Sen. Jon Tester announces new public lands legislation

OFFICE OF SEN. JON TESTER

On Aug. 22 at the Last Best Outdoors Fest in Columbia Falls, Montana, Democrat Sen. Jon Tester announced new legislation that will give Montana outdoorsmen and women a louder voice in Washington.

Tester’s Outdoor Economy Act will create the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee at the U.S. Department of Interior to advise the Administration on ways to increase public access to public land.

“Montana hunters, anglers, business owners and outdoor enthusiasts know how important our public lands are,” Tester said. “By bringing these folks to the table in Washington, we can ensure that future generations will be able to access the treasured places that are driving our economy and creating jobs.”

The Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee will prepare a biannual report with recommendations on how to increase public access to public lands, address maintenance needs that impact recreational opportunities, reduce barriers for underserved communities to engage in outdoor recreation, promote new and existing service opportunities on public lands, and identify ways for the outdoor recreation community to assist in curtailing the spread of invasive species.

In addition to members from the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Army Corps of Engineers, the committee will include one representative from the following groups, appointed jointly by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture:

– State fish and wildlife agencies
– Tribal governments
– Hunting organizations
– Fishing organizations
– Motorized recreation organizations
– Horsemen organizations
– Human-powered transportation organizations
– Veterans service organizations
– Organizations that provide education or outreach to encourage youth participation in the outdoors

Tester’s Outdoor Economy Act can be found online at tester.senate.gov.

Uplands Trail closed after partially consumed elk found

EBS STAFF

Big Sky’s Uplands Trail was closed on the afternoon of Aug. 29 after the discovery of a partially consumed elk carcass and signs of bear-related activity. The Ralph’s Pass trail was closed at its halfway point as well, though Hummocks Trail, which shares a trailhead with Uplands, remained open.

As of EBS press time on Aug. 30, the Big Sky Community Organization planned to monitor the site daily and keep the trails closed until evidence of bear activity ceased, meaning the carcass remains in the same condition for several days, or in the best case scenario, has been entirely consumed.

A hiker discovered the elk carcass Aug. 29, approximately a quarter mile from the trailhead and 30 yards west of the trail. He called Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and a grizzly bear management specialist contacted BSCO, which oversees management of Big Sky’s public trails.

A statement issued by FWP said that the organization does not have confirmation as to how the elk died or what is currently feeding on it, and that this was a proactive closure to ensure human safety due to possible bear presence.

1.5-acre fire extinguished behind Ophir school

EBS STAFF

On Aug. 19, the Big Sky Fire Department responded to an afternoon call reporting outside smoke near Ophir Elementary School south of Big Sky on Highway 191. When firefighters arrived, approximately 1.5 acres of sagebrush field directly behind the school were on fire with flames over 6 feet high. By the time two Yellowstone Club firefighters arrived on the scene, the Big Sky department had all but extinguished the blaze.

“We were very lucky to get this fire stopped,” BSFD Chief William Farhat said. “High winds, low humidity and high temperatures … you put the three together and it takes hardly anything to start a fire.”

After further investigation, it was determined that the cause of the blaze was not fireworks as initially suspected, but campfire ashes that had been disposed of in the field.

In speaking with the homeowner closest to the fire, Farhat learned that friends who were visiting had thrown their campfire remains into the field behind the home, unaware that there was an ash can in the garage for that purpose. The fire had been contained in a portable metal fire pit with a screen on the patio. According to Farhat, the visitors believed that they had thoroughly extinguished the embers.

“They dumped it out in the field before they left the home, not realizing that it was still hot enough to rekindle the ‘light’ grassy fuels in the field,” Farhat said, noting that the visitors were not from Montana and didn’t fully understand the dangers involved. “This is a good example of how careful people must be when using fire in this type of environment.”

Wildfire burns near Whitehall

Campfires prohibited in Madison, other regional counties

EBS STAFF

An Aug. 24 lightning strike ignited a blaze 7 miles northeast of Whitehall, Montana, and burned more than 2,700 acres as of EBS press time on Aug. 30.

The Conrow fire is being managed as a full suppression operation with 160 total personnel, including two hotshot crews, one helicopter, four fire engines and three bulldozers. The wildfire was 65 percent contained, with 16 structures threatened, but none lost, at press time.

Interagency fire management officials in southwestern Montana will amend Stage 1 fire restrictions, effective at midnight on Sept. 2. Previously, there were exemptions for campfires to be allowed within metal rings, but this amendment now prohibits all campfires.

Campfires will not be allowed in metal rings or at developed recreation sites, including campgrounds or cabins. These restrictions apply to Madison, Beaverhead, Deer Lodge, Silver Bow, Jefferson and Powell counties.

The restrictions will remain in effect until there is a significant change in fire danger.