30 April 2007

Life in Recovery: Butte environmental restoration

The human eye is drawn to change. Burning buildings and construction sites fascinate gawkers. In Butte, the action lies with the landscape as a recovering ecosystem.

So how can I be happy to see a dead little bunny on my porch? The bunny is dead, long live the bunny! After years without any wildlife on the Butte hill, a fat, lazy, old cat catching the occasional bunny is truly a sign of promise.

In 1990, when our moving van crossed over the Continental Divide and we dropped into the west-slope Silver Bow valley, my wife burst into tears. We has left the lush and green pastures of Cornell University for the trashed and toxic landscape of a burnt-over mining town. Cynics called Butte an island city surrounded by dirt. They weren't far off the mark: barren piles of mine tailings, blowing dust, kids riding motorbikes or ATVs anywhere they wanted, ... Except for the occasional grassy yard (many residents did not even bother with that artifice), the whole scence did not look far removed from the disparaging descriptions of native author Mary MacLane from the early 1900s.

Gradually, though, a recovery began. Ten years ago, when British Petroleum-ARCO first did a little superficial reclamation on nearby Missoula Gulch, the cats began bringing mice home. Then came the occasional kestrel hunting the mice. It is hard to convey my joy in seeing the cat kill a baby cottontail bunny--cruel and unfeeling, yes, but in our first ten years it was rare to see even a rabbit track around Butte. Now, they are common throughout our neighboorhood.
I've kept track of this process of recovery from the environs of my home in Walkerville, the old town on the hill above Butte.
Much of this area does not look or function environmentally any better than it did 20 years ago. Without any effort to halt the throng of off-road vehicles (mostly kids on dirt bikes and ATVs), any glimmer of recovery is steadily ground to dust. The Ryan Mine is a favorite place for the motorheads, and I suppose we will need sacrifice areas like this. There, the kids can build bonfires, party, drink, use meth, tag the walls with graffitti, and run their machines to their hearts content:

Where there are mines, there are mine dumps. What are the health consequences of these kids riding for hours on these toxic materials, and breathing all of that dust?

There is some serious gully erosion in that barren landscape:
Knapweed, an exotic and invasive weed, seems to thrive in the abused landscape. A single plant produces many seeds, the seeds remain viable for years, the plants are phyto-toxic to competitors, and they like the dry, granitic soil. Once knapweed comes to fully dominate an area, there does not seem to be much succession. In the spring, even knapweed is tender and welcome:

Sometimes, a fence is all it takes to promote recovery. Much of Big Butte is now fenced to exclude the motorheads:
And the children at Kennedy Elementary School have been busy (thanks to Montana Tech's CFWEP program) trying to help jump-start the recovery by planting trees and shrubs like this little pine (marked with a pink flag):
Initially I had mixed feelings when my neighbor fenced some open space behind my house. He grazes his horses there, and though they can be a little heavy on the land, he seems to be limiting their use through rest/rotation. And, with the exclusion of the off-road vehicles, I saw how both the benefits and limits of natural recovery.

In spring, life-in-recovery is especially encouraging. Snow has only recently melted, there has been rain (something we might not see at all come July and August), and tiny rosettes of native forbs perk to life (along with the knapweed at the top of the photo):

Spring flowers, too, like this little cushion plant:

And this one (in the parsley family?):

Still there are barren areas where nothing grows, and perhaps nothing will grow in my lifetime. Such as this dump--probably of coarse overburden materials:
And this pile of finer material, probably tailings (and probably more toxic):
Still, even around these dumps and tailings piles, trees get in on the act of the recovery. A decade ago, when the off road vehicles were tearing this place up, a seedling did not have a chance. Now, the lodgepole pines are growing up on the dry western slope:

And, to the north and east, where there is a little more moisture and even a few lingering spots of snow:

The Douglas firs are colonizing the area:

Butte is dead? Long live Butte!

26 April 2007

Old Ed says: "Get out there..."

The prophet Ed Abbey wrote, "Do not burn yourselves out... It is not enough to fight for the West; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still there. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends..."

I try to take old Ed seriously, and so in addition to working on Superfund issues in the crack-addict Clark Fork watershed and preservation issues in the clean-living Big Hole watershed, I do get out there. And so one fine afternoon colleague Chad and I (no pictures of him, just in case anyone wanted evidence of truancy) snuck off to "the dog hole" near Melrose. We were greeted by the sandhill cranes--including the one in the photo below and several that buzzed us, coming in low over the willows like pterodactyls.
And a few trout came to hand (and maybe a whitefish or two) like this fat brown that took an Okrusch Sparkle San Juan (my favorite form of bait, these days). Unfortunately, though there was a smattering of march browns, pmds, and other mayflies in the air and on the water, the trout were not looking up: it seems a little late in the spring not to have caught a fish or two on dries.
In the Big Hole, history is never far away. Here, a "date nail" in a railroad tie.

After a few hours of delight (Oh, how wonderful to live just 15 minutes from Montana!), it was time to head home. You can tell RTD is getting old--after 3 or 4 times swimming back & forth across the river, she is waiting at the truck. Good old dog and, here, looking especially noble.

25 April 2007

Who Killed Big Hole Grayling? A not-so-mysterious murder.

Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton once explained that "It takes a village" to raise a child.

It also takes a village, it seems, to extirpate a once-common species such as the Montana fluvial grayling—a fish that Alberta biologist Jim O'Neil calls "The Jewel of the River."

Most recently, the extinction of Big Hole River grayling – the only remnant of a fish once found throughout the Missouri River watershed above Great Falls, Montana – has been hastened by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The very agency that is supposed to uphold the Endangered Species Act has instead become a political tool of the anti-environmental Bush administration. How sad this is for the sincere, hard-working, and dedicated biologists who have clung to their jobs within that agency. History will look harshly upon Bush and his appointees such as Julie MacDonald for their environmental crimes.

