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Refuge survives hot air balloon infiltration

By Jim Hamilton, Florence

 

The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) near Stevensville avoided near disaster over the holiday weekend during this year’s Stevensville Summerfest. Event organizers contracted the services of an out-of-state aerostat lift company to provide balloon rides over and around the North Valley area of Ravalli County to complement the weekend activities taking place downtown.
Unfortunately, a festival balloon was blown off course early Friday morning (July 6). To further complicate the situation, the airborne pilot was low on propane fuel needed to keep the oval airship aloft. This caused the balloonist to navigate an emergency landing on a road running through the refuge. Arriving quick to the scene was the intrepid refuge manager, Tom Reed, accompanied by his able assistant; the refuge maintenance supervisor newly arrived from Mississippi.
So what kind of assistance did Mr. Reed render to the disabled dirigible driver? Why a U.S. Government citation, of course. Clipboard in hand and a strong background in law enforcement to validate his position, Officer Krupke . . . I mean Manager Reed… wrote up and read the riot act to the poor balloonist, citing him for allegedly violating the refuge’s airspace (2,000 ft) and being illegally parked on government property.
A retired Forest Service employee happened to be in the area and reminded Cpt. Queeg . . . whoops . . . I mean Officer Reed… that the road in question was in fact a county, not a refuge, road. Ever quick on his feet with experience gained from many years spent dodging bureaucratic bullets fired by his GS supervisors, Reed replied “Well, we own the land under the road” [so there!]. Coupled with the county road fact is another which reads that it’s a suggested no-fly area over the refuge, not a restricted airspace. According to the poor, downed balloonist, these details didn’t deter Mr. Reed from getting that citation through the proper government channels before the end of the day on Friday.
This is just another episode in a long list of uncivil behavior outbursts this manager has exhibited towards the local community during his short tenure as the GS-12 Project Director for Lee Metcalf NWR. Here are some of the others:
• Alienation of certain members of the UM Raptor Research Team conducting important work on ospreys in and around Metcalf NWR.
• Assisted in the dismantling and eventual banning of the Friends of Lee Metcalf NWR Friends volunteer group from the refuge.
• Demonstrated rude behavior towards a Visiting Naturalist from the Montana National History Center during a field visit to the refuge.
• Exhibited discourteous conduct in front of Florence Grade School children and some parents, which prompted one mother to send a letter of complaint to Mr. Reed’s immediate supervisor in Denver.
Fortunately these interim refuge custodians don’t remain forever and most eventually move on to bigger and better assignments within the government service world. Here’s hoping Reed’s subsequent replacement will have completed some type of Dale Carnegie course prior to relocating to Montana.

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