Recreation Impacts of Logging Limestone West

Context: The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) is currently proposing to log state trust lands at the urban-wildland interface on the south side of Bozeman. The project will clearcut 500 – 1000 acres of trees, and result in approximately $200,000 of benefit to the trust beneficiary (the mostly the state “building fund”, in this case). The DNRC is offering two “Alternative” option for this project: Alternative A builds permanent roads and cuts a lot of trees, and Alternative B builds fewer miles of roads and logs fewer trees. (A third non-option is Alternative C, which defers action on this parcel for ten years, but requires that the DNRC be paid the market value of the timber.).

The proposed project area (with Strava heatmap data) is shown on the map below.

The DNRC has recently released its draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed project, and is accepting comments on the draft EIS until October 30, 2018. You can access the Draft EIS on the DNRC’s website here, and can submit comments of your own to the DNRC via email to

I don’t possess the wisdom or the knowledge to say whether this project is a good idea or a bad idea (I don’t like the idea of logging, but I can attest to the significant load of accumulated fuels in the proposed project area, which immediately abuts Bozeman’s water supply). However, as a frequent user of the nearby areas that have previously been logged by the DNRC, and as a data junkie, I do know that the draft EIS underestimates the extent and degree to which bikers, trail runners, hikers, and backcountry skiers will romp and play in the proposed project area if the roads are built and trees are removed. The comments that I have submitted to the DNRC to that effect are published, as an open letter, below.

Re: Limestone West Timber Sale Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Strava is a social network for fitness and outdoor recreation that records recreational activity using GPS. Like many local runners, bikers, and backcountry skiers, every time I recreate along the Gallatin Front, I record my activity using Strava. Strava, in turn, publishes this data in anonymized format on its Global Heatmap, available for free on its website. This data provides an empirical record of how many runners, bikers, hikers, and skiers recreate along the Gallatin Front.

Based on the empirical recreation activity data from Strava, the Draft EIS understates the quantity, intensity, and extent of future recreational use in three ways. First, when assessing Alternative B, the Draft EIS does not account for the existing informal trail from Triple Tree that would reach the roads built under Alternative B, providing access from the west as well as from the east. Second. The Draft EIS does not account for the recreational activities of backcountry skiers, who are significant (and growing) users of nearby Bear Canyon clearcut areas. Third, Strava data shows notable user activity on “reclaimed” roads from previous Gallatin Front harvests, suggesting that “reclaimed” roads should also be included the assessment of future recreation activities.

1. Alternative B access from Triple Tree

Describing Alternative B, the Draft EIS states, “additional access to other roads and trails in the project area from the Triple Tree Trail related to that road segment would not occur.” This is incorrect. The informal “upper hiking trail” extends south to within 100 feet of the Alternative B road and provides similar connectivity as the “0.7-mile segment of permanent restricted road proposed under Action Alternative A in the southwest 1⁄4 of section 4,” albeit via a steep trail. The Strava data shows that this informal trail is already heavily utilized.

The map above shows two access points between the “upper hiking trail” and the Alternative B roads. Strava data already shows user activity crossing the proposed terminus of the reclaimed spur road on the southern-most extent of the “upper hiking trail” (“Access Point #1”) and significant user activity passing within 125 yard of the permanent road further to the north (“Access Point #2”).

Users will quickly close these gaps. With the completion of GVLT’s “Main Street to the Mountains” trail as of September 21, 2018, there is now a continuous trail network that connects from Main Street through Triple Tree. Under Alternative B, the existing user trail provides direct connectivity to the newly constructed roads, allowing the new roads to be accessed from both the Mt. Ellis Lane trailhead, the Triple Tree trailhead, and Main Street Bozeman. Although the quality of the western connection would be lower under Alternative B, the existing trails would nevertheless provide connectivity for hikers, mountain bikers, and trail runners and result in significant use from the west as well as from the east. The EIS should reflect this reality.

2. Backcountry Skiers

The draft EIS does not include or address the recreational activities of backcountry skiers. This population of recreational users has exploded in recent years. For example, between the 2015/16 winter and the 2016/17 winter, data from the Snowsports Industries of America reports that participation in backcountry skiing grew 15%—a trend that’s consistent with recent years and expected to continue.

I skied about 20 days in the Little Ellis (Bear Canyon Timber Sale) area last winter. The majority of other users I met were backcountry skiers and snowboarders—a population of recreational users not mentioned, anticipated, or accounted for in the draft EIS.
Compared to cross-country skiers (mentioned in the Draft EIS), backcountry skiers go further, faster, and can travel any terrain. The EIS analysis relies on a buffer assumption of 0.31 miles based on a study from 1998, which doesn’t remotely describe the use patterns of backcountry skiers, who have no need for trails (though will follow trails when available).

