Aided by federal transportation dollars, officials say 80% of park could reopen within two weeks.

Credit: Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

That’s on top of the expected June 22 reopening of the park’s southern loop, which means 80% of the nation’s oldest national park should be open within just weeks of devastating flooding in southern Montana and in time to recoup at least some of the losses of a truncated summer tourism season.

The new estimate is a far cry from the sobering assessment Park Superintendent Cam Sholly shared shortly after the flooding began: that the northern loop of the park, which allows visitors to access Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris and other destinations, would likely not reopen this season. 

Instead, $50 million in emergency relief funds from the Federal Highway Administration and the redirection of road crews already in Yellowstone for an existing project have led the park to shift expectations, Sholly and National Park Service Director Chuck Sams III announced this weekend, according to a statement from the park. 

 

Can Gardiner survive its latest disaster?

Can Gardiner survive its latest disaster?

Nestled in the scenic Yellowstone River valley along the Montana-Wyoming border, Gardiner, Montana — with its Old West facades, fly shops, and whitewater outfitters — serves as a year-round gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Its proximity to the northern entrance to the country’s oldest and arguably grandest national park fuels the town’s tourism-based economy. With a year-round population of fewer than 900 people, Gardiner is almost entirely reliant on the nearly three-quarters of a million visitors who pass through Yellowstone’s north gate each year. The summer season, the busiest and most lucrative time of year for most Gardiner businesses, was…

The Park Service is also working with the FHWA “on a range of temporary and permanent options” to restore access to Silver Gate and Cooke City at the park’s northeast entrance. No traffic is currently allowed into the Lamar Valley en route to those gateway communities. 

“It’s about as fast as you can mobilize a plan for a new road,” Sholly told reporters, per the Billings Gazette. 

Officials were initially careful not to overpromise, Park County Commissioner Bill Berg told Montana Free Press Tuesday. 

“A lot of attention and a lot of resources and creativity are being brought to bear,” Berg said. “Any connectivity between Mammoth and Gardiner, even if limited, is more than we expected even a week ago.” 

He noted, though, that emotional and economic anxiety still grip gateway communities like Gardiner, where innkeepers, guides and other proprietors saw their peak-season reservations dry up as the rivers rose. 

“It’s gonna be a hard summer,” he said. 

 “Any connectivity between Mammoth and Gardiner, even if limited, is more than we expected even a week ago.” 

PARK COUNTY COMMISSIONER BILL BERG 

The federal transportation dollars are separate from Federal Emergency Management Agency resources already pledged to help three affected southern Montana counties: Carbon, Park and Stillwater. Last week’s federal declaration of major disaster in Montana allows the government and certain nonprofits in the state to tap into FEMA’s public assistance funds, designed to facilitate rapid repairs to public infrastructure. 

Emergency managers are on the ground this week conducting preliminary damage assessments that will determine what public assistance funds are necessary and whether to open up access to FEMA individual assistance money, which the state has yet to request, an agency spokesperson said. 

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has also expressed openness to tapping into $93 million in available business assistance funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to aid flood-affected communities, a request that Montana Democratic legislative leadership made in a letter last week. 

“We’re looking at that,” he told KULR’s Bradley Warren early Tuesday. “I think it’s a reasonable use of some of those funds.”

Gianforte also said on Twitter Tuesday that the state is gathering data in anticipation of adding Flathead County to the presidential disaster declaration. Even as the public’s attention has turned to Yellowstone and surrounding communities, the Flathead Valley has seen its share of historic flooding in the last two weeks.

Back in Park County, Berg said he’s cautiously hopeful that the weekend’s developments will provide some relief to the tourism-dependent residents and businesses in his communities this season — fitting, he said, given that summer began at 3:14 a.m. local time on June 21. 

The weather Tuesday morning was sunny and fair, he said. 

“It’s Mon-Damn-Tana.” 


 

Bill was a key focus of Montana’s Jon Tester, Kansas’ Jerry Moran

JUNE 16, 2022 12:23 PM
MainStreetMontana.com
BY: 
 
DailyMontanan.com

 Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, speaks at a press conference on legislation to provide health care for veterans exposed to burn pits on June 7, 2022 (Photo by Jennifer Shutt of States Newsroom).

 

Officials seek civilian education, ordinances

June 15, 2022
MainStreetMontana.com
BY: 
 
DailyMontanan.com

 A female grizzly with two cubs (Photo by Glenn Phillips via www.glennphillipsphoto.com. | Used with permission).

 

Black bears sneaking into urban areas throughout the Rocky Mountain West is not a new problem, but recent grizzly bear sightings in the Missoula area have local officials ramping up efforts to foster best practices for safe coexistence with community members.

Jamie Jonkel, a wildlife management specialist with Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said Monday two young bears spotted in Bonner a couple weeks ago were likely from the same North Hills family group that had raided a chicken coop in the Missoula area last year. Jonkel estimated that about 100 grizzlies live in the southern end of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem alone, with about 40 in the Clearwater and Blackfoot valley floors.

“Everyone is a wonderful animal trainer and doesn’t know it. We’ve become quite a bear training ground for behaviors we don’t like,” Jonkel said. “We’ve turned cream for bears into ice cream in the extreme richness of human-influenced habitats. Bears have to adapt and show complacency to live in the lower 48 states right now, and we’re on the frontlines of the urban wildlife phenomenon here in Missoula.”

Jonkel was part of a panel of local experts on grizzly conservation efforts and managing human-bear population conflicts that presented Monday at the first in-person Missoula City Club meeting since the outset of the pandemic. City Club is dedicated to creating forums for civil discourse and drew roughly 77 participants this week.

