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HOPE AND NO CHANGE

by Randy
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on Thursday, 11 July 2013
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  fiddling-while-rome-burns The recent low flow and dangerously elevated water temp crisis in the Upper Madison River was a scary situation...the worst I had seen in my over 40 years of watching the Madison.   hebgen_repair

 

   And speaking of watching, I had hoped the "Guardians of the River,"  The Madison River Foundation, would have been watching...or acting...or guarding...but instead they decided to play the "politics as usual"card. This was the response from their founder, Richard Lessner:

   "The Foundation is neither a spokesman nor an apologist for PPL. Forecasting long term weather trends and how much water is going to be available months in the future is very challenging. Does PPL always get it exactly right? Of course not. But it does the best that current climate and weather science allows. Hindsight is always 20/20. Plus, PPL is answerable to many and varied stakeholders and does its best to satisfy often conflicting demands."

 

   Thank you very much...now let's get to the important stuff...the next Gala Banquet...the next Festival...and those groovy embroidered shirts and hats. Get out there and press some flesh. And don't piss off the power company or y'all will be reading the wine list by candlelight. Tell Igor up there at the dam to keep spinning those dials...he's bound to hit it right sooner or later. In the meantime, pass the shrimp cocktail!disco_party_70s_-_4_-_bd-0606-mc

 

   

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BUILD ME UP, BUTTERCUP!

by Randy
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on Tuesday, 09 July 2013
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    The following remarks are from Mike Lum. Mike is an Ennis, Mt. fishing guide and former Board Member (resigned) of the Madison River Foundation. The Foundation was founded in 2003 by Richard Lessner, a former Washington, D.C. lobbyist with the American Conservative Union.lessner_1

                                                     Richard Lessner

                                                                 

 

 

 

 

 Mike Lum's comments:

 

