Saturday, March 31, 2012

Avalanche danger rated as high for Glacier Park and Flathead and Kootenai National Forests

Tony Willits of the U.S. Forest Service issued a special backcountry avalanche bulletin last night for the Glacier Park and Flathead and Kootenai National Forest areas:

Between the elevations of 4,500 and 7,500 ft. the avalanche danger is currently rated HIGH on all steep and open terrain, on all aspects. A warm plume of moisture, with rising freezing levels has brought rain to the elevations of 5,500 to 5,800 feet. Overnight freezing (Friday night) will be short lived. Saturday will experience warmer temperatures and rain with freezing levels climbing to and above 6,500 feet, which will likely allow for a natural cycle of avalanche activity.

It is strongly advised to curtail back country travel until our region experiences some significant refreezing of the surface snow pack.

The weather forecast is predicting good confidence in a cold front moving into our region late Saturday night which could cause a stabilizing effect to the surface snow pack. The return of cooler temperatures on Sunday will be accompanied with moderate SW winds which will likely load NE-E aspects. Stay off of wind loaded terrain until time has passed to allow for stabilization of the potential weak interface.

Because of the general nature of this advisory message, each backcountry party will always need to make their own time and site specific avalanche hazard evaluations. This advisory best describes conditions at the time of its issuance. As time passes avalanche and snow conditions may change, sometimes quite rapidly. Elevation and geographic distinctions used are approximate and transition zones between hazards exist.

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From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I found about Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a brand new release by Cheryl Strayed, in a book review published in the Wall Street Journal last weekend. Intrigued by the story, I saved the clipping until I could find a little more time to do some research on the book.

The book is about how Cheryl reclaimed her life on the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother, divorce, and a run of reckless behavior. I just ordered the book from Amazon yesterday. While researching additional information on Wild, I found this video she produced for the book:

For more information, and to purchase the book, please click here.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

11th Annual Crown of Continent Managers’ Forum

The 2012 Crown Manager's Forum will be held March 19-20 at the Lethbridge Lodge in Lethbridge, Alberta. The theme of this year's forum is Tribes and First Nations in the Crown of the Continent. The public is encouraged to attend all or part of the forum.

Working in partnership with the Tribes and First Nations, the Crown Managers Partnership created this year's forum to focus on their connection to the Crown of the Continent. The goal of the forum is to bring together the public and environmental land managers across the Crown of the Continent ecosystem to gain and share diverse perspectives from Tribal and First Nations natural and cultural resource managers, educators, land-use planners and others. .

The Blackfoot Confederacy, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and Ktunaxa have called the Crown of the Continent home for thousands of years. Presently, Tribes and First Nations use the land for both traditional and non‐traditional uses, but face a multitude of challenges balancing economic development, cultural preservation and sustainable natural resources management.

The forum will begin on the evening of March 19 with a welcome and prayer by respected Piikani Traditional Ceremonialist Allan Pard, followed by a presentation by well-known southern Alberta archaeologist, Dr. Brian Reeves. The next day's agenda will start at 7:30am with registration and followed by a full day of presentations.

The Crown Managers Partnership is a voluntary multi‐jurisdictional, trans-boundary partnership formed in 2001 by a collection of agencies seeking to demonstrate leadership in addressing the environmental management challenges in the Crown of the Continent region. The Crown of the Continent region is one of North America's most ecologically diverse and jurisdictionally fragmented ecosystems.

Encompassing the shared Rocky Mountain region and immediately adjacent landscapes of Montana, British Columbia and Alberta, this 28, 000 square mile / 72,000 square kilometer region straddles two nations, one state and two provinces. The annual forum is an opportunity for participants to share information and explore opportunities for improved interagency cooperation. The location of the Forum rotates between British Columbia, Alberta and Montana.

Registration is required. A nominal, pro-rated fee will be charged for partial attendance. Please visit to register, and for more information about the Crown Managers Partnership.

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From Valley to Peak: Day and Night in Grand Teton

Below is Day and Night in Grand Teton, the first of four videos in a new series called, From Valley to Peak. The films were recently completed by Jackson-based videographers Jesse Ryan and Ryan Christopher of New Thought Media on behalf of Grand Teton National Park Foundation and Grand Teton Association. The second episode of this four video series will be released in April.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Short Documentary Profiles Forest Service Fire Lookout

A short documentary, The Lookout, which shows a day in the life of a fire lookout, has been gaining attention and awards at film festivals around the country, including the top prize (Big Sky Award) at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival held recently in Missoula. The Lookout follows Flathead National Forest employee Leif Haugen as he goes about the day-to-day business of scanning the forest for signs of fire.

New York filmmaker Brian Bolster says he was backpacking through Glacier National Park when he first encountered both a fire lookout and the individual staffing that particular lookout. The lookout's job left an indelible impression on him, and he decided to capture and profile the remote and solitary lifestyle of a lookout as well as understand his or her role in fire management.

The fire lookout program on the Flathead National Forest consists of 4 annually staffed lookouts and several others staffed on an as-needed basis. These lookouts provide daily and continuous visual observations of existing and potential fires, overlapping with lookouts in Glacier National Park. The lookout staff is one of the first resources to observe new fires as they evolve. They usually perform 10 day hitches typically from June through September. Most of the lookouts were built between the 1930s and 1970s and require ongoing maintenance and restoration to keep them operational.

The short film was shot over six days and five nights and follows Haugen as he performs his daily duties as a fire lookout at the Thoma Lookout a few miles from the Canadian border in the North Fork area. Filmmaker Brian Bolster says “I had a hunch that lookouts have a special connection to not only the environment around them, but also to the structure in which they live and work. As I was shooting this project, I quickly learned that fire lookouts and the individuals that staff them are an important part of our nation’s history, and I really wanted to showcase their work to audiences who may not be familiar with their unique, yet often times unnoticed, role in fire management.”

Satellites, GPS, computer applications and other technology provide new tools for fire lookouts, but technology cannot replace the people. Lookout Leif Haugen says, “Fire lookouts are the quietest aspect of fire management, and many people may think we don’t staff them anymore. I hope this film helps to show that the lookout program is strong and well used in the fire management program, especially in the Flathead area. I’m very proud that my lookout friends, despite all having very different experiences based on the variety of settings they work in, have seen it and feel that the film does a good of capturing the day in the life of a lookout experience.”

The Lookout is currently screening at various film festivals around the country. For more information and updates on the film, you can check out the films movie page on Facebook or email Brian Bolster at

In case you missed it, last month I published a short history/overview on the Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park.

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USDA publishes final rule to restore the nation’s forests through science and collaboration

Last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final Planning Rule for America’s 193-million acre National Forest System that includes stronger protections for forests, water, and wildlife while supporting the economic vitality of rural communities.

This final rule – which follows USDA’s Feb. 3 publication of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement – replaces the 1982 rule procedures currently in use, and provides a new framework to be used for all individual management plans for 155 national forests and grasslands across the country. Over half of Forest Service units are currently operating with plans that are more than 15 years old.

The USDA and the Forest Service carefully considered over a quarter million comments received on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement issued in February to develop today’s final rule, which emphasizes collaboration, sound science and protections for land, water and wildlife.

The final rule strengthens the role of public involvement and dialogue throughout the planning process. It also requires the use of the best available scientific information to inform decisions.

“We are ready to start a new era of planning that takes less time, costs less money, and provides stronger protections for our lands and water”, said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This new rule will bring 21st century thinking to a process that is sorely needed to protect and preserve our 193 million acres of amazing forests and grasslands.”

Land management plans under the final rule will include:

* Mandatory components to restore and maintain forests and grasslands.

* Requirements to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation. The requirements are intended to keep common native species common, contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species, conserve proposed and candidate species, and protect species of conservation concern.

* Requirements to maintain or restore watersheds, water resources, water quality including clean drinking water, and the ecological integrity of riparian areas.

* Requirements for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish.

* Requirements to provide opportunities for sustainable recreation, and to take into account opportunities to connect people with nature.

