Mountain High 

The Blackfoot River was spared serious disfigurement when Montanans rejected the cyanide initiative last fall. But while the Blackfoot’s value to well-baked Missoulians in fiery Augusts is unquestioned, as the river cools down for a long winter, so too does its critical importance—to our fisheries and our late-summer sanity. And while a lot is being said about the upcoming rerouting of the neighboring Clark Fork River, few have noticed that Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has proposed turning Missoula’s clean-water lifeline into a permitted thoroughfare.

FWP seeks comment on a special recreation regulation that would effectively require permits for commercial use of the heavily floated Blackfoot, including competitions, vending and any “organized group activity.” While “personal” use still wouldn’t require a permit under the proposed regs, they would affect the traffic flow on Missoula’s summertime recreational corridor of choice. Your voice is needed to help FWP determine how to best protect Missoula’s favorite waterway from overuse, and so two public meetings are scheduled: one at the Lincoln Community Hall Feb. 2 (time TBA) and another at Ruby’s Inn and Convention Center in Missoula, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. Comments will be accepted on the proposal until Feb. 14, but get the details yourself by reading the proposal document at http://fwp.state.mt.us.

Rocky Mountaineer Jim Goss is heading out Jan. 2 to crosscountry ski Superior-area logging roads; the specific route will depend on snow conditions and participant interest. Side trips are also possible, so call 825-5000 for information and directions.

The next day you can join Fred Schwanemann on an eight-mile point-to-point ski from Lolo Pass to Highway 12 by way of a gentle glide down Pack Creek. They’re still looking for a shuttle rig, so call 542-7372 to get in the loop.

Gunners on the Yellowstone National Park payroll shot and killed a female buffalo last week for leaving the park via traditional winter feeding routes. And while this is certainly official policy for bison management (even on public land), the winds of change are blowing.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer announced plans this week that could eventually lead to the removal of all bison from the park before returning only the brucellosis-free beasts. The Montana Stockgrowers Association expressed cautious optimism, although even the governor admits that the plan may be flawed. As if to prove that point, Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) came out strongly against Schweitzer’s proposal. “If you want to manage for brucellosis, then you have to look at all species that have the disease,” said BFC spokesman and co-founder Mike Mease in a press release. “Elk and other wildlife will still have brucellosis and will re-infect the buffalo.”

Elsewhere, Schweitzer claimed neutrality on a bill regulating waste created by a slew of new coal-fired power plants soon to pop up across the state. Unlike other industrial waste producers, state law currently exempts electrical plants from the necessity of solid-waste permits, despite their towering piles of ash waste. One proposed coal-fired power plant near Great Falls is slated to spawn six tons of coal ash every hour.

The Montana Natural History Center (MNHC) is hosting a Winter Ecology Volunteer Training Jan. 22 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at its Fort Missoula office. Anyone interested in teaching natural history in an outdoor setting is encouraged to come learn about winter birding, riparian areas, animal signs and snow science. All instruction and equipment is provided, and attendees are encouraged to assist with future MNHC programs. Registration is required, so call 327-0405 to sign up for this free course.

The MNHC has also teamed up with the University of Montana to teach you how to be a naturalist. Starting Jan. 27, from 4 to 7 p.m., experts in the fields of ecology, identifying animal sign, mentoring and getting a sense of place will be on hand to give you the insider’s scoop. If you’re looking to gain intimate knowledge of the natural landscape and are keen on teaching it to others, you can join this semester-long course. It costs $295 ($410 to score three UM credits), and $50 is required to hold your spot. Contact the MNHC’s Brian Williams at 327-0405 or williams@umontana.edu.

Is winter trashing your bike? Free Cycles Missoula is hosting a free fix-it workshop Saturday, Jan. 22, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Learn how to do it yourself, from wheel repair to chain cleaning to whatever your bike needs to return to smooth-running perfection.

Got no bike? No problem! These guys are loaded with bikes and parts, and they’re eager to get you on track to building your own custom steed, and for the right price. Free Cycles is located beneath Liquid Planet downtown (access in alley), and regular shop hours are Monday through Thursday, 4 to 7 p.m. Food will be provided. Call 880-6834 for more info.

Wildlife experts at Glacier National Park head out on snowshoes every Saturday and Sunday afternoon through March 20 to explore how the park’s critters and plants make it through the cold season. The excursions are designed for visitors of all ages and abilities, although they are weather- and snow-dependent. Call the Apgar Visitor Center before noon to confirm that day’s outing—they rent snowshoes, too. Dress warmly, bring food and beverage, and call 888-7939 (midday weekends only) to confirm your spot in the posse.

The New Rocky Mountaineers are heading up the 8,435’ Palisade Mountain in the Sapphires Jan. 22, taking a route that will grind through 3,200 feet of rather mellow, beginner-friendly ski terrain. Gerald Olbu is making an easy day out of it, skinning up past the (climbable) hoodoos and placing a bid on the summit, so give him a call at 549-4769 to get in the game.

Snow snobs should note that massive fluctuations in both precipitation and temperatures have meant skiers are experiencing both the best and worst of times as we try to make as many turns as the season allows. A frigid Canadian Clipper followed massive dumps last week, sucking the moisture out of the snowpack and maintaining delightful conditions—for anyone willing to ski in single digit temps. As of press time, rain and powerful winds are compressing the snowpack into spring-like conditions, creating a durable base but rather low-grade surface conditions. Before heading out, call your ski hill of choice or log on to the excellent backcountry report from government snowrangers at http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/lolo.

Send your scoop to: photo@missoulanews.com.

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