public land

House Committee Approves Measure To Open Parks To Paddling

Oct 8, 2015
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted Thursday to lift longstanding restrictions on kayaks, rafts and other "hand-propelled" vessels on hundreds of miles of rivers and streams in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted Thursday to lift longstanding restrictions on kayaks, rafts and other "hand-propelled" vessels on hundreds of miles of rivers and streams in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Conservation and angling groups opposed paddling in those areas, saying existing restrictions preserve the solitude and wildness of the parks' waterways while allowing boats on many lakes and some rivers. The measure from U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., passed on a 23-15 vote and now goes to the full House.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund which uses fees paid by offshore oil and gas drilling companies for conservation programs, has suffered a significant defeat in Congress.

Brad Johnson, former Montana secretary of state, current chair of the state Public Service Commission, and now candidate for governor.
Josh Burnham

Last week Brad Johnson formally announced his candidacy for governor. A former Montana secretary of state, he currently serves as chair of the state Public Service Commission. He joined Montana Public Radio's Eric Whitney for an interview.

Greater sage grouse. The Department of Interior announced it's decision today not to recommend endangered species protections for the bird.

Governor Steve Bullock says Tuesday’s decision to not recommend endangered species protection for the greater sage grouse is good for both industry and conservationists.

A crew working in the Bob Marshall Wilderness rebuilds a main line trail that was damaged during a fire this summer.
Corin Cates-Carney

Hunting and fishing licenses generate about $48 million a year in Montana, and 70 percent of that revenue comes from people from out of state. But this year some of those hunters and fishers had to cancel their trips because of the intense fire season. And that makes it tough on the businesses that serve them.

Glacier National Park
Flickr user photommo (CC-BY-ND)

Glacier National Park is increasing entrance fees this fall. The fees will go up again in the spring, and some campgrounds will cost more in the spring, too.

Starting November 1, Glacier ups the price of a seven-day vehicle entrance fee by $5 to $20. Motorcycle fees will also go up $5.

The fees will go up again in May, to $30 per car and $25 per motorcycle.

In January the cost of an annual pass to Glacier will go up $10, to $45.

Members of the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation hear comments on proposed drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine area in Choteau, MT Sept. 2, 2015
Corin Cates-Carney

The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation held a meeting in Choteau Wednesday evening on proposed drilling on U.S. Forest Service land in the Badger-Two Medicine area. The council is trying to understand how and if the exploration for natural gas can comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.

Map of Solenex Lease site in the Badger-Two Medicine near Glacier National Park
Courtesy Montana Wilderness Association

Wednesday brings another round in the decades-long fight over whether to allow energy development on U.S. Forest Service land in the Badger-Two Medicine area just south of the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.

Sen. Tester urged the crowd to advocate for LWCF funding at an August 24 rally in Missoula, MT.
Josh Burnham

About 60 people rallied in Missoula's McCormick Park Monday afternoon to urge Congressional support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Voices For, Against Coal Royalty Reform Heard In Billings

Aug 12, 2015
Commenters line up to speak during a Billings meeting on coal royalty reforms, Tuesday, August 11.
Jackie Yamanaka - Yellowstone Public Radio

An overflow crowd packed the Montana/Dakota’s BLM state office in Billings to speak on the federal coal program Tuesday. The agency is seeking comment on possible changes to make sure it’s obtaining the full economic value for the mining of federal coal. Comments ranged from whether the government is getting enough revenue, to climate change, to the "war on coal."

Coal Royalties Listening Tour Stops In Billings Tuesday

Aug 10, 2015
U.S. Geological Survey

The federal government’s controversial coal program is the subject of a public listening session in Billings Tuesday. It’s the first of four planned throughout the heart of American coal country. The Department of Interior is encouraging the public to enter the fray.

Arial photo of the Salmond Ranch area
Flickr User Sam Bebee (CC-BY-2)

Hunters, a wildlife group and the Bullock administration are hailing the settlement of a decades-old road dispute west of Choteau, MT that restores public access to about 50,000 acres of public land along the Rocky Mountain Front.

U.S. Capitol building.
Flickr user Tim McKee (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

The U.S. House has passed legislation designed to improve the health of national forests by scaling back the environmental reviews that go into some timber projects, and making it harder to file lawsuits that delay thinning projects.

Montana Republican Ryan Zinke is co-sponsoring the bill.

Lower Two Medicine Lake and Sinopah Mountain at sunset.
flickr user Ryan McKee (CC-BY-ND-2.0)

The Blackfeet Tribe has withdrawn from talks with the U.S. Government over natural gas drilling leases on land considered sacred by the Blackfeet people.

Louisiana company Solenex holds drilling leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Flathead National Forest

The latest in our series of interviews on the new draft management plan for the Flathead National Forest is with Keith Hammer, chair of the Swan View Coalition, and Arlene Montgomery, the program director for Friends of the Wild Swan.

The Flathead National Forest’s scoping period for public comments on its draft management plan runs through May 15th.

Cow bison with a newly born calf in Yellowstone National Park
Neal Herbert - Yellowstone National Park (CC-BY-2.0)

Yellowstone National Park might tolerate thousands more bison by 2017, or perhaps hundreds fewer. State and federal wildlife managers are developing a new Yellowstone bison management plan and several options are on the table.

