Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

October 21, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), legislation that changed how the Bureau of Land Management oversees public lands.

Before the Act passed in 1976, the BLM largely managed its lands for ranching, and oil and gas development. FLPMA altered the agency's mission, directing it, among other things, to conserve land for future generations.

Mark Good, central Montana field director for the Montana Wilderness Association, said the state's landmarks like Glacier National Park are well known, but BLM lands are less appreciated.

"At least in the eastern part, they represent some of the last remaining blocks of unbroken prairie on all the Great Plains, which makes them special and unique," he said. "And most of these are great places just to go, to provide some of the better opportunities to experience solitude and naturalness and primitive recreation."

Good said some of Montana's notable BLM landmarks include the Upper Missouri River Break National Monument, Humbug Spires and the Terry Badlands. The agency manages about eight million acres of land in the Treasure State.

FLPMA also requires the BLM to inventory its land and resources periodically. In some cases, this involves assessing whether land should be protected as wilderness. Good said that's the case with land near the Lewistown Field Office in central Montana, with a draft revision of plans for the area to be released this year.

"They identified a couple hundred thousand acres as having wilderness characteristics, so we would expect that a good proportion of those areas will be managed in a manner that will protect those wilderness characteristics," he added.

Multiple use of public lands has been a legacy of FLPMA as well, and recreation is integral to local economies near BLM lands. According to data from the research firm ECONorthwest, BLM lands generated more than $140 million in direct spending within 50 miles of recreation sites in Montana.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff


October 17, 2016

GLENDIVE, Mont. - Federal agencies say the best option for conserving the endangered pallid sturgeon is to provide a bypass channel to the Yellowstone Intake Dam. Opponents of the project not only disagree, they say that the option is a waste of money.

The final Environmental Impact Statement from the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation said the bypass alternative balances fish recovery with farmers' irrigation needs. But Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, said the bypass option is untested.

"Basically what they have done is, they have selected an experimental alternative assuming that pallid sturgeon will use a long, constructed, engineered bypass channel around a larger dam," Farling said. "And there's no science available - zero - that says pallid sturgeon will use a bypass of this sort."

An independent review of the bypass, which would include improvements to the Intake Dam, said the project would cost $57 million. Farling said removing the dam, while costly, is the best option for the sturgeon, and could save money in the long run if the bypass doesn't work. 

The Intake Dam is located near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.There are only about 125 wild pallid sturgeon remaining in the Upper Missouri River basin.

Farling said his organization and other conservation groups have suggested removing the current river diversion and replacing it with a pumping system to irrigate surrounding farmland. He said it's a tried and true solution. But the agencies have already rejected that option.

"There have been instances where the Bureau of Reclamation, one of the agencies here, replaced irrigation dams on rivers and replaced them with pumping systems," Farling said. "So, we weren't asking these guys to create a rocket to Mars."

The pallid sturgeon has been in trouble since dams went up on the Missouri River more than 50 years ago, according to Steve Forrest, a senior representative for the Rockies and Plains program at Defenders of Wildlife. And the fish haven't successfully reproduced since. 

"We know now that those dams have disrupted the way that at least young, larval sturgeon mature. They don't have enough time to grow into swimming young," Forrest said. "By the time they reach the next reservoir downstream, they sink to the bottom and suffocate and die. So, the clock is ticking."

After a review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agencies are allowed to make a final decision no sooner than 30 days after the impact statement is published in the Federal Register. That will happen on Oct. 21.

Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

October 14, 2016

EMIGRANT, Mont. - A gold-mining plan near Yellowstone National Park would not have a significant impact on the environment, according to a draft assessment from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. But many others disagree. The Canadian mining company Lucky Minerals has proposed searching for gold in Emigrant Creek, a few miles north of the only year-round access to Yellowstone Park.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester said while mining has played an important role in the state's economy and history, the environmental and economic risks from a mine near Yellowstone are too great.

