28 March 2007

Conservation AND Access

A long lineage of conservationists did not distinguish between the need to conserve and protect natural resources and the need for the public to have access to natural resources. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Ed Abbey, ... -- all realized a deeply integrated relationship between conservation and access.

How is it, then, that some modern groups can promote conservation and ignore access? The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is probably the most prominent among such groups. TNC, it seems, would be happy to tie up the entire natural world in conservation easements for wealthy landowners that preclude any and all public access. As TNC has increasingly gotten into bed with wealthy donors and landowners, it has also become embroiled in numerous ethical messes. Goldman Sachs' CEO Henry Paulsen became Chair of TNC and President Bush's Treasury Secretary. And never mind the other TNC scandals related to buying land and selling it at a profit, rigging land deals to benefit board members and corporate donors, or a TNC-Mobil Oil cooperative oil drilling venture that hammered an endangered species of prairie chicken...

What do these ethical problems share with the conservation/access divide?

These ethical problems all stem from the national board of a major conservation group being in bed with wealthy corporations and elite landowners. Often these are the same corporations and elite landowners that promote the privatization of nature. As a group moves toward a conservation mission that ignores public access, it will also make that group prone to other moral compromises regarding nature. Money can do that.

I am not arguing that wealth necessarily leads to bad environmental ethics. Many wealthy landowners and corporate blokes have a healthy respect for both the rights of nature and the rights of the unwashed masses. Wealth, like any other power, however, needs to be balanced. You know, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely..."

Within a conservation group, wealth needs to be balanced with an understanding of the role of nature in people's lives--ALL people's lives. My friend Mr. Kennedy (who owns 3,200 acres on the Ruby River) enjoys fishing that river no more or less than I, Butte pauper that I am. Mr. Kennedy and I share a zeal for Trout Unlimited's mission to conserve salmonids. For me to share this zeal, however, requires that I have access to the river that runs through both of our lives. My right to access that river is found in the Public Trust Doctrine (as well as the Montana Constitution). Only a free citizen who has the right to vote and the right to information about their government is likely to care about that government. This is why, for example, Napoleon's soldiers (and the American revolutionaries) fought for their cause and won battles (and the war) against vastly better equipped and trained armies.

So too public access. I can be a good soldier for Trout Unlimited and other groups only if I both (1) am respected as a member of a democratic organization; and (2) have access to the natural resources the group works to conserve.

Now, in the modern world, I realize that some people do not feel this way. They feel some guilt or some sentiment toward nature, even though it might not be an important part of their lives. They take a week to vacation in some overcrowded National Park, and that is about it. To salve their guilt or their sentiment, they send an annual donation to TNC or TU or one of a host of other conservation groups. They don't want to be involved, they don't want to participate in the group's work day to pick up litter at a public fishing access site etc.

Also, in the modern world, there is certainly a strong tendency toward specialization. TNC can focus on acquiring conservation easements on critical (private) properties, while a truly grassroots group such as Public Lands/Water Access Association, Inc. can focus on defending public access rights. Meanwhile, the board of directors at TNC can become more and more insulated from public issues, democratic participation and transparency, and the need to make nature a part of everyone's life.

This modern tendency is fed by Professional Staff. When a group's day-to-day operations are directed and effected by Professional Staff, the rank-and-file membership no longer need to care. The rank-and-file membership no longer need to do the heavy lifting of showing up to testify at public meetings, raising money to fund local projects, or writing articles for the monthly newsletter. Just send in your membership dues, and the Professional Staff will take care of everything.

As a modern organization that went down that road, consider John Muir's own Sierra Club. By the 1960s, the group was simply irrelevant to many of its rank-and-file members who sought a deep connection with nature. As the Sierra Club became increasingly bureaucratic and beholden to wealthy interests, it alienated activist, grassroots members such as David Brower and Ed Abbey--and thus EarthFirst! was born.

A group need not cave in to modernist tendencies that alienate grassroots members. It is very possible to combine grassroots involvment with a Professional Staff, national board of directors, and wealthy donors. To its credit as an organization, Trout Unlimited has been such an organization. To date, the national board has generally not made hasty decisions catering to wealthy donors without first working through the local chapters and grassroots memberships. Projects and initiatives emerge from both local chapters and from the national organization. There are and will be some tensions, to be sure, but the system has worked.

Trout Unlimited has formed an ad hoc committee that will study the Stream Access issue and make a recommendation to the national board before its September 2007 meeting. Let's hope that TU can retain the qualities that have made it a unique and successful blend of grassroots activists + big time modern organization.

27 March 2007

Environmental Protection Agency declines Opportunity to rename a waste dump

Sadly, the EPA has refused to accept Anaconda-Deer Lodge County's name change for a huge toxic waste repository (see EcoRover 22.March.2007). Because the 4,000 acre toxic site is named the "Opportunity Ponds" after the nearby town of Opportunity, the county and town residents wanted the name changed to the "British Petroleum Ponds." British Petroleum is the parent company of ARCO and the responsible party under Superfund law.

What's in a name? Well, Opportunity Ponds sounds an awful lot like Opportunity-the-town. Whereas British Petroleum Ponds sounds an awful lot like British Petroleum-ARCO the corporation responsible for the toxic waste near the town of Opportunity.

