Keeping an eye out for brucellosis

FWP and the state Department of Livestock are monitoring for brucellosis in Montana elk. The disease is carried by elk, bison and cattle. It can cause females to abort their calves. Controlling brucellosis is the main rationale offered for culling bison as the animals enter Montana as they migrate out of Yellowstone National Park.

Billings breaks snow record

A storm on April 13 meant Billings had tied the all-time record for snowfall in a season at 103.5 inches. Well, it appears the Magic City broke that record today. The photo shows white stuff on the grounds of the MSUB campus at lunchtime today. One-tenth of an inch had accumulated this morning, allowing the winter of 2017-18 to be the snowiest in Billings ever, at 103.6 inches and counting.

Montanans to Brokeback winter: “We wish you knew how to quit us.”

Court considers Montana access case

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing a ruling that established a prescriptive easement across the Wonder Ranch in the Madison Mountain Range southeast of Ennis. The Court has been asked to overturn a District Court decision that a prescriptive easement had been created by years of public use accessing public lands beyond the ranch.

Overturning the ruling could have a significant impact on prescriptive easements elsewhere in Montana.

It’s gonna get busy out there

With temps climbing into the 70s for the first time this spring, all that Montana snowpack is going to start converting into river water. It should be an interesting high-water season.

US caribou almost gone

The last remaining caribou herd in the lower 48 has been declared effectively extinct, according to a story in the New York Times. Recent aerial surveys counted only three animals in the herd.

Woodland caribou once ranged into Montana as far south as Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot.

The small and dwindling herd that roamed into the United States used the  Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho and Washington near the Canadian border part of the year.

A University of Montana wildlife biologist blamed mismanagement in British Columbia for the vanishing herd.

“The functional loss of this herd is the legacy of decades of government mismanagement across caribou range,” said Mark Hebblewhite, a wildlife biologist at the University of Montana, in the story in the New York Times.

The animals require old growth forest to survive. During the winter the animals move up slope in areas of heavy snow. The caribou's large hooves allow it to stand on, rather than plunge into deep snow. This allows them to feed on Old Man's Beard, a lichen that grows in old growth trees.

The deep snow also protects the caribou from predators, which move down slope in winter.

You never know who’ll be in the seat beside you

On a recent flight from Texas back home to Montana I found myself seated next to a young man, Renan, who I soon learned was traveling from his home in Brazil to Wolf Point, Montana.

Renan's dramatic journey was was one of his final steps in gaining a degree in agriculture from his college back home. His summer would be spent on a farm, working as an intern. We talked most of the flight. He was excited about the learning opportunity in front of him, but nervous about the snow that covered more and more of the ground below us, the farther north the jet travelled. I ensured him winter would break soon and the snow would be a memory that would express itself largely in high river flows this summer.

It turns out I lied, but not on purpose. Winter continues to linger in Montana. I have dreams of finally pulling the cover off my drift boat and hitting the water, but we're not quite there yet. Still, I hope Renan has enjoyed his stay in Montana so far, and that his summer is filled with rich experiences and great learning opportunities he can take back to his farm in southern Brazil.

Here's the column I wrote for the Flathead Beacon about our conversation.