At the forum, panelists outlined an increasing prevalence of grizzly sightings within cities in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, the largest recovery zone for grizzlies under the Endangered Species Act in Montana encompassing Kalispell and Missoula, and urged civilians to seek education on bear prevention on their properties.

Grizzlies have been listed as a threatened species through the ESA since 1975 but have seen staggering population growth in Montana through recovery plans. As of 1975, grizzlies were reduced to 2% of their former range south of Canada due to human-driven mortality and habitat loss. Both the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the NCDE grizzly populations are above 1,000, compared to just over 100 in the two largest bear population zones in the continental U.S. in the 1970s. The panel also showed a map with dozens of instances of grizzly sightings outside of the recovery zones within the last 10 years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved to delist grizzlies in the GYE in 2007 and 2017, both times blocked by Missoula District Court decisions, with the lack of genetic diversity for long-term population maintenance emerging as an outside issue for the delisting. The Fish, Wildlife and Parks department in Montana is currently drafting a proposal to augment genetic diversity by cross-zone grizzly breeding, but it has set no public timeline for the proposal’s completion.

USFWS grizzly bear recovery coordinator Hilary Cooley said her office is already processing delisting petitions filed this year from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Removal from the ESA would mean grizzlies could be legally hunted in these areas, which a University of Montana 2020 survey reported support for, with 61% of people agreeing individuals should be able to hunt grizzlies as long as populations “can withstand the pressure.”

Wayne Slaght, the manager of the Two Creek Monture Ranch in Ovando, estimated he has 10 grizzlies regularly on his ranch for nine months of the year and sees bears on cameras within 50 feet of his house five days a week. After multiple cattle deaths and wooden sheds destroyed by bears, he’s spent thousands on electric fencing and steel containers, among other prevention techniques.

“We have too many bears. It’s something we live with 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it’s a costly headache,” Slaght said. “It’s better, though, to have us out there than condos out in the woods. As land managers we’re taking care of the land and giving them good habitats, we just need to learn how to deal with them.”

Cooley said the USFWS is hiring five new people to address bear conflicts in the region, but civilians in urban areas recently frequented by grizzlies are looking for new local solutions and education opportunities. The uptick in bear sightings within the city has prompted local activists like Jonkel to advocate for Missoula to become Bear Smart, a designation for community human-bear conflict management and education Virginia City and Whitefish are also working towards. 

Jonkel started the Missoula Bear Smart Working Group with other local advocates this year to begin this process, and the group is conducting a hazard assessment to identify next steps for a human-bear conflict management plan. A GoFundMe for Bear Smart-related projects by Blake Nicolazzo has raised over $5,000, and the working group plans to present their assessment findings to city officials this summer. 

 
EMILY TSCHETTER

Emily Tschetter is a junior at the University of Montana, studying journalism. She is originally from Billings, Montana.

MORE FROM AUTHOR

 Kendrick Richmond, manager of the county’s sole recreational dispensary, is leading the charge to put a reversal measure on the November 2022 ballot.

Now Kendrick Richmond, manager of the county’s sole recreational dispensary, in Philipsburg, wants to put the question before voters again, as soon as November. And he’s not wasting any time.

Top Shelf Botanicals manager Kendrick Richmond
Top Shelf Botanicals manager Kendrick Richmond Credit: Courtesy of Kendrick Richmond

Less than a week after the repeal measure passed, county officials have already signed off on the language for Richmond’s                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             About 55% of eligible voters in Granite County cast a ballot in last week’s election, but Richmond maintains that many residents he has spoken to didn’t know about the repeal measure.

“This is the democratic process in the purest form, right?” Richmond said. “Your vote does count. Look at what happened here.”

SMALL-TOWN POLITICS

To qualify for the ballot, Richmond has to gather signatures from 15% of eligible voters in Granite County — about 375 residents — by Aug. 8. He said he’s already gathered nearly 50, many from customers of the shop he manages, Top Shelf Botanicals, which also sells to medical marijuana customers. 

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Montana marijuana FAQ

Montana marijuana FAQ

On Jan. 1, 2022, adult-use recreational marijuana will become available for purchase in Montana. We’ve put together a one-stop guide to answer the most common questions about the new industry, from possession limits to travel tips and everything in between.

He plans to set up an occasional booth on Broadway Street in downtown Philipsburg as well.

Richmond said many of his customers were “shocked” to hear that adult-use sales had been banned, and that he hopes to turn that surprise into momentum.

“By Friday I had the ballot initiative approved by the county attorney, and was getting signatures that evening. All in two days.”

TOP SHELF BOTANICALS MANAGER KENDRICK RICHMOND

“When I tell people we repealed rec[reational], they say, ‘what?’ They didn’t know. Some of them don’t realize it happened or that there was a vote about it,” Richmond said, adding that many people he’s talked with admitted they weren’t registered to vote.

Richmond told Montana Free Press that county officials were helpful as he fine-tuned the language of the initiative.

“We made the ballot language very simple. They interjected just a little bit [on technicalities],” he said. 

“By Friday I had the ballot initiative approved by the county attorney, and was getting signatures that evening. All in two days,” he said. “It’s a testament to being in a smaller town, and that certainly helped our cause.”

Regardless of the outcome of Richmond’s campaign, the ban on recreational sales at his shop will take effect 90 days after county officials certify the results of last week’s election in early September. 

That window, he points out, will allow the shop to “still capture the summer market.” 



 

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