Kit Fischer Commentary: “Your Secret’s Safe With Me”

I’ve visited the East Rosebud River every summer I’ve lived in Montana.
Flowing North out of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the East Rosebud winds for some 30 miles before it’s joined by other aspen-lined tributaries- eventually flowing into the Stillwater and the Yellowstone River near Columbus. The water runs cold and clear, with very little diverted for agriculture and nearby development. By late August, when other streams feel like luke-warm kiddy pools, the creek remains cooled by the high elevation snowmelt fed from the 10,000 foot Beartooth plateau. Rainbows, cutthroats and brown trout feed voraciously – even during the middle of the day, feasting on the thousands of grasshoppers blown in from the gusty winds that come down the granite canyons to the south. The bird life is equally spectacular – western tanagers, yellow warblers, rare broad-tailed hummingbirds and far off, the eerie call of what sounds like some prehistoric teradactyl, the trumpet of a sandhill cranes fill the valley.
The river is lined with thick willows, redosier dogwood and aspen thickets, forming a nearly impenetrable fortress from would be wade fishermen. The stream still flows how an old mountain stream should; the cutbanks constantly shift during spring runoff and the willows and beavers take care of the rest. Its fine gravel bottom reflects sunlight from mica and quartz instead of beer cans and bumpers. In 1989 the Forest Service deemed a seven mile section of the creek suitable for federal Wild and Scenic designation, although Montana hasn’t awarded a new wild and scenic designation since 1976.
Between the challenging access, icy cold waters, hairpin turns and beaver dams, the river (although probably more accurately, a creek) does a pretty good job of keeping itself a secret. I’ve only taken a handful of good friends fishing there in the 20+ years I’ve made my yearly pilgrimage and I’ve never seen another soul on the river.
We usually haul over my family’s venerable aluminum Grumman canoe. A now ancient relic that my folks acquired in the 70s and has probably explored more Montana rivers than I could list. It’s virtually indestructible. A tank of a canoe, it’s probably worth more in scrap metal than its resale value as a watercraft, but it has never let us down, even after dinging rocks loud enough to alert every fish in the river.
But even the best kept secrets don’t last. I should have known better—it’s often the secret places that are most overlooked for their recreational and wildlife values when energy development and resource extraction come along– and the East Rosebud is no exception. A Bozeman energy development company has recently announced their interest in exploring the possibility of developing a hydropower site on the river. A dam would be located just upstream from my “secret spot”.
It seems to be the catch-22 of all the great hunting and fishing spots that I’ve frequented in Montana. If it’s an easy place to get to, and the wildlife is abundant, the secret won’t last long—but at least it will exist for future generations. It’s the places that take a little extra effort to access – via two track, rutted dirt roads, singletrack trails and bushwacking– not highways and hotels– that tend to hold the best kept places. These places are naturally guarded from becoming huge tourist destinations, but not guarded from development- and Montana’s got plenty of them.
Maybe this year when I make my trip to the East Rosebud I’ll bring a couple more friends along and hopefully in return they will show me some other tucked away secret Montana place.

Kit Fischer writes on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation.

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DPHHS provider rate changes anger medical equipment suppliers

Health officials are considering changes to the way the state operates Medicaid.

The 2013 Legislature approved rate increases to providers of Medicaid—the government health service for the poor.

Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce says stakeholders are applauding some of the changes, but suppliers of medical equipment see a big problem.

DOJ report finds problems with Missoula Police investigations of sexual assault

A Department of Justice report released today finds instances of “significant deficiencies” in the Missoula Police Department’s investigations of sexual assault.

In response, the City of Missoula has signed a comprehensive settlement agreement to reform how the police conduct those investigations.

The announcement comes almost one week after the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division announced agreements to improve how the University of Montana responds to sexual assault allegations.

The investigation into the Missoula Police Department examined over 350 sexual assault reports from 2008 to 2012.

U-S Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Roy Austin, says the investigation revealed Missoula Police officers weren’t adequately trained to properly respond to sex assault complaints, investigations discouraged participation by victims and the department does not effectively coordinate with community partners.

