Thursday, December 3, 2009

CFWEP Dives into 4-H Fun Day in Deer Lodge

On Thursday, October 15, over 60 students from seven Montana counties convened at Powell County High School in Deer Lodge for the annual 4-H Fun Day, and Lorna McIntyre and Matt Vincent were on hand to bring kids face-to-face with some of Montana’s water bugs. The Fun Day also offered classes on Hemp Necklaces, Dutch Oven Cooking, Let’s Look for Birds, Gold Panning, and No Bake Treats.

At the CFWEP class, kids of varying ages collected water bugs from Cottonwood Creek, a tributary of the Clark Fork River that flows into Deer Lodge from the Flint Mountains. Matt chatted with the kids about how scientists use aquatic insects as an indicator of stream health. After that, students put on rubber boots and headed to the creek to explore the different sampling methods used to collect the “macroinvertebrates”, or macros, as they are known is scientific circles.

The students’ ability to notice differences in macro morphology, or physical appearance, is the first step in understanding biological diversity. They identified many different types of aquatic macroinvertebrates, such as mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies and even planaria, a type of flatworm that can be tricky to properly identify.

The kids came away with a better understanding of the concept of biological diversity, and they had a blast finding and categorizing some of Montana’s smaller wildlife.

-Lorna McIntyre

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Big Day on the Big Hole River

Photo Above: Dr. Michelle Anderson helps students use scientific tests to assess the water quality of the Big Hole River.
On Wednesday, October 21, 2009, the Big Hole Watershed had its first Big Hole River Youth Field Day. Jami Murdoch, the Big Hole River Foundation’s Outreach Coordinator, and CFWEP co-organized the event, introducing the students of the Big Hole Valley to water education by sharing hands-on, place-based, scientific knowledge of their watershed.

Throughout the day, students traveled through six stations. Each station’s focus had a direct connection to the Big Hole. In “A River Runs Through It”, students took a hand in mapping their watershed as they explored the run of the Big Hole River and its tributaries.

At “The Grass Isn’t Always Greener”, students learned the importance of a diverse plant community and the effect of noxious weed to the watershed. “What is ‘High Quality H2O’?” found students, assisted by Dr. Michelle Anderson from UM-Western, performing sophisticated scientific tests on water samples from the river to determine what water quality parameters are necessary for a healthy river.

At “A Bug’s World”, students interacted with aquatic insects to learn the importance of the variety of stream bugs in the river. The station also tied into the Big Hole River’s salmonfly hatch that draws anglers from around the globe, an important source of money for the local economy.

“Something Fishy” focused on the different fish of the Big Hole, particularly the fluvial, or river-dwelling, arctic grayling, whose numbers have dwindled in recent decades. Finally, at the charmingly titled “I Eat, Therefore I Puke”, Dr. Amy Kuenzi from Montana Tech helped students investigate one of the Big Hole’s avian residents, the owl, and its need for mature cottonwood forest to provide habitat for the critters it eats.

Photo Above: Students learn about the types of food on the menu for owls with assistance from Dr. Amy Kuenzi.

The Big Hole Youth Field Day was only possible thanks to the immense support of a dedicated group of volunteers from around western Montana. A special thanks goes out to Insty Prints of Butte, who gave us a sweet deal on the Big Hole River Watershed Passports used for this event.

-Lorna McIntyre

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mining the Highlands

While Montana’s wide-open mountain vistas, relatively undisturbed wildlife habitat and peaceful, windy quietude have risen among the top of the state’s golden treasures, there is still plenty of interest in the kind of gold currently fetching over $1,000 per ounce on the worldwide metals market. Just 15 miles south of Butte in the heart of the Highlands Mountains, Timberline Resources is making way for a new, 750,000+ ounce underground gold mine. The Idaho-based newcomer to the mining industry began laying the groundwork in August for what the corporation hopes to be a 10-year project that could employ up to 100 workers. Timberline stock (TLR) began trading on the NYSE back in May and has sold just shy of 36 million shares of its 44.5 million cap, trading most recently at $1.24.

So how does a mine that could employ 100 people and that has sold over 35 million shares on Wall Street go relatively unheard of in a mining community of 30,000 people just miles away? Timberline began working in August and has been progressively forging ahead ever since under an amended exploration permit and a small mine exemption, both granted by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Hard Rock Mining division. Neither of these processes require an official public comment period or a full-scale environmental impact study. Timberline presented the project to the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners in May and most recently in October at the National Summit of Mining Communities in Butte.

This project has a lot of costs and benefits for The Mining City and the surrounding areas that will need to be weighed by our citizens prior to the commencement of full-scale operation, as awakening community awareness has just recently begun to pique public interest. According to Timberline’s website ( the mine properties consist of approximately 1,100 privately-owned acres situated along the Continental Divide at the headwaters of Basin (Upper Clark Fork Watershed/Butte drinking water supply), Fish (Jefferson River Watershed) and Moose (Big Hole River Watershed) Creeks. Under the current exploration and small mine development permits, approximately 50 acres will be disturbed at the site, over one-mile of underground tunnel dug and a 10,000 ton “bulk sample” collected over the next year. The ore is approximately 0.27 ounces of gold per ton. For more information, visit the Timberline Resources website above, or contact Robert Crohnholm with the DEQ at (406) 444-4330.

-Matt Vincent

Friday, November 13, 2009

Southwest Montana Science Partnership Going Strong

Photo Above: Teachers investigate acid drainage at the former Calliope Mine site. The orange-red color of the water at the site is due to a high iron content. When exposed to water, the mine waste at the site renders the water acidic due to a high sulfur content. The acidic water then dissolves metals present in wastes.

The Southwest Montana Science Partnership (SMSP) project partners are pleased to announce the addition of Dr. John Graves to our leadership team. Dr. Graves currently leads the Montana State University Science Education Masters’ Program, and Dr. Graves has over thirty years of middle school teaching experience. He brings a strong focus on inquiry pedagogy skills as well as a keen ability to help teachers and faculty connect online through meaningful and engaging discussions.

Photo Above: SMSP teachers look on while Dr. David Hobbs from Montana Tech demonstrates the conductive properties of water.

The first cohort of teachers, who started SMSP courses in January 2009, is rolling right along. Teachers completed a water workshop in September and learned about the unique properties of water and how to monitor local streams. At the workshop, teachers explored two sites for field study, one highly impacted by mine waste water and the other impacted by a sewage treatment facility. The teachers discovered that watersheds can be impacted in many different ways and were quite excited to start exploring water near their area schools. Teachers were given World Water Monitoring kits to use with their students back at their schools, which was greatly appreciated, as school budgets are frequently too tight to afford testing equipment.

Photo Above: Science is not without its hazards. A misstep caused one SMSP teacher to slip in swampy mine waste up above her knee. No need to worry- a one-time exposure such as this is unlikely to cause any ill effects. Mining contamination is generally only harmful to human health after long-term, chronic exposure.

The teachers and their students will upload their site monitoring data into the World Water Monitoring database to be shared with teachers and students around the world.

The second cohort of thirty teachers will begin their study in January 2010 with the field mapping module. In addition, principals from our partner schools will be invited to attend the Principal’s/Leadership workshop in February. The addition of thirty teachers in cohort II and all participating principals will bring the total number of SMSP participants to over seventy. The project partners will be very busy indeed!

The SMSP project is funded by a ESEA, Title II Part B Mathematics and Science Partnership Grant through the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

-Rayelynn Connole, CFWEP Curriculum Coordinator

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Catching Up with EcoDaredevil Award Winner Kathleen Kennedy

Kathleen Kennedy is one of two 2009 winners of the EcoDaredevil award, which honors those who are taking risks to promote conservation and environmental sustainability. Kathleen, a Missoula high school biology teacher, was admonished by her own school board for showing "The Story of Stuff," a popular film about the environmental costs of rampant consumerism, but Kathleen persisted. Kathleen took time away from her busy teaching schedule to provide the following update on life since receiving the EcoDaredevil award in September.

