What started as a small blaze in the backcountry of central California this summer became the 250,000-acre Yosemite Rim Fire that forced thousands of nearby residents out of their homes. The tab at the end of the fire fighting efforts tallied over $100 million, and that’s not including lost revenue, damaged structures or the tens of millions that some expect will be needed for restoration efforts.
If the satellite is built (a process researchers hope will start a year from now) it will be a major break-through for wildland firefighting. There have been some advances in fire monitoring during recent years, such as drones that can watch over a fire’s growth and movement, first used in 2007. But fire detection hasn’t changed much in the West since the Forest Service began employing lookouts in 1910 to sit in remote watchtowers and keep their eyes on the land. Technology in the watchtowers has advanced — they now have phones and internet — but those watchers, and any eye-witness reports, are still key to detecting wildfires.
Rare-earth miner optimistic about bore findings on Montana-Idaho border
Arkansas-based U.S. Rare Earths said the tests done on bore samples taken from Lemhi Pass on the Montana-Idaho border were encouraging and that the samples were rich enough to spur the building of a concentration and partial separation plant for processing the minerals by 2015.
Billings Gazette; Oct. 30
Montana PSC declines to delay new rule on small-power contracts
The developer of a small hydroelectric project near Helena asked the Montana Public Service Commission to delay its new rule that lowers the generation capacity to three megawatts for "standard offer" contracts with NorthWestern Energy because the Sleeping Giant Power project would generate more power than that and the new standard may derail negotiations with the utility, but the board declined to delay the implementation of the rule.
Helena Independent Record (Lee State Bureau); Oct. 30
Hundreds protest drilling plan for Montana's Beartooth Front
Denver-based Energy Corporation of America's recently announced plans to develop oil and gas leases on Montana's Beartooth Front and in the Big Horn Basin in that state and Wyoming prompted an online petition protesting those plans, with nearly 1,300 signatures collected so far.
Billings Gazette; Oct. 30
Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.
ARIES (March 21-April 19): Once when I was hiking through Maui's rain forest, I spied a majestic purple honohono flower sprouting from a rotting log. As I bent down close, I inhaled the merged aromas of moldering wood and sweet floral fragrance. Let's make this scene your metaphor of the week, Aries. Here's why: A part of your life that is in the throes of decay can serve as host for a magnificent bloom. What has been lost to you may become the source of fertility. Halloween costume suggestion: a garbage man or cleaning maid wearing a crown of roses.
Josh Quick's "Camp Sleepover" appears every Tuesday online, and can be seen in the Indy's printed pages every Thursday.
Yellowstone NP winter outfitters concerned about concessions contracts
The mom-and-pop operations in Yellowstone National Park's gateway communities that have provided snowmachines to winter visitors are concerned that concessions contracts will go to large corporations and force them out of business.
Billings Gazette (YellowstoneGate.com); Oct. 29
Public comment sought on program to monitor Yellowstone Park's winter plan
The winter-use plan put in place by Yellowstone National Park isn't the last word on that issue, as park officials intend to monitor how well the plan is working and make changes as needed, and on Nov. 22 in Bozeman, park personnel will hold a public meeting on the Adaptive Management Program.
Billings Gazette; Oct. 29
Ten-year study in Alberta found warmer grizzly bears fatter, more fertile
A ten-year study of grizzly bears in Alberta that ended in 2008 found that a warming climate led to fatter, more fertile grizzly bears, and that while grizzly bears in the province's old growth forests tend to live longer, they are less fertile due to limited food sources, while bears living in more developed areas of the province have more access to food and are more fertile, but more prone to die from conflict with humans.
Edmonton Journal; Oct. 29
High lead levels forces Montana DEQ to relocate
On Monday, the 98 employees of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality were told to go home as tests conducted in the former Armory building where the DEQ offices have been located since 2002 came back indicating high levels of lead.
Helena Independent Record; Oct. 29
Alberta jobs focus of Montana economic symposium in Eureka
The "Work in Canada but live at home in Montana," symposium in Eureka on Nov. 4-5 will focus on recruiting Montana workers for jobs primarily in Alberta's oilsands operations, with some sessions examining products that can be made in the Big Sky State and exported north of the border.
Kalispell Daily InterLake; Oct. 29
Fall has descended in all its chilly glory, and we're frantically searching for ways to keep warm between pints of craft brew. Nothing works better than getting the blood flowing with a little pedal workout.
This week: Thirst Gear
Pedal power: During a trip to Portland, Ore., a few months back, Five on Black owner Tom Snyder and his brother Alex found themselves entranced by Brewcycle Portland, a company that books tours between the city’s craft breweries via a multi-person “beer bike.” These bikes first caught on in Europe in the late ’90s before popping up in major U.S. cities like Minneapolis and Chicago. It seemed like a mode of transportation tailor-made for Missoula, so the Snyders commissioned one from a manufacturer in Bend, Ore. “We knew someone else was going to do this,” Alex says. “Missoula’s needed a bike like this. It was only a matter of time.”
