Friday, January 27, 2017

The Forest Service just reached a settlement that could end that whole megaload debate

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 11:58 AM

Regional Forester Leanne Marten announced yesterday that the contentious debate over megaloads on Highway 12 has officially come to an end. In a letter to the Idaho Transportation Department (pdf below), she outlined the terms of a settlement reached between the U.S. Forest Service and a group of citizen, tribal and environmental activists—terms, she concluded, that will “now protect the aesthetic and cultural values” of the Lochsa corridor.

“Although the term ‘industrial corridor’ has no specific definition, we understand this concern to mean that the present balance between commercial and noncommercial uses of Highway 12 is acceptable, but increased use of Highway 12 by megaload transporters has the potential to shift uses too much toward the commercial end,” Marten wrote.
Missoulians gather on Reserve Street in March 2011 to protest a shipment of megaloads by ConocoPhillips. - ALEX SAKARIASSEN
  • Alex Sakariassen
  • Missoulians gather on Reserve Street in March 2011 to protest a shipment of megaloads by ConocoPhillips.

It’s been a while since we heard the term “megaload” in Missoula. Back in 2009, ExxonMobil subsidiary Imperial Oil rolled out a proposal to transport some 200 loads of tar sands equipment from Idaho to Alberta along a route that would take them up the Lochsa River, down through Missoula and up the Blackfoot River to the Rocky Mountain Front. The size of those loads—up to 29 feet wide and weighing up to 300 tons each—prompted considerable backlash along Highway 12 and here in Missoula, where critics formed the nonprofit All Against the Haul. When similarly oversized loads destined for the ConocoPhillips plant in Billings rolled down Reserve Street by night, hundreds of protesters rallied to block them. Delays over permitting and litigation eventually forced Imperial to ship its loads via interstate, but similar proposals from other companies kept the embers of controversy smoldering. Eight of the nine members of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee were arrested in August 2013 while trying to halt the passage of megaloads belonging to GE subsidiary Resources Conservation Company International.

Marten’s letter appears to signal a final victory for those dedicated to fighting the establishment of Highway 12 as an industrial corridor for such shipments. While oversize loads will continue to travel up the Lochsa to Lolo Pass and destinations beyond, Marten is pressuring the Idaho Transportation Department to enact restrictions on those permits. As stated in her letter, the Forest Service contends that “oversize loads exceeding 16 feet in width or 150 feet in length or 150,000 pounds should be limited to a yearly average of two loads per month.” Further, any loads that exceed two of those three criteria “should be prohibited entirely, as such loads have the greatest potential to affect the scenic, aesthetic, and cultural values associated with the corridor.”

The settlement and Marten’s letter were announced this morning by the conservation nonprofit Idaho Rivers United, which joined the Nez Perce Tribe in a 2013 lawsuit pressing the Forest Service to use its jurisdictional powers over Wild and Scenic corridors to close Highway 12 to megaload traffic. Laird J. Lucas, executive director of the nonprofit law firm Advocates for the West, which represented Idaho Rivers United in those proceedings, offered this statement:

“After years of dispute, we are glad to put this saga behind us. Through the tremendous assistance of the U.S. Court of Appeals’ mediation office, all involved were able to find common ground on the need to protect the Wild and Scenic corridor into the future. I take heart in knowing that this jewel of the West will remain a treasured and protected landscape.”


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Attorney General Fox strikes down Missoula gun ordinance

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 12:05 PM

A hotly contested Missoula city ordinance that extends background checks to private gun sales is prohibited by state law and may not be enforced, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has ordered.

Fox issued his opinion Thursday in response to a request last fall by Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen of Culbertson. The attorney general had previously stated his opposition to the ordinance.

The nine-page opinion concludes that the city ordinance, which requires a federal background check for most private gun sales and transfers within city limits, violates a state law prohibiting local governments from regulating citizens' constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Ordinance proponents have pointed to an exception in the law that allows municipalities to "prevent and suppress ... the possession of firearms by convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens and minors." Fox, however, determined that the exception refers only to "specific situations involving the use and possession of firearms," while the Missoula ordinance's "dragnet approach" inappropriately regulates all sales and transfers within city limits. The city's interpretation of the law, he wrote, would render it meaningless by allowing the exceptions to "completely swallow" the general prohibition.

