Senate panel approves federal pay for wolf kills

Great Falls Tribune, September 12, 2008 [here]

Sen. Jon Tester’s staff announced Thursday that two of the Montana senator’s bipartisan bills sailed through a Senate committee.

One of the bills would reimburse ranchers who lose animals to wolves, and the other would help fund groups which work together to protect Montana watersheds and the state’s fishing heritage.

His staff news release said Tester reached across party lines to write both the Gray Wolf Livestock Loss Mitigation Act and the Cooperative Watershed Management Act, which protects Montana’s water and fishing heritage.

Tester teamed up with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to pass the Gray Wolf Livestock Loss Mitigation Act. The measure authorizes federal money for state trust funds to prevent livestock losses and reimburse livestock owners whose animals are killed by wolves.

In Montana, the federal money would boost a livestock loss fund which repays Montana ranchers the full market value of killed animals.

“The federal government did a lot of work putting wolves back in Montana,” Tester said. “Now it needs to step up to the plate and reimburse ranchers who can’t afford to lose any of their livestock to wolves.”

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, cosponsored Tester’s Cooperative Watershed Management Act. The bill offers federal grants to small groups of people who agree to work with each other to manage their water resources.

Tester said the measure gives people like irrigators, ranchers, anglers, scientists and outdoorsmen an incentive to sit down together and figure out the best way to manage the streams and rivers they depend on.

“The best way to manage a resource as valuable as water is to bring everyone to the table and work together,” Tester said. “This measure will help protect Montana’s water and fishing heritage for generations to come.”

On Thursday, both measures passed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which Tester serves. They will now go to the full Senate for a vote.

9 Sep 2008, 7:15pm
Latest Fire News
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Growing Threat of Wildfire Government

by L.K. Samuels [here]

There was a time when volunteer fire departments, paid fire fighters and local residents would work hand-in-hand to put out wildfires. It was an amenable relationship, sharing hardships, goals and camaraderie. But if the 2008 California wildfires proved anything, it demonstrated that this alliance is no longer a cornerstone of American communities.

During the Big Sur fires in July, residents who did not evacuate reported that they felt they were behind “enemy lines.” When 79-year-old Don McQueen traveled down the road to his campground business to provide hot water showers for fire crews, he was detained by sheriff deputies and scolded.

Although McQueen was released, he soon discovered that fire officials had changed the rule book. To him it seemed like the various federal and state firefighting agencies no longer wanted to work with the community to put out fires. Instead, they wanted Big Sur residents to leave the area and stop defending their property. Worse still, the fire fighter crews were “strictly forbidden to assist locals.”

Despite experience fighting fires since the 1940s, McQueen was told to get off his ranch. When he refused, an official reportedly said, “We’re carefully allowing these homes to burn down. You can build a new house at no cost with your insurance money.” McQueen could hardly believe what he had heard.

According to local residents, many of the fire crews were grounded and told to let the fire burn itself out. One ashamed firefighter told them, “I was taught to put out fire, not let them burn.” Professionals watched as the locals on the front line fought the blaze. Finally, one crew become so upset that it covertly parked its engine near McQueen’s property, rolled out a 4,000-foot fire hose and helped him to maintain his fire break.
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3 Sep 2008, 10:03pm
Latest Forest News
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Victory for Forest Health

Stewards of the Sequoia, 9/3/2008 [here]

Federal investigators recently concluded the Forest Service acted properly in felling hazardous trees in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, bringing to a quiet end a probe loudly sought by congressional Democrats based on complaints filed by Save America’s Forests and local group Sequoia Forestkeepers.

The Giant Sequoia Trees are truly monumental, some having been around since before Christ. There is grave danger of them being incinerated due to many surrounding dead and dying trees caused by a hundred years of fire suppression combined with decades of lawsuits filed by anti-stewardship groups to block active management. Fortunately the Forest Service decided to clear dead trees in a small area around some of the most special Giant Sequoias trees on the Trail of 100 Giants, but even after the project was done, with excellent results, the anti’s complained. They claimed Giant Sequoia trees had been chopped down, but investigators found this, as well as all their other allegations, to be untrue.

Thousands of miles away a federal judge rejected an attempt by the New Hampshire Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and the Center for Biological Diversity to halt two logging operations in White Mountain National Forest. It came down to wanting the judge to intervene while the anti groups succeeded in making the logging operations unprofitable through delay.

Meanwhile in Humboldt County the owner of the local logging company hiked in to deliver his message to tree sitters who protested logging there for decades. “Come down out of the sky,” he told them, “The war is over.” After he explained the logging company’s sustainable plan for renewable tree harvesting, tree sitters abandoned their perches in favor of a truce to allow logging of as much timber as the forest produces each year while leaving the old growth untouched.