Charlie Coleman of the EPA thought it would be too difficult to accept the name change, given all the documents and maps that are filed under the current name. Coleman also stressed that the EPA was focused on clean-up: “We [EPA] hope we’re able to remove that stigma [of contamination] for the community.”

But that's the whole point, isn't it, Charlie? The British Petroleum Ponds are a permanent waste repository. The contamination, and the stigma, are a permanent feature of Opportunity's backyard. If they are to be a monument in perpetuity, why not have them commemorate British Petroleum and not the town?

Cf. "EPA won't rename sites," 24.March.2007, The Montana Standard newspaper, http://www.mtstandard.com/articles/2007/03/24/anaconda/hjjcjghfjihghh.txt.

National Trout Unlimited Backs Off on Stream Access

Experienced anglers know when they are getting into water that is too deep and need to back off.

This common sense approach prevailed with the National Trout Unlimited board of directors when, late last week, they decided to rescind a proposed resolution* that would have prohibited state and local TU chapters from engaging in stream access issues.

Wise choice: given the hue and cry from rank-and-file TU members, a "stream access is out-of-bounds" stance would have seriously harmed grassroots support for TU in Montana.

National TU will form an ad hoc committee to consider the issue and take into account the views of grassroots members before making a recommendation to the full board for its meeting next September.

* See EcoRover blogspot entries for 13.March.2007 and 21.March.2007.

Cf. Perry Backus, "National Trout Unlimited retreats from access stance," 27.March.2007 issue of The Missoulian newspaper, http://www.missoulian.com/.

26 March 2007

Big Hole SpringCampout

The blue birds have returned, so it was time for a spring campout. For the past several years, Dave, RTD, and I have headed to The Notch for a few days each spring. We wait for a weekend with good weather, throw the gear in the truck, and head for the lower Big Hole. This is desert country, receiving only about 10 inches or less of annual precipitation. There are antelope and mule deer, but they are rather scarce as you get a mile or two from the river. This year, we camped across the river from our usual spots near Block Mountain, and settled into a little dale nestled between The Hogback and a smaller parallel ridge, several miles south of the Big Hole River. View of camp:
The Hogback is a ridge several miles long. The land slopes rather gradually upward from the west to the spine. The spine is topped with craggy rock that drops into many sheer cliffs on the east side. View along the top of The Hogback:
The Hogback creates a mini-rain shadow across the dale for the weather blowing in from the west. You can map the annual precipitation through the vegetation. The top of The Hogback is lush with mountain mahogany; a hundred feet or so down on the east side this transitions into a strip of sagebrush; from there on down to the floor of the dale it is prickly pear cactus; but then the floor of the dale becomes a swale lush with bunchgrass, which continues up the small parallel ridge until it transitions into a narrow swath of cactus topped with mountain mahogany.
We camped on the floor of the dale, and although the area is exposed to wind from the south the prevailing west wind is blocked by The Hogback.

Because the dale is so lush as to be a swale, we dared not build our fire in the dry grass there. Instead, we moved a few hundred feet up the little ridge to our east and built a nice fireplace in the rock. There was lots of dead mountain mahogany close at hand--a wonderful, clean, and long-burning hardwood. View of Dave, turning the deer steaks once to bloody rare perfection:

Saturday morning we loaded our knapsacks, found a moderately easy route up The Hogback, and hiked north toward the Big Hole River. From the top, there are good views to the Highland Mtns (incl. Red & Table Mtns); Block Mountain makes a good local landmark (dark mass on right edge of photo); you can also see an abandoned mine (red area) in the foreground:

There are also great views to the Tobacco Roots:

Because The Hogback's ridge is so rugged and thick with mountain mahogany, we moved down the western flank and hiked the grassland. There are numerous small mines along this route, marked on the map only as "soda mines." Some of the waste rock is very beautiful (we're not sure what the soda pay dirt looks like):
There was a horse skeleton near one of the mines. The immediate cause of death seems to have been that bullet hole between the eyes. No broken legs that we could see, and the teeth looked pretty good:
Oh well, the cycle of life and all that jazz. The coyotes must have been very happy with a horse carcass. And there's nothing prettier than a coyote turd full of horse hair:

RTD had a bad time withe the prickly pear cactus; no wonder this little plant gave the Lewis & Clark expedition such a bad time as they portaged their canoes around the Great Falls of the Missouri River:

Prickly pear cactus are eaten by packrats. The cactus gives the"woodrats" needed moisture, and these rodents also make a good home defense, as shown in this photograph of cactus piled up around a packrat's den in some old mine timbers:

Sentinel Rock marks one of the few passes over the northern portion of The Hogback:
Making our way through the rocky pass, we found numerous signs of old fox trapper's sets: bits of mylar attractor, waxed paper that had been placed under the traps' pans, wire that had anchored traps, etc. Here, we found an old rabbit carcass that had been used to bait the trap, along with the forgotten trap itself (a nice "soft set" with rubber-padded jaws and a spring on the trap's chain):

Back to camp and time for a nap. The warm (c. 75 deg F) day cooled as a front blew in from the south. After a very windy night we awoke to cloudy skies, cooler (c. 60 deg F) but still pleasant weather. We drove home leisurely along the frontage road, through Glen and past the flanks of Mt Fleecer. It's hard to be in a hurry after even a day or two on nature's time.

