Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.
Montana's annual wolf survey finds lower numbers but more packs
For the first time since 2004, Montana's wolf population has decreased, with the 2012 survey indicating there are at least 625 wolves in 147 packs in the state, with 59 wolves in 13 packs in the Bitterroot Valley.
Ravalli Republic; March 22
The Republican National Committee unveiled a comprehensive 100-page report earlier this week containing detailed strategies it hopes will carry the GOP to victory in 2014. The report—now the template for the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project—marks a concerted effort by Republicans to revise the party’s playbook and appeal to voter groups that conservatives have so far failed to win over.
How earnest that desire is to usher more Hispanics, African-Americans and women into the Republican fold, however, is debatable. Buried on page 67 of the report, under recommendations for reviewing and revising state campaign finance laws, is a measure calling for the development of model legislation that can be replicated in statehouses nationwide. Among the organizations the RNC says “may wish to take a leading role” in the effort is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a group with a less-than-inclusive track record on minority issues.
Watchdog groups have repeatedly decried ALEC, which strives to give state legislators and corporate representatives an equal voice and vote on issue-based task forces, as nothing short of a corporate “bill mill.” ALEC’s extensive library of model legislation includes a bill based on Florida’s 2005 “stand your ground” law, a bill requiring parental consent for minors seeking an abortion, and a bill inspired by Arizona’s hotly contested—and constitutionally questionable—anti-illegal immigration measure. Montana Rep. David Howard introduced two immigration reform bills in the 2013 Legislature bearing similar or identical language to ALEC’s controversial model.
ALEC’s been a constant player in the Montana Legislature over the years. Another bill introduced this session—Rep. Jonathan McNiven’s House Bill 390—contained several verbatim passages from an ALEC model establishing a special needs scholarship program that would incentive enrollment of disabled students in nonpublic schools. The bill died in committee. ALEC recently posted hundreds of its model bills online in response to pressure from watchdogs, including a copy of what it calls the "Special Needs Scholarship Program Act."
The fact the RNC would cite ALEC as a possible leader in model legislation seems odd enough, considering the overarching goal of diversifying the party’s voter base. But the report lists only the RNC and the Republican State Leadership Committee as additional examples of organizations who could lead the model legislation effort—raising ALEC to the level of an equal. That particular section of the Growth and Opportunity Project report may only address model legislation on state campaign finance issues. Then again, ALEC’s effort to quash same-day voter registration was partly the reason dozens of corporate members abandoned the nonprofit last year.
Montana researcher finds alarming levels of selenium in B.C.s Elk River
As part of a larger study on water quality in the Flathead River, University of Montana researcher Richard Hauer collected water samples from the Elk River in British Columbia, and found "selenium levels routinely 10-time-plus what we were observing in the Flathead. … Nitrate is 1,000 to 5,000 times higher; sulphate is a 100-fold increase,” and that the higher levels were directly attributable to coal mining in the Elk Valley.
Toronto Globe and Mail; March 21
Senate panel votes 19-3 to advance nomination of Jewell for Interior
The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 19-to-3 today to send President Barack Obama's nomination for Sally Jewell to be Interior secretary to the full Senate for a vote, with Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott casting votes against her confirmation.
Salt Lake Tribune; March 21
Global Clean Energy Holdings Inc. buys Montana-based Sustainable Oils
Bozeman-based Sustainable Oils, which worked to develop a biofuel out of camelina in Montana, has been purchased by Global Clean Energy Holdings Inc., an international holding company that most recently worked to develop a biofuel from the fruit of the tropical jatropha bush.
Billings Gazette; March 20
Colorado governor signs gun bills into law
On Tuesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed bills that would limit gun magazines to 15 rounds, require background checks for private and online gun sales and require gun purchasers to pay fees for background checks.
Denver Post; March 20
Chevron pipeline leak forces closure of portion of Utah state park
Parts of the Willard Bay State Park on the edge of the Great Salt Lake in Utah were closed on Tuesday as Chevron crews worked to contain diesel fuel leaking from its pipeline.
Salt Lake Tribune; March 20
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): "Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings," says poet Muriel Rukeyser in her poem "Elegy in Joy." "Not all things are blest," she continues, "but the seeds of all things are blest. The blessing is in the seed." I urge you to adopt this perspective in the coming weeks, Aries. Be extra sweet and tender and reverent toward anything that is just sprouting, toward anything that is awakening, toward anything that invokes the sacredness of right now. "This moment," sings Rukeyser, "this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love."
Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.
U.S. Supreme Court to hear appeal on 2004 federal forest plan
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear U.S. Forest Service vs. Pacific Rivers Council, an appeal of a federal lawsuit in California that challenged the 2004 federal forest plan put in place by President George W. Bush's administration that increased logging on 11.5 million acres in 11 national forests.
