Sayonara newsblog! Check out the new!

Hey there, all you loyal newsblog followers!

For about the last year and a half, we in the MTPR newsroom have used this blog as a way to give our listeners and other interested parties a place to find our original content online–the full audio, plus text and pictures relevant to the stories.

We did this because we understand the increasing importance the web has on our daily habits as news consumers. Posting our stories to a free WordPress blog gave us the opportunity to provide that content using our available resources.

But, this also has been part of a broader effort to prepare us for the eventual redesign of our website,— a modern upgrade allowing us to post our news content in an even cleaner and more comprehensive way than we have for the blog.

That time has come, and we are so excited for you all to see what this new site can do. From the homepage at, you can see all of our local news content on the left-hand side. In the middle of the page you’ll notice sidebars for our editorial comments as well as for other MTPR programs such as “The Write Question.” On the far right of the page you’ll notice links to podcasts and a calendar of what’s playing on air at that time. Finally, at the top of the screen you’ll see a ‘listen live’ streaming button.

Thank you so much to all of you for sticking with us through this experiment! Here’s to what’s next!!


Uh, one more time, the new website…, just click that blue part and you’ll go there.

Disability service providers protest change in Medicaid rate increases

DPHHS Director Richard Opper

Providers of general care for the developmentally disabled are asking the public to speak out against a plan from the state Department of Public Health and Human Services to alter an increase in Medicaid dollars for raises.

DPHHS is proposing to take two-percent of a total four-percent increase in rates for these providers and distribute that money in other ways than just an equal raise to all providers. DPHHS Director Richard Opper says this could include putting in place ‘performance measures’ to give higher raises to facilities operating more successfully.

“We are always looking for ways to deliver services more efficiently and effectively,” Opper said. “So, if a provider were to come to us with a more creative way to distribute services…I think that kind of innovation needs to be rewarded.”

Opper said he does not have specifics as to what those performance measures may be, and says that’s important, because it’s something he thinks the Department should negotiate with some of the providers of services for the developmentally disabled.

“There has not been any outreach,” said Missoula Developmental Service Corporation CEO Fran Sadowski, who points out these new increased rates go into effect on July first. “So, if that’s his (Opper’s) intent, when is it gonna happen?”

The 2013 Legislature approved two-percent rate increases across the board for providers of Medicaid Services. However, lawmakers singled out providers of services for the developmentally disabled for the larger, four-percent, increases. Sadowski said it’s not unusual for one type of provider to receive a larger increase. She says providers of services for the developmentally disabled have not seen an increase in their rates since 2009.

“We’re not getting rich on this type of increase,” Sadowski said. “Some folks are just trying to stay afloat.”

Sadowski said the disabled patients of facilities like her’s are often under 24-hour care, and if those places shut down the patients may end up on the streets, in a nursing home, or at the state’s institution in Boulder, the Montana Developmental Center. She said MDC costs taxpayers more per patient than community-based centers.

Sen. Mary Caferro (D-Helena)

Sen. Mary Caferro (D-Helena)

Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, led the legislative effort to have higher rate increases for providers of services to the developmentally disabled. She does not at all approve of the idea to make any of the rate increases performance-based.

“There was nothing in the (bill’s) language about distribution options, there are no options,” she said. “It would be wonderful if the executive would respect the legislature and follow legislative intent.”

Opper said the Department wants to negotiate on the plan proposal, adding a straight four-percent increase is not off the table. The public comment period for the proposal ends May 30th

The genetic mutations behind breast cancer


    The actress Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy as a way to prevent getting breast cancer, and her choice to make that decision public, have shed light on the rare genetic mutation she has that can cause breast and ovarian cancer. It has also prompted a flood of inquiries from women about the mutation – who’s at risk, and what their choices are if they have it. To learn more, News Director Sally Mauk recently spoke with breast cancer surgeon Dr. Melissa Hulvat, who is Director of the Bass Breast Center at Kalispell Regional Healthcare.  Dr. Hulvat says there are two genes we know cause breast cancer:

Virginia City celebrating 150 years since Alder Gulch strike this weekend

Virginia City has retained much of its historic architecture from the late 19th century

Virginia City has retained much of its historic architecture from the late 19th century

This Sunday marks 150 years since a small group of gold miners struck it rich up Southwest Montana’s Alder Gulch.

The swarms of people following that strike quickly established Virginia City, Montana’s first territorial capital.

Virginia City remains remarkably well-preserved today and survives off an annual boom of Summer tourists looking to take in the frontier town’s history.

