Paddling across Beaver Lake

UM J-school grad student Ken Rand of the Crown Reporting Project checks in from the Flathead River Basin

On an early morning I am winding my way up a back road, 10 miles northwest of Whitefish toward Beaver Lake, to the only known site of Eurasian Water Milfoil introduced into the Flathead River Basin. I am not sure what I will see when I get to the end of the dusty road, but on the map it didn’t seem so far.

I try to imagine a boater carrying an unnoticeable strand of Milfoil with them from a place like the Cabinet Gorge on the Clark Fork River a few hours west of here or even from further away in the Missouri River. This type of milfoil is present in every state but Wyoming, Hawaii and Alaska!

A quote from a fisheries biologist keeps coming back to my head: “We are good at moving plants and animals around, sometimes too good.”
The out-of-the-way lake has a view of the Whitefish Mountains and the ski resort in the distance. I slip my kayak loaded with camera gear into the lake, past signs warning of invasive species.

Beaver Lake is a small body of water, seemingly unlikely to be infested by an invasive species, but the boat launch provides access to many boaters.
I think of a modified version of a phrase from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it (they) will come.”

When I get to the far end of the lake, I see a Milfoil; I count the strands on the stem and photograph and film it with my underwater camera.

As I hold it in my hand, I realize how the delectate strands break apart, each one with the potential to become another plant. I watch each strand drift away and start to realize just how easy it can be to move a little strand of life to another place.

The plant I held, however, was likely a native Northern Milfoil that is hard to tell apart from its invasive cousin. To differentiate takes counting each strand on a branch or a genetic test in the lab.

I paddle on around the lake. I see loons and osprey floating and fishing on the water, and minnows and amphibians below.

I am happy to be writing about such a beautiful place and finding new ways to protect it.

After my paddle, I check my boat for any pieces of plant life, native or non-native. I am more aware of these hitchhikers than I was before.

A break from reporting on solstice evening

UM J-school grad student Celia Talbot Tobin of the Crown Reporting Project takes a break from chasing sources in British Columbia and shares some of her experiences in this dispatch from Team 1.

Most people will tell you that to experience the Crown of the Continent in the summer is to experience it in all its glory. And after my first extended stay nestled in its depths, I can wholeheartedly agree — or at least easily imagine it to be true, not having been there in other months to compare. The landscape flaunted a cloak of deep emeralds, cloudy teals and sapphire blues, a cool chromatic spectrum to contrast the heat of the air. The drone of competing insects was already at full volume by early morning.

One might think that reporting during this time, when life is at its fullest, would be a fairly simple and accessible task. And certainly there are benefits to working during the height of activity. But in the weeks leading up to my recent visit to the small town of Fernie in British Columbia, I was awakened to the complications of producing a story on the outdoors during its peak season.

Availability of sources in the summer has proven the trickiest. It’s a busy time of year for many people, and if your field revolves around the outdoors it can seem split between vacation time with family and a hyper overload of work when you’re home. Neither is very conducive for volunteering your time to an inquisitive journalist. Accordingly, my trip was postponed as conflicts arose here and there on people’s calendars, and some interviews were sacrificed as it became impossible to plan a visit for which everyone was in town at the same time.

Most disappointing might have been the cancellation of first one, then another flyover of the region. Two pilots who had offered to take me along ended up bowing out of a plan that would have provided a critical birds-eye view of the coalmines that lie at the heart of my story. Come July, I was still working through the details of a third flight attempt, and one that appeared promising, for my second trip up to the area later this summer.

There was, however, an unintended and delightful consequence in delaying my trip: It allowed me to experience the summer solstice surrounded by one of the most breathtaking landscapes on the continent. As I ventured out solstice evening in search of an elevated point from which to photograph the town below (a vista which proved disappointing), I came upon a lake. Sitting at its edge, I allowed myself to turn off the noise in my brain, the constant mental sifting through information and narrative that had been driving my actions the entire trip. It was the first time I sat in silence, not thinking about my story, and listened to the beating heart of the land. A bald eagle came to roost in a nearby tree, and together we watched the light fade from the longest day of the year.

It was worth a hundred cancellations.