* Opportunities for public involvement and collaboration throughout all stages of the planning process. The final rule provides opportunities for Tribal consultation and coordination with state and local governments and other federal agencies, and includes requirements for outreach to traditionally underrepresented communities.

* Requirements for the use of the best available scientific information to inform the planning process and documentation of how science was used in the plan.

* A more efficient and adaptive process for land management planning, allowing the Forest Service to respond to changing conditions.

Continuing the strong emphasis that has been placed on public engagement throughout this rule-making effort, USDA is forming a Federal Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary and the Chief on implementation of the final rule. The nomination period closed on February 21, 2012 with committee members to be announced this spring.

The Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests in Idaho, the Chugach National Forest in Alaska, the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico, El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico and California’s Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests will begin revising their plans using the final rule this spring. These eight national forests were selected because of their urgent need for plan revisions, the importance of the benefits they provide, and the strong collaborative networks already in place.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rethinking recreation in grizzly country

Last week a very thought provoking article by Heather Hansen was published in High Country News. In the article Heather discusses the two fatal grizzly bear attacks in Yellowstone National Park last summer, and the steady rise in grizzly bear numbers and bear-human conflicts in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

In the process of concluding her article, Ms. Hansen poses this question:

"Should more trails with “high grizzly density” be off-limits to the public?"

She then writes:

"If outright closures are unacceptable, the park might consider the Parks Canada approach to mitigating bear-human conflict in seasonally-important grizzly habitat in Banff National Park. Special permits are required for hiking in certain areas, along with a minimum of four hikers per party. At least one member of the group must carry bear spray and keep it accessible at all times. Violators could pay a $25,000 fine. The parks might help by dedicating space on their website to “trail-pooling” for solo or pairs of hikers to form groups."

One other approach to consider, but not mentioned, is to offer ranger-led hikes in areas where grizzlies are known to frequent. This system seems to work well in Glacier National Park. In areas where the presence of grizzlies is especially dangerous, limit all hiking to only ranger-led hikes.

What are your thoughts? Should we as owners of our national parks be allowed to hike anywhere at anytime? Is our society becoming too risk averse? Or is it the responsibility of experts to protect the lives of both humans and bears?

To read the entire article, please click here.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Guard Against Attracting Bears To Your Campsite

A couple of weeks ago the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks offered several tips for keeping a clean campsite and eliminating bear attractants.

As you might expect, the press release states that all food items are bear attractants. Beyond food, the list includes: trash, recyclables, toiletries, first aid kits, pet food, window cleaner, baby wipes, scented tissue, air freshener, soda cans, bottled beverages, canned food, coolers (full or empty), mosquito repellant, deodorant, lipstick, tobacco products, and any other product with a scent.

Here are their recommendations for managing bear attractants in camp:

* Do not keep any food in sleeping or working areas.

* Do not keep any personal hygiene products in your sleeping tents. (toothpaste, soaps, deodorants, shampoos, tooth brushes)

* Maintain a separate area for cooking and food storage. Store personal hygiene products in the food storage area.

* Attempt to produce few leftovers or food wastes.

* Attempt to reduce food odors, try and take low odor foods with you in the field.

* Freeze-dried foods have very little odor.

* Use leftovers as soon as possible. Store all leftovers for a short time and use sealed airtight containers.

* Grease is very attractive to bears. Attempt to cook non-greasy foods as much as possible. Wash off the stove, tables, and barbeques after every meal to reduce odors. Burn greases in a hot fire or reuse it right away. Store grease in an airtight container.

* Incinerate garbage daily, or remove it from camp daily. Burying the garbage will not eliminate the odors. Bears dig up buried garbage. Greasy dishwater can be dumped in a pit dug away from camp. Treat the pit with lime or bleach to mask odors.

* Keep the camp and surrounding area clear of litter.

* Keep your packs, sleeping tents, sleeping bags and clothes free of food odors.

* Avoid cooking foods with strong odors—bacon for example.

* Wear a hat or kerchief while cooking so your hair will not pick up food odors.

* Change your clothes after cooking. Do not sleep in the same clothes as you wore to cook in. These clothes should be stored away from the sleeping tent.

* Wash cooking utensils immediately after use.

* Store all food and leftovers in bear resistant containers if possible, or elevated in a food cache.

* If you do not have bear resistant containers, store food in sealable plastic bags.

* Place food in a large bag and suspend well out of reach in trees, at least four feet out from the tree and 10 up.

* If you cannot burn your garbage, bag it up in sealed containers and suspend it from a tree. Garbage should be dealt with daily – do not let garbage accumulate in your camp.

* Latrines should be treated frequently with lime to reduce odors. Human waste is considered food by a bear.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cycling the Going-to-the-Sun Road

With the arrival of spring, much of America is finally starting to feel a little warmer. Of course in Glacier winter tends to hang-on much longer, especially in the higher elevations. It will likely be another two more months or so before the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open to the public. In the meantime, as you clean your bike off and begin your spring training, now's the time to consider your plans for cycling in Glacier, and maybe even the ultimate challenge of climbing to the top of Logan Pass.

Although opportunities for cycling in Glacier National Park are somewhat limited, there are still a few places to enjoy Glacier’s spectacular scenery while on a bike. Although bicycles aren’t allowed on any of the hiking trails in the park, they are allowed on all roads, and the only paved trail in the park; the McDonald Creek Bike Path which runs from West Glacier to the Apgar Visitors Center.

One of the most popular routes for road cyclists is the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This epic ride climbs almost 3300 feet over the course of its 32-mile route from the Apgar Visitor Center to Logan Pass. Much of the climbing, however, occurs over the last 10 miles where the road tops out at the pass, at an elevation of 6646 feet. The average gradient for this section of the ride is roughly 5.7%. To put those numbers in perspective, L’Alpe d’Huez, one of the most famous and notoriously difficult climbs in the Tour de France, climbs roughly 3770 feet in 9.4 miles, has an average gradient of 7.6%, and tops out at an elevation of 6068 feet. It’s likely the Going-to-the-Sun Road climb would rank among the top 20 toughest climbs in the Tour de France, and would likely be a category 1 climb.

Cyclists should use extreme caution while riding this road: it’s narrow near the top, and is nothing more than a shelf carved out of the side of the mountain. Also be aware that the Going-to-the-Sun Road has little or no shoulder on the side, and is winding with many blind curves. You’ll need to watch for oncoming vehicles, and make sure your bike is in complete working order, especially your brakes.

Some cyclists prefer tackling the road going from east to west. From the town of St. Mary to Logan Pass, the road climbs roughly 2100 feet over the 18-mile route. However, as you might expect, most of that climbing occurs over the last 6.5 miles, and has an average gradient of roughly 5.6%.

For more information on road cycling and mountain biking opportunities in and around Glacier National Park, please visit our Glacier cycling page on

Our Going-to-the-Sun Road page provides additional details on services and what to expect along the road.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Don't Let The Lyme Bugs Bite

The following is a guest blog by Marc Merullo:

Many people spend a great deal of time outdoors. Parents take their children out for walks to the local park or around the neighborhood. A next door neighbor might be out cleaning the yard, the mailman delivering mail, the Federal Express truck making stops at various houses and businesses. Unfortunately, anyone who is outdoors doing anything could potentially become a Lyme disease victim, since the ticks that spread this can be anywhere.

I discovered this for myself, since I have spent a part of everyday outdoors. From 10 years old through to the present, I was not only outdoors for entertainment purposes, but it was part of my job and part of my responsibilities around the house, since I maintained the yard for my parents by raking leaves, shoveling snow, or sweeping the driveway. And then I got bitten.

Likewise, whatever you are doing in your life, whether working at a job or business, being with your family, you will spend some time outdoors—from cutting the grass, shoveling the snow, and keeping up the yard to spending some time hiking. Wherever you are, you might be the potential victim of a tick and not even know it, because you might not even feel the bite. But soon you will start experiencing the first signs you have been infected by a tick with Lyme disease.

