MTPR

Edward O'Brien

News

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.

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Inciweb

The 21,573-acre Sapphire Complex is burning roughly 25 miles south/southeast of Missoula in the Rock Creek Drainage. The Granite County Sheriff Friday night issued a YELLOW pre-evacuation warning for the Upper Willow Creek Drainage.

Inciweb

Today's air quality is, again, expected to be less-than-ideal. Buckle up for the long haul, because the smoke is probably going to be with us for quite some time.

Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield's air quality updates are always a good read. Here are her projections for western Montana today:

Shane O'Farrell/Inciweb

Fire activity on the more than 7,200 acre Rice Ridge Fire northwest of Seeley Lake increased today as it burns into heavy stands of beetle killed trees.

The evacuation warning is still in effect for residents on both sides of Highway 83 south of Rice Ridge Road to Morrell Creek and south of Cottonwood Lakes Road east of Highway 83, including the town of Seeley Lake and Double Arrow Ranch. No actual evacuations have been ordered.

Inciweb

Missoula County Sheriff and Coroner T.J. McDermott released the name of the firefighter who was killed while working on the Lolo Peak Fire yesterday afternoon. The sheriff says 29 year old Brent M. Witham of Mentone, California was killed when a tree was being cut down, and fell on him.

Lolo National Forest Spokeswoman Pat York says exact details of Witham’s death are still unclear.

An unmaned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone. File photo.
(PD)

The drone pilot allegedly responsible for temporarily shutting down aerial firefighting operations on the Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake Wednesday is now the subject of a federal investigation.

The U.S. Forest Service is working in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Justice to determine if charges are warranted.

Man fishing in the Yellowstone River.
Flickr user: Mirrur Image (CC-BY-NC)

Warm water temperatures have triggered fishing restrictions on a 55 mile stretch of the Bitterroot River from Veteran’s Bridge on Highway 93 just north of Hamilton, downstream to the confluence with the Clark Fork in Missoula. The so-called ‘Hoot Owl’ restriction went into effect today.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Missoula-area Fisheries Manager Pat Saffel says those restrictions go into effect when river temperatures reach at least 73 degrees for three days in a row.

Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake
Inciweb

A firefighter assigned to the Lolo Peak Fire has died. A little before 4 p.m., the firefighter was struck by a tree and airlifted to a Missoula Hospital.

Be smart, don't fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire. No amount of video or photos are worth the consequences.
U.S. Forest Service

Aerial firefighting operations on the Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake had to be shut down for a few minutes today due to a civilian drone.

This fire season there have already been more than 18 public drone incursions, most of which resulted in the temporary shutdown of aerial firefighting efforts.

Northern Rockies IMT

There are multiple evacuation warnings due to fires in northwest Montana, and at least one mandatory evacuation order in effect.

About 4:00 this afternoon the Missoula County Sheriff’s office issued an evacuation warning due to the Lolo Peak Fire.

Josh Burnham

Fire teams across Montana today prepared for an unusual cold front that could stir up Montana's wildfires.

National Weather Service Hydrologist Ray Nickless says this weather system is typically called a "backdoor" cold front. Cold fronts typically enter Montana from the northwest.

Matthew Rosendale, Montana's Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.
Eric Whitney

State Auditor Matt Rosendale ended months of speculation Monday by announcing his intent to seek the Republican nomination to run against incumbent U.S. Senator Jon Tester.

Left to Right: Clinical social worker Andy Laue; First Step social worker MC Jenni; Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst; Missoula Deputy County Attorney Brittany Williams; Missoula Deputy County Attorney Jordan Kilby
Edward O'Brien

Missoula’s County Attorney says helping victims of violent crime is deeply rewarding work.

But Kirsten Pabst adds there’s also a dark side to the job that’s not talked about enough.

“Prosecutors have a really high incidence of turnover, burnout and a really high incidence of suicide," Pabst says. "What we’re learning now, finally, is that doing this kind of work, which is good work and helping real people, isn’t sustainable unless you take care of it and process the trauma that we’re exposed to every day.” 

Interim Indian Health Service Director Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee
YouTube

Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester wants to know how the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 federal budget will affect the Indian Health Service.

So, on Wednesday Tester turned to the troubled agency’s new acting director, Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee for answers.

It didn’t go well.

Weahkee could not explain how much money IHS is billing Medicaid to help keep the agency running.

inciweb

A mixed bag of news today from the July fire burning south of the Fort Belknap Reservation in Phillips County. 

