Chronic Wasting Disease in Wyoming continues its march north and west

elk1_bwilliams

photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Chronic Wasting Disease is on the move towards western Wyoming’s winter elk feedgrounds and Yellowstone National Park.
A retired U.S Fish and Wildlife Service biologist says this is something the public and policy-makers need to pay close attention to.
Dr. Bruce Smith is a former senior biologist at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming and author of “Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Biopolitics of Our National Elk Herd.”
In the first of our two-part interview, Smith, a resident of Sheridan, Montana,  explains to Edward O’Brien the basic science behind C-W-D.
In short, it’s an insidious, highly transmissible disease that sticks around in its environment:

Bridge easement lawsuit could impact MT’s stream access law

photo courtesy footloosiety/Flickr

photo courtesy footloosiety/Flickr

A lawsuit concerning a bridge on a county road could lead to major impacts on Montana’s stream access law in a case pitting private property advocates against prominent public access groups.

The state Supreme Court is considering the lawsuit over easements now. Atlanta-based media mogul James Kennedy owns a sizable piece of property on the Ruby River. Several county bridges cross the river on his land and a district court judge found it legal for Kennedy to fence off access to the river on one of those bridges—because of the type of ‘prescriptive easement’ on the bridge.

Public lands access advocates appealed that ruling to the Montana Supreme Court. Now, before the high court, Landowner James Kennedy is arguing a U.S. Supreme Court Decision on a case between Montana and PPL Montana from last year means the state’s stream access law should be thrown out or limited.

President of the United Property Owners of Montana Marc Robbins, said the U.S. court decided the state only owns the banks and beds of rivers if the river was commercially navigable at the time of statehood.

The Ruby River and other small streams like it to not meet that criteria.

“We feel that the state erred in its taking of the stream beds years ago,” Robbins said, “and this PPL ruling definitely turned the tides of the basis for what stream access was founded on.”

Montana Trout Unlimited Executive Director Bruce Farling believes these issues were hashed out by the State Supreme Court before the Stream Access law was established in the 80s.

He said the court decided the state constitution says the public owns the state’s water and they should be able to use it.

“They told the legislature at that time, they said ‘look, the public should have access on these streams to be able to recreate on them, irrespective of whom owns the bed and bank,’” Farling said.

The state supreme court has not made any decision on the case.

President Obama’s former campaign manager says fight over gun control not over

Jim Messina, Sally Mauk

Jim Messina, Sally Mauk

The former campaign manager for President Barack Obama, Jim Messina, was in Missoula over the weekend to deliver the commencement address to his alma mater, the University of Montana. Messina currently has his own consulting firm, and also is national chairman of “Organizing for Action”, a nonprofit group working to help the president achieve his legislative agenda. In this feature interview, Messina talks with News Director Sally Mauk about OFA’s priorities: climate change, gun control and immigration reform.

Montana receives “F” for its disclosure laws

Map of grades on disclosure laws given by the National Institute on Money in State Politics

Map of grades on disclosure laws given by the National Institute on Money in State Politics

A report released this week by the National Institute on Money in State Politics gives Montana a failing grade on its disclosure laws related to campaign spending in elections.

Twenty-five other states received “F”s in the report, while 15 states received an “A”.

“What we found interesting was that the state’s were either great or awful,” said the Institute’s Managing Director Denise Roth Barber. “There were very few in between.”

Barber describes NIMSP as a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that takes as one of its charges strongly advocating full disclosure in political spending. The report graded states on “disclosure requirements for super PACs, nonprofits and other outside spending groups.”

Barber said there is quite a bit of interest right now on the national level to require more disclosure on spending in federal races.

“But at the state level,” she said, “we don’t actually know in too many states, including Montana, how much money is even spent, let alone where it came from.”

She said the major campaign finance overhaul pitched by Gov. Steve Bullock and carried by Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, called the TRACE Act, could have single-handedly brought Montana’s grade up from an “F” to an “A”. On top of increasing disclosure, that bill would have increased the fines for violating Montana’s current election laws. The bill passed the Senate 29-21 after a heated debate. However, the bill never made it to the House floor and died when the Legislature adjourned.

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, complimented Sen. Peterson and supporters for their intentions with the TRACE Act, but said he and other opponents believe the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear: money equals speech when it comes to political spending.

“The protection of anonymity in political speech has been a part of this country since before the founding of the Republic,” Moore said.

Missoula philanthropists to receive honorary doctorates from UM

talbotsMissoulians John and Sue Talbot will receive Honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters at the University of Montana commencement ceremony tomorrow. The Talbots are being recognized for their long and generous service to both the university and the community. John Talbot is a former publisher of the Missoulian newspaper, and the journalism building on the University of Montana campus is named after Sue Talbot’s father, Don Anderson, a well-known newspaperman. The Talbots have supported and been active in dozens of community and university organizations.  In tonight’s feature interview, News Director Sally Mauk talks with the Talbots about their love of UM and Missoula, and why they think both the town and gown have a bright future. The Talbots met in college when Sue was attending Radcliffe, and John was at Harvard..