For example, one day you wake up with some minor symptoms, such as a sore neck or elbow. Maybe you have just a slight fever. But since everybody has something minor wrong with them from time to time right, you might think to yourself: “Am I going to waste time and go to the doctor about this sore elbow? No, it must be just wear and tear.” So you don’t go.

But even if you do decide to visit the doctor, he or she may find nothing seriously wrong, since everybody reacts to things differently. So maybe the doctor concludes that you are just experiencing wear and tear or age.

So you start thinking nothing is wrong and go about your business as usual. But as time moves on, you start to experience more symptoms, which could be many things – a sore back, legs, neck; maybe you have a fever or sore throat. But even if you now go to the doctor, he or she could still think these are symptoms of just about anything.

In my situation, I noticed a strange onset of symptoms beginning in 2005 that were gradual at first, so I ignored them. But then I began to experience more and more symptoms that led me to my first doctor’s visit in many years. At first, I had an inflamed throat that was so bad I could not swallow, which the doctor diagnosed as possible flu. So he gave me some medicine to treat it and it did go away.

However, throughout 2005 I noticed a lot more inflammation on various joints, so the doctor gave me X-rays and MRIs, and he diagnosed me with possible wear and tear, but nothing was broken. So while it’s a good idea to make an appointment for a physical when you first feel something is wrong, it can be good when the physical comes back indicating nothing is wrong, but instead the Lyme bug could be lurking within ready to strike when you least expect it.

But despite my all clear diagnosis, as symptoms continued, I became more and more concerned, though the doctor told me everything from "Don’t worry about it" to “It could be stress, because you’re working too much.” Then, I began going to health food stores looking for herbs which can treat various conditions. Some gave relief while others did nothing at all. After three more years of doctor visits and tests at some big hospitals in my area, they didn’t do me a lot of good. since every X-ray, blood test, and MRI all came out normal.

As a result, I still was not diagnosed with Lyme disease until 2008 as a result of a client who is a dentist. I had come into work one day with an inflamed leg that was so big I could not walk. So when I bossed arrived, I went to the hospital, where they diagnosed me with a condition of a cellulitis infection, gave me an antibiotic, and sent me on my way.

The problem was that this was not the correct diagnosis. After I phoned my place of employment to tell them about my hospital visit, the client and my boss instructed me to check for Lyme disease. Though my doctor was reluctant to do the test, telling me, "It is most likely not Lyme disease,” I insisted on them testing me and they did. Then, I returned home, and a few days later, on Monday, the doctor told me the test had come back positive.

That was only the beginning of my ordeal, because Lyme requires many months or years of treatment, and the doctor was only willing to give me three weeks because my insurance only covered that amount of treatment. Also, doctor told me it was acute Lyme disease, when in fact I had a chronic case, because it had been undiagnosed and therefore was untreated for several years.

As time went on, I did more and more research on the disease and concluded that many people are misdiagnosed that have Lyme disease, such as being diagnosed that they have ALS, lupus, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, possible attention deficit disorder, or other maladies. As a result of such misdiagnoses, people have been read their last rites, have lost jobs, had their families broken up, submitted disability claims, and have even declared bankruptcy.

In short, a person can experience everything going downhill, because a Lyme test was not performed in time to stop the progress of the disease at its initial acute stage. The only way to prevent this terrible fate is to know about and ask for a Lyme test, if you experience any strange symptoms. According to medical researchers, Lyme disease can resemble well over 100 different diseases and invade the central nervous system within a short time.

So how does this disease get started? It is a bacterial illness that comes from a deer tick, which are active 35 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and are in low lying areas. It is also important to seek out a doctor who knows about Lyme disease, if you believe you have Lyme and the infections that come along with it. A knowledgeable doctor should explain the difference between acute and chronic Lyme in your situation.

A big problem in diagnosing the disease is that most people never recall getting bitten by a tick and the blood work for Lyme may show a false negative. The two tests for Lyme are the Elisa and the Western blot. In addition Lyme can be diagnosed through a spinal tap and brain MRI. It is best to ask for these additional tests if the Elisa or Western blot should turn up negative. While these tests may be expensive, if you suspect you might have Lyme disease, it is best to take these tests to avoid what could happen if the disease becomes chronic. You want to catch it in the early stages, when you can easily treat it.

For further information or questions or where to find a Lyme literate doctor, please e-mail Marc Merullo at or or call (617) 308-4642.

** My name is Marc Merullo I was born in Winchester Massachusetts. I have lived in Massachusetts my whole life. I am 39 years old. I have worked the last ten years as a barber and the ten years prior in the sale of building materials and construction. I believe I was infected with Lyme in 2004 and it didn't get diagnosed for over 5 years. I was an outdoor person my whole life now not as much. I am eventually going to relocate to get a different feel of life.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Bears Active Again in Grand Teton National Park and the Rockefeller Parkway

Bears appear to be newly out of winter hibernation; therefore, local residents and park visitors are cautioned to be alert for their presence throughout all areas of Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. Recent sightings of bears or their tracks reveal that they are currently wandering locations from Huckleberry Hill in the Rockefeller Parkway to Pilgrim Creek near Jackson Lake Lodge. Bears may soon visit the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River and the park's east boundary with Bridger-Teton National Forest, and developed areas at Flagg Ranch, Colter Bay, Beaver Creek and Kelly, Wyoming.

When bears leave their winter dens, they search for any food source that will help restore fat reserves lost during hibernation. Winter-killed animals provide immediate sources of protein, and hungry bears will strongly defend this and other food sources against perceived threats. Carcasses and freshly killed animals should serve as a point of caution-a red flag to make a detour away from the area. As snow banks recede, bears also dig up wildflower bulbs and burrowing rodents.

Adult male bears usually emerge from hibernation by mid to late March, followed by females without cubs. Female bears accompanied by cubs emerge later in the spring and are extremely protective of their young.

Park visitors are reminded to never approach a bear under any circumstances. This is particularly important for situations involving a bear near a carcass and other food sources, or a female bear with her cubs.

With the increased activity of bears, appropriate precautions must be taken. Visitors are advised to carry bear spray, keep it easily accessible and know how to properly handle it. Backcountry hikers should exercise good judgment, stay alert, and follow these recommended safety precautions: make noise, travel in a group of three or more, and maintain a 100-yard distance from bears at all times.

Visitors should report any bear sightings or signs to the nearest visitor center or ranger station as soon as possible. Timely reporting will help to keep bears away from unnatural food sources and allow park staff to provide important safety messages to visitors about bear activity.

Access to human food and garbage usually leads to food-conditioned bears. When bears lose their fear of humans, they often become a nuisance and a safety concern. Park visitors are reminded to keep food, garbage and other odorous items unavailable to bears at all times by storing attractants inside vehicles, by disposing of garbage in a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster, and by keeping personal items-such as backpacks or drink containers-with them at all times, especially when they contain food.

For further information on how to behave when hiking, camping or picnicking in bear country, please click here.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Public Comment Sought for Western Larch Cone Collection Project in Flathead National Forest

The Flathead National Forest is proposing to collect western larch (Larix occidentalis) cones in order to acquire seeds that are vital to meeting the anticipated reforestation needs on the Flathead National Forest. Because of the inherent safety concerns of climbing larch trees (larch trees have brittle stems/ branches and hard bark that easily flakes off in large slabs) collection trees would be felled for safe cone collection.

Shooting cone-bearing branches off trees to collect the cones is another method used for cone collection. This method is time consuming and is not deemed to be an efficient way of collecting larch cones within the short harvest period (2-3 weeks). In addition, larch cones are very small (size of a walnut to a large grape) and significant loss would occur when the cone-bearing branch falls to the ground.

After cones are collected, the felled trees would remain on site. About 270 trees would need to be felled over a 10-year span to meet current anticipated needs. Seed requirements may be met with fewer trees depending on crop abundance. For example, if trees are producing 1/3 bushel of cones, 270 trees would need to be felled but if trees are producing 1 bushel of cones, 90 trees would need to be felled.

