Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer 2010 Restoration Around the Clark Fork Basin


While the EPA Five-Year Review of Butte Superfund sites continues, reclamation and restoration work is still ongoing in the area. At the top of the Butte hill near Walkerville construction will be completed in 2010 on the Granite Mountain Memorial Interpretive Area. The Memorial itself is being expanded, and an already partially-completed trail will connect that area to the greater uptown Butte trail system. This new trail will provide the public with access to the historic Foreman’s Park near the Mountain Con mine yard.

Monitoring of stormwater and groundwater is also ongoing to insure that metals and other mining contaminants from the Butte hill do not recontaminate the restored Silver Bow Creek. New groundwater monitoring wells are being installed near the historic Silver Bow Creek channel, commonly known as the Metro Storm Drain, and also in Lower Area One on the west side of the Butte, where treatment lagoons capture contaminated groundwater and surface water to prevent contamination from reaching Silver Bow Creek.

Beyond 2010 the Metro Storm Drain and Lower Area One treatment lagoons will be evaluated; best management practices for stormwater will be implemented; the Butte Reclamation Evaluation System will continue to monitor capped mine dumps on the Butte hill to ensure that historic mine wastes are not spreading; and the voluntary Residential Metals Abatement Program will continue to assist residents in assessing and removing historic wastes present in Butte homes.

Work also continues on the restoration of Silver Bow Creek. Through the summer, crews are removing mine waste and restoring the creek through Durant Canyon and near Fairmont Hot Springs.
Above: A restored reach of Silver Bow Creek near Butte shows a developing riparian plant community.
Above: An unrestored reach of Silver Bow Creek near Anaconda has little vegetation along the streambank due to the presence of mine tailings; these acid and heavy metal-laden soils prevent most plants from growing. This reach is slated for restoration in the next 1-2 years.


A lot of clean-up is underway in Anaconda, including reclamation north of Warm Springs Creek near the Galen Highway; clean-up of the Airport property; and Montana DEQ will begin reclamation on Stucky Ridge. Clean-up also continues along rail lines and rail yards.

In 2010, EPA will begin the fourth Five-Year Review of the Anaconda Smelter site. Reviews address portions of the site where remedial construction has been completed and where EPA has determined the remedy is operational and functional.

Next door at Opportunity, management continues at the BP-Arco Waste Repository.
The site, formerly the Opportunity Ponds, was a tailings repository for the Anaconda Smelter. It covers an area of over five square miles, with deposits of mine waste averaging about 20 feet deep. Due to that considerable volume of contamination, wastes removed from elsewhere in the Clark Fork Basin are transported to the Opportunity Ponds site. Topsoils are then revegetated to reduce erosion.

During the five-year review of Anaconda sites, EPA and DEQ welcome public comments regarding Anaconda-area work, and comments may help to determine recommendations for the future. Citizens may send written comments through May 28 to:

Charlie Coleman
Remedial Project Manager
10 West 15th Street, Suite 3200
Helena, MT 59626; or

John Brown
Superfund Project Officer
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, MT 59620-0901.

Milltown Area

At the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers, the last trainload of contaminated sediments left the Milltown site on September 24, 2009. Work still continues at the site to restore the historic stream channel. The Clark Fork River is currently diverted until that work can be completed. Once that work is done, restoration of the greater confluence site will begin.

The Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee (CFRTAC) has a wealth of additional information on their website at http://www.cfrtac.org/.

Checking In with Clark Fork Ecosystems
and Spring Field Season Photos

CFWEP’s spring field season started off cold and windy, but things have been warming nicely. So far, CFWEP has collected field data with four Butte area schools: Butte Central, Fred Moodry Middle School, Ramsay Middle School, and East Middle School.

Fred Moodry Middle School sampled water chemistry, vegetation, macroinvertebrates and soil from Silver Bow Creek near Anaconda (a mining-impacted site) and from the unimpacted Warm Springs Creek in Anaconda. The students findings were striking. For example, the conductivity at the impacted site was twice as high as the unimpacted site, indicating that there were more dissolved particles at that location on Silver Bow Creek. Both sites had a high diversity of macroinvertebrates, but only unimpacted Warm Springs Creek had stonefly and mayfly larvae, which are the most sensitive indicators of healthy streams. The students found a high diversity of vegetation at the unimpacted site, with a healthy mix of ground cover, understory and over story, while the impacated site vegetation habitat consisted of tailings, bare ground and pollution tolerant plants. All of the students clearly enjoyed their field trips, and kudos to them for braving sometimes wet, windy, cold conditions to do science.