The community is hosting a variety of events all through the weekend to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Alder Gulch Strike.

Click here for Virginia City’s weekend schedule.

Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce explores how residents keep that history alive in modern times.


The Great Produce Rescue of 2012

I’m Robin Taylor, and I’m the garden manager at Wholesome Foods in Bridger. We’re in the middle of planting, but with every seed I put into the ground I’m reminded of my visits to this vegetable garden last summer – during a time that eventually became known as the Great Produce Rescue of 2012.

Wholesome Foods is owned by Dick and Patricia Espenschied. They’ve been farming in Carbon County –in the Clark’s Fork River Valley – for more than 15 years. They are committed to sustainable agriculture, and in addition to the vegetable gardens, they raise certified organic, free-range beef and hogs as well as heritage turkeys.

This is my first year “officially” working for the Espenschieds. The vegetable gardens here are substantial, and for many years, Wholesome Foods has supplied restaurants with produce and sold vegetables and meat at the Billings and Red Lodge farmers’ markets. But last spring, it looked like that tradition would be coming to an end.

No one knows for sure why, but last year in early June, the garden manager abruptly left. With so many other responsibilities and weeds rapidly taking over, the Espenschieds had decided – reluctantly – to till the garden under and give up on the vegetables for the season.

In Carbon County where I live, organic, locally-grown food isn’t always easy to find, but it’s a priority in the communities around here. Wholesome Foods was a key provider of healthy, affordable food – a critical farm-to-table link. When I heard about the dilemma the Espenschieds were in, I remember thinking, this just can’t happen!

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who was concerned. The abandoned gardens also caught the attention of the Red Lodge Area Food Partnership Council, a citizen-led group that supports sustainable agriculture and promotes the benefits of local foods. Food Corps Service Member Alyssa Charney was also concerned when she heard of the situation at Wholesome Foods.

Together, we decided to talk to Dick and Patricia and volunteer to provide the labor needed to save the garden.  So we loaded up some beer and baked goods – figuring we might need some extra leverage – and drove down to Wholesome Foods.

We were speechless when we saw the garden. It was seven whole, wide acres of weeds that were waist-high in some places. It had been planted, but the young seedlings were struggling to come up without water and tending. As a lifelong gardener, I can tell you, it was hard to see, but we were all focused on saving this important, local food source.

Although the Espenschieds were concerned that we might not be up to the task, they allowed us to take over the garden. With some experience in commercial gardening, I took the lead. My comrades that day from the Red Lodge Area Food Partnership Council all stood by my side and played an important role getting the word out and rallying volunteers.

It was like triage those first couple of weeks. We hardly knew where to begin. We started irrigation and then harvested a mountain of lettuces. After that, we started the overwhelming task of weeding. Day after day, volunteers came to help. In time, our numbers grew, and by the end of the season more than 80 people came to help and contributed more than 600 hours of their time.  What a great new definition of Community Supported Agriculture!

It was hard work, but it was an adventure too. There were no records of what was planted so we would come across all these surprises – unusual eggplants, carrots popping up out of nowhere. Thankfully, there were a few volunteers who were willing to sacrifice their taste buds to help identify the various peppers.

When I look back on the Great Produce Rescue of 2012, I will never forget those sunny mornings, with all of us in our wide-brimmed hats, bent over the rows, making conversation and working together. So many friendships were deepened and so many connections were made to the land, to good health, and to the Espenschieds. Wholesome Foods became the community’s garden and did so much to raise awareness in the area about the importance of local food and sustainable agriculture.

I didn’t set out last summer to land the job as garden manager at Wholesome Foods, but I had always wanted to farm in the Clark’s Fork Valley. The ground here is just so healthy and productive and the surroundings are beautiful.

I couldn’t ask to be in a better place in my life than where I am right now. I’m doing all I ever want to do.

In Bridger I’m Robin Taylor for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization. AERO has been linking people with sustainable agriculture and energy solutions since 1974. Visit us online at

Bon Voyage, Bear

The carcass of an adult male grizzly bear hit and killed by a car last spring near St. Ignatius is now being used to help teach the public about bears. Dale Manning is the professional taxidermist who transformed the animal’s remains into a tool that will now be used to teach the public about bear avoidance techniques and the characteristics that differentiate grizzlies from black bears.