To maximize cone production and minimize the amount of tree mortality, larger diameter trees are preferred. Trees selected for cone collection would generally be between 22 and 28 inches diameter at breast height (DBH). Trees chosen for seed collection would be dominate and co-dominate trees that display vigorous growth with healthy crowns and are relatively insect and disease free. Trees selected for cone collection would not be older than 200 years. As larch trees age, their seed viability declines.

An individual seed lot collection in western larch should have a minimum of 20 trees separated by 200 feet in distance. This means approximately 1 tree per acre within a given area could be selected. It is anticipated that each cone-bearing tree will produce between one-third of a bushel and one and one-half bushels of western larch cones. The location of seed collection areas is not determined until a cone survey is done in the summer to determine if there is a sufficient cone crop. Seed trees chosen would be within one mile from a road. Seed collection typically occurs for a period of two to three weeks beginning in early September.

Where possible, cone collection will be focused in existing timber sale areas. However, cone collection could occur in other areas on the Flathead National Forest where adequate crops are identified. Melissa Jenkins, Forest Silviculturist for the Flathead Forest said “the amount of seed currently on hand is well below levels necessary to meet our planting needs. Because western larch cone crops do not occur on a regular basis in western Montana, we need to capture larch seed when a sufficient cone crop does occur. It is likely that cone harvest wouldn’t occur in some years due to the sporadic seed cycles of larch.”

Your comments and concerns regarding this project are important to us. Please address any comments or questions by April 16, 2012 to the project team leader, Marsha Moore, at 758-5325,, or to Flathead National Forest, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT 59901.

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Snowpack in Glacier finally reaches 41-year average

The SNOTEL (SNOw TELemetry) station on Flattop Mountain is reporting that snowpack in Glacier National Park has finally reached it's long-term average. Up until the beginning of March snowpack has been below average. There is currently 42.5 inches of water-equivalent snow on Flattop Mountain.

The Flattop Mountain SNOTEL station is one of nearly 600 similar stations operated throughout the western United States by the Natural Resources Conservations Service under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These stations measure and record Snow Water Equivalent, which is the weight of snow water equivalent to inches of water.

The Flattop Mountain SNOTEL station is located at approximately 6300 feet in elevation, on a high plateau between the Lewis and Livingston Ranges in Glacier National Park. Flattop Mountain is a useful indicator of snowfall throughout Glacier National Park because it is subject to the factors that influence conditions elsewhere in the park.

Below is a graph comparing snow water equivalent for 2012 versus other significant water years and the 41-year average:

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bear spray purchasing tips from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee

Last week the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks department published this list of bear spray purchasing tips offered by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee:

* To purchase the correct product, ask the sales person specifically for Bear Spray.

* All bear sprays MUST be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

* Purchase products that clearly state "for deterring attacks by bears." The EPA registration number is displayed on the front label.

* The active ingredient is clearly shown on the label and is 1 percent to 2 percent capsaicin and related capsaicinoids. The active ingredient is what affects the bears eyes, nose, mouth, throat and lungs.

* Personal defense, law enforcement or military sprays, (often referred to as “pepper spray”) may not be formulated, contain the correct ingredients or have the proper delivery system, to divert a charging or attacking bear.

* Suggested spray duration of 6 seconds to compensate for multiple bears, wind, bears that may zigzag, circle, or charge repeatedly, and for the hike out.
Suggested spray distance of within 25 feet to reach the bear at a distance sufficient for the bear to react to effects of the active ingredients in bear spray in time to divert its charge and retreat.

* Each person working or recreating in bear habitat should carry a can of bear spray in a quickly accessible fashion. Bear spray should also be readily available in the sleeping, cooking and toilet areas of a camp.

* Be sure the expiration date on each can of bear spray is current.

The press release also provided a link to the EPA’s website which lists bear spray manufacturers that offer acceptable registered bear deterrent products in the United States. Among the four vendors listed was Counter Assault out of Kalispell, Montana. Counter Assault is available on Amazon if you're planning a visit to Glacier National Park, or any other area with grizzly bears.

For more information on hiking in bear country, including how to avoid a surprise encounter, please click here.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Off-trail hiking limits in Glacier National Park for Wildlife Protection

Glacier National Park officials are again reminding visitors that off-trail travel through critical winter range areas is prohibited through May 15 -in an effort to protect wildlife. Travel is limited to designated trails throughout specific areas of the park, including the North Fork, Lake McDonald and St. Mary areas.

Off-trail hiking is prohibited in certain areas between December 1st and May 15th each year. Signs are posted at public access points in these locations.

The following closures are listed in the Glacier National Park 2012 Compendium:

1) To protect seasonal habitat and congregation of grizzly bears, the following two off trail areas of the park may be temporarily closed to public travel based upon staff observations of grizzly bear concentrations as defined by the Bear Management Plan:

* Mt. Altyn/Mt. Henkel Bear Management Area which is defined as all areas above the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trail east of Ptarmigan Falls, above the Many Glacier Hotel access trail between the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trail and the Hotel T, and above the Many Glacier Road east of the Hotel T and Appekuny Creek to the Mt. Altyn/Mt. Henkel ridgeline.

* The Apgar Mountains; with the exception of the Apgar Lookout Trail and Flathead Ranger Station Road.

2) To protect rare mountain capshell limpet, all water entry into Lost Lake is prohibited. This includes, but not limited to, swimming, bathing, wading, fishing (except from shore), and boat launching.

3) To protect seasonal habitat for congregating bighorn sheep and mountain goats (important for post-winter survival and pre-birthing security), as well as the likelihood of grizzly bear presence, the following off-trail area of the park may be temporarily closed to public travel based upon staff observations:

* Mt. Altyn/Mt. Henkel Bear Management Area (see above for boundaries).

4) To protect ungulates (deer, elk, moose, sheep) from disturbance on winter ranges within Glacier National Park, the following areas are closed to off-trail travel from December 1 to May 15, and will be defined using recognizable landmarks and/ or GPS UTM waypoints using NAD83 Datum. Signs will be posted at public access points describing the affected area and dates of closure (see link below for boundary details):

* The North Fork area.

* Lake McDonald area (the South Boundary Trail will remain open during this closure, but no off-trail travel is permitted).

* The Apgar Mountains

* The St. Mary area

* The Two Dog Flats area

* The Rising Sun area; The Going-To-The-Sun Road, Rising Sun access roads (Picnic area, boat ramp, campground, and concession), and Otokomi Trail are not affected by this closure.

For more details and other closures impacting lake access due to nesting bald eagles, click onto the Glacier National Park 2012 Compendium (PDF).

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Trail etiquette: What’s the protocol when passing a hiker?

Is it just me, or does it bug you when you pass someone on the trail and they don’t say hello, or even acknowledge your existence? I can understand not saying anything when you’re on a short, popular trail, with a ton people passing by every minute. But when you’re five miles deep in the backcountry, and there’s no one else around, I just think it’s impolite to ignore a fellow hiker.

Although this happens fairly often, I’m writing this specifically in reference to two guys that passed us while hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains a few weeks ago. Not only did they fail to acknowledge us, they didn’t even look at us!

I should point out that most people actually do say hello. There are many who will even start up a conversation for a minute or two. In fact, I love meeting people on the trail. As I’m sure is the case with most seasoned hikers, but I’ve meet quite a few interesting characters over the years while out on the trail. My wife and I once met several Buddhist monks from Vietnam, all dressed in traditional clothing, while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park several years ago. They were taking part in a Buddhist monk convention in Estes Park, and decided they wanted to do a little hiking while in the mountains. We chatted with a couple of them, and even had our picture taken with one of them. They were all very friendly. It was probably one of the most unique and memorable hikes that I’ve ever been on.

Last summer we ran into a guy at Ptarmigan Tunnel in Glacier Park who could probably pursue a career as a stand-up comedian. He had the five us in stitches while telling some of his crazy hiking and camping stories from over the years.

