31 January 2007

Elk Hunting Advice

I've been visiting a Cabela's talk forum, and this is the time of year that many hunters begin dreaming about their trip to Montana. I've tried to offer some advice. I don't pretend to be an expert. I am just a guy who moved to Montana 17 years ago and worked very hard at knowing the lay of the land--including the elk.

My advice on the forum included some ethics (don't shoot at extreme distances, etc), which offended some forum participants. Sorry they were offended. But I'm fed up with the "kill an elk at all costs" mania that has infected the sport and resulted in a lot of wounded elk, poor relations with landowners, and even altercations with other hunters. I spent some time living in Germany, and learned a nice distinction between "hunting" and "shooting" wild animals. Hunting is more than shooting, and involves the ability to read sign, track, get close, etc. I've seen guys dust antelope at unbelievable distances shooting off the hood of their truck. Great shots. Lousy hunters.

Anyway, one hunter asked about a "do it yourself" hunt for him and his son. I stick pretty close to the Butte area of SW Montana, where I live. The Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest has a LOT of elk. So many that FWP has made it "open season" on cows after the first week in most of the districts in the 300 region of SW Montana. I.e., you can shoot a cow on your regular elk tag after the first week of season.

BDL Forest has good public access. If you want to pack in (horses or backpack), there are plenty of roadless and wilderness areas too. Rifle season is 5-weeks long: from late October to end of November. Generally, early in the season, you'll find elk spread out pretty much everywhere. After the shooting begins, most elk will move up high and away from roads: in my area that means above 7,000 feet and 1 - 2 miles from the road. In the latter part of season, if we get the usual large snowfall, elk move back down and to winter range. The bulls usually stay in the high country until their bellies start dragging in the snow (two feet deep).

Generally, there are two methods of hunting: (1) ambush them in the parks (i.e. big open meadows) at first light; and (2) stalk them where they bed in the timber. The first method requires that you hike in the dark to reach the park. Then either sit tight in a place where you can see well or move VERY slowly around the edges, peeking out here and there. By 9 am, it's unlikely elk will be out in the open (at least after the first few days of season). The second method requires that you dress QUIETLY (all wool or fleece--including hat & backpack) and move VERY SLOWLY. Our elk usually bed on the north-facing benches at 7,000 - 9,000 feet, often in the whitebark pines or in dense stands of smaller stuff. Keep your nose into the wind. Usually, you can smell elk 200 yards or so away before you get to them. Snow conditions can make it impossible to hunt quietly enough, but when things are right it's exciting to walk up on a bedded bull at 30 yards.

Knowing the area you are hunting in is a huge advantage. If possible, visit Montana during the summer or early fall (when the fishing and backpacking are great!) and scout your area. I hunt where I hunt because it's close to home, but anywhere in the upper Beaverhead, Big Hole, or Ruby valleys will be good.

As for where to stay, if you have a nice camper-trailer then use it. You can just park at the end of a Forest road (there's usually a turn around area near the gate) etc. Or you can stay at a local motel and have a warm bed & hot shower. I've got a buddy who likes to put in a horse camp, but to tell the truth I prefer simply hunting from home. That way, I'm not tied to one area and can move around as conditions dictate. Also, you don't want to hunt an area hard for days on end: the elk will simply move over to the next valley (3 or 4 miles away).

Don't worry too much about griz unless you are hunting near Yellowstone or Glacier Natl Parks. Outside of these areas, grizz are scarce. If you are worried, carry pepper spray and know how to use it. For many reasons, it can be a better choice than a bullet. Ask the hunter who watched his buddy get munched after said buddy glanced a 7mm mag bullet off the side of a surprised bear's skull. If you end up shooting or killing a grizz, it will ruin your whole trip: there'll be lots of explaining to do to FWP and to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The paperwork will make you wish that the bear had got you first.

Check out some of my posts from hunting season (Oct-Nov-Dec) here on the EcoRover blog.

Hunting together is a priceless gift to your children. And hopefully it will be something the two of you do together for many years to come.

Good luck to you!

The Moulton Journal: new snow, frosty day

Well, it's not much, but we did get about one inch of new snow in a lazy little front that moved through overnight. But on top of Paul's good grooming job last weekend, even an inch is sweet.

Skied alone this morning, although RTD is back home. She's on antibiotics, gut soothing meds, and some special food for dogs in "GI distress." Vet suggested she rest a day or two, though RTD did not agree with the suggestion.

Though it was cold this morning -- about 0 deg F -- the Moulton Road was slick with that new snow over the packed snow & ice. Rick Rossi drove up just ahead of me, and we both paused near the parking lot to watch the moose calf. I haven't seen the mother moose for some weeks, and suspect that she drove the calf off to be on its own and she is in some lower, better habitat. The calf seems a little forlorn, and not at all bothered by being watched and photographed from two hundred feet away. Unlike many moose, which are uncomfortable at being watched until they find ridiculous security by hiding their head in some willows (even though the large body is plainly visible).

Too cold for much speed this morning. Should have had green wax, but the extra blue that was already on just had to do. With a little fresh snow and new, warm choppers & liners, life was good even at a slow pace. And it was nice to have the extra grip for climbing Buzzy.

