31 January 2009

A Head-T Day: Wood Cross Country Skis at The Moulton

Saturday morning and time for a ski. First, over coffee & pancakes, there is the usual entertainment of PhoebeTheCat at the water dish. Do other people have cats that behave like raccoons, dipping their paws into water and licking them off?

Thanks to a return to seasonable weather (not getting above freezing during the day), a few fresh (albeit light) snowfalls, and good grooming by Paul Sawyer, trails at The Moulton are in great shape.

With the good snow, it was a day for the old wooden HeadT cross country skis:

I found these years ago in the dusty corner of a Butte, Montana pawn shop. They were brand new: no bindings had ever been mounted, no pine tar had ever been applied. Best of all, they were properly tied and blocked so they had retained their camber. They are a wonderful piece of craft work, and they'd be my main skis if it weren't for having to reapply pine tar in mid-season. When I step into them, I want to wear wool knickers and speak Norwegian and drink Aquavit. Maybe even eat a little Lutefisk! Ja, you betcha!

I am a bit of a Philistine, however, and fit them with NNN-BackCountry bindings instead of traditional 75mm 3-pins:

With Blue Extra wax, conditions were perfect for a sub-11-minute run on The Yankee Boy. Whew, first tracks too. Schussing down the one-way Yankee "exit" leads directly into Little Nipper for a cool-down lap. I like it when Paul grooms the crossover into L'il Nipper for a little nice gentle downhill skating:

Then it's a well-deserved pause ("Paus-e" as the Germans say to describe the mid-morning break for coffee & snack) for elk jerky & Gatorade and, for RTD, a biscuit:

We were back in the parking lot about noon, and it was wonderful to see all the folks out with their dogs & kids. For some years, The Moulton wasn't getting used much, and you knew virtually every rig parked there. It's especially encouraging to see a lot of young parents getting out there with the next generation of skiers.

Gute Langlauf!


The Moulton: Montana's finest cross country ski trails

30 January 2009

From EcoSemiotics to Semiotics of Nature

EcoSemiotics is "the semiotics of relationships between nature and culture." I.e. it's about how humans "read" their landscape.

Though ecosemiotics is a major interest of mine, I also find the semiotics of nature (also biosemiotics or, for animals, "zoosemiotic") -- "semiotic processes whose agents are animals [or even] micro-organisms" -- is also of great interest.

When the bear reaches up and marks a tree, what does it's sign say to other bears?

Of course, much of the semiotics of nature takes place in the realm of smell, pheromones, and other signals largely invisible to the human being. Indeed, if Isaac Newton had been a dog, then chemistry would be queen of the sciences!

RTD agrees:

Tracks are, in human discourse about EcoSemiotics, usually taken as the proto-sign, the form of a sign, the representamen as Charles Saunders Peirce called it (cf. Thomas Albert Sebeok's work on animal communication).

Bear track:

Wolf track:

Such tracks are of interest to other bears and wolves, as well as to RolyTheDog (RTD) and perhaps various prey. Certainly predators take interest in the track (and scent-sign) of prey.

Mouse track:

Elk track:

Tracks, scent, and a marked tree combine to mark the passage of a bull elk--and a sign to cows and would-be-interloping bulls:

Tracks can also be a mere scratch upon the world, of little interest to other animals or to humans except for aesthetic value or as a sign that -- in the human mind -- marks the passage of time:

There is also the possibility of communication with other animals, of course, as all dog, cat, and other pet owners know.

When meeting a black bear in the woods, you want to send a message that you are not a threat to it or its cubs, but also NOT prey:

And my spirit-animal, the raven (Corvus corvax), is incredible conversant if you are willing to learn a few clucks, quorks, chortles, knocks, and "nevermore" type squaks (use judiciously). Some native peoples called them Wolf-Birds, and while hunting I've had more than one raven lead me to an elk. Quork out!

[graphic above from: Temple of Solace]

28 January 2009

Citizen's Environmental Group Gets its Feet on the Ground

Butte, Montana's "Citizens Technical Environmental Committee" (CTEC) is once again getting its feet on the ground. Given Butte's prominence at the headwaters of America's largest Superfund megasite, it is good to see folks getting environmentally active again. CTEC was founded c. 1989, was extremely active during the Record of Decision (ROD) process for the Silver Bow Creek site (Stream Side Tailings Operable Unit), but then languished during the ROD for the Butte Hill (Butte Priority Soils OU).

