Montana News

News from the state of Montana.

Dave Conner/flickr

The Montana Highway Patrol says highway deaths in 2013 increased by 10 percent over 2012 totals, but it’s the statistics within that higher figure which are puzzling troopers.

Vehicle-related deaths on Montana’s roadways, both urban and rural, totaled 224 in 2013—compared with 204 in 2012. Regional Commander for the eastern part of the state, James Moody, said Montana typically has somewhere around 200 highway deaths a year.

Dan Boyce

2013 began with a new governor and a new legislature - and wound down with a government shutdown. In-between there were headline-grabbing trials and home-destroying fires.

The MTPR news staff - Sally Mauk, Edward O'Brien, Dan Boyce and Katrin Frye - covered the issues and breaking news. In this feature, they take a look back at a year of drama and heartache, and political surprises.

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg is scheduled to meet with county officials later this week to discuss the standoff between his office and the U.S. Department of Justice.
      The Justice Department earlier this year reached agreements with the University of Montana and the City of Missoula after investigations revealed deficiencies in how they responded to reports of sexual assault.  Those agreements required UM and the city take several steps to improve their responses.

Development of solar energy is undergoing a renaissance as the price and downside of fossil fuels increases. Author, physics professor and solar energy expert John Perlin says the use of solar energy goes back thousands of years.

Tony Anderson

Aquatic Invasive Species, Bucket Biology, lake trout suppression, public access, and family fishing are among the topics that have ruled Jim Vashro’s last thirty years with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Vashro is retiring as the Region One Fisheries Manager for F-W-P with the end of this year. Region One includes Flathead Lake as well as numerous other lakes, rivers and streams in northwest Montana. Vashro said Flathead Lake was just one of more than one hundred lakes that had Mysis shrimp introduced, but arguably saw the most profound change.

January is radon awareness month.
    The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is encouraging Montanans to test for and - if necessary - address any radon issues.
     Radon is a colorless and odorless gas. Paul Tschida of D-E-Q's Energy and Pollution Bureau tells Edward O'Brien that radon exposure can present serious health issues:

Dan Boyce

(Note: This is the fourth of a six-part series on "Bakken Spinoffs" airing Thursdays through January 9th on "Montana Evening Edition.")

Williston, North Dakota, the undisputed capital of the Bakken Oil Boom, offers a haven for a new working class. Tens of thousands of newcomers have poured into the area in the past decade, seeking to fill an abundance of high-paying, low-skill labor jobs. The influx has brought rapid economic development to Williston; it hasn’t brought much in the name of high culture.

USFWS/Kimberly Tamkun

Earlier this week, federal wildlife officials announced they've crafted a new plan to restore the highly endangered black-footed ferret that includes re-introducing the animal to more states.
     The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan calls for boosting their numbers to about 3-thousand animals.

In this feature interview with Edward O'Brien, Fish and Wildlife Service Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Coordinator, Pete Gober, says a key element of this plan is to make it as non-threatening as possible to draw in more partners.

Shopping, cooking, tying up loose ends at work, family coming in… the list of holiday prep goes on. Joyce Billmayer of Conrad Floral in the Flathead has found a way to make a traditionally slower season busy by helping people one of those things off their list: holiday decorating.

Flathead Reporter Katrin Frye catches up with Billmayer as she preps to put the finishing touches on a home all-dolled-up for the holidays.

For Butte brothers Bryon and Bradley Wilson, skiing started early. It was a casual affair, though, spending weekends with their parents at Lost Trail Powder Mountain and Discovery Ski Area.

Today, the Wilson’s ski for a living. Bryon, 25, and Bradley, 21, are members of the U.S. Freestyle Moguls Team, and both are vying for a trip the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Japan.

Santa has a lot of helpers getting those Christmas gifts to their destination, including Dave Shappee.

This is one of the busiest months of the year for  the founder of The Shipping Depot in Missoula. And he's still busy today, as last minute shoppers rush to ship their Christmas presents on the eve of the holiday.

 In this feature interview, Shappee talks with News Director Sally Mauk about the unique items people try to ship - and about their procrastination this year.

We recently told you that Sunburst Middle School recently  won a $20-thousand-dollar technology grant. The prize was part of a national project by Samsung to raise student interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
       Kim Bloch is a teacher in the school's gifted and talented program. Sunburst is a Class C school situated along north-central Montana's border with Canada; not far from the Port of Sweetgrass.

An undocumented Mexican immigrant who says he was raped while in custody at the Jefferson County Jail is waiting to see if his case will be heard in court before he is deported. Meanwhile, the alleged incident is calling into question how the jail ensures the safety of prisoners.

Montana Legislature

Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices this week issued a ruling accusing a sitting Republican state lawmaker of illegally coordinating with a “dark money” group during his 2010 campaign, an accusation the lawmaker denies.

As reported earlier, Montana's senior Senator Max Baucus has been nominated to be the next ambassador to China - pending confirmation by the Senate.

