In early November, Jamie Olson, a federal Wildlife Services employee in Wyoming, told the Indy he made a “big-ass mistake” in posting several photos of live coyotes caught in leg-hold traps on Facebook and Twitter. Those photos, some of which appeared to show Olson’s dogs tormenting the trapped coyotes, outraged animal-rights groups and triggered an investigation.
Now it’s looking like an even bigger mistake.
The uproar has reached Washington, D.C., with U.S. Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., asking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for a broader investigation—“a thorough audit of Wildlife Services, especially its lethal predator control program, by the USDA Office of Inspector General regarding the culture within Wildlife Services.”
While coyotes in Wyoming are classified as a predator and can be legally hunted and trapped year-round without a license, Campbell and DeFazio wrote in a Nov. 30 letter to Vilsack (PDF) that Olson, who insisted the photos were taken on his personal time, “apparently committed acts of animal cruelty” that appear to violate federal directives and state law.
Campbell and DeFazio went on to say that if Olson is found to have committed such cruelty, it would bring “disrepute” to Wildlife Services and the federal government at a time when the agency “labors under heavy criticism for unnecessarily killing wild animals and lacking transparency and accountability.” The congressmen said they’re “gravely concerned” that the photos “reflect a deep-rooted problem” within the agency.
The investigation of Olson is being conducted by the Administrative, Investigations and Compliance Branch of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “It’s still considered to be an ongoing review,” Wildlife Services spokesperson Carol Bannerman said on Dec. 14.
As for the larger investigation Campbell and DeFazio are asking for, Bannerman could only say, “We’ve received the letter and an answer is being prepared and will be sent to the congressmen.”
Meanwhile, more than 45,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org asking Vilsack to fire Olson.
Montana turns its focus to mountain lions in Bitterroot study
At midpoint of a three-year study of elk in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists were surprised to learn the role mountain lions have played in elk deaths, and they have begun a yearlong study of the big cats in the valley to learn more about that population.
Ravalli Republic; Dec. 17
Bakken Oil money flows into Montana businesses
While oil production in Montana from the Bakken formation hasn't yet really ramped up, the effect of increased production in North Dakota is bleeding over the border, with private jet traffic up at the Billings International Airport and business is booming at Billings jewelry stores and auto dealerships.
Billings Gazette; Dec. 16
This week, the threats robots pose to humanity.
Curses, Foiled Again
Three men stole items from a property in Moultonborough, N.H., after advertising them as giveaways on Craigslist even before they were stolen. Police believe the posts were meant to provide an alibi, so they could claim they were merely responding to the advertised offer of free items. “It is very bold, especially when you put that out on the internet, and others are viewing it at the same time, probably going to show up as well,” Detective Stephen Kessler said. After determining the property owner had no intention of giving the items away, police staked out the address and nabbed the suspects in the act. (Manchester’s WMUR-TV)
This week, a beverage that goes great with your ugly Christmas sweater.
Why you’re drinking it: Because the holidays are here, it’s cold out and you want something warm, sweet and strong to sip—and because any beverage that’s “buttered” has to be good.
Where to find it: Lots of places. We recently sampled The Depot’s version ($6) and found it to be excellent, which doesn’t surprise, considering that the ingredients are butter, vanilla ice cream, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and, of course, rum.
Or make it at home: Turns out, The Depot and other bars and restaurants around town make theirs using Zim’s Hot Buttered Rum Mix, made by Doug Zimamer, owner of Grizzly Liquor in downtown Missoula. “It’s an old recipe I’ve had for years,” Zimamer says. Grizzly Liquor sells 12-ounce containers of the mix for $4.75. “We’ll sell it all the way through February, or as long as the weather stays cold,” he says.
Instructions: Depot bartender Lance Carl says to simply mix a tablespoon of Zim’s, a shot of rum and hot water in a small glass and stir. If you’re looking for a cold-weather drink sans butter and ice cream, Carl recommends The Depot’s “HotChata,” which is RumChata in hot chocolate.
Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Western governors struggle with longer wildfire seasons, dwindling budgets
Colorado had its worst wildfire season ever, with the Waldo Canyon fire destroying 350 homes in four hours and a wildfire still burning in Rocky Mountain National Park forced the evacuation of homes near Estes Park on Dec. 1, and governors across the West are facing a hotter, drier future with less funding for fighting wildfires.
Great Falls Tribune (Stateline.org); Dec. 14
Montana's wolf trapping season opens Saturday
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said 2,400 people took the classes necessary to be certified to trap wolves in the state's first mandated trapping season that opens Saturday.
Great Falls Tribune; Dec. 14
Montana wildlife commission's closure of wolf hunt areas questioned
The decision made Monday by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to close wolf hunts in areas bordering Yellowstone National Park may have violated state law in that the item on the agenda was identified as informational and not an action item.
Helena Independent Record; Dec. 14
Billionaire brothers from Texas quietly buying up Montana ranches
In the past two years, Farris and Dan Wilks have spent millions of dollars to purchase 276,000 acres in seven counties in eastern Montana, adding to their portfolio of real estate that includes holdings in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Kansas and Texas.
Billings Gazette; Dec. 13
Cloudy skies in the West may obscure tonight's meteor shower
One of the two largest meteor showers of the year, the Geminid meteor shower, is tonight, although cloudy skies are forecast for much of the Rocky Mountain West.