CTEC's rennaissance was led by some members of the Butte Restoration Alliance, another citizen's group formed recently by Butte-Silver Bow County (BSB) to "help the community work together to take full advantage of opportunities for restoration and redevelopment" and "make recommendations to the Council of Commissioners on various projects and priorities."

CTEC met yesterday to consider a CTEC/BRA merger. The potential merger seems to be driven by two concerns:
(1) CTEC is funded (by an EPA Technical Assistance Grant "TAG")whereas BRA has no funding (it was established with a $40K appropriation from BSB, but that is gone); and
(2) CTEC is a 501(c)3 incorporated not-for-profit, whereas BRA is not; with a merger, BRA could use CTEC's non-profit status to apply for and manage grants.

CTEC folks sit around the table:

Steve Ackerlund, a consultant who has worked with Rimini Community, Inc. (RMI; note that the linked article does not present a favorable view of Ackerlund, RMI, or the EPA), the TAG grant group for the Upper Tenmile Creek Mining Area Superfund site near Helena, Montana, addressed the meeting. Ackerlund suggested, and I think he is right, that an EPA TAG group must go beyond digesting technical information for a lay audience. An effective TAG must also (1) negotiate citizen concerns effectively with the EPA and (2) facilitate community action on broader concerns in ways that build capacity.

Still, Ackerlund's presentation did not speak clearly to whether a BRA/CTEC merger is a good idea. In discussion, Elizabeth Erickson facilitated a pro/con list for the merger.

Ackerlund (left) and Erickson:

Cons (against a merger):
* CTEC's autonomy as a group (many BRA members might want to curb environmental activism)
* CTEC's ability to act in a timely fashion (BRA has a cumbersome & slow consensus process)
* CTEC's attractiveness to activists that might not share broader BRA concerns
* the advantage of having an additional group voice to influence EPA decisions (the more voices, the better)
* CTEC's mission becoming diluted by broader and less environmentally inclined BRA members

Pros (for a merger):
* a more streamlined single organization
* fewer meetings for people to attend
* a broader alliance within BRA
* BRA's ability to procure and manage funds as a 501(c)3

As an environmental activist who supports but does not want to be involved in the work of the BRA, I did not see many advantages for CTEC as an environmental group.

An option to merger would be for a letter of understanding so that:
* CTEC would share membership with the environmental subcommittee of the BRA
* CTEC would act as a conduit for BRA funding
* CTEC decisions would not have to be vetted through BRA's governance structure

In pondering a possible CTEC/BRA merger, I thought of our neighbors down river in Missoula. A number of groups with clearly overlapping interests and membership retain their individual identity while focusing on their own special mission. Groups such as the Clark Fork Coalition, Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee, Milltown Redevelopment Working Group, and Friend of Two Rivers come together & concentrate their force when it is in their interest to do so. This model promotes diversity and is also extremely effective in mobilizing the broadest possible community action, as seen with the successful effort to persuade EPA/ARCO to remove the Milltown Dam.

27 January 2009

Racing the Clock

The Yankee Boy is the finest classic cross country ski loop in Montana and perhaps anywhere: it begins with a climb that let's you know if you've got the right wax, eases down a hill that gradually gets steeper with an abrubt turn at the bottom, pulls out onto flats where you can skate, and then repeats this pattern in several insidious variations. On the Forest Service trail map, The Yankee Boy looks like an enfolded strand of DNA--lots of information in a deceptively small package!

Like other trails at The Moulton, its name stems from mining history in nearby Butte, Montana. The Yankee Boy was a mine in the East Butte camp with an extremely rich albeit narrow vein of copper ore. Its name also pays tribute to Paul Sawyer, the native Vermonter and Montana Tech professor who was instrumental in laying out and developing the trails. Anyone that knows Vermont and its people will appreciate the quirky nature of The Yankee Boy as a tribute to the independent soul of
Vermont culture.

Today began with a temperature of -25 deg F so I passed on a dawn ski. By early afternoon it warmed to about +25 deg F so I got out as the sun was sinking (about 15 deg F). The trails were perfect and on the fast side of Swix green wax. It felt like a good day to make a run at the "Gold Standard" time (according to Moulton veteran Rick Appleman) for The Yankee Boy: 11 minutes. But I fell on the narrow turn when I tried to skate through it and a ski tip caught in the deep, ungroomed snow at the edge. I can hear Cam now: "THE narrow turn on The Yankee Boy? They're ALL narrow!"


