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 (http://www.timberline-resources.com/) 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 http://www.thegreatturning.net/ 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 ecodaredevil.blogspot.com. For more on the Story of Stuff, visit http://www.storyofstuff.com/.

-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 aalvarado@mtech.edu for a full schedule of volunteer opportunities.


-Arlene Alvarado, CFWEP Field Coordinator