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Bea Gordon

Fish and Wildlife Ruling Looks to Up Protections for Arctic Grayling

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced the listing of the Arctic Grayling is warranted under the Endangered Species Act this week. The arctic grayling is a freshwater fish that is found throughout the Arctic and Pacific drainages in Canada Alaska and Siberia. It is a member of the same family as trout, whitefish and salmon with a distinct dorsal fin that resembles a sail. In the United States, the grayling is found primarily in Montana’s upper Missouri River drainage including the Big Hole River, Miner Lake, Mussigbrod Lake, the Madison River Ennis Reservoir, and Red Rocks lakes. Historically speaking, the process of the grayling’s listing has been a long one. Beginning in 1991 when the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance petitioned for its protection. The 1990’s saw the fish’s near extinction from the Big Hole River as a result of annual drying due to irrigation use and drought. Groups subsequently sought protection for the grayling and in 2005 the FWS issued a decision on the listing, which denied further protection. The FWS claimed that Montana’s population would be largely insignificant to the species’ future as it did not constitute a Distinct Population Segment, species, or subspecies. Advocates, however, didn’t see it the same way and the Center for Biological Diversity along with others filed suit against the FWS. This week’s ruling follows up on the suit of 2007 and the 2009 FWS ruling to increase protections for the grayling in Montana. The five remaining indigenous populations face threat to habitat such as fragmentation due to dams and irrigation diversions as well as increasing water temperature and loss of riparian habitat. Nonnative trout species are also jeopardizing the grayling in the Big Hole River, Madison River-Ennis Reservoir, and Red Rock Lakes. These same three have demonstrated population decline over the past decades. The forecast for these populations is similarly grim when considering the threat of drought and its impact on the river and shallow lakes.

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It’s Disney Vs. Rangeland Destruction in Nevada’s Wildlife Refuges

The Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge is home to pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, big horn sheep and wild horses. And recently, the last animal in the list means it’s also home to a whole lot of controversy. The refuge sits atop 575,000 acres of high desert habitat in northwestern Nevada. Established in 1931, it provides critical habitat for animals from pronghorns to native song birds by maintaining the native vegetation found in its narrow canyons and flat tables. It’s one of the last remaining areas of the rapidly diminishing sagebrush steppe in the Great Basin. Habitat conversion, wildfires and exotic invasive species have all but destroyed the ecosystem in the West. As it stands, Sheldon and Hart Mountain Refuge Manager Paul Steblein explains, the legislation as it stands today prescribes that refuges must conserve native wildlife and their ecosystems. Enter the wild horses and the issues surrounding them. The problem is rooted in the prevailing definition of “native.” Best estimates indicate that the last of the prehistoric North American horses died out at the close of the Pleistocene, roughly 13,000 years ago. Up until a few years ago, these horses were not thought to be in the genetic family of E. Callabus, the domestic horse of today. However, recent scholarship out of the University of Helsinki indicates that modern domestic horses are closer, genetically speaking, to its 1.7-million-year-old ancestor. But the research has yet to be widely corroborated within the academic community.

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Fire Update: Idaho’s Magic Valley Burning, More Fires Spreading

What looked like a slow fire season last week changed dramatically as new and recent fires picked up across Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and Idaho. In Idaho, the lightning-sparked Long Butte Fire has covered the Magic Valley, burning more than 327,800 acres. It’s listed as 10-percent contained after heavy winds picked up two small fires Saturday night. Numerous structures are threatened as the fire grows. After jumping the Snake River, the fire burned power poles, wind turbines and charred two smaller buildings. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has since declared the Twin Falls area “unhealthy” for area residents. In Colorado, the Alkali Fire has burned nearly 8,000 acres. Also ignited by lightning, the fire north of Maybell is primarily burning on private land.

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Fire Update: Mild Season Could Cook Up in Dry Days of Fall

Fire season in the Northern Rockies is nearing the end of its run. It's been largely drama-free, so far, although some late weather has kicked it up a bit, says Rick Floch, Bitterroot National Forest Fire Management officer. With two active fires in Wyoming, three in Montana and no significant fires in Idaho, the Northern Rockies haven’t really seen the kind of burning expected for mid-August. According to Floch, the fire season so far has seen an unusual number of storms with large amounts of rain, hail, wind and lightning. The rain has definitely mitigated fire danger in many of the region's forests. Although, “there is still the potential for some belated fire activity,” says Floch, “the days get shorter and the likelihood of lightning storms diminishes. This chance grows smaller each day as we move into the fall.”