The Moulton: Montana's finest cross country ski trails.

23 January 2009

A New Year for America's Largest Superfund Site: Montana's Clark Fork River

[This blog entry is adapted from my commentary for Montana Public Radio on behalf of the Clark Fork River Technical Advisory Committee, an EPA-funded "TAG" group.]

It’s a new year in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin and change is in the air. The biggest change may be that conservatives who feared President Obama would promote a radical environmental agenda will be seriously disappointed. Two of Obama’s appointments are especially important for environmental issues here at America’s largest Superfund site.

Lisa Jackson, former head of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, will head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her appointment raises some concern, given her close ties to industry and failure to fix New Jersey’s broken state superfund program. Still, Jackson pledges to “administer with science as [her] guide,” and this pledge seems targeted particularly at global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Anyone that doubts the looming impact of global warming for Montana should consult the Clark Fork Coalition’s website, “Low Flows, Hot Trout.”

Ken Salazar, former U.S. Senator from Colorado, will head the Department of the Interior. In the recent past, Salazar’s strong ties to industry and bias toward agriculture allowed special interests to trump science. It appears he would have fit nicely into the recent Bush cabinet. Still, Salazar now claims to be a reformer who will put law and science above special interests and clean up the mess left by the Bush government.

Neither Jackson nor Salazar are the environmentally progressive appointments we might have hoped for. However, if they follow through on their newfound respect for science, it will put Obama light-years ahead of the environmentally bankrupt Bush administration.

As we float down the river of a new year, we look to future change but we also carry a lot of history with us.

The PBS documentary film, Butte, America: The Saga of a Hard Rock Mining Town, premiered last week. It tells the story of "the most important city between Chicago and Seattle" from the rise of copper mining in the late 19th century to its decline in the postindustrial era. The film is representative of the United States during this era and the broader themes of American history that played out on "that little stage" called Butte. Capitalist greed, the human health & environmental consequences of industrialization, the rise of labor unions, women's history, and European immigration are some of the primary themes woven into the fabric of this great film. See it when you get the chance.

Like a revisionist version of Humpty Dumpty, the pieces of the Clark Fork Superfund megasite are slowly coming back together. At Milltown, along the Clark Fork River, around Opportunity and Anaconda, through the Silver Bow Creek corridor, and on up to the Butte Hill there remains much to be done.

When it comes to unresolved environmental issues at the headwaters of the Clark Fork River, here’s a short list of resolutions for 2009:

1. Clean up the Butte Hill so that polluted storm run-off stops recontaminating the restored Silver Bow Creek. EPA’s current timetable for stopping the recontamination problem is 20 years, but do we really want to let this problem go on for so long that we compromise a remedy that costs several million dollars per mile?
2. Monitor and report to the public the cleanup and restoration of Silver Bow Creek—including how well we are meeting aquatic life standards, revegetation goals, and soil chemistry standards.
3. Control nutrient discharges from Butte’s Metro Sewage Treatment plant. Currently, nutrient levels are so high that they create a “dead zone” extending far below the point of discharge.
4. Reduce action levels in Butte/Anaconda/Opportunity for lead, arsenic, and other metals that impair human-health. Currently, the action levels for these contaminants in our communities are an order of magnitude higher than at other Superfund sites around the nation.
5. Remove the toxic waste buried in the old Silver Bow Creek channel that flows through Butte. So long as this waste remains in place, an industrial water treatment facility will be needed to protect the Clark Fork River.
6. Collect and review biomonitoring data for birds at Warm Springs Ponds. Initial data suggests biomagnifications of toxic metals is a problem for predatory birds such as ospreys.
7. Develop a public access plan for the Clark Fork River so that access sites can be integrated with remedy and restoration.

For news about America’s largest Superfund site, please check out CFRTAC’s website.

From Butte to Missoula, we deserve a clean, healthy, and accessible Clark Fork River. It’s your river. Wade in, and help make the future.

18 January 2009

Butte, America: A PBS Documentary Film about Butte, Montana

Butte, America: The Saga of a Hard Rock Mining Town, a film by Pamela Roberts & Edwin Dobb (my neighbor across the way in "East" Walkerville), premiered in Butte this weekend.