Another huge recent influence on the decline of Big Hole River grayling: the chronic dewatering of the upper Big Hole River by ranchers. Documented instances of severe dewatering extend back many, many years. E.g. in 1988, no water at all was left in the riverbed. This chronic dewatering, which used to be mainly a summer problem, has in recent years become common during the spring. Warmer weather and changing agricultural practices have prompted ranchers to begin flood irrigation earlier and earlier. This is especially tragic for Big Hole River grayling, since they spawn in late April or early May and the fry are very vulnerable and need lots of “edge cover” in a bank-full river in order to survive. So we will list ranchers among the guilty.

The Big Hole Watershed Committee formed in 1995 in response to threats to list grayling as an endangered species. The group has been aware of the chronic dewatering since its inception. Yet over this time, Big Hole River grayling continued to decline. This indicates that steps taken by the committee, while perhaps admirable, have simply not been enough to promote grayling recovery. Thus the Big Hole Watershed Committee too must be listed among those who have killed off the grayling.

Also complicit in this “too little, too late” negligence: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. My friend Wayne Hadley, a PhD fisheries biologist and retired FWP employee, tells me the agency had documented the serious decline of grayling by the 1970s. Like the US Fish & Wildlife Service biologists, it must have been hard for FWP employees to document the decline of grayling populations and the damage to grayling habitat year-after-year-after-year while their agency ignored the need to commit needed resources to restore habitat and maintain flows. Yes, Montana FWP is a guilty accomplice in the murder of grayling.

What became of the river grayling that were so abundant and widespread in the upper Missouri River watershed visited by Lewis & Clark? In the early years of white settlement, native species such as Arctic grayling were virtually wiped out. For example, the Fish Trap public fishing access site on the Big Hole River is aptly named for a large weir constructed in the 1860s and operated until about 1890. Market fishermen trapped grayling and other native fish by the thousands, packed them with salt in barrels, and shipped them by the wagonload to mining camps such as Butte and Bannock. Commerical fishermen also worked the rivers with hook and line, and a record two-day catch of grayling by one meat fisherman totaled 600 pounds. Therefore, the miners, homesteaders, and other settlers of early Montana are party to the murder of grayling.

By 1880, there weren’t many fish of any kind left in the upper Missouri. At about the same time, sport fishing emerged as a popular social activity, and these anglers demanded something to catch. In lieu of effective conservation efforts to protect native fish, the factory production of replacements was in order. This began in Montana with a federal fish hatchery built in Bozeman in 1896. For the next 80 years, exotic fish from this and other hatcheries were stocked in the rivers of Montana. Soon, rainbow trout from California, brook trout form the eastern states, and brown trout from Europe became established as wild populations in the Big Hole and other rivers. As these exotic species took hold, they largely prevented the recovery of native species such as fluvial Arctic grayling. Sad but true: we need to add sport anglers and fisheries managers to our list of accessories to the murder of grayling.

At what point did it become too late to recover our native heritage—the Big Hole River grayling? Certainly in 1982, when environmental writer David Quammen published his landmark essay, “Jeremy Bentham, the Pieta, and a Precious Few Grayling,” there was time. Quammen described FWP biologist George Liknes’ graduate study of Big Hole River grayling. On the heels of a 1977 drought, Liknes pointed out that grayling were in big trouble. Though people listened, no one took significant steps to recover the fish.

In 1982, the US Fish & Wildlife Service announced that “proposing to list the species as Endangered or Threatened was possibly appropriate.” But the agency did nothing. Only after 1991, when the Biodiversity Legal Foundation (now known as the Center for Biological Diversity – see http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/ – filed a petition requesting an endangered species listing, did the agency begin to take action. Still, this action was always impeded by the turf-jealously of Montana FWP and more recently by the anti-environmental politics of the Bush administration. Much of this obfuscation and delay was channeled through the half-hearted and foot-dragging work of the Big Hole Watershed Committee.

And so, to paraphrase W.H. Auden’s poem commemorating the Irish poet and angler William Butler Yeats,

Earth receive an honored guest,
Grayling fish are laid to rest.
Let the river vessel lie,
Emptied of its jewelry.

US Fish & Wildlife Service: Big Hole River grayling are not significant

The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced yesterday that Big Hole River grayling, also known as “Upper Missouri River Fluvial Arctic Grayling,” are an insignificant population that is no longer a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Arctic grayling is an elegant and beautiful relative of the trout; it has iridescent sides and a large sail-like dorsal fin marked with purple spots [see photo of sculpture by artist Jeff Artley, below] . Montana fluvial grayling were once found throughout the upper Missouri River watershed above Great Falls, today however, it survives only in a small segment of the upper Big Hole River—less than 5% of its original range [see map at end of text].

As one who has followed the plight of grayling since 1990, and who for many years was involved with the grayling restoration efforts of the Big Hole Foundation, I find the FWS decision appalling.

To arrive at yesterday’s decision, the FWS has tied fisheries science and management policy into a pretzel. The decision, found at http://www.epa.gov/EPA-SPECIES/2007/April/Day-24/, is riddled with contradictions and speculation.This decision reverses FWS conclusions in the agency’s own 1982, 1993, 1994, and 2004 reviews and findings. In its previous studies, the FWS found that Big Hole River grayling are a distinct population segment that qualified for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Don Campton, a Senior Scientist with the FWS, flip-flopped on the distinct population segment issue. In a 2004 review, he concluded that Big Hole River grayling met all FWS criteria as a distinct population. In his revised 2006 review, however, he concluded that Big Hole River grayling should be lumped with lake dwelling populations. No new information was included in the revised 2006 report as a basis for the reversed conclusion. Furthermore, FWS freely admits that river grayling are behaviorally distinct from lake grayling: in other words, lake grayling cannot be used to establish a river dwelling population.