USA Today; Dec. 13
Last week, Clearing Up, a subscription-only trade publication that covers Northwest energy markets, reported that PPL Montana is looking to sell all of its electricity-generation assets in the state. The article, authored by Ben Tansey, states that the company has hired the investment bank UBS to shop its portfolio of coal and hydroelectric facilities, which includes the company’s quarter-share of the Colstrip Generating Station, the second-largest coal-fired plant west of the Mississippi.
Clearing Up is the third trade publication in recent months to report that PPL Montana, a subsidiary of PPL Corp., wants to divest of its two coal plants and 11 hydroelectric plants in Montana. In September, Sparkspread reported that PPL Montana sought to sell its share in Colstrip. In November, Power Intelligence wrote that PPL Montana’s assets “are being marketed as a bundle, but PPL may entertain bids for individual assets depending on what offers come in, deal watchers say.”
PPL Montana spokesman David Hoffman declined to comment on what he calls “market rumors.”
Pat Barkey, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, who recently conducted an economic analysis of the Colstrip plant, says he wouldn’t be surprised if the reports prove true. He cites “lethargic electricity demand” coming off the recession, “relentless pressure from natural gas,” which is very cheap, and the uncertainty of new regulatory requirements at coal-fired plants.
“I think it’s a pretty big deal for Montana,” Barkey says. “I don’t think any of those issues will change whether PPL owns it or not.”
The Clearing Up article mentions NorthWestern Energy as one “obvious candidate” for acquiring the assets. It also notes that pending lawsuits against Coltrip’s owners may complicate a deal. On Dec. 1, the Montana Environment Information Center and the Sierra Club filed a notice of intent to sue PPL Montana and Colstrip’s other owners—Puget Sound Energy, Portland General Electric Company, Avista Corporation, PacifiCorp and NorthWestern Energy—for violating the Clean Air Act.
“You have to wonder who’s going to want these assets, and what they’re going to want to do with them, and what that might mean for Montana ratepayers,” says MEIC’s Anne Hedges. “My guess is that they want to get out of the coal business because coal is not making money. Natural gas is where the game is being played these days...Who’s going to want a dirty old coal plant?”
Interior Department releases plan to tighten rules on wild horse sales
After a ProPublica investigation this fall found that a buyer in Colorado had bought 70 percent of the wild horses sold at Bureau of Land Management auctions since 2009, and that he had resold the animals, many of which could not be accounted for, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced new restrictions on the sales of wild horses.
Colorado Springs Gazette; Dec. 10
Hunters kill two wolves collared for research in Wyoming national park
Thirteen wolves have been killed in hunting areas that border Grand Teton National Park, including two radio-collared wolves, and while wildlife managers said they're not concerned about the loss of wolves that roam the park, they are concerned about the emotions the killing of radio-collared wolves may evoke.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; Dec. 12
Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.
ARIES (March 21-April 19): Can you manage to be both highly alert and deeply relaxed? Could you be wildly curious and yet also serenely reflective? Can you imagine yourself being extra hungry to crack life’s secrets but also at peace with your destiny exactly the way it is? If you can honestly answer yes to those questions, you’ll get a lot of help in the coming week. The universe may even seem to be conspiring to educate you and heal you. You will receive a steady flow of clues about how to get closer to living your dreams.
Sandy Welch isn’t getting her recount.
The 2012 Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction lost to Democratic incumbent Denise Juneau by a mere 2,231 votes. The narrow margin prompted Welch to challenge the results, alleging widespread Election Day concerns including ballot machine errors and inappropriate handling of spoiled ballots. A district judge in Flathead County ruled in Welch’s favor last week and ordered her to post a $115,000 bond to pay for a statewide manual recount.
The Montana Republican Party, however, announced Tuesday its fundraising effort fell short of meeting the $115,000. Neither the GOP nor Welch’s campaign reported nearly enough cash in the bank on Nov. 26 to fund the bond. There was some hope that the Republican National Committee would back a portion of both the bond and the cost of hiring Welch’s lead attorney, James Bopp. According to Montana GOP Executive Director Bowen Greenwood, that “wasn’t a successful fundraising effort” and the GOP fell “pretty short” of raising the total on its own.
“We had reason to hope that we could persuade [the RNC] to donate enough funds to cover most of the bond,” Greenwood says. “However, that just didn’t prove to be the case.”
Welch did manage to snatch one victory from the ordeal—a win she and the GOP were quick to boast about. While the recount is off, the investigation launched at Welch’s request could provide additional fodder for conservatives challenging Montana’s voting laws. This year’s election was full of claims of widespread voter fraud, particularly from candidates such as Republican Secretary of State hopeful Brad Johnson, and the GOP went so far on election night as to challenge ballots in a variety of counties including Missoula.
“Sandy won a great victory for us in what she got done in court,” Greenwood says. “At this point now, there is a legal ruling that Montana’s election laws were not followed in some of those procedures. There is a ruling that some vote-counting machines don’t work as accurately as others...and Sandy’s victory in getting that ruling is a great service to every Republican in Montana.”
And that might explain why Welch took her recount request directly to a judge instead of Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, the state’s chief election officer.
Welch has publicly offered to make details from her case available to anyone concerned about Montana’s voting system. Greenwood hopes that, as the 2013 legislative session begins, lawmakers planning to discuss changes to election laws take her up on the offer.
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