MTPR

Nicky Ouellet

Flathead Valley Reporter

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter. Nicky returns to the Flathead Valley after wrapping up her graduate studies at the University of Montana's environmental science journalism program.

603-568-6155 or 406-730-2264

Ways to Connect

Saskatchewan's CL215, or "super scooper," is decontaminated of potential invasive species after fighting the Bridge Coulee Fire on the east side of the continental divide.
Nicky Ouellet

Montana faces twin threats this summer: On land, crews are battling some of the biggest and most destructive fires in the country. In the water, officials are staving off the spread of invasive mussels that could cause millions of dollars of damage to hydropower dams and irrigation lines. These threats come together for wildland firefighters, who often use equipment that travels across the country and has the potential to carry invasive hitchhikers with it. But firefighters are tackling the potential contamination head on.

FWP has inspected more than 23,000 watercraft as part of its effort to keep the mussels, which can cause millions of dollars of damage to hydropower dams and irrigation systems, out of Montana’s waterways.
Katrin Frye

The latest sampling results testing Flathead Lake for invasive quagga and zebra mussels are in, "and I'm happy to tell you that we have no detections," says Jim Elser, director of the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station. Elser announced his lab’s latest data from samples taken in April.

Flathead Lake near Polson, MT.
P.J. Johnson (CC-BY-ND-2)

Lake County is updating its growth policy plan this summer. Tuesday, county planners hosted the last of five public meetings to hear what local residents think should be addressed in the plan due later this fall.

The county hosted a slew of open houses over the past two weeks to hear what local residents think about development, land use and protecting natural and cultural resources as Lake County continues to grow.

Sen. Jon Tester.
PD

Montana’s senators on Tuesday took opposite votes on whether to begin debate on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Glacier National Park recently reopened Lake McDonald to some motorboat users, following a months-long quarantine to keep invasive mussels out of the lake.
Nicky Ouellet

This summer one tiny-shelled invertebrate has dominated the conversation about keeping non-native species out of Montana.

Since zebra and quagga mussel larvae were detected in Tiber Reservoir last summer, local, state, tribal and federal agencies have scrambled to enact programs and policies to keep the mussels out of Montana’s waterways.

Boat inspections are mandatory at City Beach and Whitefish Lake State Park this season
Nicky Ouellet

As the state ramps up its efforts this year to screen boats for invasive species, some local groups have taken inspections into their own hands.

The City of Whitefish and the Whitefish Lake Institute, for example, have been running two city-funded mandatory check stations since Memorial Day at the only public boat launches on Whitefish Lake. The Whitefish Lake Institute, a local nonprofit that monitors water quality on the lake, also runs a decontamination station.

A member of the Flathead Hotshots walks the fire line at the edge of a prescribed burn near Lakeside this spring
Nicky Ouellet

Fire season arrived in Montana this month. As crew leaders set up command centers and assess the flames, they’re seeing the product of previous management decisions that have shaped the forest.

July Fire file photo courtesy of InciWeb
InciWeb

Update: 6:30 p.m. 07/10/17

Tribal officials have increased the fire danger to “Extreme” on the west side of the Flathead Indian Reservation and “Very High” on the east side.

Fire managers for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes write in a press release that fine, dead fuels are drying out across the reservation. They add human behavior, such as tossing cigarette butts onto dry grass, leaving campfires unattended, lighting fireworks, burning debris and driving through dry grasses, has caused multiple grass fires across the Northern Rockies over the past week.

Cyclists admire the view atop Going to the Sun Road under a full moon Saturday night
Nicky Ouellet

On Saturday night, I did what every newcomer to the Flathead Valley does to prove that they’re a local: I tossed a bike in my trunk and set out for Glacier National Park to bike Going-to-the-Sun Road by the light of the full moon.

At about 9:30 pm I watched a shadow creep up the side of the continental divide on the side of Going To The Sun Road, and then hopped on my bike and joined the stream of bikers making the climb up the iconic road.

