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Canadians like to shop, recreate and do business in Northwest Montana.

The Associated press estimates over 900,000 Canadians visit Montana annually. That's why the Flathead Valley is paying close attention to the sagging value of the Canadian dollar. Last year an American dollar cost $1.10 Canadian. Now that same U.S. dollar costs $1.25 and was as high as $1.31 recently. Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President, Joe Unterreiner, says there's a lot at stake.

Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

Regional sheep producers are concerned that fears about their herds transmitting disease to wild bighorn sheep might jeopardize their livelihood.

Last spring, the Forest Service banned domestic sheep grazing on about 70 percent of the Payette National Forest in West Central Idaho to prevent domestic sheep from infecting bighorns.

"We feel it's just a way for environmental groups to try to try and remove livestock from public grounds."

Human safety is the top priority as the oil spill recovery effort continues on the Yellowstone River.
Bridger Pipeline spokesman Bill Salvin says  temperatures are warming and that's making the river ice more unstable.

"So for every person that's standing on the ice, they have a person that's on an airboat holding the line they're connected to and that line's tied off to the boat as well. We want to make sure that we keep everyone who's responding to this safe. That's driving everything we do in terms of oil recovery on the ice."

Jon Tester

It's been eight months since the Montana VA had a permanent director and Senator Jon Tester says he's fed up with the delay.

Tester fired-off a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald this week calling it "completely unacceptable".

The Democrat says he only recently found out that a hire was imminent about three months ago. However,  the Office of Management and Budget found a "screw-up" that scuttled the process.

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Both of Montana’s Senators voted today for the bill to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Democrat Jon Tester says he looks forward to the day when clean, renewable resources provide most of America's energy needs:

"But until we get to a point when that's affordable and available, it appears to me that I'd rather do business with Canada than I would the Middle East."

Tester says the recent Bridger Pipeline oil spill on the Yellowstone River was not only a catastrophe, but entirely preventable.

American taxpayers are losing out on about $210 million a year in federal coal royalties. That’s according to the  Bozeman-based non-profit, "Headwaters Economics".

Mark Haggerty, with Headwaters, says coal companies aren’t being taxed as much as federal law allows.

“The problem that we've encountered is that the current royalty structure is relatively opaque and we don't have a really good sense of what kind of return we're getting.”

A Bitterroot Valley environmental group is skeptical of a Forest Service plan to improve watersheds near Darby.

Local motorized off-road users, meanwhile, are supporting the 29,000 acre Darby Lumber Lands Project. 

The area is made up of lands previously owned by several different organizations and eventually acquired by the Forest Service. It's been extensively logged and also partially burned during the fires of 2000. As a result, Bitterroot Forest hydrologist, Ed Snook, says too much sediment is getting into local waterways.

USFWS Midwest (CC-BY-2.0)

It could be weeks, if not months before scientists understand the implications of last week's oil spill on aquatic life in the Yellowstone River. There have been no reported fish kills at this point.

"That's not to say there isn't some, but the real impact is that we're going to need to evaluate is going to be the chronic mortalities, the delayed mortalities, the long-term fish health concerns and also reproduction concerns once the fish are spawning in the spring."

Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks

This story was updated on 1/23/15 to correct an error describing the process of amending the state constitution.

State lawmakers are considering a bill to reaffirm that trapping is a form of hunting protected by the state Constitution.

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A small airplane crashed into a Helena residential neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, but nobody was killed.

Helena Assistant Fire Chief, Ken Wood, says the single engine plane clipped a tree and crashed into a house and shed on Walnut Street, west of the Helena Regional Airport.

Wood says there was no explosion or fireball when the plane went down.

"No, we were very fortunate. There was limited fuel that leaked, very limited, no fire, no smoke. For whatever reason, the plane crashed and they were fortunate to get out."

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