22 March 2007

An Opportunity for Arsenic Reduction

[adapted from KUFM/Montana Public Radio commentary aired 22.March.2007, see http://www.mtpr.net/commentaries.html]

In the Superfund process (as in life itself), the naming of things is tremendously important. Some might argue that naming is an arbitrary matter. Take cats, for instance. What’s the difference if I name my cat Gumbie, Rumpelteazer, or Gus? Well, as T.S. Eliot taught us, “The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter…” After all, like Adam in Genesis, we construct our world through the act of naming. Names create the roadmap for reality.

I think it was Joseph Kinsey Howard who first referred to the Anaconda Copper Mining Company as Montana’s Cheshire Cat: long after the cat was gone, it’s malevolent grin lingered in the Montana Power Company, the Plum Creek Timber Company, and of course ARCO and now British Petroleum-ARCO.

The little town of Opportunity between Anaconda and the Clark Fork River is inscribed with the Cheshire Cat’s grin; Opportunity residents are especially sensitive to the act of naming. For many years an area near their town was a toxic waste dump for the Anaconda Company. After the Company merged with ARCO and ARCO began Superfund clean up, this area became the toxic waste repository for other Operable Units—including Silver Bow Creek and Milltown Dam. Unfortunately for Opportunity residents, the ACM’s big cat box was named after their town.

Opportunity residents now ask that this waste repository be renamed the British Petroleum Ponds. The county’s chief executive Rebecca Guay says, “We’re just asking that whoever owns the ponds take ownership of them.” As Opportunity resident George Niland explains, “When people type in ‘Opportunity’ on Google we’d rather have them go to Opportunity, Montana, than the Opportunity Ponds.” [See the Montana Standard article, http://www.mtstandard.com/articles/2007/03/20/anaconda/hjjcjghjjijjgg.txt]

Renaming the ponds is a reasonable request. British Petroleum should take ownership of its own toxic waste—both through the Superfund process and through the name of its repository. We hope that British Petroleum-ARCO and the Environmental Protection Agency listen.

As another act of naming, consider the safe human exposure limit for arsenic. In Anaconda and Opportunity, the so-called “safe” residential arsenic level is 250 parts per million.

Recently, epidemiologists have proven arsenic far more harmful to human health than previously thought. In the well-known Dartmouth study that helped reduce arsenic limits for drinking water, scientists called arsenic a vitamin that promoted cancer growth. Recently, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County government has hired technical advisor Jim Kuipers. We hope that local residents can use this sound technical advice and pressure the Environmental Protection Agency to be more protective of human health. Since Opportunity residents rely on well water, it is especially important that they take advantage of the ground water testing program recently implemented for their town.

Anaconda’s residential arsenic levels were set in a study performed nearly two decades ago. Some environmental toxicology classes use Anaconda as an example of a poor human health study. According to environmental engineer Stacie Barry, who also worked on an EPA-funded study of arsenic in family pets, the Anaconda study routinely underestimated the bioavailability of arsenic through the gastrointestinal tract, skin, and inhalation. Arsenic in attic dust was ignored. Long-term residential exposure was based on a two-week study of six newborn piglets eating yard soil. The piglet study neglected the long-term accumulation of arsenic in the bones and livers of real, human children.

When one compares Anaconda with the nation, the situation looks far, far worse. Nationally, Anaconda’s arsenic levels are an order of magnitude – ten times higher – than other sites. A review of state-by-state cleanup levels for soil arsenic in residential areas shows that many are in the 10 to 20 parts per million range. This makes sense, given the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent reduction of the arsenic limit in drinking water from 50 to 10 parts per billion.

Most all of the arsenic in the Clark Fork Superfund Megasite came from Anaconda Company smelting operations. One would think that with this common source – and with the same agency now cleaning up the sites – arsenic exposure limits would be the same throughout the Megasite.

Not so: along the Clark Fork River, the safe limit for soil arsenic levels is 150 parts per million; at Milltown, sediments are considered “highly contaminated” and will be removed when arsenic levels exceed 100 parts per million; however, in Anaconda and Opportunity, soil arsenic levels are set far higher—at 250 parts per million.

What the heck is going on here? Why are Anaconda residential arsenic levels set twice as high as those at other Clark Fork sites? Far more people are exposed to arsenic in Anaconda than along the river or at Milltown.

This appears to be a serious case of social injustice. Is it OK to increase the cancer risk for Anaconda kids in comparison with Milltown kids? Or for Montana kids vs. New York kids?

For more news about the British Petroleum Ponds, Opportunity, and other Superfund issues, please check out CFRTAC’s website at hyperlink www.cfrtac.org.

White-tailed Deer in southwest Montana

I read an article in the Montana Standard newspaper last week. While interesting, Nick Gevock’s article about white-tailed deer “taking over” contains serious historical inaccuracies and omissions. [See http://www.mtstandard.com/articles/2007/03/22/outdoors_top/20070322_outdoors_top.txt]
White-tailed deer are not “recent migrants” to southwest and western Montana. Think of Deer Lodge, Montana, a town along the Clark Fork River just downstream of Butte. Deer Lodge got its name from, and was historically referred to by Native Americans as, “the lodge of the white-tailed deer.”