The FWS ignored a peer-review criticism of Campton’s 2006 decision to lump river and lake grayling into a common population. Five internationally recognized fisheries biologists from Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, and Alaska sent FWS the 12-page document last year. Their objections included Campton’s narrow use of weak and inconclusive genetic evidence to reverse the distinct population segment status for Big Hole River grayling.

The bottom line in the new FWS decision is that the native population of fish in the Big Hole River is not significant. Even though Big Hole River grayling represents only a tiny surviving fluvial population in the Missouri River watershed, FWS equates the Big Hole River with Alaskan streams that flow to the Pacific and Arctic. This is equivalent to saying that it does not matter if bald eagles become extinct in the lower-48 states, since there are plenty of them in Alaska. Clearly, this is nonsense and a serious violation of the letter and intent of the Endangered Species Act.

Sources within FWS indicate that this is yet another example of political meddling in scientific decisions by Bush administration appointees. The Washington Post recently found that, “A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has repeatedly altered scientific reports to minimize protections for imperiled species and disclosed confidential information to private groups seeking to affect policy decisions…” (Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, Friday 30.March.2007, A05). The Bush appointee in question is Julie A. MacDonald, a civil engineer with no background in natural sciences. She has “repeatedly instructed Fish & Wildlife scientists to change their recommendations…” The Department of Interior is currently looking into MacDonald’s case for “potential administrative action.”

When it comes to our dwindling natural heritage, the Bush administration runs the Fish & Wildlife Service much like it has run the war in Iraq—and with the same sort of disastrous consequences. Last year, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks grayling biologist James Magee estimated that there may be fewer than 1,000 adult age Big Hole River grayling. This year, Magee would not even hazard a guess at how many grayling might be left. Dr. Fred Allendorf of the Montana Conservation Genetics Laboratory in Missoula believes that 1,000 adult fish is the minimum threshold population needed to insure viability. This makes it likely that Big Hole River grayling are what fisheries biologist Dr. Robert Behnke calls a “ghost species”—organisms that, although present in small numbers, are for all practical purposes already extinct unless extraordinary restoration measures are taken.

Because the FWS finds that Big Hole River grayling are no longer a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act, this decision raises serious doubts about current efforts to implement Conservation Candidate with Assurances Agreements with Big Hole ranchers. Some conservation leaders believe that, without ESA candidacy, the CCAA is an empty shell that will soon collapse. According to Jeff Schahczenski, former Executive Director and current board member of the Big Hole Foundation, “Why would any agency spend scarce funds to recover an obscure fish that – according to the federal government – is in no imminent danger of extinction? Within a year of the government’s decision to lump river and lake grayling together, Montana or the feds might not even be funding positions for grayling biologists, let alone investing the money it takes for recovery!”

While this FWS decision is a tragedy for grayling, it is also a tragedy for science, the Endangered Species Act, and the agency itself. When politics overrides science, it diminishes public faith in science and in the many good biologists who work at agencies such as the FWS. Furthermore, it engenders lawsuits that waste everyone’s time and money—the Interior Department’s Nero (Julie MacDonald) fiddles away while yet another rare species is consigned to the flames of oblivion.

Some Montana conservationists and conservation organizations are planning a funeral ceremony for the Big Hole River grayling. For those who love Montana and its wild places and native species, this will be a last chance to say goodbye to a special piece of our heritage.
Map below (from FWS) shows original range of Montana fluvial grayling, now reduced to a small segment in the upper Big Hole River.

23 April 2007

The Three R's: Reclamation, Remediation, and Restoration

Here in America's larges Superfund site, the language of environmental clean-up is very important. Three terms -- reclamation, remediation, and restoration -- are often confused. Reclamation is a blanket term often used, for example, by mining engineers when they rehabilitate a disturbed site for some useful purpose. Remediation is a legally and technically specific term for treating hazardous material to reduce or eliminate harm to human or environmental health. And restoration is a legally and technically specific term for returning a disturbed site to a more-or-less natural condition.

The federal Superfund law, based on CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980), speaks of remedy--"Long-term remedial response actions, that permanently and significantly reduce the dangers associated with releases or threats of releases of hazardous substances that are serious, but not immediately life threatening." To qualify for CERCLA remediation, a site must first be listed on the Environmental Protection Agency's "National Priorities List."

Because a state is the trustee for its natural resources, federal CERCLA allows states to seek compensation from parties that damage natural resources through the release of hazardous substances. Montana create its own law, CECRA (the Comprehensive Environmental Cleanup and Responsibility Act of 1985), to create the legal mechanism for seeking natural resource damages.

The figure below illustrates the relationship among these three terms. On the vertical axis is Environmental Quality, defined as the relative "naturalness" or integrity of the environment. On the horizontal axis is Time. When Lewis & Clark traveled through western Montana, Environmental Quality was high--represented by the "Natural" baseline in black at the top of the figure. When mining & smelting began, Environmental Quality declined rapidly: Silver Bow Creek became a lifeless industrial sewer and the hills were barren of trees, shrubs, and grass--represented by the red line. When mining & smelting ended, nature took its course and some natural recovery occured: some vegetation recolonized the hills, and there were a few trout in the Clark Fork River 26 miles downstream of Butte--represented by the dashed brown line near the bottom of the figure. Remedy will help the environmental quality of the area recover, although even with the removal or capping of hazardous material the landscape is far from its natural condition. With restoration, we try to reestablish the native vegetation, return the riffle-pool and meandering structure to streams, and otherwise try to recreate natural conditions. Though of course we cannot fully return severely damaged natural resources to pre-disturbance conditions, we can approach that ideal goal.