Kit Fischer Commentary: “Your Secret’s Safe With Me”

I’ve visited the East Rosebud River every summer I’ve lived in Montana.
Flowing North out of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the East Rosebud winds for some 30 miles before it’s joined by other aspen-lined tributaries- eventually flowing into the Stillwater and the Yellowstone River near Columbus. The water runs cold and clear, with very little diverted for agriculture and nearby development. By late August, when other streams feel like luke-warm kiddy pools, the creek remains cooled by the high elevation snowmelt fed from the 10,000 foot Beartooth plateau. Rainbows, cutthroats and brown trout feed voraciously – even during the middle of the day, feasting on the thousands of grasshoppers blown in from the gusty winds that come down the granite canyons to the south. The bird life is equally spectacular – western tanagers, yellow warblers, rare broad-tailed hummingbirds and far off, the eerie call of what sounds like some prehistoric teradactyl, the trumpet of a sandhill cranes fill the valley.
The river is lined with thick willows, redosier dogwood and aspen thickets, forming a nearly impenetrable fortress from would be wade fishermen. The stream still flows how an old mountain stream should; the cutbanks constantly shift during spring runoff and the willows and beavers take care of the rest. Its fine gravel bottom reflects sunlight from mica and quartz instead of beer cans and bumpers. In 1989 the Forest Service deemed a seven mile section of the creek suitable for federal Wild and Scenic designation, although Montana hasn’t awarded a new wild and scenic designation since 1976.
Between the challenging access, icy cold waters, hairpin turns and beaver dams, the river (although probably more accurately, a creek) does a pretty good job of keeping itself a secret. I’ve only taken a handful of good friends fishing there in the 20+ years I’ve made my yearly pilgrimage and I’ve never seen another soul on the river.
We usually haul over my family’s venerable aluminum Grumman canoe. A now ancient relic that my folks acquired in the 70s and has probably explored more Montana rivers than I could list. It’s virtually indestructible. A tank of a canoe, it’s probably worth more in scrap metal than its resale value as a watercraft, but it has never let us down, even after dinging rocks loud enough to alert every fish in the river.
But even the best kept secrets don’t last. I should have known better—it’s often the secret places that are most overlooked for their recreational and wildlife values when energy development and resource extraction come along– and the East Rosebud is no exception. A Bozeman energy development company has recently announced their interest in exploring the possibility of developing a hydropower site on the river. A dam would be located just upstream from my “secret spot”.
It seems to be the catch-22 of all the great hunting and fishing spots that I’ve frequented in Montana. If it’s an easy place to get to, and the wildlife is abundant, the secret won’t last long—but at least it will exist for future generations. It’s the places that take a little extra effort to access – via two track, rutted dirt roads, singletrack trails and bushwacking– not highways and hotels– that tend to hold the best kept places. These places are naturally guarded from becoming huge tourist destinations, but not guarded from development- and Montana’s got plenty of them.
Maybe this year when I make my trip to the East Rosebud I’ll bring a couple more friends along and hopefully in return they will show me some other tucked away secret Montana place.

Kit Fischer writes on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation.

DPHHS provider rate changes anger medical equipment suppliers

Health officials are considering changes to the way the state operates Medicaid.

The 2013 Legislature approved rate increases to providers of Medicaid—the government health service for the poor.

Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce says stakeholders are applauding some of the changes, but suppliers of medical equipment see a big problem.

DOJ report finds problems with Missoula Police investigations of sexual assault

A Department of Justice report released today finds instances of “significant deficiencies” in the Missoula Police Department’s investigations of sexual assault.

In response, the City of Missoula has signed a comprehensive settlement agreement to reform how the police conduct those investigations.

The announcement comes almost one week after the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division announced agreements to improve how the University of Montana responds to sexual assault allegations.

The investigation into the Missoula Police Department examined over 350 sexual assault reports from 2008 to 2012.

U-S Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Roy Austin, says the investigation revealed Missoula Police officers weren’t adequately trained to properly respond to sex assault complaints, investigations discouraged participation by victims and the department does not effectively coordinate with community partners.

The report says the Police Department’s response to sexual assault allegations were hampered by poor communications sometimes relied on gender-based stereotypes. It specifically points to a case in which a police detective told a woman the gang-rape she was reporting “was probably just a drunken night and a mistake.”  The detective then told her she “came across as kinda passive”. The same woman told Justice Department investigators she felt the detective was not only intimidating and rude, but his demeanor and statements left her feeling he didn’t believe her and that the assault had been her fault.

Another woman who ended up not pursuing criminal charges, reported a detective was constantly telling her how difficult it would be to testify in court.

The agreement requires the police department within two-years implement or revise its policies for investigating assaults, provide training to officers and their supervisors and change practices that discourage women from reporting sexual assaults.

If you count bears for a living, you might find yourself staring down a grizzly

Kate at McNeilU.S.G.S. research ecologist Kate Kendall has been studying grizzly bears for over 30 years and done groundbreaking research into the grizzlies that live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Kendall is retiring this month, and she recently sat down with News Director Sally Mauk to talk about her career, her research, and her thoughts about the future of the great bear. Kendall started with the National Park Service right out of college, and moved to Bozeman in 1977 to join the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team – one of only a couple of women working with dozens of men.