When Lewis and Clark led their infamous expedition through what is now southwest Montana, they saw many, many white-tailed deer—and relatively few mule deer. For example, consider Meriwether Lewis’ journal entry from 14 August 1805, made at the Three Forks of the Missouri River: “We have killed no mule deer since we lay here, they are all of the longtailed red deer [i.e. white-tailed deer] which appear quite as large as those of the United States.” The preponderance of white-tailed deer over mule deer continued as the expedition made its way up the Beaverhead River and over the Continental Divide to the Salmon River valley.

We must keep in mind that Lewis and Clark traveled primarily along rivers, and that white-tailed deer favor riparian habitat.

So why do old-timers tell us that white-tailed deer were scarce in southwest Montana until recently? It is because white-tailed deer were exterminated on the Montana frontier of the late nineteenth century. Ranchers’ cattle overgrazed the river bottoms, while miners and homesteaders shot everything in sight for food. For example, by 1871 Granville Stuart (located at what is now the Grant-Kohrs historic ranch near Deer Lodge) was outraged by the widespread slaughter of white-tailed deer and other native species, and he introduced legislation aimed at conserving wildlife. Despite Stuart’s efforts, the slaughter continued. By the 1890s, sportsmen’s groups petitioned the legislature to set hunting seasons and halt the sale of wild game. By 1900, there were virtually no deer or other game left in southwest Montana.

By the late1930s, thanks to the activism of groups such as the Montana Wildlife Federation and professional Fish & Game biologists, white-tailed deer and other game began to recover. Today, the alfalfa, wheat, and grass hay fields of our river bottoms provide abundant forage for white-tailed deer. Combined with the dearth of predators and the reluctance of some landowners to allow public hunting, this assures that the overpopulation of white-tails will continue—at least until something like Chronic Wasting Disease finds its way from game farms into our wild herds.

The article is an example of our tendency to see the world at the moment as if that is the way it has always been--irrespective of the huge changes that we have wrought even over very short time periods of a few human generations.

21 March 2007

James Kennedy: Millionaire Media Mogul challenges Montana Stream Access

Atlanta, Georgia, based media millionaire James Cox Kennedy is at it again, trying to halt public stream access at county roads & bridges that pass through his property on the Ruby River in southwest Montana.

This time, Kennedy has filed a legal suit against Madison County and Public Lands Access Association, Inc. (PLAAI). Kennedy alleges that Madison County is failing to stop the public from accessing the river at the county bridges, thus violating his property rights. PLAAI is an organization of concerned anglers, sporstmen and -women, and others who are concerned over the public being locked out of traditional access to public land and water. For the story on Kennedy's latest lawsuit, see the article by Nick Gevock of the Montana Standard at http://www.mtstandard.com/articles/2007/03/21/state_top/20070321_state_top.prt .

Kennedy's efforts to block public access on the Ruby River extend back at least to 2003. At that time, Kennedy began stringing electric fences and erecting other imassable barriers at the county bridges along Seylor and Lewis Lanes. Generally, Madison County has been gutless in this issue--trying to duck both the fanatical private property rights claims of James Kennedy and the demands to uphold the law by PLAAI.

The law is clear on this issue, as reified in a statement by Montana Attorney General Joe Mazurek in May 2000. Mazurek ruled that (Backus 2004):
  • Use of county road right-of-way to access streams and rivers is consistent with and reasonably incidental to the public's right to travel on county roads.
  • A bridge and its abutments are a part of the public right highway, and are subject to the same public easement of passage as the highway to which they are attached. Therefore, recreationists can access streams and rivers by using the bridge, its right-of-way, and its abutments.
  • A recreationist must stay within the road and bridge easement to access streams and rivers. Absent definition in the easement or deed to the contrary, the width of the bridge right-of-way easement is the same as the public highway to which it is attached.
  • Access to streams and rivers from county roads and bridges is subject to the exercise of the county commission's police power. However, this power is not without limitation.
  • Access to streams and rivers from county roads and bridges created by prescription is dependent upon the uses of the road during prescriptive period.

Neither the law nor public rights seem to matter to James Kennedy and certain other wealthy landowners in Montana. It must be noted that Kennedy-types are the exception: most Montana landowners, whether newcomers or traditional family ranchers, respect the law and public rights. Furthermore, most Montana landowners are incredibly generous about granting public trespass by permission for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities.

For those who care about public access to the streams and river of Montana, please please please support PLAAI in this David vs. Goliath battle. Go to http://plwa.org/.

So who is this James Cox Kennedy?

Well, to begin with, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Today, he is chair and CEO of the privated media corporation Cox Enterprises, Inc. His grandfather was James M. Cox, a three term Ohio governor, 1920 presidential candidate, and newspaper owner. James M. Cox had two daughters--Anne Cox Chambers and Barbara Cox Anthony. The sisters are still alive, each have a net worth of #12.5 billion, and share ownership of the vast Cox empire. Both are major players in the Democratic party.

