Turner Mountain had six or more inches over the weekend of new powder, the sun was bright, and the conditions were perfect for skiing and snowboarding. Photos by Ashley South, The Montanian.
Congratulations to Heidi McRoberts, The New Deputy Forest Supervisor For The Kootenai National Forest
Submitted by Lerona Rebo
Heidi was born and raised on a farm in north central Idaho. Heidi has personal connections to rural economies and a desire to maintain healthy, productive forests that support local communities. Heidi holds a master’s degree in Fisheries Resources and is finishing her dissertation for her PhD in Natural Resources, both from the University of Idaho. She comes from Region 6 where she’s the Deputy Forest Supervisor on the Umatilla National Forest in Pendleton, Oregon. Previously, she was the Fisheries Biologist on the Forest Plan Revision Team on the Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forests. Heidi spent 22 years working for the Nez Perce Tribe, including 10 years as the Deputy Director for the Department of Fisheries Resource Management/Watershed Division. In her free time, Heidi enjoys spending time with her partner Kevin and two daughters, Lydia and Sydney. Heidi’s hobbies include attending sporting events, hiking, quilting, and traveling.
Heidi officially started her position on January 30th. Chad Benson, Forest Supervisor, says he is excited to have Heidi join the team and looking forward to utilizing her expertise and experience that she brings to the forest.
$18.5 Million Settlement Ends W.R. Grace & Co. Mesothelioma & Asbestos Claim
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced an $18.5 million settlement between the former owner of the W.R. Grace & Co. mine and the hundreds of individuals diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases in the town of Libby, Montana. The mine, which operated for decades, exposed workers and residents to dangerous levels of the carcinogenic mineral.
Libby, Montana Residents Diagnosed with Malignant Mesothelioma and other Asbestos-Related Diseases
The settlement brings to an end a decades-long investigation and litigation involving individuals and families who were diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases, including malignant mesothelioma. The monies from the settlement will go towards compensating those victims, as well as towards funding continuing environmental clean-up projects and removal of the asbestos-containing materials that continue to contaminate homes and structures in the small town.
Millions Spent Over the Years to Clean Up Libby Contamination that Led to Mesothelioma
Upon discovery of the many cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses being caused by the W.R. Grace & Company, the company faced over 65,000 asbestos-related personal injury lawsuits encompassing more than 129,000 individual claims. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001 that placed trust funds into an asbestos personal injury trust and an asbestos property damage trust. The company also paid the EPA $250 million for cleanup work.
The $18.5 million settlement addresses the last of the environmental claims that the state issued against the company. Montana’s governor Greg Gianforte said, “After years of negotiation following Grace’s historic damage, Libby and communities in Lincoln County can more fully recover. I look forward to the positive impact this settlement can bring to the people of Libby and Lincoln County.”
Courtesy of Terri Oppenheimer of Mesothelioma.net
One Fish, Two Fish,—Two Headed Koocanu-Fish?
Submitted by Chris Bachman
This photograph of a two-headed trout comes from a report commissioned by Idaho-based J.R. Simplot in an attempt by the phosphate mining company to justify more selenium pollution in eastern Idaho watersheds. (Credit Simplot) -Photo Courtesy of Chris Bachman
Images from the appendix of a report by the J. R. Simplot Company show the mutated offspring of trout from Idaho creeks. The report concluded that selenium should be allowed in higher levels in creeks than is now permitted under regulations. [Credit Simplot]-Photo courtesy of Chris Bachman
Why is Representative Steve Gunderson, (R) HD1, proposing a bill-HB473, that would double the amount of selenium allowed to pollute Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River watershed?
Gunderson is quoted in the Flathead Beacon, (Libby Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Weaken Selenium Safeguard on Lake Koocanusa, February 17, 2023) asking “Where is the two headed trout?” Further stating, “Nobody has documented any of the supposed damage to the fish.”
Not so fast. Photographs of deformed trout, some two-headed, surfaced in a study assessing impacts of increased selenium concentrations commissioned by the J.R. Simplot Company. Similar to what Gunderson is proposing in HB473, Simplot wanted to increase selenium discharge above national and state standards at its southeastern Idaho phosphate mine. Their own study noted devasting impacts to fish.
The 694-page 2010 study, prepared for Simplot by Formation Environmental, of Boulder, CO, and HabiTech, of Laramie, WY, containing pictures of the trout, is titled “Interpretive Findings for Field and Laboratory Studies and Literature Review in Support of a Site-Specific Selenium Criterion, Smoky Canyon Mine.” The study found increased levels of selenium caused a variety of mutations in brown trout. The Smoky Canyon Mine is now a Superfund site, something we’re already long familiar with.
Teck coal mines sit along the Elk River and have been leaching selenium and nitrogen into the river for decades. Selenium in Lake Koocanusa already exceeds the Department of Environmental Quality standard of one microgram per liter due to pollution from upstream coal mining. Gunderson’s logic seems to be, if you can’t meet the standard, raise it.
Why propose a bill that risks the health and well-being of humans, fish, and wildlife to benefit an upstream Canadian coal company?
Selenium is a natural poison that seeps from rocks and dirt and accumulates in the food chain. It can cause illness and deformities in people, livestock, and wildlife. Selenium can affect human health, causing hair and fingernail loss and numbness in fingers and toes. However, selenium is far more dangerous to aquatic egg-bearing animals like fish, birds, and reptiles with young failing to hatch or hatching with serious deformities –– missing eyes, misshapen beaks, and protruding brains.
Selenium’s presence in the environment is directly associated with coal mining. Do we want to impact the reproduction and survivability of Montana’s native fish and other wildlife for coal and Teck’s bottom line?
We should not be legislating science. There is a public process in place to change a water quality standard that must be followed. The process involves citizen stakeholders and uses the best available science. This process was followed to set the current, much lower standard. It is clear Lake Koocanusa is being impacted by an upstream source of selenium. It is very clear the source is Teck Resources Ltd., now calling their metallurgic coal mining, Elk Valley Resources Ltd. They’ve changed the name, but it doesn’t change the problem. We have years of data documenting an increase in the amount of selenium entering Montana from Canada.
So, what is motivating Rep. Gunderson to sellout Montana’s environment and citizens for a Canadian mine? Perhaps he thinks a two headed fish will double his luck at fishing?
Chris Bachman is the Conservation Director for the Yaak Valley Forest Council, which monitors water quality and ecosystem health in northwest Montana’s Yaak Valley.
In The Know: Glaucoma
By Karen Morrissette of The Montanian
Glaucoma refers to any of several eye conditions that damage the optic nerve and impair vision. It is one of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly. The optic nerve connects the eye with the brain and any damage can cause impairment of vision. Glaucoma is more common in those over the age of 60 but can sometimes even occur in children. Often this is related to one of several mechanisms by which the pressure inside the eye becomes elevated as fluid within the eye is unable to drain properly. Glaucoma can also develop at times even though the eye pressure is normal. Most forms develop gradually, but at times it can come on quite quickly.
Continued on Page 2