Out from Buzzy, around Yankee Boy, and down Big Nipper/Widow Maker. The bottom of this latter run is in a hole. It is very sheltered from wind, but the cold air settles in and it can be 10 deg F colder than the rest of the hill. I paused to drink some Gatorade and study the tendrils of frost growing from my wool sweater as perspiration meets frigid air.

Crosscountry skiers fall in love with the physics of snow: the way it grabs and slows a ski as the temperature approaches 0 deg F; the way snow friction decreases to a minimum at about 28 deg F; and even the way snow at 32 deg F, in contact with warmer air, it sticks and clings horribly to everything but the most dreaded klister. I like the feel of frost on my beard and -- when it's very cold, say -20 deg F or so -- the way a thin layer of ice coats your eyes especially on the downhill runs.

On the way out, I stopped to admire the original little cabin that was part of The Moulton Dairy. Paul Sawyer owned and used it until recently, when it passed to the hands of a local physician. Sure hope some restoration is planned. It would be a shame to lose this historical monument.

And, another pic of the Pintler Wilderness, a view I never tire of. From East & West Goat Peaks on the far left to Mt Haggin on the right, as I view the Pintler peaks they conjure memories of backpacking trips past and hopes of new ones to come.

30 January 2007

The Moulton Journal: slick roads & getting stuck

It felt odd to ski alone this morning. RTD is at the vet--hopefully just for a day or two while they make sure she has no bowel obstruction or internal infection. Not holding down food and a high white bloodcell count are a worry. She's been on an IV and gets to try real food this afternoon.

On Moulton Road I came across a middle-aged guy whose mid-size Chevy was stuck in a snowbank. He was running all season radials on the front wheel drive car, and it looked as though he had gone into a downhill turn a bit fast and lost it.

I pulled the chain out, locked in the hubs for 4WD, gave a couple of jerks and had him free. It was a little tough pulling him uphill. But I've had a car or two slide into my vehicle when pulling them downhill to get free, and I'd like that not to happen anymore.

I think this guy lives up The Moulton, but why anyone would live up there without 4WD or AWD is beyond me. It's a snowy rural road, narrow with lots of turns, and it can be very snowpacked and icy. Naturally, it's not a high priority for the county gravel truck. You can "sort of" get by with a regular car, but it requires caution and some days when you just stay home.

There are generally two forms of being stuck. In the one, you just need to step out and engage the hubs, or maybe take a few swipes with a shovel, or maybe someone comes by with a chain. In the other, you are really stuck: the mud & water are coming in through the doors, or the frame is high-centered on a rock, or you tried to punch your way through a snowdrift and the bottom fell out. Either way, be prepared: this is Montana.

There are generally two driver problems that lead to getting stuck. With the one, you have inadequate tires and/or are driving a 2WD rig when you need 4WD/AWD. I've come to be a great fan of studded winter tires on my Toy p.up. They are wonderful on ice or snowpack, and have saved messing around with chains a few times. Yes, if you drive the backcountry, carry chains--even with 4WD. With the other problem, it's plain old driver error: taking turns too fast, driving too close to the edge of the road and getting sucked into the deep snow, misjudging the clearance of your vehicle.

Luckily, Montanans above all people in the world are very friendly & helpful when it comes to getting fellow drivers unstuck. And most are prepared, with a tow chain or strap, a shovel, a heavy duty jack, and oftentimes a winch or (at least) a come-along. Thank you to all the fellow drivers who have helped me out!

Back to skiing, I headed out along Big Flat again today and made a nice loop of it. We sorely need more snow. The loggers seem to be finished at The Moulton, so once (if?) we get snow it'll cover up the bare road and let us ski from the parking lot.

29 January 2007

The Moulton Journal: a day with a view

Saturday morning dawned cool, crisp, and clear. The warmer temps along with the lack of new snow have made a lot of the Moulton trails a little icy. Saturday morning it was a below zero at dawn, and early on I thought I'd pass on skiing. Given the gorgeous clear sky, though, it was a good morning for a ski out to "Big Flat" (aka Moonlight Flat)--a long open park along a southwest flat-topped finger ridge.

RTD is ill--not holding food down. She is an inveterate garbage picker--the one bad trait we've never been able to break her of. This morning (Monday) I brought her to the vet, but Saturday she was still chipper and took a moment to bask in the sun at the bottom of a Sluice Box run.

Below Sluice Box, Neversweat runs through a piece of private land. It was logged about ten years ago, and has cropped up into a nice growth of young lodgepole pines. Whether from fire or logging, lodgepole forests seem to regrow quickly. You can see lots of 2 to 5 foot tall trees.

Also in this area, on the Forest Service land along Sluice Box west of the clear cut/private land, is a "bearing tree"--a tree used to mark a survey corner.

Neversweat and Sluice Box run more or less parallel to Big Flat, down in the woods on the east side. Up on Big Flat, the views were gorgeous though not quite what I hoped they would be. The night was calm and cold, and so the wood smoke and other pollution was trapped in a broad haze over Butte's flats/upper Silver Bow Creek valley (sometimes called Summit Valley). In the pic below, I stitched together the view from east toward the East Ridge & Yankee Doodle tailings ponds to south toward the Highland Mountains.