"Jimmy," as James Cox Kennedy was known as a boy, grew up in Hawaii. Here's a brief resume of his life:

  • 1972 graduate of the University of Denver at age 24
  • following college, spent several years racing motorcycles--apparently uninterested in the family business
  • 1979 named president of Grand Junction Newspapers, a family owned business
  • 1985 named vice-president of Cox Newspapers in Atlanta
  • under Jimmy's direction, the Atlanta Journal Constitution's reputation went downhill because of budget cuts and newsroom staff cuts; this has continued with Cox's purge of over-55 year old employees (Sugg 2007)
  • 1988 named chair of Cox Enterprises
  • national board member of Ducks Unlimited
  • president of Wetlands America Trust, Inc.

No one can alledge that Kennedy is not a conservationist. But supporting wildlife conservation does not necessarily coincide with respecting the law, acknowledging public rights, or getting along with your neighbors under the Montana Big Sky.


To float the river through James Cox Kennedy's land:

"Put in at Seyler Lane Bridge, drive through Twin Bridges to Seyler or Tash lane, then turn right and drive 1.75 miles to the bridge. For a longer float, drive to Sheridan, turn right at the IGA store and follow to an intersection known as Four Corners. Follow the foliage line for four miles to the river. Both floats end in Jesson Park in Twin Bridges across from the Madison County Fairgrounds. " (Billings Outpost 2005)


Backus, Perry (2004). "Fishing access battle continues," Montana Standard newspaper, 12.Jan.2004.

Billings Outpost (2005). Twin Bridges news item, Billings Outpost weekly newspaper, 17.July.2005. Available at http://www.billingsnews.com/story?storyid=17653&issue=270.

"Cox Empire Seeks Growth (on Its Own Terms)" (2002). New York Times, 14.April.2002.

Forbes 400 (2005). Entries for Anned Cox Chambers and Barbara Cox Anthony, at http://forbes.com/lists/2005/54/.

Mack Robinson College of Business (2004). "Twentieth Annual Business Hall of Fame Celebration," at http://robinson.gsu.edu/corporate/hof/2004/Kennedy.html.

Sugg, John F. (2007). "Why did Cox employees in Ohio get a better buyout deal than those in Atlanta? One word: union." 13.March.2007 at JohnSugg.com http://blogs.creativeloafing.com/johnsugg/.

19 March 2007

Spring Hike: reading the book of nature

Nature is eloquent, speaking to us in various signs. We read these signs much as we read or decode spoken language and other social forms of semiotics. In terms of human understanding, there need not be a wide gulf or sharp division between the human and non-human world.

Leaving the truck at the S-curves near the top of a pass on the Continental Divide, I read the first signs of spring--pussywillows along the road.

Climbing up a finger ridge that runs down from the Divide, I thought how much I love this area. Though it is like a child or friend recovering from some horribly destructive habit like meth or heroin, there is beauty in this recovering landscape ravaged a century ago by the Anaconda Copper Company's clear cutting and then smelter pollution. Usually, I see it while elk hunting the area once or twice a year; but it's also a pleasant early spring hike. Though I carried snowshoes to ease crossing the deep drifts between ridges, for the most part the wind blows hard and constant down from the Divide, sweeping the snow from the ridgetops and west facing ridge sides. The ridges are studded with the earth's vertebrae--marvelous limestone outcrops; they stand amid the earth's shed hair--trees a century dead.

An old mining claim marked with a Christian's cross. What were they prospecting in this limestone? Was this perhaps a contact zone between limestone and lava? I don't know. My skill at reading the language of geology is limited.

Bears roam these ridges and this valley. They leave their mark on aspens as a sign to other bears, or to humans who read a bit of ursinese.

Wind and water claw the land the way bears claw trees. Here, the claw marks of running water on a low ridge across a glen. We can read this as erosion caused by the deforestation and subsequent poisoning of vegetation by the Anaconda Copper Mining company.

Here, some patterned ground--the language of wind riffled snow, pebbles, and vegetation.

RTD and I pause for lunch. Although a pleasantly warm and sometimes sunny morning, the nagging wind has made me cold. It feels good to hunker down over a fire on the lee side of the ridge.

Spring is a time of life. The "bull" mice travel long distances to find mates. This little deer mouse, tucked in amid the Oregon grape and lichen, was a mysterious victim of winter. RTD's found it, her nose reads the signs of smell the way my eyes read elk tracks.

There is a slash in the earth, a crevice like Gaia's vagina. Here there is life: the rich green color of watercress leaps to the eye like the cries of a new born child. The water flows warm (60 deg F or so) year round, ice free, and mineral-fat from its limestone birth. In a month or so, there will be westslope cutthroat trout swirling and spawning in this rich water.

For me, today, it is the source of a pound or so of watercress to flavor a big potful of boiling corned beef. As my hands pick over the watercress I am like a hungry man reading Braille. My mouth waters as I recite the story.

15 March 2007

Stream Access: Who to Contact at Trout Unlimited

If you want to complain about National TU's proposed policy against stream access, here are some Board of Trustees members you can contact. Thanks to Steve Luebeck at George Grant TU for this list.