Mining and smelting took place for more than a century in the Upper Clark Fork River basin, and it is hard to appreciate the severity and extent of the damages done to the environment. Even today, many years after mining and smelting ceased, the Granite Mountain Memorial near the north end of Main Street looks out over an utterly barren and sterile landscape. A comparison with nearby areas also helps bring this lesson home. For example, although the Clark Fork River looks healthy to the casual observer, lingering toxic metals means that it supports just about 1/6 the trout population of the nearby Big Hole River.

Mining & smelting created more than a century of damages in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. Remedy & restoration have been underway for just a decade or so. We'll get there -- like the bumper sticker says -- "One Day at a Time.


CERCLA Overview http://www.epa.gov/superfund/action/law/cercla.htm

National Priorities List http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/npl.htm

Natural Resource Damages per CERCLA http://www.epa.gov/superfund/programs/nrd/primer.htm

20 April 2007

America's Largest Superfund Site: Butte, Montana

Buttians like superlatives, whether or not they are factual: "Richest Hill on Earth" (it wasn't--that honor goes to Butte's sister-city Chuquicamata); "Butte, America" (an effort to stress the national importance of the city, as opposed to it being just another two-bit Montana town); "A city of more than 100,000 people" (no, the census data indicates that the population peaked around 1920 at just over 40,000, with a total county population of about 60,000).

But there is one area where Butte is the undisputed champ: Superfund.

America's largest Superfund site (1) begins with Butte in western Montana at the headwaters of the Clark Fork River. The upper Clark Fork River Basin is truly a Superfund megasite, taking in three major Superfund sites (each a megasite in its own right) and numerous "operable units."(2) Because the environmental and human health damages in this area were all caused by the mining and smelting operations of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, this complex of Superfund sites should be considered as a whole.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines a megasite if "the total costs of removal and remedial actions will exceed $50 million." (3) Most of the dozen or so operable units within the Upper Clark Fork River Basin megasite complex have a price tag exceeding $100 million, and the total cost will exceed $1 billion by a wide margin.

Some of the major sites and operable units within the Clark Fork River complex, along with the year in which they made the EPA's National Priorities List, include:
  • Anaconda Smelter-Community Soils site (300 square miles), listed in 1983

  • Stream Side Tailings site (26-mile long Silver Bow Creek near Butte), listed in 1983
  • Milltown Dam site (2.6 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments), listed in 1983

  • Berkeley Pit operable unit, an open pit copper mine in uptown Butte (more than 30 billion gallons of highly toxic, low-pH water), added to Butte’s Stream Side Tailings Site in 1984

  • Clark Fork River operable unit (more than 120 stream miles) above Milltown Dam to the Warm Springs Ponds, added to the Milltown Site in 1985

  • Butte Priority Soils operable unit, in the uptown area of the town (12.4 million cubic yards of waste spread throughout urban neighborhoods), added to the Stream Side Tailings Site in 1987
To give you some idea of the extent of this area, consider the map of the megasite comples (below), with a superimposed outline of the state of Connecticut.

The EPA has reached a Record of Decision for most of the operable units within the Clark Fork River complex of sites. The estimated cost to achieve remedy under these RODs is as follows. Keep in mind that approximately $700 million has already been spent on emergency actions and various studies.
  • ROD for the Berkeley Pit: $110 million.
  • ROD for the Butte Priority Soils: $110 million to $157 million, and in addition to this British Petroleum-ARCO (the responsible party) cut a side deal with the town of Butte for $49 million.
  • ROD for Silver Bow Creek (Stream Side Tailings): $80 million, included as part of a $215 million settlement by British Petroleum-ARCO with Montana's Natural Resource Damage Program. On Silver Bow Creek, remedy and restoration are being accomplished as an integrated effort.
  • ROD for the Clark Fork River has an estimated price tag of $120 million.
  • ROD for Milltown Dam has an estimated price tag of $139.5 million; as with SBCr, remedy and restoration will be intergrated.

The remedy for the Upper Clark Fork River Superfund complex is a big job! It is, for the most part, just getting underway. Work at remaining sites such as the Clark Fork River should begin soon--once British Petroleum-ARCO quits squabbling with Montana and the EPA about its penny-for-penny obligations. A few sites, such as Butte's "Westside Soils," have not yet been studied and characterized. In Butte, Superfund is a growth industry!

(1) The Hudson River Superfund site is sometimes erroneously referred to as "America's Largest Superfund site," but it consists merely of a narrow 200-mile long strip of river with a total estimated remedy cost of "only" $500 million. At about 1500 square miles, the Silver Valley/Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) site is also a contender, but the estimated remedy cost is "only" $359 million.
(2) An operable unit is a term used by the Environmental Protection Agency to consider a site that is dealt with as an intergral unit when developing remedy (or clean up) actions.

(3) Elizabeth Southerland, "Megasites: presentation for the NACEPT--Superfund Subommittee," at http://www.epa.gov/oswer/docs/naceptdocs/megasites.pdf.