Below are photos from various winter-spring 2010 field trips and education projects.

Butte students help to improve the Butte stormwater system that discharges into Silver Bow Creek.

Students visit the Kalsta Ranch on the Big Hole River on a recent field trip.

Students from Bonner visit the Berkeley Pit as part of a field trip to Butte.

Anaconda students visit the BP-Arco Waste Repository, formerly known as the Opportunity Ponds.

NRDP Funds Proposed for New Projects

The State of Montana’s Natural Resource Damages Program (NRDP) administers Clark Fork restoration settlement funds through an annual grant process. Montana's governor makes the final funding decisions on grant projects. The UCFRB Remediation and Restoration Advisory Council advises the governor on the restoration process and funding. To date, NRDP has funded 91 projects that help make the basin's natural resources healthy and provide opportunities for the public to enjoy these resources. The NRDP has been a major funder of CFWEP.

The following projects are proposed for funding in 2010, listed by applicant and project name, followed by a short project description and project costs requested from NRDP and other sources:
  • Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, Anaconda System-wide Metering Project: Install water meters on all 2,642 un-metered water system connections over 2 years to achieve system-wide metering, conserve water supply, and replace lost groundwater resources.
    NRDP funding: $3,622,708. Other funding: $253,961.
  • Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, Anaconda Waterline – Year 9: Replace 12,200 feet of leaking waterline in Anaconda. This is the 9th year of continuing waterline replacement projects.
    NRDP funding: $2,644,390. Other funding: $220,386.
  • Butte-Silver Bow, Big Hole River Pump Station Replacement Project: Replace the deteriorated Big Hole Pump Station, which is part of the Big Hole water system that supplies drinking water to Butte.
    NRDP funding: $3,500,000. Other funding: $500,000.
  • Butte-Silver Bow, Big Hole Transmission Line – Year 4: Replace 20,000 feet of the leaking Big Hole Transmission Line, which supplies drinking water to Butte. This is the 4th year of a continuing waterline replacement project.
    NRDP funding: $2,760,000. Other funding: $690,000.
  • Butte-Silver Bow, Butte Waterline – Year 10: Replace 13,000 feet of leaking waterline in Butte and install 500 meters in un-metered homes. This is the 10th year of a continuing waterline replacement project and the 2nd year of voluntary meter installations.
    NRDP funding: $1,817,546. Other funding: $201,950.
  • Clark Fork Coalition, Racetrack Creek Flow Restoration Project: Secure the right to maintain and enhance in-stream flow for the benefit of the fishery resource of Racetrack Creek, a tributary of the Upper Clark Fork River.
    NRDP funding: $500,000. Other funding: $515,000.
  • Deer Lodge Conservation District, 2010 Native Plant Materials: Continue to select and market superior-performing native plant materials well adapted to the conditions of mining-impacted areas in the UCFRB and provide certified seed and plants to commercial seed growers and conservation seedling nurseries (4 year project).
    NRDP funding: $252,279. Other funding: $81,000.
  • East Ridge Foundation with U.S. Forest Service, Maud S Canyon Trails and Open Space Project: Increase recreational opportunities by conducting land acquisition, land reclamation, and trail development activities in Maud S Canyon east of Butte.
    NRDP funding: $355,920. Other funding: $132,295.
  • Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Centers, Inc., Knowledge Resource Mining in the UCFRB: Develop a “tool” that will allow for immediate access to and analysis of the data collected in the UCFRB over the years by various entities using a GIS-user interface and provide links to the governing documents with that data.
    NRDP funding: $376,160. Other funding: $66,815.
  • Skyline Sports and Butte-Silver Bow, Children’s Fishing Pond/Hillcrest Open Space Project: Develop a children’s fishing pond, repair the riparian and upland areas, create an outdoor educational component, and develop trails in the Hillcrest open space area east of
    NRDP funding: $1,566,998. Other funding: $770,136.
  • The University of Montana (Flathead Lake Biological Station and Montana Tech), Restoration, Nutrients, and Green River Bottoms: Initiate and conduct monitoring over 2 years to evaluate the relationships between nutrients, algae and macrophytes, and river processes that produce and consume oxygen along restored and unaltered portions of the Upper Clark Fork River.
    NRDP funding: $268,367. Other funding: $73,826.
  • Watershed Restoration Coalition, 2010 Cottonwood Creek: Improve aquatic and riparian habitat in lower Cottonwood Creek by increasing in-stream flows, improving fish passage, and enhancing riparian habitat.
    NRDP funding: $289,647. Other funding: $169,484.