And in the pics below is the view from west toward the Pintler Wilderness and northwest toward the Deer Lodge Valley and Mt Powell. Note how much clearer the air is in that direction.

26 January 2007

The Moulton Journal: a double day

Well, gee. I was on the snow early for a quick Yankee Boy/Big Nipper run so I could be waiting in the parking lot by 9:30 am. This morning was PTC ski day--fellowship time for faculty and grad candidates in my dept. But only Lori (my grad candidate who is working on a web-based hospital emergency room rape evidence certification course) showed up. She is an accomplished skier, so we did the Yankee/Nipper run with a Sluice Box chaser.
[photo above: Lori zooming down Widow Maker; RTD trying to keep up]

Afterwards, sitting down over a coffee and bagel at the Blue Venus, it felt like the good morning it was. Poor old RTD can barely move. Lori has a young Kelpie that she calls a "50 click" dog--aptly termed for its ability to herd sheep all day long over 50 kilometers of trail. Kelpie ran five K for every one of ours, and she was still rearing to go when we got back to the Rover. RTD is now about 9 years old, and I'd forgotten what young dogs are like. She was one, once. And so was I...

[photo above: Lori gliding across the meadow between Amalgamation Junction and Sluice Box; Kelpie in the lead (she had already ran down ahead of me, and then ran back up to escort Lori)]

24 January 2007

The Moulton Journal: a lovely Spring day (in January)

Beautiful warm and sunny day in the 40s F by early afternoon. Wow. In January. In the northern Rockies at 6,000 feet.

Glad I clicked into the E99s and got on the snow early for a lovely tour up and over Buzzy, around Big Nipper, on Yankee Boy to the deer-leg Motherlode cutoff, then across Motherlode and down Sluicebox. Saw Rick Rossi out for his morning ski, he had been out taking in the big sky view of Silver Bow Valley from Big Flat. We met on Mlode just above Sbox, stopped to commiserate about college politics, global warming, and our idiot President. Rick is pretty social for a math guy (ouch!).

Back home basking in the morning sun on the front porch with RTD sprawled at my feet and PhoebeTheCat on my lap while hydrating/fueling up/taking in some electolytes (i.e. having a beer), it was hard to see much wrong with the world. Well, except for that pesky leak in my right rear tire--a slow leak where one of the studs is inserted. That's not supposed to happen. Oh well, so it goes.

23 January 2007

Managing Warm Springs Ponds: a public meeting

Yesterday afternoon I attended a presentation about ongoing water quality problems with the effluent from Warm Springs Ponds. The ponds are used to treat the polluted water of Silver Bow Creek flowing down from the Butte Superfund site. Just below the ponds, Silver Bow Creek joins with Mill-Willow Creek and Warm Springs Creek to form the Clark Fork River. To the naieve and cursory eye, the ponds look like a natural wetlands. The are not. They are a sophisticated and intensively managed pollution treatment system. Yes, the ponds and associated wetlands support a range of wildlife from the exotic rainbow trout that cruise the depths to the abundance of ospreys that rule the air.

The natural resource amenities of Warm Spring Ponds are difficult to ponder with classical thinking. Birdwatchers and anglers appreciate the area, and on any given day there is likely to be a crowd of anglers fishing the outflow from the ponds, hoping to catch a five pound rainbow shaped like a football. I think of this as a postmodern trout fishery: supported by the stocking of exotic fish, by the heavy additions of lime that precipitate copper and other heavy metals, and by the network of pumps, piping, water quality testing, maintenance, and human operators that make the system work.

And so a meeting about the management of the ponds should be no easier to ponder than the thing in itself that is being managed.

When I first called the local Environmental Protection Agency office to inquire about this meeting, they did not know about it. Then the kindly EPA staff person made some inquiries, and told me where and when the meeting would be held, but they also warned me that it was probably not a public meeting. You see, the meeting was to be held at Arco-British Petroleum's local office. This office is in a sort of gated community, an industrial park with a big fence around it and a guardhouse at the entrance. At the very least, it would probably be necessary for me to stop at the guardhouse, seek permission to enter, and sign in should I be granted entry. The kindly EPA staffer told me, "Heck, I can't even get in there half the time."

A few minutes later the kindly staffer called back and said, well yes, that it was indeed a public meeting. Finding the place, however, was a little like figuring out directions in the rural Northern Kingdom of Vermont where you might be told, "You can't get there from here."

In the case of the Arco-British Petroleum office, maybe it's more like the federal government's notorious Area 51--an area that officially does not exist. For when I looked in the phone book, there was no listing for Arco. There was no listing for Atlantic Richfield. And there was no listing for British Petroleum. Hmmm.... we're dealing with a major global corporation that is on the hook for more than a billion dollars in local damages to the environment, and the corporation's local office is not even in the phone book?

Wow. I was well on my way to a fantastic conspiracy theory. But, as the French say, some stories are so good that they "must" be true (even if they are not).

