fishing in Silver Bow Creek within my lifetime. If, however, my daughter doesn’t enjoy good fishing in the creek by the time she’s my age, then my ghost will be seriously pissed. We don’t have to accept environmental degradation as "the price of progress," and we can make the world a better place.

The Natural Resource Damage Program will likely sprinkle more fairy dust around the Upper Clark Fork River Basin–about 14 million dollars worth in the coming year or so. Projects include the usual Butte and Anaconda waterline work, but also: more funding for the Silver Bow Creek Greenway; a trail and outdoor education center near Deer Lodge; and restoration work for a public park on Forest Service land near Butte.

Near Missoula, the Clark Fork Coalition should receive nearly three million dollars to remove additional contaminated sediments from Milltown–an amount over and above what the EPA requires under remedy. Ideally, the agency would have made Arco-BP pay for this. Instead, we must spend precious and limited Natural Resource Damage dollars. Still, it’s money well spent. Removing additional mine waste from Silver Bow Creek improved the creek’s environmental future, and removal of additional sediments at Milltown will do the same.

It’s not all clover and roses here in upper end of the Clark Fork River superfund site.

Those contaminated sediments from Milltown? Yep, they go to the Arco-BP waste repository in Opportunity’s backyard. Milltown sediments are a drop in the bucket compared with what’s already there. Still, how happy would you be living with a backyard toxic waste repository of 160 million cubic yards, extending over an area of more than five square miles?

There are no easy answers for questions about environmental justice at Opportunity.

A group of my students in the "Politics of Technical Decisions" class have a novel approach to this problem. They plan to stage a play using techniques developed by Brazilian, Augusto Boal. His "theater of the oppressed" is a popular tool for political dissent and public education in South America and Europe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusto_Boal).

The production is titled, "Too Late for Opportunity?" The short, two-act play will be staged at the Venus Rising Café in Butte, from 3 - 5 p.m., on Monday, December 10th. To help resolve problems posed in the play, audience members are invited to participate by taking the place of an actor and redefining that actor's role. We’re inviting representatives from Arco-BP and the EPA, as well as Opportunity residents and the general public.

For more news about Anaconda, Opportunity, and other Superfund issues, please check out CFRTAC’s website at hyperlink 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.

29 November 2007

Endangered Species Act: the law of the land

[a version of this editorial by me was printed in the Montana Standard newspaper]

How sad, that we the people of the United States must sue our own government if we want the law of the land to be enforced. Whatever happened to the notion that America is “A nation of laws, not of men?” Under the Bush administration, we have become a nation where the executive branch rules with arbitrary and capricious power.

No one disagrees that the Big Hole River grayling (aka “Upper Missouri River Fluvial Arctic Grayling”) is on the verge of extinction. And yet the US Fish & Wildlife Service deemed Big Hole grayling insignificant— ignoring its own scientists, a peer-review by professional fisheries biologists, and the law. The Center for Biological Diversity, along with a group of plaintiffs including me, must sue the federal government to enforce the law.

Blame Julie MacDonald, the Bush appointee who dictated endangered species decisions – including the decision that Big Hole grayling are insignificant – at the Department of Interior. Though MacDonald resigned following accusations of politically bulldogging agency scientists, the damage lingers.

Mike Stempel, a Fish & Wildlife Service administrator, made several outrageous statements in a recent Montana Standard article.

Stempel stated there are 6,000 grayling in the Big Hole River. The truth is, Montana FWP biologists can’t even find enough grayling to estimate the population size. It has declined significantly from an estimate made several years ago of approximately 1,000 breeding age fish.

Stempel stated that the Endangered Species Act is “not the best tool” to protect grayling, and that Montana is doing just fine in restoring the fish. The truth is, Big Hole grayling have declined steadily under Montana FWP management ever since FWP “discovered” the fish were in trouble in the 1970s. At this point, the ESA is the only tool.

I admire the small handful of Big Hole ranchers that have made personal sacrifices in water use in order to help grayling. The simple fact is, however, that Big Hole irrigators (as a group) consistently dewater the river each year: year, after year, after year. Voluntary efforts have failed at maintaining minimal river flows needed to sustain Big Hole grayling.

How sad, that our children and grandchildren may have to venture to Alaska in order to catch a grayling. It is wrong that our government is willing to sacrifice our natural heritage. The Endangered Species Act works, as demonstrated by the success in recovering bald eagles and many other once-rare species.

