Snowy February Improves Snowpack in Montana and Streamflow Prospects for Spring

 BOZEMAN, Mont., March 7, 2017 – February brought a notable change to the weather patterns that were experienced during the month of January, according to snowpack data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Montana.

 

Record breaking snowfall for the month of February was experienced in northern and southern river basins of the state during the first two weeks of the month. Snow blanketed the Rocky Mountain Front at the beginning of the month, with low elevations and valleys receiving more than 3 feet of snow. Flattop Mountain SNOTEL (snow telemetry) site in Glacier National Park set a new record for February snowfall and received 12.5 inches of snow water during the month, well above the 30 year normal of 5.3 inches for February. Further south, Cooke City received copious amounts of snow, prompting the first ever “Extreme” avalanche warning for the area when Fisher Creek SNOTEL received 10.9 inches of snow water between Jan. 31 and Feb. 11. Statewide, 12 SNOTEL sites set new records for February totals, and six sites were second highest.

 

Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana, said all basins experienced substantial improvements over the month with many now at near to above normal for March 1, and most basins are also near to above last year at this time. “There are some sub-basins that remain below normal for this date due to the late onset of snowpack this year and sub-par November and January snowfall,” Zukiewicz said. “One major basin is still recovering from near record low early season snow; the Smith-Judith-Musselshell will be reliant on spring precipitation to make up ground before spring and summer runoff.”

 

February typically isn’t one of the “big” snow months for Montana, he said, but this year proved otherwise. As we make the transition into spring, precipitation is favored along and east of the Continental Divide.

 

“Near normal conditions on this date is great news, but there is still a month to a month and a half before snowpack generally peaks in the mountains of Montana,” Zukiewicz said. “The coming months and their weather patterns will play a critical role in the timing and magnitudes of water in the rivers this coming spring and summer.”

 

Streamflow forecasts across the state reflect the near to above normal snowpack in many basins, and above average water year-to-date (Since Oct 1, 2016) precipitation. Many forecast points are near to above average for many rivers and streams for the April – July time period, but some remain below average due to lack of seasonal snowpack in some central Montana basins. Detailed forecasts for 98 streams in Montana can be found in the March 1st, 2017 Water Supply Outlook Report.

 

Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found here after the 5th business day of the month:http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

 

March 1, 2017, Snow Water Equivalent
River Basin % of Normal % Last Year
Columbia 96 107
Kootenai, Montana 97 113
Flathead, Montana 97 109
Upper Clark Fork 95 101
Bitterroot 99 105
Lower Clark Fork 98 117
Missouri 100 109
Jefferson 103 97
Madison 113 126
Gallatin 98 108
Headwaters Mainstem 100 97
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 77 73
Sun-Teton-Marias 115 185
St. Mary-Milk 98 151
Yellowstone River Basin 140 173
Upper Yellowstone 128 147
Lower Yellowstone 152 197
West of the Divide 96 107
East of the Divide 120 138
Montana State-Wide 102 113
March 1, 2017, Precipitation
River Basin Monthly % of Average Water Year % of Average Water Year % of Last Year
Columbia 190 120 118
Kootenai, Montana 215 130 114
Flathead, Montana 193 125 124
Upper Clark Fork 161 108 113
Bitterroot 166 106 108
Lower Clark Fork 209 124 123
Missouri 186 131 132
Jefferson 183 122 122
Madison 201 140 151
Gallatin 164 129 126
Headwaters Mainstem 173 117 119
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 158 114 108
Sun-Teton-Marias 220 123 154
St. Mary-Milk 222 159 145
Yellowstone River Basin 198 146 166
Upper Yellowstone 207 145 153
Lower Yellowstone 196 149 182
West of the Divide 190 120 118
East of the Divide 194 136 146
Montana State-Wide 189 128 128
April-July 50% Exceedance Forecasts
River Basin Highest Point Forecast* Lowest Point Forecast** Basin Avg Forecast***
Columbia 143% 93% 104%
Kootenai, Montana 107% 100% 105%
Flathead, Montana 143% 93% 110%
Upper Clark Fork 115% 100% 105%
Bitterroot 102% 94% 99%
Lower Clark Fork 108% 98% 103%
Missouri 129% 58% 102%
Jefferson 129% 82% 106%
Madison 122% 108% 115%
Gallatin 101% 91% 96%
Headwaters Mainstem 106% 100% 104%
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 89% 58% 74%
Sun-Teton-Marias 119% 85% 106%
St. Mary 113% 110% 111%
Yellowstone River Basin 199% 83% 118%
Upper Yellowstone 148% 83% 119%
Lower Yellowstone 199% 90% 118%

Note: Streamflow forecasts are issued for multiple points on rivers and streams within a major river basin and are given as a range of exceedance probabilities. Consult the individual river basin of interest to see the range of values for streams of interest.