Maybe it’s just a pet peeve of mine, and I’m certainly not trying to become the Miss Manners for “trail etiquette”, but it does bother me, to an extent, when people don’t say hello. Am I the only one?

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Grizzly Bears Leaving Yellowstone Dens

Yellowstone Park officials announced today that bears are beginning to emerge from hibernation in the Greater Yellowstone Area. They're advising hikers, skiers and snowshoers to stay in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray.

On March 12, Yellowstone National Park employees observed a grizzly bear in the north central portion of the park. Fresh tracks were also spotted during the same time frame in the Old Faithful area. There have also been several reports of grizzly bear activity in the Shoshone National Forest east of the park's boundary during the previous week.

Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens. They are attracted to elk and bison that have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important enough food source that bears will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.

Updated bear safety information is available on the Yellowstone bear safety Web page at and in the park newspaper, which is distributed at all park entrances. Yellowstone also recently produced a new video on the proper use of bear spray, which will soon be available to view on the park Web site, and interpretive park rangers will be conducting bear spray demonstrations at scheduled times throughout the park this summer season. The park also implements seasonal bear management areas closures to reduce encounters between bears and humans in areas where elk and bison carcasses are in high density. A listing of these closures can be found at

Yellowstone regulations require visitors to stay 100 yards from black and grizzly bears at all times. The best defense is to stay a safe distance from bears and use binoculars, a telescope or telephoto lens to get a closer look. All visitors traveling out of developed areas should stay in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail, keep an eye out for bears and carry bear spray. Bear spray has proven to be a good last line of defense, if kept handy and used according to directions when a bear is approaching within 30 to 40 feet.

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Take A Hike: 7 Great Social Media Tools for Outdoor Enthusiasts

The following is a guest blog from Social Web Daily:

Any hiker will tell you: there’s nothing better than reaching the summit of a mountaintop, after hours of maneuvering treacherous terrain and, in some cases, braving inclement weather conditions. The crisp air, the breathtaking view, the indescribable feeling of triumph — these are things that simply cannot be replicated online. But that doesn’t mean you need to unplug to gear up for a serious hike. Social-media integrated sites and tools can be incredibly useful hiking companions, whether it’s an app for knot-tying, trail-blazing, or a social network for hikers. Here are our favorite social media spots for serious hiking enthusiasts:

1. All Trails: is a great resource for hikers. Sponsored by National Geographic, it is one of the most popular digital networks for hiking and outdoors enthusiasts. You can find tons of resources on outdoors activities—from snowboarding and skiing, to mountain biking and hiking. You’ll also find an invaluable database of trails and local events, and you can track your activity metrics or keep a “trail journal” to document your trip. Best of all, the site boasts an iPhone app, so that you can access these resources when you need them most.

2. Social Hiking: This spot is a must for anyone who loves social media and the art of active hiking. Social Hiking provides a platform for users to share their hiking adventures in real time on the web. The site syncs up with your social media channels, including Twitter, Flickr, Qik, and Facebook, so that others can share your “outdoors progress live.”

3. Knots, Splices and Ropework iPhone app: When you’re hiking, a knot instruction guide can come in pretty handy. This iPhone app gives you access to tons of knots and splices, and provides concise directions so you can replicate them when you need a really good knot on the go.

4. Lightweight Outdoors: Everyone’s favorite outdoor blogger, Phil Turner, is an invaluable social media resource to count on when gearing up for a hike. The freelance outdoor writer lends plenty of great hiking tips and insight on his blog, Lightweight Outdoors. Whether it’s a rundown of his latest trip to Arran, or a review of a new outdoor-themed DVD, outdoor enthusiasts are sure to learn a great deal by keeping an eye on his site.

5. This Hiking Trail: This Hiking Trail is a great site for hikers everywhere. Based on your location, it identifies local hikes in your area and highlights hikes of interest. You can also search for hikes with special features, like those that allow dogs. Simply input your zip code and find the best local hikes your neck of the woods has to offer. The site is also integrated with several social networks, so you can share your favorite hikes across the web.

6. Trails: This “intuitive GPX mapping” iPhone app lets you track your hiking route via GPS–it also provides topographical views so that you can gauge the terrain before you embark on your trek. Great for geotagging and geocoding, this site enables users to share trips and tracks via Google Earth.

7. American Hiking Society: The American Hiking Society’s webpage is a catch-all for hiking resources. The site features hiking news, current events, featured trips, programs and much more. You can find volunteer opportunities, hiker supplies, and plenty of ways to donate to environmental preservation organizations. And the AHS is very active on social media channels—just check out their Facebook and Twitter accounts for even more outdoor insight.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

National Park Week, April 21-29, Features Free Admission and Nationwide Events

The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, invite people everywhere to enjoy, explore, learn, share, and give back to America’s nearly 400 national parks during National Park Week 2012.

Celebrating the theme, “Picture Yourself in a National Park,” National Park Week will run from Saturday, April 21 through Sunday, April 29. Throughout the country, visitors can enjoy the beauty and wonder of 84 million acres of the world’s most spectacular scenery, historic places and cultural treasures for FREE!

National parks will mark the annual celebration with special events and activities including Volunteer Day on April 21, Earth Day on April 22, and Junior Ranger Day on April 28. From ranger-led hikes and kayak trips to camping and exploring, park visitors can plan their National Park Week at Discover information about events, special activities for visitors of all ages, how to share your park adventure with other travelers, and how to support the parks.

“America’s national parks have something for everyone,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Take a break and experience something new, enjoy some fresh air, get some exercise, and see where history happened. And, since admission is free to all 397 parks, all week long, National Park Week is a great time to get up, get out, and explore a park.”

“This is our annual celebration of America’s best idea – our national parks,” said Neil Mulholland, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “We are proud to stand with our partners at the National Park Service and encourage people everywhere to enjoy, learn from and support our nation’s greatest treasures.”

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Become a Backpacker Magazine Gear Tester

Here's your chance to become a professional gear tester! Backpacker Magazine is currently looking for exceptional people that share their fascination with new products, cool gear, and upcoming trends.

If selected, you will will win two prizes. First, you will test gear for Readers' Choice issue in January 2013. Second, you will become an elite member of the Backpacker Reader Reader team and will be sent on assignment to Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, 2012, in Salt Lake City to write, blog, photograph, and maybe even star in a video or two at the world’s largest outdoor industry trade show. Your job will be to give Backpacker readers a “man or woman in the aisles and behind the scenes perspective on upcoming new gear and new trends.

To apply, send a writing sample and a compelling video to Backpacker by May 15, 2012. For more information, please click here.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Introducing Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent, the brand new release from author and photographer, Bert Gildart.

Glacier Icons is a collection of photos, anecdotes, and little-known facts about the stories behind fifty of Glacier National Park’s best known and beloved icons.

Hundreds of full-color photographs of iconic people, places, events, foods, animals, traditions help to tell the story behind the Red “Jammer” Busses, Historic Chalets, Mountain Goats, Beargrass, Huckleberries, Glaciers, Glacial Lakes, Grizzly and Black Bears, as well as the Many Glacier Hotel.

For more information, and to purchase Glacier Icons, please click here.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New App Aids Exploration of America’s National Parks

Planning a trip to a national park? Want to keep a “life list” of the parks you visit? Meet your new favorite app.

Developed by the National Park Service’s long-time nonprofit educational partner, Eastern National, the new app provides links to all 397 national park websites for quick access to trip planning. The app also allows users to keep track of the parks they’ve visited and add photos and descriptions of the trip. You can also make a wish list of parks to check out. Every park on your list gets a red push pin on the app map.

“This app is a terrific new tool that will excite our visitors,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “It’s a great combination of easy access to useful information and cool features that will help millions of people capture their visits to their national parks. And what better time to download and get started than April’s National Park Week when all national parks waive entrance fees and invite you to come visit for free.”

The app is designed to complement Eastern’s wildly popular Passport to Your National Parks® program by helping users find passport stamp cancellation stations in parks so they can record the location and date of their visit.