     Late last week a newsletter penned by Richard Lessner of the Madison River Foundation started circulating in response to questions and concerns he’s been fielding about the current state of the Madison...flows and temperatures specifically. I disagree with a lot of what’s contained in that newsletter and would like to…for want of a better word…rebut what Richard said in it. This is not meant to be a personal attack on Richard or a condemnation of the Foundation itself. It is meant to give a different perspective and set the record straight on a few things that Richard got wrong. You can follow the URL links I’ll provide to check my facts if you’d like. I’ll try and follow the flow of the newsletter and address the things I have issues with in the order they appear there. Here we go…“PPL operates under strict requirements in its federal license that does not allow it to kill fish.” This is not strictly true…The language in the license speaks of temperature triggers only on the LOWER Madison to protect the fishery. Article 413 of the FERC license has the pertinent information. You can find that here…http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5133641.pdfBasing pulse flow protocols on a certain “trigger” temperature only accounts for part of the story. Trout don’t just all of a sudden start dying when the water temps reach 77 degrees or whatever they decide their number may be. Dissolved oxygen (which can vary based on many different factors...such as flow rate), external stresses (such as catch and release angling), available food, etc. can all attribute to mortality at much lower water temps. All this however is of little use here as they only have a pulse flow protocol in place for the LOWER MADISON (downstream from Ennis Lake). No such protections are in place for the upper river (the part that constitutes the #1 or #2 most used section of river in the state).“When water temperatures approach potentially lethal ranges, typically above 78F for rainbow trout…” What about brown trout? What about whitefish (you might not like em but big trout eat em)? What about sculpins and all the myriad invertebrates that trout eat?“PPL pulses water out of Hebgen Lake to cool Ennis Lake and, consequently, the lower river below Bear Trap.” No they don’t….they raise the flow out of Hebgen to keep Ennis Lake full enough (not cool enough...pretty tough to cool anything with 70+ degree water) to pulse the lower.Pulse: b. Any of a series of intermittent occurrences characterized by a brief sudden change in a quantity.“Brief, sudden change”…that means a raising and lowering of river flow in a short span of time (a few hours as in the case of lower river pulses). The differences in flow protocols between the upper and lower Madison are shown clearly in the USGS real-time stream flow hydrographs which you can find here…http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/uv/?site_no=06038500&PARAmeter_cd=00060,00065,00010and here…http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/uv/?site_no=06041000&PARAmeter_cd=00060,00065,00010“The upper river between Quake Lake and Ennis is much less susceptible to dangerous warming than the lower river.” Yes, Richard is mostly correct here…were we operating under anything approaching normal circumstances. PP&L continues work on Hebgen Dam which necessitates using the dam overflow structure to control the flow which draws water off the top of the reservoir (instead of 30 feet beneath the surface as was the case when the dam was functioning). The average water temp coming into the upper Madison is 3-5 degrees warmer to begin with than it “normally’ is. Since the dam failure and repair process began the upper river has actually been, on many days, experiencing warmer water temps at the Kirby gauge than downstream at Varney.“Higher water temperatures in the upper river may slow fishing during the middle part of the day, but they do not pose a lethal threat to the fish.” Wrong again…virtually every guide I know including myself has seen dead fish on a daily basis out there for almost a week now. Yes, this is due in part to stress from catch and release fishing (when coupled with the high water temps). It is NOT a normal occurrence to see dead fish on a daily basis on this river when “The river is doing just fine.”“PPL does take into consideration such recreational use as angling but its priority is to protect the fish.” Its priority, actually, is to protect its investors and its capacity to generate electricity. This is clearly illustrated in the license language.“But under its federal guidelines PPL cannot increase (or decrease) flows more than 10 percent a day. This limit is in consideration of recreational activities on the river, including fishing.” This is correct but it is also one of the license requirements a lot of us have been arguing for years needs to be changed. There is no reason we couldn’t do away with that rule for the months of March, April, May and even June. It is one of the rules that PP&L runs up against when they are making their inflow calculations in the fall. They can’t raise it more than 10% per day so they need to make sure they have enough room in the reservoir to accommodate enough runoff that they don’t need to.“In response to low flows and higher temperatures PPL began pulsing water out of Hebgen this week.” No, they didn’t…in response to high water temps (nothing to do with low flows) on the LOWER Madison they began pulsing water out of Ennis Lake so they had to raise the flow out of Hebgen to keep enough water in Ennis to do so.“As to flows, this year's drought conditions (see map above) have caused lower than average river flows across much of the region.” Yes, and we all knew that we were seeing drought conditions as early as February in this part of the state. More on this later but you can find the data here…Look in the Water Year 2013 .pdfs for continuing updates throughout the year.http://www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/watersupply/outlook_reports.html“PPL has been criticized for keeping flows too high over the winter. At FWPs suggestion, PPL maintains fairly constant flows from November through March in order to protect spawning habitat in the main stem of the Madison. Steady flows around 1,000 cfs are deemed important for this purpose.” Yes, you can see from article 403, section 4 of the FERC license, the first part of Richard’s statement is (sort of) true. They actually do it because they are mandated to in the license not because FWP suggests it but…I’m being nitpicky. The last sentence however is not…nowhere in there does it say anything about 1000 cfs (or greater as it was operated at 1100-1200 cfs for most of this winter). Trout don’t necessarily need 1000 cfs to spawn successfully….only STABLE FLOWS to protect the eggs until they hatch. The fish will find areas to spawn whether the flow is 500, 1000 or 5000 cfs.http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5133641.pdf“In looking at long-range weather, snow and moisture forecasts last fall, PPL deemed such flows justifiable. The forecasts turned out to be less than accurate, predicted average spring snows did not appear, and water levels are low.” Less than accurate forecasts?!? In the Rocky Mountains?? Six months in advance?? NO!! Once again, you can take a look at the NRCS water data for MT and not only was southwest, MT the driest part of the state this past winter it started out so in January and February and continued to decline through the first two weeks in May. This is possibly THE most important part of our argument. PP&L stubbornly refuses to utilize real-time, on the ground weather and