Edward O'Brien


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

Ways To Connect

Ronan businessman Robert Bell is proud of his compost. Bell says he can now offer his customers an even better product, thanks to a state grant program to assist Native American entrepreneurs.

The state commerce department has awarded nine Native American small business owners a total of $84,000.

Bell, a Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member, will use his $14,000 cut to buy a dirt screener.


A new report says too many of Montana's county jails are unsafe for inmates.

The president of the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association says it makes some valid points and adds there’s a reason for those conditions.

Chris Hoffman is also sheriff of Ravalli County and says operating jails isn’t easy.

"It is difficult work. Our mandate is to keep those facilities clean and safe for both the inmates and detention officers. It's a challenge every day."


The acting director of veterans health care in Montana is on the defensive after Senator Jon Tester said the VA health center in Helena is temporarily closing its inpatient mental health unit.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald in Washington, Tester said, “staffing levels at the VA in Montana are at the point where it can no longer safely staff the eight bed acute inpatient section of the mental health facility at Ft. Harrison” in Helena.

Johnny Ginnity, acting director at Ft. Harrison says, that doesn’t mean the mental health ward is being closed.

Relatively mild winter weather is bringing out the bears in Yellowstone National Park.

Park spokesman Al Nash says the first report of grizzly bear activity was confirmed late Monday afternoon.

The bears usually emerge from hibernation in early March.

They're hungry when leaving their dens and looking for an easy meal; namely, the carcasses of winter-killed animals.


The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana says the state's county jail system is unsafe and badly in need of reform.

The organization issued a report today detailing an overview of what it says are the poor conditions of Montana's local jails.

ACLU Executive Director, Scott Crichton, says too many of Montana's detention centers are old and physically deteriorating.

Bell & Jeff (CC-BY-2.0)

Montana's timber counties recently lost lots of federal revenue. Local officials say public services are going to suffer as a result.

"It's very scary. We're pretty bare bones out here the way it is," said Mineral County Commissioner Duane Simons.

"What do we do? We've got a four-man road crew. Do you lay four guys off? Do you lay three guys off? We've got some real difficult choices ahead of us here."

He's talking about the loss of federal "Secure Rural Schools" funds. The program expired this fall and wasn't reauthorized by Congress.

Montana Legislature

Missoula representative Kimberly Dudik wants to do something about bullying in Montana Schools.

"Bullying is a big problem. There's been almost 3,000 Montana students that were suspended or expelled for bullying and harassment between 2012 and 2014."

Flickr user CleverCat (CC-BY-2.0)

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."

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
Courtesy photo

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.

shannonpatrick17 (CC-BY-2.0)

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.

Pallid sturgeon
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.

Google Maps

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."

Truckloads of drinking water are on their way to Glendive where a weekend oil spill along the Yellowstone River may have contaminated the community's water supply.

About 6,000 residents are advised to not drink or cook with city water. Up to 50,000 gallons of crude may have spilled when a Bridger Pipeline Company component failed Saturday morning. Officials say preliminary tests show at least some of the oil got into the city water treatment plant.

Loren Kearns (CC-BY-2.0)

Four more Montanans have been killed by the flu in the past week.

The state health department says a total of 6 people have now died from the virus this season. 270 people have been hospitalized and the flu has sickened over 2,100 Montanans so far this season.

Another 11 Montanans have been hospitalized due to Norovirus. The state health department says there have been 11 outbreaks of that virus that have sickened nearly 300 Montanans since October.

Jim Peaco (CC-BY-2.0)

Yellowstone National Park has started capturing bison near the park's north entrance and bison advocates have sued to stop it.

Disease management and carrying capacity are at the center of the operation.

Park spokesman Al Nash says a total of 800 to 900 bison that migrate out of the park could be removed.

"We're doing so to be able to approach the target bison population and to see if we can reduce the potential for a mass-migration of bison into Montana where there is still some limited tolerance."

