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Early Signs of Huckleberry Heaven

What's your favorite way to enjoy huckleberries?

Hecla to focus on Rock Creek mine in Cabinets

WILDERNESS — The future owners of the Troy Mine confirmed its closure Monday, while committing to move forward on the nearby Rock Creek Mine plan to drill underneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwest Montana, the Missoulian reports.

Hecla announced it was acquiring Revett Mining Co.’s Troy Mine and its Rock Creek Mine last month in a $20 million merger. The deal is expected to close in midyear. Hecla is one of the 10 largest copper and silver mining companies in the United States.

The Rock Creek Mine is expected to have its supplemental environmental impact statement for further exploratory shaft work done in mid-2015. The mine site is located between the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and the proposed Scotchman Peaks wilderness area.

Says the Missoulian:

Some environmental groups in the region have challenged the Rock Creek proposal in court, arguing it could hurt water supplies for threatened bull trout and grizzly bears. However, other wilderness advocates have praised Revett’s track record of cooperation with environmental concerns

Forest Service OKs mining under Cabinet Mountains Wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness — among the first areas protected by the 1964 Wilderness Act — is another step closer to potential impacts from mining.

USFS gives preliminary OK to copper, silver mine in NW Montana
The U.S. Forest Service will take public comment for 45 days on the final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision approving Spokane-based Mines Management Inc.'s Montanore Mine, an underground copper and silver mine in Northwest Montana about 18 miles from Libby.

The mine is one of two separate mining proposals that would drill from outside the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness into ore bodies within the wilderness borders.

The local economy of this area was rocked when the Troy Mine shut down due to low copper prices. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality must still issue a final permit, and a group led by former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is challenging mining claims. A trial in that matter scheduled in April.

See a story with links to the two mining proposals and insight on the concerns of wilderness and environmental advocates.

Forest Service chief honors Cabinets recreation staffer

PUBLIC LANDS — A Western Montana man and former wilderness ranger recently received a national award for tending to the recreation programs in the Cabinet Mountains and wilderness area.

Joel Sather, recreation technician on the Cabinet Ranger District, traveled recently with his wife Carmin to Washington, D.C., to accept a Chief’s Award from US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

Sather, who has worked for the Forest Service for 25 years, primarily on the Kootenai National Forest, was one of only 14 Forest Service employees nationwide to win the Chief’s Award for 2014.

Sather was presented his award for his efforts in partnership, volunteers and outdoor education. He was lauded for his work on motorized recreation trails, getting kids involved in stewardship and wilderness investigation, his work on Star Peak Historic Trail #999, and coordinating volunteer efforts from diverse groups.

In his thank-you speech, Sather got a laugh from the audience when he admitted to not knowing quite yet which way was north in D.C., and that he was more comfortable in a pair of boots and a backpack with a cross-cut saw on his shoulder.

“I’m proud to be able to represent the recreation program on the Cabinet Ranger District and the Kootenai National Forest as a whole,” he said in short remarks. “In regards to this award, I was simply doing my job. A huge ‘thank you’ goes out to the Cabinet Ranger District wilderness and trail crew, and the volunteers and partners who do a tremendous amount of great work for us, including Cabinet Ridge Riders, Cabinet Resource Group, Cabinet Backcountry Horsemen and Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.”

“Joel certainly deserves the honor,” said Friends of Scotchman Peaks Program Coordinator Sandy Compton. “He’s a great partner. His energy and commitment to his job have been a huge catalyst for helping his volunteer partners get things done, not only on his district but on adjoining districts as well.”

Sather, who grew up in Lincoln County and graduated from Libby High School, was the wilderness ranger in the western half of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness for six seasons in the late 1990s. He accepted the recreation technician job on the Cabinet District in 2010. He and his wife Carmin have two children and live in Noxon.

Mining in the Cabinets: It’s a question of wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — I'm getting mixed reviews in comments and emails about my Sunday Outdoors story: Not-so-wild wilderness: Mining proposals threaten Cabinet Mountains streams, lakes and grizzlies.

Some people say I featured only wilderness activists and that there's really nothing to worry about regarding the mining proposals surrounding the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwestern Montana.

Besides, we all need the metals miners extract, they point out.


But the point of the story, and the sidebar focused on the impacts of the mining on grizzly bears, is that while state and federal agencies are poring over mounds of documents on the impacts of each mine proposal, no agency appears to be sizing up the CUMULATIVE IMPACTS of both new mine proposals plus the re-starting of the existing Troy Mine plus the proposals for more motorized vehicle access in the Kootenai National Forest management plan.

