Edward O'Brien

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U.S. Forest Service issued a press release late Thursday to clarify the intent behind the proposed directive for commercial photography and filmmaking in Congressionally designated wilderness areas.

The Forest Service describes it as a good faith effort to ensure wilderness areas are protected.

Critics say it essentially gives the agency story-approval power.

Montana’s entire congressional delegation today called for the rule to be clarified and re-drafted.

Danny Dauterive

Montana Public Radio’s Edward O’Brien sat down with Algonquin Power and Utilities CEO Ian Robertson. Robertson says "we would like to be part of the Montana utility landscape forever."

Kurt Wilson- Missoulian

The Missoulian newspaper is welcoming a new publisher.

Mark Heintzelman says newspaper reporters face new challenges in gathering news and their readers want to access those stories in brand new ways. Heintzelman says it's his job to help both accomplish their goals.

He succeeds Jim McGowan who's now working as the Missoulian's Sales and Marketing director.

Heintzleman comes to the Garden City from Carlisle, Pennsylvania where he most recently worked as the publisher of The Sentinel newspaper.

Josh Burnham

Another enrollment drop at the University of Montana.

A total of 13,952 students enrolled at UM this fall semester. That's 573 fewer than a year ago.

This time last year, UM recorded over 400 fewer students than the prior year.

UM spokeswoman, Peggy Kuhr, says this semester's enrollment drop was not a surprise:

Danny Dauterive

A large fire that ignited yesterday in Missoula's Miller Creek drainage no longer presents a threat to Northwestern Energy high voltage power lines, communication towers on Dean Stone Mountain or local homes.

An overheated chainsaw muffler sparked the Lost Mine Loop fire. Miller Creek Road remains closed to all but fire crews and local traffic.The fire is now estimated to encompass 153 acres and is 75 percent contained.

Montana DNRC

Investigators say an overheated chainsaw side muffler ignited a wildfire that started yesterday afternoon in Missoula's Miller Creek drainage.

That fire now has a name - The Lost Mine Loop fire. It started Sunday afternoon around 2:00.  A flight survey will arrive today to determine the size of the fire, which is estimated to be greater than 60 acres.

Edward O'Brien

It looks like Missoula's city water system could be sold to a Canadian company.

Liberty Utilities, a subsidiary of Algonquin Power & Utilities, has reached an agreement with The Carlyle Group, which currently owns Missoula's water system.

Algonquin is expected to pay an estimated $327 million for Missoula's system and three other utilities. That price includes assumption of about $77 million of existing long-term debt.

A Canadian utility has reached an agreement with global equity firm, The Carlyle Group, to acquire the parent company of Missoula's Mountain Water  Company.

Park Water owns and operates three water utilities that serve approximately 74-thousand customers in Southern California and Western Montana.

Colstrip power plant
Flicker User ambib (CC-BY-NC)

Montana's coal-fired power plants emit as much carbon dioxide as Mongolia, a country of almost 3 million people. That’s according to a new study from Environment Montana’s Research and Policy Center.

It says PPL's Colstrip power plant emits the majority of CO2 in Montana, about 13 million of the state's more than 15 million metric tons.

Dirk-Jan Kraan (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

It was a record summer for passenger traffic at Missoula International Airport.

Deputy Director Brian Ellestad says 240,830 passengers flew in and out of Missoula this summer.

That's almost 33,000 more than last summer.

According to Ellestad, people are responding to recently added airline service. 

The US House has unanimously passed a bill ensuring that certain tribal government programs and services won't be taxed by the I.R.S.

The “Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act” was drawn up in response to an I.R.S request to perform an audit on a tribal program providing school supplies to children. In another incident, the agency wanted to deem a wheelchair ramp for a disabled tribal member a taxable benefit.

Henry Cage is a council member of the Oregon's Lummi Nation and Taxation Committee Chair of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

In this evening's feature interview with Edward O'Brien, Michael Downey with Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation explains why it's taken over 20 years to update Montana's water plan:

The existing Montana State Water Plan is long overdue for an update.

The existing plan guides the conservation and management of Montana's water resources.

It is currently over 20 years old and fails to address contemporary issues and challenges faced by water users today.

Highway deaths in Montana have dropped by almost 18 percent from this time last year.

The director of the Montana Department of Transportation says that's impressive, but adds that more needs to be done.

Mike Tooley says 132 people have died so far on Montana's highways. Last year, there were a total of 159 fatalities.

Gordon McLean (CC-NC-BY-2.0)

Missoula’s water company has secured enough water for a new development in Missoula.

Ross Miller, Missoula Mountain Water's chief legal officer says getting a new water rights permit is not easy. There aren’t any more permits to draw water from the Clark Fork or Bitterroot rivers.

"You can get a new groundwater permit," Miller says, "however, you have to mitigate the effects of that new permit on the river flows. What that essentially means is all the water you consumptively use with a new groundwater permit, you have to put back into the river."

Montana's candidates for federal office are weighing in on President Obama's intent to unleash military strikes on the so-called "Islamic State" extremist organizations.

Obama last week announced his counter-terrorism campaign to use intel, training and airstrikes to weaken and destroy Islamic radical groups know by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.

Cherie Newman

Before becoming  senior news analyst, Sally Mauk spent three decades as Montana Public Radio's news director.

