Articles

A Science for Everyone, Meteorology

Snow Pack on March 1

The long-term average for snow surveys were dated for the first of the month when I started measuring snow 45 years ago.  The old guys did it the hard way – up Burma Road early, skis or snowshoes to the Weasel Cabin, build a fire, sample the snow course, then overnight.  The next day they would head down the creek, then climb Stahl, build a fire, sample the snow course, then hike out the next morning, sample the course at Grave Creek, hike the rest of the way out and finish the job driving the pickup out.  As a modern, I drove a snowmobile and did 3 snow courses in a day.  Now I click a link on the home computer, and can look at the whole basin’s information in minutes.

The numbers from March 1 were kind of sacred – there had been enough winter that Jay Penney felt safe projecting the data – enough was in that he would comment that the snowpack was light, normal or heavy.

These are some of the snow courses I measured in those middle days, when we thought a snowmobile was absolutely modern, and were experimenting with measuring snow water at Noisy Basin with a radioactive source and receiver.  We were state of the art back then.     

ElevationWater EquivalentPercent of Average
Banfield Mountain5600 feet13.1 inches88%
Hawkins Lake6450 feet18.9 inches94%
Garver Creek4250 feet8.4 inches101%
Stahl Peak6030 feet24.4 inches86%
Grave Creek4300 feet13.1 inches87%
Poorman Creek5100 feet29.4 inches95%
Bear Mountain5400 feet45.6 inches87%
Hand Creek5035 feet9.2 inches102%
Noisy Basin6040 feet31.5 inches106%
To get to the data – and the map – you just click https://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/ . Making the data so available makes hydrology a science for everyone.
Community

Remembering Hunter Safety

I was one of the lucky ones – we had a pair of instructors for Hunter Safety.  Danny On taught the sections on wildlife, and Ed Ruhl taught guns.  Danny On was a forester with a camera. For folks who lacked the privilege of knowing him, there is a page describing his life at Asian Pacific American Employees Association.  Books with his photographs are still in print and available. A trail on Big Mountain bears his name.  Ed Ruhl was a Marine. Chief Warrant Officer Edgar Ruhl, USMC (retired) – and he brought his own examples of every weapon he had used or encountered between Haiti and Korea.  Not “Gunny” you understand, but Mr. Ruhl, or “Gunner.”

“Dis is a spring-gun.” he explained as he showed a nice looking air rifle.  “I got it on Okinawa.  Da little bastid dat was using it didn’ have any more use for it after I ran my baynit troo him.”  I suspect the little bastid actually shared Ed’s rations after he swapped the spring-gun away from him. It was similar to this photo:

I learned that the world’s finest handgun was the Model 1911A1 – “Except you want the old 1911 mainspring for women, ‘cause dey have smaller hands.  It doesn’t kick – my wife uses dis one.”   My first 1911A1 didn’t shoot so well – but I learned what a match bushing and a slightly longer link could do.  By the time I was 35, I had learned that the old Colt 45 automatic could match all of Ed Ruhl’s praise.

The finest hunting rifle was, of course, the Springfield model 1903A3 – “Used to think the 1903 was the best, but the A3 is parkerized and has a peep sight.  Much better.”  In the sixties, there were a lot of them available – and I looked for Ed’s preferred Remington, and replaced the cut-down military stock with an inexpensive, drop-in stock from a magazine ad.   A lot of them made it back to the land of the big PX, and became hunting rifles for two generations of hunters.  It was there when I discovered high power competition.

And I learned that my single-shot 22 just didn’t make the grade: “Dis is a Reising model 65.  Used it on Guadalcanal to take dare snipers out of da trees.  Didn’t like the model 50, but Reising did a good job with the 22.” 

It took me almost half a century to find a Reising.  A previous owner (probably named Bubba) had removed the original front sight and replaced it with a pricey target sight that guaranteed the rifle couldn’t hit anything – it was a half-inch too tall.  It did bring the price down, and when I removed it, I found that most of the threads underneath were intact, and I could buy a brand new, 70-year old front sight for $4.95 plus shipping from West Hurley, New York.  It shared the front sight with the model 50 that Ed despised – and with the sights returned to normal, I managed to set it up the way those WWII Marines used it.  There are enough elevation clicks in the rear sight to make it a 200 yard 22.  I realized as I brought it back into condition that a light trigger pull was not required for the old breed.