Legal Challenge to FWS Decision re: Montana fluvial Arctic grayling

For Immediate Release, November 15, 2007

Contacts: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Pat Munday, Grayling Restoration Alliance, (406) 496-4461
Leah Elwell, Federation of Fly Fishers, (406) 222-9369 x102
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290

Protection sought for Montana Fluvial Arctic Grayling


Helena, MT.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Federation of Fly Fishers, Western Watersheds Project, Dr. Pat Munday and former Montana fishing guide George Wuerthner filed suit today to overturn an April 24, 2007 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denying protection of the Montana fluvial arctic grayling as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The suit was filed simultaneously with several other suits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity on behalf of six endangered species.

“The Montana fluvial arctic grayling is on the brink of extinction in the U.S.,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In decisions over the grayling, and dozens of other wildlife species, the Bush administration has repeatedly disregarded survival of the nation’s wildlife.”

Rather than concluding Montana grayling are not endangered, the agency instead decided that extinction of the Montana population, which is the last in the lower 48 states, is insignificant. According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the decision went against the recommendations of the agency’s own scientists. It was made in Washington, D.C., under the influence of Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, who resigned under pressure April 30th after an investigation by the Department of Interior’s Inspector General found she had bullied agency scientists to change their conclusions and improperly released internal documents to industry lobbyists and attorneys.

“In denying the grayling protection, the Bush administration has once again ignored science and the law,” stated Dr. Pat Munday, Director of the Grayling Restoration Alliance. “Unfortunately, this could spell disaster for the last river dwelling population of the grayling in the continental U.S.”

Once found throughout the upper Missouri River drainage above Great Falls, the fluvial arctic grayling has been reduced to a single self-sustaining population in a short stretch of the Big Hole River. A primary factor in this range decline was, and continues to be, the dewatering of the grayling’s stream habitat and degradation of riparian areas. Extensive water withdrawals from the Big Hole River and seven consecutive years of drought continue to threaten the Big Hole population. In recent years, so few grayling have been found that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have not been able to estimate their populations, suggesting grayling populations are on the brink of extinction.

“The grayling is a unique part of the natural heritage of Montana,” said Leah Elwell, conservation coordinator for the Federation of Fly Fishers. “Loss of the grayling would be a terrible tragedy for anglers, Montanans and the nation.”

In addition to challenging the government’s refusal to protect the Montana fluvial arctic grayling, lawsuits filed today by the Center challenge decisions to deny the Mexican garter snake (Arizona and New Mexico) protection, drastic reductions in critical habitat for three endangered fish found in rivers in California, Arizona and New Mexico and refusal to grant critical habitat for the Mississippi gopher frog. These actions follow a September notice of intent to sue over 55 species that were subject to corruption and high-level political interference within the Bush Administration’s endangered species program. (see www.biologicaldiversity.org/ )

In their challenge of denial of protection of the grayling, the groups are represented by attorney Judi Brawer.


A member of the salmon family, the arctic grayling is a beautiful fish with a prominent dorsal fin that is widely distributed across Canada and Alaska. Historically, fluvial populations of arctic grayling existed in only two places in the lower 48 states: Michigan and the upper Missouri River of Montana. Populations in Michigan went extinct by the 1930s, and populations in Montana were restricted to the Big Hole River by the end of the 1970s. Studies demonstrate that Montana fluvial arctic grayling are genetically distinct from populations in Canada and Alaska, and genetically and behaviorally distinct from lake populations in Montana and other states. Studies also show that grayling adapted to lake environments do not maintain their position in rivers but instead allow themselves to drift downstream.

The Bush administration has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973, to date only listing 58 species compared to 522 under Clinton and 231 under the first Bush president. The Bush administration has not listed a single species in nearly 18 months. In August, the Center presented Secretary of Interior Kempthorne the “rubber dodo” award for failing to protect any new species under the Endangered Species Act.

27 November 2007

Going Elkless (Almost): Elk Hunting near Butte, Montana

There I was, combing the hills several miles from the road on the last day of elk season. I had grown entirely too smug about elk hunting, having shot bull elk four-out-of-five years that I hunted them, and having shot several cows within a mile or so of the highway. Not this year.