Additionally, there are currently two proposals for uses of NRDP funds outside of the normal grant process. The first is for the roughly $17 million purchase by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) of the 28,000 acre Spotted Dog Ranch near Deer Lodge. Funding for the proposed aquisition would come from the principal balance of the NRDP account, known as the Upper Clark Fork River Basin Restoration Fund. Under public ownership, the ranch would become a Wildlife Management Area.

Also being considered is a proposal to fund a new museum dedicted to mining, reclamation and culture in Butte. Estimates vary, but roughly $30-40 million dollars of the restoration principal is being considered for the museum.

Funded or not, these two proposals will have a significant impact on future management of Clark Fork restoration dollars. As of Oct. 1, 2009, the restoration fund had a balance of $170 million, with about $48 million of that cash already committed to approved grant projects but not yet spent. In other words, if funded, these two projects combined would spend out roughly a third of the restoration fund principal.

Southwest Montana Science Partnership Update

Above: Teachers in the SMSP learn about Montana landscapes with geologist Dick Gibson atop the Alice Hill in Walkerville.

The Southwest Montana Science Partnership (SMSP) program welcomed our second Cohort of 3rd - 6th grade teachers in January. Teachers in Cohort II are rapidly moving through the SMSP modules, and have completed mapping, landforms and soils to date. Cohort I teachers completed a snow study module led by Dr. Delena Norris-Tull and a birds module led by Dr. Andrea Stierle. Both cohorts will be together this summer for a module on plants, flowers, and trees and a second module on aquatic macroinvertebrates. Additionally, CFWEP is working to make online SMSP modules available for free to all teachers via www.cfwep.org as they are completed by the SMSP participating teachers.

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

Bulltrout, The Blackfoot River & Milltown

While the last sediments contaminated by historic mine waste were shipped by rail away from the former Milltown Dam site at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers near the end of 2009, much work remains to be done at the site. There are still roughly 4 million cubic yards of mining contaminated sediments left behind at the site. These additional contaminants were left because the removal of the dam and saturate sediments left them high and dry, where likelihood of them ever becoming entrained in the river or contaminating the groundwater is slim to nothing.

An April 11 article in The Missoulian described the concerns of some local residents regarding the impact on native bull trout from work at the site. Concerns for bull trout stem from work on the piers that support the Interstate 90 overpass over the Blackfoot, just before it joins with the Clark Fork. The Clark Fork River is currently diverted into a side channel running near I-90 while crews continue reclamation and restoration of the natural stream channel. This situation has caused the Blackfoot, as it flows under I-90, to narrow, and water velocity speeds up as a result. Some Bonner residents are concerned that this will make it difficult for bull trout to navigate.

Above: The diverted Clark Fork River now flows through an artificial channel near I-90 while crews continue to restore the historic floodplain and river channel.

Bull trout were listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998. The bulls are a sensitive species that do not tolerate high sediment levels in their spawning streams. Many Upper Clark Fork tributaries are considered spawning streams for bulls. The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering a proposal to increase the amount of land considered critical habitat for bull trout, noting that “Bull trout depend on cold, clear water and are excellent indicators of water quality. Protecting and restoring their habitat contributes to the water quality of rivers and lakes throughout the Northwest.”

Pat Saffel, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) fisheries manager for the region, has said that no immediate action is necessary. Fish passage at the overpass is typically only an issue during short periods of high flow. When the water level comes back down, the fish can navigate the narrow, rapid channel. The EPA is currently reviewing the issue, and FWP is monitoring fish populations in the area to better understand the effects of the removal of the Milltown Dam.

Short-term impacts related to the reclamation and restoration of the old reservoir site may harm fish, but the long-term effects of the dam removal are likely to be very beneficial to the fishery, outweighing the short-term negatives. More remedial and redevelopment work remain in the Milltown cleanup project, which is expected to end in 2011. Once all is said and done, the connectivity of the Clark Fork Basin will be greatly improved, giving native fish like the bull and cutthroat trout increased opportunities to find suitable habitat and spawning grounds in the numerous Upper Clark Fork tributary streams and creeks.