As I look back, Hunter Safety from Ed Ruhl was formative.  It took me a while to learn that the FBI wasn’t connected to the justice department – it was an informal group of elderly female residents of Fortine who relentlessly found the basis and actual story behind any and every half told piece of gossip in their community.  He installed respect for the relentless women of the Fortine Bureau of Investigation.  I don’t know how many people are still around who learned weapon voodoo from pre-war Marines who had served in Haiti – hand signals designed to make the real voodoo practitioners wake up in a cold sweat.  I signaled a Haitian grad student with one, and over 40 years after Ed had taught the voo, I got confirmation the hand signals were recognized.  “You don’t want to mess with those powers!  Where did you learn that?”  Jean-Michel still knew of the Marines who brought their version of peace to Haiti.

Ed’s life exemplified responsibility.  As his wife’s health failed, he moved to Great Falls to be near a military hospital.  I recall his story describing how Alzheimer’s had taken her memory, as she explained, “You’re a nice old man.  My husband would like you.”  While Danny On has public memorials, Ed’s memorial has been, and remains, intensely private – shared now with my son-in-law as he learns to use the 1911a1, and next summer when we move onto the Reising.

Demography

Where Covid Fits in the Demographic Transition Model

The first stage of the demographic transition model includes high birth rates and high death rates – and infectious diseases dominate – for example, the black death was a highly infectious disease that killed millions in Europe – if memory serves, 60% of Venice died, and about a third of Italy’s population.  The 90% fatalities in Constantinople suggests that it was worse in cities.  A time of a life expectancy of around 30 years, because so many died young.  I’m not certain how effective the masks of the time were in combating the disease transmission.

The second stage includes infectious diseases – such as cholera – that could be controlled by sanitation.  Models don’t always fit as well as we would like – at the same time that public health and improved sanitation was getting a handle on cholera, smallpox vaccination was becoming a norm.   It was 1832 when Congress passed the Indian Vaccination Act, ordering the army to vaccinate the Indians.  Typhoid Mary remains in our vocabulary, a woman who showed no outward sign of infection, but spread typhoid wherever she cooked.  In her case, she was basically incarcerated because of her infection (and she kept escaping).  Stage 2 of the demographic transition is characterized by fewer pandemics, and life expectancy may rise as high as 50 years.  Our masking, quarantines and isolation are public health techniques developed in the second stage of demographic transition.  John Snow’s removal of the Broad Street pump handle was very effective at reducing the waterborne cholera transmission.

The third Stage is the stage of degenerative and man-made diseases – picture how cigarettes fit in with lung cancer and heart disease.  Just living longer increases your chances of dying from a degenerative disease.  Infant mortality drops, and life expectancy is pretty much in the mid-fifties.  The public health approach here is to change unhealthy behaviors like smoking while relying on medical research to counteract degenerative diseases.   The term “safe sex” comes from a public health program to reduce AIDS (HIV).  When it works, and it has, we move into the fourth stage of demographic transition.

Stage 4 – where we are in the US today – shows an increase in degenerative diseases, better medical care, and a life expectancy that exceeds 70 years. 

It is no wonder that Covid took everyone by surprise – in Stage 4, we’re used to having pandemics under some form of control – our top 3 causes of death are heart disease, cancer and accidents.  The Corona virus came in with an approach that complemented our stage in the demographic transition model – a pandemic that killed in a relationship to the age of the infected.  Probably the first clue was the word “comorbidity” becoming so much of the vocabulary.  This time we hit a pandemic that worked in combination with the degenerative diseases.  A disease that matches an aging population.  A disease that needed a stage 4 response.  Lacking that stage 4 response, we’ve spent the year responding as we did to diseases during the second stage of demographic transition.

Another Stage 4 pandemic will develop – after all, we have a stage 4 population as an incubator.  We may even develop new strategies for dealing with it.

Community

Taxes at Trego School

School taxation is not a simple subject.  Part of the school taxes go to Helena, and are returned, not dollar for dollar, but apportioned according to school enrollment.  Another part of taxes are assessed and go from the county revenues into the school accounts.  Each portion has minimum and maximum levels.  It isn’t hard math, but it is a challenge to keep things straight. 

