Archive for the ‘Montana’ Category

Crossing Montana

July 30th, 2007 by David
Trying to do a ninja kick while jumping off a rock in to the Clark Fork river.
Clark Fork River

Bill and I just finished biking across Montana, which receives the award for the best rivers of the trip – nowhere else have we found so many rivers that are clean enough for swimming (which says something about the quality of other rivers around the country as much as it does about Montana’s rivers).

It has also been unusually hot recently (see last entry on the dead fish) – Bill and I have had to take long siestas to avoid the mid-day heat.

In the city of Helena, Montana’s capital, I interviewed people at the supermarket, asking what they think about global warming. It’s not the most professional video, but you can watch people’s responses here. What strikes me most are how many people say that ‘we can’t do anything about global warming,’ which, well, isn’t true.

We were on the NBC news in Missoula at 6pm and 10pm.

In Missoula, Bill and I gave a talk for Adventure Cycling, and also appeared as a feature news spot on the TV nightly news. (We were interviewed at the hottest part of the day, and hopefully the video caught an image of sweat dripping down our foreheads as we talked about how hot future summers will be).

To the swimming hole!  Bill and Ride for Climate groupies take dirt road to the river.
Josh, David, Nicky, Bill

For our final two days in Montana, Josh and Nicky, two local Missoulians, strapped panniers on their bikes and joined us, providing us with company on the roads. We are now in Sandpoint, Idaho.

A Dead Fish

July 25th, 2007 by David
A dead fish in the river. Low stream flows and high water temperatures cause these fish kills.

We saw the fish on the right in the Blackfoot river on our way into Missoula. I later showed the picture to a fisheries biologist in Missoula, who told me it is likely a long nosed or large scale sucker, and that it most likely died of warm water temperatures. Warm weather caused the winter snowpack to melt early, reducing stream flows later in the summer, and it has also kept these low flowing rivers warmer. Consequently, many fish that usually thrive here are dying.

Smart cars and electric cars

July 21st, 2007 by David
ron Gompertz of Eco Auto in Bozeman
Smart Car and Electric Car Dealership in Bozeman

In Bozeman, while biking down Main Street, I saw a Smart car dealership. Smart cars are tiny cars no longer than most cars are wide, yet drive like a normal car and get 60 miles to the gallon. Extremely curious, I went inside, and the owner, Ron, gave me a test drive in the car. It was really fun. (Ron’s website:

I made a video of the experience here, which mostly consists of Ron talking about the safety of the car (which he says is really good) or it’s handling in snow (excellent, he says). When most of our car trips are to work or into town, why not use a small efficient car most of the time? Or, if you are a two-car family and you need a larger car, would it make sense to have one larger car and one smaller commuting car?

Ron also sells electric cars, which are another story. Electric engines are far more efficient than gas engines – the one he drove me around in gets an equivalent of 240 miles to the gallon. His car had a range of 40 miles, which is plenty for most work and grocery-getting.

And for people who think that electric cars are wimpy, check out this new electric sports car (Ron didn’t have this one to show off), which has a range of 200 miles. Costs $100 grand, but hopefully, in a few years, the price will come down….

The Business Community

July 20th, 2007 by Bill
Pacific Outdoor Equipment - they do some great carbon offsets for their products

While we were in Bozeman, MT we stopped by Pacific Outdoor Equipment. They are a small outdoor equipment company that makes sleeping pads, dry bags, backpacks and other gear. We were impressed with their commitment to environmental stewardship and global warming. They try to make the highest quality product so that your gear lasts. They make a sleeping pad (see below) that comes with a renewable energy credit. This is a way to help offset the carbon dioxide produced in making the product by supporting the development of renewable energy. They also send an energy saving compact florescent lightbulb (along with information about why they are a good idea) out to all of the retail shops that order their products. This is a great example. It shows that even a small business can do the right thing, help address global warming and turn a profit.

Yellowstone – fires, pests, and fishing

July 19th, 2007 by David
Descending through Shell Canyon
Bikes and the Big Horn Mountains

After a day in Sheridan (where we talked at a library and spent half an hour in an interview on the morning talk radio), Bill and I climbed into the Big Horn Mountains, thus officially entering the Rocky Mountains. The 5,000 ft climb brought cooler temperatures, pine forests, and a great descent when we reached the far end of the mountains.

Riding across more dry rangeland, and spending one day in Cody, WY, we climbed again, this time into Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is a high volcanic plateau covered with evergreen trees and abundant wildlife. We saw elk, bison, eagles, osprey, and—to our surprise—even a wolf (see photo below & far right). As none of the wildlife is hunted, the animals approach cars and people, resulting in frequent bison traffic jams. (A ranger told us not to approach the bison on our bicycles – which turned out to be pretty much impossible as the bison would walk across the road both in front of and behind us.)

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Traffic
Yes - that is a wolf

I was also struck by the number of large cars and large RVs (many of the RVs had large SUVs in tow). Everyone was driving to see the wildlife and features of the park, and likely enjoying great road trips.

Lots of cars in Yellowstone
Lots of large RVs pulling SUVs behind them
Lots of large RVs in this part of the country

I must admit, though, that it is hard to see so much gasoline use, knowing what effects global warming will have on this region.

Dead trees in Yellowstone due to fire
Memorial to firefighters - in this region, forest fires may be 4 times as common due to global warming.

What does global warming mean for Yellowstone? Well, for starters we think forest fires may be five times more common in this part of the country, as drier and hotter summers cause fires to burn hotter. In addition to reshaping the natural environment, there is another cost — entering the park we saw a memorial to 12 firefighters who died fighting a forest fire.

Bark beetles taking a toll on the forest.

Secondly, we have seen lots of dead trees in the mountains from another source – bark beetles, which burrow into the bark of trees and kill them in large numbers. Descending out of the Bighorn Mountains, an entire mountainside appeared to be dead (photo left). Outbreaks of these beetles have become more common in recent years, as warmer temperatures have helped them reproduce faster and reach higher altitudes. As the earth warms, we are likely to see pests like these to spread in places we have not seen before.

Fishing on the Yellowstone River

And finally, we just read an interesting piece in a local paper – fishing in this region has had to be restricted, as an unusually hot summer and low water flow has caused fish die out in the Yellowstone region. More summers in the future will be like this, which raises questions for future sport fishing in in this region.

All of this points the same way – warming the earth will seriously and irreversibly change natural systems. These are examples of why we think we may loose as much as 20% of all known plants and animals to extinction if continue with business as usual.