April is the Cruelest Month

A month ago, I wrote about the crazy mix of weather that greets us each spring here at 6,000 feet in the northern Rockies. This has been another such week. As T.S.Eliot put it (in The Wasteland),
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

The week began with sunny skies, a few lovely thunderstorms (the first of the season), and a fishing trip to the Jefferson River with AJ. He had an argument with his folks and wanted to bring a few fish home for supper as a peace offering. Smart boy. No matter how pissed Gram would get with my teenage behavior, she never failed to appreciate a mess of fresh trout. Like Paul in A River Runs Through It, grace is upon the successful angler no matter his sin.
AJ caught one brown trout that was a little on the small side, and shouted out to me (as I was wading in midriver, and feeling that barbed wire snag in my waders bleeding cold water onto my ass), "Kinda small... should I kill it?" I shouted back that he should do what his conscience would allow. Next thing I knew, he had a rock in his hand and after a quick, sharp blow the trout went on his willow "stringer." As our dearly departed friend, Kurt Vonnegut, would say, "So it goes." Nice mess of fish, anyway, including the big whitefish.

Next morning we woke to a beautiful blizzard that dumped six inches of heavy, wet snow in town (and a foot or two in the high country) and had me doubting my decision to put the skis away. Trouble is, I get in enough trouble with the time I spend fishing. Or skiing. Not sure if I'd still have a job or marriage if I engaged in both during the same season. Life is choices, eh? Well, we are VERY happy for the snow--we came into spring with a moisture deficit, and then warm weather stripped a lot of our snow from the high country. The trout of August will be thankful for every foot of snow we receive from now until June.

Religion & War

My colleague Professor Henry Gonshak recently chaired a “Silent Minority” forum where several students spoke about the life of minority students at Montana Tech. This was an excellent lesson on cultural diversity and acceptance for the student community, and there were a few sad stories about racial and ethnic prejudice suffered by students and their families while living in Butte.

As a professor of history and culture, however, I was set off by one comment made at the forum. A Saudi Arabian student was perplexed that another student had "accosted" him, linking his religion (Islam) with terrorism. The Saudi Arabian student responded, “I’m not from Iraq, and I didn’t hurt anybody… My religion is all about peace.”

Surely everyone is aware that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers in the September 11 terrorist attacks were Saudi Arabian. The attacks were planned by Osama Bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Osama was a Saudi Arabian, a rich man’s son, and the founder of al-Qaeda. Khalid was a Pakistani raised in Kuwait and educated in the United States. Al-Qaeda’s principal center of operations was in Afghanistan. None of the hijackers were Iraqi, and neither Osama, Khalid, nor al-Qaeda had links to Iraq.

In the aftermath of September 11, many Americans became prejudiced regarding Saudi Arabians and Islam. Though no one can condone such prejudice, its cultural basis is understandable given the religious views that guide some people’s lives.

Islam, like its sister religions Christianity and Judaism, is not “all about peace.” All three of these religions, at various times throughout history, have fomented war and violence.

The Old Testament is full of stories about Israel’s wars to conquer other nations—cf. King David’s battles against the Philistines, Arameans, and Ammonites.

Christendom waged the Crusades as a series of holy wars to wrest Jerusalem and other "holy lands" from Muslim rule from about 1095 to 1273 A.D.

Today, various representatives of Islam are waging holy war, or jihad-as-warfare, against the West.

Many, many passages from the Koran and Mohammed’s teachings lend support to this jihad: “The only true faith in God’s sight is Islam” (3:19); “Slay them [infidels] wherever you find them” (2:190); and, “Those that deny our revelations shall be punished for their misdeeds” (6:43) The Koran exhorts its followers to fight, and promises great rewards to holy warriors: “Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you” (9:123); and “The believers who stay at home…are not equal to those who fight for the cause of God with their goods and their persons” (4:95). This view of reward for jihad is amplified through many hadiths (traditional sayings about the words and deeds of Muhammed): “A day and a night of fighting on the frontier is better than a month of fasting and prayer;” “He who dies without having taken part in a campaign dies in a kind of unbelief;” and “Paradise is in the shadow of swords.”

The enemy here is not Islam, or Judaism, or Christianity. The enemy is religious faith and religious zeal that outweigh reason and respect for other persons. If religion is a private matter that guides your path in life, then fine. But the moment that religion becomes a tool for telling other people how to act or for attacking them, religion is the enemy of reason and of all humankind.

16 April 2007

Drought, Global Warming, and Self Delusion

"Data observed at some of the long-term inflow gaging stations indicate a successive decline in summer and fall base flows over the past nine years, indicating the persistence of cumulative drought conditions." So reads a report by a Montana state hydrologist to the Big Hole Watershed Committee. The Montana Department of Natural Resources, in referring to our now-chronic drought conditions, frequently uses euphemisms such as "persistent drought," "cumulative drought," and "prolonged drought."

Scientific "advice" like this promotes the delusion that the drought in Montana is somehow a temporary condition. Any year now, it will break, and we will return to a climate of long, snow winters and cool summers. Sadly, that is not likely.

Last I knew, something like 99% of scientists accepted the fact of Global Warming. Here in the northern Rockies, that means less total winter snowpack, earlier spring snowmelt/river runoff, hotter summers, and later onset of fall snows. And that means less water for fish, and less water for ranchers.

At what point will Montanans quit deluding themselves about the "prolonged drought" and face up to the fact that we are experiencing a shifting baseline--and a new reality?

Until we face that reality, we will continue to think in terms of emergency response measures rather than measures that respond to the situation in an authentic and long-term way.

When I first started hunting (and missing) grouse as a kid, Mr. Dutka told me, "You've got to lead a bird, son." In this era of global warming, hitting environmental targets is like wingshooting. If we aren't leading the target, we will shoot far behind it. We can wish and hope for slower birds (and a respite from the "temporary" drought) all we want, but we'll just keep on missing our targets.

For more on how Global Warming is likely to affect the West, see http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_5655073

13 April 2007

Big Hole River: trout in April

I've been a little too busy with researching the role of citizens in shaping Clark Fork superfund, Bridge Access politics, departmental developments, and the backyard parking pad project...