Dan Boyce

(Note: This is the third of a six-part series on "Bakken Spinoffs" airing Thursdays through January 9th on "Montana Evening Edition.")

Sidney, Montana and other towns surrounding the Bakken Oil Boom are seeing rapid growth and businesses of all kinds are benefitting from the influx of new people following the oil.

Reynold’s Market, a Sidney grocery store in operation since 1925, just moved to a new location twice the size of their old place. The number of workers there bumped up from about 60 to 140.

Among the Montanans hoping to make it to the Sochi Olympics this winter is Bozeman native and reigning national freestyle mogul ski champion, Heather McPhie.

It would be McPhie's second Olympics - she placed 18th in Vancouver in 2010. This year's team will be picked in January.

McPhie is back in Bozeman for the holidays after competing in a World Cup event in Finland. The 29-year-old took time out from her training to speak with News Director Sally Mauk about her skiing career. It's a sport that's in her blood - beginning with her great grandfather.

Dan Boyce

A prayer vigil was held Tuesday night at Helena’s First United Church of Christ for a Mexican man who says he was raped while in custody at a Montana jail in October.

A series of such vigils are being held around the state

Undocumented immigrant Audemio Orozco-Ramirez was detained after a routine traffic stop in Sidney, Montana.

The vigils seek justice and solace for Orozco-Ramirez and his family. His lawyer wonders if Orozco-Ramirez will be deported before the case can be heard.

Former governor Brian Schweitzer says he plans to spend a lot of time in Iowa, and in fact, he's giving a speech there today - raising more questions about whether he intends to run for president.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the non-partisan, not-for-profit Trust for America's Health released a report this week showing most of the nation is not adequately prepared to handle outbreaks of infectious disease.
    The Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases report finds the nation's ability to prevent and control outbreaks of infectious disease is hampered by limited resources and outdated infrastructure.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are stepping up to fill a transportation gap between the Flathead, Mission, and Missoula Valleys. Transit Section Superintendent David Jacobs with the Montana Department of Transportation says Rimrock Stages was handling bus service from Missoula to Kalispell.

He said it was shut down by the Federal Motor Carriers Service Administration for non-compliance last March. He said the MDOT was waiting to see if Rimrock Stages would come back into compliance.

Katrin Frye

“My dad started with one cow 35 years ago, they loved the animal, and we grew to 200 head, because of the animal, and so, I like people to understand that we sell the milk to keep the cows- it’s not the other way around,” Mary Tuck is Vice President and owner of Kalispell Kreamery.

It’s the last of the Flathead dairy farms in an area that used to boast more than forty. Kalispell Kreamery evolved from her family dairy farm; Hedstrom Dairy.

Dan Boyce

(Note: This is the second of a six-part series on "Bakken Spinoffs" airing Thursdays through January 9th on "Montana Evening Edition.")

Covering news in the Eastern Montana town of Sidney has been a changing business over the last five years.

Front pages depicting the life and times of a sleepy farm town now include headlines about a booming population, a booming economy, and crime.

This month, we’re bringing you a series of stories on the side effects of the Bakken Oil Boom, positive and negative.

Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce has the story.

Dan Boyce

Maintenance crews are still cleaning up the state capitol building after a frozen pipe burst and flooded the basement and first floor on December 5th.

Water damaged sheetrock and ceiling tiles and ruined equipment in basement offices. On Monday, the basement hallway was still littered with tables and boxes.

Public Information Officer at the Department of Public Administration Sheryl Olson said the state does not yet have a cost estimate from the flood. Not all the bills have come in yet.

The financial crash of 2008 brought increased scrutiny and louder calls for reform of the financial industry. Some of that has come to pass, but it's also true the financial sector continues to have tremendous influence over government, which is its chief regulator.

As financial policy advocate for the consumer advocacy group "Public Citizen", Bart Naylor tracks that regulation and lobbies for stricter oversight of a financial industry he believes has too much power.

As we told you earlier this week, at least 43 Montana public officials recently signed a letter supporting actions within the President's National Climate Action plan to address climate change.
      Some of those actions include adopting pollution controls, investment in renewable energy research and development and creation of climate adaptation strategies.  
     Democratic  state representative Doug Coffin, of Missoula, is one of those to sign the letter. Coffin is a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Montana.

National Park Service

A panel of wildlife officials says it's time to lift Endangered Species protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Beatrice Moritz

This Saturday will mark the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut that took the lives of 20 six and seven-year-olds - and 6 of the school's adult staff.

Last week we aired an interview with UM forestry professor Martin Nie, about the resurgence of a western movement to get federal lands turned over to state and local governments - and why he thinks that's a bad idea. In this feature interview, News Director Sally Mauk talks with one of the leaders of the new Sagebrush Rebellion - Utah state representative, and CEO of the American Lands Council, Ken Ivory - about why he thinks state ownership of federal lands is a good idea.

Sally Mauk

A recent article in the journal "Science" investigates whether decreasing winds in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies are contributing to declining precipitation.

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