A workshop Thursday at Salish Kootenai College in the Mission Valley features two advocates who work with both the victims of human trafficking, and those who perpetrate the crime.

MTPR's Edward O'Brien talks with Missoula Police Detective Guy Baker, a member of the FBI's Montana Regional Violent Crime Task Force, and Kat Werner, who manages YWCA Missoula's domestic and sexual violence program.

Baker says trafficking is so pervasive because "there's a lot of money to be made."

Wolverines are solitary animals. There are only an estimated 200 to 250 wolverines left in the lower 48 and they slowly reproduce.

The notoriously fierce carnivore favors rugged and remote places.

Consider yourself lucky if you see signs of one in the backcountry.

A group of amateur trackers led by professional scientists didn't see just one this weekend during a forest carnivore study held about an hour north of Helena.

Flu vaccine is available at Missoula’s city-county health department.
James Gathany (PD)

Influenza infections continue to pick up steam across Montana.
We reported earlier this week there's been a significant jump in Influenza activity in Montana.

Montana Health Department influenza surveillance coordinator, Elton Mosher, says the past couple of flu seasons were dominated by a more mild flu-strain known as "H1N1":

The chairman of a Montana Indian tribe says he thinks the federal government may formally recognize his tribe by the end of this year.

Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians’ Gerald Gray made that prediction one day after Montana's U.S senators introduced a bill to federally recognize the Great Falls-area tribe. The senators say Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke intends to introduce similar legislation in the U.S House.

Gray says federal recognition would be critically important to the Little Shell people who number about 6,500 members.

U.S. Forest Service Northern Region (CC-BY-2.0)

Sometimes the best things in life come from unexpected places. This was the case for Missoulian Dick Rothermel and his wife about 13 years ago when they stumbled across a modest cabin for sale on Seeley Lake-area Forest Service land.

Edward O'Brien

A group of Montanans who own cabins on Forest Service land thanked Republican Senator-elect Steve Daines today for a measure they say will allow them to keep those cherished cabins in their families.

Some cabin fees spiked from $5,000 to $20,000 within just a few years.

The Cabin Fee Act establishes a predictable fee-setting system for at least 700 Montana cabin owners.

The bill was included in the lands and resources legislation recently approved by Congress as a rider on a Defense spending bill.

Jim Peaco (CC-BY-2.0)

Yellowstone National Park officials hope a smartphone and tablet app sparks curiosity about science and the nation's park system.

The app called "NPS Yellowstone Geyers".

Park spokesman Al Nash says it helps users find out when Old Faithful and five other predictable geysers could erupt.

"We're looking to see how we can harness technology to help us better serve visitors."

Flickr user SBebee

Dupuyer-area rancher, Karl Rappold, is thrilled that the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act has finally passed.

"My grandparents and my mom and dad took care of this place. the bears and wolves and everything else. This is a historic deal for me to see that my grandkids and their grandkids will hopefully have this same view and this same region will be protected so it will never change," says Rappold.  

Last week Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act which now awaits President Obama's signature.

Courtesy Partnership Health Center

An important deadline is fast approaching for those who want an Affordable Care Act health plan that takes effect on January first. Applicants must be enrolled by the end of business on Monday, December 15.

Those who've already signed up, but want to make last minute changes, face the same deadline.

Partnership Health Center's Sandra Mytty says she and her staff have helped lots of people in the Missoula area select policies.

"We're actually doing really well. Since we started we've helped over 350 people since November 15 and we're still going."

Reynermedia.com (CC-BY-2.0)

Officials in 33 Montana counties are keenly aware of what's not in the trillion dollar federal spending bill to keep government open: an extension of the Secure Rural Schools, or SRS program, that Montana counties have relied on since 2000.

SRS funding is stripped out of the spending bill the House has been considering this week.

The SRS program was helps pay down school bonds and also funds road maintenance projects.

Mineral County Commissioner Laurie Johnston has a blunt assessment of the situation.