The sum of these threats warrants public attention, hence the story.

The Forest Service declined to answer my prepared questions that focused on cumulative impacts.

"The process seems to overlook the wilderness as a whole.

“There’s no advocacy group for the wilderness in Sanders County. It wouldn’t be a popular position. But when I’m hiking in there, I also see lots of people form Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and Missoula, and none of them seems to know about the mines.

"A lot of people in Sanders County don’t think people from other areas don’t have a voice in the issue because they don’t live here. But the wilderness belongs to everyone.

     — Jim Costello, SaveOurCabinets.org

"It’s wilderness: Either you’re for or against it."

     —Mary Crowe Costello, Rock Creek Alliance

Three-day festival near Libby celebrates wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — A Blackfeet Tribe troubadour and a former chief of the U.S. Forest Service are coming to the Inland Northwest to be part of a three-day event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

An impressive mix of wilderness and wildlife experts plus entertainment and educational programs are scheduled Friday through Sunday, July 11-13, at the Bull River Rod and Gun Club at Bull Lake on State Highway 56 south of Troy and Libby, Montana.

The setting couldn’t be more symbolic. Bull Lake is in a valley between the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness:

The Cabinet Wilderness was among the original 54 wilderness areas designated when Congress enacted the Wilderness Act of 1964.

The Scotchman Peaks wilderness proposal, which straddles the Idaho-Montana border, is the region’s most likely candidate for wilderness designation should the next Congress consider a wilderness bill.

Friday’s program includes a 3 p.m. talk on Grizzlies in the Cabinets by Wayne Kasworm, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly research expert for the region. A program on wilderness advocates will be followed by “Classical Music for the Wild by the Glacier Orchestra.

Capping Friday’s events will be a wilderness movie and performance by Jack Gladstone of the Blackfeet, who illustrates Western Americana through an entertaining fusion of lyric poetry, music and narrative.  

Dale Bosworth, former chief of the Forest Service, will headline’s Saturday’s events with a 7 p.m. presentation on wilderness advocates.

Bosworth crafted the 2005 Travel Management Rule in response to the growth of off-highway vehicle use, which had more than doubled between 1982 and 2000. The rule allows OHVs to travel in national forests only on roads or routes specifically designated for their use.

Also on the Saturday schedule are programs on Wild Yoga, Critter Crafts, Backcountry Horses, Skulls and Skins, Native Americans in the Cabinets, Early Pioneers, Birds of the Wild, Kid in the Wild puppet show and more capped with evening music by two groups, Naples and Huckleberry Jam.

All three days include food vendors, a beer tent, horseshoe tossing, kayak rentals and a group campfire at the lake’s edge.

The lineup is worth camping on site or looking into a motel room at Libby or one of several national Forest campgrounds in the area.

 Sunday’s programs cover compass skills, fly tying, a wilderness ranger reunion and primitive skills demonstrations.

  •  Another wilderness celebration with programs on wildlife photography, grizzly bears, changing directions in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and more is scheduled for Aug. 23, noon-9 p.m. in Libby Riverfront Park. The Libby event will features a 7 p.m. family concert by the popular Wylie and the Wild West Show.

New map published for Cabinet Mountains Wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — A new Cabinet Mountains Wilderness map, highlighting about 80 trails, has been published by conservation groups celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

“The last Forest Service wilderness map, published in 1992, is out of print and almost impossible to find,” said Sandy Compton of the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, one of several groups, agencies and businesses that worked on the project.

“This is not only a good map as far as being able to find your way around, it’s also more of a resource for the local communities,” he said, noting it lists trails, contacts, attractions and services around the Western Montana wilderness area south of the Kootenai River.

Ten trails are spotlighted with short descriptions to show the range of options. It's beautifully illustrated with photos from the area.

The new map is clean, easy to read and water-resistant. But mapaholics won’t want to throw away their old Forest Service wilderness map.

For example, the new map leaves off a few landmark names, including small lakes or ponds and Hanging Valley.

Perhaps only a little prematurely in this age of climate change, it omits Blackwell Glacier on the north side of Snowshoe Peak and shows it as water.

However, trails on the new map are updated, easier to follow and more detailed.

Released this week, the map is being distributed at Forest Service offices, stores in the region as well as the Spokane REI store.