Yesterday, I spent the morning and early afternoon preparing Earth Week materials for this weekend's sessions with American History high school teachers. My colleague Chad poked his head in my office about 11 am just to tell me he was going fishing that afternoon. After he left, I had a little talk with myself: I live in Montana, it's a sunny spring day, and I'm working like a dog [sorry for the metaphor, RTD]. What's wrong with THIS picture?
Some days, I NEED the gurgling white noise of a river to calm my anxieties and mood disorders. Fishing a river is self-medication at it best.

So I finished what I needed to do in a timely matter rather than following the dictum that available work fills available time, hiked up the 1&1/2 miles and 500 feet elevation that separates work from home, threw the gear in the truck, and headed to the Big Hole. Of course, just as I got there the sky closed in and the wind began to blow, but once you're on a river there's no turning back (short of a Biblical-scale storm).

Any day on the river is a good day on the river. There were white-tailed deer to watch swimming the river:

Mule deer to watch on the hillsides:

Trout to be caught and carefully released (like this gorgeous 'bow in spawning colors) after a careful examination by RTD, Trout Inspector:

The occasional pissed off neigbor honking its anger from a midriver rock:

And, on the way home, a beautiful sunset complete with virga:

Life is good (and it beats the alternative).

12 April 2007

Governor Schweitzer wades into Bridge Access issue

Montana's Governor Schweitzer has long supported public Stream Access. It was an important part of his commitment to anglers and other river recreationists during his campaign, and he has remained steadfast on this position.

Outraged that Republican leaders in the House of Representatives killed SB 78 (the Bridge Access bill), Governor Schweitzer has tacked an amendment to HB 426, a bill that helps fund county work on roads and bridges. The amendment states that counties may not spend state money on a bridge if that bridge does not provide public access.

Schweitzer explains, "I'm just protecting the rights of Montana's citizens... We're going to provide public dollars for working on bridges that cross streams, and people have a constitutional right to access those streams. We couldn't violate people's constitutional rights."

The Governor's move has outraged Republican representatives such as Mike Milburn (R-Cascade). Milburn, let's remember, is the chair of the House Fish & Game Committee, and the guy who dicked the public around in a sham public hearing on SB 78 last week.

Will Republican legislators now cut off the counties' noses to spite the public's face? We'll see. Again, to quote Governor Schweitzer, "There are members of the House that probably regret voting against the interests of Montana's sportsmen. This will give them the opportunity to vote with sportsmen."

See Gwen Florio, "Stream access push not dead yet," Great Falls Tribune http://www.greatfallstribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/NEWS01/704120303.

Rick Bass at Montana Tech

Author Rick Bass addressed the Montana Tech community in Butte yesterday.

At 2 pm, Bass read "Jubilee," a short story about a boy staying with his family at a vacation lodge along the Gulf coast. The story takes its name from a remarkable event when storms flush an unusually large amount of freshwater into their bay. Freshwater fish are stunned as they encounter saltwater, and the saltwater species are stunned by the freshwater. Staff awakes the vacationers who wade out into the bay and stuff pillowcases with fish. Within this story of humans encountering nature, the protagonist -- a young boy -- is also encountering the world of other, wealthy, guests; the stark differences between himself and his brother; and the enigma of a local boy who shouts objections to the fish-greedy tourists.

At 8 pm, Bass read "Landscape and Imagination," an essay about the connection between humans and the natural world. From an early age, the author perceived the deeply spiritual B/being of both himself and wild things. And yet, like a shadow following him across the land, there seemed to be another spiritual presence--a presence that he now believes is created through the relationship, a presence that has its own reality and weight.

The question and answer session following each reading was marvelous. Bass is an author who truly listens to his audience and responds authentically. When a young girl asked, "What is your favorite animal," Bass wrestled with the various dodgy answers he has given to that question over the years, and settled on an explanation of every animal being his favorite at those moments when he is fully present and attuned to the beauty, complexity, and mystery of the creature world.

I visited Butte for the first time during the St Paddy’s Day celebration in 1990. I wasn’t here for the party. I was here to interview for a job at Tech. On a walk around the uptown I stopped in at Kathy Finch’s bookstore and bought a book by Rick Bass titled Oil Notes.

Through this book, I met Rick Bass and learned we had some things in common. Rick grew up in the Texas oil patch, studied geology in college, worked in the oilfields, and wound up in Montana. I grew up in the Pennsylvania oil patch, studied engineering, worked at an oil refinery, and wound up in Montana. Our similar trajectories continued, as I discovered when I read his books The Ninemile Wolves and The Book of Yaak.

As an environmental writer, Rick Bass describes the interplay of the human and natural worlds. In his narratives, the animals and the land and nature itself are characters—characters as fully developed as Shakespeare’s tragic Hamlet or Henry James’ paradoxical Isabel Archer. As an environmentalist, I deeply appreciate an author’s ability to write about nature in this way—an ear that allows him to hear nature’s eloquence as well as his own inner voice. I can imagine that the “isolation, space, and quietness” of Rick’s home have aided this talent.

Rick Bass is much more than an environmental writer. He is an environmental activist fighting to save the world’s few remaining sacred places—places such as his home in the Yaak Valley and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And he is a fine fiction writer, with wonderful and mythic tales such as those in his collection of novellas titled Platte River.

For more about Rick Bass and his twenty-two books, see http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/authordetail.cfm?authorID=128.

11 April 2007

Montana Bridge Access: Republican Smoke & Mirrors

Montana state representative Mike Milburn (R-Cascade) is playing games with the public's right to access streams and rivers at bridges on public roads. This delay tactic will simply postpone the issue while increasing tensions for anglers and other members of the public who enjoy Montana's streams and rivers.