As Steve suggests, address your email to Charles Gauvin and copy the others. Gauvin is President of TU National.

Springtime in the Rockies

Signs of spring are everywhere, from nesting birds to the budding aspen trees to the breakup of rural roads--churned ice by night and muddy quagmire by day. Who is peeking out of the nesting box on my neighbor's house?
Around the house, the snow is largely gone and the melt is gradually creeping up the flanks of the mountains, as you can see on the East Ridge (of the Continental Divide) east of Butte in the background of this photo of daughter Emily & RTD.
The only snow left is on the big cornice that builds up at the southwest corner of the ballfield near our house. What college girl home for spring break could resist one good slide?
It's that time of year when you can have a good ski and good trout fishing in the same day.
Woke up to snow yesterday and had to take advantage of it: RTD & I headed over to Mill Cr pass and hit the trails near Sugarloaf. The skiing wasn't great, but the new inch of snow had bonded to the ice enough that it made for good control. We did a run up Little California, around Spire, and skied off piste in the Spire area. Nice view to the Pintler across the Deep Creek valley.
RTD fell through the snow here and there, so I didn't venture too far from the trail. We went into the backcountry near Sugarloaf earlier this week, and by the time we came out at 10:30 am it was over 50 deg F and we were falling through even on a snowmachine track. Early spring, this.

One afternoon Jan, AJ, Emily, boyfriend Sam, RTD, and I made a picnic and did a little fishing along the Jefferson River near Lewis & Clark caverns. This is a beautiful, scenic area and we caught a few fish too. It was also VERY windy--sometimes raising whitecaps on the river and I had to chase my hat down the river once. Yes, that's Emily holding a trout--we killed one for a little Montana surf'n'turf (trout & elk steak) dinner.

In a few days it will be St Paddy's day madness in Butte. Here's to the Irish. As my family poem recited by Gramps over the holiday meal goes (wish I could remember it all),

He drank like a fish and he ate like a savage

The only thing he didn't like was corned beef & cabbage.

13 March 2007

Trout Unlimited & Stream Access

"National Trout Unlimited has proposed a resolution to prohibit Trout Unlimited Chapters and State Councils from involvement in any Stream Access disputes involving private property rights. The reasons given for this proposal are that the Stream Access issue is divisive, is not in line with the mission of the organization, and continued involvement will likely hamstring the ability of the National organization to raise money for new conservation initiatives in the future."
I received the above message from Montana Trout Unlimited. There has been quite a reaction to it.

Stream Access has been a cause celebre that has united Montana's rank and file anglers since the 1970s, when an ad hoc group of activists used the state constitution and the public trust doctrine to challenge private landowners who thought they owned the rivers. Since the 1984 court ruling, Montana anglers have had the right to recreate within the high water mark and to acess streams at all public road and bridge crossings.

We should note, however, that in the 1970s that even Montana Trout Unlimited would not carry the Stream Access ball. Though the ad hoc coalition, the Montana Coalition for Stream Access, was supported by many TU chapters and members, it was politically too hot button an issue for Montana TU to take the lead. Since that time, Stream Access has been well accepted as law and common practice, and Montana TU has worked actively to defend the law against the frequent challenges by Huey Lewis and other wealthy landowners who want to own it all and exclude the public. Even today, though, it has been primarily groups such as Public Lands/Water Access Association, Inc. http://plwa.org and Montana River Action http://www.montanariveraction.org that are leading the Stream Access charge.

The general explanation for National TU's anti-access position is that it is run by a board of wealthy donors who have little sympathy for the unwashed masses. Many wealthy anglers own riverfront property and would like to exclude the rabble from their front yard.

James Cox Kennedy of Atlanta, Georgia, is one such wealthy landowner. He owns property on the Ruby River here in southwest Montana, and his hired goons (aka security force) have done everything they can to intimidate the public from the river that runs through Kennedy's 3,200 acres of land. This has included stringing electric fencing at the two public bridges that cross the river on Kennedy's land. Rumor has it that Kennedy is holding out a $70 million carrot to National TU if the group will force local and state chapters to back off on the stream access issue.
Montana TU chapters and members are threatening everything from a national campaign to expose National TU's position to a secession from the national group.

As a TU member from Butte, I well understand the TU National concern. It is not unlike the pressure George Grant TU felt with issues such as the ballot initiative to stop open-pit, cyanide heap-leach gold mines. As I recall, GGTU feared taking a position that would alienate local donors.

It is also not unlike the pressure individuals or groups feel when they become tightly woven into the fabric of "mainstream" or "consensus-based" organizations such as watershed committees. There will be issues such as "the sanctity of water rights as private property rights" that prohibit one from taking an activist position while remaining part of the larger group. Montana TU and each individual chapter (and ultimately each individual chapter member) will need to make this decision. In my book, anytime we must sacrifice our core values (for me this includes public access, minimum stream flows, and endangered species) in order to get along & go along, it's time to walk away from the sandbox.