Researchers set grizzly bear snares near Priest Lake

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Researchers are setting snares in the Hughes Meadows area north of Priest Lake this month in an ongoing effort to capture grizzly bears and fit them with radio collars.

As of Tuesday, the two-man crew working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had caught one bear – a black bear. The 5-year-old male, weighing 134 pounds, was ear-tagged and released, said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager.

Radio collars have been helping wildlife biologists monitor North Idaho grizzly bears, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, since the first grizzly was collared in the Selkirks in 1983, Wakkinen said.

More than 80 different grizzly bears have been captured.

“There have been some years when we didn't trap in Idaho but we've generally been trapping in either Idaho or the British Columbia portion of the Selkirk ecosystem since then,” he said.

This year, the first significant research trapping in Washington occurred in May. The federal crew set snares in the Molybdenite Mountain south of Sullivan Lake. No grizzly bears were captured.

“The crew places warning notices at all major access points and trailheads in the area,” Wakkinen said. “They place more signs closer to the actual snare site.”

Researchers also are trapping bears in the northeastern corner of Idaho near Copper Creek and Copper Lake in the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery area, he said.

Wayne Kasworm, federal grizzly bear biologist who's supervising the collaring project, said his crews plan to be trapping high in the mountains in July and August.

"We currently have five female grizzly bears with collars in the Selkirks and we hope to collar four or five more," he said.  

Snares are checked at least once a day, or twice a day in hot or cold and rainy weather, he said. Most of the traps have transmitters that signal if they’ve been triggered with a radio signal to the crew.

The snare sites are placed well off of trails to reduce the chance of an encounter with humans, Wakkinen said. 

Snare sites are baited, typically with road-killed deer.  “If a person smells something stinky the best bet is to not investigate,” he said, “but this advice holds true whether there is trapping going on or not.

“If there's something stinky there's a chance that a predator of some sort – black bear, cougar, grizzly bear – may be around to check it out.  Or you might be poking your nose into a recent kill site where a cougar has stashed its prey.

“Radio collars can yield a great amount of information such as survival rates, cause of mortality, reproductive output, cub survival and identification of seasonal ranges and dispersal,” he said. “These data in turn can be used to make informed land management decisions.”

Grizzlies isolated in Cabinet Mountains

THREATENED SPECIES — Our big bears  need lots of room to roam, something that's in short supply in our ever-more-developed world.

 Grizzly bears in NW Montana face trio of obstacles
An estimated 45 grizzly bears reside in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem in the northwest corner of Montana. In most cases, their lineage traces back to a female grizzly from British Columbia that was trapped and released to the area in 1993 to boost the population. The effort continues as the species struggles with isolation from other populations, conflicts with humans and habitat.
—Missoula Independent

Study finds at least 42 grizzlies in Cabinet, Yaak

THREATENED SPECIES — A “hair of the bear” study has accounted for at least 42 grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains and Yaak River drainage regions of northwestern Montana, according to the Associated Press.

Research leader Kate Kendall reported her findings to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Tuesday, the Missoulian reported.

Researchers used about 800 scent-baited “hair corrals” where rings of barbed wire snagged hair as the animals stepped over or under it to investigate the scent. They also collected samples in about 1,200 places where bears naturally stop to scratch their backs, such as trees, posts and poles in a 3,750-square-mile area in the mountains above Eureka, Libby, Trout Creek, Yaak and Troy.

The samples, collected in 2012 and analyzed this year, identified 38 grizzlies by their DNA. Researchers also knew about four collared bears whose DNA didn’t appear in the samples.

“That’s the rock-solid minimum count we detected,” research leader Kate Kendall told the committee at its meeting in Missoula. Including visiting bears and bears that died during the study, the figure could be as high as 54, she said.

The number is important because the health of the grizzly population influences how much logging and mining can take place in the area.

Read on for more details from the AP.

October bright month for backpackers

HIKING — I'm not the only one who's noticed that October often is a premium month for backpacking.

The weather is clear and crisp and the autumn colors are brilliant.

Check out this photo by Ken Vanden Heuvel from his recent trek into Little Ibex Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness of Western Montana. There's no official trail to the little lake, which is snug in a notch of broken granite.  

So many places to find your autumn niche.

Photographer finds Cabinet Mountains in full glory

MOUNTAINS — The Cabinet Mountains near Libby, Mont., were beaming in all their glory Tuesday.

"This is the Bull River, near the giant cedars, with Ibex and Little Ibex peaks in the background," said Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.

He was out for a little fresh air, and it looks as though he found it — along with some clouds rather than plumes from fires.