*Highest point forecast is the highest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

**Lowest point forecast is the lowest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

***Basin average forecast is an average of all 50% forecasts within the basin.

 

conservation applications

Conservation Stewardship Program applications now available

Starting in November, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will accept and process applications for enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the nation’s largest conservation program. Applications will be made available in local service centers.

NRCS has made several updates to the program this year to help producers better evaluate their conservation options and the benefits to their operations and natural resources. New methods and software for evaluating applications will help producers see up front why they are or are not meeting stewardship thresholds, and allow them to pick practices and enhancements that work for their conservation objectives.  These new tools also allow producers to see potential payment scenarios for conservation early in the process.

NRCS offices will begin processing applications for the program on Nov. 14, 2016, with sign-up running through February 3, 2017.  People interested in the additional opportunities the updated CSP will offer can find information on the new CSP portal, located at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/csp .  This one-stop shop, which provides information to help producers determine whether CSP is right for them, will be continually updated as more information becomes available.  Changes that producers can expect to see include nearly double the enhancements and conservation practices offered and better reporting tools to tell producers the results of their conservation efforts on their land.

Through CSP, agricultural producers and forest landowners earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and pollinator and beneficial insect habitat – all while maintaining active agriculture production on their land.  CSP also encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and new management techniques such as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage and planting for high carbon sequestration rate, and new soil amendments to improve water quality.

NRCS has addressed producer and stakeholder input requesting greater flexibility to address local resource concerns. Now, NRCS will more effectively utilize input from farmers, ranchers and partners in State Technical Committees and local workgroups to inform and expand conservation strategies under the program. Producers will be better prepared to apply because they will know these local ranking priorities and targeted resource concerns in advance.

CSP is for producers who are already established conservation stewards, helping them to deliver multiple conservation benefits on working lands, including improved water and soil quality and enhanced wildlife habitat.  Information about CSP, including national and state ranking questions and enhancement descriptions, is available at www.nrcs.usda.gov/csp  Producers interested in the program should visit their local USDA Service Center to submit an application.

Since 2009, working with as many as 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect over 400 million acres nationwide, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements, boosting soil and air quality, cleaning and conserving water and enhancing wildlife habitat.

Living with Grizzly Bears

MSGA Director Wayne Slaght of Orlando, MT shares his practices for living with grizzly bears

Written by Wayne Slaght, Ovando, MT

Shaelyn

Grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide have continued to be in the headlines, due mostly to the numerous conflicts with both humans and livestock. With an estimated population of over 1000 bears in this area and along the Rocky Mountain Front, these animals continue to expand their range and encounters with landowners. As a director on the MSGA board and ranch manager in the heart of grizzly bear territory, I wanted to share with the membership some of my experiences and some of the practices we have implemented to help reduce conflicts with grizzly bears and livestock depredations.

Our ranch is located near Ovando, which is about 50 miles east of Missoula. The first grizzly bears showed up on our ranch about 15 years ago. Our first experiences dealt with livestock depredations and significant conflicts in the spring during calving. Our concerns focused on the safety of our family and livestock and the uncertainty of how to deal with this large carnivore. The first steps our ranch took were to electric fence our calving lots. We received financial help from U.S. Fish and Wildlife services, Montana Fish and Wildlife, NRCS and various other concerned groups. We have installed electric fence around our calving lots and around some of the fields where the pairs are turned into and since doing this, we have had no bear problems in these areas. After proof of this, other ranchers in this valley have now installed electric fences in the same way and the area now has over 12 miles of electric fencing around calving lots.

Dead animals and dead animal sights are a great attractant to grizzly bears and this leads to problem bears. We needed to find a means of disposing the carcasses without tempting the bears in close to our cattle and our homes. A carcass pick up program was started in our valley with the financial help of a local group, The Blackfoot Challenge. We were fortunate enough to have the donation of a truck and soon found a driver to pick up and the carcasses and deliver them to a compost site. The Montana Department of Transportation was fundamental in helping us set up this compost site. We began by cleaning up the dead animal pits of ranchers willing to cooperate with the project. The truck runs from the middle of February until the end of May stopping by each ranch twice a week to pick up any animals lost during the calving season. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy to get all ranchers on board but now, basically all the ranchers in this area believe in the project and are using it. This tool continues to be used and has definitely helped to keep the bears at bay.