San Francisco Chronicle; March 19
What it is: A throwback of a cocktail that’s easy to make and perfect to drink as spring weather arrives. All you need to do is rim a highball glass with kosher salt, add ice, pour two ounces of gin or vodka and top with about four or five ounces of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. Stir and enjoy.
Hold up, friend. Talk us through this a bit: Not much to discuss, which is why this old hound is a classic. It’s pure preference when choosing between gin and vodka. I wanted to mark the occasion of opening a first-batch bottle of Montgomery Distillery Quicksilver, so went vodka. As for the fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, it’s a no-brainer. Score three for a buck or so and you’ll taste the sweet difference compared to bitter bottled options.
Old dog, new tricks: The Salty Dog’s been around so long, there are plenty of variations. Skip the salt and you have a Greyhound. Orlando Weekly, a fellow alternative newspaper that recently reminded us of this drink, also suggests the Peppery Dog: vodka, grapefruit juice and pepper syrup made of black peppercorns, water, sugar and lime juice. It reportedly provides a bit of a kick. Call me old fashioned, but I’d just as well stick with the straightforward original.
Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, email email@example.com.
Despite an estimated $1.3 million in budget cuts resulting from the sequester, Yellowstone National Park may not have to delay its opening after all. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead officially came forward this week with an offer: the Wyoming Department of Transportation will supply equipment and labor to plow the park’s roads, provided the communities of Cody and Jackson can raise the money to fund that work.
The announcement came just a week or so after Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk contacted both Mead and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock requesting help. Mead seemed downright eager to answer the call. Bullock’s office, on the other hand, rebuffed Wenk’s plea with not-so-subtle irritation.
“Yellowstone Park has been trying to get out of maintaining the federal highway since 1982—the same year their lawyers said it was the Park’s responsibility,” Bullock spokesman Kevin O’Brien wrote in a statement March 7. “We’ll continue to be in touch with Park management as they work through this problem, but we hope they find a solution that allows them to plow the highway in a timely fashion. Doing so would be good for tourists, good for Yellowstone and good for the communities surrounding and supporting it.”
According to a recent report from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana, the Beartooth Highway saw 178,904 vehicles between May 31 and the end of September last year. An estimated 91 percent of those visitors were nonresidents. More than 200 surveyed travelers said they'd spent at least one night in Red Lodge.
In addition to its statement, Bullock’s office offered a 1991 memo from Curtis Menefee, the Rocky Mountain regional solicitor for the U.S. Department of the Interior at the time, outlining responsibility for maintenance of the Beartooth Highway (PDF below). In it, Menefee writes that “because it is a national park approach road, the National Park Service, until such time as it can transfer the responsibility, must maintain the road.” Those duties include posting signs and warning motorists of hazardous conditions as well as “the usual maintenance actions such as repaving, filling potholes, striping, and even reconstruction of the road.”
Ironically, back when Menefee drafted the memo, Wyoming was “adamantly opposed to assuming any responsibilities for the road or even agreeing that funds appropriated for maintenance of forest roads be spent on the Beartooth.” It appeared to legal experts at the time that “any solution to the dispersed responsibility that presently exists can only be worked out between the two federal agencies [the Federal Highway Administration and the National Park Service] and possibly the state of Montana.”
Mead’s acquiescence—combined with Bullock’s reluctance—seems to have turned that dated assessment on its head, at least until a more permanent solution for the sequester can be found.
Sun River work to be highlighted at Montana State of the Watershed
The Sun River Watershed Group, which is made up of landowners, government agencies and private stakeholders, has spent $40 million in labor and materials and two decades improving the 1.4 million-acre watershed in Montana, and some of the projects completed by the group will be highlighted at the annual State of the Watershed Wednesday in Great Falls.
Great Falls Tribune; March 17
Signal Peak Energy explores area of Montana reservation for coal
Another company, Signal Peak Energy, has begun exploring for coal on private lands within the boundaries of the Crow Reservation in Montana.
Great Falls Tribune (AP); March 18
Curses, Foiled Again
After finding a gunman in his home in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., Jacques Baillargeon, 66, sprayed window cleaner in his face. The robber dropped a crowbar and a skullcap, and fled. Sheriff’s officials traced the man, identified as Nathaniel Lee Smith, 29, to his home after he called 911 to report someone had broken into his home and stolen a crowbar and a skullcap matching those left behind. Investigators concluded that Smith reported the items missing to cover himself if they were traced to him. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
Mario Hili, 64, avoided thousands of dollars in traffic fines by reporting his car stolen each time a traffic camera caught him speeding or running a red light. After the latest incident, Senior Constable Siobhan Daly told an Australian court “it was the 21st time since 2000 that Hili had reported his car stolen. Each time he would find it himself at various locations around Geelong.” Daly said that after the latest incident, police fingerprinted the car and found only Hili’s prints. (Australia’s Geelong Advertiser)
"Engstrom did not attend the press conference." Profiles in Courage Award for the captain of…
What happened to the driver and passengers of the other vehicle?