Rolling Stones Fundraiser for the
River Rat Fly Fishing & Conservation Camp

To raise funds for the summer 2010 River Rat Camp for area youth, we are selling "Rolling Stones" stonefly t-shirts for a $15.00 donation. CFWEP hats are also still available for a $20.00 donation. To order:

1. Use the "Donate Now" button at www.cfwep.org - any donation of $15.00 gets you a "Rolling Stones" t-shirt, and any donation of $20.00 or over gets you a CFWEP hat. Send an email to jringsak@mtech.edu. In the body of the message, indicate your preference (green, orange, light green, blue, offwhite, winter) for hats or size preference (M, L, XL, 2XL) for shirts.

2. You can also order by mail. Simply send your donation (checks should be made out to "Montana Tech Foundation" with "CFWEP" in the memo line) and color or size preference to:

CFWEP, Attn: Membership
Montana Tech - Outreach Dept
1300 W Park St
Butte, MT 59701

Expect to receive your gift in the mail in a few days. We will see you on the river!

Spring 2010 CFWEP Acknowledgments

CFWEP would like to acknowledge the following new members, volunteers and contributors. Their support and assistance makes our work possible:
Kathryn Watson & the Montana Watercourse; Jenny Wilson; Janel Evans; Chris Doyle; Karen Gillespie; Dina Alibrahim; Joe Griffin (DEQ); Doug Martin (NRDP); Kathy Coleman (NRDP); Colleen Elliott (MBMG); Andrea & Don Stierle; Gary Swant; Samantha Sheble; Lisa Sullivan; Lori Shyba; Sandra McNair; Rick Larson, Jack Henry, Tawni Cleverly, Doug Sanderson, Nate Gelling & Butte-Silver Bow County; Marisa Pedulla; Michelle Anderson; Angela Smith & the Washoe Fish Hatchery; Jeanne Larson; Jeremy Weber; Theresa Rader; Montana Environmental Education Association; Marilyn and Bob Olson (Embroidery Plus); Digger Athletic Association; Montana Tech Foundation; George Goody (Montana Fly Company); Chris Bradley & Mike Marcum (The Stonefly Fly Shop); Bill Callaghan; Misty Cerise Cunningham; Chris Kellogg; Mike Bader; Kristina Smucker; Rich Prodgers (Bighorn Environmental); Tim Reilly (DEQ); Jeremey Whitlock; Carlton Nelson; Meriwether Ranch; Wallace J. Nichols (bluemarbles.org); Dick Berg and John Foley (MBMG/Mineral Museum); Almetek Industries; Marko Lucich (Butte Chamber); City of Deer Lodge and Powell County; Jason Smith (Grant Kohrs Ranch); Holiday Inn Express (Butte); George Grant TU; Keri Petritz; Beverly Plumb; Atlas Obscura; Ken Brockman (Bureau of Reclamation); Atlantic Richfield Corporation; Erik Kalsta and Jami Murdoch; Tucker Transportation; Debbie Kearns (The Hitchin’ Post in Melrose); Michelle Anderson; Ray Brandl; Chad Buck; Pat Cunneen (NRDP); Chris Gammons; Jim Gleason (TU); Doug Joppa; Raj Kasanath; Byron Mazurek; Abbie Philips; Sara Rouse; Christine Talley; Shane Talley; Karen Wesenberg-Ward; and all those who helped out with field trips, classroom activities, teacher workshops, and events in winter and spring 2010!

Above: A long-billed curlew flies over the BP-Arco Waste Repository, formerly the Opportunity Ponds, near Anaconda.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The EPA Take a Look Back at the
Last 5 Years of Butte-Area Clean-Up

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and its consultants from CDM, are in the midst of a mandated Five-Year Review of Superfund sites stretching from the city of Butte down Silver Bow Creek as far as the Warm Springs Ponds. The review is a regular checkup on a Superfund site to ensure that clean-up decisions continue to protect people and the environment. Given the number of environmental issues at play in the Butte area, from capped mine dumps on the Butte Hill to signs of recontamination in Silver Bow Creek to the still-untouched West Side Soils area, the review committee will be busy. The review is expected to be completed by September 2010.

In addition to talking with on-site workers and local officials, the review committee is also interviewing Butte citizens to get their take on how environmental clean-up efforts in the area have succeeded or fallen short. The Citizens Technical Environmental Committee (CTEC), Butte's EPA-funded and citizen-led community Technical Assistance Group, recently held two public meetings on February 24 and March 3 to provide the public with information about the Five-Year Review process, the status of Butte-area Superfund sites, and to collect comments from the public.