Photo above: Kathleen's EcoDaredevil award helmet, complete with a signature from singer Eddie Vedder.

Receiving an EcoDaredevil award has been a really fun and inspiring experience. Thinking about Evel Knievel trying stunts and then dusting himself off and trying again when things didn’t go as planned reminds me of the resilience that I have had to bring forth since my ordeal began. Comparing myself to Evel of course also makes me laugh—something I didn’t do much last year!

The award has given me a light-hearted way to discuss controversy and polarization with my students. Ironically, the controversy about the Story of Stuff as an educational video reached a new level just shortly after the EcoDaredevil awards ceremony. After being informed by one of his “watchdogs”, Glenn Beck of Fox News discussed the film and its use in classrooms on his program and incited his viewers to complain to their school boards. The Story of Stuff blog was filled with outrageous reactions. Having Glenn Beck challenge the Story of Stuff is yet another validation of the film’s important message and renews my resolve to ensure that students are given opportunities for critical thinking in my classroom.

On a funny note, I brought my EcoDaredevil helmet with me to Pearl Jam’s concert near Portland, OR in September with the plan to have the band’s bassist, Montana native Jeff Ament, with whom I had shared my story, sign it. To my surprise the entire band signed the helmet. I got to have a nice chat with Jeff before the show that included me giving him his own EcoDaredevil sticker! Interestingly, Eddie Vedder signed “with Love & Respect” and drew a picture of a wave, which makes me wonder if he is aware of the Great Turning (visit for more info).

Photo above: Kathleen with Pearl Jam bassist and Montana native Jeff Ament, an EcoDaredevil supporter.

My school year is going really well so far and I think this award allowed me to put things in perspective and go forth! Thanks for recognizing the role that educators have in helping us jump the chasm to sustainability.

For more information on the EcoDaredevil award, visit For more on the Story of Stuff, visit

-Kathleen Kennedy

Monday, November 9, 2009

CFWEP's Fall Season Wrap-Up

Hi there!
My name is Marisol and this is my first of hopefully many contributions to this blog. I graduated in May of 2009 from Binghamton University in NY with a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies. I am taking some time off to work, be an americorps volunteer, and to hopefully get a better feel for what I would like to pursue in graduate school. I am very excited to be a part of CFWEP and I look forward to meeting everyone else who is also involved with the organization. I had a lot of fun and learned SO much during the fall season. Below is the wrap-up that I wrote for the CFWEP newsletter. Hope you enjoy it!

Photo Above: A panoramic view of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork River confluence before the dam was removed.

The fall season started off in September with Hellgate Middle School, followed by Lewis and Clark Elementary, Bonner School, and St. Joseph’s Elementary School. The students spent three days in the classroom with guest lecturers who provided a concise overview of current and historic circumstances surrounding the Milltown Dam and its removal.

The first lecture providesd an overview of the idea of watershed health, and a history of the Milltown Dam and of mining in Butte. It aimsed to create a well-rounded understanding of the circumstances that led to the building of the dam and the role that Butte played at such a pivotal time in American history.

The second lecture givesave a more in depth look at the numerous environmental hazards that have resulted from mining, which have affected not only Butte and its residents but all those who live downstream on the Clark Fork. This lecture also discussesd why the dam was removed and the related environmental impacts, both short- and long-term.

The third and final lecture discussesd the concept of parameters and readiesd students to go out into the field to conduct their own scientific assessments and comparisons of sites on the Blackfoot River, upstream of the dam, and on the Clark Fork River, downstream of the dam. These assessments included diversity in macroinvertebrate populations, riparian vegetation, pebble counts, and water chemistry, all as indicators of water quality and ecosystem health.

The data that the students collected was valuable to their own understanding of ecosystem and watershed health and succeeded in introducing many of them to the scientific process. Because there are real and on-going issues surrounding the pollution of the Clark Fork, a river in which many of them play and fish, it is a great way to help them to think critically about pollution and the importance of keeping their rivers clean.

Photo Above: Doug Martin from the NRDP talks about the restoration of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot River confluence with local students.

As an Americorps volunteer I had a great time interacting with the students and very much appreciated what came to be a crash course in the history of Butte in America, the impacts of mining on people and the environment, and in the many ways that citizen science can aid professionals in their work.

It was after the data was collected and the students were gathered around to look at the results more closely that I noticed how attentive they were. It was as if a lightbulb would go off in their heads as their compared pebble counts to better understand areas of erosion versus those of deposition, or the conductivity of the water affected by the mine waste versus that which had not. When these results were brought back to them in ways in which they were truly understood, like why barely anything can live in water affected by acid rock drainage being the equivalent ofis similar to why nobody would want to soak in a bath of lemon juice, it was evident that they got the point of what we were teaching them by the great questions they came up with. Some of them were very simple questions that, in true kid-manner, really got at the heart of the matter. Unfortunately a lot of the time it would be difficult to simplify what often turned into a complex explanation.
That, I think, is one of the best challenges of working with kids. There is no better test of your understanding of a complex issue than if you can simplify it enough to make it make sense to a class of 5th graders. So I thank them for the challenge because it helps me to really get down to the heart of the matter and to contemplate some of the really difficult questions.

CFWEP would like to send out a thank you to all of the teachers, students, and parent chaperones that participated in making this season a great success. We would especially like to thank everyone at St. Joseph’s who came out on the last, very cold and frozen field trip in October when it snowed. We had a real bunch of troopers!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Freezout Lake Lake's Spring Snow Goose Migration

It is a bit late for this blog/article/crappy journalism, but hey . . . better late than never! So here it goes, my first blog . . .

On April 4, 2009, my sister and went traveling north to Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area near Fairfiled, MT. There is an incredible event that happens here every spring: the migration of the snow goose. Around 100,000 plus snow geese use this lake and its surronding series of ponds as a "rest stop" as they fly north to their summer feeding grounds. These geese fly from their southern wintering grounds (California, Baja and Mexico) up the "Pacific Flyway", a major north-south migratory route for birds. Freezout Lake happens to be on this route. The geese fatten up on the spent grain in the surrounding farm fields. After a couple of days, they head north to nest in either Hudson Bay, Alaska or Russia.

The geese leave the lake in the morning to feed in the fields. Around 10am, the geese return to water for a bit R & R. Around 5pm, the geese take off to the fields to feed again, returning back to the safety of the lake before dark. For me, it is the take-off from the water and the returning to the water that is the most spectacular. When one flock leaves to feed, a couple other flocks may head out with them. A wall of white leaving the water. When it is time to return to the water, many flocks dot the sky with a check-mark like pattern. The flocks will merge high above the lake, then swirl down to the water.

So enough blah, blah, blah. It's time to see some pictures and a little video, poorly narrated by my sister and I.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall Field Season Update

Photo Above: Students from East Middle School measure water chemistry on the banks of restored Silver Bow Creek just west of Butte.

Around the Clark Fork, our Fall school middle school visits are in full swing. We started in September at Drummond School and just completed our East Middle School visits in late October on the icy banks of Silver Bow Creek. Our last trip for the season is Butte Central High School in November.

We recently revised our curriculum in order to expand our history and bioindicator lessons, as well as give students more opportunity to practice field techniques and become comfortable with our new datasheets. We have also included additional activities to engage students in the classroom. New activities include making a watershed using paper, markers and water in order to visualize how water flows within a watershed. Another activity that is very effective in helping students with the field component is an in-class review of how to correctly identify vegetation structure (ground cover, understory and overstory) and how to identify aquatic macroinvertebrates. Finally, the in-class field practice has been expanded to include a practice vegetation assessment in addition to practice with GLX water quality meters.

Photo Above: Lorna McIntyre from CFWEP assists students in identifying the riparian vegetation of Silver Bow Creek.