Sally retired in late May, opening the door - and a lengthy search process - for a new leader who will guide the MTPR newsroom into the future.

And that person is Eric Whitney. Whitney comes to Montana from Colorado where he spent over 20 years working in various Public Radio positions. One of them was news director at the NPR affiliate in Colorado Springs.
Whitney's also an experienced and well-versed freelance journalist.

Mother Nature gave Montana a real one-two punch of cold weather yesterday, and forecasters say it's going to get even colder tonight. 

First, a blustery low-pressure system moved into the state yesterday afternoon. The winds died down and the skies cleared early this morning. That allowed those temperatures to plummet.

Loren Kearns (CC-BY-2.0)

As we reported yesterday, a Montana child has contracted the virus that’s suspected of sickening hundreds of children in at least 10 states. That child fell ill in Yellowstone County.

The state health department is sending samples from other suspected cases to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention for further testing.

Experts say enterovirus D68 can be tricky to both diagnose and treat.

It can cause mild cold-like symptoms including runny noses, coughing and wheezing.

Missoulian Sam Redfern is paying particularly close attention to the ongoing Veterans Administration hearings. VA officials are holding meetings nationwide to address questions about scheduling problems, long waits and other problems facing veterans seeking care from the VA system.

Redfern is an Iraq combat veteran who serves as president of an organization called The United States of Hope, which provides a variety of services to veterans.

The University of Montana student who was reported missing yesterday after failing to return from a weekend fishing trip is safe and is on his way home. 21-year-old August Kramer told his roommate this weekend that he was going fishing, but didn't say where. Volunteer searchers have been searching for Kramer along the U.S. 12 corridor all day. Missoula County Sheriff Office spokeswoman, Paige Pavalone, says Kramer's mom has been in contact with her son, he's OK and on his way back into Missoula. No further details were released.

NRCS - Montana

Governor Steve Bullock issued an executive order today that he says will help protect sage grouse and ensure the bird remains under state - not federal - management.

Sage grouse are found in 11 states. They've lost over half their historic habitat to development.

Bullock says the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program provides incentives for landowners to conserve important habitat. It establishes what are called "no surface occupancy zones" around key breeding areas where resource extraction work would be prohibited.

YellowstoneNPS (CC-BY-2.0)

Yellowstone National Park is on track to have one of its highest visitation years on record.

Park officials say more than 2.7 million people have visited the park so far this year. That's up six percent over the same period last year.

Gardiner-area business owner, Peggy Hoppe, says it's been a very busy summer.

The Hoppe's run North Yellowstone Vacation Rentals, offering one-room cabins on a working ranch near Yellowstone's north entrance:

The Montana Public Service Commission has approved Northwestern Energy's $870-million-dollar plan to buy eleven hydroelectric dams.

The dams included in the sale are on the Missouri, Madison, Clark Fork and Flathead rivers. They used to be owned by Montana Power Company, but PPL purchased them during the deregulation movement in the late 90's.

The commission voted 4 to 1 to approve the deal. Commissioner Travis Kavulla opposed the plan.

The typical Northwestern customer could see their electric rates rise by about $5-dollars a month to help pay for the sale.

Edward O'Brien

An 11-story building sounds fairly tall, right? It feels even taller when you're on top of one looking down.

Missoula firefighters spent a few hours using the University of Montana's 11-story Aber Hall dormitory this week for their monthly training exercise.
MFD Captain Chad Kidd says the crew used the estimated 110-foot dorm to practice  "High Angle Rescue Techniques":

: Joel Sartore, National Geographic and Wade Fredenberg USFWS

The leader of a Montana conservation group says it’s prepared to file an eleventh lawsuit if the federal government doesn’t change its bull trout recovery plan.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has successfully sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over bull trout recovery ten times in the past.

Bull trout are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48.

Rainbow Dam
Dan Boyce

The chairman of the agency that regulates Montana's public utilities says he supports Northwestern Energy's $870-million-dollar proposal to purchase 11 hydroelectric dams from PPL Montana.

The PSC board is scheduled to cast a vote on the purchase tomorrow.

Public Service Commission Chairman Bill Gallagher says there's … risk... associated with an acquisition of this size, but adds the potential benefits are substantial.  

Gallagher says not only would the purchase stabilize rates but bring diversity to power production in Montana:

MCPS

Missoula County Public School officials have suspended Sentinel High School principal Tom Blakely and Vice Principal Libby Oliver.

The unusual move comes barely a full week into the start of the 2014 school year.

Edward O'Brien spoke with M-C-P-S spokeswoman Hatton Littman to find out more.
 

Scott Davidson (CC-BY-2.0)

Montana Highway Patrol officers who cover Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli and Sanders Counties took 13 drunk drivers off the road during the week leading up to Labor Day weekend.

Edward O'Brien

The Missoula County Sheriff’s/Coroner’s Office has identified the victim in yesterday's FoxClub Cabaret shooting as 23-year-old Christopher Michael Hymel, of Louisiana.

A sheriff's department press release says: "The cause of death was due to a single gunshot wound to the chest by manner of homicide."

It's September 1st and that means another school year's underway.

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau, has kicked off a series of back to school visits which she'll continue over the course of the next several weeks.
Juneau says she enjoys meeting with faculty and administrators  - and especially students - to figure out what's working in our schools and what could use some improvement.

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