State and tribal governments in the Flathead Valley developed a public information campaign to warn women of childbearing age against eating large fish from Flathead Lake because of a concern for mercury poisoning. Since 1994, officials have known lake trout have relatively high levels of a mercury compound - methylmercury - that can cause severe birth defects in unborn children. The contamination and consumption advisories appear in fishing regulations for the lake published this spring by the tribes. "To the best of my knowledge, no one has been adversely affected by consumption of sports fish within Montana'' because of mercury or cancer-causing PCBs, which also are reported in Flathead Lake fish, Stan Strom, a public health specialist said. Still, some of the largest and oldest lake trout in Flathead Lake test "relatively high for mercury.'' They're not toxic on a one-time basis, Strom said, but mercury can build up in a person's body just as it builds up in the fish over time. Mercury is a metallic element that occurs naturally in soil and rocks. But scientists believe the higher level of mercury in Flathead Lake and other lakes in the state is caused by industrial pollution.
For years, Charlo landowner Del Palmer thumbed his nose at the fish and game agency's hunting and fishing agreement with the tribes. Now, he's selling his land to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The farm is near Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge and within the reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and subject to some tribal regulations, although taxes are paid to the state. In an annual ritual of civil disobedience over the past decade, Palmer hunted pheasants on his property without buying the required tribal hunting permit - often advising officials in advance of his plans. He has been arrested, charged and prosecuted, but never convicted of hunting without a tribal permit. In recent years, he has not even been charged or ticketed with an offense. The pending sale of his property to the state agency - negotiations began in 1997 - had no bearing on how the law was enforced or not enforced, game wardens insisted, but Palmer has not been ticketed since then. Palmer told the Missoulian this spring that he intends to visit the land next hunting season, as he has in years past. The land will be open to the public under state management.