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Examining Legend: The Pardoning of Billy the Kid

The pending pardon of a 150-year-old criminal by the governor of New Mexico would seem like a blip on the international stage--certainly not the stuff of headlines in the Hindu, India’s national newspaper, or the Guardian in London. But this criminal captures what people, here and elsewhere, think they know about the Wild West. Whether you know him as Henry Antrim, William H. Bonney, Henry McCarty or Billy the Kid, the infamous outlaw skyrocketed into folk legend nearly a century and a half ago. So does he deserve the exoneration promised long ago and recently revived by Gov. Bill Richardson? That depends. How much do you really know about his story?

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FWP Responds to Molloy Ruling on Wolf Listing

When U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ordered the relisting of wolves on the Endangered Species list, it left Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks with virtually no management options, officials contend. “As a result of the recent federal court decision, we are left with no way to actively manage wolves as a Montana wildlife species,” director of Montana FWP Joe Maurier said in a press release sent today that further explains FWP’s intention to push an appeal of the ruling. Molloy’s court ruled that as a result of Wyoming’s inadequate regulatory mechanisms for wolf management and the threat it poses to the species’ continued recovery, the U. S. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife did not act in accordance with the law by delisting the animal in Montana and Idaho. Both states currently have the federal green-light on their wolf management plans. “It’ s disappointing,” Maurier says, “when FWP and the people of Montana have worked so hard and done everything we were asked to do, to see a legal technicality upend the intent of the Endangered Species Act, which is to recover a species.”

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More Pneumonia Discovered in Montana’s Bighorn Sheep Population

Five Bighorn Sheep in the Skalkaho region of west central Montana have contracted pneumonia, which is almost always fatal when manifested as a respiratory disease in the animal. Historically, the region has served as critical sheep habitat although it was not until 1972 that the animal was successfully reintroduced to the area. There is no known prevention, vaccine or medication capable of preventing death in the overwhelming majority of cases. An infected animal typically dies within a few weeks. This most recent incident follows in the wake of this winter’s devastating outbreak in the Rocky Mountain West. Western Montana alone saw over 200 sheep die as a result of infection. Regionally speaking, the hardest hit populations were in the East Fork of the Bitterroot, Lower and Upper Rock Creek, and in the Bonner area. Officials in the region took an experimental and very aggressive approach to disease control with sheep kills in an effort to protect healthy animals from infected ones. Seventeen sheep in Nevada, 26 in Utah, and 18 from Washington also died or were killed by wildlife officials as a result of the epidemic.

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FWP Seeks Comment on Possible Changes to Floating the Smith

Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks is looking for public comment on their proposed changes to the system for a highly coveted permit to float the Smith River in central Montana. Superb scenery, a blue-ribbon trout fishery, remote setting, and a 59-mile stretch of undisturbed water combine to make the river one of the most desired floating spots in the state. So desired, in fact, that FWP had to institute a permit lottery to curtail the number of visitors and protect the stretch from degradation a few years back. But the organization wants to make the trip more accessible and so its proposing changes to the biennial rule that would make it easier for people to obtain a permit. “There’s been an increase in the number of people applying—it’s been steadily going up since we first instituted the permit system,” says Linda Howard of MSP. According to Smith River State Park manager, Colin Maas, FWP usually gets around 5,000 applications for 850 permits. So in any given year you have roughly 17% chance of floating the Smith—acceptance rates that are lower than some seen in the Ivy Leagues.

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New Dams on the Boise Leave Many Divided

Although the public comment period ended in July, the Army Corps of Engineers still face opposition from citizens regarding its proposal to add additional dams to the Boise River. The Corps of Engineers and the Idaho Water Resource Board are surveying six potential dam sites along the Boise River from upper Mores Creek to the Upper North Fork. The idea is to look at each site's capacity for new water storage projects within the region. Ellen Berggren of the Corps of Engineers told Idaho’s NewsChannel 7 that the “corps has concerns about flood risk in the Treasure Valley. The risk in the valley is still very, very high and we feel it’s probably higher than most people realize.” Already one year into its three-year study of the future of water in the Boise River, the Corps is looking at ways to mitigate flood damage and water shortage in the coming years. One avenue is the construction of dams and a number of reservoirs for storage.

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Polls Place Wyoming and Mississippi in a Tie for Most Conservative State

According to a Monday Gallup Poll, Wyoming is in a tie with Mississippi for the most conservative state in the nation. Nudging it into noteworthy territory are the 53 percent of those polled who are self-described conservatives. The Equality State has historically been solidly red in terms of its election results—both statewide and nationally, of course. A separate poll conducted by the Casper Star-Tribune and the Washington D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. further probed partisanship, asking residents about their approval of Barack Obama, the direction of the country and health care reform. As far as support for the president, the results (52 percent said Obama’s doing “poor job”) surprised even Brad Coker, a representative for Mason-Dixon, who told the Tribune, “I don’t think Bill Clinton ever got that bad in Wyoming.”

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