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
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)
Speculation that former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer will make a presidential bid in 2016 has officially taken on a life of its own. The latest addition to the rumor mill comes from the recently launched website The Run 2016, which has Schweitzer tied for fifth among the Democrats most likely to confess their White House aspirations. Schweitzer shares his spot at the top of the site's second-tier list with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Patrick has stated publicly he won't be seeking another gubernatorial term in 2014.
The Run 2016 was established earlier this year by former Politico reporter David Catanese. Catanese spent much of last year covering the top senate races in the country, including the fierce battle in Montana between incumbent Democrat Sen. Jon Tester and Republican challenger Denny Rehberg. He caught flack last August for a tweet apparently defending Missouri Republican Todd Akin's on-air comment about "legitimate rape," and quickly apologized for his "imprecise wording," explaining he never intended to defend Akin's remarks and only sought to "evoke a discussion." Catanese's new web pursuit offers ongoing coverage of a host of suspected presidential candidates, and ranks Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley—in that order—as the top Democrat possibilities for 2016.
Schweitzer has repeatedly denied any interest in running for president, despite an endless string of public polls gauging his potential. He's also refuted claims that he'll challenge Sen. Max Baucus in the 2014 Democratic primary. So far, the only real news from Schweitzer's post-gubernatorial world is his partnership with the New York-based hedge fund Clinton Group and their intent to take over the Stillwater Mining Company.
Study tags precipitation, or lack thereof, to disappearing pika populations
Erik Beever, a U.S. Geological Survey research biologist from Bozeman, Mont., said decades of study now indicate that lack of snowpack or rainfall plays a role in the American pika's survival, as a new study published this week in the journal Ecology found that lack of moisture drove American pika away from otherwise suitable habitat.
Idaho Statesman; March 15
Montana senators introduce bill to let Congress approve KeystoneXL pipeline
On Thursday, Montana U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester introduced legislation that would approve TransCanada's construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, effectively removing approval of the project from the State Department.
Great Falls Tribune; March 15
Groups appeal bison ruling to Montana Supreme Court
On Monday, the Montana Farm Bureau Federation and the Park County Stockgrowers Association filed a notice of appeal to the state Supreme Court of Fergus County District Judge E. Wayne Phillips' decision earlier this year that dismissed a challenge of Montana's decision to allow bison that wander out of Yellowstone National Park to move farther north into the Park County.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle; March 14
Federal lawmakers fold permanent gun protections into appropriations bill
U.S. House and Senate committees have put four gun-related provisions into a bill to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, making permanent provisions that would prohibit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from requiring gun dealers to do annual inventories, from refusing to renew a gun dealer's license based on a lack of transactions, and require the ATF to attach a disclaimer to gun data that says it can't be used to "draw broad conclusions about firearms-related crimes."
New York Times; March 14
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