Fox further argued that the city's interpretation of the law could be used to rationalize a gun registration program, which he called "even more troubling."

His opinion carries the weight of law unless overturned by a court, meaning residents can continue to legally purchase firearms through Craigslist-style websites or gun shows without undergoing a background check.
As expected, Attorney General Tim Fox issued an opinion Thursday voiding a Missoula city ordinance expanding background checks on gun sales. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FOX FOR AG
  • photo courtesy of Fox for AG
  • As expected, Attorney General Tim Fox issued an opinion Thursday voiding a Missoula city ordinance expanding background checks on gun sales.

Councilman Bryan von Lossberg, one of the ordinance's sponsors, says he isn't surprised by Fox's order.

"The Attorney General made it clear where he stood on this prior to preparing the legal opinion," von Lossberg says. "He and his staff have delivered a legal opinion consistent with where he said he stood."

Fox issued a press release on the topic back in October 2015, when city council was first considering the measure. AG's office emails later obtained by the Indy revealed that Fox's intervention came a few days after a request was made by local gun lobbyist Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association.

Missoula City Council passed the ordinance by an 8-4 vote last September after a year of consideration and public debate. It was a direct challenge to a "preemption law" passed by the Montana Legislature in 1985.

In his opinion, Fox quotes testimony from a National Rifle Association representative to describe the legislature's intent that "only the state should decide how firearm purchases, sales and transfers should be regulated, if at all."

Most states have similar laws on the books, and the Missoula ordinance had no known precedent nationally.

Von Lossberg declined to discuss any potential strategies for reviving the ordinance, but says he will continue to look for ways to reduce gun-related violence.

"I got involved with this because I saw compelling data and did research on my own that reinforced it: Background checks save lives. They are particularly effective in the area of suicide and partner homicides," he says. "I am convinced there are ways to move forward on that front."

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Signs, speeches and playlist favorites from the Women's March on Montana

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 9:25 AM

  • photo courtesy of Jodi Pilgrim
The organizers of the Women's March on Montana estimated at least 1,500 people would have to show up to the event in Helena so they could get everyone to encircle the Capitol and hold hands. Daily papers around the state had reported estimates that some 4,000 might show up. But then 10,000 people showed up, masses of people carrying signs and flooding the sidewalks and the snowy hill in front of the Capitol steps.

Our van of six women driving from Missoula spent the trip unscientifically counting the carloads of pussy hats we passed on I-90 and listening to a specially crafted playlist that started with The Eurythmics' "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" and ended on Nirvana's "Been A Son," and included Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" and Salt-N-Peppa's "None of Your Business."

On arrival, 45 minutes before the march's designated noon start time, we pulled into the Safeway parking lot just a few blocks from our 8th Avenue meeting place. At a glance, you might have mistaken the scene for a pre-football game gathering: people dressed in similar hats with their hatchbacks and campers wide open, eating sandwiches and chips and making signs. Inside the the supermarket, the coffee counter was mobbed, and a long line of mostly women prompted one guy to wave an especially desperate woman into the men's room ahead of him, saying, "Go for it. It's your day."

The walk down Roberts didn't prepare any of us for the wall of people we saw when we turned the corner on 8th Avenue. It was breathtaking. It was also literally hard take a breath because it was so cold, but the weather helped make one of our signs—"Frigid Bitches for Equality"—an easily appreciated sentiment. The march started an hour late, but we finally got moving down the street and up onto the sidewalks around the Capitol. There was some chanting, though it didn't always stick well, but I liked that a woman behind me brought an iPod and speakers. She was kicking out plenty of M.I.A.

Afterward, gathered on the hill, we got a look at some of the best signs. It was heartening to see Black Lives Matter, gay pride flags, Native Lives Matter and "I Love My Muslim Neighbor" signs, considering the nationwide conversation about intersectional feminism and inclusiveness leading up to the day's marches.