The Strava heatmap data shown in the map above reveals that all of the clearcut areas from the 2012 – 2013 Bear Canyon harvest with a slope angle of more than ten degrees are crisscrossed with the user tracks of backcountry skiers.

The steep slopes proposed for logging under both Alternative A and Alternative B would be a significant draw for backcountry skiers, including those who currently recreate in the previously harvested areas. Without accounting for the activity of backcountry skiers, the EIS assessment of wildlife impacts from recreation is incomplete.

3. Reclaimed Roads

Finally, the draft EIS analysis of recreation activity excludes “reclaimed” roads its analysis. However, overlaying the Strava data onto the maps of the reclaimed roads from the previous harvests, shows that the “reclaimed” roads from the 2011 – 2013 Bear Canyon harvest (with the exception of a few short spurs near the bottom) are visible in the Strava data because recreational users are still using these “reclaimed” roads. This overlay is shown on the map below, where the permanent and reclaimed roads have been overlain with Strava user data. The purple and yellow lines next to and overlaying the cross-hatched “reclaimed” roads indicate user data on these “reclaimed” roads. (The user data is slightly offset to the north for visibility.)

In the winter time, especially for a backcountry skier, a reclaimed road is indistinguishable from a maintained road. Unless the cutbanks are going to be filled in, the 41% of roads under Alt A and the 26% of roads under Alt B to be “reclaimed” should be included and considered the same as the permanent roads with respect to winter recreation.

The final EIS estimate the extent of recreation and recreational impacts should be updated using empirical data of modern use patterns. I would encourage the DNRC to use the freely available data provided by Strava to better understand the current recreational use patterns in previously harvested areas to better understand likely future recreation in the Limestone West area under Alternative A and Alternative B.

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Bozeman’s Tourism Business Improvement District: An Unfair and Unwelcoming Tax

Suppose that, one night in a quiet corner of a dark room, Bozeman’s hotel owners make a pact to all raise their rates by an agreed-upon amount. Hotel revenues will go up, as guests would face the same price increase everywhere in town. Sounds clever, right? Well, almost, except for the fact that activities like this (“collusion,” “price fixing”) are blatantly illegal and would land the hoteliers in jail if the Department of Justice caught wind of their scheme.

But suppose that, instead, the hotel owners were to use the city to form a “business improvement district” with a special $2 / night tax. All area hotels would be required to collect $2 per occupied room, per night, squeezing all tourists and visitors equally. Proceeds from this “tax” could then be spent to their collective benefit. Although the consumer impact is identical, this scheme is sanctioned by state law.

This latter scenario is precisely how Bozeman’s Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) came to be. In 2009, a thin 60.2% (state law requires a minimum of 60%) of recession-hit Bozeman hoteliers banded together and petitioned the city to create a “bed tax” across all hotels in town, and to appoint a board (whose membership is literally limited to Bozeman hotel owners or their family representatives) to spend the proceeds of the tax to increase hotel occupancy in Bozeman.

Fast-forward to 2018, and this business improvement district commands $1.2m of the city’s $106m budget. For those who are counting, that’s more than twice the city’s budget for affordable housing and public transit (Streamline), combined.

Whereas many communities with tourist taxes reinvest that money into the community (e.g. Big Sky’s resort tax, which helps fund its fire department and winter ice rink), Bozeman does not. What are we spending this money on? Why, ads like these:

"Only in Bozeman" ad in Powder Magazine

Ads like these are part of the $604,000 budgeted for “Consumer Advertising.” The table below from the FY19 Bozeman TBID Budget shows the breakdown of what Bozeman gets for its $1.2m:

BTID Budget

While state law places limits on what business improvement district proceeds can be used for, alternative permissible uses include:

  • Public Transit, or Facilities / Maintenance for Active Transportation (e.g. multiuse paths)
  • Public Safety (law enforcement and fire departments)
  • Water and sewer infrastructure
  • Parking

Given the many needs in the community, is there anyone who would really suggest that buying ads in Powder Magazine is really the highest and best use of city tax revenues?

A Deluge of Visitors

The TBID proceeds are being used to bring a deluge of visitors to town—the costs of which are borne by city property-tax payers.

Each year, some four million visitors come through Bozeman. The $1.2m BTID budget corresponds to 600,000 rented hotel rooms over the course of a year. If we assume 1.5 occupants per room, that works out to just shy of 2500 visitors and tourists staying in Bozeman on any given night. For a city of 43,500, that one visitor for every twenty residents, or about 5% of the people in town paying 0% for city services and infrastructure.

That is, without a local sales tax, Bozeman’s four-million annual visitors do not pay into the costs of the city services they benefit from. These costs fall on the permanent residents of Bozeman, who pay the property taxes (directly, or indirectly) that fund city services and infrastructure.

Now, there’s such a thing as hospitality. There’s also such as thing as fairness. Charging a tax on visitors to help pay for their share of city services may not be “hospitable,” say—but, sure enough, it’s fair. But what about targeting visitors’ pocketbooks and spending the proceeds to benefit the lodging industry, and leaving tax payers to pick up the bill?

