What’s killing Montana moose?

This story was published in the Ravalli Republic and Char-Koosta News.

On a November morning, it’s snowy in the Big Hole Valley.

Bouncing along ranch roads in a Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks truck, biologist Nick DeCesare circles and crisscrosses the valley, listening for beeps.

FWP biologist Nick DeCesare uses an antenna to locate a moose with a radio collar.

FWP biologist Nick DeCesare uses an antenna to locate a moose with a radio collar.

Ten moose in the valley wear radio collars that emit signals and allow DeCesare to find them using a radio and an antenna.

Loud beeps mean a moose is near. DeCesare pulls over, climbs into the bed of the truck, and aims the antenna in all directions.

He points to a ravine, a dip in the evergreens, to the west of the truck. “Right in there somewhere,” he says sagely. He hardly needs the equipment. After tracking her for a year, DeCesare knows this moose, her haunts and habits.

Today he’s worried about the animal.

Nearby ranchers have reported seeing a blind collared moose. He’s guessed by the locations of the sightings which moose it is, and he now prepares to approach her, to see for himself. Continue reading

Pioneer Mountains contribute to worldwide climate study

This story was published in the Montana Standard.

Standing near the wind-whipped summit of Mount Keokirk, at 9,787 feet, Martha Apple lays a one-meter wooden grid over the vegetation at her feet.

Jarle Inge Holten, left, and Montana Tech geophysicist Xiaobing Zhou near the summit of Mount Keokirk

Jarle Inge Holten, left, and Montana Tech geophysicist Xiaobing Zhou near the summit of Mount Keokirk

The Montana Tech biology professor makes sure the grid is placed in the exact spot as on prior visits here. Then she goes about examining the plants within, such as Siberian aster and legumes flowering in the late summer.

Once a year Apple drives about an hour on a dirt road and hikes the last steep miles to reach this point in the Pioneer Mountains, southwest of Butte. She comes to see how climate change is affecting plants in this high-mountain ecosystem. It’s one among 116 alpine sites around the world, from the Pioneers to Nepal, monitored by scientists as part of a project called GLORIA, or the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments.

“Plants live where they live because they can,” Apple says. If the plants require colder temperatures, “the seeds that have landed upslope will live and the ones that are downslope, where it’s warmer, may not. (Plants) may move upslope in response to climate change.” Continue reading

Fort Belknap tribes welcome back wild bison

This story was published in the Fort Peck Journal.

It’s early evening on Aug. 22 on the Fort Belknap Reservation in north-central Montana. A semi-truck sits idle in a pasture. The back gate opens. A female bison walks out, pauses a moment, and then charges out onto the vast prairie. She’s the first wild bison to stand on this ground in 150 years.Fort Belknap bison

Others—34 in all—begin to emerge from the semitrailer and follow, running together toward the horizon.

Mike Fox, a member of the Fort Belknap Tribal Council, takes in the scene with moist eyes. “We really wanted to be a part of the solution—the long-term solution—to keep them in the picture,” he says.

Meanwhile, about 100 onlookers, mostly members of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes, cheer, celebrating a milestone in the slow expansion of genetically pure bison herds on tribal lands in Montana. Continue reading

Audio: Fort Peck Tribes beckon the Bakken

The Bakken oil boom has redefined the economy and landscape of western North Dakota and eastern Montana. But not on the nearby Fort Peck Reservation. Despite the nearly 600,000 acres of the reservation leased to oil companies, the boom eludes the poverty-stricken people of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. Reporter Kindra McQuillan has more.

CSKT works to restore Has Sandhill Cranes wetland

This story was published in the Missoulian and Char-Koosta News.

There’s a place between Hot Springs and the Upper Little Bitterroot River, on the Flathead Indian Reservation, called “Has Sandhill Cranes.”

Ten years ago, it had no sandhill cranes.

Water from the river, which had once fed a wetland of native birds and amphibians, was channeled into deep, straight irrigation ditches. Cattle trampled native grasses and shrubs, and birds flew elsewhere.  Some, like the trumpeter swan, were long gone anyway, due to over-hunting.

The northern leopard frog, which the state of Montana has designated a species of concern, is making a comeback on the Flathead Reservation. Photo by Kindra McQuillan

And the frog with the intricate, haloed spots and grinding croak—the northern leopard frog—had disappeared from the reservation altogether, designated as “extirpated” since about 1980.

Today, a wide wetland of native rushes and sedges again spreads across Has Sandhill Cranes.  Trumpeter swans fly overhead, as do ducks, marsh wrens, red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, soras, bitterns, virginia rails, coots, curlews, pied billed grieves, and of course, sandhill cranes. There’s a racket of warbles and screeches—and croaks. Continue reading

Audio: Idle No More movement marches into Montana

This package aired on KGVA.

Last November, the Canadian government passed a bill that would allow more development on First Nations’ land. Idle No More was the First Nations’ peoples’ response. The movement in defense of indigenous rights and environmental protection crossed the border into Montana. Reporter Kindra McQuillan went to a Missoula demonstration to learn what Montana tribes had to say.