Eric Whitney

News Director

Eric Whitney is the news director for Montana Public Radio.

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Fishing the Yellowstone River
Flikr user: Mirrur Image (CC-BY-NC)

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks this morning closed an approximately 180-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River, and nearby tributaries, due to what it’s calling an “unprecedented” fish kill.

The agency estimates that tens of thousands of fish have died this week from a parasite that causes kidney disease. Most of those are mountain whitefish, but there have been reports of dead rainbow and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

Mike Albans

When the U.S. Department of Justice started looking into how sexual assault cases were handled in Missoula in 2012, they found a lot of problems. That led the Department to try to establish oversight of the Missoula County Prosecutor’s office.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox ended up taking on that role. Yesterday, he said that his office’s oversight spelled out in a special legal agreement is no longer required.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox with Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst. Fox says the Missoula County Attorney's Office is now full in compliance with a 2014 agreement to improve its handling of sexual assault cases.
Mike Albans

Attorney General Tim Fox says the Missoula County Attorney's Office is now in full compliance with a 2014 agreement to improve its handling of sexual assault cases.

A 2012 federal investigation found sexual assaults were a low priority in the county attorney's office, and that county prosecutors lacked the training to investigate and prosecute such cases. It also found that victims of rape by acquaintances were often treated with disrespect.

Eric Whitney

There's something unusual about how kidney dialysis is done in Helena.

Nationwide, more than 400,000 Americans have kidney disease so bad that they need regular dialysis – meaning they have to connect to a machine for several hours at least three times a week to clean their blood of toxins.

“They have to come at a certain time, so it's very scheduled, very regimented, and their time is not their own,” says Dr. Robert LaClair, a nephrologist, or kidney specialist at St. Peter's hospital in Helena.

In response to our August 4 interview with Bitterroot National Forest District Ranger Eric Winthers about the forest thinning project in the area of the Roaring Lion Fire, and the litigation over it, Forest Spokesman Tod McKay offered the following clarifications:  

Shortly after the Roaring Lion Fire broke out July 31st, charges and  counter-charges flew that a lawsuit or lawsuits had or had not stopped US Forest Service attempts to log or thin the affected area to reduce fire danger. 

I interviewed the Bitterroot National Forest's District Ranger about that on August 1st, you can read that interview, edited only for clarity, in its entirety below. 

On August 5th Bitterroot National Forest Public Affairs Officer Tod McKay sent me the following email: 

"I just want to clarify something that may have been a little confusing.  It was in response to your question on timing when you asked, 'so you guys were literally within weeks of getting out there and doing some treatment to reduce fire dangers?”' Eric (Winteher)’s response, 'Yes, the Forest Supervisor had signed the decision, and we were proceeding ahead, getting ready to get that going.'

Just a couple of clarifications on this.

  1.  We were a couple of weeks away from working on the contract to implement this project—i.e., not a couple of weeks away from on-the-ground thinning or logging. We expected to award a contract in September (before the end of the FY) and that work would begin in the winter.
  1. The lawsuit was filed July 26, 2016. Plaintiffs requested an injunction but none has been issued to date. In other words, we had no reason to, nor any plan to alter the Westside Project timeline at the point in time when the Roaring Lion Fire started.

We hope this helps clear-up confusion regarding the actual ‘start time’ of the project and are sorry that we weren’t more clear in the interview. "

We have also reached out to the attorney's for the litigants in the lawsuit, asking for comment, and have not heard back at this time. 

We regret any confusion caused by publishing incorrect information given to us by the Bitterroot National Forest, and plan to follow up with additional reporting on this story. 

-Eric Whitney, News Director, Montana Public Radio. 

Part of the Bitterroot National Forest that’s burning in the Roaring Lion fire southwest of Hamilton was just a couple of weeks away from being logged and thinned – both to sell timber and to reduce fire danger. But a lawsuit filed three weeks after the project was approved put a halt to it.

Timber sales and thinning projects can have an impact on whether wildfires start and their ability to spread, but don't necessarily guarantee improved fire safety.

Firefighters call the Roaring Lion Fire one of the worst they've ever seen. A common refrain among evacuees: The Forest Service should more aggressively thin forests to prevent fires and create jobs.


Roaring Lion Fire
Eric Whitney

Neighbors are helping neighbors in Hamilton as the 35-hundred acre Roaring Lion fire rages southwest of town.

Roaring Lion Fire
Eric Whitney

The Ravalli County Sheriff’s office confirmed that at least 14 homes have been lost in the Roaring Lion fire. They say that number may grow as they continue to visually check each property in the burn area. Specific addresses are being withheld until owners of all the lost homes can be notified individually.

Find the most current Montana wildfire news here. The wildfire roundups are updated throughout the day.