CFWEP teachers around the Basin have responded enthusiastically to the revised curriculum. Most importantly, the students appear to enjoy the expanded activities. Students also seem to conduct their field trip data collection with more confidence. It is quite rewarding to hear the students using scientific terminology when discussing their field observations and experience.

Photo Above: CFWEP’s Arlene Alvarado helps students collect and identify stream insects in order to assess the health of Silver Bow Creek.

Before we know it, the Spring field trip season will be upon us. If you are interested in volunteering for a Spring field trip, contact Arlene Alvarado, CFWEP Field Coordinator, at (406) 496-4862 or for a full schedule of volunteer opportunities.


-Arlene Alvarado, CFWEP Field Coordinator

Monday, October 26, 2009

2009 Blackfoot Youth Field Day:
Transportation on the Clearwater

The Blackfoot Challenge sponsored its 9th Annual Youth Field Day on September 23, 2009. At the Harper’s Lake Fishing Access on the Clearwater River, just upstream from its confluence with the Blackfoot River, over 100 fourth through sixth grade students from all over the Blackfoot Watershed came together for a day of outdoor education.

Photo Above: In the Water Droplet Journey game, students flip a “dice” high into the air. The result will tell them where to go next in the water cycle.

Youth Field Days engage local students in their watershed, while addressing topics from natural resource issues to community sustainability. The topic for this year was Transportation, and students tackled the issue through stations on Seed Dispersal, Navigation, Mule Packing, Water Droplet Journey, and Journaling.

Photo Above: Students practice their observational skills before journaling on the banks of the Clearwater River.

CFWEP Curriculum Coordinator Rayelynn Connole led the Journaling station, where students learned to describe nature in their watershed, just as Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery observed and documented the American northwest. CFWEP AmeriCorps VISTA Lorna McIntyre and Janel Evans, Montana Tech AmeriCorps Team Leader, immersed students in the water cycle through the Water Droplet Journey game. Playing the role of a drop of water, students learn the varying pathways a water molecule can take through the water cycle. By learning only a small amount of water is available for human use, student gain a greater appreciation for their watershed and the value of clean, healthy water. And in the Blackfoot Valley, clean water and watershed stewardship will maintain the natural beauty of the Blackfoot River ecosystem well into the future.

For more information on our partners at the Blackfoot Challenge, visit

-CFWEP VISTA Lorna McIntyre

Science Cafe:
The Science of the Berkeley Pit

To someone driving through Butte, Montana for the first time, one image dominates the landscape: the expanse of the Berkeley Pit to the north. The Pit extends 1700 feet from the top of the rim near the old Bell-Diamond Mine to the bottom of the over 40 billion gallons of acidic water that make up the slowly rising Pit Lake.

The sheer magnitude of the site, a functioning mine from 1955 until 1982, is enough to draw attention. But the environmental science underlying the Berkeley is the real cause for interest.

From the early days of underground mining in Butte, the hill has been dewatered by underground pumps. Those pumps ran continuously from the late 1800s until 1982. When economic conditions forced the Berkeley Pit to close, ARCO, the parent company of the Berkeley, decided to shut off those underground pumps.

The result is the Berkeley Pit Lake we see today. Without the pumps to keep the thousands of miles of tunnels beneath the Butte Hill dry, surface runoff and seeping groundwater began to accumulate, eventually reaching the bottom of the Pit. Throughout the 80s and 90s, the water level in the Pit continued to rise, and today the Pit Lake is over 1000 feet deep.

The water in the Pit is highly acidic, with a pH of about 2.5. A process called Acid Rock or Acid Mine Drainage is the culprit. Not all of the rock extracted from the Butte Hill and the Berkeley is valuable. A high percentage is waste rock, and a considerable amount of waste rock still sits behind the Berkeley to the north and east.

Rock from the Butte ore body is high in sulfur, mainly in the form of iron pyrite or fool’s gold. When exposed to air and water, the iron pyrite is oxidized. Mixed with surface and ground water, the sulfur increases the acidity of the water. This increased acidity, in turn, causes the other metals present in the rock, such as copper, lead, cadmium, and zinc, to dissolve into the water.

In the case of the eastern slope of the Butte Hill, all of this Acid Rock Drainage water flows, either over the surface or through a natural cone of depression in the ground water table, into the Berkeley Pit Lake. In this way, the Berkeley is not all bad: the collection of acid water there prevents it from spreading elsewhere where it could potentially impact the Butte valley or, just downstream, the Clark Fork River.

While the Berkeley water is certainly toxic, it is not as deadly as some suppose. The acidity of the Pit, with a pH of 2.5, is about the same as the acidity of your favorite soft drink. In other words, the Pit water is not going to instantly dissolve anything that touches it. There have been incidents of bird deaths in the Pit resulting from birds drinking and swimming in the Pit water continuously for more than a day. Today, hazing activities prevent birds from spending too much time in the Berkeley.

The main human health risk from the Berkeley involves the possibility that the water level may some day rise high enough to infiltrate into surrounding ground water aquifers. Such an occurrence could potentially contaminate drinking water wells, or contaminate ground and surface water downstream.

The critical water level at which Berkeley water could spread out from the Pit is 5410 feet above sea level. The surface of the Pit Lake currently sits at 5282 feet above sea level. As the water level rises only a few feet each year, that leaves a lot of time before the critical level is approached. Current projections estimate that the Pit Lake will near the critical level some time after 2023.

A strategy is already in place to manage the Pit water when that time comes. In 2003, construction was completed on the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant on the northeast rim of the Pit (as pictured below). Already tested and used in Montana Resources nearby mining operations, the Treatment Plant will pump and treat the Berkeley Pit water before it reaches the critical level.

The water is treated by adding materials, primarily lime rock, that reduce the acidity. As the acidity decreases, the metals and other toxins dissolved in the water settle out in a solid “sludge.” This leftover sludge will be dumped into the Pit, in effect, backfilling it very slowly. Treated, clean Pit water will be used in Montana Resources mining operations or discharged into nearby Silver Bow Creek (pictured below just downstream and to the west of Butte and the Berkeley).

While the visual and scientific spectacle of the Pit is essential to our current understanding of it, the most important legacy of the Berkeley cannot be seen at the Pit itself. Over 300 million tons of ore came out of the Berkeley, and the copper from that ore gave electricity and light and development to the U.S. and beyond. The next time you flip on an electric light in the middle of the night, take a second to remember the Berkeley Pit, and the true cost of the development we enjoy and often take for granted today.

Want to learn more about the Berkeley Pit, past, present, and future, as well as other environmental reclamation projects around the Butte area? Join Justin Ringsak for a Clark Fork Watershed Education Program Science Café discussion on the Berkeley Pit on Friday, Oct. 30 from 5:00 to 6:00 P.M. at the Venus Rising Espresso House, corner of Park and Main in uptown Butte.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

2009 EcoDaredevil Award:
Call For Nominations

Attention: The deadline for the 2009 EcoDaredevil Award has been extended through September, 2009.

BUTTE, MT – The first annual EcoDaredevil Award was presented on Earth Day 2008 at Duke University in Durham, NC. On World Ocean Day, June 8th, 2009 we proudly announce our call for nominations for the second-annual EcoDaredevil Award. This year we will honor an EcoDaredevil from the legendary Evel Knievel's home state of Montana, with an award presentation on the campus of Montana Tech in September 2009. Nominations must be received by August 1, 2009. The 2009 EcoDaredevil winner will receive a cash award and other “green” prizes.

The first annual EcoDaredevil Award was presented to Duke doctoral student Elliott Hazen. An honorary award was also presented to Krysten Knievel, granddaughter of Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel, in recognition of Evel's inspiration for the EcoDaredevil Award. Mr. Hazen was one of the co-founders of GreenWave, a student-led sustainability movement at the Duke Marine Lab. He also instituted a Green by Design class at the Marine Lab bringing in all sorts of experts from business, fisheries etc. to come and chat about sustainability.