At Trego, the board needs to begin funding a building reserve fund.  That means adding a permissive levy to raise $5,232.32 – about 2.71 mills.  The state allows us a “District Major Maintenance Amount” with a maximum of $16,500 – and to get to that maximum, we have to levy $5,232.32 – 2.71 mills.  The school was built over 50 years ago, and more maintenance planning and effort is becoming necessary.  Folks give some simple explanations – “that will be about three dollars on a 100,000 assessment” which are simplified, easy to understand, and wrong.

Where to find information:

  • MT Revenue instructs us on how to calculate taxes from mills – not a particularly challenging math exercise, but worth using so you can understand how each additional levy affects your tax bill.  As we look at the numbers, we’ll see that, in Trego, where nearly half the taxable value is “Centrally Assessed” we need a bit more understanding.
  • MT Office of Public Instruction provides spreadsheets of the budget files for each school district in the state.  They’re in pdf format, but provide a lot of information – and are only slightly confusing.
  • State Information Technologies Services Division provides information that shows how each district is valued – for example, as you look at the tables below, you will notice that Market Value and Taxable value vary significantly. 

If you contrast Trego, District 53, with Fortine, District 14, you will note that Fortine shows a market value of  $119,644,515 while Trego shows $114,462,957.  Still, the taxable value leans in the opposite direction: Fortine 1,5436,104 vs Trego at 1,931,429.  The difference is in the category shown as “Centrally Assessed.”  Taxable value of Centrally Assessed” property is about 3% of market value, while taxable value of “Real Property” is slightly over 1% of market value. 

Since centrally assessed property in the Trego School District will primarily be railroad property, and since it represents a significant proportion of the total taxable value ($932,774/$1,931,429 = 48.3%) taxpayers in Trego School District can thank the railroad for taking a significant portion of the tax burden.

Lincoln County

Property TypeMarket ValueTaxable Value
Special Mobile$1,312,670$19,573
Manufactured Homes$19,167,600$227,521
Personal Property$14,516,888$205,961
Real Property$2,492,594,586$30,032,762
Centrally Assessed$215,533,424$7,005,541
Net & Gross ProceedsNA$0
Total$2,741,812,498$37,491,358
Newly TaxableNA$1,091,497
TIF IncrementNA$172,806

Fortine Elementary District 14

Property ValueMarket ValueTaxable Value
Special Mobile$0$0
Manufactured Homes$754,480$8,520
Personal Property$159,180$2,388
Real Property$112,774,816$1,355,638
Centrally Assessed$5,956,039$179,558
Net & Gross ProceedsNA$0
Total$119,644,515$1,546,104
Newly TaxableNA$45,931
TIF IncrementNA$0

Eureka Elementary, District 13

Property TypeMarket ValueTaxable Value
Special Mobile$8,349$180
Manufactured Homes$6,301,850$80,096
Personal Property$3,794,072$60,203
Real Property$890,148,736$11,267,169
Centrally Assessed $66,745,926$2,156,949
Net & Gross ProceedsNA$0
Total$966,990,584$13,564,597
Newly TaxableNA$374,513
TIF IncrementNA$172,806

Trego Elementary School District 53

Property ValueMarket ValueTaxable Value
Special Mobile$0$0
Manufactured Homes$965,850$12,244
Personal Property$424,664$6,371
Real Property$83,469,474$980,040
Centrally Assessed$29,602,969$932,774
Net & Gross ProceedsNa$0
Total$114,462,957$1,931,429
Newly TaxableNA$159,108
TIF IncrementNA$0
Wildlife, Patches' Pieces

Game Camera: They are Back!

The Not So Perfect Game Camera: They’re Back!

Returning to the game camera line up for your viewing pleasure are striped kitties, otherwise know as skunks. Skunks have been absent for several months but have returned. Along with skunks featured this with week are feral cats and deer. -Patches

Community, County Ordinances, Laws, Ordinances & Regulations

Litter vs Artifacts?

If you leave trash sitting around long enough (about 50 years), something mysterious happens and it stops being litter (punishable by a $200 fine) and becomes an archaeological resource which if you remove from federal land could lead to a $500 fine and six moths in jail.

What’s the difference?