We have also had problems with bears getting into sheds that contain grain and mineral. Last year we purchased 2 ocean containers with the help of Montana Fish and Game and another agency. We ended up paying for one half of the cost and the containers have proved to work well.There was a time and not so long ago that we didn’t have the Grizzly Bear problems that we have now, in fact, it was a very rare thing to see one roaming this valley. But now, they are here and we have to find ways to deal with them. I realize it can be awkward and a hassle, time consuming and costly but I feel it’s incredibly important to implement tools to help and then to use the available tools to keep livestock depredation down and our families safe. There are programs, grants and other means of assistance out there to help financially and I would like to suggest that you take advantage of them. Since we have implemented these tools and have put them to use, we have had no livestock depredation to the grizzly bear in 12 years, yet, we seem them on a daily basis.

If you check with the staff at the MSGA office or me, we would be glad to help you in any way. It’s our desire to help alleviate problems with the bears.

USDA Invests an Additional $211 Million for Sage Grouse Conservation Efforts

PLC LogoWASHINGTON – Yesterday, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Natural Resources Conservation Service will continue its partnership with ranchers to invest in efforts for the conservation of Sage Grouse habitat. The four-year strategy will invest approximately $211 million in conservation efforts on public and private lands throughout the 11 Western states. The Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association appreciate the NRCS’s commitment to a continued partnership with ranchers.

“Ranchers across the West appreciate the continued partnership with NRCS through the Sage Grouse Initiative,” said Brenda Richards, PLC president and rancher from southern Idaho. “As the original stewards of our Western lands, ranchers work day-in and day-out to maintain healthy rangelands and conserve our natural resources for the generations to come. The Sage Grouse Initiative has proven itself to be a win-win for livestock producers and the grouse, and the partnership through 2018 will support the continuation of the successful conservation efforts already underway.”

The sage grouse is found in eleven states across the western half of the United States, including California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming and encompasses 186 million acres of public and private land. In 2010, the Sage Grouse Initiative launched and has helped ranchers implement increased conservation efforts on their land, benefiting both the grouse habitat and rangeland for livestock ranchers.

The Sage Grouse, due to frivolous lawsuit and litigation, is currently at risk of being listed under the Endangered Species Act. However, the ESA has become one of the most economically damaging laws facing our nation’s livestock producers and is great need of modernization. When species are listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the ESA, the resulting use-restrictions placed on land and water, the two resources upon which ranchers depend for their livelihoods, are crippling. The ESA has not been reauthorized since 1988 and NCBA and PLC believe the rather than listing the grouse under the ESA, efforts like the Sage Grouse Initiative will benefit the bird more and prove that listing is not the answer.

“The Endangered Species Act is outdated and has proven itself ineffective,” said Philip Ellis, who ranches in Wyoming. “Of the 1,500 domestic species listed since 1973, less than two percent have ever been deemed recovered. With this partnership, voluntary conservation efforts have increased, ranchers remain on the land, and wildlife habitat is thriving. In fact, Interior Secretary Jewell announced this year that through working with ranchers and other stakeholders in Nevada and California, the Bi-State Sage Grouse population was no longer at risk and was not listed under the ESA. This is prime example of how land management and conservation efforts should be made, in partnership with those that know the land the best.”

Learn more about the USDA NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative programs here.

NRCS: Montana Water Users Prepare For Low Streamflow

After a disappointing winter, Montana water users should prepare for early, below average snowmelt runoff in streams

BOZEMAN, Mont., NRCS— Warm and dry weather patterns persisted through April. Mid and high elevations peaked during the month before transitioning to melt during the last two weeks, according to snowpack data from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“After high hopes that the weather patterns would turn around month after month, it turned out to be a disappointing year, snowfall-wise, in Montana,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana.