At the Feb. 24 meeting at the Butte Public Library, Dr. John Ray, a Montana Tech Liberal Studies Professor, discussed what is known as the Butte Priority Soils Superfund site, which includes the urban areas of Uptown Butte. Contamination a the site includes historic mine waste, mine tailings, and residential soils and dust related to the area's mining history. Contaminants of concern include heavy metals such as lead and mercury and other toxins such as arsenic.

Ray was highly critical of EPA-led clean-up efforts in this area. Ray stated that the EPA decision to leave the "waste in place" by capping rather than removing mine waste has resulted in capped dumps that require ongoing maintenance to prevent the failure of the caps and the exposure of waste. Because of the urban nature of the area, exposed mine waste could potentially impact human health. According to Ray, the majority of mine dump caps have failed. Capping generally involves covering exposed mine waste with 18 inches of topsoil that is then seeded and monitored for erosion issues. Butte-Silver Bow county annually evaluates and repairs these caps, with the expenses paid by ARCO, the EPA mandated responsible party for the site.

Ray also criticized the EPA decision to fence-off or otherwise restrict access to many environmentally damaged sites in the Uptown, preventing local residents from accessing such areas and being exposed to wastes. Ray particularly emphasized environmental justice as an important component of any Butte clean-up, noting that the majority of those living in the Superfund area fall below the poverty line or have below-average income. Ray noted that the EPA has a mandate to consider environmental justice. EPA personnel on hand at the meeting did not agree with Ray's assessment of environmental clean-up on the Butte Hill.

(Photo above shows a capped Butte mine dump in the foreground as evaluators assess the site, and in the background uncapped mine dumps can be seen behind the fence of the Mountain Con mine yard.)

At the same meeting, Ian MacGruder, a consultant from Kirk Environmental working with CTEC, delivered a presentation about the clean-up of Silver Bow Creek, the Warm Springs Ponds, and the Westside Soils, an area to the north and west of Uptown Butte that is listed as a Superfund site due to the presence of numerous mine dumps. No action has been taken at the Westside Soils site to date. EPA considered it a low-priority because no people live in the area, though it is popular for recreation.

MacGruder discussed the success of the Silver Bow Creek restoration, which was led by the State Department of Environmental Quality in conjunction with EPA. That project has been largely successful in removing historic mine wastes from the creek bed and floodplain. The ecosystem seems to be on the road to recovery, and brook, rainbow and native west slope cutthroat trout have been reported during Fish, Wildlife and Parks annual electrofish monitoring of the once-decimated creek. Restoration of the creek is still ongoing in the Anaconda and Durant Canyon areas. (Photo above shows historic tailings deposits on Silver Bow Creek. This site, near Miles Crossing and Durant Canyon, has since been restored; the tailings pictured here now reside in the Opportunity Ponds, aka BP-ARCO Waste Repository.)

Removed Silver Bow Creek wastes are transferred by rail to the Opportunity Ponds, also known as the BP-Arco Waste Repository. The Repository, a former tailings pond for the Anaconda Reduction Works and Washoe Smelter, already holds millions of tons of historic wastes, and wastes removed from Silver Bow Creek and the Milltown site near Missoula have been transferred there, increasing the total volume of waste at the site by a few percent. (Photo above shows an aerial view of the Opportunity Ponds site, which is roughly 5 square miles. In some places, mine wastes are 40+ feet deep. The yellow color comes from the tailings themselves; they are toxic to vegetation, so few plants grow, although revegetation efforts are ongoing at the site.)

Recent data has shown that some contaminants from the Butte Hill in the form of sediments are reaching the restored Silver Bow Creek. It is likely that additional action on the Butte Hill and continued monitoring and management of contaminated Butte groundwater will alleviate this recontamination in the future. For the time being, contaminants mainly flush down the restored reach of the creek to the Warm Springs Ponds.

The Warm Springs Ponds, another former Anaconda Company waste management site, were created to capture contaminants from Silver Bow Creek, preventing them from reaching the Clark Fork River. The site has been extremely successful in that regard, and has also become an excellent habitat for waterfowl and abnormally large trout. Future plans for the management of the Warm Springs Ponds, however, are somewhat murky. There is also a lingering arsenic issue at the ponds; lime is added to Silver Bow Creek water to cause metals present in the water to settle out in the ponds by reducing the acidity of the water. This reduction in acidity has the unfortunate side effect of mobilizing arsenic, and data indicates that arsenic levels flowing out of the ponds into the Clark Fork River are higher than expected. As long as no one drinks from the Clark Fork, this should have little effect on human health, although the arsenic issue will have to be addressed in the future.

