Monday, March 31, 2014

Rockies Today, March 31

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 1:57 PM

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Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

U.N. panel releases dismal report on climate change
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the Earth is already experiencing the effects of climate change, with droughts in the Mediterranean region already contributing to political strife in in the Middle East and North Africa, and the collapse of sea ice is causing huge waves to strike the coast of Alaska, forcing entire communities to relocate.
New York Times; March 31

Clean Air Act drives coal-fired power's pollution from air to ground
Clean Air Act regulations put in place in 1970 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required coal-fired power plants to capture coal ash, and by 2010, there were an estimated 300 coal ash landfills and 584 lagoons at coal-fired power plants across the nation, many that are unlined, and as recent spills have indicated, the toxic sludge is a major threat to the nation's waterways.
Christian Science Monitor; March 31

Utah residents question BLM's explanation of oil spill in national monument
After hikers discovered a trail of oil that stretched 1.5 miles in the Little Valley Wash of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah on March 22, the Bureau of Land Management said it was likely the release occurred four decades ago and was uncovered by a flood last year, but residents of Escalante question that explanation and wondered if the oil spill was indeed that old, why a 2006 flood in the same area didn't uncover it then.
Salt Lake Tribune; March 31

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Why you never deny someone a McFlurry (and more from In Other News)

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Curses, Foiled Again
Carlos Ruiz, 42, stole a sound system and other values from a home in Haddon Township, N.J., according to police, who identified him as their suspect after he returned a half-hour later for the remote he forgot the first time. (NJ.com)

Christopher Brent Fulton, 30, surrendered to authorities after seeing his photo as the suspect being sought for attempted bank robbery in Midwest City, Okla. He handed the teller a holdup note written on the back of a personal check but left it behind when he fled empty-handed, thinking he had tripped an alarm. The personal information on the check had been scratched out with a pen, but investigators were still able to read it and determine it belonged to Fulton’s mother. (Oklahoma City’s KOCO-TV)

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

UM research project seeks to treat nightmares in part by changing them

Posted By on Sat, Mar 29, 2014 at 2:32 PM

It sounds like something out of a science fiction film: Treating nightmares by consciously changing them. The process is called “rescription,” one of the final steps in a three-session treatment for post-trauma adults developed by a University of Tulsa psychology professor Joanne Davis. As Davis wrote in a subsequent book, “What generally happens over the course of this session is that the clients learn they are able to confront one of the scariest things in their lives and remain okay.”

University of Montana assistant professor Cameo Borntrager now hopes this treatment—which also involves relaxation techniques and education in sleep science—can help young children the same way it has aided adults in clinical trials. Borntrager, who worked with Davis as a graduate student, is seeking local participants ages 8 to 13 for five-session trials aimed at adapting the treatment for younger trauma victims.

“Some of the adults that were involved in those initial projects had been suffering with nightmares and sleep disturbance for 20 years,” Borntrager says, noting that within just three session, researchers noted improved sleep quality, decreased anxiety and decreased depression symptoms among participants. “Those aren’t even, technically, the main target, so it’s been pretty profound.”

Borntrager is running the study in tandem with a separately funded project at UT. She’s worked with two children in the Missoula area, and has been contacted by five more prospective participants. So far, Borntrager says the “kiddos”—who are never asked to recount the traumatic events that triggered the nightmares—have found the rescription aspect particularly intriguing.

The first step in that process is talking through the most troubling nightmare and identifying specific themes, such as powerlessness or trust issues. The participant is then asked to alter the nightmare in some profound way, write out the new version and study it extensively. Sometimes the change can be as simple as having the police show up; in one case, Borntrager says a child introduced superheroes to the nightmare’s ending.

“So far, what we’ve seen is that people often dream the rescripted dream,” she says. “And then, so far again, what we’ve seen in the adult trials and the kid trials is that the nightmare frequency starts to go down.”

Davis’ initial research noted that, in some circumstances, participants were unable to recall much of the offending nightmare, which “constitutes a significant obstacle.” To collect enough data to determine whether the treatment is applicable to child trauma victims, Borntrager will need up to 60 participants, specifically kids who suffer from at least one nightmare a week.

“That’s where the stat power is,” she says.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rockies Today, March 28

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 2:27 PM

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Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

Air Force fires 9 at Montana base, commander resigns over cheating scandal
On Thursday, Malmstrom Air Force Base commander Col. Rob Stanley resigned after nine officers were fired at the Montana base over cheating on nuclear mission proficiency tests.
Great Falls Tribune; March 28

Helena NF in Montana releases nonwinter Blackfoot Travel Plan
The nonwinter Blackfoot Travel Plan released Thursday for approximately 238,000 acres of the Helena National Forest outside of the Scapegoat Wilderness in Montana reduces motorized access on 157 miles of roads and for destruction, decommission or reclamation on 212 miles of roads.
Helena Independent Record; March 28

Montana U.S. senator introduces bill to prevent veteran suicides
U.S. Sen. John Walsh is the first veteran of the Iraq war to serve in the U.S. Senate, making the epidemic of suicides among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars personal to him, and on Thursday, the Montana senator introduced the Suicide Prevention for America's Veterans Act. The article has a photograph showing the 1,892 American flags planted on the National Mall representing the number of veterans who have committed suicide since Jan. 1.
New York Times; March 28

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Community Medical purchased

Partnership with Billings Clinic and Regional Care Medical Partners, not St. Pat's

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 1:50 PM

Community Medical Center's board of directors voted to partner with Billings Clinic and Regional Care Hospital Partners of Brentwood, Tenn., according to two sources familiar with the deal. The Independent reported in early March that Community had narrowed its choices for a new partner to Billings Clinic, who it is already affiliated with, and St. Patrick Hospital, Missoula's other, larger hospital.

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Community Medical Center has announced a 3:30 p.m. press conference to provide more information on the deal.

Billings Clinic includes three branch clinics as well as five primary or specialty-care clinics in Montana and Wyoming. Community partnered with Billings Clinic on its OBGYN oncology program beginning in 2009, and more recently collaborated on its electronic health records system.

KECI first reported the deal with Billings Clinic and posted a letter from CEO Steve Carlson to staff. The letter states the partnership will be "wholly owned by the Billings Clinic and Regional Care."

Members of the community had expressed some concern of a partnership with the faith-based St. Pat's regarding a local monopoly and women's care. Independent physicians, however, were among those advocating for a merger with St. Pat's to eliminate ongoing competition in the market.

Here's an update from this afternoon's press conference:

Community President and CEO Steve Carlson said that the deal is subject to approval by the Montana Attorney General and that the hospitals hope to complete the transaction — which would make Community a for-profit facility — by this fall. “The Attorney General will have the opportunity to solicit input," Carlson said. "The community will have the opportunity to give that input. We intend to have open town halls to discuss really our decision as we work through this."

The hospital will continue striving to increase efficiencies. But Carlson said he doesn't anticipate layoffs. “We have no plans at this point for cutting jobs,” he said.

Community has no intention of cutting services, either, Carlson said. "(It's) just the opposite, our agreements call for a commitment of multi years to existing services,” he said.

If the deal garners state approval, the Community Medical Center Board of Directors will be dissolved and replaced by a new advisory board.

The Independent will provide more information on the merger in next week's paper.

Additional reporting by Jessica Mayrer

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hatcheries make for happy anglers, but at what cost to wild fish?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 10:06 AM

This spring, millions of Americans will snap together rods, tie flies and spinners to monofilament, and, from a boat or streambank, cast to a rising fish. In many places, their quarry will be the born-and-raised products of hatcheries, facilities in which fish are artificially bred for the benefit of anglers. Nevada will stock a million trout in its waters this year; Oregon, 7 million. Washington plans on releasing a remarkably precise 17,140,634 trout and kokanee. A few years ago, California turned nearly 50 million fish loose in its lakes and streams.

According to Douglas M. Thompsons The Quest for the Golden Trout, state and federal hatcheries around the U.S. release a combined 150 million trout every year. Photo courtesy of USFWS.
  • According to Douglas M. Thompson's "The Quest for the Golden Trout," state and federal hatcheries around the U.S. release a combined 150 million trout every year. Photo courtesy of USFWS.
Hatcheries have their advantages: According to a 2006 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, every dollar spent on rainbow trout hatcheries generates around $37 in net economic value. And that’s to say nothing of less tangible gains — the kids, lured to rivers by fat, hatchery-raised trout, who later advocate for watershed conservation. But as scientists uncover the damage that captive-bred fish can inflict on wild ecosystems, it’s becoming clear that, used unwisely, hatcheries can yield more costs than benefits.

The latest evidence comes from Kristy Bellinger, a PhD candidate at Washington State University. Bellinger bred five separate lineages of cloned rainbow trout, from totally wild trout to fish whose ancestors had been hatchery-raised going back over 100 generations. She placed fish from each lineage in a tank and then startled them into “sprint speed” — the quick burst of movement that fish use to dodge predators and catch food. Typically, big fish are also the strongest and fastest, and Bellinger figured that the hatchery offspring, which had been bred for size for generations, would be the best sprinters.

But that’s not what she found. “As they grew bigger,” she says, “they were slower.” Fish that came from the highly domesticated line — the one descended from 100 hatchery generations — were sluggards; in fact, it was hard to get them to sprint at all. Other, slightly-domesticated lineages didn’t swim as poorly as the hyper-hatchery line, but were still slower than wild trout.

So what’s going on? A form of unnatural selection. “When hatchery managers select fish to be broodstock, they’re looking for big fish,” explains Bellinger. “They want the highest growth rate for their buck. But there’s a tradeoff there, where highly domesticated fish can no longer escape predators.”

The poor swimming abilities observed by Bellinger and other researchers may help explain the damage that hatchery fish are capable of inflicting on their wild cousins. In a collection of 23 papers published in 2012, authors from the U.S., Canada, Russia and Japan documented that hatchery salmon often outcompete wild fish for food and habitat. (Even if wild fish really are fitter, numbers are against them: an incredible five billion captive-raised salmon are released every year.) As wild salmon are squeezed out, so too is the genetic diversity that fish have evolved in response to local river conditions, replaced by traits selected in the artificial context of a hatchery. That might be part of the reason why spawning populations that contain higher proportions of hatchery fish experience less reproductive success.

“Compared to a streambed, the hatchery environment is like being on the moon,” says Michael Blouin, a professor of biology at Oregon State University whose research has shown that hatchery-raised steelhead — sea-run rainbow trout — can lose up to 37 percent of their reproductive abilities in a single generation. “A trait that would make you grow fast in a concrete tank while eating pellet food with 50,000 other fish would serve you well in a hatchery. But that trait might not help you in the wild.”

New knowledge about potential hatchery problems has led to conflict within the fish management community, where hatchery policy remains controversial. Last week, Washington struck a blow in favor of wild fish, designating three Columbia River tributaries — the East Fork of the Lewis River, the North Fork of the Toutle/Green River, and the Wind River — as some of the state’s first wild steelhead gene banks, waters into which no hatchery-raised steelhead will be released. The three rivers will eventually be part of a statewide network of gene banks designed to protect and restore steelhead, which have been listed as threatened in Washington since 1998. The Sol Duc River has also been designated, and gene banks on the Puget Sound are slated for creation in the coming months.

“Research indicates that when wild and hatchery fish mix together on spawning grounds, there can be negative impacts through interbreeding and competition,” explains Bryce Glaser, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The rationale was to set aside some places that are free from those risk factors, so that steelhead can better respond to the other threats they face.”

While gene banks represent one promising solution, Bellinger points out that hatcheries aren’t inherently destructive. Fish-breeding facilities that use local, genetically diverse broodstock and take pains to mimic wild conditions often produce better results. And for critically endangered salmon populations, hatcheries may be the only answer. The Nez Perce tribe, famously progressive in their hatchery management, have boosted Snake River fall chinook returns to 56,000 fish — well short of the half-million chinook that once spawned in the Snake, but a remarkable improvement from the meager 600 that annually returned during the 1980’s.

At most hatcheries, however, enlightened tactics haven’t yet infiltrated policy. “The answers are clear,” says Bellinger. “But it feels there’s a link broken in the chain between science and management.”

This article was originally published in High Country News (hcn.org). The author is solely responsible for the content.

