Friday, September 15, 2006

Off to see the bison

My three days of work here in Montana are over, and I am awaiting my sweetie who is at this very moment flying in a prop plane - I know this because I was on the very same flight three days ago - through a nastly looking green spot on the radar map into Butte, Montana. From there the plane makes an itsy-bitsy hop on to Bozeman - so short that the flight attendants never even get out of their seats, let alone serve any beverages.

On Wednesday, I went hiking in a tank top. Between today and tomorrow, we are expecting 3 to 5 inches of snow. WHAT IS THIS PLACE?

I have learned many things in the past few days. For example, I learned that the governor of Montana goes everywhere with his dog, George. Even to speak to a room full of people at a hotel banquet hall. I know this for a fact, having met both George and the governor of Montana, in that order, in a hotel banquet hall.

Better yet are the things I heard from a Yellowstone ranger in charge of their conservation and "greening" initiatives. Yellowstone National Park is the first park in the country to convert all of its engines - cars, snow-clearing equipment, mechanical equipment - to biodiesel, saving an estimated 500 tons of carbon emissions per year. They also worked with the surrounding rural areas to create their own recycling program and compost facility. They use only local soybeans for biodiesel, and try to ensure that all recycled material gets re-used locally. They are working on a hydrogen-powered fuel cell for their electricity needs, the final major step in freedom from non-renewable fossil fuels.

Having taken care of food garbage (via compost) and recyclables, Yellowstone discovered that the next largest segment of their garbage was several thousand fuel canisters from camping stoves. Because you can't bring your own stove fuel on a plane, you have to buy it at your destination - but you rarely use it up, and you can't bring it back home on the plane anyway. So thousands of them are dumped at campgrounds every year. Turns out nobody in the world had invented a way to recycle them; so they hired a local engineering firm to invent one. It is mobile, and it runs off the propane that has to be extracted from the cannisters before they can be flattened and sold as scrap steel. This new machine is being purchased not only by other parks in the country, but by major airports in cities where lots of outdoor recreationists pass through, like Seattle and Salt Lake.

To reduce the noise and air pollution created by thousands of snowmobiles in the winter, the park sponsored a contest for college students to design a snowmobile with noise and air pollution as close as possible to zero. They invited the snowmobile industry to participate, and were roundly snubbed. But they held the contest anyway, and it became an annual thing. Now the snowmobile industry is all on board, participating in the judging and offering jobs to the winners before they're even out of college.

I saw Mr. Ranger later at dinner, and told him how much I loved his presentation. I also told him I was headed into the park for a few days, though the weather was looking a bit dicey. "Good for you!" he beamed, with all the passion and energy he showed during his presentation. "This is the perfect time to go. There aren't so many people. You'll see lots of animals. You'll have a great time!"

We're about to find out!


Laziest Girl said...

Just out of curiosity - what kind of dog is George?

Cousin Flora said...

Hmmmm...I would have to say that George looked like a border collie.