water data when they are calculating their winter and spring time flow regime. You can clearly see here….http://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/uv?cb_00060=on&cb_00065=on&cb_00010=on&format=gif_default&period=&begin_date=2013-03-01&end_date=2013-07-07&site_no=06038500That despite the persistently dry condition in the Madison drainage, they didn’t really react (with lowered flows out of Hebgen) until mid-May and early June (when it was WAY too late). They actually ran it at almost 1000 cfs out of Hebgen (almost 700 cfs higher than during the hottest stretch of weather we had here last week) until late April. The importance of this and the timing CANNOT be overstated. They had plenty of water in the lake to have it full by April or May had they reacted sooner to the drought conditions. People will talk about hindsight and such…B.S.! The data showing drought conditions here existed in January! The river paid hard for this over the past several weeks and could pay hard again later this summer. “Under its federal license, PPL is required to fill Hebgen by June 30. It's almost there. The lake today is less than a foot from full pool.” Yes, less than a foot from full…the foot that actually contains the most acre feet of any as they fill it. The sides of the reservoir are not straight up and down…the closer it gets to full the more water it takes per inch to continue filling it. They MIGHT get it full if they get lucky and it keeps raining but only at the expense of seriously low flows and high water temps on the upper river. “A full Hebgen provides a reserve of water for those pulse flows mentioned above should July, August and September prove unusually warm. Retaining the highest possible level of water in the lake also facilitates completion of repair work on the dam. Lake levels in the fall determine how long into the season construction can continue. PPL aims to complete work on the dam in 2014, something everybody desires.” Hey…something we agree on! It’s just that PP&L should have had it full months ago before it got hot!“The fisheries biologists at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks also closely monitor river temperatures and flows. FWP has established and published guidelines on temperatures and river closures for cold water fisheries. Here is the link to these guidelines: Drought Fishing Closure Policy.” Yep, great…so the only policy in place to mitigate stress on fish in the upper is closure. They’d actually rather close it to fishing than put more water into it to cool it off.“It would be nice, of course, if nature were entirely predictable. It's not. Weather, climate, snowfall, rain, drought -- all change from year to year. Some years are wetter than others; some are drier. Predicting months in advance how much water will be available is tricky.” No shit…that’s why they should factor in real-time data!“Moreover, even in "normal" years the Madison naturally has a steep daily thermograph. In summer the river has a very steep temperature curve, rising sharply in the middle of the day and falling overnight. This is entirely natural.” Yep, the only unnatural parts are the heat sink reservoirs and the broken dam.“Longtime Madison anglers know it's best to fish early, take the afternoon off, and wait on the river to start cooling toward evening. Those who insist on fishing "banker's hours" should accept this daily temperature spike as a reality and adjust expectations accordingly. Of course, even this reality is subject to exceptions. Trout may continue to feed actively even when water temperatures increase above the ideal if there is abundant food present, such as grasshoppers in late summer.” And apparently some of us need an education on how and when to fish the Madison…and oh, don’t forget to “adjust expectations…”“Warm summer temperatures and lower flows are normal. These conditions are even more pronounced in uncontrolled rivers that do not support dams and reservoirs.” We LOVE dams and reservoirs!! Yay!!“The Madison is not in crisis. It is a healthy, robust river and a superb fishery. The river is doing just fine; it's human expectations that need adjustment.” Yes, the Madison will weather the current crisis that some folks would rather keep their heads in the sand about. Water will continue to flow, fish will continue to eat and (sometimes) flourish here…this, somehow, misses the point. One of the greatest natural resources we have in this state, one that not only generates countless hours of enjoyment for thousands of people (anglers and non) but millions of dollars in state revenue from tourism dollars is under the management and control of an out of state, for-profit power company. Are they the devil incarnate? No, of course not…but they absolutely could choose to do things in a way that would benefit the people who use and love this river….possibly even over their own corporate concerns. That last sentence I quoted actually strikes me as a bit contradictory. So, there’s no problem…we just need to adjust our expectations and everything is just fine…Hmmm…for some reason that just doesn’t sit very well. All the Bengal Tigers are dying! …well, you just need to adjust your expectations that there will be fewer of them and it’ll be fine. A bit tangential I know but…The license requirements that I’d like to see revisited are the 10% per day maximum flow change. I think this could be done away with, as previously stated during the months of Feb, March, April, May and possibly even June. Also the 3500 cfs max flow over Quake. This is to minimize erosion of the earthen dam. Quake is naturally eroding anyway…..it is a lake created through natural causes. Why are we working so hard to keep it as it is? So we speed up the erosion of the dam and lowering of the lake level by a decade or two (if that, I’m making up those numbers to illustrate a point). The years PP&L would need to run it higher than 3500 would be few and far between anyway if they paid attention and utilized real-time data. This is from article 403, section 4 of the FERC license… “…maintain the elevation of Hebgen Reservoir between 6,530.26 and 6,534.87 feet (normal full pool elevation) from June 20 through October 1.” Take a look at those elevation numbers…..as per the license that RANGE is considered “normal full pool elevation”. There is FOUR FEET of lake elevation within this parameter that P&LL could use to keep more flow in the river! Think about that….yet on most years they end up with closer to 6534 feet than they do the smaller number. In fact there is 6534.5 feet in there RIGHT NOW…yet they ran it at almost minimum flows while the water temp climbed to 74 degrees (actually much higher than that in the channels section downstream from Ennis)! Now tell me again how they are doing such a great job managing this river. SO…even after the dam repairs are finished (as certainly was the case before it broke) PP&L can and will still run the upper river to try and maintain a full reservoir (as long as the lower stays cool enough they don’t have to pulse it). Then, come late Sept or early Oct they jack the flow (most years this will end up being higher all winter than during the hottest part of the summer) to draw the lake level down again. I’m not making this up. They are operating within the constraints of their licensing agreement…legally not doing anything wrong. We are questioning the rules themselves not PP&Ls compliance to them.The information is there. The language in the license is clear. There is leeway for PP&L even as it is written. They CHOOSE to operate as they do in many cases. This is the gist of our (my) argument. Draw your own conclusions.Mike Lum