The 2009 award winner will be chosen by 1) a selection committee of nationally and regionally recognized environmental scientists and activists who will review all nominations; 2) peers via an on-line voting system. The 2009 EcoDaredevil Award will be announced in a ceremony at Montana Tech on Friday, September 18th on World Water Monitoring Day, an international education and outreach program that builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens to conduct basic monitoring of their local water bodies.

2009 Nominees must meet the following criteria:

- Be from the State of Montana;

- Age 18 to 35, or a recently (graduated this spring or enrolled for this fall) enrolled/graduated college (grad or undergrad) student;

-Has exceptionally fulfilled the core characteristics of what the EcoDaredevil Award signifies: courage, creativity and success (even failure if they’re back up and trying) in positively impacting environmental change through science, action, policy or the arts.

-Nominee must be nominated by a faculty member, researcher, student, peer or other member of the local, regional, national or international environmental community.

-Please submit nominations via email to by August 1, 2009. Please include the following information in your nomination, electronic submissions only (sent to ):




Year in school/college/major

An explanation of why the nominee is an EcoDaredevil (maximum of three, single-spaced, 12-point font pages)

At least two letters/emails of recommendation/support – one from a faculty/teacher; one from a student/peer; and/or one from a member of the community (state, local or other).

Supplements/supporting materials may include web links, articles, images of nominee's accomplishments, etc.

Entries will be judged upon 1) innovation/creativity of nominee's actions/accomplishments; 2) courage of nominee to perform in the face of adversity (i.e. difficulty of achievement exhibited by numbers, required time/timeliness, social/economic/political climate, etc.); 3) significance of nominee's impact on environmental change (sustainability and/or size of outcome(s); number of people affected, policies changed/implemented, honors received); 4) exceptional character exhibited by the nominee. [Note: In order to save your nomination, prepare the nomination with Word, pdf and submit as an attachment.]

Read more about the EcoDaredevil award at the EcoDaredevil blog:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

CFWEP Restoration & Education Newsletter: July 2009

The latest edition of CFWEP's Restoration & Education Newsletter is now available online (pdf format). Go to to download it and hear all the latest and greatest from up and down the Clark Fork Basin.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Now Accepting Applications for the River Rat Flyfishing Camp in August

CFWEP and the George Grant chapter of Trout Unlimited are teaming up to offer a week-long fly fishing camp for are students in August. Download the full application packet for complete camp details:
River Rat Flyfishing Camp Application (pdf)
River Rat Flyfishing Camp Application (doc)
Email any questions to Matt at
We'll see you on the river!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Guest Blog:
The World Needs Some EcoDaredevils
by Wallace J. Nichols, PhD

Back in the 1970s, many of us idolized Evel Knievel. He was a rock star, sports hero and folk legend in one. He was both a daredevil and a cool character. Back then, his jumps over buses, fountains and canyons inspired us to launch our bicycles into the air and over puddles, mounds of dirt and hapless friends.

Now, we find new inspiration in our childhood hero.

In 1961 Robert Craig Knievel, long before “Evel” became a household name, hitchhiked through the dead of winter from Butte to our nation’s capital to protest the culling of elk in Yellowstone National Park. He lugged the rack of a massive bull elk along as a gift. It dominated the White House office of Mike Manatos, assistant to John F. Kennedy.
The administration responded and many elk were saved via implementation of a transplant system.

Half a century later our country and our world face ever more serious environmental crises — loss of biodiversity, a warming planet, collapsing fisheries, looming food and water shortages for billions of people and the realization that our pollution has reached nearly every corner. Scientists forecast the 2050 Scenario as the convergence of a hotter, dirtier, more overcrowded Earth where nature will have been forgotten by most of the nine billion inhabitants who fight in violent wars for what’s left.

Jumping that chasm is the greatest challenge we have ever faced.
Waiting until later is foolish at best and disastrous at worst.

Solving the biggest problems we face will require the most revolutionarily of changes in society and technology, rather than incremental steps.

We must be brave, creative and outspoken enough to challenge the status quo in our respective industries, departments and neighborhoods. We must undertake the audacious, impossible and dangerous. We must risk financial, social and physical pain.

In other words, we must be EcoDaredevils.

EcoDaredevils are everywhere. They are musicians, inventors, investors, scientists, activists, engineers, students, artists and entrepreneurs. They are debating, creating, evolving — sometimes crashing — and always coming back for more.

Two Texas women cleaned up their beach and inspired the International Coastal Cleanup, a global volunteer movement a half a million strong.
Virgin Atlantic billionaire Sir Richard Branson is greening the aviation industry. Feliciano dos Santos campaigns for clean water in Africa with powerful music. In San Francisco, architect Renzo Piano designed the giant new roof of the California Academy of Sciences as a native meadow with solar panels. In Mexico, WaterKeeper Julio Solis drag races in Baja fishing villages to raise awareness of the ocean crisis.

Changing our light bulbs, inflating our tires and bringing our own bags are all important. But let’s be clear: it’s going to take actions far more thrilling and substantive for us to make it over this canyon.

For some, speaking up boldly about energy efficiency at the office is a risky bet. For others it may be a massive transformation to “green” their household. Others may undertake bolder actions at higher stakes. The point is to do something for the planet that feels like risk and derring-do — to you.

They say that Evel Knievel broke many, many bones, many times. But he kept on jumping his motorcycle through the air. “A man can fall many times, but he’s never a failure unless he refuses to get up,” is chiseled on Knievel’s headstone. He represented a combination of steely will, toughness, creativity and tenacity that enthralled me as an eight year old and still does.

Look inside yourself and grab a hold of your inner EcoDaredevil. Strap on your helmet, your red, white and blue leathers, and let’s go for a ride.

Nominate an EcoDaredevil for our 2009 Award.

For more on EcoDaredevil founder Wallace J. Nichols, visit

Thursday, May 21, 2009

2009-2010 Positions with the Milltown Dam Education Program in Missoula, MT

CFWEP is accepting applications for 2009-2010 positions with the Milltown Dam Education Program (MDEP) based in Missoula. For full details on available positions, download position descriptions:
Milltown Dam Education Program (MDEP) Position Descriptions (pdf)
Milltown Dam Education Program (MDEP) Position Descriptions (doc)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Summer Campus Corps Position with CFWEP

CFWEP is looking for a paid summer intern! For full details on the position, click here (pdf).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CFWEP Students Win BIG
At High School State Science Fair

Inadvertently left out of the last Restoration and Education Newsletter issue were Butte High science fair superstars, Chris Doyle and Danielle Bay. The two senior Bulldogs have worked the past two years radio-tracking a herd of transplanted bighorn sheep in The Highlands mountains south of Butte. The team won top honors in their category at both the Southwest Montana Regional and Montana State Science fairs. These gold medals advance Doyle and Bay to the International Science & Engineering Fair, to be held in Reno, NV later this month (we'll keep you posted on how they fare!).

Following is a guest blog written by their equally all-star studded scientist mentor, FWP biologist Vanna Boccadorri. The project has been a huge success due to the above-and-beyond efforts of Boccadori, not to mention very key support from the International Elecrical and Electronics Enigneers (IEEE) Butte Chapter and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS). Thanks to all and CONGRATULATIONS, CHRIS AND DANIELLE...and VANNA!

A Tale From the Highlands Bighorn Sheep Herd

Vanna Boccadori
Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks

“Once upon a time in a land not so far away, there were some bighorn sheep wearing radio collars that were transplanted to the Highland Mountains, south of Butte, MT….”. Okay, while this is not a fairy tale, it is a story with a happy ending.

Four years ago I became the Butte Area Wildlife Biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. In addition to managing the wildlife in one of the most beautiful corners of Montana, I was also handed the responsibility of managing the Highlands bighorn sheep herd, whose range included the Highlands and East Pioneer Mountains. The Highlands herd, as it is popularly known, was once a thriving population of bighorn sheep known for its abundance of trophy rams. Unfortunately, in the mid 1990’s, the herd suffered an all-age die-off that left less than one hundred surviving individuals. Since then, the herd has struggled to rebuild itself.