Representative Milburn has drafted a "study measure" (Lc 2576) of bridge access. Why don't Rep Milburn and his cronies believe the Montana Attorney General's ruling on this matter? Why are Rep Milburn and his cronies catering to lawyers who represent elitist out-of-state landowners who wish to exclude the public?

This is an insult to the public, and appears to be a way for Milburn, Michael Lange (R-Billings), Scott Sales (R-Bozeman), Tom McGillvray (R-Billings), and Gary MacLaren (R-Victor) to cover their ass. They all claim to support bridge and stream access, and yet they have manipulated the political process to kill good Bridge Access bills such as SB 78 (2007) and HB 560 (2005). This issue has been studied to death, the Attorney General has given a legal interpretation, and the path ahead is clear: PASS A DAMNED BILL THAT CODIFIES THE PUBLIC'S RIGHT!

This is not fundamentally a partisan issue and should not be made into one. Republican leaders in the Montana Senate supported SB 78. Many landowners, anglers, and other recreationists -- irrespective of their party affiliation -- support the public's right to access streams at public bridges. And do note that the leading proponent of fencing out the public is James Cox Kennedy--a wealthy Democrat from Atlanta, Georgia.

Why then, have Mike Milburn and other house representatives become the lapdogs of wealthy anti-access nonresidents such as James Cox Kennedy?

Because anglers and recreationists have elected them, and have allowed them to do this!

Voters need to let these rascals know how they feel. If they don't drop Milburn's silly "let's study the issue" delaying tactic, them vote them out of office.

Here are some representatives in leadership positions to contact regarding this issue:

And, representatives on the House Fish & Game Committee:

Thanks to Larry Copenhaver at the Montana Wildlife Federation for letting me know about Milburn's ploy. Looks like we all need to help raise money for PLAAI to press the Bridge Access court case.

09 April 2007

Author Rick Bass speaking at Montana Tech

Author Rick Bass is speaking at Montana Tech at 2 pm this Wednesday 11 April:

Big Hole Battlefield: save our history

The Big Hole Battlefield near Wisdom, Montana, is a special place. It commemorates a historic battle -- 09.August.1877 -- when the US Army attacked and were defeated by a band of Nez Perce Indians. The Nez Perce were fleeing Idaho for Canada after a series of broke treaties, expropriated tribal lands, and incursions on the reservation by white gold miners. The US Army was out to avenge Custer's defeat by making an example of the Nez Perce. Though a sound military victory, the battle was terrible for the Nez Perce with nearly 100 (mainly women and children) killed.
Photo below: Nez Perce empty saddle ceremony (National Park Service photo)
Racine Tucker Hamilton wrote to let me know that today "a very different battle is being fought at Big Hole... the enemy is insufficient funding..."

In a report released by the Natonal Parks Cosnervation Association (see http://www.ncpa.org/stateoftheparks/big_hole/), the organization reports that the park's staff need additional funding for historical research, exhibit and collection maintenance, and landscape management. [Photo at left below is a Blue Camas flower; this plant grows in abundance in the upper Big Hole River basin, and its root was an important food for the Nez Perce (photo by Linda Rogers, published in my book Montana's Last Best River: The Big Hole and its People; illustration on right below is of a painting by George Catlin.]

America's National Park System is seriously underfunded. You can help preserve our connection to history and nature by signing NCPA's petition to "Make National Parks A National Priority" at http://ga1.org/campaign/nationalpriority and by sending a letter to NCPA's "Network to Freedom" at http://ga1.org/campaign/Network_to_Freedom. [Photos below from Smithsonian: on left is Chief Joseph, one of several Nez Perce leaders; on right is Colonel Gibbon, who led the US Army attack at this battle.]

The Big Hole Battlefield is a remarkable landscape--one of the few places along the Lewis & Clark trail that still looks much as it did two centuries ago, and much as it did when the Nez Perce roamed freely under Montana's Big Sky. There is excellent fishing, hunting, backpacking, and hunting in the area.
Visited the Battlefield--perhaps for the 130th anniversary commemoration on 10 August 2007. [Below is NPS map.]

06 April 2007

Jefferson River Again

Our friends Jim & Phyllis also have a little brother, Dmitri. Like AJ, he likes to fish. We joined forces for an afernoon on the Jefferson River. We boys went on ahead, and later Jan & Phyllis met us for a picnic supper. The weather was sunny and springtime-warm in Butte, but as we crossed the Divide toward the Jeff we dropped into a cloudy and cool world.

Jim, Dmitri, and AJ were armed with spinning gear and nightcrawlers, whereas I was anxious to try out the newly infamous "San Juan Sparkle Worm" that Chad Okrusch tied and gave me (below). It worked, though the browns were running a little small for the Jeff (12" or so). And the water was cold! I had to get out and walk around every few fish--say every half hour or so.

Turns out I had met Dmitri (below) several years ago. He is friends with Jory Collins' boy Nick, and he & Nick were repairing an old dirt bike once while Jory was rebuilding my Land Rover engine. AJ knows Dmitri from their days together in the Civilian Air Patrol. Small world, Butte. And, since Nick is a Russian immigrant, small world period. The girls just arrived and RTD says, "Time to eat." That's AJ on the right, with tomorrow's supper. See you on the river!