There is a larger issue here, and that is the Public Trust Doctrine. Just as the PTD guaranteed a legal basis for public access to streams and rivers, the PTD also guarantees minimal flows for fish. In California, the Audubon Society won a court decision in 1983 that forced the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to leave enough water in Mono Lake to sustain its natural resources. This is because natural resources are held as a public trust by the state. Nevermind that LA had legally acquired water rights permitting it to dewater tributaries of Mono Lake and hence the lake itself. The bottom line: "water rights that affect public trust resources are inherently nonvested property interests; that is, they are revocable by the state." (Blumm and Schwartz, 2003)

Montana TU and chapters such as George Grant TU are a long way from supporting legally-required minimal instream flow rights for fish. But they might some day reach that goal that lies along the path of the Public Trust Doctrine. Nonetheless, in the meantime Stream Access is an important milestone on the Public Trust Doctrine path. If Montana TU, its chapters, and its rank-and-file members get pushed off that path, there will be little hope for the conservation future. Trout Unlimited will degenerate into what it was for the most part in the early 1970s--what Butte conservationist George Grant called "an Ernie Schwiebert travelogue club" where members showed off slides of their latest fishing safari.

Michael Blumm and Thea Schwartz (2003), "Mono Lake and the Evolving Public Trust in Western Water," Issues in Legal Scholarship. Available at http://www.bepress.com/ils/iss4/art3/.

09 March 2007

Hunting Ethics

A former grad candidate, Kathleen (now Alexis) West was an avid (if novice) hunter who studied hunters like hunters study game. She wanted to study hunters in order to understand hunting. Today, she sent me a link to her YouTube slide show on hunting ethnography,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlCgUJwb_tk. While on YouTube, I could not help but notice that some videos posted next to Alexis's show a very dark side of hunting.

As a teacher, I live for the students like Alexis. They seem to be fewer these days. I would think this is only the grumbling of an old teacher (cf. Aristotle's tirades against the degenerate youth of his day), but the generation Y phenomenon is widely confirmed in both peer-reviewed and popular studies. See http://tribes.tribe.net/swimwiththefish/thread/0f9d2e97-a3cd-4c3e-92cf-911bc7662e91 for an especially brutal indictment. In discussion with a friend, he wrote, "We have raised a generation of kids who will euthanize us the first time that our health care becomes a burden to them."

The news of Alexis' YouTube posting (along with the bad hunting videos posted near it) triggered an email conversation with a colleague at a Texas college about hunting ethics. He is a former hunter who has turned to wildlife photography. I'm not sure if he buys supermarket meat or not.

I used to think I would be a vegetarian if I didn't hunt, since I wanted to be responsible for my own killing. The factory production of most critters just seems too, too wrong. On the bright side, it's fairly easy to buy grass fed beef and free range chickens these days. Increasingly, restaurants designate this and wild salmon etc on menus. Peter Singer et al have helped change the culture for the better in this respect. At any rate, I no longer have this excuse: I could buy flesh and not contribute to immoral treatment of individual animals and the environment.

But the issue of hunting and ethics transcends the market production of flesh. I think it's possible to be a hunter and to embrace an ethic of care as developed by Carol Gilligan and others. My obligations to elk begin with ensuring they have habitat in which to thrive (including predators such as wolves that have coevolved with elk and helped to make them what they are) and end by using their flesh well and honorably. My care ethic runs as much to the species and ecosystem as to the individual per se. For me, it's a balance between Bentham's equation of moral consideration with the ability to suffer/feel pain and the Buddhist truth that life is suffering. Elk will suffer pain from starvation, wolves, etc whether or not I hunt them. To be an elk is to live in that world and to accept such things. Human hunters, like wolves, are among such things.

I can't fully embrace Singer's and other neo-utilitarian arguments that hunting is wrong in all its forms. This stems in part from an ontological argument on my part. Anthropologically, we know that hunting is an evolved dimension of human B/being. As my photographer colleague points out, this evolved connection to nature can be satisfied (at least in part) in other ways--e.g. wildlife watching, photography, etc. Still, hunters come to know nature in ways that photographers do not. Part of this knowing involves the act of killing, caring for the kill, packing out meat, butchering and caring for that meat, and eating it.

The elk has rights and we hunters have obligations. The elk has a right to range freely in unspoiled habitat with appropriate areas for winter range and calving (vs. game farms or canned hunts), a right not to suffer unduly at our hands (hunters that wound animals), a right not to be pursued by machines (hunters on ATVs), and a right to an environment that promotes flourishing (this necessarily means predators such as wolves and lions and bears, OH MY!). Elk are elk, and in our moral obligations we must appreciate that ontological basis just as we accept the ontology of humans as hunters.

The Moulton Journal: In Vein or Go Fish?

An inch or two of fresh snow, 22 deg F warming to near freezing by 9 am, Extra Blue wax. The base was a little icy in sunny places, but the new snow was bonded well enough for good control even on Widow Maker. Back country was a little hairy, especially in the trees, as I found in a run around Buzzy: in the trees, snow was just soft enough to sink into the crust an inch or so--making turning difficult! The pole line was fun as the combination of wind and sun had set a firm surface. So long as I cut the snowmachine tracks at more or less a right angle, I was OK.

All trails were as they should be. Buzzy was buzzy, Widow Maker demanded caution, Little Nipper was a little nippy out on the west end where you must negotiate the snow drift just as you're completing the downhill turn, and Sluice Box had the appropriate ripples where the snow drifts as it blows down from Big Flat (aka Moonlight Flats). Even In Vein lived up to its name for a change and was not in vain.