Now that loggers and tree sitters have ended the war, perhaps through public pressure anti groups can be persuaded to drop their swords and stop filing lawsuits which are incinerating our forest and wildlife while costing taxpayers billions. Find out how we can promote better stewardship of the land at Stewards of the Sequoia [here].

The future of our forests are at stake.

1988 Canyon Creek fire remains seared into memory

By KARL PUCKETT, Great Falls Tribune Staff Writer, 08/17/2008 [here]

Two decades after the Canyon Creek fire burned some 250,000 acres in three national forests, the rogue blaze of 1988 continues to smolder in the minds of Montanans.

“You opened a bunch of new wounds,” said Don Converse, a rancher west of Augusta, when asked about it this week. “I’m still burning over this fire.”

The Yellowstone National Park-area fires, which combined to burn 1.4 million acres in Montana and Wyoming, captured the world’s attention in 1988.

But Canyon Creek, a rare catastrophic blow-up, was the single largest fire in Montana in a year marked by big fires and the biggest the state had seen in more than 75 years.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the monster, which, carried along by jet stream winds, escaped the confines of the wilderness and burst onto the prairie west of Augusta.

In its wake, it left dead cattle and black pastureland, ranchers with deep scars and firefighters with a new appreciation and understanding of fire.

“Fire can kick your butt,” said Tim Love, the district ranger of the U.S. Forest Service’s Seeley Lake Ranger District, a young resource assistant on the Rocky Mountain Front at the time of the Canyon Creek fire.

Unremarkable start

Today, there are stricter guidelines in place that ensure suppression resources are available before a fire is allowed to burn in the wilderness, said Orville Daniels, the former supervisor of the Lolo National Forest, where the Canyon Creek fire began.

There’s also a better system of predicting fire potential, including a drought index.

Those changes followed the 1988 fires.

“Part of the purpose of the wilderness fire program is to learn,” Daniels said. “And we’re still learning.”

Canyon Creek started like most Western fires do, with a lightning bolt from the sky setting a tree ablaze. But it didn’t end up a footnote like most do.

To a person, those who fought it or fled from its path say the blaze that threatened Augusta and Ovando was a life-changing experience.

“That bugger went wild,” said Ross Friede of Ovando.

At the time, Friede was the manager of the Two Creek Ranch, and he nervously watched as the flames crept closer.

“I still have memories of things I’d seen out there,” said Dale Gorman of Great Falls, the former Supervisor of Lewis and Clark National Forest.

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1 Sep 2008, 12:05am
Latest Forest News Latest Wildlife News
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Palin By Comparison

by Hugh Hewitt,, August 31, 2008 [here]

Those who listen to my radio show know that I spend my mornings and some evenings practicing and teaching law. For the 20 years since I left Washington, D.C., I have been a land use and natural resources lawyer, guiding landowners –principally home builders but also churches and commercial developers—through the maze of federal, state and local regulatory permitting that blankets the use of land in the U.S. I have had clients throughout the west, and this has meant appearing hundreds of times before city councils, county boards and regional and state commissions and agencies. It has meant thousands of meetings with elected and appointed local government officials.

I provide this as background to a few comments on Sarah Palin’s decade as a city council member and mayor of a small town, Wasilla, Alaska. Don’t underestimate the enormous benefit this provides the governor in the campaign and beyond as she takes up the duties of a vice president. Local government experience means an immersion in the real problems of real people as well as with a myriad of issues from the details of budgets for road maintenance and police and fire forces, to the land use issues I mentioned above, to parks and recreation and school construction issue issues.

And, of course, snow removal, the bane of many mayors’ lives.

It also means appearing at thousands of the events that define small town life, from the Rotary to the start of the local fund-raising 5K, and the hiring and firing of staff that has to make the traffic lights work and oversee the trash collection.

And mostly it means being able to connect with people who look to the local government to get the big things in small towns right.

Sitting on a dais week after week and listening to public comments and presentations from staff is the least glamorous of all elected offices, but very central to the functioning of the republic. Hundreds of thousands of Americans serve in these all-but-voluntary jobs and do so out of a sense of public spiritedness. Of course there are knuckleheads among the local electeds, and I have encountered many of them.

But by a very large measure these mayors, council members and commissioners are genuine public servants –and they get very smart, very fast about the communities they serve and the real successes and failures that define American life, whether in Wasilla, Alaska or Dearborn, Michigan or Sharon, PA.
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