House Approves Bill Requesting Payment From Feds For Public Land Sales

Apr 10, 2015
Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R) SD7
Montana Legislature

Today at the Montana Legislature, state Representatives voted to pass a bill that would request that the federal government pay Montana five percent of all public land sales.

Senate Bill 298’s sponsor, Republican Senator Jennifer Fielder says that because the Forest Service split from the Department of the Interior, Montanans haven’t been getting their cut of the land sales because the federal government only monitors Department of Interior sales.

F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls, MT
Eric Whitney

We’re continuing our series of interviews on the new management plan for the Flathead National Forest. We’ve heard from the Forest Service and the Montana Wilderness Association so far. This time we’re talking to a prominent timber company executive.

Paul McKenzie is the lands and resource manager at F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls. I spoke to him in his office.

Flathead National Forest

The Flathead National Forest is revising its forest plan for the first time since 1986. The plan lays out what is and isn’t possible on 2.4 million acres of federal land from Seeley Lake to the Canadian border.

These Bills Died In The First Half Of The Montana Legislature's Session

Mar 3, 2015
William Marcus

Nearly 350 bill proposals have died in the Montana Legislature’s first half. Because of that, here’s some of what will stay the same in the state.

The minimum wage won’t increase for a while, speed limits will stay at 75, physicians can still aid terminal patients in dying, and the state's death penalty stands. People can still be thrown out of their house or fired for their gender identity or sexual expression.

The federal government will still be able to sell public lands in Montana. Brewers still have to jump through legal hoops to get a liquor license for a bar.

Legislators: Montana Entitled To Money From Public Land Sales

Feb 26, 2015
Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R) SD7
Montana Legislature

Thursday, the Montana Senate passed a bill to ask the Federal Government to pay up for lands they’ve sold off.

Republican Representative Jennifer Fielder says under the Enabling Act, the Government is supposed to pay the state 5 percent of whatever money it makes selling off public lands. Fielder said they’ve been shirking this duty, costing Montana money intended for schools.

“They’ve really never been asked for this, I think it’s just a small detail that’s been overlooked for a very long time.”

Courtesy photo

Today in Missoula, Senator Steve Daines held the second of three meetings he’s called to talk timber issues. He’ll do the same in Bozeman tomorrow.

The Republican Freshman Senator is calling the meetings “Timber Management Reform Roundtables,” and he’s invited mostly timber industry representatives to give him input on what they need to maintain or grow their operations.

Prohibition On Federal Land Sales Dies In Committee

Feb 19, 2015
Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R) SD7
Montana Legislature

A bill that would ban the federal government from selling public lands died today at the Montana Legislature, mostly because opponents said it is unconstitutional.

courtesy photo

Yesterday, in a story about attempts to boost revenue for Montana counties that are mostly federal land, Montana Senator Jon Tester made the following statement: 

"Unfortunately, every logging sale in Montana right now is under litigation. Every one of them."

Several listeners questioned that statement, so we asked Senator Tester to respond. 

His communications director Marnee Banks said he is unavailable this week.

Eric Whitney

Montana's U.S. senators are getting behind a new bill they say will help Montana's most rural counties round-out their budgets.

Mineral County Commissioner Duane Simons says communities like his are reeling after Congress failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools Act last fall.

FH Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls, MT
Eric Whitney

Tuesday in Columbia Falls, Senator Steve Daines kicked off a series of three meetings in western Montana that he’s calling “Forest Management Reform Roundtables.”

Around the table were executives from three timber mills, county commissioners from Sanders, Lincoln and Mineral counties, and Montana leaders of The Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy,  and the National Parks Conservation Organization.

Montana’s new Senator, Republican Steve Daines, is asking Montanans for their input on how to better manage public lands in the state, but some conservation groups are wondering if he really wants to hear from them.

Rick Potts, who’s on the Montana Wilderness Association’s state council, is troubled by some recent Daines votes.

"I know my colleagues in the Montana Wilderness Association and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers as well, feel like they’ve been sucker punched. They didn’t see this coming."

News Roundup, Week 4 At The Montana Legislature

Feb 2, 2015
William Marcus

In the middle of the fourth week of the 64th Montana Legislature, Gov. Steve Bullock took the rostrum in the House of Representatives with a big smile.

“The state of our state is strong,” Bullock said, beginning his State of the State address.

Bullock touted his fiscal discipline and pushed his big legislative priorities, getting multiple standing ovations from Democrats and occasional claps from a few Republicans.

Leaders Call For Bipartisanship On Legislature's Opening Day

Jan 5, 2015
Courtesy Montana Legislature

This was opening day for the 64th session of the Montana Legislature. There was the usual pomp and circumstance, but there was also some real history being made.

Republican Debby Barrett of Dillon became the first woman to take the gavel as Senate president. She was selected by her Republican colleagues during caucuses back in November, but the full Senate made it official Monday on a unanimous voice vote.

Barrett suggested that the legislature has lost some of  its stature, and she aims to rectify that.

Courtesy Photo

People who worked to pass the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act celebrated on a ranch outside of Choteau today.

The Heritage Act was first introduced in Congress in 2011. Speaking to people celebrating on Dusty Crary’s ranch Thursday, Senator Jon Tester praised the hard work over many years before and since then that it took to put it together. It passed as part of a package of bills that were attached to a Defense spending bill.