Litter is, according to the Lincoln County Ordinance:

“Litter” means any quantity of uncontained or openly stored materials which may be classified as trash, debris, rubbish, refuse, garbage or junk, including but not limited to:
a) any worn out or discarded material that is ready for destruction or has been collected or stored for recycling or salvage;
b) old or scrap metals, wire, rope, batteries, paper, tires, cardboard, plastic, cans, wood, concrete, glass, crockery, or rubber;
c) dead domestic animals;
d) animal and vegetable wastes from the handling, preparation, cooking, and the consumption of food that is not incorporated into a properly maintained compost system;
e) discarded, broken, or unusable furniture, fencing, or building materials,
f) discarded, broken, or non-functioning appliances, campers, mobile homes, junk vehicles, machinery, fixtures, or any component parts thereof, that are serving no apparent purpose, or will not be made to function within a reasonable time;”

Ordinance 2018-02 – Litter Control

It’s probably worth noting that Lincoln County’s litter ordinance doesn’t just apply to roadsides: “It is unlawful for an owner, lessee, or occupant of private property to allow litter to accumulate on his or her property.” As with the community decay ordinance, there appears to be some potential for overlap between “yard art” and “illegal”.

Archaeological resources are broadly defined by federal law, and include trash over 50 years in age (though only if it is of archaeological interest– that is, “capable of providing scientific or humanistic understanding of past human behavior, cultural adaptation, and related topics…”) Archaeological resources are covered by 36 CFR 261.9 (theft of government property, penalty of up to 500$ and/or up to 6 months imprisonment), which means that they are illegal to remove from federal lands.

So, 50+ year old trash? If it’s on federal ground, leaving it is the safer bet. On private property, while explaining it was an artifact rather than litter might make for an interesting argument, that $200 (each day) fine might also prove persuasive.

Litter, to be removed? Or an artifact to remain? Sometimes labels provided clues, allowing the item to be dated, and making the determination easier.

Community

Trego School Enrollment Soars

Enrollment at Trego School continues to rise, in defiance of the historical trend. For the last few decades, school enrollment has been fairly steadily dropping. How low did enrollment actually get? The lowest official ANB (Average Number Belonging -i.e. the official state count of students) that I can find is seven, in the spring of the 2018-2019 school year. Enrollment actually continued to decline after that date, but didn’t make the official state count which is used to determine the district’s funding.

The most recent data, using the spring and fall ANB count provided by the state looks like this:

Time PeriodNumber of Students
Fall 201326
Spring 201428
Fall 201425
Spring 201527
Fall 201522
Spring 201622
Fall 201620
Spring 201720
Fall 201715
Spring 201813
Fall 201810
Spring 20197
Fall 201910
Spring 202014
Official ANB for Trego School, data from Montana Office of Public Instruction
In graph form the trend is somewhat clearer.

This data for this school year (2020-2021) isn’t available from the state yet, so the best way to find out about enrollment is to call the school and ask. Back in November, we reported the exciting news that enrollment was up to 23 students and we shared the following graph which incorporated that data.

Trego School enrollment as of November 2020

This January, enrollment reached 26.

Now, enrollment is up from January’s 26, to a total of 31 students. A 35% increase from November of 2020. This fall, Trego school optimistically began with three teachers. Now, with 31 students the average class size is slightly over 10. The school has been working to improve its enrollment, and has seen an amazing turn around. Even if we use the lowest official ANB number (which is decidedly higher than the lowest number the school reached), the school has more than quadrupled enrollment in the past two years.

Trego School enrollment, by year, as of late February, 2021. We’re going to have to consider changing our trend-line….

Well done, Trego School. Where will you go from here?

Community, Plants

A new batch of widowmakers

The recent windstorms have left new widowmakers in the trees.  I spoke with a young neighbor who was hit by one, and left with a gash in the back of his head – and was reminded that they aren’t all that easy to see when you are dropping a tree.  It is a reminder of the blessings of wearing a hard hat – but even that isn’t a perfect solution.

Still wedged in the tree after nearly sixty years.
A new widowmaker, needles still green.

Not all widowmakers are new.  As I clean up blowdowns, thin crowded trees, and so on, I encounter one widowmaker that Dad warned me about when I was in my early teens.  Nearly sixty years later, it is still wedged into the tree, dried and seasoned, but still large enough to provide a fatal headache.  I can see how to drop the tree safely – but as the tree falls, I can also see where you don’t want to be when the widowmaker finally falls free.