Butte, America tells the story of "the most important city between Chicago and Seattle" from the rise of copper mining in the late 19th century to its decline in the postindustrial era. The film is representative of the United States during this era and the broader themes of American history that played out on "the little stage" called Butte. Capitalist greed, the human health & environmental consequences of industrialization, the rise of labor unions, women's history, and European immigration are some of the primary themes woven into the fabric of this great film.

Best of all, Butte, America tells its story through the voices & eyes of its people--including interviews and archival film. See the Montana Standard for Erika Yakowich's review and film clips.

How will Butte, America play in Pougheepsie & Peoria? I think that depends on how well American's identify with their recent industrial past and a world where people once identified with the work they did. Strangely, perhaps, Butte, America might resonate even more in TauTona, South Africa and Sierra Leone. As the film makes clear in its conclusion, there are still many areas of the world where underground mining is a dirty, dangerous job where miners and labor unions struggle for justice.

Here in Butte, like most of America, mining has largely faded into history--an epic period to be remembered and celebrated. The premiere was a gala event, beginning with a ballroom reception at the Finlen Hotel:

Where Ed Dobb:

and Pam Roberts (on right, with Margi Okrusch left and Jan Munday center):

could bask in the heady & richly deserved glow of a 10-year project seen through to completion.

Trolleys shuttled attendees to the beautiful, classic Mother Lode Theatre:

Where former U.S. Represenative and Butte's native son Pat Williams introduced the film:

After which the trollies shuttled us back to the Finlen for cookies & coffee. Thank you to all those who made this film possible:

And thank you especially to Pamela Roberts and Edwin Dobb for persevering in bringing Butte's story to the big screen.


Other award-winning films directed by Pamela Roberts:

* Ishi: The Last Yahi (1992)

* Contrary Warriors: A film of the Crow Tribe (2007)

Additional films Pamela Roberts has worked on:

* Amazonia: Voices from the Rainforest (1991)

* Backbone of the World (1998)

A few articles & books by Edwin Dobb:

* "Mining the Past," High Country News (1999)

* "Pennies from Hell: In Montana, the bill for America's copper comes due," Harper's (1996)

* Dinosaur Lives: Unearthing an Environmental Saga (1997; co-authored with paleontologist Jack Horner)

* Dancing through Life: Lessons Learned on and off the Dance Floor (2007; co-authored with Antoinette Benevento)

16 January 2009

When Is a Child Old Enough to Hunt?

This blog entry originated in a discussion about children hunting at the Cabela's Talk Forum . A "Concerned Dad" wondered what rifle would be right for his 10-year old, 4'6", 85-pound son's first elk hunt.

There were more than 40 responses to the post and it was viewed about 1,400: clearly a hot-button topic, as these things go.

Some folks responded with narrowly focused recommendations about the minimum rifle cartridge for hunting elk, but many focused on the larger issue: Should a 10-year old boy be hunting elk? For example:
"Get [him] used to the whole aspect (killing, gutting, dragging, skinning etc) of big game animals long before I would take him on an elk hunt."
"...cleaning/skinning an animal...can be a good way to drive an early hunter away from the sport."
"Let [him] hunt rabbits and squirrels for a few years first..."
"Several members on here have said they don't think a 10 yr old is ready for elk hunting but coming from an area that allows kids to hunt at any age I strongly disagree..."

Here are my thoughts.

First, a personal history. I was a "crack" shot with a .22 pistol and rifle by the age of 6 or 7, thanks to careful & patient instruction by Uncle Jim (James Munday). I was given a .22 rifle and allowed to roam the hills more-or-less on my own the summer I turned 9, but there was one pre-condition/rite-of-passage: I first had to spend a night out alone in the woods. Spotty Dog & I made it through the night, huddled over a fire and a can of pork & beans in the "big rocks" area of Cobb Hollow/Nichols Run, New York. Gramps' idea was, a boy may be trusted with a rifle when he demonstrates the wits to get along in the woods. By age 12, I was more than ready to kill, field dress, and drag (with help from Gramp's friend & my mentor, Bernie Dutka) my first legal deer--a spike buck.

Now, some reasoning. Churches typically admit children into the congregation at an "age of accountability" when the child is deemed old enough to be responsible for their sins and moral choices. This is usually about the age of 12 or 13, as with the Jewish Bar Mitzvah. Similarly -- and not coincidentally -- this is about the same age that most states allow children to begin hunting. Also, this is about the age when most parents begin to feel comfortable leaving kids home alone.