Visitation v. Affordable Housing

I’m not anti-growth, but I do question the wisdom of Bozeman spending tax dollars to try to create more of it, when it seems we have plenty enough already. I say, let’s heed the advice of Fort Collins’ city leaders, who suggest a growing city ought to focus on the quality of living for those who have already arrived ahead of trying to attract yet-more-growth.

Affordable housing is, perhaps, the most significant challenge of Bozeman’s growth. By driving up property taxes (to provide city services to visitors), competing for scarce housing stock, and attracting additional new arrivals, the TBID only makes things worse.

Tourist lodging competes directly with resident housing. Demand for short-term rentals (e.g. AirBnB) competes with long-term rentals (i.e. housing for residents). Smaller Montana communities like Gardiner are experiencing this at crisis levels, where a combination of low tourism wages and the rapid conversion of local housing stock to short-term rentals is driving locals from their own town.

In the long-run, visitation drives growth. We know it anecdotally, from the stories we hear from our new friends and neighbors. Three-quarters of Bozeman’s population growth is attributable to new arrivals (mea cupla!). Who, of our four million annual visitors, could visit Bozeman and not be charmed by our city? Who could fail to appreciate its setting in the Gallatin Valley, or not feel a tug of desire to live at the foothills of the Bridgers?

The Skinny

It all boils down to this: we’re spending $1.2m million per year to try to bring more tourists to town. In the short term, this means higher property taxes for city residents, who pay for the infrastructure and services the visitors use. In the long run, this spending just drives growth. It’s a raw deal for tourists and city residents alike.

What Can be Done?

City commission approves the BTID budget. City commission could lean on the BTID Board (which sets the BTID budget) to redirect some funds to services that offset the impact of visitation (e.g. hiring additional police, building parking downtown). If this were to happen, the hotel interests might decide the Business Improvement District no longer served their interest, and choose not to pursue a renewal in 2024 when the current iteration of the district expires. This appeals to me—we get five years of value from the BTID, and then good riddance.

If the BTID were to lapse, I believe that Bozeman could establish a new “Special Improvement District” covering the same hotels, but with a new mandate to spend the proceeds to offset the costs of tourism currently borne by city tax payers. I’m frankly a bit shaky on the legal mechanism, here, but I believe this is possible.

For the time being, let City Commission know that you you’d like to see tourist tax dollars offset the community’s costs of hosting tourists, rather than being spent to draw more tourists. The BTID Board (with opportunity for public comment) meets occasionally on the fourth Tuesday of each month (they cancelled the June meeting scheduled for next week—nothing to talk about, apparently), and are scheduled to meet next on July 24th. To confirm that the board is actually meeting, check the city calendar a few days beforehand.

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Heat is for Haters

Congratulations! You’ve taken the eco-conscious choice of removing all sources of heating from your house! You’ll really enjoy those lower energy bills (if only you can survive until summer), and will sleep well at night in your zero-degree sleeping bag, knowing you’re doing the right thing for the planet.

Now, how do you stay warm in your heat-less house?

  • Be active! Sit-ups and push-ups are great for stimulating the metabolism. Not only will you be less cold, you’ll be ripped for summer (if you survive that long).
  • Move heavy things. If you have books, put them in boxes and carry them from one place to another.
  • Warm yourself from the inside, out. Make that extra pot of coffee. Eat soup for lunch. Even if you don’t like tea, it’s hot, so make a lot and drink it anyway!
  • Blankets. Obviously, if you could put on any more sweatshirts and still be able to bend your arms, you would. When you can’t put on any more sweatshirts, try putting on a blanket!
  • Go to a coffee shop. Coffee shops are not as eco-conscious as you, so coffee shops have heat.
  • Take a long, hot shower. While you stand there wasting both energy and water, warm water, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for all the energy you’re saving.
  • Complain to your friends. They may offer you the warmth of their homes. Added bonus: you’ll learn more about who your true friends are!
  • Bake bread. Not only is home-made bread delicious, running your oven for hours on end will also make your home feel somewhat less like an ice box. Plus, when you’re done baking, you can toast your bread in a toaster, which creates a small amount of heat as well. Try warming your hands over the toaster as your bread toasts—it’s delightful!

Finally, don’t forget to spray about your heat-free lifestyle on the internet and social media. This won’t actually make you any warmer, but is proven to be the most effective action a person can take to combat climate change!

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Vote for Open Lands – Bozeman!

I first came to Gallatin County as an 18-year-old in 2004 to attend Montana State University. In many ways, Gallatin Valley as it exists today would be unrecognizable to me then. Yes, it is more prosperous, more diverse, and offers more opportunities. It’s still beautiful—but less now than it was: consider, if you will, the sprawl between Bozeman and Four Corners, the trophy homes sprouting along the foothills of the Bridgers, that unsightly brown haze on cold winter days along the western horizon—all a function of that steady conversion of the agricultural lands that surround our communities in Gallatin County into pavement, condos, and privacy fences.