“For many people, a visit to a national park isn’t complete until they’ve stamped their passport,” said George Minnucci, President of Eastern National. “The app will help visitors plan their next trip, find Passport cancellation stations in each park, and share the memories they make while visiting parks.”

“I applaud Eastern for embracing our ‘Go Digital’ challenge to use technology to help enhance park experiences for visitors,” said Jarvis. “This is a natural extension of the high quality educational products they have created for our visitors for so many years.”

The app is a free download at the iTunes store. It is currently available for iPhones and iPads. An Android version will be added later, as will additional features.

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Prescribed Fire Projects Planned on Swan Lake Ranger District

The Swan Lake Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest is planning to conduct multiple spring prescribed fire projects, when weather, fuel conditions, and air quality become favorable. Smoke will be visible from various places in the Flathead Valley and the Swan Valley depending on the location of the burn units and weather conditions.

Each project follows a Prescribed Fire Burn Plan. The prescribed fire projects are located and designed to be controlled to reduce the potential for adverse effects, or to escape as a wildland fire. These projects will be in compliance with Montana air quality standards and coordinated with Montana State Department of Environmental Quality to reduce the impacts of smoke to our neighbors, cooperators, and surrounding communities. The project areas include:

Blacktail Mountain Area – Up to 310 acres of logging slash from previously logged areas will be treated with fire to reduce hazardous fuels as well as create favorable conditions for natural regeneration of plant and tree species. In addition, prescribed fire will treat 22 acres of natural fuels on Kerr Mountain to obtain multiple objectives such as fuels reduction and wildlife habitat improvement.

Haskill Mountain Area – This ecosystem burn project targets 128 acres of mid to upper elevation brush and conifer. Fire suppression has caused a change in species composition resulting in accumulations of woody material and an increased risk of stand replacement fire. Prescribed fire will reintroduce fire to overall improve forest health and reduce the likelihood of intense wildfire.

Crane Mountain Area – This work includes three units in the Estes Lake, Hunger Creek, and Crane Creek areas. The area is located several miles south of Ferndale, above Woods Bay, totaling 506 acres. The objective is to reintroduce fire to the landscape to reduce hazardous fuels that have accumulated over the years. A temporary closure on Trail #96 into the Estes Lake Area may occur during burn operations.

Piper Creek Area –The Mission Upland Burning Project will be implemented in phases during the spring and fall. A total of 1,036 acres will be treated in the Piper Creek Drainage. The project will help allow future lightning-caused fires to play a more natural role within and outside Mission Mountain Wilderness. There may be temporary closures in the area including the Piper Creek Trail # 119 during different phase of burning.

Meadow Smith – This project includes underburning timber stands located within the Meadow and Smith Creek areas of the Swan Valley. These treatments will use prescribed fire for fuels reduction, vegetation regeneration, and wildlife habitat improvement.

Pile Burning – Hand or Machine piles are located in several locations within the Swan Valley and Blacktail Mountain as a result of but not limited to: logging, hazardous fuels reduction in the wildland urban interface, hazard tree removal, and trail or road construction. These piles are burned to reduce the fuel loads in these areas. These piles are strategically burned based on their location, access, and weather conditions.

For additional information about these projects contact the Swan Lake Ranger District in Bigfork at 406-837-7500.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Glacier NP advanced reservation request lottery for backcountry permits

FYI for backpackers, I saw this on the Glacier National Park Facebook page:

"All advanced reservation requests received from January 1 through April 15, 2012 are eligible for the advanced reservation request lottery."

Click here for more information.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Public Comment Sought on Trail Plan in the Blacktail Mountain Area

The Swan Lake Ranger District recently completed the Island Unit Trail System Additions Environmental Analysis and is currently seeking public comments. In the Island Trails project, initiated in 2009, the District proposed the designation and construction of a new trail system in the Blacktail Mountain area for both non-motorized and motorized uses.

“The Island Trails Project seeks to provide a strong mix of both new motorized and non-motorized trails in a portion of the Flathead National Forest where recreational trail opportunities are lacking,” said Swan Lake District Ranger Rich Kehr.

The EA was developed after extensive collaboration with jeep and ATV clubs, as well as the Foys to Blacktail Trail organization, and citizens in Lakeside interested in a hiking trail from the community. “We received a significant number of comments on the proposed action last year,” said Andrew Johnson, the project leader for the Swan Lake Ranger District. “We heard both strong support for motorized and non-motorized trails, but also some concerns about wildlife security and potential user conflicts,” he added.

The Forest has identified a preferred alternative in the EA, which will designate 52 miles of new motorized trails, and two new non-motorized trails including the Foys to Blacktail Trail and a Lakeside to Blacktail Trail. “Alternative C will provide a route for the long sought-after Foys to Blacktail Trail, a great trail connection from the Lakeside area to Blacktail Mountain, and some excellent additions to the Blacktail Wild Bill OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) trail,” said Johnson.

The comment period for the EA runs through March 22, 2012. The EA is available on the Flathead National Forest website. Hard copies of the EA may be obtained by contacting Johnson at the Swan Lake Ranger District, by phone at 406-837-7507 or email at Comments may be mailed to the District at 200 Ranger Station Road, Bigfork, MT 59911, or emailed to

The Environmental Analysis for the project is available online.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

More Details Emerge in Death of Backcountry Skiers in Tetons

A team of Grand Teton National Park rangers, Teton Interagency personnel, Teton County Search and Rescue members and the Teton County contract helicopter recovered the bodies of Chris Onufer, 42, of Teton Village, Wyoming and Steve Romeo, 40, of Jackson, Wyoming in avalanche debris just before noon on Thursday, March 8, 2012. The accident is under investigation.

The Teton County Search and Rescue contract helicopter, with two Grand Teton National Park rangers on board, located the avalanche at 8:40 a.m. Thursday on a ridge that forms the north flank of Waterfalls Canyon. The helicopter searched the avalanche debris with a transceiver hanging below the ship in an attempt to pick up any signals from avalanche beacons. At 8:48 a.m. the transceiver had two positive beacon hits.

The helicopter proceeded to a landing zone in the Colter Bay area on the east side of Jackson Lake. Just before 11 a.m., a team of seven rangers was flown to Waterfalls Canyon near the toe of the avalanche where they began a probe search of the debris. By 11:45 a.m. the bodies of Onufer and Romeo had been located and removed from the debris. A helicopter flew the bodies to the west side of Jackson Lake. From there, rangers on snowmobiles transported Romeo and Onufer to the east side of Jackson Lake where they were met by the Teton County Coroner.

Romeo and Onufer were in a couloir on a ridge that forms the north wall of Waterfalls Canyon. Based on evidence at the scene, park rangers believe the pair was ascending with skins on their skis when a large soft slab avalanche released sending them over 2,000 feet down the couloir. The crown, or top of the avalanche, broke at about 10,300 feet in elevation and the toe of the avalanche terminated around 7,100 feet in elevation. The crown was estimated to be approximately 600 feet long with a depth of about 3 feet. The debris field that reached into Waterfalls Canyon had an estimated average snow depth of 6 feet.

Romeo was found about 150 feet from the avalanche's toe and Onufer was found about 1500 feet above Romeo. Teton County Coroner Kiley Campbell determined the cause of death to be blunt force trauma. Both Romeo and Onufer were located near the surface of the debris.

Onufer was reported missing to the Teton County Sheriff's Office at 10:36 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7. Sheriff Deputies began a missing persons investigation on Wednesday night after Onufer failed to pick up his father from the Jackson Hole Airport at 7 p.m. At 10:47 p.m. it was learned that Onufer had intended to go skiing in Grand Teton National Park Wednesday morning with a friend.