There is good reason for this: significant growth in neural physiology occurs around 12 years of age, and this growth supports growth in cognitive psychology and moral development. This new stage is marked by an enhanced understanding of the consequences of choices and an awareness of how laws & rules support society. Clearly, although the great majority of children do not hit this threshold until about the age of 12, some are precocious or are prepared by their upbringing.

Before the "age of accountability," a kid might do what you tell them to do, especially when you are standing nearby. But you might not want them in possession of a deadly weapon in situations where they are on their own & need to make their own decisions. They aren't so good at making judgments concerning the application of general rules to specific (or novel) situations.

Parents are not always a good judge of their child's moral development. Some mistake a wayward and headstrong child for being "bright and independent." Others believe their immature though obedient child will have good judgment when no adult is there to direct the child.

As a Boy Scout leader for many years, I taught Wilderness Survival, Backpacking, and other merit badges in the outdoor program. In my experience, Gramp's test was a good one: a child who can build a fire, cook a simple meal, make a basic shelter, and spend a night alone in the woods is ready to be trusted with a deadly weapon.

15 January 2009

Moulton Day: New Folks Discover Montana's Finest Cross Country Ski Trails

The local ski club hosted "Moulton Day" at The Moulton Cross Country ski area near Butte, Montana, this past weekend. I volunteered to help Recreation Forester Joceyln Dodge post trail signs to reduce conflicts with snowmachines (the 'biners get lost & confused, and end up riding on ski trails), so I headed to The Moulton early for a brisk 2-hour ski before the crowd arrived. Nippy morning with endlessly fascinating frost patterns on the windshield:

A crystal clear, sunny day dawns on the the old dairy meadow:

Paul Sawyer (founder of The Moulton ski trails) owned this cabin for many years, an original building from the old Moulton Dairy; hope the new owners preserve it:

As the sign says, Pasture Perfect:

After a good run around Yankee Boy and Big Nipper trails, it was time to head back over Claimjumper and down Sluice Box to the parking area. Well, almost time. First, one more loop around Little Nipper. The trails at The Moulton vary greatly in "personality" and, on most days, given various snow conditions and the skis you're wearing, there will be one "perfect" trail. This day, it was Little Nipper's turn.

The crowd assembled, with many local skiers eager for a chance to become more familiar with the mysterious, enfolded, and sometimes confusing trails (note the dogs--The Moulton is a decidely dog-friendly ski area):

Whereas many ski trails are laid out on old logging roads or as simple, boring "up, up, up then down, down, down" routes, The Moulton trails were designed to use terrain in the most effective, challenging way possible, as this Map of The Moulton shows:

Something for everyone. Hard trails, easy trails, comraderie, and (for the dogs) a wonderful deer carcass:

Jocelyn & I loaded my sled with the tool bag, trail signs, and other gear while the rest of the gang split up with several guides to enjoy the trails. Thanks to Cam Carstarphen (on right) for organizing this event:

14 January 2009

Morning Devotionals: Cross Country Skiing at The Moulton

Semester classes have begun at My College in Butte America, so I am back into the rhythm -- and ritual -- of morning skiing at The Moulton. Many years ago, in part thanks to a childhood friend who was a Seneca Indian, I learned the notion of being-in-nature-as-a-prayer. Ronnie Knot explained it to me in the context of taking a hike in the woods as a sort of "count the blessings" experience, and an appreciation for the beauty of the world.

The day begins with morning fog over the town of Butte, Montana, below Walkerville:

Driving up to The Moulton, looking west, the Pintler ridges stand stark against the dark sky:

From the parking lot at The Moulton, looking up toward one of Butte's reservoirs, the sun rises behind a bank of ominous clouds:

It's a cold morning, and dendritic patterns of frost still cling to the Land Rover windshield:

A few days ago, fresh snow blanketed the hills, and the snowshoe hare's big feet provided little advantage as they sank into the surface:

Hard work when there are still places to go and food to find:

Today, the snow has set up, and the "rabbit's" big feet skip over the surface:

Making it worthwhile to cover longer distances for a little choice forage:

For me, too, the deep soft snow made the In Vein trail an "In Vain" (as Rick Appleman calls it at times) skiing experience:

But today the trails are firm. Yesterday's tracks have been groomed out by the wind, making for a delightful run down Big Nipper/Widow Maker:

Also as part of my devotional, I pray that my boots don't break. From day-to-day, I monitor "progress" as the toe bar breaks out of my ski boot. So far, regular treatments with epoxy and super-glue are holding it together:

Seems like no one makes SNS BC ("Salomen Nordic System Back Country") boots anymore. Maybe I'll need to change boots & bindings over to NNN BC?