I suspect many here in Gallatin County have that place that’s been lost to development. For me, it’s the poignant memory of standing on top of Peets Hill, that first fall in 2004, with the M and the Bridgers rising to the North, and a nothing to the east but a rolling expanse of golden wheat fields all the way to Chestnut Mountain.

Peets Hill View, North to the M. October, 2004.

I took this photo in the fall of 2004. This view and this landscape has left an indelible imprint upon me. I was, at the time, few months into my first time away from home, aquatinting myself with a new place, a new landscape, and falling in love with Bozeman for the first time. Callow, impressionable, and early in love.

The place where I stood to take this photo is now a subdivision.

Our open lands complement our big sky, but these are disappearing ever faster. In the 14 years since I moved here in 2004, Gallatin County’s population has grown by 25,000 people. Assuming a 2.75% growth rate, Gallatin County’s population will grow by 50,000 people more in the next 15 years.

It’s a privilege to live here, in a place of inspiring beauty, and that’s true whether you’ve lived in Gallatin County for a week or generations. How can we maintain what we value in our home, here, while keeping the door open to the new arrivals who share our appreciation and admiration of this place?

Open space conservation is part of the solution. While the view from Peets hill is somewhat obscured, thanks to the first two open space bonds and the tireless efforts of GVLT and other organizations, much of the land extending from Chestnut Mountain to the M is still undeveloped and will remain undeveloped. These lands are just a small portion of the total 50,000 acres that have been protected by the open space program which has lately run out of funding.

(Above: a map of Gallatin County lands with conservation easements. Red parcels are protected based on the proceeds of previous Gallatin County Open Space bond funding.)

If this resonates with you (and if you live in Gallatin County), you can help. This June, go to the polls (with every friend, family member, and distant aquaintance who you can browbeat into going the polls with you) and vote to support this mill levy to carry on this work, to establish new trails and recreational access, and to maintain what’s already been built, and to preserve open space.

I’ll leave you with this. While Peets Hill isn’t what it used to be (though it’s still pretty great, mind you!), I have a new favorite space.

Some prime open space: David and Jeff running on the Triple Tree Trail, with the Schaplow farm beyond.

This place is the portion of the Triple Tree trail that connects to the trailhead on Sourdough Road. Hiking, running, or biking this trail, you climb to the top of a low hill, Bozeman below you to the north, and to the south there’s three hundred acres of agricultural land, backing up to the foothills and the forest. On any given day, I’ve seen verdant alfalfa grass, golden round bales of hay, deer, and elk roaming in the fields.

Round Bales on the Schaplow Easement. If you look closely, you'll see deer on the horizon.

That land exists today as farmland due to conservation finance facilitated by GVLT and public funding for open space conservation, that made it possible for the Schaplow family to retire from farming the land themselves without selling the land for development. I love that view, agricultural land backing up to the mountains.

Golden summer light on the Schaplow Easement

I’m grateful that it exists for me and future generations of Gallatin County Residents. And so, in honor of this place and those lands, I humbly ask that you support this measure on June’s ballot, and vote to renew and continue funding for this essential work.

If you’re excited to support this effort, join the campaign kick-off party on March 13th at 406 Brewing. Or, learn more about the Open Space Mill Levy measure here.

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2017 Year in Review

For liberals and progressives, 2017 showed itself to be an unmitigated shit of a year. The political attacks on public lands, climate change, rational order, and human decency were relentless and heartbreakingly effective. While a shit year for the world, to the extent that I succeeded in separating myself from the political ideas and institutions I hold dear, 2017 actually turned up to be pretty darn good.

High level timeline:

  • Job offer in hand, I set off to spend January – March in the Rockies, visiting friends while following the winter storm pattern and skimo circuit.
  • In April, I headed to the desert to spend some quality time on the ground in Bears Ears National Monument, with a brief interruption to run the Boston Marathon with my Dad.
  • In May I moved to Bozeman, and started work for High Street. Even while counting myself among the working rank-and-file, I still managed many fun and memorable adventures and trips with friends in the great out-of-doors.

2017 Highlights, in generally random order:

Annual Ouray Climbing Trip with Anne, Abram, Nick, Kassia, Sagar, Sarah, and Camilo, where it snowed so much we skipped climbing the last day to build booters in the backyard.

Abram, getting his steep ice on

So much skiing goodness, including:

…a wonderful weekend in Monarch with Sagar, Sarah, Cole, Amara, Brad, Lauren, TJ, and Candice.