My mistake, as it turned out. A local Arco-BP office has only recently been established in Butte, and so I found the address when I looked in a recently-minted 2007 phone book. The Arco-BP office is located in the old Kelly Mine yard along Anaconda Road--near the site of the "Bloody Wednesday" massacre, in which 14 striking miners were shot (two died) by Anaconda Company thugs. Today, this area is Arco-BP's gated industrial park--truly a fitting monument to Butte's labor history!

Even without knowing this history, it was a distinctly odd feeling to enter Arco-BP's fenced, private space in order to attend a public meeting. Like the tone of a person's voice or their body language, space carries a rhetorical weight all its own. The rhetorical weight of an Arco-BP conference room is very corporate. Had EPA asked, perhaps CFRTAC could have found a truly public space in order to hold a public meeting. And then there was that rhetorical use of the royal "We" by EPA administrators--the "we" in this case being Arco-BP, EPA, and the various consultants.

Now, don't get me wrong. The EPA administrator that chaired the meeting was very polite, professional, and even pleasant. The public attendees were not patronized or treated with any disrespect. At the same time, however, public communication clearly was not the chief purpose of the meeting.

So there I was, in a little corporate conference room crowded with about 21 people. About half were bonafide members of the public, including a Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee (CFRTAC*) contingent led by technical consultant and enviro-hero Jim Kuipers.

The meeting -- which largely consisted of several technical presentations by consultants -- went well. Dan MacGuire led off with his 2006 macroinvertebrate biomonitoring report on the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. In most respects, benthic macroinvertebrates (mayflies, caddisflies, and other bottom-dwelling stream critters) indicate that water quality has improved greatly since c. 1990. The first improvement came with the construction of the Mill-Willow Creeks bypass and associated cleanup work that removed contaminated material from the flood plain along the Warm Springs Ponds in the early 1990s. The second improvement came c. 1997, when large amounts of water were flushed down Warm Springs Creek from pristine Silver Lake, thus adding a slug of clean water to the upper Clark Fork River.

There was one disturbing data point, however. The ecology of Silver Bow Creek immediately below the ponds has suffered a noticeable decline. This could indicate a significant problem and might be attributable to the increasing levels of arsenic in water released from the ponds. Or, it could simply be an anomalous and unexplainable fluctuation. We can't really know, since the EPA dropped the ball and there is no data from the past several years.**

Arsenic is a problem. Water discharged from the Warm Springs Pond treatment facility exceeds water quality standards for arsenic about seven months of the year--typically June through December. This is also the time of the year when stream flows are generally low and the pH of water in the ponds is very high (10+). The high pH is caused by plant photosynthesis as well as by the addition of lime. Although high pH is great for precipitating the toxic metals that enter the pond, high pH also mobilizes arsenic. Though the increasingly good technical management of the ponds has been very effective in preventing downstream pollution by metals, it is a classic case of unintended consequences. It's a bedrock principle of ecology: YOU CAN NEVER CHANGE JUST ONE THING.

Of course, Arco-BP apologists will argue that arsenic is not so bad. After all, the Madison River has high arsenic levels and it is a productive ecosystem and a great trout stream. But the Madison's arsenic is from hot springs and other natural geological sources. The Clark Fork's arsenic is from mine waste, and Arco-BP is responsible for that pollution.

Furthermore, when we go back to America's Clean Water Act, the intent is clear: America's waters should be swimmable, fishable, and drinkable. Discharge from the ponds violate current drinking water standards for arsenic by a large margin much of the year. When standards drop to 10 parts per billion, the Warm Springs Pond water treatement system will be in violation virtually all of the time. To make matters worse, water from the ponds also moves through the ground water aquifer and enters the Clark Fork River via the Mill-Willow Bypass and other downgradient sites.

Currently, methods for removing arsenic from water and the effect of arsenic on aquatic life are not well understood. If arsenic and ecosytems turns out to be like arsenic and human health, then every study will tend to increae the hazardous consequences of arsenic exposure. Though one might wish more resources were allocated to this effort, the EPA is concerned about and making some effort to study the arsenic problem.

In the bigger picture of the Upper Clark Fork River basin Superfund megasite, there is not much to be done about Warm Springs Ponds. The Record of Decision (ROD) for the ponds was made final nearly 20 years ago. Once the ROD is final, there is very little the public can do to alter -- let alone reopen -- that decision.

In the next decade or so, as Silver Bow Creek is restored, we'll need to decide what to do with Warm Springs Ponds. Beneath the ponds are tens of millions of cubic yards of mine waste and treated sludge. The ponds are, in effect, a huge waste repository. At the same time, they are a weirdly postmodern natural area with natural resource amenities that many people appreciate (see http://fwp.mt.gov/lands/site_280262.aspx). Like Butte, the ponds are probably a Superfund site that will be maintained in perpetuity.

* CFRTAC is a grassroots environmental group funded by the EPA under its mandate to promote public involvement. See www.cfrtac.org.

** Actually, bugs were collected in 2004, though they were stored away without being analysed. EPA hopes to have this analysis completed in the next few months.

The Moulton Journal: semiotics & first tracks

Crossing the old dairy meadow at dawn this morning I paused to marvel at an epic sunrise worthy of Homer. The colors built to a marvelous crescendo of reds and orange and deep gray, then faded gradually as bright sunlight spilled over the ridge and poured down upon the hills. No, of course I didn't have my camera.

