People in northern Montana occasionally report grass fires when they've actually seen clouds of salt, says Jim Bauder, a water quality expert with Montana State University Extension. Water at the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge near Malta has gotten saltier, and large salt flats have developed, Bauder explained. When the wind stirs up the salt, the clouds can look like smoke. Bauder coordinates several MSU Extension projects in a six-state effort to improve water quality. Besides Bowdoin, one of those projects deals with Freezeout Lake west of Great Falls. The lake is getting saltier, and selenium is seeping into the lake. Bauder and his team are looking at drainage water, irrigation practices and other complexities that contributed to the situation. Several local, state and federal entities are partners with Bauder.
Fish and microchips
Culverts help water pass under roads, but how do culverts affect fish? To find out, MSU graduate student Andy Solcz is studying the movement of Yellowstone trout and rainbow trout in a tributary of the Yellowstone River. The tributary, Mulherrin Creek, is an important spawning area for both species and has several different types of culverts, says MSU fish expert Tom McMahon. Mulherrin Creek is located in the Paradise Valley north of Gardiner and near Corwin Springs. To carry out his study, Solcz attaches microchips to the fish. Then he uses high-tech equipment to watch the fish swim through the culverts. Heading the study is Joel Cahoon from MSU's civil engineering department.
Horn fly photos
Horn flies bother cows so much that the animals produce less milk and lighter-weight calves than normal, says MSU entomologist Greg Johnson. Looking for solutions, Johnson is conducting a horn fly study that involves digital photos and cattle at the Fort Keogh Ag Experiment Station in Miles City. Johnson's team photographs the cows weekly, then counts the number of horn flies on the digital cows. The method is faster and more accurate than trying to count flies on a twitching animal, Johnson said. The ongoing study involves four herds of cows this summer and may expand to 10 herds next year. Johnson wants to find control methods that he can recommend to ranchers.
Back from the field
Many MSU researchers spend their summers in the field. They dig up dinosaurs, swab pelicans, photograph weeds or carry out a variety of other outdoor projects that are best done in warm weather. But some MSU researchers head inside during the summer and analyze the information they gathered during the winter. Claire Gower is one of those. A graduate student of ecologist Bob Garrott, Gower is involved in a project that looks at elk populations and behavior before and after wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. Gower lives in the park from mid-November through mid-May and then returns to Bozeman. "I love it so much I would stay on this project forever," Gower said after her seventh winter in Yellowstone. "We see some amazing things out there."
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org