Mountain High 

Montanans are PISSED about the misnomered “Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act,” a rider buried in last month’s 3,000-plus page appropriations bill that allows the Forest Service and other agencies to charge you and me fees to park ’n’ play on our own damn public land.

Fortunately, our goodly leaders are screaming foul, and the Montana Legislature is expected to soon approve House Joint Resolution 13, a nonbinding declaration calling on Congress to repeal said “enhancement” on the grounds that “Montana’s culture, quality of life, and traditions demand free access to public lands.”

Also last week, the Washington Post reported unflatteringly that “Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton tootled through a snowscape of hills, steaming rivers and indifferent bison, giving an unusual personal endorsement to the machines that some consider a blight and others a blessing. The secretary’s three-day show of solidarity with snowmobiles was unambiguous as she gave one mini news conference after another in the subzero temperatures.”

Norton’s politically charged seal of approval coincides with a downturn in snowmobile use (25 percent fewer visits this year) as the park transitions to a travel plan that includes more snowcoaches (use is up 30 percent this year). Although Norton did take a token snowcoach ride, she called the experience “ordinary… It’s not as special as a snowmobile.”

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) announced last week that the Forest Service has become a “rogue agency.” Noting 44 recent court rulings charging the land stewards with unlawful and destructive management practices, PEER says, “The rate of adverse court findings has been steadily growing with each passing year of the Bush Administration, [yet] not a single Forest Service manager has been disciplined or suffered any negative career consequences for committing environmental violations.” Don’t you wish you had that kind of leeway at work? Meanwhile, the Native Forest Network is concerned about a post-fire logging sale on the Flathead National Forest and they’ve organized a field trip March 1 to set the record straight. According to the press release, industrial logging of old-growth trees in grizzly bear habitat has already begun, “despite the fact that the citizen appeal period hasn’t even ended.”

NFN says that this may be the only time the public can see this project, since the area will likely be closed through April 1 to keep rubberneckers out of the hazardous tree-felling zone. To participate you must register with the Flathead NF (406-387-3800) before Friday, Feb. 25; for details or carpool info, contact cameron@wildrockies.org or call 542-7343.

Former Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies Mike Bader will present “Bull Trout, Critical Habitat and Recovery” March 2 at 7 p.m. at the Missoula Public Library. Bader has spent more than 15 years focusing on bull trout and will outline the recent legal battle and provide an update on this keystone fish (the White House has proposed reducing designated bull trout habitat by 90 percent nationally and 100 percent in Montana). Contact Cameron at 542-7343 or cameron@wildrockies.org for more info.

Gerald Olbu is leading a New Rocky Mountaineer trip up 8,690’ Downing Mountain Feb. 26. This snowshoe/ski trip heads up Sawtooth Creek trail for a mile before climbing another 3,900 feet of old skid roads and faint trails. Count on a variety of conditions along the route and excellent views. Call Olbu at 549-4769 for more information.

While the lack of snow bodes poorly for whitewater enthusiasts anxious for a big spring runoff, now is still the time to get in the pool and secure your rolls. The Missoula Whitewater Association is sponsoring open pool time for boaters at the YMCA, Sundays from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Cost is $15 for nonmembers and $5 for members. Call 880-0785 for more info. B.Y.O.Boat.

On Feb. 26, Larry Weeks will lead a Five Valleys Audubon Society field trip to view both resident and transient birds in the Mission Valley. You can meet in the UM Adams Center parking lot at 8 a.m. to carpool or at the Ninepipes Lodge at 9 a.m. The trip is free and open to the public, so call Larry Weeks at 549-5632 to get on board.

Anyone looking to maximize their adventure dollar should join the UM Outdoor Program for a weeklong backpacking adventure in Capital Reef National Park’s spectacular Muley Twist Canyon. For $220 you’ll spend the week of March 19–26 surrounded by sandstone, stars and students, but you must register by March 1. Call 243-5172 for more info.

Rocky Mountaineer Fred Schwanemann is heading out to ski the 14-mile Moose Ridge Loop at Lolo Pass Feb. 24, and he wants you to join him. The trip could run well over eight hours, so call him at 543-7372 to talk details.

And Julie Warner is heading out to sled the excellent lines at Blue Mountain with the kiddies Feb. 26, but if the snow’s poor they’ll head up to Lolo Pass. Either way they’ll soak it up at Lolo Hot Springs post-toboggan, so call 543-6508 to line up the hot/cold treatment.

A weak low-pressure system recently dumped up to a foot of snow atop the crusty rind coating much of Montana’s alpine regions last week, increasing avalanche danger in many areas but especially on wind-loaded slopes. Still, the West Central Montana Avalanche Center called the snowpack “mostly stable below 7,000 feet” last week. Although that advisory has expired, you can log on to http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/lolo/ for the latest in alpine weather and snow beta.

Snowbowl skiers are enjoying remarkably good conditions, with full coverage to the base on Longhorn providing a nice alternative to other popular runs. As of press time the ‘Bowl is reporting three inches of new snow on a 51-inch base; Lost Trail is reporting four fresh inches on a 62-inch base; Discovery Basin is reporting two inches on a 30-inch base (with $22 tix!); Silver Mountain is reporting a 42-inch base; Lookout Pass is reporting a 48-inch base; Blacktail Mountain is reporting a 26-inch base; and Big Mountain reports a 63-inch base.

Hit up the snow angels for some white manna, then send your outdoor recreation schedule to: photo@missoulanews.com.

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