The Moulton: Montana's finest cross country ski trails.


13 January 2009

Arne Naess Dead at 96

For anyone seeking an excellent introduction to Arne Naess's environmental philosophy of "Deep Ecology," see Bullfrog Films, Crossing the Stones: A Portrait of Arne Naess (1993) and/or ReRun Producties film, The Call of the Mountain (1997) [click Call of the Mountain link for YouTube film clip].

From MSNBC.com

Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess dies at 96
Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
updated 12:33 p.m. MT, Tues., Jan. 13, 2009

OSLO, Norway - Norwegian philosopher, writer and mountaineer Arne Naess, best known for launching the concept of "deep ecology" has died, his publisher said Tuesday. He was 96.

Naess is credited with creating the deep ecology concept, promoting the idea that Earth as a planet has as much right as its inhabitants, such as humans, to survive and flourish. He cited the 1962 book "Silent Spring," by Rachel Carson as a key inspiration.

Naess' publisher, Erling Kagge, told The Associated Press that the philosopher died in his sleep Monday.

"Naess' ecological philosophy is still important to Greenpeace," said Truls Gulowsen, leader of the group's Norwegian division. He said Naess was the first chairman of Greenpeace Norway when it was founded in 1988.

Arne Dekke Eide Naess was born on Jan. 27, 1912 in Oslo, the son of banker and businessman Ragnar Naess and Christine Dekke.

He earned a doctorate at the University of Oslo and, at age 27, became its youngest professor. He wrote numerous books and articles, including what the University of Oslo called his key work "Interpretation and Preciseness."

Naess was also a driven mountaineer, and led the first expedition to conquer the roughly 7,700 meter (2,300 foot) mountain Tirich Mir in Pakistan in 1954. He led a second Norwegian expedition up the mountain in 1964.

After stepping down from his university post in 1970, he became active in protecting the environment, writing extensively on the subject and joining protests.

Funeral plans have not yet been released.

09 January 2009

Board Approves Variance for Big Hole River Bridges

No surprise: the Big Hole River Conservation Standards Review Board voted 6 to 2 for approval of KL Spear and Jane Spear's request for a variance to construct two bridges over public water for a private development near LaMarche Creek on the Big Hole River.

When I sat down next to Noorjahan Parwana, Director of the Big Hole Watershed Committee, we agreed that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. In fact, the Review Board looked like a subcommittee of the Watershed Committee, dominated by Big Hole ranchers Liz Jones, Harold Peterson, Phil Ralston, and Ray Weaver. It's not that they are bad folks, they are just drop-dead conservative when it comes to the issue of private property rights.

Here's the board (L-to-R: Tilman, Ralston, unknown, Weaver, unknown, Markovich, Peterson, Jones):

The board was created to make recommendations regarding developments within 150-feet of the highwater mark of the Big Hole River. Because the river flows through four counties, all four governments are represented on the board.

Bob Horne, a planning consultant for Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, began with a cogent presentation to the board about the county's reasons for denying the bridge permit per county ordinance 208 (see links, below).

Bill Anderson, a development consultant representing the Spears, attacked the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County ordinance because it does not specifically define "structure" as the similar ordinance in Beaverhead County defines it--i.e. as a "building with a roof." Thus, he argued, a bridge should not be considered a structure. How ridiculous is that? Furthermore, although Anderson repeatedly stated that permitting the Spear bridges would not set a precedent for future bridges, he also repeatedly referred to the Ellingson/Meriwether "ranch" bridges (which he engineered) as a precedent!

As orderly public meetings go, it was a free-for-all. Harold Peterson was chair, but never controlled the agenda. Wally Congdon, a Beaverhead County rancher, lawyer, and private property rights advocate, rambled on for about an hour regarding an old river ford that is part of the Spear ranch property. Wally tried to convince everyone that permitting the bridges in exchange for a conveyance of the right-to-ford was a good deal for the public--never mind that the new owners want to drive fancy SUVs to trophy homes across a bridge and not through the river, and that the ford has never been used in at least 20 years. Despite rumbling from the audience, Wally was allowed to go on. And on. And on.