Sit back and pedal: Thirst Gear, as the Snyders are calling it, books tours to Draught Works, Flathead Lake Brewing Co., Tamarack and Kettlehouse’s Myrtle Street taproom. The bike looks something like an oval table on wheels, with 10 pedal stations and two extra seats along the sides. A bench on the back fits three additional passengers, and Thirst Gear provides a company driver for each booking. While there’s no drinking allowed on the bike (yet), Thirst Gear’s drivers are required to stay sober so you can drink your quota at the breweries without worrying about a DD.
Slow your roll: On a recent test run, the Snyders and several friends rode the Thirst Gear bike up Higgins and along side streets to Draught Works. The pedaling proved easy, and Tom pumped music from a portable stereo near the driver’s seat. Over pints, one volunteer test pedaler summed up the fledgling company as “powered by pedals, fueled by beer.” After 45 minutes—the per-brewery stop time Thirst Gear plans to stick to for its tours—the crew rolled on to Tamarack. Given the bike’s top speed of about 5 mph, the four-block trip down Orange Street may have caused some consternation among motorists. But most honked, cheered or laughed, intrigued by Missoula’s latest boozey pursuit.
Get onboard: You can book your Thirst Gear tours online at thirstgear.com, or visit the company’s Facebook page for more contact details. Also look for the bike in the Nov. 2 Day of the Dead parade.
Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, email email@example.com.
Oldest lumber mill in Montana now powered by biomass
F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. in Columbia Falls is the oldest family-owned lumber mill in Montana, and it's also the leader in new technology with a $22-million biomass power plant that went online earlier this month that generates enough power for 3,000 homes.
Flathead Beacon; Oct. 28
American Prairie Reserve piecing together Montana bison range
The decade-long drive of American Prairie Reserve to create a new kind of park in northern Montana to allow bison to roam free over thousands of acres has now amassed 274,000 acres of land and released 274 bison on the land, which is securely fenced to keep the animals from roaming onto neighboring ranches, where the sentiment about creating an American Serengeti is not shared.
New York Times; Oct. 27
Curses, Foiled Again
Police accused three men of breaking into a home near Palatka, Fla., photographing its contents and then posting the pictures on Facebook, offering to sell any and all pictured items. When a potential buyer asked about a refrigerator, the men said to meet them at the house. A suspicious neighbor saw the men enter the house and called police, who arrested Carlos Rivera, 27, Leandre Green, 25, and Jordan Green, 25. (Orlando Sentinel)
Police investigating an armed robbery at a convenience store in Belleville, Ill., arrested a suspect after he returned to the store five hours later, and the clerk recognized him. (St. Louis’s KTVI-TV)
GE subsidiary gives up fight over megaload route through Idaho
Resources Conservation Company International filed documents on Thursday to drop its federal court action to allow the GE subsidiary to transport an oversized piece of equipment along Highway 12 from the Port of Lewiston to the Montana border, and the company said it will find another route to ship the equipment.
Idaho Statesman (Lewiston Tribune); Oct. 25
NRDC analysis tracks effect of wildfire smoke in U.S.
The Natural Resources Defense Council analyzed data from the 2011 wildfire season, and found that two-thirds of U.S. residents were affected by smoke from those wildfires that year, with Texans affected the most, and Illinois residents ranking second, even though no wildfires burned in that state. Contains a graphic showing the intensity of smoke from U.S. wildfires.
USA Today; Oct. 25
Colorado company has drilling plans for Montana, Wyoming basin
Energy Corporation of America left Billings in the mid-1980s when oil and gas prices tanked, but the Colorado-company is back in the Montana city, with plans to develop the oil and gas leases it owns in the Big Horn Basin in Montana and Wyoming near Roscoe and Red Lodge.
Billings Gazette; Oct. 25
What do melting sea ice, fiery train wrecks and the Bakken oil boom have in common?
No, they’re not part of the latest Hollywood blockbuster — although if I came across a trailer showing George Clooney as a roughneck leaping from a flaming train onto an ice floe with an angry polar bear, you better believe I’d watch it.
The answer is less exciting, but more important: All three factor into a Denver company’s plan to ship crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in Saskatchewan to a northern Manitoba port via railroad. Colorado-based Omnitrax, one of North America’s largest private rail companies, hopes to bring more than 2 million barrels of oil annually from Saskatchewan to the Port of Churchill in Hudson Bay along existing railroad tracks, starting as soon as 2015.
Similar but unrelated plans are on track to ship tar sands oil from Alberta to coastal British Columbia by rail, as well as crude from North Dakota to Oregon and Washington. Across North America, the number of railcars shipping oil has grown from almost zero in 2009 to a projected 150,000 in Canada and more than 700,000 in the U.S. this year. About 70 percent of North Dakota oil now moves by train, destined for refineries around the U.S. As energy strategist Julius Walker told Bloomberg, “This is a revolutionary change in crude oil logistics that has rarely happened before.”
The swift and unpredictable rise of oil-by-rail raises questions for transportation officials and environmentalists alike. In July, a train carrying Bakken crude in Quebec derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The incident spurred a deeper look into the safety of the industry on both sides of the border, and it prompted questions about who should be responsible for preventing future accidents. Some petroleum analysts say crude is no more dangerous than gasoline, which is regularly shipped by train, but independent research from the Manhattan Institute shows that regardless of the type of fuel, pipelines are still the safest mode of transportation.
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