Usually March proves to be fairly wet, with new snow making for excellent skiing. Thus far (and unlike February) the month is dry. Maybe it's time to go fish the Jefferson River some afternoon. Dave & I are planning the season's first campout on the lower Big Hole later this month. Spring is in the air--what rural dwellers refer to as Mud Season.

05 March 2007

The Moulton Journal: Chico Hot Springs & Yellowstone Park

This Moulton skier & EcoRover took a break over the weekend with a stay at Chico Hot Springs, a ski on a trail in Yellowstone National Park near Mammoth, and a soak in the Boiling River.

It all began as friends Jeff & Celia's scheme to gather a bunch of friends for a weekend in a rental house at Chico. The group was to include Don & Andrea, JeffJ & Lori, and Frank & Hwe. Though my deep working class roots rebel at the thought of such profligacy, I was swayed by the thought of such pleasant company. It was a nice group: Jeff works tirelessly for sustainable agriculture, Celia heads the computer science department, Don teaches chemistry, Andrea discovers new cures for cancer, JeffJ does info technology for the local hospital, Lori is a clinical social worker, Frank teaches computer science, and Hwe is the most inquisitive and most traveled person I know.

Better yet (sorry, dear friends), the weekend included an opportunity to ski in nearby Yellowstone Park amid the wolves, buffalo, elk, etc.--something I had never done even though we live so close (I make no excuses for my Buttish provincialism, which is a topic for another blog entry...).

Sadly, Jeff's father died unexpectedly and he & Celia hurried back to Wisconsin for the funeral. We missed them.

The Chico house proved comfortable with its fully equipped kitchen and big gas (?) fireplace. Jeff & Celia's eldest daughter came in from college with three friends. After supper we had a soothing after-supper soak in the hot springs, where one of the friends was cited on a Minor-In-Possession charge after being spotted with alcohol at the pool and sassing the security guard. Later that night the kids partied hard, were a little loud, drank a lot (of the adults' wine), and made trips out to the porch to puke. They were sleeping next morning as we left for the park.

At the park entrance at Gardiner, there were the usual herds of antelope, mule deer, buffalo, and elk. We drove up to Crystal Springs near Mammoth--an awesome site with icicles on the trees...

Water bubbling through the terrace pots...

And mist heavy in the air...

We drove up the Yellowstone and skied the Tower Falls Trail...

The next morning we packed and checked out of Chico, drove into the park again for a soak at the Boiling River site in the Gardiner River, and then headed for home. Here's to good friends, cross country skiing, and living in Montana (and near Yellowstone).

02 March 2007

The Moulton Journal: Altarwise by Owl Light

"Altarwise by owl-light in the half-way house
The gentleman lay graveward with his furies..." So begins one of my favorite poems by Dylan Thomas.

Full moon ski last night, or close enough. The moon is truly full tomorrow afternoon, but it's good to ski a day or two before since the moon rises an hour or so earlier each day and so you can finish your ski and get to bed at a reasonable time for a 50-some year old. Also, a gang of us are heading to Chico for the weekend: elk steaks are marinating, the snows of Yellowstone are calling, and the hot springs will soothe our winter-stiff bodies.

"Death is all metaphors, shape in one history;"

Don & Andrea Stierle (DnA, given their proclivity toward biochem), my department colleague Bill Macgregor, RTD, and I met in the parking lot last night and did a loop up to Amalgamation Junction, over to Big Flat (aka Moonlight Flats), and back via Neversweat. At about -10 deg F the skiing was a little slow but that's a good thing at night on gentle downhills that can feel like a luge run as the trees close in around you and block the pale light.

"We rung our weathering changes on the ladder..."

Mike Stickney spent several hours grooming the new snow and smoothing our old tracks, bless Mike who seems to be neatly inheriting Paul's role. We wished he could have joined us under the star kissed skies, but I will drop off a 6-pack of Moose Drool at his door on my way out of town today. And so we left new tracks, talked of how the trees have grown up these past 10 or 20 or more years, pondered the changes that will be wrought by the beetle-kill and globabl warming.

"Now stamp the Lord's Prayer on a grain of rice,
A Bible-leaved of all the written woods
Strip to this tree: a rocking alphabet,
Genesis in the root, the scarecrow word,
And one light's language in the book of trees."

We lingered on the tip of Moonlight Flats' finger taking in the view of Butte, counting the stars of the Pleiades, absorbing the dull glow of snowy Mt Powell far down the Deer Lodge valley, feeling the sallow light of Saturn, sometimes lost in private thoughts of our time here in this place. Even RTD sat contemplative, her eyes fixed on some wordless imagining. Someone spoke, "My feet are getting cold," and down through the woods we whooshed to our trucks and thence to homes and beds.

It is March and soon, even in Butte, spring will come. Fishing, backpacking, hunting, and then round the circle back to the snowy moonlit hills.

"Green as beginning, let the garden diving
Soar, with its two bark towers, to that Day
When the worm builds with the gold straws of venom
My nest of mercies in the rude, red tree."