Well, Wally's filibustering effectively cut down on how much public comment could be received. Too bad: of the approximately 40 people in the audience, only Wally spoke in favor of the bridges. While an audience of 40 does not seem like many, given the local population, this would be like 10,000 people turning out for a public hearing in New York City. Some of the crowd at the Wise River meeting:

Groups speaking out against the bridges included the Public Land/Water Access Association, Inc., Skyline Sporstmens Club (Butte), Anaconda Sportsmens Club, and George Grant chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Here's Tom Bugni (standing, red cap), speaking on behalf of Skyline Sportsmen (Tom was one of the heroes that led the Montana Stream Access battle many years ago):

I felt George Grant roll over in his grave, as the organization he established to protect the river -- the Big Hole River Foundation -- took no position. As the lawyers say, "Silence implies consent." Seems the Watershed Committee has become so strong and successful, that its position intimidates member-groups such as the foundation from acting in ways that Watershed Committee members oppose.

As public comment was quickly brought to a close, review board member Bill Markovich made an impassioned argument against the bridges. Bill argued that the "The 150-foot setback in the county's ordinance is of critical importance to the natural values that make the Big Hole River special... The very existence of the bridge structure within the river corridor violates the letter and spirit of the ordinance... Even as a real estate developer, I recognize that the privilege of one private property owner does not outweigh the public good..." Wow. Here is a man able to transcend his own material self-interest to recognize a greater public good. How rare is that in today's world?

Following public comment and some discussion among the board, Ray Tilman made a motioni to accept ADLC's denial of the variance, Bill Markovich seconded, and all other members voted against the motion.

Two next steps:

1. Montana's Department of Natural Resources & Conservation is accepting public comment on the Spear Bridge Environmental Assessment until 30 January 2009. Comments may be sent to Tim Egan with the DNRC at 730 N. Montanan St. Dillon, MT 59725 or to his email at tegan@mt.gov.

2. The Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Council of Commissioners will make a decision on the variance. Stay posted for more news.

Additional sources:

ADLC documents on the Spear bridges proposal, including Planning Department reports, request for variance (prepared by Anderson), a DNRC review of Anderson's hydrology report, letters from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks opposing the bridges, and ADLC Ordinance 208.

Thanks to Connie Daniels, ADLC Planner, and Paula Arneson, ADLC Planning Department staff member for supplying me with relevant documents and information.

07 January 2009

Big Hole River: Private Bridges over Public Water?

Here we go again--bad ideas just never seem to die. You think they're dead with a stake through the heart, and then someone resurrects them... We're talking about modern carbetbaggers: developers that want frontage property, complete with bridge access, on a pristine Montana river.

Around the year 2000, private landowner Pete Kamperschroer wanted to put in a bridge across the river next to his ugly trophy house:

The idea, it seems, was to access additional land for development. We beat that one down, thanks to the stalwart conservation-minded Butte-Silver Bow council of commissioners.

Then came the Meriwether "ranch" project--several bridges proposed by developers Dave Ellingson & Emily Ellingson so they could build on an island in the river near Melrose:

Sadly, both BSB county and (on the south side of the river) Beaverhead County permitted them:

But BSB subsequently passed a strict ordinance to limit such bridges in the future.

Now it is developers KL Spear & Jane Spear, wanting to put bridges in for real estate development near LaMarche Creek. Anaconda-Deer Lodge County denied the initial application, but Spears are asking for a variance and there will be a public hearing Thursday, 08 January 2009, at 7 pm at the Wise River Fire Hall.

The Big Hole River is a public resource, a public right-of-way, and a navigable river. Structures -- including bridges -- built in the flood plain impair natural hydrologic functions or aesthetics. The Big Hole is a laterally dynamic river--i.e. it meanders across its flood plain. Bridges lock the river into a particula channel, and lead to future rip-rap and other channel constraints.

Landowners like the Spears purchased the property knowing the natural limitations, and should not expect to be allowed to construct an intrusive private route across a public resource.

Our grandchildren should not have to accept a Big Hole River lined with ugly houses, bridges, and other structures.