USGS map showing the areas shaken by Thursday's earthquake.
USGS

From bar stools to bed frames, hundreds of Montanans felt the magnitude 5.8 earthquake early Thursday morning that originated a few miles southeast of Lincoln.

Listen to the audio to hear what the quake’s seismograph reading sounds like. Thanks to French geologist Anthony Lomax for tweeting this audio file, produced by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.

The Montana Artesian Water Company is seeking permits to develop a water bottling facility in Creston, MT, near Kalispell. Opponents are trying to block it by changing the property's zoning regulations.
Nicky Ouellet

For almost two years, a neighborhood outside of Kalispell has been fighting over whether one neighbor can build a water bottling plant on his private property. Now, some of them are asking Flathead County voters to weigh in, in the form of a county ballot initiative that would change their neighborhood’s zoning regulations and prevent the plant’s development.

The Wolf Point School District is facing a complaint of discrimination against its Native American students for the second time in the past 15 years. Last week, the Fort Peck Tribes filed what’s called a Title VI complaint with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education on behalf of their children.

Yellowstone Public Radio’s Brie Ripley and Montana Public Radio’s Nicky Ouellet team up to bring us this story.

From left to right: Harry Barnes, Smokey RidesAtTheDoor, Tim Davis, Jay DustyBull sing an honoring song for Francis X. Guardipee, the first Blackfeet National Park Ranger, June 30, 2017 in Glacier National Park..
Nicky Ouellet

In celebration of the opening of Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park this week, members of the Blackfeet Tribe held an honoring ceremony.

Amid the peaks of the Continental Divide, Blackfeet men in full regalia sang an honoring song for Francis X. Guardipee, the first Blackfeet tribal member to serve as a National Park Ranger.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead (center) has spearheaded a review of species conservation and the Endangered Species Act for the Western Governors Association since 2015.
NIcky Ouellet

Western governors are calling on Congress to amend the federal Endangered Species Act, with an eye for increasing the role of state governments in the use of the law.

The Western Governors Association made recommendations Wednesday for what states and federal agencies can do to improve species conservation and recovery.

Blackfeet Nation

Blackfeet tribal members rejected a measure to reform their constitution Tuesday.

The proposed reform constitution would have drastically revamped the structure of the tribe’s government by establishing a three-branch system with built-in checks and balances. But that change was rejected by tribal members. Instead, the tribe will retain its current nine-member, single branch governing body, called the Tribal Business Council, which has been in place for the past 82 years.

Glacier National Park opened the full 50 miles of its iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road Wednesday, June 28.
Glacier National Park

Motorists rejoice! Glacier National Park opened the full 50 miles of its iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road Wednesday.

After weeks of plowing, installing guard rails and removing rock debris, park officials have deemed the road safe for vehicular traffic.

Montana's Flathead Valley from above.
Nicky Ouellet

From above, the northern Flathead Valley is a patchwork of yellow fields of canola, green tracts of grains and wandering curves of cerulean rivers. Heavily forested mountains erupt from the valley floor, some of them still scared by clear cut logging from decades ago.

"This area obviously has got multi-uses," says Bruce Gordon, a pilot for EcoFlight, a nonprofit based in Colorado that uses flyovers in small aircraft to advocate for protecting wildlands.

He’s in Whitefish this week to fly western governors over northwest Montana, to give them a visual as they talk this week about land management.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited his hometown in Whitefish June, 27, 2017 to address the Western Governors Association.
Nicky Ouellet

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited his hometown in Whitefish today to address the Western Governors Association.

Secretary Zinke is currently running a review of more than two dozen of the country’s largest National Monuments, including Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks, to determine whether the Monument designations should be revoked or reduced in size.

Will Marlow (CC-BY-NC-2)

“Repeal and replace” is not just a mantra for Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate, it’s also a rallying cry for constitutional reform on the Blackfeet Reservation.

"We've been at this for 82 years," says  Joe McKay, a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council.

For the past three years, McKay’s spearheaded an effort to reform the Blackfeet Nation’s current constitution, written in 1935.