In an effort to help the population along, the management decision was made to relocate sheep to the Highlands. In February 2007, seventeen bighorn sheep were transplanted from the Ruby Mountains and in January 2008, sixty-five sheep were transplanted from the Sun River herd. Amongst these, radio collars were placed on twenty-five adult ewes so that their post-release movements could be monitored. A big thanks to Montana FNAWS for funding a portion of the collars as well as some of the capture expense (along with the National FNAWS and several other state chapters).

After the first transplant, an article appeared in the local paper describing the event, including mention of the fact that some of the sheep were radio-collared so that they could be tracked. Enter Matt Vincent, director of the Clark Fork Watershed Educational Program (CFWEP). CFWEP is a nonprofit, place-based, hands-on science program for local school kids aimed at instilling an understanding and appreciation of their local environment.

Matt stopped by my office after reading the article and asked if there was a way to involve local high school kids in tracking the sheep. Sounded reasonable to me – more eyes and ears out there checking on the sheep, plus fresher legs than mine climbing up and down mountains in search of those nimble critters. It didn’t take much effort to recruit more than a dozen high school students and several of their science teachers to sign up for what quickly became known simply as “The Sheep Project”. So in March 2007, I and wildlife manager Kurt Alt spent a day in the field training the students and their teachers how to track the radio-collared sheep using telemetry equipment, how to map sheep locations on topographical maps, and how to collect group composition and habitat data.

The students were then organized into groups, with teachers, CFWEP staff, myself, an FWP wildlife technician, and occasionally parents, serving as chaperones. Each weekend, a group of volunteer trackers would grab the box of tracking supplies from my office and head to the hills, tracking sheep and gathering useful data.

Over the past two years, the students and chaperones have logged more than 150 tracker days, more than 20 students spent at least one day in the field tracking sheep, more than half of those students stayed involved with the project for at least one year, and four students stayed involved for both years of the project. Three of these student trackers went on to get seasonal employment with FWP and several of them helped me at check stations in the fall.

Two Butte High students, Danielle Bay and Chris Doyle, who have been with the project since its beginning, when they were sophomores, asked if they could use the data we’d been collecting to put together a project for Science Fair. So this past winter, I worked with Chris and Danielle, now seniors, to compile and analyze the bighorn sheep data in order to address the hypotheses of their study. The result was a 40-page report and a knock-out display board that earned them not only first place at both the regional and state level, but also garnered them scholarship money and the grand prize of an all-expense paid trip to Reno, NV in May to compete at the national Science Fair.

Overall, The Sheep Project has been a successful endeavor in that much more monitoring of the sheep occurred than if I was doing it myself, and several local students and teachers now have a much greater awareness of bighorn sheep and are likely to keep this interest for their lifetime and share it with others. I owe a sincere thanks to all the volunteers on the project, Matt Vincent and his CFWEP staff, FWP folks who helped out, and the MT-FNAWS Board, especially Casey Johnston!

Montana Chapter FNAWS has been incredibly supportive of the Highlands Sheep Project and the involvement with the students. They invited Chris and Danielle to present their study at the annual banquet in Bozeman this past March, and generously allowed me to auction off a day in the field tracking sheep with the students, with 100% of the bid to go directly back to this project. Even more generous, MT-FNAWS matched the high bid of $450 (paid by an equally generous couple from Colstrip) so now there is $900 earmarked for the continuation of the Sheep Project. This money will go towards reimbursing the students for gas money for their vehicles when they are tracking sheep, and other needed supplies. Out of gratitude for all the support MT-FNAWS has given the Highlands Sheep Project, four of the students became new members of the Chapter this year.

Moving forward, the Highlands Sheep Project will continue, providing a venue for local students to grow their appreciation and interest in the Highlands bighorn sheep herd. I will step out of the role as project leader and hand this duty over to Matt Vincent and his staff at CFWEP, who are better equipped than I to handle the logistics of the project and keep it going. This will allow me to focus on other aspects of the Highlands sheep management that require more rigorous attention. I will stay involved with the Sheep Project as a “technical advisor”, providing management perspective and context to future student research and Science Fair projects. I look forward to many more productive years working with MT-FNAWS to put sheep and students on the mountain!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Earth Day Film Showings at Montana Tech

In honor of Earth Day 2009, the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program (CFWEP) is hosting free film showings at Montana Tech on Tuesday, April 21 and Wednesday, April 22. Film showings begin at 7:00 p.m. each evening in Room 101 of the Chemistry & Biology Building on the Montana Tech campus. Brief discussions will follow each film. The featured films all address conservation and environmental topics.

On Tuesday, April 21, the featured films are Bugs of the Underworld and Red Gold. In Bugs of the Underworld, extraordinary, award-winning underwater video footage follows the life cycles of mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, and other amazing stream bugs. In Red Gold, flyfishers and salmon enthusiasts will gain valuable insights as they see an award-winning documentary weighing the economic and ecological impacts of the Pebble Mine, a proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine and the sockeye salmon fishery of Bristol Bay, Alaska.

On Wednesday, April 22, the featured films are The Legendary Mountain, The Lorax, and Mining Camp Makeover. The Legendary Mountain, an Anaconda Company production from 1974 about Butte and the mining and smelting process, presents a unique take on the city and the industry that built it. The animated featured The Lorax brings Dr. Seuss’ classic cautionary tale about our relationship with the natural world to life. Finally, Mining Camp Makeover, produced by BP-Arco, summarizes the recent environmental clean-up and restoration work in the Butte and Anaconda areas.

For more information, visit the CFWEP website at, or contact Justin Ringsak, 406-491-0922,

Thursday, April 16, 2009

CFWEP Restoration & Education
Newsletter: April 09 Edition

The latest edition of CFWEP's Restoration & Education Newsletter is now available online (pdf format). Go to to download it and hear all the latest and greatest from up and down the Clark Fork Basin.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Community Rallies
‘Round Silver Bow Creek

During a sunny April evening at the Butte Chamber Visitor Center on the banks of Blacktail Creek, Butte musician Mike Tierney sang about Evel Knievel while a group of eager Cub Scouts and other kids dove into sample buckets of live aquatic bugs from Blacktail and Silver Bow Creeks. Other youngsters drew colorful sketches on the sidewalks with the assistance of artist Shawn Crowe from the Butte-Silver Bow Arts Foundation. As the kids learned the basics of stream assessment, their parents and other local citizens learned about the past and future of the Silver Bow Creek restoration from local community members and agency representatives active in the restoration process. Through the work of the Citizens Technical Environmental Committee (CTEC), the Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee (CFRTAC) and CFWEP, Butte came together to show support for restoration at the Rally ‘Round the Creek.

While CFWEP was on hand to provide stream bugs and to run a mini-field trip on basic stream assessment, presentations on Silver Bow Creek by Ian Macgruder from Kirk Engineering and Jim Kuipers from Kuipers & Associates were the centerpiece of the Rally. Ian and Jim are the technical advisors to CTEC and CFRTAC, respectively, and they discussed the Superfund process, which is not exactly speedy, and potential recontamination issues to keep in mind as the community looks toward the future of Silver Bow Creek.

Historically, Silver Bow Creek was used by Butte mining interests as an industrial sewer to remove mine tailings wastes from the immediate area, causing them to settle in the creek channel and throughout the floodplain. The sandy looking material in the Google Earth image below is tailings.

Ongoing remediation and restoration has removed tailings from the floodplain and streambed. Clean soil is hauled in, and the channel is then rebuilt and revegetated.

Restored sections of Silver Bow Creek like this reach near Ramsay show vast improvement in terms of vegetation and water quality.