…a bunch of great Loveland resort days, with copious powder and grilled goodness (including Abram’s epic mid-mountain Pot de crème with maple syrup and black sea salt)

Erik, making the most of Loveland powder

and a fun visit from Justin, who flew out from Pittsburgh over his spring break


  • The Santa Fe Fireball Rando (in which I finished before famed ultrarunner Rob Krar, though only because he snapped a ski in two during the middle of the race and basically did the race twice to get another set of of skis)
  • The Breckenridge Five Peaks race with Arthur, in which we lost the race but I won the post-race raffle (in case anyone is wondering: the Scarpa Alien RS boots kick ass)
  • The Audi Power of Four (far and away the rowdiest terrain I’ve ski in a skimo race, and in which you link up and ski all four Aspen resorts) with Brett
  • The Grand Traverse (hadn’t planned on it, but ended up joining as a last-minute substitution for a friend of a friend)
  • and … The Shedhorn at Big Sky Resort, where I claimed my first podium finish (third place, but hey, the podium just the same!). What an exhilarating way to finish the season!

That's me! Green #27

Sunrise during the Grand Traverse with Quinn. There's nothing quite like sunrise 30 miles into a race!

In April, I had the deep privilege of getting to run the Boston Marathon with Dad.

In April, I spent a month in Bears Ears National Monument, getting to know the landscape, and talking to the locals, trying to understand the deep controversy. I left with a deep appreciation for this spectacular landscape and the region’s long human history, and with a certain degree of confusion about the politics of federal land conservation foisted upon an unwilling populace of local residents. As heartbreaking as it was to see the monument substantially eviscerated by the Trump administration, I’m still grateful for the 200,000-some acres that remain protected, and hopeful for the restoration of the monument’s proper 1.35m acre boundaries.

Home, sweet home

And then… there was the eclipse. Just going to say … it far exceeded expectations. And, getting to climb alpine rock and spend quality time in the Wind Rivers with many of my most favorite people at the same time? Priceless.

It was hot as hell in Bozeman in July, so Noah and I went to find snow and ice on Mount Baker. The combination of a technical climb with a ski descent is real winner.

Possibly most significantly, I moved to this place:

This is Tippet on the evening of summer solstice. Tippet is David's dog. Sometimes, when David is away traveling for work, I teach Tippet new tricks.

I dunno about marriage, but I will say that I was lucky enough to get to attend and/or be a part of some really wonderful weddings and celebrations this summer.

Carter, between a rock and hard place, mid-bachelor party

[Not pictured: Ambrose & Jill’s super fun and beautiful wedding, where I stupidly brought a film camera.]

Also not pictured, but deeply enriching and appreciated: the many weekends and trips spent with friends and family in Connecticut, Wyoming, Colorado, New York, and Pittsburgh.

I picked up a stupid running injury at the beginning of summer, so I rode my mountain bike. A lot!

Out of frame: Kayla, who introduced me to riding to Emerald Lake.

Cody, crushing some late-season trails near Butte, MT

Fun fact! This is a selfie! Riding in my secret stash in the Northern Gallatins.

Not pictured: the time when I tried (and failed) to ride my bike from my garage to Yellowstone National Park, only to find, 30 miles out, that my intended trail was substantially unridable for the next 70 miles.

This sillyness:

And this silliness:

I started working for High Street in May. Gosh, it’s a delight—working for people I look up to, doing work that I think matters, and enjoying the work itself. Oh, and making enough along the way to pay for new skis, guilt free!

My amazing (and, ladies, handsome!) brother turned 40 in May. I had the privilege and delight to celebrate with him!

In a fun development in what I hope will become a repeatable form of local/regional involvement, this fall I was able to support two local city commission candidates with some voter propensity modeling data science-ness. They won, and Bozeman won. (As they would have without me, but perhaps I contributed in some small way to building a stronger mandate.) (Want to see something interesting? Here’s a voter timeline of 100 randomly sampled Gallatin County voters. I think this timeline helps show why the pollsters and pundits got the Nov. 2016 election so wrong.)

In November, I extended a work trip to DC into a weekend visit to Pittsburgh, and very much enjoyed getting to catch up with Eric, Shrawan, Abdullah, Gokul (thanks again for your generous hospital, gentlemen!), and, of course, Frick Park. This short trip made my liver hurt, but my heart full.

Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. It was especially enjoyed this year for having both my brother and sister at the family gathering.

1) Dispense whipped cream onto hand. 2) Pop whipped cream into air. 3) Catch with open mouth!

And, finally, I skied a lot, including from my front door. Is Montana the best? … Ssh! Don’t tell anyone, but Montana is the best.

Lindsay, Bridger Bowl Pre-Season

David, Hourglass Couloir

Adopted by the Booth Crew on Christmas, I finally got exactly what I’ve always wanted for Christmas: a foot of fresh powder and a whole day to ski it!

In keeping with annual tradition, I was fortunate enough to get to end 2017 in the fellowship of many of the smartest, most accomplished, most sincere, and silly/fun best people I know. Quads Cabin Trip 17/18!