 

 

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PENNSYLVANIA POWER AND LIGHTHEADEDNESS

by Randy
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on Monday, 24 June 2013
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Pennsylvania Power & Light…We Are Not Bad People!

 

   To all of you who are upset that we allowed the Madison River to reach the lowest flow level since the Big Quake of 1959…SHAME ON YOU! All of us at PP&L, 2167 miles away in Allentown, Pa. are shocked at you Montana hicks. We know what we are doing…think about the children…your kids…your loved ones…they don’t need their fishin’ poles...they can just walk right out across the rocks in the middle of the Madison River and scoop ‘em up with dip nets…fish fry for the whole damn family! An look at the loot…no water means treasure…all the Nikons and Rolexes and Orvises and Sages and ya know all that other stuff that’s been layin down there for years…now y’all can go get it! First come, first serve…just walk on out there and scrape all the dead fish out of your way and divvy up the loot! We’re helping the Montana economy…putting money in your pocket…food on the table (y’all might check those dead trout for fungus, blisters and open sores before y’all cook ‘em up…know what I mean?) Just because we’re closer to New York City, Philadelphia and Newark don’t mean we don’t love Montana. Heck we take a Corporate Outing to Yellowstone Park every year. We even have photos of our PP&L Vice Presidents feeding a Philly Cheese Steak to a grizzly bear…we care about the West! And one of our PP&L Executives stood right up next to one of them thar wild buffalos and got his picture took just before the old bull rammed a horn up his wazoo. Yippee! We love it out there in Big Sky country.

  dead_trout So don’tchall fret about a little low water…heck after all those fish die off we’ll by y’all some fresh ones and dump ‘em back in there with our PP&L helicopters and corporate jets. And then will have a big party at the Long Branch and buy y’all a bunch of beer. Yahoo! Ain’t it great?

 

  

PS…If you ever get to Allentown…feel free to stop in…and bring the family!

 

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MY TOP FIVE MOST UNFAVORITE (HATE) MONTANA BIRDS

by Randy
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on Friday, 31 May 2013
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I hate to say hate but...ok, intensly dislike...these five bird species that are harmful to not only the Montana environment but most anywhere they invade.

 

#5. White Pelican   white_pelicanI know...they are beautiful, graceful flyers and fun to watch, but these birds are a menace to the Montana trout population. They form a circle and herd the trout, then move in for the kill. I have seen a pelican swallow a 20 inch trout whole in one quick gulp...and their numbers are increasing. Trout are pretty much helpless to a horde of White Pelicans. Too bad they can't be trained to eat suckers, gar, carp, lizards, snakes or other vermin but alas it's trout (and whitefish) they covet.