Different sites along the Upper Clark Fork River are being remediated and restored on different schedules. In an ideal world, the clean-up would proceed from the headwaters around Butte and Anaconda downstream to Deer Lodge and the Milltown Dam near Missoula. In reality, Superfund is a complex process that involves a lot of negotiating between the Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Montana, local governments, and the Potentially Responsible Parties, or PRPs, a technical term for the private companies liable for environmental damages.

Due to the nature of the Superfund beast, downstream sites like the Milltown Dam and portions of Silver Bow Creek are being restored prior to completion of work on the primary sources of contamination around the Anaconda smelter site and the mine dumps of the Butte hill. While a lot of good work has been done downstream and around the headwaters, because mining and smelting wastes in Butte and Anaconda are being left in place and treated on site, the potential for recontamination of Silver Bow Creek and the Clark Fork from surface runoff, while low, does certainly exist. CTEC and CFRTAC are committed to keep the communities of the basin informed of such issues as the restoration continues to move forward.

Restoration doesn’t occur overnight, and even when completed, monitoring and maintenance are necessary to ensure the long term health of the environment. By coming out to support the success of the amazing Silver Bow Creek restoration up to this point, and by looking to the future, Butte and the surrounding communities are cruising right along on the road to environmental recovery.
  • Read about the Rally in The Montana Standard here.
  • Get the latest Silver Bow Creek update from the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality and the Natural Resource Damages Program here (pdf file).

Get Out on the River:
CFWEP Seeking Spring Fieldtrip Volunteers

We are looking for watershed experts and interested local citizens to serve as fieldtrip leader volunteers for our school visits.

Spring 2009 Semester School Fieldtrips: 7th Grade
Thursday, April 23rd: Anaconda Middle School @ Anaconda
Thursday, April 30: Ramsay School @ Ramsay (7 & 8th grade)
Thursday, May 7th: Philipsburg School @ Philipsburg
Thursday, May 14th: East Middle School @ Butte
Friday, May 15th: East Middle School @ Butte
Friday, May 29: Deer Lodge School @ Deer Lodge (8th grade)
All fieldtrips run ~8:30am – 1:30pm

Fieldtrip Volunteer Training
Thursday April 30, 2009 -- 5 – 6pm
Location: Montana Tech Student Union Building
Hear what CFWEP is, learn about our school visits and gain the ability to be a fieldtrip leader using our protocols. Not required to be a volunteer, but will help you immensely. RSVP advised.

Additional opportunities available. To RSVP for training or for more information:
Jen Titus, CFWEP Field Coordinator
496 - 4691,
Montana Tech Petroleum Building Room 003

Jen Titus is the Montana Water Educator of the Year!

In the world of environmental education, no one is doing it for the money. The work is its own reward, but a little recognition never hurts. Every year, the Montana Environmental Education Association (MEEA) honors those dedicated individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty with the Water Educator of the Year award. At the 2009 MEEA Conference in Helena on Friday, March 20th, the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program’s own Jennifer Titus received the Water Educator of the Year award before a crowd of teachers, administrators, informal educators, and state agency reps from Montana’s environmental education community.

It’s a good time for us at CFWEP to thank Jen for her hard work and commitment, and also to look back on all of the amazing things she has done not only for our program, but for literally thousands of students and teachers across Montana.

Jen came to the CFWEP in 2006 as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA). At the time, CFWEP was a fledging program just getting off the ground. Jen took to CFWEP like a stonefly to clear, rushing water. She quickly put her own touches and improvements on the program’s curriculum. The lessons cover environmental science education and the environmental history of the Clark Fork Basin, the nation’s largest complex of Superfund environmental clean-up sites. Not only was Jen instrumental in developing the CFWEP curriculum, but she has also spent thousands of hours traveling across western Montana, visiting classrooms, delivering lessons, coordinating activities, supporting teachers, and leading field trips. Her teaching has always received stellar reviews from both teachers and students, and she is in great demand around the basin.

As part of her work, Jen has helped forge a network of expert volunteers and scientists from around the region, bringing them into classrooms and into the field, where they work directly with students as volunteer field station leaders and guest lecturers. Because of Jen’s dedication, thousands of Montana students have been exposed to biologists, engineers, geologists, foresters, and more from groups like Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP); the Forest Service; the Montana University System; the Department of Environmental Quality; and the Natural Resource Damages Program, to name just a few.

Jen’s work doesn’t stop there. She has also has been key in soliciting the support of several local chapters of Trout Unlimited (TU) and FWP to create a successful Trout in the Classroom program for eight western Montana schools. Under this unique program, classes receive a trout tank, paid for by a TU chapter, and trout eggs donated from FWP hatcheries. As the eggs hatch and the young trout develop in their classroom, teachers and students launch into a wide variety of topics, from biology to ecosystem studies. Jen personally travels to each school to set-up the tanks and show teachers and students how to maintain them, and she also spends a day with each participating class, leading them in a trout dissection with fish again donated from state hatcheries.

In the past year, Jen also took the initiative in creating an after-school science mentorship program at East Middle School in Butte (for more, refer to the science fair article in this newsletter). The program pairs students with scientist-mentors who help to guide and advise the students in creating and executing a research project for the local science fair.

While most of Jen’s time is spent working directly with students, she has also served the region’s teachers through CFWEP’s numerous teacher training programs. Through workshops and other professional development programs, Jen has shared environmental science curriculum materials, lessons, activities and information about the Clark Fork Basin environment with more than 100 teachers. After a few hours with Jen, teachers are much better equipped to return to their own classrooms and incorporate environmental education into their everyday lessons. Aside from the CFWEP core curriculum, Jen has also developed other environmental education lessons and activities that she is eager to share with teachers and students.

Her professional accomplishments aside, Jen is also an amazing environmental educator on a personal level. Her enthusiasm for the environment and for teaching is unmatched, and it is contagious, leading students and teachers to develop relationships with her outside of the classroom. Jen is always urging students to take action, to not only learn about their environment, but to work to promote its health. She never talks down to students, and she particularly excels at communicating the complexities of environmental science to students in language they can understand. Ask her about her Harry the Raindrop story sometime; it explains the water cycle in a way that makes it perfectly understandable to grade school students, and it’s a great little piece of storytelling.

We can imagine no one more deserving of the Water Educator of the Year award than Jen, not only for what she has done for CFWEP, but for what she has done for so many students, teachers and scientists in western Montana. Jen brings people together, and brings the environment to people in ways that are fun, relevant and educational. She truly deserves our sincere thanks and appreciation. Congratulations Jen!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

CFWEP Restoration & Education Newsletter - Feb 09 Edition

The latest edition of CFWEP's Restoration & Education Newsletter is now available online (pdf format). Go to to download it and hear all the latest and greatest from up and down the Clark Fork Basin.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"A Missoula County Almanac" in the making?

University of Montana Environmental Studies graduate student Bethany Taylor is back with a new blog. In fulfillment of her Campus Corps volunteer position and supplementing the CFWEP's work in the Missoula schools with Milltown Dam and Clark Fork curriculum and activities, Bethany is assisting classes in learning about nature and environmental on!

I recently worked with some Missoula area 8th grade students in their Language Arts class. While this may not seem like the traditional venue for environmental science, it was a great chance to remind students that even if you aren’t a genius in Chemistry, there are still ways you can use your talents towards environmental preservation.
Here is a sampling of the students’ work:

The assignment “What do you think Nature and Environmental Writing are?” elicited a variety of responses.

