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Mountain High



Shortly before the recent election, controversial plans to drill in the Rocky Mountain Front were shelved by the previously pro-drilling White House. Ostensibly the plan was removed to make the Bush administration look like protectors of habitat in the eyes of the influential “hook and bullet” crowd, and by no means should be taken to indicate a change in policy toward long-term protection over short-term extraction; controversial drilling plans continue elsewhere in full force.

At the state level, however, it appears that voters have chosen officials apparently eager to protect Montana’s fabled natural resources for generations to come.

For instance, Governor-elect Brian Schweitzer’s appointment of consensus-builder Mary Sexton to head the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation looks like a fine first move to build a staff keen on protecting the state’s public resources. Sexton, a Teton County commissioner outspoken in her opposition to drilling on the Front, will now be one of the most powerful land managers in Montana, overseeing the issuance of grazing, timber and mining permits on five million state-owned acres.

Elsewhere in the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to kill a newly formed pack of wolves living outside of Yellowstone N.P. The deaths of a few dozen sheep and a handful of calves have been attributed to the pack, who will be “removed” by F&W officials just as soon as Montana’s hunters exit the woods later this month. While wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act, this particular lineage descends from an introduced Yellowstone pack, a fact that changes their “endangered” status to “experimental,” a designation that allows them to be shot by government sharpshooters. Since 1987, the agency has slain almost 300 of the animals, mostly due to their eating of slow-moving livestock.

Back in Missoula, the University of Montana’s College of Technology has installed a windmill in the gust-prone Hellgate Canyon, a highly visible part of their long-term plan to become a state leader in alternative energy. The 10 kilowatts of electricity will be used as a clean source of power for the school’s hydrogen power program.

One hundred miles west of that clean-spinning turbine, however, lies a new coal-burning power plant in Thompson Falls that will likely begin burning the blackest fuel in about a month. While opposition by locals has been vehement and nearly unanimous, plant officials assure inhalers that the plant will comply fully with the law, barely polluting at all as it burns more than 500 rail-car loads of made-in-Montana coal annually.

While remarkably few will benefit from a Big Sky laden with burnt coal residue, Montana’s stargazers are particularly impacted by particulates obscuring the stellar views. That’s one reason now is the time to take advantage of still-clear skies by joining the Western Montana Astronomical Association Astronomy Series at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Montana Natural History Center. Radio astronomy expert Jerry Rude will share the knowledge and answer all your radio astronomy questions. Call the center at 327-0405 to register.

Folks who ski aggressively end up scarred: blown-out knees, lower-back pain, nagging thumb injuries, bonked tailbones. These painful moments are ultimately cumulative, and the breaks, tears, strains and bruises eventually inspire most skiers to adapt a mellower “that I might ski tomorrow” approach. And while many experience a diminished need to huck their meat off precipii while shredding the mountain, there’s always a fresh young crop of off-axis flippers going bigger and faster to take the beating—before they, too, snap an ACL or dislocate a shoulder. Fortunately, excellent ski cinema doesn’t require that high-flying stars live to ski another day—as long as you look good airborne, the filmmakers will get what they need and viewers will be oohing and ahhing.

With cheaper, lighter and better cameras, today’s local, low-budget filmmakers are constructing more creative, more impressive films than the premiere ski porn of just two decades ago—classics like “Time Waits for Snowman” and “P-Tex, Lies and Duct Tape” included.

Case in point: “Get Stoked,” the Missoula No-Budget Film Festival taking place at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Crystal Theatre. Filmmakers Greg Seitz and Matt Kern are showing three films, two action-based ski/skate/snowboard shorts and a documentary of an epic South-North ski traverse from Ovando to Alberta. Tickets are $6 in advance at the Bridge takeout or $7 at the door, with all proceeds going to the tragically underfunded West Central Montana Avalanche Center (WCMAC). Call 531-9780 for more info.

Plan your schedule carefully that night (Nov. 20) and you can also join ski ranger Steve Karkanen of the WCMAC at the Trailhead (543-6966) to learn how to stay safe in avalanche country. At 7 p.m. he’ll be talking about avoiding and surviving avalanches, and if history repeats itself he might bring some killer slides of killer slides, too.

Child-laden history buffs can join the Rocky Mountaineers on Nov. 21 for a kid-friendly trip to Garnet Ghost Town. Winter weather might make the notoriously poor road impassible, so call Julie Warner at 543-6508 to confirm.

And on a less-kid-friendly trip, the New Rocky Mountaineers will scramble up the 9,804’ Boulder Peak in the Bitterroots southwest of Darby on Nov. 21. Be prepared for a burly 5,600’ of elevation gain, a fairly airy ridge walk and a significant amount of snow along the upper reaches of the route. Gerald Olbu is leading the trip, so call him at 549-4769 and make this trip happen.

On Nov. 21 runners can join the first ever Rattlesnake Bridge Run, an in-the-‘Snake 10-mile or 5K fund-raiser that’s hoping to help rustle up the remaining funds necessary to complete a new bridge across Rattlesnake Creek near the Lincolnwood neighborhood. All proceeds go into the fund, so bring your tennies and $20 to Rattlesnake Elementary Sunday morning. Preregister at the Runner’s Edge or show up around 9 a.m. to get signed up for the 11 a.m. race.

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