Professional Work

 

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

Disease issues closed down some of Montana’s private fish hatcheries in the last two years, creating a fish shortage and regulatory headaches for hatchery owners. The Hatchery Quandary

Joe Gutkoski, an 89-year-old environmental activist, has a big idea about water. He’s tried to get lawmakers to buy what he’s selling for years, and he has always been rejected. But that doesn’t stop him. For Montana’s water rights, a radical and likely doomed idea

In 1962, an Air Force bomber slammed into a mountain in southern Montana. Four men were killed. Fifty-four years later, a man who lives near the wreckage made it his mission to memorialize the four veterans. My story, reported in collaboration with the Last Best Stories podcast, on just that: In Memory of a Plane Crash

The single biggest story I covered in 2016 was a massive fish die-off in the Yellowstone River. It began with anecdotal reports of people floating past dead fish and led to an emergency recreation ban on 183 miles of the river. When the dust settled and the state lifted the river closure, I returned to the river and tried to look ahead to how Montana’s fish biologists would try to measure the impact.

In 2015, a Canadian mining company asked for permission to look for gold north of Yellowstone National Park. Environmentalists came out against it, and they found some unlikely allies in some who live and own land up the narrow canyon where the company wants to go. This story was published as those people were waiting for the U.S. Forest Service to make a decision on the level of environmental scrutiny they would give the company’s project.

Late blight caused the Irish potato famine. In 2015, it came to Montana’s Gallatin Valley for the first time, but the area’s potato farmers were prepared to deal with it. I talked to a couple of them.

Developing wind energy in Montana comes with many challenges. This is a story about one company’s quest to build some turbines outside a town east of Bozeman.

Drought can be tough on Montana’s farmers, people who are slaves to the weather.

Freelance work:

On Modernfarmer.com: How to say “cold” in Quechua

Advertisements

The 64th Montana Legislature and college clips

Montana’s attorney general lobbied lawmakers behind the scenes to pass a bill that would help him win a lawsuit over whether the state’s primary elections should be open or closed. http://mtpr.org/post/montana-republicans-divided-over-open-primaries

Montana scrambled to create a plan for conserving sage grouse, hoping to ward off a listing under the Endangered Species Act. http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/local/2015/02/09/lawmakers-balance-keeping-energy-sage-grouse-alive-montana/23131615/

Clips published before I went to the legislature:

Tyler Hamilton rode alongside Lance Armstrong. Years later, he told 60 Minutes about the doping subculture of cycling. He spent more than a decade in the news. Now he just wants to relax in Missoula. This profile — which appeared in the Montana Journalism Review — focused on how media coverage has changed his life. http://mjr.jour.umt.edu/life-changers-tyler-hamiltons-ride-on-the-front-page/

A lovely story about a banana tree. I wrote this for the Montana Kaimin.  http://www.montanakaimin.com/news/article_d92b92f8-53ea-11e4-a7f5-0017a43b2370.html#.VD_-q2ng1kE.facebook

Montana has only one public opinion poll in many non-presidential election years. This is my poll results story from 2014. It appeared in the Kaimin and on Montana Public Radio’s website.  http://www.montanakaimin.com/news/article_054fde72-587b-11e4-a258-001a4bcf6878.html

During my summer at the Big Timber Pioneer, I wrote about a bullfighter at the Big Timber Rodeo. I shot the photo for this story as well. Bullfighter Profile

This link is to another story I wrote in Big Timber about a high profile hit-and-run case. It was picked up by the paper’s parent company, Yellowstone Newspapers, and ran in a few different papers around Montana. http://www.livingstonenterprise.com/content/trial-dates-set-i-90-fatal-crash

Cattle drive

July 2014– A cattle drive on the Cremer Ranch in Melville, Montana. I covered this for the Big Timber Pioneer during my summer internship in 2014. The drive was a throwback to drives in the 1970s that once went down the main street of Big Timber. A nearby guest ranch rode on the drive with their clients.

_NYC4065 Saddling up at the barn on the Cremer place.

_NYC4081 Matt Cremer, the head of the ranch. The Cremers are one of the largest landowners in the state. One of Matt’s relatives is the late Leo Cremer, one of the west’s most prominent rodeo contractors.

_NYC4436 The herd coming up Cremer Road behind Mark Silverstein(left) and Matt Cremer.

_NYC4865 Trailing the herd over a hill

_NYC4884 The chuck wagon. Lunch, beer and more.

_NYC4987 Camp for the night. Stew dinner and more beer before the cowboys called it a night.

Skwalas

March 2013

Skwala Hatch Attracts Anglers

The sun was shining on the Bitterroot Valley as the man stepped out of the SUV with Oregon plates. He’d pulled into a gravel lot at the head of a trail cutting through a collection of pine trees to the banks of the Bitterroot River.