From Elizabeth—“Flowing streams and gentle winds live silently and continue their varied paths as everything grows around them. A new obstacle is simply overcome by going over it or around it. A fallen tree in a creek creates a barrier and the water eventually finds its way around it and continues its way.
We, as humans, cannot go around our problems without paying them a visit later, but like the water we find a way to deal with it.
Similarities can be found with humans and nature and are easily conveyed through environmental writing. Take for example, our Earth, it goes through natural warming and cooling periods, almost as if it were sick. I am well aware that I do the same things. When ill, the body is overheated and sweats. The persperation then cools down and the body shivers, trying to warm itself? Could it be possible the Earth is the same?
I feel little through most environmental writing and can hardly bear to sit through while my eyes skim and re-skim the meaningless words.
However, if the writing was taken to a more creative level instead of the usual extremely seriousness, I’m sure it would be more interesting not only to me, but to many others.
Environmental writing is usually very opinionated and hardly even shows the other side of the story. It speaks the truth of things and tells you many things that you have no previous knowledge of.
I hardly find that this kind of writing affects me but I’m aware that my surroundings do. As winter approaches, a bear prepares itself for hibernation by filling up its fat supply. I prepare for winter by getting out my warm coat.
However, if there wasn’t a cold winter here I would prepare differently. Our environment affects how we dress, what we eat, and more.
Our animal friends face a much more harsh change than we do. Some travel long distances, others grow more hair and eat less.
There are many similarities between nature and our own life if only we look closer. Environmental writing looks very deeply into these and many more subjects, and I believe we could learn much from it.”

From Lauren—“I think that nature writing is any sort of writing that shows any connection to nature. Whether you are making comparisons between humans and nature, animals and nature, or nature and nature. So, you might read nature writing and not even know it because it doesn’t have to be direct. There is a large range of nature writing, and it doesn’t all have to be boring. Yes, it is possible for nature writing to be interesting and even enjoyable to read. But many people and teens wonder, ‘ok, so someone took the time to write a nature journal. What’s it to me?’ Let me explain the importance of nature writing.
First, it makes you more aware of your climate. Whether it’s your neighborhood or the world, nature writing gives you an insight to the issues of the natural world around us. What we need to change, what we need to stop, and what we need to fix. This kind of writing brings a level of awareness to us. It is possible to watch a movie or look up a website about global warming (or global climate change); a book better describes the situation to the reader. Or so that’s what my opinion is.
Next nature writing allows you to have more insight into other ecosystems. Although we all live in different locations and climates, the competition between humans and nature is ever going, just more prominent in some places. I think that it is comforting, subconsciously, to read about other people’s problems, just to be reassured that you aren’t the only one. Even if your issue isn’t nature related. It also makes me feel closer to the people who’s home you are reading about. That, despite the foreign ethnic backgrounds, you are both humans and both defy nature to live every day.
Finally, it is an experience nothing else can bring. Reading about something that is so different yet so similar to the ecosystem that you live in is something for everyone to experience because only when we make the connections will we be connected.
So, even though people might wave off nature writing, read it. It will be an experience unlike any other.”

From Braeden—“To me, nature writing it someone writing about their thoughts with nature. Like someone saying ‘I saw a cow’ isn’t nature writing, but someone saying ‘The great tree is a symbol of all that is harmony in the environments’ is nature writing. But to me, nature writing is a very dry subject. From the few chapters we read from “The Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold who dies in 1948 and was inducted into the Conservation Hall of Fame in 1965. I didn’t even know that they had a National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame. I mean, I’ve heard of sports Hall of Fame, but I’ve never heard of a National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame. So this whole National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame topic is pretty new to me. I don’t know how many people are in National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame but it can’t be that many. Anyway, back to nature writing. I still believe it will always be a dry subject to me. Maybe if there is a book about nature that is really interesting and has a plot then maybe it would change my mind and I might vote to induct the author to the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame. But until that happens, I will always think it is a dry subject. It doesn’t have a plot which I can’t stand in a book. It doesn’t have any action, or adventure, or comedy, which, again, I can’t stand a book not to have. I never complained about “The Westing Game” or the other book we read. But nature writing is pretty awful. I really wish we would switch to a book with more of a plot instead of reading “Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold, who was inducted into the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame in 1969.
Still Nature Writing is a very dry subject, I don’t know how people can fill up whole books with ‘the rabbit was running across the field being chased by a dog. All of nature is going like clockwork right now.’ How someone could fill up 250 pages like that is beyond me. How someone could fill up a whole book with ‘nature is all in harmony, how beautiful.’ How someone could get published with a book without a plot and is so very dry frustrates me. I now have a new least favorite type of book: the plotless ones. This type of book infuriates me. This is what I think of your nature writing.
So now you know, next time let’s read a book with a plot or some action or adventure. Or we can read a book with comedy. Or maybe a book like “The Red Kayak” or maybe another book like “The Westing Game.” Instead of learning about National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame. So there, that’s what I think of your “Nature Writing.” Take that society.”

Their next assignment was to write about a place that they would cry if it were destroyed, and what they would do about it.

From Malia—“There are many places in the world that I would cry if they got ruined. The most important place is though is my house. It is the most important place to be because it is where I have lived my whole life. Also, I have so many memories and I have all my possessions in it I would be so sad if my house burned down in a fire.
My house right now is the only place I have ever lived in. if I had to live in a new house, none of the rest of my life would be the same. I love my house so much, I would hate to have it burned down, because I have so many memories.
My memories in my house have been so abundant. Everyday at school, I have a new story to tell my friends. Some stories about my brother, my pets, my room. There is never an alike day in my life. Every day when I go home and relax, I just think about how much I love my house. I can still remember when I was five and my neighbor and I would play. We would go run outside, play on swingsets, do cartwheels, and play tag. There is so much in store for you when you have a house to live in that you love, and have your past in.
My whole life is in my house. I have my most valuable possessions, such as my iPod, phone, computers. But also I have more valuable things. I have a tree where my dog was buried. Also, there is my birth certificate, things from my younger childhood, and so much more that I don’t know how I could ever let those things go.
Everyday is a new day with new moments and memories. Every memory stacks up through the days, years, decades. If you appreciate your home, and life, you will be a great person. I love my life and everything that is important in it. I would cry if I lost my house.”

Malia wasn’t the only student who wrote about her house being the most important, which got into an interesting discussion about how the root of ecology is oikos, the Greek word for house, and what that means in terms of ecology and seeing the world as connected.

The final assignment was to write poems about where the students feel that they are from:

From Aaron—
“I am from a tennis court where I learned the game
I am from the black top where champions live
I am from Spokane where friendships lie
I am from Bozeman where sportsmanship lives
I am from Wimbledon where upsets roar
I am from the diamond where dreams remain
I am from the backyard and driveway basketball
I am from Great Falls where the biggest match becomes the funnest”

From Stacia—
“I am from the woods outside of my grandparent’s back door
I am from listening to the little birds and watching the squirrels when I was little
I am from little secret picnics that my grandma made me when I was young
I am from always being surrounded by protective mountains.
I am from playing on the swingset for hours in the hot summer sun.
I am from building teepees out of sticks and blankets
I am from making mud slides on the side of a hill
I am from climbing the oak tree and eating rhubarb out of the garden.
I am from just loving to be outdoors.”

From Braeden, (the same one who finds nature writing dry and plotless)—
“I am from standing on cold rocks in a creek
and running through meadows, sneezing with hay fever
from sprinting and tripping
and sliding and slipping
I am from running after what I thought was an ice cream truck
and then crying because I didn’t get any ice cream
from eating a large popcorn and puking at the movie theater
and thinking “shut up” was a bad word.
I am from watching “Dumbo” six times a day.
I am from Montana, and I always will be.”

They were a bright, cooperative, well-spoken and well-written class; my thanks to them and to their teacher for giving me the opportunity to work with them.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Underground Tale of the Pasty

The CFWEP hosted a teachers workshop for its Milltown Dam and Clark Fork Virtual Education Portal (formerly "the trunks") this weekend at the Bonner School in Bonner.

We were treated with 27 teachers, eager to learn and very interested in hearing the science, stories and lessons of the Upper Clark Fork.

Upon a few individuals request, below is the recount of the story behind the Cornish pasty: staple food of underground miners for centuries and one of the trademark tastes of The Mining City....enjoy the story, and your next pasty!