Weird Words

Weird Words: Emoluments

Perhaps we should call this “ask the etymologist”…

Emolument comes to us by way of Latin – specifically, ēmŏlŭmentum literally means “something that is produced from work”. Different forms of the Latin word “emolument” meant striving for success and achieving success, but it also referred to profits, gains, or benefits. “Emolument” can be dissected into a couple of word roots to help us remember the meaning of “emolument”.

“Ex-“ or “E-“ means “out/out of” in both Greek and Latin. Think of organ removal surgeries – an appendectomy is when an appendix is taken out, likewise a hysterectomy is when one’s uterus is removed. Alternatively, some Christians believe in creation “ex nihilo”, God’s creation of the universe “out of nothing”.

“Melere” means “to grind” in Latin. This word root has a fine and storied history, older by far than Latin, going all the way back to Proto-Indo-European. Think of all the words we have that come from this today! Our grinding teeth are called “molars”, certain hammer-related crushing tools are called “mauls”, a “miller” crushes things in a “mill” and the resultant “meal” is what has been crushed.

So, if we mash those two word roots together ex-melere → e-melere emolument would roughly translate as “the outcome of grinding” (money, if you’re the miller).

This word appears prominently in the Foreign Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution. This clause was put in place to limit the amount of governmental corruption, particularly by outside money… A worthy goal, if hard to achieve.

The idea is that we don’t want our officials, either elected or appointed, using their positions to achieve personal gain. Most organizations, whether community, state, or national-level have safeguards to prevent emoluments. One doesn’t want an employee giving preferential treatment to certain people because of secret bargains. It’s also a common word to see in Nepotism laws.

Archives, Community

Blast from the Past: School Board Discusses Nepotism

Sometimes, even old editions prove timely. Back about this time in 1988 Trego School board found itself discussing nepotism, specifically a school board member with a parent as a substitute cook.

We mentioned nepotism briefly last week, when we discussed the upcoming school board election. The state laws on nepotism can be found here.

Trego school board trustees discussed nepotism at their regular meeting February 10. The question of nepotism arose between school board trustee Sam Chaney, and substitute cook Donnajo Chaney, Sam’s mother. Sam Chaney received letters concerning nepotism from Bob Stockton, Office of Public Instruction and Cindy Middag, LC superintendent. The board took no action. The question of nepotism was again addressed concerning Sam Chaney and Trego election judge Goldie Calvert, his mother-in-law. The opinion of Jim Lear, attorney for the Legislative Council, Secretary of State’s office was that it is not legal for the Board of Trustees to appoint a relative to an election board because of the nepotism law. By doing so, the election could be challenged.

Trego Mountain Ear, February 22, 1988

Appointment of relative to office of trust or emolument unlawful — exceptions — publication of notice. (1) Except as provided in subsection (2), it is unlawful for a person or member of any board, bureau, or commission or employee at the head of a department of this state or any political subdivision of this state to appoint to any position of trust or emolument any person related or connected by consanguinity within the fourth degree or by affinity within the second degree.

Montana Code Annotated 2-2-302

Is it legal for a board member to appoint a relative as a substitute? Well, looking at the current laws, substitute teacher is a bit complicated, but if the time requirements (no more than 30 consecutive days) are met, it’s possible. What about substitutes for other roles? If the person was hired for that role before the relative joined the board, the situation is an exception. Additionally, while the language is a bit cluttered, 2(b) suggests that if certain conditions are met, it could be done legally.

school district trustees if all the trustees, with the exception of any trustee who is related to the person being appointed and who must abstain from voting for the appointment, approve the appointment of a person related to a trustee;

Montana Code Annotated 2-2-302. 2(b)

There’s also an accompanying requirement for the position to be posted in the newspaper in advance of the appointment.

As a side note, there are also rules governing election judges. Provided that the election judge isn’t a relative of a trustee running for reelection, having the relative of a school board trustee as the election judge wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, having one of your relatives judge the election your running in? That’s still a problem. Additionally, since election judges are paid, appointing your relatives is still bad form, even if it is an exception in Montana Code Annotated 2-2-302.

But read the whole issue: