Thursday, July 25, 2013

The "To serve and deflect" companion reader

Posted By on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 3:45 PM

The Indy's reporting on the allegations of misconduct by law enforcement officers in Lake County—and retaliation against the investigators who brought complaints against them—was informed by hundreds of documents.

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Many were made available by a Montana District Court judge ruling in our favor in a lawsuit that resulted from open records requests we filed more than a year ago. Other documents were subpoenaed as part of a pending federal lawsuit filed against four officers in the Lake County Sheriff's Office. And some we obtained directly from state agencies or other sources.

In any case, in the spirit of transparency and accessibility, below you'll find several of the more important and revealing documents we obtained, some of which had not been made public until now.

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Rockies Today, July 25

Posted By on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 11:14 AM

Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

U.S. House Republicans slam EPA on hydraulic fracturing study
At a joint hearing before the U.S. House Energy and Environment subcommittees on Wednesday, Republican House members criticized the Environmental Protection Agency's investigation of hydraulic fracturing and concerns that the drilling method could contaminate groundwater, and Wyoming U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis testified about the EPA's investigation into groundwater contamination near Pavillion that initially linked gas and oil operations to the problem, but was later withdrawn.
Great Falls Tribune; July 25

National forest in Montana seeks public input on forest roads
A pilot project in the Flathead National Forest in Montana will allow the public to click on interactive online maps and provide their opinion about the condition of specific roads.
Missoulian; July 25

International conference for land managers makes Montana stops
The International Seminar on Protected Area Management, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the universities of Montana, Idaho and Colorado State, brought land and park managers from 23 countries around the world to Glacier National Park last week and to Missoula on Monday.
Missoulian; July 25

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Who's trashing the most popular park in Bozeman?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Mary Vant Hull, 85 years old and still kicking — or make that, kicking butt with her frank conversation — is showing me the degradation of Bozeman's most popular park, on a bluff overlooking the whole city, when a sudden storm comes out of nowhere and blasts us. It's July 16, but the temperature plummets to around 60°F, the wind grows so loud it's difficult to talk, and then raindrops pelt us. The raindrops are so big it seems I can feel each one individually. Ahh Montana weather.

Mary — I refer to her informally because she's a friend — flips up the hood on her jacket and we keep on walking. I can hear her breaths getting labored and her pace is slower than the last time we walked together. She confesses that lately she's also having trouble keeping her balance. But she's a long-time champion of this place — Peets Hill, also called Burke Park — so she's making the effort to help me write this.

"Rogue trails!" Mary says with disgust. It's her term for the countless impromptu trails we're looking at, the traces of thousands of off-leash dogs, mountain bikers and hikers cutting across the park's narrow stretch of sagebrush, tallgrass and wildflowers. There's no need for any person or dog to make a rogue trail here because this city park is a linear strip about a mile long, and an official non-rogue trail, wide and graveled, runs the whole length of it, with several official side trails and official access points. "It's a shame, a real shame," Mary laments. "But I don't have the energy to yell at people anymore."

I'm thinking: Maybe I can do some yelling for you now, Mary. The problem here, and the powerful interest groups, can be found in many New West places, mostly on federal land that's not in cities. I've decided to write about what's happening here, as an example of the wider problem. It's not the worst example — far from it — but the trend here isn't good. It's also an indication of the kind of community Bozeman has become. And Mary's dedication to this place is both singular and a positive example of various champions like her around the West.

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The day before Mary and I talked and walked together, the sun was shining and I'd walked Peets Hill by myself, taking photos of the damage. I'll place a few of the photos throughout this blog post, to give you a sense of the problem. But it's like taking a photo of the Grand Canyon — no photo can portray this whole reality. In each photo, in addition to the obvious rogue trails, there are more rogue trails that are not fully established yet so they're more difficult to discern. The rogue trails parallel the official trails and veer off in all directions.

Peets Hill is Bozeman's equivalent of New York City's Central Park or San Francisco's Golden Gate park or the downtown creek park in Boulder, Colorado. A local family, the Burkes, realized how valuable the land would be to the public and gave the city a great deal in 1993, selling roughly 37 acres for roughly one-third of the $1 million a developer had offered. In a subsequent deal the family sold another two acres to the city. The local Gallatin Valley Land Trust coordinated the deals and helps the city parks agency develop and maintain the official trails. Federal funding has also been tapped. As Bozeman has grown into a city of 40,000, Peets Hill (named for a farmer who preceeded the Burkes) now gets more than 100,000 human visits each year, and more than 50,000 dog visits.

I hike Peets Hill often, sometimes with my dog and sometimes by myself, and sometimes I ride my bike here. It's a wonderful convenient public place, with views of seven mountain ranges along with the views of the historic downtown and city neighborhoods and the institutional architecture of Montana State University. The official trails connect to the new city library and other parks and trails. The sunsets and storms on Peets Hill are great year-round, and sometimes as the sun sinks to the west you can turn east and watch the full moon rise. In springtime the wildflowers explode and in summer the tallgrass rises chest-high in some spots. I'd noticed the proliferation of rogue trails, erasing more and more plants over time, and I'd imagined a future in which all of Peets Hill would be pounded down to bare dirt and weeds. I'd guessed that mountain bikers are the main culprits, because the rogue trails look like bike trails. So I began my research by talking with bike advocates.

Will Robertson, author of a guidebook to Montana bike trails, told me he wasn't aware of problems on Peets Hill because he mostly rides in the mountains, but in general, "Any high-traffic area like that will always have 'user-created trails.' It happens everywhere." Kirk Ahlberg, president of the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club, which has about 400 dues-paying members, said he's noticed the user-created trails on Peets Hill, but he wasn't sure how many were created by bikers. "We can't stop Bozeman from growing. We'll keep getting more and more people who want to move here to enjoy the outdoors," he said. "We have to figure out how to grow in smart ways."

Then I reached Gary Vodehnal, the key Gallatin Valley Land Trust staffer for Peets Hill maintenance and development. He has college degrees in wildlife management, resource conservation and land reclamation, and he has experience working for federal agencies. He uses the polite term "social trails" for those that are not official, and he surprised me with his take on the problem. "When Mary Vant Hull complained about the problem (years ago), we sent out observers who would spend hours on Peets Hill. We discovered that more than 90 percent of the social trails were being made by dogs. They create their own diverse trail system. I was astonished when I figured it out." He mentioned how Snowfill Park, created on another side of town more recently simply by planting grass on 37 acres that had been a wheatfield, is also a popular leash-free park. "I've had people tell me, 'I moved to Bozeman because of Snowfill Park'" — meaning, dog lovers relocate to communities that have leash-free parks.

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Rockies Today, July 24

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 10:55 AM

Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

U.S. policy on fighting wildfires moving into new territory
The Western United States is paying a price for a half-century of wildfire suppression, and at the nexus of larger wildfires and the building push in the wildland-urban interface, is the dawning realization that not all homes in those wooded areas can be saved, much like all homes built in coastal regions can be saved from hurricanes or homes in the floodplains be saved from floods.
Christian Science Monitor; July 23

Wyoming wildfire burns across 1,700 acres in 36 hours
The Fairfield Fire near Lander, which was first reported on Monday morning was 1,700 acres in size by Tuesday evening with zero containment, is Wyoming first large wildfire of the season.
Casper Star-Tribune; July 24

Idaho wildfire threatens fish hatchery
The 210 Road Fire has burned 300 acres since igniting on Monday, when the Idaho wildfire forced the evacuation of campgrounds around Redfish Lake, a nearby subdivision, and the historic Redfish Lake Lodge. Contains a roundup of other wildfires burning in Idaho.
Twin Falls Times-News; July 24

USFS sticks to its rules of the road in Idaho
The Idaho Department of Transportation has approved a permit for Oregon-based Omega Morgan to move up to nine loads of over-sized water purification modules from Lewiston, Idaho to Montana, but the U.S. Forest Service said those megaloads must abide by its three rules for the 100 miles of the Lochsa-Clearwater Wild and Scenic River Corridor: No traffic will be fully stopped by the big loads, which have to be through the corridor in 12 hours, and no alterations to the roadway or its corridor will be made to accommodate the loads.
Missoulian; July 24

Colorado-based company takes coalbed methane expertise to China
Ray Pilcher, the president of Grand Junction-based Raven Ridge Resources, is an expert in the capture and use of coalbed methane gas, and that expertise led to the Colorado company's selection to be one of six companies to participate in the U.S. Treasury Department's EcoPartnership Program, with Raven Ridge working in China to help capture and use methane gas from coal seams.
Denver Post; July 24

Whole Foods Marke to donate funds to Colorado River Project
On Thursday, 5 percent of net sales at 27 Whole Foods stores in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico will be donated to the Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Day.
Aspen Times; July 24

Rural hospitals struggle to survive in Colorado
While hospitals in Colorado's urban centers are touting perks to attract patients, health care providers in rural areas of the state are mulling ways to survive.
Denver Post; July 24

Bumblebee study in Colorado finds fewer bees means less plant diversity
Two researchers studying bumblebees removed the most populous bee species from 20 plots at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado and patrolled those plots to keep that species of bees away, and they found that the remaining bees, which now had more pollination opportunities, became picky and ignored larkspur, a finding the researchers said indicated that as bee populations decrease, so, too, will the plant species that need the bees' pollinating ways.
New York Times; July 24

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Your future, a little early

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 9:00 AM

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): "I have tried in my way to be free," sings Leonard Cohen in his song "Bird on a Wire." In other words, he has done the best he can to liberate himself from his unconscious patterns, bad habits, and self-delusions. He hasn't been perfect in his efforts, but the work he has done has earned him a measure of deliverance from his suffering. I recommend you follow his lead, Aries. Do your best to bring more relief and release into your life. Get rid of things that hold you back. Overthrow a pinched expectation and ignore a so-called limitation or two. By this time next week, I hope you will be able to say sincerely, "I have tried in my way to be free."

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rockies Today, July 23

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2013 at 11:39 AM

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Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

Federal judge dismisses challenges to Montana forest's travel plan
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Haddon dismissed challenges filed by 22 plaintiffs of the decision of the U.S. Forest Service to ban motorized travel on 322,000 acres of recommended wilderness study areas in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Montana.
Helena Independent Record; July 23

Campground in Idaho national forest evacuated due to wildfire danger
The 300-acre 210 Road fire burning in the Sawtooth National Forest forced campers from a campground near Redfish Lake on Monday, and closed Idaho Highway 75 for a time.
Twin Falls Times-News; July 23

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Rainbow Gathering allegedly leaves more than a dozen dogs behind

Posted By on Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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A fluffy black dog with cuts on his legs was recently found tied to an abandoned car in a Dillon parking lot with a note reading “Gone Home.”

Susie Brown, managing director of the Beaverhead County Humane Society, suspects the dog was left by its owner at the end of the 2013 Rainbow Gathering, held earlier this month in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in southwest Montana. While attendees were discouraged from bringing their pets to the event, they were by no means prohibited as dozens of dogs were seen running around the camp.

As of July 18, Brown said 13 new animals have been taken into the Humane Society Shelter in Dillon, and she presumes all were left behind from the gathering.

“I picked up two at McDonalds last night,” she said.

Brown said the U.S. Forest Service is working with the Beaverhead County Sheriff’s Department to retrieve animals from the area and bring them to her shelter in Dillon. She expected all animals remaining at the site would be rounded up by July 21.

“Everybody’s trying to make sure that we don’t have dogs left up there,” Brown said. “Hopefully they haven’t been eaten by coyotes and bears and lions up there.”

Brown believed some of the animals wound up at the shelter because their former owners were hitchhiking out of the area and if a potential ride refused to transport the pet, the owners opted to leave the pet behind.