At 11:16 p.m. a Grand Teton National Park ranger began sweeping trailheads popular for backcountry skiers in the park's south district. As more information became available a ranger in the Colter Bay area began sweeping the areas in the north district of Grand Teton National Park. Onufer's vehicle was located near the Colter Bay swim beach just after 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

With the support of Teton County Sheriff's Office Dispatch, park rangers worked throughout the night to notify rescuers and establish a search plan. On Thursday at 2:23 a.m. the incident commander requested the Teton County Search and Rescue contract helicopter be made available at first light for the search efforts. A morning briefing was held at 6:00 a.m. at Colter Bay while two park rangers responded to the county search and rescue hanger to meet the helicopter.

"The tragic loss of Steve and Chris is deeply felt by everyone in Grand Teton National Park," said Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott. "These two individuals have touched so many in the park and in our community. Our sincere condolences are extended to the family and friends of Steve and Chris. Hopefully all who loved them can find a measure of solace knowing they died doing what they both loved-skiing."

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Rangers Recover Bodies of Two Missing Backcountry Skiers

Grand Teton National Park rangers have recovered the bodies of two local, expert backcountry skiers who were the focus of a search and rescue mission on Thursday morning, March 8th. Chris Onufer and Steve Romeo, both of Jackson, Wyoming, were buried by a large avalanche sometime Wednesday, March 7. The avalanche initiated near the summit of the 11,355-foot Ranger Peak in the northern end of the Teton Range; it ran to the base of the peak, depositing a large debris field in Waterfalls Canyon.

During an aerial reconnaissance flight, rangers picked up two positive beacon hits at 8:48 a.m. from the debris field. Seven rangers were flown to the area to begin a physical search of the debris field using probe poles. Rangers reached the first body around 11:45 a.m. and second around Noon.

The Teton County Search and Rescue (SAR) contract helicopter and crew assisted in the search and rescue mission. Teton Interagency helitack personnel established a temporary helibase at the Colter Bay swimbeach on the east shore of Jackson Lake.

The avalanche danger was listed as moderate on Wednesday afternoon, and low on Thursday morning, according to the Bridger-Teton National Forest avalanche center.

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Grand Teton National Park Rangers, Exum Guides & Others Receive Valor Award

Earlier this week Interior Secretary Ken Salazar presented seven Grand Teton National Park rangers with the prestigious Department of the Interior (DOI) Valor Award for their heroic actions during a July 2010 search and rescue for 17 climbers caught in a powerful lightning storm on the Grand Teton. During the special ceremony, one of the park's co-medical directors along with the primary helicopter pilot, one Teton Interagency helitack member, and three Exum Mountain Guides were presented with the Department's Citizen's Award for Bravery for their actions during the same rescue.

Valor Award recipients are Park Rangers Ryan Schuster, Jack McConnell, Marty Vidak, Ed Visnovske, Nicholas Armitage, Drew Hardesty, and Helen Bowers. St. John's Medical Center Doctor AJ Wheeler, Pilot Matt Heart of Helicopter Express, Teton Interagency helitack member John Filardo, and Exum Mountain Guides Dan Corn, Anneka Door, and Brenton Reagan each received the Citizen's Award for Bravery for their critical roles and assistance during the challenging rescue operation. Many lives were saved by the professionalism, skill and courage of the combined rescuers; sadly, one climber died when he fell more than 2,000 feet during the brunt of the storm.

Valor awards are presented to DOI employees who have demonstrated unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger. The act of heroism is not required to be related to official duties, or to have occurred at the official duty station. The Citizen's Award for Bravery is granted to private citizens for heroic acts or unusual bravery in the face of danger.

The following account describes the Owen-Spalding Lightning Search and Rescue (SAR) mission:

About noon on July 21, 2010, a fast- moving and active lightning storm caught 17 climbers near the summit of the 13,770-foot Grand Teton. The climbers, from three unassociated parties, were attempting to summit the high peak via two separate climbing routes when the storm unleashed a barrage of lightning, rain, and hail on the Grand Teton: all 17 were caught above the 13,200 foot elevation on exposed ridges and rocky cliffs.

Upon receiving a call for help at 12:23 p.m., rangers initiated a rescue response that increased in size, scope and complexity with the mounting knowledge that multiple climbers were physically incapacitated by the severe storm. Rescuers were flown to the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton at 11,650 feet. This high mountain saddle became an intermediate staging area for emergency medical care and final evacuation off the mountain to the Lupine Meadows rescue cache at6,700 feet where ambulances waited to transport the injured climbers to a local hospital.

Park Rangers Bowers and McConnell, and Exum Guide Corn, first reached seven of the climbers who were making a potentially grave error, rappelling down the wrong way into a steep couloir known as the Idaho Express. The rescuers stopped the climbers, got them to a safer location, and told them to wait for more help. Exum Guides Door and Reagan escorted the seven climbers and two others to the Lower Saddle where they waited for evacuation via helicopter to the valley floor. More rangers made their way up the rugged Teton peak to assist with the rescue of other climbers, while Bowers stayed at the 13,200 foot Upper Saddle to coordinate operations on the mountain and communicate with other rescuers at the Lower Saddle and on the valley floor.

Rescue operations were hampered by deteriorating weather; additional storm cells grounded the aerial evacuation for over one hour, putting rescuers and injured climbers-who were still high on the mountain-at the mercy of the elements and at further risk. Aviation operations began again at 6:45 p.m. when the thunderstorms passed. Ultimately 16 climbers, ranging in age from 21 to 67, were flown from the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton to the Lupine Meadows rescue cache in several rotations, with the final flight occurring just before nightfall. In all, 15 climbers were transported to the local hospital. Nine climbers were admitted to the emergency room: five were hospitalized with injuries ranging from burns associated with lightning strikes to trauma from the sheer force and concussion of multiple hits; three were treated and released; and one patient was flown to an acute care hospital in Idaho Falls, Idaho. One climber was missing and reported to have fallen off the Grand Teton when several bolts of lightning struck the mountain. A search for this 17th climber had to be called off due to darkness.

Rangers resumed the search for the missing climber at daybreak on Thursday, July 22. During an aerial reconnaissance flight, they located the body of Brandon Oldenkamp, age 21 of Sanborn, Iowa, in Valhalla Canyon. He had fallen down a steep couloir approximately 3,000 feet below the summit of the Grand Teton. Oldenkamp's body was subsequently recovered from the mountain.

A Teton Interagency contract helicopter and 83 personnel from Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Teton Interagency Fire, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, Teton County Sherriff's Office, Exum Mountain Guides, and St. John's Medical Center, plus a helicopter and staff from Yellowstone National Park, assisted with this rescue: named the O-S Lightning SAR for its primary location on the Owen-Spalding route of the Grand Teton. This multifaceted incident turned into the largest rescue mission in the history of Grand Teton National Park.

"Although the mission was complex, it was efficiently conducted with no injuries to rescuers or other personnel: a real tribute to the men and women who risked their lives to bring others to safety in the face of a violent summer storm," said Grand Teton National Park Chief Ranger Michael Nash. "The rescue's true success resulted from the local community's ability to come together as a combined, multi-agency rescue force. We appreciate everyone's contribution in making this rescue such an effective mission and one for the history books."

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Win a Trip to Glacier or Yellowstone!

Pick Your Park:

Starting today, is offering you a chance to enter a random drawing to win a trip for two to either Glacier National Park or Yellowstone National Park - your choice! The winner of the drawing will choose between a 3-day guided tour of Yellowstone, or a 3-day guided backpacking trip in Glacier.

And, in addition to the dream excursion into one of the premier parks in the world, winners will also take home a Mountain Hardwear Pack (up to a $229.90 value) and a pair of Montrail Badrock OutDry Boots (a $150.00 value).

No purchase is necessary. The Pick Your Park Sweepstakes ends at 11:59:59 P.M. (MT) on April 10, 2012.

For more information, and to enter, visit the website.

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New National Historic Landmark in Montana

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced the designation of 13 new National Historic Landmarks in nine different states, including a site associated with the famed Apache scouts, the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world, and an early 18th-century parish church.