"The local economy in the Paradise Valley and the Gardiner Basin is diverse and thriving due to the quality of life, opportunities for world-class fishing and other outdoor recreation, and the millions of visitors that Yellowstone draws through these communities every year," he said. "The prospect of large-scale mining operations threatens the unique nature of this area and the livelihoods of the people who live there."

Tester has sent a letter to President Obama's Cabinet officials asking for an administrative withdrawal of mining and mineral permits on public lands near the proposed mining area. He said he's considering introducing legislation to prohibit the federal government from granting mining permits on two areas of federal land north of Yellowstone National Park.

Karrie Kahle, spokesperson for the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, works at Chico Hot Springs near the proposed mining site. She said the coalition agrees with Senator Tester, and noted that there is a bipartisan effort among more than 250 local businesses to oppose this mine.

"This really, truly is a community issue," she said. "This is not a political one, and we have members of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition from both sides of the political aisle. And, just as a community, we are coming together to protect our way of life and our livelihood."

Kahle said between 2013 and 2014, Yellowstone visitors spent $196 million in her county and she fears mining in the area could disrupt that. The Montana DEQ is taking public comments through December 12th.

Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

October 14, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. - If you want to get higher yields from a farm, start with the health of the soil. That's one rule being shared by a speaker at Northern Plains Resource Council's first Soil Summit, which takes place in Billings on Saturday and is open to the public.

Blain Hjertaas, a sustainable rancher in Saskatchewan, will share information at the conference about the advantages of a farming technique he calls "regenerative agriculture," which he said improves degraded soil and could produce higher earnings for ranchers.

"And it basically means building soil and as you do that, it makes the food produced healthier, it makes the water infiltrate better," he said. "It takes carbon from the atmosphere, puts it down into the earth, and it makes the yields higher, and more profit for the farmer."

Over the past five years, Hjertaas explained he has been measuring carbon levels in the soil to get a picture of how it's doing. He and other farmers have set up a soil-monitoring system at more than 300 sites across North America to assess how fast each farmer can capture carbon. They'll compare notes in the next few years.

Hjertaas said the fact that healthier soil can produce healthier food is no small matter either. Referring to poor-quality crops, he said the current state of the soil in many areas is a direct indicator of public health at large.

"If I take a look at society in general, I would conclude that it's not terribly healthy," he added. "We have epidemic levels of diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, allergies, all these things. And from the knowledge that I have learned over the last number of years, soil health, and human health are directly related."

Hjertaas will also speak about the benefits of carbon sequestration to help offset the effects of climate change. To find out more about the conference, look online at

Billings, MT - Call to Artists! Submit your work to the Yellowstone Art Museum's 49th Annual Art Auction. The event takes place March 4th, 2017. Submission deadline is Friday, October 14th, 2016.  Submission is free for all artists.  The juror will be Kenneth L. Schuster.  Kenneth is the Director & Chief Curator at The Brinton Museum in Big Horn, Wyoming. 

Apply Online:

In addition to supporting a charitable event, artists who are juried in enjoy the following benefits:

  • Inclusion in the 49th Art Auction and the exhibition and catalog.  The exhibition is presented in the museum’s main galleries, and runs from January 19 to March 4, 2017, at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana.
  • A special invitation to the opening reception honoring participating artists, Thursday evening, January 19th, 2017.
  • One copy of a full-color catalog.
  • All of the juried artwork will be displayed on the YAM’s website.
  • Widespread regional advertising and promotion of the Auction.
  • One complimentary ticket to the culminating event on March 5, 2016, and one guest ticket at half price.
  • Special acknowledgment for artists making full donations to live or silent auctions on exhibition signage, catalog, and website.

Also apply on the same application to be a Quick Draw artist where art works are created on-site at the event and first in line for bidding during the Live Auction. 

We are looking for U.S. artists, 2D and 3D works, created within the past 3 years (except jewelry). The Artist must be at least 18 years old to enter. A complete set of rules, eligibility requirements is listed on the application form. Fill out an application online and email submission images or any questions to Tanya Ruiz This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..