Rockies Today, March 27

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 9:50 AM

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Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

U.S. House passes Utah congressman's bill on Antiquities Act
The U.S. House voted 222-201 on Wednesday to approve Utah Rep. Rob Bishop's bill that would amend the Antiquities Act to require any national monument designation proposed by the president to go through an environmental analysis and public comment period.
Flathead Beacon (AP); March 27

BIA, Anschutz at odds on status of oil, gas leases on Montana reservation
The Bureau of Indian Affairs said that Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. owes 200 leaseholders on the Blackfeet Reservation a total of $418,264 for work the Colorado company did on those leases, but company officials said the leases were withdrawn before being signed by the BIA — and thus, no money is owed.
Great Falls Tribune; March 27

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Costly care

Great Falls hospital merger holds lessons for Missoula

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Community Medical Center, one of Missoula’s two nonprofit hospitals, is expected to announce soon a new partnership with a larger regional health care organization. While officials cannot speak publicly about ongoing negotiations due to nondisclosure agreements, other health care providers have advocated strongly for a partnership with Providence Health & Services, owner of Missoula’s St. Patrick Hospital.

Experts warn that a merger with St. Pat's could result in major changes for Missoula patients.

“Mergers and acquisitions of hospitals nationwide, where they have been approved by the anti-trust division of the U.S. Department of Justice, have resulted in price increases in the United States in those markets,” says Larry White, a professor at the University of Montana and the former CEO of St. Patrick Hospital.

Benefis Health System is a product of the 1996 merger of two competing hospitals in Great Falls.
  • Courtesy Benefis Health System
  • Benefis Health System is a product of the 1996 merger of two competing hospitals in Great Falls.

Bryce Ward, the associate director of UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, puts it another way. “The big drawback is that when you create a monopolist, you’ve created a monopolist,” he says. “And monopolists have market power and they exercise that market power to raise prices.”

One of the most prominent Montana hospital mergers in recent years took place in 1996 in Great Falls when Montana Deaconess Medical Center and Columbus Hospital joined forces to become the nonprofit Benefis Healthcare, which later became Benefis Health System. The merger, which created a de facto health care monopoly in Great Falls, offers some insight into the possible future of medical service in Missoula should Community Medical Center and St. Pat’s combine.

During the first decade after the Benefis merger, the Montana Department of Justice tightly regulated the new hospital using a legal agreement known as a Certificate of Public Advantage, or COPA. The COPA allowed the Montana DOJ to “severely restrict the new entity, Benefis, from revenue increases that were outside of a fairly narrow window,” according to White.

White calls the state’s use of the COPA a “very unique” and “highly creative” solution to regulate the new hospital. He notes that the Federal Trade Commission, rather than state government, often provides oversight in such deals.

“The COPA was the first one I knew of in America,” he says. “... Benefis actually had some of the very lowest unit costs in the sate of Montana for various kinds of medical services.”

In 2007, however, the Montana Legislature, at Benefis’ urging, passed a law that effectively rescinded the hospital’s COPA agreement despite then-Attorney General Mike McGrath’s desire to keep the agreement in place. McGrath had argued in a 2006 Montana DOJ ruling that, though Benefis faced some competition from smaller health care providers like Central Montana Hospital and the Great Falls Clinic, “there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that increases in competition have eliminated the need for regulation over inhospital services.” The legislature’s action released Benefis from strict state oversight in 2009, and that’s when trouble began, according to the hospital’s critics.

Eric Schindler, CEO of the Montana School Services Foundation, a trust that provides health-benefit plans to 136 school districts in the state, appeared before the 2011 Montana Legislature to denounce a wave of cost increases initiated by Benefis after COPA was revoked.

“Since the COPA was rescinded the Great Falls Clinic is a shadow of its former self and there is no effective hospital competition to Benefis in the Great Falls market,” he said in his testimony. Schindler went on to argue that Benefis had increased costs for his organization’s members by 38 percent in the three years since the COPA bit the dust, calling the increase “monopolistic, predatory price behavior.”

There are other indications of how Benefis’ monopoly affected customers. The annual Montana attorney general reports on state hospitals show prices rapidly rising at Benefis over the years. For example, in 2008 Benefis boasted the lowest unit costs among major hospitals in four of nine common medical services. Two years later, Benefis dropped to the middle of the pack and didn’t offer the most affordable service in any of the nine listed categories.

Specifically, the reports show that from 2008 to 2010 average prices at Benefis for esophagitis treatment increased from $6,564 to $9,230. A simple pneumonia procedure jumped from $7,722 to $13,076. The average price of a vaginal birth rose from $3,475 to $4,832.