Skied Yankee Boy and Little Nipper and was surprised that someone else had been on part of Yankee since Paul groomed Saturday. For some reason not many folks ski this trail . But no one had skied Big Nipper/Widow Maker, and I had the pleasure of first tracks.

Tracks: In semiotics, Pierce's representamen, "the form which the sign takes" (Daniel Chandler). Tracks are an indexical mode of the sign, they connect directly the signifier (form) and the referent (object/concept).

When RTD puts her nose to a certain track she knows that it was left by a fox. The semiotics of tracks have left the referent immune to postmodernity's "death of the author"

From where stems the deep satisfaction of making first tracks down a hidden cirque in the backcountry or even along a groomed trail dusted with fresh snow? First tracks embrace all the hopes and dreams of beginning an essay on a fresh new sheet of paper, or (I suppose) of making the first brush strokes on a clean canvas. Or maybe it is more like performance art? We inscribe the world, mark it so as to define its meaning even if that inscription lasts only until the next snowfall, or only until the music's echo fades. Not an act of possession. It is an act of marking time, pressing our not-so-indelible meaning onto the world. If the mark is beautiful, we appreciate in and for the moment. If not, then the world will forgive our imperfections and give us another chance.

As a last sentence and scatological period on the morning's performance, a moose ran through the willows below the Moulton Reservoir then paused to eye RTD & I with disdain as she dropped a load of pellets.

22 January 2007

The Moulton Journal: a good skinny day

Paul finished grooming Saturday and yesterday brought an inch of fresh snow and the predawn morning temperature was in the high teens: all in all, good portents for a fine skinny ski day. Most days, I step into a pair of Fischer E-99s: a not-too-heavy back country ski, traditional 210 cm length but a bit on the wide side with some side-cut and steel edges. They are the 30-06 rifle of cross-country skis, able to do about anything I can do and a lot that I can't. [And on days when I'm sure I won't scuff the pine-tar off, I'll be on a beautiful old pair of wooden Head BC that I picked up "brand new" (never had bindings installed) for $10 at a Butte pawn shop. ]

But today was a day for the classic skinny Madshus. They are a lot faster than the E-99s, of course, and with my mediocre sense of balance I can barely stand up in them. Light but stiff, they hold wax well and conjure sweet visions of racers of yore. They are lovely on a groomed track, and the closest I ever come to enying those who skate ski.

Lots of work to do today, so I was on the snow at first light and kept it fairly short--a couple of loops around Nugget and then back down to the truck. Saw Rick Rossi's rig, he's back into his daily ski rhythm by the looks of things. And oh yes, the moose was out too.

21 January 2007


Explore Cross-Country: Go, National Weather Service, Go!

The Moulton Journal: An Extra Blue Day

Saturday morning with new snow and a temperature in the high teens, it was a perfect "extra blue" wax day. Well, "Nobody's perfect--not even the perfect stranger" (Pretenders), but it was close.

For me, a good (perfect?) wax day is when I can climb the steepest hill on Yankee Boy without herring-boning, and yet the "pancake" of snow in the wax pocket under my boot slips off immediately when I go into a kick-and-glide or skate. Yesterday was it. Oh yeah, it also has to be an "ego snow" day (per Rick Appleman), when you can turn just by thinking about it.

Saw Paul Sawyer on his way up/my way down, he was making a run with the snowmachine to pack the trails prior to grooming them. I promised to call & stop by to interview him about the history of The Moulton. I suspect they were the first cross country ski trails in Montana laid out expressly for that purpose. I'll need to talk with John-Mike Downey and Rick Appleman, too.

Yeah, I know: it's micro-history and who cares? But The Moulton trails are so primo and so beloved by those who know them that the pioneers deserve a little credit in the form of "card catalog immortality," yes?

19 January 2007

The Managerial Class in Higher Education

For those of us who enjoy helping others to learn new things and reach their potential, it is difficult to understand the "managerial" class.

By managerial, I don't mean those exemplary (and rare) administrators who lead by example, demonstrate leadership through their own accomplishments, and get out of the way for those who want to accomplish something. By managerial, I mean those who feel it is their job to force others to implement narrow minded policies; those who want to micromanage by inserting themselves into the work of others; and those who simply want to justify their own existence through the exercise of power.

As an historian, I was always struck by the lesson of the so-called Enlightened Despots of the German states. In Enlightenment-era Germany (late 1700s to early 1800s), there were several dozen separate & independent nations (depending on when you do the counting the number varied). Most of these little nations had a university. So long as the petite princes and kings allowed scholars such as Immanuel Kant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Justus (von) Liebig to do their jobs, higher education thrived. When states such as Prussia or Austria tried to set academic policy as a matter of politics, higher education declined.

It wasn't simply the Despots themselves who were to blame when things went downhill, of course. Usually, there was a bureaucracy involved--ministers of finance, religion, industry, etc. The ministers had power, but not necessarily any understanding of, appreciation for, or respect for the university professors. In fact, the ministers often saw the university professors as a threat--progressive thinkers who, like Kant, advised people to "sapere aude" (think for yourselves).