Take that, 2017! Shit year that you were, I’m going to say that, with the help of friends, family, employer, Old Man Winter, and the universe, 2017 was a year rich with friendship, mountains, adventure, personal challenge, and really beautiful places.

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Farewell, Facebook

As a general life philosophy, I like to travel light. For years, my rule has been, if I can’t easily fit it in my car (with all of the other things in life I own) I probably don’t want it.

I’ve made an exception for digital items—in fact, I’ve been a digital packrat, hoarding most of the digital digital detritus (8th grade English papers, anyone?) I’ve accumulated over the years. These digital accumulations I’ve generally considered to be weightless.

I’ve applied the same philosophy to social media–but as my phone buzzes ever more frequently these days with more and more alerts and “push notifications” I’m increasingly reaching the conclusion that digital technology brings me little joy or enrichment, while consuming an inordinate amount of my time.

So, as part of my spring cleaning for 2018, I’m turning off anything that doesn’t pass the “enrichment and joy” test. That started yesterday with Facebook. I haven’t actively used Facebook in years, and I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with it on each subsequent visit. Going on to Facebook, lately, has started to feel like shopping at Walmart. I’ll spare you the diatribe, but just point out that:

  • compared to my friends who never chose to join Facebook, my life is no more rich, full, or connected than theirs; and,
  • Facebook has long since ceased to bring me any joy.

So, I’m off! Farewell, Facebook! But not, “farewell, friends!” You have my phone number, email address, and address—none of which will change any time soon. I look forward to connecting more meaningfully in the near future.

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Gallatin Custer Forest Plan – Comment Today!

Reposting from something I shared with a local Bozeman listserv:

The local unit of the Forest Service has released its draft forest plan which will guide the administration and development of forests surrounding Bozeman, Big Sky, and Livingston for the next 10 – 15 years. The Forest Service is seeking comments from the public on this document as it begins developing planning scenarios. If you care about how our nearby forests are managed, I’d encourage you take a few minutes to share your opinion with the Forest Service.

The Proposed Revised Forest Plan document is available here:

If you have an opinion regarding the portion of our nearby forests designated as “primitive” (no motorized/mechanized travel), or for motorized versus non-motorized use, this is your “speak now or hold your peace for the next 15 years” moment.

Gallatin Valley’s population will increase by at least 50% between now and the next iteration of the forest plan. It’s important that this plan provide sound guidance for managing our forests as demand for recreational use increases (50%+ increase) commensurate with our population growth while preserving our forests and recreational opportunities for future generations.

The plan section describing the Forest Service’s “Recreational Opportunities Spectrum” for motorized and non-motorized uses across the whole of both Custer and Gallatin National Forests is on page 75. The motorized/non-motorized areas for the Bridgers, Bangtails, and Crazies are described on page 134, and for the Madison, Henrys Lake, and Gallatin areas on page 139.

The most useful comments will be those which can be directly incorporated into a planning scenario. E.g.:

  • “Create a scenario in which at least 66% of forest acreage in the Bridger/bangtail and Crazy Mountains Geographic Area is designated for non-motorized use.”
  • “Create a scenario in which the full extent of the Madison, Henrys Lake and Gallatin Mountains Geographic Area currently designated as Wilderness Study Area is Recommended Wilderness.”

Comments may be submitted here:

You can read more about the overall forest planning process here:

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Bozeman / Gallatin Valley Growth Projections

Todd Wilkinson over at Mountain Journal recently published an article on population growth in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. His article has a good point: population in Bozeman and the surrounding areas is growing quickly, and that population growth will have a negative effect on the environment.

Unfortunately, the article is sensationalized to the point of being misleading and misses the real story: not that we’re growing, but that we have a say in how we grow. People read the article come away thinking “omg Bozeman is going to be as big as Salt Lake in 2041!” which just plain wrong. The SLC urban area has 1m people and the Wasatch Front is home to 2.5m people. Even assuming an exaggerated population growth rate of 4%, it’ll take 80 years for the city of Bozeman to grow to 1m. Wilkinson plays word games with his reader, comparing the population of Gallatin County to the portion of SLC contained within the historic city boundaries—by which logic “Salt Lake City” has a population of less than 200,000, rather than the 1.19m+ reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. City to city, Bozeman’s has 45,250 residents to SLC’s 1,186,000. Region to region, Gallatin County has 105,000 residents to the Wasatch Front’s 2,468,000.

Wilkinson’s article centers around putting some actual numbers theoretical growth rates. The “Rule of 72” makes it easy to estimate how long it takes for a population to double: just divide 70 by the integer compound growth rate. At 2% growth, the population doubles every 35 years (70 / 2 = 35). At 3%, we double every 22.5. At 4%, we double every 17.5.