Old Faithful Geyser
Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park took to Facebook today to tamp down ongoing speculation that a cataclysmic seismic event is imminent.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to streamline the process for oil and gas development on federal lands. Zinke signed an order Thursday mandating Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sales be held in each state on at least a quarterly basis.

Zinke noted during a telephone press conference that under the Obama administration BLM fell far short of that legally-mandated limit.

Missoula County’s fire danger bumped up a notch Monday from "moderate" to "high."
U.S. Forest Service

Missoula County’s fire danger bumped up a notch Monday from "moderate" to "high."

A strong high pressure system has parked itself over Montana which will lead to some of the hottest, driest conditions seen so far this year. It’s already really hot and Montana’s forest fuels are getting dry and crunchy.

More than a month after announcing grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are no longer threatened, the USFWS officially handed over management of the approximately 700 bears to wildlife officials in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
(PD)

Several lawsuits were filed Friday against the U.S. government's decision to lift protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area. Some of the groups involved include the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, The Humane Society and Earthjustice.
 
Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso says there’s been a recent spike in local grizzly bear deaths.

Preparations are underway for a fuels reduction project in western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. The Westside Vegetation Management Project and timber sale will take place between Lost Horse and Roaring Lion creeks on the valley’s west side.

“We’ll be doing some thinning, and those logs will be taken to a sawmill somewhere," says Darby District Ranger Eric Winthers. "There’s about 5 million board feet coming out of there – about 680 truckloads total."

Sen. Steve Daines during a June 28 telephone town hall meeting on healthcare.
Courtesy Steve Daines.

Senator Steve Daines says he wants to hear from Montanans before deciding how he’ll vote on the Republican health care proposal currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.

And hear from them, Daines did Wednesday night during his 17th live healthcare tele-town hall meeting.

Daines faced an earnest and sometimes feisty series of questions from Montanans trying to make sense of the complicated healthcare debate:

Greg Gianforte during his swearing in to the U.S. House, Wednesday, June 21, 2017.
CSPAN

Congressman Greg Gianforte has been assigned to serve on two congressional committees — one focused on natural resources, and the other on government oversight. Republican Greg Gianforte announced his committee assignments on Wednesday.

As a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Gianforte will help craft policy on a wide range of topics, including public lands, mining, wildlife and Indian country.

Trump Administration Working To Roll-Back Water Pollution Regulations
(PD)

The Trump Administration is moving to roll back an Obama-era policy that was designed to protect over half the nation’s streams from pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday, outlined the process to unravel the 2015 rule defining which small waterways are covered under the Clean Water Act.

Senate Republicans issued a revised version of their health care bill Monday.

The U.S. Senate’s original health care bill released last week did not penalize anyone who let their insurance lapse. Under the new package introduced Monday, anyone lacking coverage for at least 63 days in the past year and who then buys a policy would face a six-month delay before it takes effect. 

Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines says the Senate’s draft bill needed that kind of incentive:

Sen. Steve Daines.
Courtesy photo

Montana’s Republican U.S. Senator says that while he has not yet decided if he’ll support the Senate health care bill, one issue would be deal breaker for him.

As written, the Senate health care bill de-funds Planned Parenthood for one year.

And that’s just fine with Montana’s Republican and pro-life U.S. Senator Steve Daines:        

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in central Montana
BLM (PD)

A new survey suggests broad support for central Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

The poll comes after an April executive order from President Trump ordering a review of some two dozen national monuments designated since 1996.

Tanker 10 on fire duty.
Courtesy Neptune Aviation/Dan Stijovich

Neptune Aviation’s red-tailed Tanker 10 flew hundreds of firefighting missions all over the United States. Tuesday it embarked on its final mission: being placed at the entrance of the Missoula International Airport to greet incoming passengers.

Neptune CEO Ron Hooper says it’s an honor to have that twin-propeller aircraft in such a prominent place:

Representatives of state and federal environmental agencies will give an update on the polluted Smurfit-Stone mill near Frenchtown Tuesday, June 20 at 6:00 p.m. at the fire hall in Frenchtown.

USDA photo by Keith Weller

Montana cattle producers say they’re now a big step closer to getting their beef back into the potentially lucrative Chinese market. American beef has been locked out of China ever since a 2003 Mad Cow Disease scare in Washington State.

Gianforte looks back at Jacobs in Gallatin County Justice Court
Louise Johns

The new chairwoman of the Montana Republican Party says it’s now time to let Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte get to work.

Republican Greg Gianforte won Montana’s special election May 25, 2017.
Rowebotz (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

A University of Montana law professor thinks Greg Gianforte’s likely court appearance Monday morning for assaulting a reporter was probably not the congressman-elect’s main legal worry.

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