(Left to Right) Jamie Jonkel, big Griz, Dale Manning

(Left to Right) Jamie Jonkel, big Griz, Dale Manning

The bear will be part of a bear avoidance educational trailer that will be used around Northern Idaho, Central Washington and Western Montana. That trailer and accompanying educational material were created by the “Be Bear Aware Campaign”, a national program designed to educate the public about being safe in bear country.
In tonight’s feature story, Chuck Bartlebaugh of the “Be Bear Aware Campaign.” and Fish Wildlife and Parks bear manager, Jamie Jonkel share their thoughts about bear safety.
First, Edward O’Brien speaks with the artistic force behind the grizzly mount – taxidermist Dale Manning.

Gun Control: Knee Jerk or Necessary?

News Director Sally Mauk and panelists Dana Gale, Doug Webber, Ed Monnig, Sheriff Chris Hoffman

News Director Sally Mauk and panelists Dana Gale, Doug Webber, Ed Monnig, Sheriff Chris Hoffman

Gun control continues to be nationally debated in the wake of the most recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. As part of the Montana Public Media “Guns in the Big Sky” series, Montana Public Radio recently aired a live, one-hour discussion of whether new gun control legislation is necessary, or simply a knee jerk reaction to tragedy. News Director Sally Mauk hosted the discussion, featuring four panelists: hunters Doug Webber and Ed Monnig, Dana Gale of “Moms Demand Action”, and Ravalli County Sheriff Chis Hoffman. Listeners also submitted questions online. The discussion covered everything from universal background checks to banning semi-automatic weapons.

Missoula looks at the need for superfast Internet service

Caitlin CoppleDoes Missoula need faster and more affordable Internet service? That’s the question a new study will seek to answer. With a 26-thousand dollar matching grant from the state,the city and county of Missoula are chipping in 13-thousand dollars each to fund a feasibility study of affordable extreme broadband service. City councilwoman Caitlin Copple chairs the council’s economic development subcommittee. She believes superfast – and affordable – high speed Internet is an attractive recruitment tool for new business.

Pakistani energy officials visit PSC

Hassan Mehmood, Director of Pakistan's Ministry of Petroleum & NR questions Public Service Commissioners Tuesday

Hassan Mehmood, Director of Pakistan’s Ministry of Petroleum & NR questions Public Service Commissioners Tuesday

Montana Public Service Commissioners Bill Gallagher and Kirk Bushman hosted a discussion Tuesday with high-ranking officials from Pakistan’s energy sector.

The eight Pakistanis are visiting the U.S. through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The group is examining U.S. energy policies to gather ideas for improving Pakistan’s infrastructure. The country of 180 million people is wracked by power outages impacting entire cities and more on a regular basis. It also commonly suffers from shortages of commodities like natural gas.

The Pakistanis compared how the two countries organize utilities with the PSC. During the hour-long discussion,Pakistan’s Ministry of Petroleum Director Hassan Mehmood asked chairman Gallagher why the state doesn’t require Public Service Commissioners to have special education in a field related to utilities.

Gallagher said that is a challenge of the Montana system—but he says the PSC has that relevant experience on staff and, in the end, the elected commissioners are there to take the votes on subjects like rate changes.

“There’s a steep learning curve,” Gallagher said, “but we’re elected to be the ears and the eyes of the common people.”

The group is also learning about U.S. efforts to address the impacts of climate change and the Pakistanis are paying close attention to the American natural gas boom—in the Bakken and other shale formations.

Pakistan has a natural gas shortage right now, and Petroleum Ministry Director Hassan Mehmood said whether America decides to export its natural gas or not—it could bring prices down for his country.

“We are of the firm view that at least U.S. will not be importing gas, and that gas will become surplus and the suppliers will have to dispose of that gas for the other buyers and Pakistan can be one of the buyers,” Mehmood said.



Chronic Wasting Disease Part II

Photo Credit: Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Photo Credit: Wyoming Game and Fish Department

As we reported yesterday, Chronic Wasting Disease continues its push towards western Wyoming’s winter elk feedgrounds and Yellowstone National Park.
In part one of Edward O’Brien’s feature interview, Dr. Bruce  Smith explained the science behind CWD.
In short, it’s a terrible, infectious disease that slowly saps the life from Whitetail and Mule deer, Elk and even Moose. There is no known vaccine or treatment, animals do not develop immunities to it and it’s 100-percent fatal.
Montana had a close call with C-W-D when it was discovered in a Granite County game farm in the late 90’s, but no cases have been discovered in wild herds.
Smith, a retired U.S Fish and Wildlife Service biologist says C-W-D is something the public and policy-makers simply must pay close attention to.
Tonight, Smith continues his discussion with O’Brien with an explanation of why C-W-D is so prevalent in states like Wyoming, while Montana – at least so far – remains unscathed.