In Montana, Deer Medicine Rocks also became a National Historic Landmark. Located in Rosebud County, Deer Medicine Rocks is a sandstone rock formation in Montana’s Rosebud Valley that is associated with the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877. Numerous Native American petroglyphs cover the walls, including a representation of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, as well as various anthropomorphic and religious drawings.

“Each of these landmarks teaches us about the history of our land, our people, and our nation - from pictographs dating back two millennia to a World War II warship,” Secretary Salazar said. “By designating these sites as National Historic Landmarks, we are ensuring that future generations will know these important chapters in our nation’s story.”

National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places that possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. The program, established in 1935, is administered by the National Park Service on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior.

“These new listings will join approximately 2,500 other sites in the National Historic Landmark Program,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “These places not only showcase our rich and complex history – from prehistoric time right up to the modern era – but they help drive tourism and boost local economies.”

The press release also mentioned that Secretary Salazar has announced the acceptance of a boundary clarification and updated documentation for Fort Benton Historic District in Fort Benton, Montana which was designated in 1961.

For a full list of all the new National Historic Landmarks, please click here.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Using a gun in bear encounters doesn’t make you safer

Carrying a gun in bear country doesn’t mean you’re more protected in the event of a bear encounter, according to new research out of Brigham Young University.

A study led by BYU biologist and bear expert Tom S. Smith found that firing a gun is no more effective in keeping people from injury or death during bear attacks than not using a firearm.

“It really isn’t about the kind of gun you carry, it’s about how you carry yourself,” said Smith, who has researched bears in the field for 20 years. “We need to respect an animal that could potentially take our lives.”

Smith and his colleagues analyzed 269 incidents of bear-human conflicts in Alaska for the study, appearing in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management. Those incidents involved 444 people and 357 bears, 300 of which were brown bears.

The researchers found no statistical difference in the outcome (no injury, injury or fatality) when they compared those who used their gun in an aggressive encounter (229 instances) to those who had firearms but did not use them (40 instances).

The implication is that firearms should not be a substitute for doing the right things to avoid unwanted encounters in bear habitat. Although a shooter may be able to kill an aggressive bear, injuries to the shooter and others also can occur.

This finding is especially relevant given the 2010 law allowing guns in national parks.

“We’re seeing more and more people in bear country with guns,” Smith said. “Yet guns, for most people, are not their best option. You don’t even need a gun if you behave appropriately.”

Behaving appropriately, according to the authors, means following the conventional wisdom for avoiding bear encounters:

• hike in groups
• avoid areas of poor visibility
• make noise as appropriate
• avoid startling mothers with cubs
• be more cautious in brown bear country

“This study provides statistical, quantitative support that following the conventional wisdom actually is the most effective way to be safe in bear country,” said co-author Randy T. Larsen, a professor of plant and wildlife sciences at BYU. “Because once a bear charges, the odds of a successful outcome is seven times less likely, regardless of whether or not you have a firearm.”

Smith and his co-authors write that using firearms in bear encounters is difficult even for experts due to the need for split-second deployment and deadly accuracy. People should carefully consider their ability to be accurate under duress before carrying a firearm for protection from bears, they write.

“People should consider carrying a non-lethal deterrent such as bear spray,” said Smith, a gun owner himself. “It’s much easier to deploy, it’s less cumbersome and its success rate in these situations is higher than guns.”

In a 2008 study, Smith found that bear spray effectively halted aggressive bear encounters in 92 percent of the cases.

Bear spray is a liquid pepper spray that comes in an 8-oz can and retails for $30-$40. The hissing sound and sight of the expanding cloud of the spray are often enough to frighten away bears. However, the intense burning of red pepper juice is debilitating and derails bears from continuing an attack.

“If you act appropriately and you carry bear spray, you are much better off than just blundering into bear country with a large firearm,” Smith said.

Smith’s co-authors on the study are Stephen Herrero of the University of Calgary, Kathryn R. Johnson of the Alaska Science Center, and Larsen. Cali Strong Layton, an undergrad biology student at BYU, was also a co-author.

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New website for camping in National Forests

Old man winter may have made a late arrival in your neighborhood but summer and the family camping season is just around the corner. Camping is known to be a good way for families to reconnect, to help strengthen family bonds, and counter the stressful effects of busy lifestyles. Many national forest campgrounds were designed, developed, and are managed for families, making them outstanding and affordable family vacation destinations. Each year more families are discovering great family vacation destinations in national forest and grassland campgrounds., the U.S. National Forest Campground Guide website, is a complete and comprehensive guide to developed campgrounds in national forests and grasslands. It provides detailed information to campers looking to experience the great outdoors. In addition to managing a website, Fred and Suzi Dow also self-publish Ebook CDs and downloads of eleven U.S. National Forest Campground Guides, which can be purchased online at their website.

Using, with more than 2,400 developed campgrounds in 175 national forests and grasslands scattered across the country in 44 states, families can be assured they’ll find a Forest Service campground with what they want to see, do, and enjoy.

Fred and Suzi Dow, authors and publishers of, have devoted 17 years to visiting, personally researching, and providing the public with free, detailed information about 175 national forests and grasslands and more than 2,400 personally surveyed campgrounds.

With up to 55 fields of information in each campground review, lots of camping pictures, and authors who have actually visited the camping locations, this looks to be an extremely useful tool.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Presenters Sought For Fourth Annual Winter Photo Festival

Photographers are invited to share their favorite winter images of the region with the public during the Fourth Annual Winter Photo Festival to be held next week in West Yellowstone.

The festival will be held at the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center on Monday, March 12 at 7:00 p.m. It is sponsored by the National Park Service and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.

Photographers are asked to bring digital photos taken in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem on a thumb drive or photo CD so they can display and narrate their photos.

Interested photographers should contact Rich Jehle at 307-344-2840 or 307-344-2754 or by email at for more information. Participants must register by 5:00 p.m. Monday, March 12.

Don't know for sure, but sounds like photos for Glacier National Park would be excepted.

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Park staff in Grand Tetons join in Response to Fatal Helicopter Crash

Update on fatal helicopter crash in Grand Teton National Park from NPS Digest this morning:

The Teton County Sheriff’s Office and Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR) were responding to the report of a snowmobile accident with an unresponsive rider on the afternoon of February 15th when radio contact was lost with the county’s contract helicopter. Reports were soon received that the helicopter had crashed.

The county quickly put out a mutual aid request for personnel, emergency medical assistance, and a unified incident command. In response to the request, the park’s Teton Interagency Dispatch Center assumed control of incident radio traffic and rangers coordinated the unified incident command and operation functions, including medical response, emergency helicopter responses from three separate locations, remote helibase operations with the park/forest interagency helitack staff, and logistical/critical incident support operations. A local plane also responded from the Jackson airport, but was unable to locate the helicopter’s wreckage.

Although injured, the helicopter pilot was able to struggle through deep snow to a high point, where he utilized a portable radio to reach the sheriff’s dispatch center and confirmed the crash. A Civil Air Patrol aircraft subsequently located the crash site by using GPS coordinates. Teton County deputies on snowmobiles reached the site first.

Two of the occupants, pilot Ken Johnson and TCSAR member Mike Moyer (who is also a battalion chief with Jackson Hole Fire/EMS), had suffered leg injuries; the third occupant, TCSAR member Ray Shriver, was fatality injured and subsequently died at the scene. Johnson and Shriver were evacuated by helicopter to a staging area located at Togwotee Mountain Lodge. Moyer was subsequently evacuated by snowmobile to the staging area, arriving after darkness. He and Johnson were transported by ambulances to the hospital in Jackson.

Following the conclusion of emergency evacuation and treatment operations, critical incident stress counselors from the park provided assistance to Teton County personnel and the park assumed SAR responsibility for the county at the request of the sheriff for 36 hours following the incident.

This event and Shriver’s death had a significant impact on the community and park. He was well known in the community and one of the founding members of the Teton County SAR team. This incident was complicated by deep snow, time of day, and night time temperatures at or below zero degrees. The cause of the helicopter crash remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

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