The report says the Police Department’s response to sexual assault allegations were hampered by poor communications sometimes relied on gender-based stereotypes. It specifically points to a case in which a police detective told a woman the gang-rape she was reporting “was probably just a drunken night and a mistake.”  The detective then told her she “came across as kinda passive”. The same woman told Justice Department investigators she felt the detective was not only intimidating and rude, but his demeanor and statements left her feeling he didn’t believe her and that the assault had been her fault.

Another woman who ended up not pursuing criminal charges, reported a detective was constantly telling her how difficult it would be to testify in court.

The agreement requires the police department within two-years implement or revise its policies for investigating assaults, provide training to officers and their supervisors and change practices that discourage women from reporting sexual assaults.

Despite increasing population, Feds want wolverine on endangered list

Photo courtesy Marie Hale/Flickr

Photo courtesy Marie Hale/Flickr

Montana wildlife officials last week expressed their formal opposition to a proposal from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the wolverine on the Endangered Species List.

The Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks filed the letter by the end of the proposal’s public comment period last Monday.

USFWS says global climate change will significantly reduce wolverine habitat over the next century and protecting the species now will bolster the population for an expected future decline.

“We maintain that we’ve had an expanding population, even with climatic conditions that are maybe similar to what they’re predicting,” said Montana FWP Spokesman Ron Aasheim. “Our feeling is that the best available science doesn’t indicate that there’s a need to list the wolverine.”

“The wolverine is a bit unusual in the case that the current status is improving,” said USFWS Biologist Shawn Sartorius, who heads the agency’s wolverine research, but added ultimately, under the Endangered Species Act, it’s future threats that count.

The main impact Sartorius cites for the listing is the reduction of mountain snowpack levels. Wolverines use snow to build dens and raise their young. He said those impacts are being felt now.

USFWS says the reason wolverine populations continue to expand now is they are still filling the available habitat after being nearly wiped-out in the 20th Century “due to broad-scale predator trapping and poisoning programs.” Sartorius said listing the animal would give the agency more tools to help grow the population as much as possible.

“We have some potential to get wolverines into some of those places that they used to occur in to help expand their range before the full impact of climate change occurs,” Sartorius said.

Now that the public comment period is finished, USFWS will looking over their research and the comments to make their decision on listing the wolverine. Sartorius said a ruling will be made in February of 2014.

In the meantime, an injunction has been placed on trapping wolverines in Montana, which FWP also opposes. That prohibition would continue if the species is listed.

FWP allowed trappers to take five total wolverines per year. USFWS roughly estimates between 250 and 300 wolverines currently live in the lower 48 states.

Governor to kick off economic development initiative with roundtable discussions

Gov. Steve Bullock (center) unveils the new Main Street Montana Project Monday with D.A. Davidson & Co. CEO Bill Johnstone (left) and Washington Companies CEO Larry Simkins (right)

Gov. Steve Bullock (center) unveils the new Main Street Montana Project Monday with D.A. Davidson & Co. CEO Bill Johnstone (left) and Washington Companies CEO Larry Simkins (right)

Gov. Steve Bullock, D-Mont., on Monday announced a new economic development initiative aimed at developing a blueprint for job creation based upon the suggestions of Montana businesses.

“Montanans have shown that they’re national leaders in business, ingenuity and hard work,” Bullock said. “I think those qualities really helped us come out of the recession stronger than most states.”