When trying to teach kids about subjects that might seem complicated, like science, it always helps to use anecdotes that relate to things they can easily understand. In working with the students of the Upper Clark Fork basin, helping them to learn the health affects of some of the toxic substances found in mining wastes, like arsenic, lead and mercury, I’ve made it a point to use Butte’s hallmark entrée, the pasty.
Of course, we all like to think of the pasty being as Butte as Butte can be. However, just like the mining that made our town famous, the pasty too hails from some place else. Cornwall, England. The rich tin and copper mines in this southwestern-most region of the Old Country can be traced to 2000 B.C. Mention of the Cornish pasty can be found as far back as the 1200s. Mining’s importance in their culture can be summed up with a common Cornish definition: “A mine is a hole anywhere in the world with at least one Cornishman at the bottom of it.”
When mining began to peter out in Cornwall in the late 1800s, the “Cousin Jacks,” as they were known, emigrated to the mining meccas abroad, like Michigan’s Copper Country and of course, Butte, to carry on their historic skills. They also brought with them the pasty.
So how do you explain the human health affects from heavy metals and arsenic through a hand-held meat and potato pie? It turns out that the Cousin Jacks didn’t eat pasties just because they tasted great and were more filling than most other lunches you could take underground.

Talk to anyone who’s worked below, or take a peak at a historic photo of the working folk from Butte’s heyday: Underground mining is a dirty business, perhaps the dirtiest of them all. A shift underground would cover you from head to toe and then some in the mine’s dirt, dust, muck and mire. And although they were mining copper, silver, tin, whatever the moneymaker happened to be in the rock, there came with it all the other geologic tagalongs not so desirable, like arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, toxins that will eventually wreak havoc on a man’s health.
The two major pathways for these poisons to make it into our bodies is either breathing it in (inhalation) or eating it (consumption). Once a man went underground to work, there wasn’t any coming back up to the surface until the end of his day, unless he came up dead or maimed. In the days before respirators and dust masks, there wasn’t much a miner could do to keep from inhaling the metals-laden dusts, save for holding his breath – an impossibility over an entire shift. Many figured that inhaling the dust through the filter of a cigarette was better than nothing – even though there were “NO SMOKING” signs posted in the Butte mines in 16 different languages. And there certainly weren’t any faucets or trusted methods of washing away the grime from your face or hands before lunchtime.

Prior to the pasty, miners in Cornwall probably ingested an equal amount of poison for every bite of nourishment he ate. Chronic diseases from arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals poisoning like cancer, ulcers and Mad Hatter’s disease were traced to the ingestion of these ubiquitous mining toxins early on. That didn’t mean a miner was going to stop eating underground. Hats off to the wives of Cornwall for fashioning a tasty solution to the problem.
The traditional Cornish pasty had a pinched crust much thicker than the ones on the pasties we eat today. The large, thick crust on the side of the original pasties was put on to serve as a handle, something the miners could hold on to with their filthy hands, while they ate the rest of the pie untouched and therefore, untainted with whatever might be clinging to his fingers.

Another note of difference between today’s pasty and the original is that the first pasties usually had rutabagas or turnips in them along with the standard meat and potatoes. Some wives added an extra treat: a compartment that held a fruit filling at one end to serve as “dessert.” When the miners were finished eating the filling, all they had to do was chuck the crusty handle and go back to work. It was also said that the throwing of the crust into the mines was a token of bribery or maybe even respect to the underground spirits or “knockers.” The knockers were blamed for knocking down big rocks, the “Duggans,” from above, under which many an underground toiler perished. The miners figured the ruthless spirits would be less likely to do so if their presence was acknowledged by the tossing of a tasty scrap of crust and perhaps a quick Hail Mary. There were well over 2,000 men who died in Butte’s underground mines over their operation. Only the knockers know how many pasty crusts were left behind and eaten.

So the next time you don’t have the time or facilities to wash your dirty hands before eating lunch, grab on to a pasty and don’t forget to leave the crust behind. Your body will thank you and so will the knockers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Guest Blog: Science vs "Science"

You may have heard that Yellowstone National Park is experiencing an unusual number of earthquakes. If you have been following the news, you will know that Yellowstone is a dormant, but not dead, volcano, and that it is a zone of relatively high earthquake activity even at the best of times. In late December, seismic activity ramped up, causing fears of cataclysm in the form of giant volcanic eruptions, poison gas, and/or boiling lava.

Some of the misinformation circulating the internet about the significance of that activity is downright laughable, but some of it is downright dangerous. The facts are readily available at, but what I want to address here is the difference between information posted by legitimate researchers in legitimate articles, and the un-scrutinized ramblings of bloggers [like me??? Never!].

Here are my main points:

  1. There IS a difference between the ideas presented by someone in their own blog or on their own website, and those presented in legitimate scientific journals. Any blogger can have a thought, write it down, and send it out to the World Wide Web for anyone to view. Even the most informed and reasoned thoughts sent out this way do not have the reliability of ideas that are published in a scientific journal and supported by data and analysis. Articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals present data and conclusions that have survived careful scrutiny and even attack by any number of other scientists. That is what “peer review” means.

  2. Real science is gladiatorial. Every research scientist out there has two main goals in life: 1. prove that her/his ideas are sound, and 2. prove that competing ideas are not. Scientists learn early in their careers that there is little to be gained by going along with what has been done in the past. They must carve out their own niche by being right where others have been wrong. This means being intensely critical of others’ data and conclusions. It also means trying to produce data and conclusions that withstand the criticisms of the other gladiators. By the time a researcher publishes a study in a peer-reviewed journal it has been scrutinized many times by other scientists, not the least during the peer review process. And the scientists who review the articles (typically at least 3 for each paper) are not thinking “What can I do to make this scientist and her study look good?”, they are thinking “What are the flaws in this study and how can I prove it wrong?”

  3. Even the nicest reviewer will reject a flawed paper. And even the best paper will receive negative comments from reviewers. I have not published as much as many scientists, but I have gone through the peer-review process more than a dozen times, so I know how it works. Run this by your scientist friends if they don’t tell you the same thing: no paper comes back from the reviewers without red marks all over it. Most scientists I know have a routine for dealing with reviews, which involves scanning them quickly once, putting them down, and then going for a long walk (or a workout or a stiff drink) to get past the invariable pissed-off-must-control-fist-of-death fury elicited by the reviewers’ comments. It may take as long as a week to calm down enough to go back and take the reviews seriously. And it may take many months to address all the concerns about the study that have been raised.

  4. It may be hard to convince a scientist that they have been wrong, but most will face up to new data and better reasoning and alter their conclusions accordingly.
    This is not true of those who fill their own web pages with long, windy, and often very detailed exposés of evolutionary science or of the USGS reports on the non-life-threatening activities in Yellowstone Park. A theory that cannot be proven wrong is not a scientific theory. A scientific theory cannot be PROVEN right – at best it can be supported by data and observations. Evolution is a theory that is supported by all available data. Plate tectonics is another. Gravity is another. This brings me to my final point.

  5. The PhD granting institutions of this world are not cranking out scientists who are trying to bolster the theories of evolution or plate tectonics or gravity.
    There is not a legitimate scientist in this world who doesn’t dream of being the one who shoots down the biggest and best theories out there. And believe me, if they had the evidence to disprove one of these theories, they wouldn’t publish it in a blog or in a letter to the editor. It would be front page in “Nature” or “Science” (two of the leading peer-reviewed journals on the planet).

Bottom line: Think twice about casually dismissing studies that have undergone scientific review. And think three times about casually accepting those that have not.

-Colleen Elliott, PhD

Dr. Elliott is a geologist with the Montana Bureau of Mines & Geology and a founder and former Director of the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program. She is an experienced teacher and scientist, and, even though she lives in Butte, MT, she isn't worried about Yellowstone blowing up.