Snowpack conditions vary widely across the state, even within river basins. Towards the end of March or early April, low elevation measurement locations melted. Higher elevations retained the early season snow through the winter, experiencing near to slightly below normal snowpacks until the end of April. At 57 percent of normal for May 1, the Missouri River basin currently has the lowest snowpack out of the three major river basins across the state. Substantial declines, due to melt and lack of precipitation, have greatly reduced the snowpack since March 1. Currently, the Yellowstone River basin has the highest percentage of normal snowpack, but it is still only 71 percent of normal for May 1. The Columbia River basin snowpack is currently 61 percent of normal for this date.

may 1 snow water equivalent nrcs

“This year, not only did our snowpacks peak below normal, they also began the runoff season ahead of schedule as well,” Zukiewicz said.  “For water users across the state, this generally means that runoff will occur earlier this year, and when it does, there will be less water.”

Streamflow Forecasts

Aside from the Columbia River basin, where above average precipitation fell in the form of rain this winter, streamflow prospects this spring and summer generally reflect the lack of snowfall. Streamflow forecasts range from near record low (42%) in the Jefferson River basin in southwest Montana to below average (80-87%) on the mainstreams of the Flathead and Kootenai River basins.

This season, river systems that do not contain reservoirs for storage, such as the Gallatin and Upper Yellowstone, will see low streamflows pass through ahead of schedule.   For water users on rivers systems with reservoirs, there is water from last year’s runoff.  Because of last year’s record-breaking snowfall, carryover runoff was stored, leaving most reservoirs near to above average for May 1.

Water year-to-date precipitation (October 1 – May 1) across the state is near to slightly below normal for this time, with the exception of southwest Montana. Precipitation this spring and summer will play a critical role in the volume of runoff experienced this year. East of the Divide, where overall precipitation conditions have been drier this year, May and June are favored for rain and high elevation snow.

“We are coming up on what is typically known as ‘mud season’ in the Montana mountains,” Zukiewicz said.”Usually, people dread this season, but this year I think many will welcome any spring and summer rain, just to have a mud season.”

Conditions vary widely within the river basins this year. For detailed information on individual basin conditions and streamflow forecast points refer to the May 1 Water Supply Outlook Report.

Below are the averaged river basin streamflow forecasts for the period April 1 through July 31. THESE FORECASTS ASSUME NEAR NORMAL MOISTURE AND RUNOFF CONDITIONS MAY THROUGH JULY.

may-june streamflow forecast period

Press Release USDA NRCS. Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_MT.

Sidney rancher, Bozeman NRCS employee honored with Range Leader awards

MSGA member and rancher from Sidney, Duane Ullman

MSGA member and rancher from Sidney, Duane Ullman

By Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation

The Governor’s Rangeland Resources Executive Committee (RREC) announced today that rancher Duane Ullman of Sidney and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employee Matt Ricketts of Bozeman have been chosen as recipients of the 2014 Range Leader of the Year awards.

“Duane Ullman and Matt Ricketts are genuine leaders in the field of range management,” said Les Gilman, Rangeland Resources Executive Committee Chairman from Alder, Mont. “Their commitment to education and the principles of stewardship represents the best of Montana agriculture.”

Mr. Ullman was a supervisor on the Richland County Conservation District board for 15 years and was nominated to this award for his progressive style of managing his family farm and ranch near Sidney, Mont.

Duane has made many improvements to his ranch including seeding farmland to pasture, cross fencing, stockwater pipelines and stock tanks, and a prescribed grazing plan. He has worked with both the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks to make improvements on his ranch. Those improvements are beneficial to the cattle, land and wildlife.

Duane has also opened up his ranch to public tours, pasture walks and demonstrations. He has showcased his grazing plan, rangeland chiseling project, equipment and monitoring sites.

Matt Ricketts is currently the Rangeland Management Specialist in the Bozeman Area Office and has over 32 years of service with the NRCS and is a life member of the Society for Range Management. He was nominated for his dedication to rangeland across Montana.

NRCS employee Matt Rickets of Bozeman

NRCS employee Matt Rickets of Bozeman

Matt has many accomplishments in the field of range science and has worked with multiple ranchers in the state. He has worked on many range inventories and other data collections. He has done extensive work on grazing management in sage grouse habitat areas and assists producers with the Nutrient Balance program.  He has also assisted in ecological site descriptions.

Matt is also very passionate about teaching. He has taught at the Wheatland County Range Ride and Montana Range Days for many years. He has conducted many workshops for producers and also teaches at NRCS personnel courses. Matt continues to improve himself by continually researching and publishing papers.

Duane Ullman and Matt Ricketts received their awards last week in Billings during the 2015 Winter Grazing Seminar sponsored by the Yellowstone Conservation District, Rangeland Resources Executive Committee and the Montana DNRC.