Location of the earthquakes that are part of the swarm as of June 19, 2017 at 13:30 MDT (red symbols).
Courtesy University of Utah Seismograph Stations

Geologists in Yellowstone National Park have now detected more than 500 earthquakes in the past week. The ongoing earthquake swarm is one of the larger ones the park has seen.

Yellowstone typically sees between 1,500 and 2,000 earthquakes a year. About half of those will occur during a swarm, like the one going on now in the northwest corner of the park.

Citing potential threats to human health, ecosystems and the economy, Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld said the city will make mitigating climate change a priority.
Nicky Ouellet

Whitefish joined a growing number of U.S. cities pledging to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement Monday night. Citing potential threats to human health, ecosystems and the economy, Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld said the city will make mitigating climate change a priority.

"The City of Whitefish will increase its efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice," Muhlfeld said.

Voters wait in line outside the satellite polling place in Browning, MT, for the 2017 special election.
Lockley J. Bremner

Montana’s special election results were officially certified this afternoon, and June 21 has been set as the date for Greg Gianforte to be sworn in as Montana’s Congressman.

Before the election there were concerns that counties wouldn’t have the resources they needed to conduct it smoothly. There were few complaints about voting overall, but some voters in Browning had to wait 30 to 60 minutes — sometimes out in the cold rain — before casting their ballots. 

Affordable housing is becoming increasingly hard to find in Whitefish, as second homeowners, mostly from out of state, scoop up real estate and landlords turn their usual long-term rentals into vacation rentals. For people working the low-wage service industry jobs that sustain the area’s tourism economy, there aren’t a lot of options.

The Whitefish Climate Action Planning Committee started meeting this past January to draft a set of cost-saving and energy use goals and strategies for the city, local schools and the community.
Whitefish Climate Action Planning Committee

Even before President Trump opted out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the city of Whitefish was developing its own climate action plan.

A snow blower clears off the final snow drifts on the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, MT.
Nicky Ouellet

Plowing crews in Glacier National Park are clearing the final snow drifts from the park’s iconic main road, with hopes to open it entirely within the next few weeks. Though most of Going to the Sun Road is now open to bikers and hikers, one section just east of the Continental Divide remains buried under 15 feet of snow. 

The Service is drafting comprehensive conservation plans, or CCPs, and accompanying environmental analyses for two areas: one for the National Bison Range, and a separate CCP for the rest of the units within the refuge complex.
Mike Albans

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was in Polson and Kalispell this week, seeking public input on a pair of management plans for wildlife refuges in northwest Montana.

A man shows the elk antlers he collected from Sun River Wildlife Management Area.
Nicky Ouellet

If you step into one of the ritzier vacation lodges in Montana this summer, chances are you’ll spy the tan shafts and white tips of antlers, maybe in the chandelier hanging from the ceiling, or the throne-like chair in the corner, maybe even serving as a handle on a cabinet door.

These accents fuel a multi-million dollar cottage industry in the West that supports artists and backcountry scavengers alike. I spent a few days this spring tracking down the origins of unique antler furnishings. 

Bison and the National Bison Range.
Josh Burnham-cc-by-2.0

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hosting two public meetings tonight and tomorrow night about planning efforts for the National Bison Range.

Nicky Ouellet

Flathead County Commissioners today took a step towards legalizing and regulating short-term housing rentals outside of incorporated towns. Vacation rentals by owner, or VRBOs, are currently illegal outside of Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish, but people are doing it anyway.

Commissioner Pam Holmquist voted in favor of a resolution to change county regulations, which passed on a 2-1 vote.

“We're just trying to help the VRBO individuals and the community have a voice in this,” says Holmquist.

Zephry Holloway's grandmother painted the motarboard for his high school graduation ceremony. The school said he couldn't wear it.
Muriel Winnier

Graduation ceremonies this spring became the testing ground for a new state law that protects tribal members’ right to wear regalia at significant public events. Most have gone off without a hitch — students across the state are receiving their diplomas in beaded caps and gowns, but schools are still trying to figure out how to implement the new law.

Pages