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.

Plowing begins on Going-to-the-Sun

Plowing has begun on Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, but don't expect Logan Pass to be passable anytime soon. The road normally opens in June, but heavy snow this season could delay that opening until later in the summer.

The Park announced that it had plowed to Two Medicine Camp Store on the Park's east side last week, where drifts measure 15- to 20-feet deep. Crews are working on Many Glacier Road on the east side of the park, and Camas Road on the west side of the park, as weather conditions allow. More snow is in the forecast.

Next week, west side crews expect to begin plowing the Going-to-the-Sun Road between Lake McDonald Lodge and Avalanche.

Glacier, like the rest of Montana, has been hammered by snow this winter and early spring. The Flattop Mountain SNOTEL station shows snow depths 125 percent of a 30-year average. According to data recorded at the Flattop SNOTEL station, this is the most significant snow year since 2011. The West Glacier Weather Station is showing approximately 127 percent of a 30-year average as of March 30, with this winter (in West Glacier) thus far being the eighth highest snowfall year since 1964.

The Road is usually open by early to mid-June, but didn't open until July 13 in 2011. That was the latest opening for the road since it's inaugural year, when it opened July 15.

Montana river basins hold snowpack well above average, and may increase as early spring storms continue to hit the state. The Flathead River Basin on Glacier's west side is at 142 percent of average as of April 5.

Montana snowpack holding steady in April

The percentages of average snowpack stored in Montana's river drainages held steady in early April at levels way above normal. Adding to the carnage, Montana is being hit by early spring storms right now, with more weather forecast next week. There are winter weather watches and advisories posted across the state for today and Friday.

If you are traveling, be careful. If you can, avoid it all together. Summer will arrive soon enough. It only seems as though it will be just a long weekend in early August.

The good news: all this snow if river storage for summer. Trout and whitewater guides will be the primary beneficiaries if cool temperatures prevail this spring. Farmers won't be too angry either.

Spring fishing season delayed?

Well, it is spring in Montana so the storm that blew through the state Sunday night and Monday morning really isn't out of the ordinary. Still, I'd hoped I'd shaken the last of this season's snow and ice off the boat tarp this weekend. I guess not.

Still, all this snow, or more importantly precipitation, bodes well for the summer fishing season. All that white stuff is simply a whitewater in storage. We'll appreciate it in August if it lasts. At least for now, the forecast is bullish for full-flowing summer rivers.