"I’m hoping the smoke is on the way out," he said. "I’m tired of the smoke."

Lynx shows up at wolverine bait station

WILDLIFE RESEARCH — Although they're trying to document the presence of wolverines, getting good snapshots of a Canada lynx still made the day for volunteers monitoring bait stations for the wolverine research project trail cams in North Idaho last week.

The photo comes from a bait station set up by Idaho Fish and Game, which is partnering on the research with Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

Note the black tufts on the tips of the ears, and the huge furry feet that give it snowshoe-like buoyancy  on the snow. The winter track of a lynx looks as though a powder puff has been dabbed in the snow.

The lynx, which is federally listed as a threatened species, feeds primarily on snowshoe hares

See more bait station photos of the lynx as well as of the volunteers and other critters visiting the bait stations — on the Wolverine Study Facebook Page.

Trail-cam mystery critter identified

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A snowshoe hare is caught in action by a trail cam set high in the Cabinet Mountains for a wolverine research project funded by the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

See martens, bobcats, volunteer helpers — and even a wolverine — in the group's wolverine research Facebook photo album.

The hare in the photo above normally wouldn't be able to go eyeball to eyeball with the camera mounted up on the trunk of a tree, but winter winds drifted snow into a viewing platform.

Some readers viewed the mystery close-up photo (left) and guessed "rabbit."  Close, but not correct.

Read on for the differences between "hares" and "rabbits."

Mystery critter mugs on wolverine study trail cam

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Can you ID the critter, above, in this close encounter last week with one of the wolverine research project trail cams in the Cabinet Mountains?

The camera is one of about 40 installed by the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

Answer coming later…

It's easier to identify the marten, left, that provided this cool action image for a trail cam posted on a bait station at high elevations in the wolverine research project.

Some of the responses on my Facebook Page regarding the mystery critter above are close, but NOBODY in that thread is correct, yet.


The camera is in a tree up off the ground.

—The mountains have had some snow and wind.

—Bigfoot has NEVER been caught on camera.

—Some critters resemble others but have significant differences….

Answer and photo proof coming tomorrow from Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

Scotchman Peaks Wilderness friends leading group hikes

HIKING — The annual summer series of group hikes organized by the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness will begin June 4 with a trek into Thunder Creek northeast of Lake Pend Oreille.

The moderately difficult hike is just the first of 15 hikes the group is offering this summer along with three cooperative trail work projects coordinated with the Forest Service.

In addition, the friends group is offering two hiking workshops with author, naturalist and historian Jack Nisbet.

The group hikes are geared to exposing the public to the rugged and scenic 88,000-acre roadless area the group is proposing for wilderness designation. The area straddles the Idaho-Montana border northeast of Clark Fork, Idaho, and ranges into Montana.

"We have some great hikes, as usual, but we are expanding our focus to include more stewardship and education,” said FSPW program coordinator Sandy Compton.

Friday Quote #2

“There shouldn’t be anything sacred about this spot. Plenty of mines are built in prettier places, a wilderness is just a line on a map.”

-Doug Ward, Revett Minerals V.P. of Corporate Development, speaking about his companies proposal to mine copper and silver beneath northwestern Montana’s Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

Hold on - let’s see that one again - “There shouldn’t be anything sacred about this spot. Plenty of mines are built in prettier places, a wilderness is just a line on a map.”

It’s probably safe to say that Mr. Ward gives very little consideration to the environmentally conscious-forming motto of Spokane, “Near Nature, Near Perfect,” because you see, Revett Minerals is a Spokane (Valley) based operation.  So maybe that’s it, it’s Spokane Valley, not Spokane - so the motto doesn’t weigh as heavy on his Earth-crushing soul.  But still, Spokane Valley is very near a place that’s near nature - so guilty by association Mr. Ward.  But enough of silly Spokane distinctions,  a real travesty is unfolding in one of the most beautiful places in the world - a place close enough to Spokane to call it our “Near Nature.”

According to the Rock Creek  Alliance, a non-profit environmental group based out of N. Idaho,  the U.S Forest Service is considering allowing Revett Minerals to drill three-feet underneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area to extract copper and silver by blasting out large underground rooms that would likely collapse, causing significant damage to prime grizzly bear and trout habitats, and then dump around 100 million tons of contaminated mine waste next to the Clark Fork River.  And the U.S Forest Service is actually considering this??

Hopefully “this spot” is worth saving Mr. Ward.