The man opened the back door of the car and out jumped his black lab. The dog was excited, running and jumping, enjoying the fine weather. Next, the man pulled his fly rod from the backseat. It was already strung and he was already wearing his waders and vest. The last thing he did before climbing the fence and disappearing down the trail was stuff a pair of Bud Lights into his vest.

He was not alone.

Around every turn, four or five people could be found casting their lines into the water. It was the first week of March. The sharp cold of winter was just beginning to dull, and the local fly anglers were beginning to stir.

“There are a lot of people trying to get out on the water,” said Jay Dixon, a long-time fly-fishing guide in the Bitterroot Valley and owner of Dixon Adventures, an outfitting company based in Florence.

All of this isn’t because of the weather. All of this is because of one ugly bug: the skwala stonefly.

Skwalas are enormous bugs, growing to about an inch in length. When viewed from above they are nearly indiscernible from a piece of tree bark. Closer examination reveals the short brown legs and greenish-yellow body hiding beneath their brown wing case.

To University of Montana entomologist Diana Six, that doesn’t sound ugly.

“They’re cute!” she said with a laugh. “They are more colorful than a lot of our Montana bugs.”

As a nymph— the larval form of an insect—the skwala is mostly brown and has distinct patterns on its body. Nymphs swim from the bottom of the river to the shore, where they hatch into adults. Once they hatch skwalas can be seen floating down the river—the real reason so many anglers rush to the Bitterroot River this time of year.

“People are out trying to get some of the first dry-fly fishing of the year,” Dixon said.

Dry flies imitate insects that are visible on the water. Anglers love dry-fly fishing because fish rise to the surface to take the flies into their mouth, usually with an emphatic splash or acrobatic leap. The skwala hatch on the Bitterroot River allows fishermen to chase this thrill early in the season.

However, it’s not the easiest hatch to predict and fish.

“It seems like skwalas are really picky,” Six said. Water temperatures determine when bugs begin hatching. Every insect has a different set of ideal hatching temperatures. This is where Six sees the skwala’s pickiness.

“They have very narrow boundaries,” she added.

For skwala nymphs to begin swimming to shore, water temperatures need to be between 38 and 40 degrees. Once they reach shore, they wait for another set of water temperatures—this time between 40 and 48 degrees—to actually hatch into adults.

Water temperatures increase throughout the warm and sunny days of early spring, providing conditions for late afternoon or early evening hatches. However, warm temperatures are never a certainty in the spring. Even the warmest days are often punctuated by freezing nights, making daytime sunshine even more important to the skwala hatch.

Dixon agrees. He called the skwalas photophilic, meaning they are very active in sunlight—as are another species Dixon knows quite well.

“The anglers also get active,” he said.

Not only do locals dust off their gear and throw flies into the water, but people come from as far away as Seattle to fish this hatch. And that also means money to the Missoula area.

A 2011 study by the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research reported over $3 million spent in Missoula County by non-residents on licensing and outfitting services. Much of that money is a direct result of prolific hatches like the skwala.
Because these hatches attract many out-of-staters, local fly shops thrive.

“Bugs bring people to town, and their first logical stop is the fly shop,” said Zach Scott, a guide at the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop, adding that major hatches like the skwala are essential to a fly shop’s survival.

Inside the Missoulian Angler, fly tyers and anglers look to fill their early season needs. One man searched anxiously for olive furry foam, a material he uses to tie the bodies of his skwala imitations.

He didn’t find it.

“We can’t keep it on the shelves,” Scott lamented as he shook his head and shrugged, adding that a lot of other materials used to tie skwala patterns are also selling out, as well as skwala flies tied in-shop by the Missoulian Angler staff.

Eric Henslin, a guide for Hamilton-based Western Flies and Guides, has also noticed a major increase in business. It is no surprise. He marks the skwala hatch as the beginning of the fly-fishing year.

“It really kicks off our season,” Henslin said. “And we start with a bang.”

That bang has grown louder and louder.

When the 42-year-old Dixon began his career just over 20 years ago, the hatch was a relatively well kept secret. But, by the early 2000s, magazines and other media outlets began exposing the grandeur of the hatch.

“We were … disgruntled,” Dixon said of the initial reaction of he and his colleagues to the notoriety the hatch began to gain. “Don’t give up our secret.”

Dixon added that with the recent explosion of social media, the hatch has now caught even more attention, saying, “It’s really kind of exacerbated the whole thing.”

But the attention sure hasn’t dissuaded this longtime angler and guide. He doesn’t seem to care much anymore about others knowing the secret. He still loves to go out and fish.

“For me, it’s about getting out there and having fun.”

And, as the skwalas begin to hatch, fun is exactly what it will be.