It seems that, today, we might be in a similar situation. Many colleagues I have talked with believe American higher education is in decline. Some, as mid-career tenured faculty, have almost totally disengaged from their administrators and colleagues (see for example the renowned critic Harold Bloom's description of his life at Yale and his reception as a speaker at other colleges (http://www.booknotes.org/Transcript/?ProgramID=1580). Such faculty will show up and teach their classes (and often do a superb job of teaching), but they will not participate as a member of the academe.

I sometimes wonder if such problems are present at my own institution, Montana Tech. There are many signs that might indicate a serious problem. When I began as a professor with this little engineering school 17 years ago, Tech faculty salaries were on par with our "big sister" university downriver in Missoula. Today, Tech faculty salaries are about $12,000 less than the University of Montana-Missoula. For nearly every one of those 17 years, UM-M enrollment increased significantly. Tech's enrollment has stayed flat. And increasingly we seem to be hiring MS-level rather than PhD-level faculty.

Low salaries make it difficult to attract and retain top-notch faculty. Those who stay become increasingly demoralized as they see their salary stagnate. Demoralization plays out as increasing alienation and disengagement from campus affairs.

Efforts to increase enrollment by throwing more money at recruting have failed. The latest effort is an expectation for faculty to be directly responsible for recruiting students. This prospect has merit, but will not work unless faculty are self-motivated. The policy of "beatings will continue until morale improves" does not work for dogs and horses, let alone for human beings.

Some departments have not a single PhD-level faculty member. While a PhD might not indicate superior competence in teaching, this is a disturbing sign for an institution that expects research and publication from its faculty. There seems to be confusion on this matter, and some still argue that only teaching matters. If that is the case, then the institution's mission statement and promotion & tenure guidelines should reflect that reality.

All hope is not dead. Within my department (Technical Communication http://www.mtech.edu/hss/ptc/tc/media/ptc.htm) I find myself surrounded by supportive, hard working, and highly motivated colleagues. And I know from watching the growth of other institutions -- such as my alma mater Drexel University (http://www.drexel.edu/) -- that tremendous improvement is possible in a short time. For that to happen, administrators and faculty need to support and work together toward a common vision. Finally -- unless faculty are empowered and rewarded in the pursuit of a shared vision -- nothing will change.

The Moulton Journal: "ego snow"

The weather has warmed to normal--this morning it was in the mid-teens: an "extra blue" wax day. I took yesterday off to let a sore shoulder recover a bit, but with a little fresh snow on the trails I could not say "no" again today.
On some days, the snow conditions are such that even a fair skier can execute pretty turns and do about what they want to do. Rick Appleman has named these conditions "ego snow," and today -- at least on the trails -- was a good instantiation of that general concept. Extra blue made for good climbing without herring-boning on all but the steepest section of Yankee Boy. And though it was not an especially fast day, I found it delightful to zoom around the narrow turns on Buzzy without edging to drop a lot of speed.

Someone new is skiing The Moulton, or at least someone with a new set of skis. They are short and fat like tele boards, but whomever was wearing them did a lot of skating. They did not seem to leave the telltale "fishscale" marks of no-wax skis. Could this be something new?

Other than a croaky raven and a solitary moose (ho hum), not many critters were out and about today. Looking down the Deer Lodge valley, it appears we might have some weather moving in. But as Paul Sawyer likes to say, "The best way to prevent a snowstorm is to predict it."

17 January 2007

The Moulton Journal: 11 minute Yankee; pine beetle mystery

A morning of skiing is a lot like an orgasm: it's hard to have a bad one.
Years ago, Rick Appleman (who skis with the grace of a cat) suggested that 11 minutes is a pretty good time for the Yankee loop. Arghhhhh!!!! He poisoned my mind, and since then I occasionally carry a watch so that I can time a run on Yankee. I've found that anything under 12 minutes feels pretty darned good especially as I slide into Little Nipper (it makes a nice "cool down") and my heartrate drops below 200 or so. Today was about 11 & 1/2: not a great time by Applemania standards, but my heart & lungs felt pretty good about it.

Here's a mystery: What is causing these de-barked patches on the lodgepole pines?

My hypothesis is that pine squirrels are scraping off the bark to get at beetles & grubs (aka larvae). Do squirrels eat beetles? I dunno, but the scraped trees do seem always to have squirrel tracks to and from them. Perhaps the bark is simply flaking off as the trees die, but the bare patches look to have been scraped by little claws and there are occasional piles of fresh bark scrapings.

16 January 2007

The Moulton Journal: Butte directions for cross country skiing

Great ski yesterday, the trails were fast and green wax perfect. There was a flock of black-backed woodpeckers feeding in lodgepole pines near Nipper Junction and damn I had forgotten the camera. What a joy to watch them, though, benefitting from the mountain pine beetle outbreak. I'll bet the population of woodpeckers has increased hugely in recent years.

How do you get to The Moulton's cross country ski trails?

As someone pointed out, asking directions in Butte can be tricky.

First of all, despite the wonderful outdoor recreation at our backdoor, surprisingly few Butte folks are outdoors-men and -women. And if the outdoor recreation does not involve motorized recreation, there are fewer still.