Gallatin County’s growth rate is 2 – 3%, not the 4% that Wilkinson claims (nor the 8% that he absurdly intimates). Over the past 40 years, Bozeman’s growth rate has been 1.81%, and Gallatin County’s 2.53% (source: Bozeman Transportation Master Plan, 2016).

Bozeman’s recent Transportation Master Plan provides a table of various estimates of population growth, based on the rates provided by an assortment of professional demographers:

To the best my knowledge, the estimates above are based on demographic trends alone. Bozeman’s growing distances from where the majority of people live to the city’s primary amenities (downtown, the GVLT trail network, etc), combined with growing traffic congestion, diminishing air quality, crowding at Bridger Bowl and at the trailheads are all actively reducing amenity value of living in Bozeman, even while housing prices (especially in the parts of town with ready access to the city’s best amenities) continue to climb. Moreover, Bozeman’s recent dramatic growth has been fueled in part by the rapid growth of the MSU-Bozeman student population headcount, growing from 12,000 to over 16,500 in the span of the last decade–a trend which is not projected to continue. All of these factors are likely to depress Bozeman’s growth rate in addition to demographic reversion to the mean. Bozeman’s growth rate from 1970 to the present was < 2%, and sober professionals seem to think that this is the growth rates of 2 – 3% will prevail in the foreseeable future.

At a 3% growth rate, it’s over 75 years before Gallatin County hits the 1m mark. At 2%, it’s 115 years.

And let’s consider these numbers in a little bit of context. To read Wilkinson’s description, SLC-like levels of population will bring doomsday and the apocalypse all in one. While I’d rather live in Bozeman than SLC, I’ve considered SLC, and my friends who live in SLC are happy and active, and enjoy their lives substantially as much as I enjoy mine. And let’s not forget that, as Bozeman/Gallatin County grows to 200k+ by 2040, the Wasatch Front is expecting to grow to 4.7m.

The real story (that Wilkinson somehow misses completely) is that the impact of this growth will vary dramatically based on the policy and land use decisions that we make. If we grow at current Gallatin County density rates (approximately 0.7 acres per person), we’ll convert 100,000 acres of land from agricultural use to housing and commercial use as Gallatin County’s population doubles in the next 25 years (for context, the developed extent of the city of Bozeman is currently ~10,000 acres, and the “triangle” area from Bozeman to Four Corners to Belgrade ~50,000 acres). If we develop at Portland, OR levels of density, doubling our population in Gallatin Valley would only 14,1477 of additional land being converted for development. At current Bozeman densities, we’d convert 20,000 acres of land.

In my view, the real story here isn’t that we’re growing, and growing quickly–but rather that we have a choice in our land use and development patterns, and those choices will do more to determine the impact of that growth than the rate of growth.

To get a sense of what this looks like, consider the two growth scenarios below, excerpted from the the excellent “Gallatin Triangle Planning Study” published and hosted by Future West. The areas in yellow and orange show new development / land conversion.

The first scenario is likely growth between now and 2050 based on a planning policy that favors dense development (densities like current Bozeman density):

The second scenario shows growth based on the densities prescribed in the Gallatin County growth policy:

Of the two, one of the Gallatin Valleys looks much more like a place that I’d like to live in 50 years. We have that power, and we have that choice. You can start help today by making sure you vote in Bozeman’s municipal election (Mehl, Cunningham and Areneson all support growth policies that favor dense, sustainable development), voicing your opinion to City and, especially, County Commissioners, and spreading the word.

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National Monuments Public Comments

President Trump has issued an executive order declaring a “review” of the national monuments established in the last 20 years. Many (including myself) fear this “review” is a pretense for dramatically reducing the scope of federal protection for many of America’s most historic and inspiring lands.

The review requires a public comment period, which is open from now until May 26th. You can read more about our public lands and submit your own public comments from this Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance page:

My comments are below. I would encourage you to submit your own today!

Bears Ears National Monument contains scores of thousands of archaeological resources of significant historic interest. These lands and riches warrant the highest measure of protection. The area’s estimated 80,000+ ruins, rock art, and other remnants of the area’s human history prior to the arrival of Europeans deserve protection both from willful removal or destruction as well as from destruction by natural resource (or even recreation) development. No one disputes this statement. At issue is the size and boundaries of the monument, and whether the current border are the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

I have myself spent weeks hiking the mesas, canyons, and valley floors of Bears Ears National Monument. I’m less acquainted than many living in San Juan County, but more familiar with these lands than most voicing an opinion in the matter.

I agree with the Utah Diné Bikéyah that the current boundaries of Bears Ears do not adequately protect the objects to be protected. This is true for two reasons. First, the current boundaries exclude a significant concentration of the area’s ruins and archaeological sites. Second, significant scale is in and of itself required for the proper care of the fragile and precious resources contained within.