EPA Remedial Project Manager Roger Hoogerheide responded to the presentations by noting that, while in the past the Five-Year Review process has been something of a rubber-stamp formality, the current EPA administration has instructed agency personnel to treat the Five-Year Review seriously and thoroughly as a means to improve ongoing clean-up efforts.

When asked about the relative scarcity of discussions of the Five-Year Review in local media, Hoogerheide agreed that there was more the EPA could do to inform and involve the community. The ongoing citizen interviews are a large part of the EPA's increased public relations efforts on this Five-Year Review.

The Mar. 3 meeting at the Butte Chamber Visitors Center featured the same presentations, although for this meeting the Silver Bow Creek/Warm Springs Ponds presentation was delivered by Montana Tech Society and Technology Professor Pat Munday. The community discussion was somewhat more lively at this meeting. Most citizens present expressing frustration with the pace of Butte-area clean-up and the difficulty in finding answers to Superfund-related questions and in participating in area Superfund-related programs like the Multi-Pathway Residential Metals Abatement Program Plan. That program is designed to mitigate potentially harmful exposure of residents to sources of lead, arsenic, and mercury contamination. EPA personnel at the meeting again expressed a renewed commitment to public outreach to ensure that local residents are connected to and informed about ongoing clean-up efforts.

Local citizens are encouraged to comment on the clean-up of the Butte environment. Written comments can be mailed to:
Roger Hoogerheide
Remedial Project Manager EPA Montana Office
10 W. 15th St.
Helena, MT 59626

For more information on the Five-Year Review, call Wendy Thomi, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, toll free at 1-866-457-2690

(Photo above shows historic mining and smelting in the city of Butte, which accounts for the contamination we see and manage today.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Milltown, Montana: Film Creates a Cultural Portrait of Western Montana

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving picture must be worth considerably more. Judging by his latest work, I believe Rainer Komers must have taken that old adage to heart. His film Milltown, Montana takes the motion picture genre on a journey of “poetic minimalism”. What this meant became clear to me when I spoke with Rainer prior to the screening, and he mentioned that the film had no dialogue and no score. Considering my minimal exposure to "avant-garde" film, I couldn't help but be skeptical. The screening at Montana Tech attracted an audience of about 50 people, quite a few more than I was expecting.

What I noticed as I watched the film is how little I missed the traditional narration and accompanying soundtrack. Komers captures these “acoustic soundscapes” to go along with the visuals, which are greatly enhanced by his considerable acumen behind the camera thanks to his years of experience as a cinematographer. The sounds are vivid enough to capture your attention, with an abstract musicality that can be hypnotizing at times.

I found that the absence of a narrator allowed the viewer to become an impartial observer, free to draw their own conclusions as to the meaning of what they were seeing. Some of the sights I recognized throughout the film were shots of the M&M sign, The Legion Oasis, the Clark Fork Watershed, the State Prison and various snapshots of everyday life in the region. There was a billiards scene in the Legion that garnered quite a few laughs, an injection of humor I wasn't quite expecting.

In another review of the film in the Missoulian, the author seemed very upset that the film did not tell the story of Milltown in particular. As Komers explained to the audience during the Q&A session, the title is meant to be generic, to describe any region that has been through the growing pains of the industrial age. He explained this by relating a tale of coal mining in his native Germany, where the towns have similar problems with pollution and mining. My personal interpretation was that the film seemed like it was intended to be a snapshot in time, a cultural portrait with minimal bias. The film was only 30 minutes long, but managed to capture the essence of many aspects of life in Montana in that short time.

The region around Butte has the distinct privilege of having two films made about it in a short period of time. Milltown, Montana may not have the historical scope of the much acclaimed Butte, America, but it offers a more intimate portrayal of everyday life in post-industrial Montana. The two films compliment each other, one telling the story of the past, the other showing how residents deal with the repercussions of that past, from an outsiders perspective. Komers has a talent for being the outside observer, presenting a way of life without the usual editorial spin. I would consider Montana lucky to be included in his impressive body of work.

