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.