 

#4. English Sparrow english_sparrow  Dirty, aggressive, annoying,  and detrimental to our native birds...sometimes called House Sparrow. Introduced to New York in 1850...spread to California by 1910. Now they are nationwide and more annoying than ever.

 

#3. Brewer's Blackbird. brewers_blackbirdThey are loud and they are bullies...they are proific breeders...travel in large flocks and run-off other birds. Notorious nest robbers.

 

#2. European Starling. starlingIntroduced from Europe, they are now found in virtuallly all human-modified habitats, meaning roofs, eaves, buildings, parking lots, street lights...often feeding and roosting in large flocks. They nest in any cavity, often in made-made structures and they run off bluebirds which upsets me greatly!

 

 #1. Eurasian Collared Dove/Ringed Turtle Dove.   euarasian_collard_doveCoo, coo, coocookachoo...these invasives are spreading like wildfire all over Montana and the U.S., even the Florida Keys where they have invaded in numbers along with the common Myna Bird.  Introduced from Europe and rapdly colonizing North America, they are a menace...taking over and moving out our native birds. Daisy BB Guns are the only answer...are you with me kids?Daisy_bb_gun

   

   At least three of the above are invaders from Europe or elsewhere. I look at them exactly the same as noxious weeds such as spotted knapweed and leafy spurge which have invaded and taken over many areas of Montana and eliminated our native grasses. The State of Montana spends a fortune fighting noxious weeds. Treating invading birds such as the English Sparrow, European Starling and Eurasian Collared Dove in the same way would make good sense to me.

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MY TOP TEN FAVORITE MONTANA BIRDS

by Randy
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on Friday, 31 May 2013
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   Through the years a guy gets kind of attached to certain birds...just some that make an impression...they stick with you...my Top Ten Montana Bird List:

 

#10. Stellars Jay  stellars_jay_2  

 

A secretive type...I would see them in the Montana hills at altitude in elk country...not that common, though...saw a lot of them when I lived in Colorado...interesting mountain bird.

 

#9. Mountain Chickadee  mtn_chickadeeComes to the feeder with his Black-Capped relatives...loves sunflower seeds...always on the move and chatting it up...never fails to entertain.

 

#8. Rufous Hummingbird  rufous_hummerBuzzing like big copper bees around the feeder, these guys are always ready for a fight!

 

#7. Mountain Bluebird   mtn_bluebirdIf you want to see these neat birds just play a round of golf at Madison Meadows Golf Course in Ennis and you will get your wish!

 

#6. Dipper (water ouzel) american_dipper_2Secretive little rascals...sometimes I see them underneath the cliffs near Comleyville Rapids, or up Jack Creek in the canyon...they can actually swim underwater...pretty cool birds.

 

#5. Sandhill Crane sandhill_crane_3They nest here and spend the whole summer. Their mating dance in the spring is a sight. I found a nest once on one of the islands below Varney...two large eggs. In the Fall, they herd up and commence to squawking up a storm, then adios! 

 

#4. Cliff Swallow cliff_swallowTo see the nests these critters build in the McAtee Bridge. Varney Bridge, Ruby Cliffs and elsewhere...and how they build them... is an engineering miracle.

 

#3. Great Gray Owl  great_gray_owlAlong with the Snowy, the largest North American owl. I once walked up on a pair of Great Grays perched on a low branch in the hills near Low Pass Lake. They were surprisingly tame and let me get close. Impressive bird.

 

#2. American Avocet   american_avocet_2american_avocetYou see them on the river in the summer. The only shore bird with a turned up bill. They fly in formation like a jet squadron. Nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#1. Western Tanager   western_tanagerMy fave...if you see one along the river it will be a good day!

 

 

   If I could add a few more, the list would include the Long Billed Curlew, Cinnamon Teal, Peregrine Falcon, Clarks' Nutcracker, Yellow Warbler and more. But ya gotta end somewhere!

  

    Chart your course. Walk the Earth.

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