Brown said some of the dogs brought in are suffering from injuries or malnutrition. One 8- or 9-month-old pitbull crossbreed was brought in covered in bloody feces, suffering from what Brown thought was a version of dog flu. The dog died four hours after arriving at the shelter, despite Brown’s attempts to revive it.

“I put $200 worth of fluid in it, and it still died,” she said.

Far fewer abandoned animals were found this year compared to the last Rainbow Gathering held in the area in 2000. Brown said 56 animals were left behind last time, including dogs, cats and even a parakeet that Brown scaled a tree to retrieve. Brown hoped this was the last time she would have to see the effects of a gathering in Montana.

“Please, God, don’t let them come back, ever,” she said.

Photo of the 2013 Rainbow Gathering by Mike Gerrity

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Rockies Today, July 22

Posted By on Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 10:44 AM

Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

USFS seeks public comment on watershed protection plan in Montana
Helena city officials are working with private landowners in the Rimini area to remove fuels on their land in the Montana capital city's watershed, but with most of the land in that watershed within the boundaries of the Helena National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service is now proposing a fuels-reduction project to protect the steep, rugged terrain from a wildfire that could affect the drinking water resource for the city's 30,000 residents.
Helena Independent Record; July 22

Montana FWP to form group to hammer out bison management
Given the number of bills dealing with bison management in Montana, the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission is putting together a small group of stakeholders to work on developing a policy that will work for everyone.
Great Falls Tribune; July 22

Montana fifth state to get Blackstone grant for entrepreneurship
On Friday, the New York-based Blackstone Group Montana would get a $2-million Blackstone LaunchPad program, which will help young entrepreneurs at the University of Montana and the Montana State University start their own companies.
Great Falls Tribune; July 20

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Why you don't feed bears when drunk (and more from In Other News)

Posted By on Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Curses, Foiled Again
Boston police accused Zachary Tentoni, 26, of snatching a woman’s purse because when he grabbed the purse, he dropped two bags he was holding and fled without them. One bag contained his birth certificate; the other, a letter from his mother. Officers stopped a man fitting the robber’s description and learned that he was Tentoni. (The Boston Globe)

Police identified Edward McNeill Jr., 40, as one of three men who attacked two other men in Jersey City, N.J., because when he walked into a hospital for treatment to wounds he received during the attack, the victims were there being treated at the same time and recognized him as their attacker. (Hudson County’s The Jersey Journal)

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Happiest Hour: Tamarack cans

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 3:47 PM

This heat just won't let up, and the river keeps calling. Only hitch? We'd love some more variety among the cans in the cooler. And as if on cue, here comes...

This week: Tamarack cans

The lowdown: Back in early June, Tamarack Brewing Company quietly joined the ranks of Montana breweries pushing product beyond the taproom. The brewery began offering two of its most wildly popular beers in 16-ounce cans. So far distribution is limited to the company’s Lakeside and Missoula locations, as well as a string of gas stations and grocery stores in the Flathead Valley. A four-pack goes for $8.

What you’re drinking: Tamarack went with two brews for its initial canning line—Yard Sale Amber Ale and Hat Trick Hop IPA. Fans of both have been posting photos of the cans on Tamarack’s Facebook page in locations ranging from Logan Pass to the summit of Reynolds Mountain at 9,125 feet. Forget growlers. Hauling beer to Montana’s more remote corners is clearly getting easier all the time.

Why you may not have heard: According to Lacy Lopez, general manager at Tamarack’s Missoula location, the brewery hasn’t widely advertised the cans yet. News has mostly spread by word of mouth. Still, she says, “they’re really popular.” One Indy staffer only learned after bumping into a friend in the Flathead last week, who couldn’t stop grinning over his flashy silver four-pack. And Tamarack is stocked at present, which, given how freaking hot the weather has been, seems smart.

Where to get some: Unless you’re in the Flathead, Tamarack’s Yard Sale and Hat Trick cans are currently only available at the brewery’s Missoula bar, 231 West Front Street.

Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, email editor@missoulanews.com.

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