Karen Ogden, a spokeswoman for Benefis, confirms that prices have risen at the state’s second-largest hospital with 2,800 employees.

“Our prices have, of course, increased at Benefis since the COPA was revoked almost eight years ago. There was a price spike in 2008 because some of our charges were too low and were adjusted to be more in line with our peer hospitals,” she wrote in an email. “... However, on average, Benefis’ charges are 16 percent lower than our Montana peers for inpatient and outpatient care combined, according to the most recent data from the Montana Hospital Association.”

Ward, with UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, says hospital mergers do offer some potential benefits, including a reduction of duplicated services and the efficiencies that come from economies of scale. These can lead to lower prices and higher quality, he says, but without regulation the benefits do not always trickle down to patients.

“Frequently what happens is you may find some cost savings [from mergers], but those cost savings basically go to the provider, they do not end up lowering the price,” he says. “... It is fine to create monopolies, but if you are going to create monopolies just in general, the standard advice would be they need to be monitored and/or regulated.”

In the case of the potential Missoula merger, White offers this outlook.

“I think the pattern around the United States is the only thing you can look at to try to come up with a prediction of what would happen in Missoula,” he says. “And I think it seems to indicate that the prices would go up.”

A decision about Community Medical Center’s future could be made as early as March 27, when the hospital’s board of directors next meets. In a letter to the community, Board Chair Scott Stearns and CEO Steve Carlson assured that their decision “must be made in the best interest of those that we serve, you.”

Rockies Today, March 26

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 12:40 PM

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Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

EPA proposes protection for new areas under Clean Water Act
To clear up confusion created by disparate U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the federal government's regulation of waterways under the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are proposing a rule that classifies most seasonal and rain-dependent streams and wetlands near streams as "navigable waters" protected under the Clean Water Act, a move that could have considerable effect in the American West.
Los Angeles Times; March 26

Interior Secretary releases $1.1B in angler, hunter revenues to states
On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the release of $1.1 billion of federal funds to all 50 states through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration programs, with Colorado getting nearly $27 million; Idaho, $20.2 million; Montana will get more than $27.7 million; Utah, $28.68 million; and Wyoming will receive roughly $18.4 million.
Sierra Sun Times; March 25

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Jocko Canyon trees safe, for now

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 9:54 AM

About a year ago, residents along the Jocko Canyon Road east of Arlee noticed red Xs on roughly 100 roadside ponderosa pines. Most of the trees were old—60 years to a century, give or take. When locals pressed the Lake County Commission for answers, they were told the trees would be removed.

What followed, says artist Leslie Millar, who has lived in the Jocko off and on since the early ’70s, was an ever-shifting list of reasons why. First the commission cited problems with snowplow operations. Then it was issues with degrading road quality. After a group of citizens pushed for a public meeting and a site tour with commissioners, it seemed the opposition had won.

“The understanding was that the issue was closed, and that in the improbable future when maybe they’re going to pave all the way from Arlee to Seeley Lake and put in shoulders and all this stuff … we would revisit it,” Millar says.

When new markers popped up on as many as 150 trees last week, the same residents balked. They sent emails and made phone calls, fearing the loss of the aesthetic appeal of their rural neighborhood without input, environmental review or justification. Commissioners made it clear that another meeting would not happen.

“We don’t intend to call and meet with all of them again,” says Commissioner Ann Brower. “The concerns that we have been emailed and called [about] are the same as they were before, so we are fully aware of their concerns.”

According to Brower, the reason for removing the trees “boils down to maintenance and safety issues” within the county right-of-way. The project was costly and not entirely urgent, she says, until last year’s Jocko Canyon Fire swept through the area. Had the county kept up with right-of-way maintenance in years past, she adds, “we could potentially have avoided the fire jumping the road.”

Residents aren’t sold on the latest reason, and tensions nearly came to a head this week when logging equipment was spotted on the Jocko Canyon Road. Brower says the county reached an agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ forestry department to include the trees in an ongoing salvage operation nearby.

CSKT Communications Director Robert McDonald confirms the agreement did initially exist. But when tribal officials were approached by residents on the road Monday and finally made aware of the “level of emotion” surrounding the trees, they promptly backed off. McDonald says the department has no intention to remove the roadside trees at this time.

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