Bullock wants to draw on the experiences of business owners to create a plan to tackle challenges faced by those companies and identify steps to attract and retain new businesses. The governor said it would be a bottom-up approach. He was joined at the press conference unveiling the initiative by its two co-chairs, CEO of The Washington Companies Larry Simkins and CEO of D.A. Davidson & Company Bill Johnstone.The project will start with a series of roundtable discussions:

  • Billings–Tuesday, May 28th, 2:00 PM at the Broadway Downtown Center, 2804 3rd Ave. N.
  • Missoula–Tuesday, June 4th, 2:00 PM at the UM University Center, 3rd Floor Meeting Room Foyer and Room 330-123
  • Great Falls–Wednesday, June 12th, 2:00 PM at the Great Falls Civic Center, Missouri Room
  • Miles City–Wednesday, June 19th, 2:00 PM at Miles Community College, Room 106-107
  • Bozeman–Tuesday, June 25th, 2:00 PM at the MSU Strand Union, Ballroom A

“Everything is on the table,” Simkins said. “The idea is we want to gather as many facts as we can before we sit down and start talking about what’s necessary for economic development.”

Simkins said the project hopes to publish a report outlining specific metrics to improve the state’s business climate sometime in early 2014.

Learn more about the Main Street Montana Project on their website.

FWP mulls more aggressive wolf hunting season


State wildlife officials have given initial approval to new, more aggressive wolf hunting rules for this year’s hunting season. The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission is accepting public comment before taking a final vote on the proposal.

The new rules extend the wolf hunting season, allows more wolves to be taken by individuals and allows trappers to use bait. The proposed rules are drawing fresh criticism from wolf advocates.

Fish Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim says hunters and trappers together did take more wolves this last hunting season than the year before—a total of 225 wolves killed. But he says FWP still thinks the species can handle a more aggressive hunt.

“We’ve still got more wolves than what we would consider in balance with the rest of the wildlife out there and with landowner tolerance. So we’re still thinking we need to reduce numbers below where they are,” Aasheim said.

The rules adopted by the FWP Commission extend the wolf hunting season by a month–out to six and a half months. Individuals would be able to take up to five wolves—up from three last hunting season, through any combination of hunting or trapping.

Some conservation organizations are criticizing the new plan as going too far. Greater Yellowstone Coalition Wildlife Program Manager Chris Colligan says the GYC has supported overall Montana wolf hunting rules in the past as being a preferred model compared with Idaho and Wyoming rules. He says his organization does not feel that way about these new guidelines. Colligan says the national public analyzes wolf management in the West with a high level of scrutiny.

“And with all of the attention last year on wolf management we feel this is going to give Montana a black eye, especially with the non-hunting public,” Colligan said.

Yellowstone National Park officials also would like FWP to change the overall wolf quota in the hunting district just outside the park. That total proposed quota is seven wolves right now, Yellowstone would like that lowered due the interest of tourists in more wolves and some recent high-profile wolf killings outside the park.

FWP says they will take that into consideration.

Other groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation praise the new proposed rules. Communications Director Mark Holyoak says the rules take into account the wishes of landowners and sportsmen.

“There is a proper place for wolves, just as there is for ungulates and other predators but we need to remember that we as humans live on the same landscape as well,” Holyoak said.

“Landowners in Montana have been great about accommodating wildlife and some of the impacts and it’s our job to do what we can to mitigate those problems,” Aasheim said.

The Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission will take a final vote on the new wolf season rules during their meeting in July.

FWP predicts there were more than 600 Wolves living in the state as of the end of last year.

See the new proposed wolf hunting rules here.

Why a Helena artist is dying his money blue–and giving it away

Helena artist Tim Holmes has dyed multiple denominations of U.S. bills blue to spread a message of conservation.

Tim Holmes has dyed multiple denominations of U.S. bills blue to spread a message of conservation.

Artist Tim Holmes has been working as a professional artist since the 1970s, and he’s spent much of that time as a sculptor. He’s working in a different medium now, however–money.

Holmes is dying thousands of dollars of his own money blue and giving it away. He stamps each bill with the sentence “Based on the value of a clean world!”

Each bill also directs its recipient to the website bluebills.us

He hopes spreading the bills will prompt discussions about environmentalism.

Holmes will be giving away his blue bills, while supplies last, at his Helena studio at 446 N. Hoback Street at 9 AM on Saturday.

Tim Holmes holds up one of his blue dollar bills Thursday.

Tim Holmes holds up one of his blue dollar bills Thursday.