Season began with me at a conference in Washington, DC. Of course, conditions were perfect with cold weather and eight inches of fresh snow. The second week, I was complacent. My friend Don was coming to hunt the following week, and so I roamed the hills and even passed up a shot at a cow. Well, it wasn't a good shot, and as my friend and now-retired colleague Dennis Haley counseled, "Hunting elk in timber is a percentage thing. If you are patient and get into them six or seven times, then you will get the good shot you want. There's no need to take those "iffy" shots."

Here's AJ, crashed for a nap in the warm noonday sun after we climbed into a remote (and elkless) Pintler basin:

Meanwhile, I ate my lunch and waited for the tea to boil:

Don Kieffer arrived from upstate New York the first week of November. The weather was beautiful: warm, sunny, and lousy for elk hunting. Up high, the old snow metamorphosed, turning icy and crunchy. Down low, the snow melted away. But we had a great time hiking the hills:

Visiting some of my favorite elk haunts:

And of course enjoying a hot cup of tea come noontime:

As my old friend BAT (aka Bob Thomas) likes to remind me, hunting is a lot more than killing. Especially on those blue sky days when the weather is just too damned good for serious elk hunting, you can lie back and listen to the serenade of migrating flocks of snow geese:

And swans:

Don & I also saw a peregrine falcon, and visited the spot where indigenous peoples mined jasper for tools:

After Don left, I tried to get more serious about elk hunting, but still the weather was not conducive to it. Hunting at such times becomes a good excuse for hiking into spots that need to be visited from time to time, such as these logging-era cabins, probably built to feed the flume that sluiced cord wood from the Big Hole valley to the Anaconda smelter:

And when the elk are hard to find, there is the occasional moose; here, a cow and calf on a remote, windswept ridge along the Continental Divide (folks don't think of moose as mountain animals, but they are in Montana!):

And the occasional fool hen (this one, felled with a rock, made a welcome and savory supper that night):

Finally, though, right at the end of season, conditions turned favorable with new, quiet snow and consistently cold temperatures. I spent a day or two hunting a spot that I had hunted many times over the years with Brent Patch and Dave Carter. In those years, I had not learned the lessons of a good "black timber" hunter, and wasted a lot of time peeking into parks and coursing through open stands of lodge pole pine.

In the timber, you keep your nose to the wind, move slowly and quietly, and check out all those stumps and rocks that look very much like elk:

Two Butte boys, hunting a park along the ridge line, flushed a bunch of elk from the north-side timber just below the ridge. I smelled them out ahead of me, found their tracks, began repeating my mantra ("I will honor your spirit and use your flesh well."), and began still hunting. One mile into the chase, they passed through a stand of dense Douglas fir, meandered about, and I thought sure they would bed down. It took me an hour to track them slowly and carefully through a half-mile wide thicket, sometimes crawling on my hands & knees to be quiet and stay below the branches. I could smell them and knew they were not far ahead. They continued through and fed in a small park. This told me they were relaxed and not worried about a predator on their heels. Very encouraging.

And then there they were, heads tilting and ears twitching, bedded in some thick, snow-covered firs at the park's edge. In timber, one seldom sees a whole elk. Because of the roll of the slope, I could not see any elk shoulders or ribs, my preferred shot. I usually avoid neck shots, since if you don't hit the spine there is not a quick death. But the elk were just seventy yards or so away, and I had a good rest on a tree limb. She never moved from her bed:

An hour or so later, I had the carcass split into two halves, dragged well away from the gut pile where the coyotes and ravens would be less likely to feed on it, and covered with pine branches until I could return:

The heart, liver, tenderloins, back straps, and tongue I laid out on the snow to cool:

Together, they made a forty pound load in my little rucksack. By the time I reached the road, three miles distant, the load felt like one hundred and forty pounds.

At the Check Station, I learned from the nice biologist that there was a Forest Service road within a half-mile of where I killed the cow. The next morning AJ came along to help me, and his good company and a sled made for a pleasant down-hill drag:

"I will honor your spirit and use your flesh well." This promise began with a supper of elk liver and onions last night, the heart is ready for pickling, and there are already plans for barbecued ribs, grilled tenderloin, back strap schnitzel, and roasted tongue with huckleberry glaze. Elk are great animals, and deserve the honor of a great (and arduous) hunt.