04 April 2007

Multimedia Faculty Position in Montana

The Technical Communication program at Montana Tech in Butte is looking for an Assistant Professor with multimedia skills. For more information, please contact Professor Dave Carter at DCarter@mtech.edu

Montana Bridge Access SB 78: Sunk by Republican Committee

Montana anglers and others who value stream access need to hold their House Representatives accountable for sinking the Bridge Access Bill (Senate Bill 78). I attended the committee meeting yesterday and was appalled to see elected officials act against the public interest. It was bad enough that the committee chair, Mike Milburn (R-Cascade), played with the agenda so as to delay the hearing by an hour and to trivialize the time available for public comment. Milburn and his cronies (as we later learned) had already prepared a secret set of amendments earlier that afternoon, and they attached them to the bill later that evening: thus the entire public hearing was a sham.

Representatives Chas Vincent (R-Libby), Ernie Dutton (R-Billings) and Ken Peterson (R-Billings) led the effort to amend SB 78 so that it catered to wealthy nonresident landowners and worked against the public. Their effort was supported by John Ward (R-Helena). While it might be understandable for rural representatives such as the committee's chairman Mike Milburn (R-Cascade) to vote against public access, it is unbelievable that representatives from urban constituencies did so.

The amendments would have required the public to get landowner permission to access a stream from a public road at a bridge crossing! Common sense tells us that public access should exist where two public right-of-ways (the road and the stream) cross.

The Bridge Access Bill – SB 78 – received broad bipartisan support and passed out of the Senate on a 34 to 16 vote. The bill would simply clarify the state attorney general's legal opinion that the intersection of two public right-of-ways (a stream and a public road) constitutes legal public access to and from the stream.

In the House Fish & Game Committee, however, a narrow interest representing the Montana Stockgrowers Association lobbied against SB 78. The lawyers and other speakers for the stockgrowers also seemed to be representing millionaire media mogul James Cox Kennedy—the Atlanta, Georgia, resident who owns 3,200 acres on the Ruby River in southwest Montana. Kennedy has been the leading advocate of closing public stream access at bridges along public roads.

Luckily, Reprentative Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings) was able to command a vote to table the amended and now terribly flawed bill.

Because Representatives Vincent, Dutton, Peterson, Ward, and other Republican representatives failed to support the public interest and pass a law that would ensure stream access from public roads, this issue will probably need to be resolved in the courts and at great expense to everyone.

I hope Montana voters remember this when Representatives Vincent, Dutton, Peterson, and Ward run for re-election. When it comes to public stream access, they represent the wishes of wealthy nonresident landowners. They do not represent you—the angling and recreating public that elected them.

[Note: After initially posting this, I realize that we should hold legislators praiseworthy as well as blameworthy. Some of the good guys, in this case, include Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings), George Groesbeck (D-Butte), Arlene Becker (D-Billings), Gary Branae (D-Billings), and the other Democratic Party representatives on the committee. After seeing the good bipartisan support for this bill in the Senate, I was bitterly disappointed to see SB 78 ruined on a straight party line vote in the committee. Thank you to the Democratic members of the House who are "endeavoring to persevere" (quote from Little Big Man) in a very difficult session.]

02 April 2007

Trout Fishing Season

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I always knew exactly when trout season began. The event was marked by a date and a legal morning hour. Gramps, Mr Dutka, sometimes another guest or two, and I went fishing. Along with the many thousands of others, some of whom drove hundreds of miles from Pittsburgh or Cleveland or other cities for the blessed event. Fishing was crowded, even on the remote reaches of Kinzua Creek that we favored, and it had a competitive, carnival sort of atmosphere.

Here in Montana, it's trout season every day. Most of our rivers are open for "catch & release" all season long. On some, like the Jefferson, one may kill a few trout year 'round.

Confessions of a conservationist: Yes, I like to kill trout. When I catch a trout from cold water, I salivate as I remove the hook, whether or not I intend to kill the fish. More than once, I've caught myself actually drooling on a trout while releasing it. Yes, I like to kill trout because I like to eat them.

As a graduate student, Jan & I rented a little house on a retired tree nursery in Mecklenburg, New York, about 15 miles west of Ithaca. The land offered superb ruffed grouse, pheasant, cottontail rabbit, and gray squirrel hunting. And a trout stream ran through it--the headwaters of Taughannock Creek. The stream was not on the New York State DNRC stocking list, and so rarely saw an angler in search of its wild brown trout. On select days I would rush home from school, pack infant Emily into the Snugli, unleash Nellie-The-Dog, walk across the road through the town cemetary, and down to the creek. Two trout later, we would troop back home, snap off a mess of fresh asparagus, and fire up the grill to ready supper for Jan's return from work.

There is no trout stream within walking distance from my current home in Walkerville. But it's only a half-hour drive to the Big Hole River, and a bit further to the Jeff. And so last Thursday I rushed home from school, stowed my gear in the back of the truck, dropped the tailgate so RTD could jump in, and headed for the Jeff. I was careful to release the rainbow trout (photo at left, below) and to kill a few browns (photo at right, below) in the right size range for the grill.

The Jefferson River, named by Lewis & Clark as they made their way above the three forks of the Missouri River on their way to the Continental Divide, is itself formed by the confluence of the Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Ruby Rivers near Twin Bridges. The Jeff is severely and chronically dewatered most summers, but it does support a fair fishery. This time of year, the browns tend to be in shallow runs where they feed on crayfish. The trout feel as though they are stuffed with pebbles as you heft them, and it is not uncommon for still-living crayfish to be wriggling in their gullet. This crab diet makes for succulent orange flesh. Fish, of course, must be inspected by the cat before you cook them.

Rubbed with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, they grill nicely over a hot fire and alongside a packet of asparagus. I always thank my graduate school colleague Betty Smocovitus (now at U FL-Gainesville), who taught me to throw a few pinches of rosemary onto the coals as the trout cook. With a pot of wild and brown rice with almonds, a bottle of white wine, and friends Dave & Gloria it was a sumptuous feast. I don't kill many trout, but we do give thanks for a few each year.