The Non-Winter of Our Discontent

Here’s hoping by the time this column hits print, Montana in December will look more like what it’s supposed to look like — namely, blanketed in snow with temperatures to match. While the “nice weather” may seem fine to the new in-migrants flooding the state, for long timers the ongoing extreme drought conditions and wildly high temperatures are more than significant cause for concern. Unfortunately, global warming and drought aren’t the only problems being ignored by our unenlightened political leadership.

Montana’s hunting season just went by without a shred of snow on the ground. As hunters can tell you, it’s mighty handy to be able to track deer and elk in the snow if you’re trying to fill the freezer for your family. Likewise, without heavy snows to push them down to lower elevations, the elk in our mountains stay up high and well away from the roads and hunters. As a consequence, many of those family freezers will not see their normal yearly harvest.

What will appear, however, is Omicron, the latest variant of the extremely persistent COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever progress was made against the virus once Trump got booted out of office is now at stake as, once again, the travel and social shutdowns begin — and with them the inevitable negative economic impacts.

Were it not for the politically motivated anti-vaxxers and their utterly nonsensical “no mandates” opposition to proven medical science, we’d be in a lot better shape. But with barely more than half of the national population vaccinated, the virus is still pretty much free to spread, mutate, and continue its devastating march among our citizenry — especially since the Omicron variant is three times more likely to cause re-infection, according to South African doctors.

If Montana had more competent political leadership we would be in better shape. But that’s not the way it is. Not since Gov. Stan Stephens have we seen a governor who is more bunkered up than Greg Gianforte. He seems incapable of understanding that his job, his only job, is to take care of Montanans — not hide out in the Capitol and play dumb about the very real problems in the Big Sky State while appeasing the far right-wingers who increasingly influence the actions and policies of the GOP.

And just how serious are those problems? Well, take this quote from Montana State University paleoclimatologist Cathy Whitlock that recently appeared in a New York Times article. “We’re looking at conditions we haven’t seen for a thousand years in Montana and probably longer in terms of the drought. Temperatures are exceeding what we have seen for the last 11,000 years.” Whitlock says we’re now in “uncharted territory” as conditions worsen inexorably.

Indeed, the global warming deniers who are still boosting fossil fuels just might want to consider the prairie fire that ran across some 22 miles of desiccated croplands last week to destroy three grain elevators and 24 residences in Denton, where they haven’t had significant rainfall since May.

Speaking of desiccated, it was bad enough that Montana’s world-famous trout streams were sucked dry last summer, but the Upper Madison ran dry last week due to a mechanical failure at NorthWestern Energy’s Hebgen Dam.

The question now is whether anyone will be held liable for the destruction of hundreds of trout and eggs. Although protecting our fish and wildlife are part of the state government’s “public trust” obligations, don’t count on the Gianforte administration to leap into action — not on dead trout, keeping our people healthy, or admitting their foolish global warming denial in this, our non-winter of discontent.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.