Secondly, local directions are confusing. For example, Jan & I had recently moved to Butte and we wanted to change our license plates. We asked a kindly man on the street for directions to the motor vehicle registration bureau, and he replied, "Go up the street and turn left a block before where the Miners' Union Hall used to be." !!!! Ahh, Butte--where memories are alive.

So here's a map and a few added notes:

  • The Moulton Road is full of twists, ups & downs, blind curves, and careless drivers (and sometimes moose). Drive cautiously. If the road is not too snowy or ice, then 25 mph is about right.

  • The Moulton Road is maintained by Butte-Silver Bow. Most of the time it is plowed and gravelled. It's not high on the priority list, though, and after a big snowstorm can be nearly impassable.

  • A good map and ski trail directions are posted in the ski area parking lot.

  • There is logging on the private land just beyond the ski area parking lot. You must cross this area to get to the ski trails. Be careful. So long as the snow is not too deep, I've been driving a half-mile or so beyond the parking lot to avoid walking through the logging area. There are a few turnouts where you can park. Do not, of course, block the road.

13 January 2007

The Moulton Journal: A Buzzy Day

Another cold morning, so I nursed that second cup of coffee and ate the last few Christmas cookies while waiting for the sun to warm things up a bit. Plus we got home late from the Indigo Girls concert in Missoula last night, and sleeping in a bit felt "closer to fine." By the time the sun was bright and the mercury on the porch hit 10 deg F (in the sun), RTD & I were ready to go.
Looks like the loggers took today off, can't blame them what with this being the third morning in a row way below zero.

Maybe I'm getting used to it or maybe it warmed more quickly this morning, but skiing did not feel cold (or slow) at all. Despite the holy mitten. I rooted around in my winter gear in the basement and found a new pair of leather choppers complete with wool liners. Actually, given the feel (and a few intelligent questions), the new liners seem to be some sort of smartwool. I have the choppers made of elk hide (http://www.uberglove.com) and they are pretty tough--the current pair made it through five years, I think, of skiing and hunting and winter camping. Hate to get rid of the old friends, maybe I can turn them into some sort of pouch.

A dusting of fresh snow came sometime yesterday, and it was nicely bonded to the old stuff. The cold weather made for good climbing with green kick wax, and the cold weather had taken what little crust had been on the snow. A Buzzy day! You don't have to be, but sometimes it helps. No sign of Rick Rossi's tracks along Buzzy or the pole-line, and I haven't seen his vehicle at Moulton for a week. He must be over to the Bighorn for his annual winter fishing trip. Rick is Math dept head at MT Tech and skis everyday when he's in town, it seems.

Paul grooms Buzzy only rarely, and some years not at all. That's OK as it provides a nice off-trail experience. Some years ago he regularly gave it a once-over with the bedsprings, but I don't know if he grooms with them at all anymore. Once upon a time, almost all the grooming at The Moulton was done with an old set of bedsprings towed behind a snowmachine. But in recent years Paul has adopted the fancy roller and corduroy groomer provided by the ski club. They do a better job, I suppose, but maybe it's hard to groom a narrow, steep trail like Buzzy?

One-way trail sign on the Buzzy segment leading down to Big Nipper.

For most of the morning, green kick wax was perfect. As it warmed up, though, the combination of old snow and sun didn't leave much kick. But by then it was all downhill to the Rover and the lack of stick made for good skating. Life is good, and yes, today was "closer to fine."

11 January 2007

The Moulton Journal: a cold, slow ski

Skiing was cold and slow this morning, maybe because it was about -20 deg F. Even polar wax is slow on days like this, the skis give plenty of stick & kick, and not much glide. Makes it hard (for me) to skate anything but a downhill grade. But it's always good to be outside, even though the hole in my right mitten was letting the heat out and freezing my thumb. And my feet got a little cold on the long downhill run back to the truck.

It's good to see some cold weather, maybe it'll knock the mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) back a little (though it's way too late for most of our lodgepole forest).

Here's a pic of a tree with lots of beetle "pitch tubes"--they're the little light colored spots of pine sap. As the beetles bore their way into the bark, the tree tries to expell them by exuding resin. When there are a lot of beetles, however, the trees are overcome and this simple defense mechanism does not protect them.

And here's a close up of a pitch tube.

Loggers were working this morning, cold or no cold. Tough job.

08 January 2007

Chokecherry Jelly (poem)

Chokecherry Jelly

Brent scouting a place where elk hide,

along the river finds chokecherry paradise,

slick leaves hording sunshine.

Spring's profusion of blossoms scent the air,

bring joy to humble bees and European cousins,

they feast on sun's nectar.

Late summer fruit hangs on branches heavy,

tart fruit that puckers the mouth,

shocking flavor rocks you off balance.

Fruit that brings joy to Native Peoples and European cousins,

they feast on sun's essence.

Lewis & Clark & Sacagawea knew this joy,

knew this medicine that moves through all things.

Karina too knows as Brent drives up,

pick-up bed packed high,

hours then in kitchen mashing cherries, straining stones,

standing over steaming pots air thick with pungent sunshine.

Adler and Kenia know this joy,

hunched to table gobbling stacks of flapjacks

smeared with chokecherry jelly--

a child's first taste of sunshine.

Butte, Montana: A Geography of Somewhere

When you're in Butte, you know where you are. You know where you are as you look out to the East Ridge (of the Great Divide), to the Highland Mountains, or to the Pintler Range. You know where you are as you look up to Big Butte and the giant, lighted letter "M." (The "M" is emblematic of the School of Mines, nowadays known as Montana Tech.) You know where you are as you order breakfast at the M&M, watching the cook from the local pre-release center crack the eggs one-handed.

And you know where you are as you ski the trails at The Moulton, just a few miles north of town. When the great local pioneers of cross country skiing laid out the trails at The Moulton, they named these trails and their dips & turns after local mines and mining features. Names such as Claimjumper, Sluice Box, and Nugget dot The Moulton trails.

Though not a huge area, The Moulton ski area has many kilometers of trails. The great local pioneers of cross country skiing were masters at enfolding the universe into a compact strand. And the trails are varied, with a nice mix of beginner, intermediate, and "most diffucult" terrain.

A brief digression about dead trees: all around Butte -- The Moulton included -- you will see a lot of reddish colored lodgepole pine trees. Hundreds of thousands of acres of trees are dead and dying from a severe mountain pine beetle outbreak. This outbreak is a "natural" and cyclic occurence in lodgepole pine stands, but it has been exacerbated by several factors: drought, mild winter temperatures, and uniformly aged stands of trees. All of these causes are largely anthropogenic. The first two -- drought and mild winters -- are linked with global warming. The last -- uniform stands -- is caused by widespread clear cutting that levelled the area forests in a short time.

There is little to be done about the dead trees and pine beetle outbreak. Logging can help to salvage some economic value from the dead and dying trees, but it will in no way lessen the outbreak. In terrain that is not too steep, too wet, or too remote, logging will not cause much harm either. Much of The Moulton -- especially the private lands -- is currently being clear cut, a logging method that removes virtually all trees from a given area. Trees that are not logged are creating a situation ripe for a large landscape wild fire. That too is part of the natural cycle for lodgepole pine forests. As the trees are cleared, the land will grow up in grass and then woody shrubs and aspen, and then probably revert to being a uniformly aged lodgepole pine forest. Eighty years from now, the beetles will probably once again wipe out the trees.

Anyway, the nature of an area can change a lot over the short course of a human life. So The Moulton I know today will of course look considerably different from The Moulton I know 25 years from now. So it goes. Never mind all the houses springing up on the wildland fringe. Many people wanted to live in the woods, though now (given the threat of fire) they are clearcutting the forests around their homes. So it goes.

Back to the ski trails! I especially like the "upper" (north) section of trails. This area begins at Amalgamation Junction. Sometimes, once I get up to the junction, I'll ski the In Vein loop. As Rick Appleman likes to say, sometimes it is In Vein, and sometimes it is In Vain...

Though all the names for trails and trail features are taken from local history, these names are also very fitting. For example, I was once a little dazy, just skiing along, when I hit an icy stretch on a sudden downhill and quickly learned why it's named Wake Up Jim!

Hmmm.... Wonder why this section of Big Nipper is called Widow Maker? (A nipper was the guy in the mine who carried the tools from particular work sites back to the tool crib fore exchange or sharpening etc; a widow maker is a slab of rock that falls from the roof of a mine--also known as a "Duggan" after the name of a local mortuary.)

Yankee Boy, my favorite trail on the hill. Lots of steep climbs, downhill runs that become steeper and curve more as you get further into them, and lots of flats to skate or get long kick & glides--this trail has it all. It also seems to fit the rather perverse Vermonter sense of humor embodied by Paul Sawyer--a man who once brought a moose turd pie to a potluck supper!

Oh yeah.... When these trails are marked "One Way," you want to believe it. The trails are narrow in places -- just 8 feet wide -- and a skier coming around a steep downhill turn will need every inch of that space. Sometimes, I need just a little more...

05 January 2007

Get the Lead Out!

There is no need for condors to be dying of lead poisoning (HCN, 2/18/02: Condor program laden with lead). This is a problem that is also increasingly documented for other birds -- such as bald and golden eagles -- that scavenge hunter's kills. There are already several alternatives to lead bullets on the market. For more than a decade, solid copper bullets have proven effective on all game. Though currently expensive for shooters who do a lot of target shooting, the cost to hunt with copper bullets is negligible when compared with what hunters pay for rifles, four-wheel-drive vehicles, a tank of gas, and other gear.

Once they understood the harm done to waterfowl, hunters readily abandoned lead shot. Conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited have done a great job in publicizing the harm done by lead shot. Groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation could effectively do the same for the move away from lead bullets.

Few hunters and conservationists, myself included, want to be responsible for poisoning condors, golden eagles and other scavengers. Hunters such as Teddy Roosevelt, William Hornaday and Aldo Leopold were leaders in the conservation movement. The National Rifle Association has been fighting any curbs on lead bullets, but the NRA is plumb crazy on this issue, and should either lead or get out of the way.

02 January 2007

Moulton Moose

The elk seem to have left the Moulton area for the season, and we've seen no lion tracks yet this year. But Emily & I did run into this moose cow & calf.