The current national monument boundaries exclude many areas rich with human history, including Recapture Canyon and Montezuma Canyon. I spent part of April exploring and camping in these areas outside of Bears Ears. In both canyons I found both a dense concentration of remarkable relics from the Ancestral Puebloans–impressive structures, and many pieces of beautifully glazed pottery and enigmatic earthenware. The Utah Diné Bikéyah sought protection for these areas, and rightfully so. The current review should consider expanding the boundaries to protect these areas.

Boundaries drawn only to the edge of concentrations of archaeological sites are of little value for conservation. During my recent month in the area, I noticed a dramatic difference between the ruin sites located close to roads and developed areas, and those protected by a buffer of wild space. The more accessible areas were aseptic, denudes the blanket of traces of habitation (pot shards, piñon nuts, corn cobs and the like) present at most backcountry sites. As awesome and impressive as many of the area’s structures are, it is the rich detritus of everyday life–the pot shards and remnants of cultivated corn–that creates a compelling and profound sense of connectedness to those who inhabited these lands before us.

Allowing looters and uninformed visitors to gather and steal these vestments of collective history fails the “proper care and management” test. One management option would be monitoring or patrolling (an approach taken elsewhere, such as Mesa Verde National Park). Given the vast dispersion and number of the area’s 80,000+ archaeological sites, protection via law enforcement is an unaffordable fantasy. A more realistic management approach is to pad these sites and their objects with additional protected land, limiting access to those who value these fragile sites enough to work to get to them.

It is, of course, proper that locals have a voice and say in the management of the lands in which they have greatest stake. A quick glance at the demographics of San Juan County (which you don’t see reflected in the membership of the Stewards of San Juan County) is that approximately half the county’s residents are Native American. The BENM monument enshrines into law a process that gives the tribes who inhabit (or whose ancestors inhabited) this area a real voice in the use and management of these lands.

It’s also proper that those living outside of San Juan County have a voice in the use and management of these lands. Do not all American’s have a stake in our national parks, national monuments, and all our federal lands? This in the purpose and ingenuity of our federalist system of governance, that the desires of a few can be balanced against the interests of the many. I ask only that, in the great tradition of democracy, my voice be given weight equal to all others expressing an opinion, and that the majority opinion be heeded.

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Loving the Stuffing out of Bears Ears

I first visited Comb Ridge six or so years ago, during a rambling summer of exploring Utah’s nooks and crannies. My atlas marked a small archaeological site a mile or so off of the nearest dirt road. Intrigued, I hiked off into the trail-less wild to have a look for myself.

I remember very clearly that moment of surprise and delight when, rounding a corner, I suddenly and unexpectedly stood in front of structures built into the wall ahead. I still carry with me that feeling of novelty and discovery from finding shards of clay pots (still bearing the imprint of the woven reeds used to make it) and the small husk of a cob of corn, abandoned some 800 years before. Here before me, quite out in the wilds, were the artifacts I’d been accustomed to seeing in display cases at Mesa Verde or Hovenweep.

That powerful and profound experience still inspires a sense of connectedness and admiration for the Ancestral Peubloans who inhabited that canyon grotto many years ago. It’s that same experience that inspires my current desire to become an advocate for and defender of the newly appointed Bears Ears National Monument (which contains Comb Ridge).

That same inspiration has brought me back to the desert. I was lucky enough to have a fascinating but sobering conversation this morning  with Josh Ewing, Executive Director of Friends of Cedar Mesa. Expecting a sense of triumphalism, his deep unease and concern caught me off guard.

“Being named on the internet is the death of an archaeological site.”

As an advocate for the conservation of the area’s archaeological resources and sites, he describes the situation with Bears Ears as being “likely the worst possible situation.” Publicity for the monument is dramatically increasing visitation (including to many sensitive archaeological sites). Unfortunately, there is no concomitant allocation of resources to meet to flood of visitors. Suddenly, the very precious resources that inspired the protection of the monument are in immediate danger of being loved to death. The little structure for for educating visitors on visiting archaeological sites respectfully is not yet in place.

Ewing described to me the sobering and disappointing experience of recently revisiting one of his formative sites, a site that inspired him to fall in love with the area and dedicate himself to its conservation and preservation. “Ten years ago,” he tells me, “the site was thick with pot shards and artifacts. On my recent visit, there was not a shard to be found, a wall of a structure had been pushed over and destroyed, and people had been digging in the kiva.”

The BLM has limited resources for education and conservation. Given the charged politics of the situation, the BLM is hesitant to act. Congress is threatening to defund any activities associated with Bears Ears. Although the inclusive process for creating a management plan is laudable, it will be years before a management plan is in place.

The best approach for the time being seems to be to funnel visitors toward the areas with the least danger of being impacted, or the areas where private organizations and the BLM can appropriately greet visitors with education on respectful visitation.

It’s important that we, while acting as advocates, find ways to promote a message of respectful visitation.

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