For a complete listing of Komers film work, visit: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0464624/

-Guest Blog by Aaron Briggs
Montana Tech Professional & Technical Communications Student

Monday, February 22, 2010

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Examines Bull Trout Habitat

The bull trout is one of Montana’s most unique fish. They can grow to over three feet and can weigh over 20 pounds, and depend on cold, clear water. Bull trout are excellent indicators of water quality, and are often considered an “umbrella” species. That is, if water quality is healthy enough for bull trout, it is likely healthy enough for most other, less-sensitive aquatic species native to Montana. Their sensitivity to adverse water conditions, coupled with the competition posed by non-native fish such as the brook trout, have caused bull trout numbers to slowly decline across the northwest, and they were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1998.

On January 13, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to revise its 2005 designation of critical habitat for the bull trout. Under the ESA, critical habitat identifies geographic areas essential for the conservation of a listed species. Critical habitat designations provide extra regulatory protection to areas that may require special management considerations, and the habitats are then prioritized for recovery actions. The critical habitat designation does not affect land ownership, does not allow government or public access to private lands, and does not impose restrictions on non-federal lands unless federal funds, permits or activities are involved. However, it alerts landowners that these areas are important to the recovery of the species. In the Clark Fork Basin, as restoration continues on mining-impacted ecosystems, maintaining quality bull trout habitat can be seen as a final hurdle; if bull trout return to some of the historically damaged areas of the Clark Fork watershed, then we can safely assume that restoration efforts are succeeding.

In total, the Service proposes to designate approximately 22,679 miles of streams and 533,426 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Nevada as critical habitat for the wide-ranging bull trout. The proposed revision comes after extensive review of earlier critical habitat proposals and public comments. The Service voluntarily embarked on this re-examination to ensure that the best science was used to identify the features and areas essential to the conservation of the species.

In Montana, additional bull trout critical habitat is proposed for the Kootenai, Clark Fork and St. Mary River Basins. Under the 2010 proposal, most tributaries of the Blackfoot River, Flint Creek and the Clark Fork River would be considered critical bull trout habitat. Most of the Blackfoot, as well as sections of Flint Creek and the Clark Fork, were previously designated as critical bull trout habitat in 2005.

The Clark Fork and Flathead watersheds were historically important to bull trout prior to the heavy impacts caused by human developments such as hydroelectric dams, other manmade barriers, and historic mining. Today, those river systems are being reconnected through dam removal (Milltown Dam), improved fish passage (Cabinet Gorge, Noxon Rapids, Thompson Falls), and improved habitat (Clark Fork restoration projects). The Clark Fork River is particularly important, as it provides a migratory corridor for bull trout from Lake Pend Oreille and the lower river to access the Blackfoot, Rock Creek, and potentially Flint and Warm Springs Creeks, where significant populations of bull trout remain.

To do our part to help bull trout recover, anyone fishing in western Montana should repeat the mantra: No Black, Put It Back! Bull trout are most easily distinguished from other Montana trout by their top fin; unlike other trout, the bull trout have no black spots on their top fin. They are also characterized by a slightly forked tail and pale yellow, orange and red spots on the body. As a threatened species, bull trout should be released immediately if caught. To assist in identifying Montana trout, CFWEP, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, the Sierra Club, and the University of Montana distribute free pocket fish ID guides. Contact CFWEP for your free guide before heading out on the river.

The Service will accept public comments on the proposed critical habitat until March 15, 2010. For information on how to submit a public comment, and for more on the proposed critical habitat designation, visit www.fws.gov/pacific/bulltrout. For a direct link to a map comparing existing bull trout critical habitat with proposed 2010 habitat, click here. You can learn more about bull trout in Montana at the Montana Field Guide from mt.gov.

The above map shows bull trout range in Montana.

The above map shows bull trout density in Montana.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Volunteers Needed for 2010 Spring Field Season

CFWEP is seeking volunteers for spring field trips running from March 2 through June 1, 2010. Volunteers provide support on field trips with middle and high school students and teachers. Volunteering requires no previous experience (CFWEP will provide field science training), it is a great way to learn about the Montana outdoors and the restoration of the Clark Fork Basin, and you will be helping future generations to become stewards of western Montana's amazing environment.

For a complete list of spring volunteer opportunities, click here to view the full schedule (MS Excel format). To register as a volunteer, or to learn more, contact CFWEP Field Coordinator Dr. Arlene Alvarado at aalvarado@mtech.edu or call (406) 496-4862.