For more information on the Rangeland Resources Program, the Range Leader of the Year Award, or other grazing and range management efforts sponsored by DNRC, contact Heidi Crum at (406) 444-6619, or visit the DNRC Web site.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service logo

USDA Extends Deadline for Conservation Stewardship Applications

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2014 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has extended the deadline for new enrollments in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for fiscal year 2014. Producers interested in participating in the program can submit applications to NRCS through Feb. 7, 2014.

“Extending the enrollment deadline will make it possible for more farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to apply for this important Farm Bill conservation program,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “Through their conservation actions, these good stewards are ensuring that their operations are more productive and sustainable over the long run and CSP can help them take their operations to the next level of natural resource management.”

Weller said today’s announcement is another example of USDA’s comprehensive focus on promoting environmental conservation and strengthening the rural economy, and it is a reminder that a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is pivotal to continue these efforts. CSP is now in its fifth year and so far, NRCS has partnered with producers to enroll more than 59 million acres across the nation.

The program emphasizes conservation performance — producers earn higher payments for higher performance. In CSP, producers install conservation enhancements to make positive changes in soil quality, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, animal resources and energy use.

Eligible landowners and operators in all states and territories can enroll in CSP through Feb. 7 to be eligible during fiscal 2014. While local NRCS offices accept CSP applications year round, NRCS evaluates applications during announced ranking periods. To be eligible for this year’s enrollment, producers must have their applications submitted to NRCS by the closing date.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.

Learn more about CSP by visiting the NRCS website or any local USDA service center.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).

 

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service logo

Applications for USDA Conservation Stewardship program due Jan. 17

Popular Farm Bill conservation program seeks producer participation

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service logo(The following is a USDA press release) WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is opening the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for new enrollments for federal fiscal year 2014. Starting today through Jan. 17, 2014, producers interested in participating in the program can submit applications to NRCS.

“Through the Conservation Stewardship Program, farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners are going the extra mile to conserve our nation’s resources,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “Through their conservation actions, they are ensuring that their operations are more productive and sustainable over the long run.”

The CSP is an important Farm Bill conservation program that helps established conservation stewards with taking their level of natural resource management to the next level to improve both their agricultural production and provide valuable conservation benefits such as cleaner and more abundant water, as well as healthier soils and better wildlife habitat.

Weller said today’s announcement is another example of USDA’s comprehensive focus on promoting environmental conservation and strengthening the rural economy, and it is a reminder that a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is pivotal to continue these efforts. CSP is now in its fifth year and so far, NRCS has partnered with producers to enroll more than 59 million acres across the nation.

The program emphasizes conservation performance — producers earn higher payments for higher performance. In CSP, producers install conservation enhancements to make positive changes in soil quality, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, animal resources and energy.

Some popular enhancements used by farmers and ranchers include:

  • Using new nozzles that reduce the drift of pesticides, lowering input costs and making sure pesticides are used where they are most needed;
  • Modifying water facilities to prevent bats and bird species from being trapped;
  • Burning patches of land, mimicking prairie fires to enhance wildlife habitat; and
  • Rotating feeding areas and monitoring key grazing areas to improve grazing management.

Eligible landowners and operators in all states and territories can enroll in CSP through January 17th to be eligible during the 2014 federal fiscal year. While local NRCS offices accept CSP applications year round, NRCS evaluates applications during announced ranking periods. To be eligible for this year’s enrollment, producers must have their applications submitted to NRCS by the closing date.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.

Learn more about CSP by visiting the NRCS website or a local NRCS field office.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay). USDA is an equal opportunity

Rancher Stewardship: Protecting Montana’s Prairie

In South Phillips County, near the hub of Malta, Montana, ranchers have called the prairie home for over 100 years. Here, ranchers have created a ranch and wildlife haven by working and living in harmony with nature. In this video, ranchers discuss the importance of raising their families here, developing innovative ranch management practices, working in cooperation with each other and building a lasting community to protect these prairielands. Biologists and conservationists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service also discuss the importance of ranchers in sustaining this diverse ecosystem and the wildlife species it supports. This video is brought to you by the Montana Stockgrowers Association’s Research, Education and Endowment Foundation.

Photo slideshow from South Phillips County, Montana

Click the play button to see a selection of photos from Lauren Chase’s time with ranchers in South Phillips County, Montana. You can view the same photos and read their captions by clicking this link to Facebook. You can also see this slideshow full screen by clicking any place in the box and selecting “view full screen.”