Other creative signs:

You Can't Comb Over Misogyny
Keep Your Tiny Hands Off My Rights
Not Mein Kampf
The will of the people is bigger than Trump's penis
Trump skis in jeans
Girls just want to have fun-damental rights
1 (does not equal) 78 cents
Science (is greater than) Opinion
Fuck You I Won't Do What You Tell Me

One woman, older than many of her fellow marchers, held a sign that said, "Why am I still protesting this shit?" A middle-school boy leaned against a tree holding a sign that said, "Vagina is not a bad word." The sheer diversity of signs was a perfect illustration of the fears and grievances related to women's rights that have been stirred up by Donald Trump. Men carried their young daughters and held signs saying "I'm with her" (the arrows pointing everywhere). Mothers walked with their young sons. Teenage girls marched together. All of it inspired hope.
  • photo courtesy of Jodi Pilgrim
Several people gave speeches. Some were typical rallying cries issuing vague calls for unity. Others delivered specific calls to action. One of my favorites came from Michelle Mitchell an academic achievement coach for Indian education at Great Falls County Public Schools, who talked about the importance of public education, about how children always ask "Why?" and how we are now all compelled to ask "why." And it included a nice little dig at Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos.

Why do we have to protect water? Why are so many of our youth taking their lives? Why are there so many Native people in prison? Why is it so hard to get ahead? To earn enough to support our families? To send them off to college with no financial concerns? Why are we still asking these same questions in 2017?

Teachers are also asking why. Yet they provide consistency, understanding, compassion and a love for learning so students can grow and thrive. And so every day we teachers go to work. We mentor. We console. We nurture. We encourage. We protect our students from grizzly bears.
Another great speech was from Bree Sutherland, an activist in the trans and queer community, who helped develop the Gender Expansion Project, which serves queer and transgender people across Montana and promotes inclusiveness in health care and in human rights. She said:

I have seen national actions to ensure dignity and respect for all with employment, recognition of gender identity, regardless of what a birth certificate might suggest, and I have seen marriage equality, just to name a few of the tremendous victories which I have been privileged to witness.

While the last 8 years have been a time of many triumphs, it has also been a time where I, among many in my community, have experienced loss, defeat and grief. 

She ended with:

"Stand up and help each other rise up. Rise to action. Stand beside me and become the reason we will not be driven backwards. Together we are strong, together we are one. We are the motion of today and the movement of tomorrow."

On Saturday in Helena, as in hundreds of cities around the country, it felt like it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Denise Juneau won't seek open House seat. Amanda Curtis promises a populist bid.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 1:02 PM

  • photo by Alex Sakariassen
  • Denise Juneau
Denise Juneau will not seek the Democratic nomination for the state's soon-to-be-vacant U.S. House seat.

Juneau, the former state Superintendent of Public Instruction, told the Indy on Friday that she isn't interested in making another bid for Congress just months after her unsuccessful campaign against Rep. Ryan Zinke.

Upon winning reelection, Zinke was tapped as President Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of Interior and is expected to be confirmed soon, which would trigger a special election to fill Montana's lone seat in the U.S. House.

Juneau's congressional run garnered national attention for its historic nature—she was vying to become the first American Indian woman in Congress—but little traction on election day. Rather than run again, Juneau says she intends to apply for the University of Montana presidency when the permanent position is opened to applications later this spring.

Without Juneau out, the field of Democratic contenders is beginning to consolidate. Over the weekend, state Rep. Amanda Curtis, D-Butte, released a video blog in which she reiterated her interest in the House seat and laid out a populist platform focused on common ground with Trump voters.

"Listen, I get it. President Trump won Montana by a lot," she says in the video. "He won Montana because he promised to do the things that I've been talking about for the last four years."

Curtis then lists a slew of issues on which she says she agrees with the president, including preservation of Social Security and Medicare, rebuilding infrastructure, creating jobs, implementing a fairer tax structure, opposing "bad trade deals," supporting "affordable health care for all," and aiding communities like Colstrip that are based on a coal economy.

A Butte math teacher and labor activist, Curtis gained statewide recognition during the 2014 election after U.S. Senate candidate John Walsh dropped out over a plagiarism scandal. The Montana Democratic Party called on Curtis to pinch hit, and she managed to receive 40 percent of the vote, despite having little name recognition or time to campaign.
Amanda Curtis greets voters at the Northside KettleHouse during her 2014 run for U.S. Senate. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Amanda Curtis greets voters at the Northside KettleHouse during her 2014 run for U.S. Senate.
At the time, Republicans pointed to Curtis's loose association with the labor group Industrial Workers of the World in labeling her a "communist." Given the anti-elite tenor of Tump-era politics, Curtis may benefit from her working-class credentials.

"I will not be bought off and I will always put Montana and the United States first," Curtis says in the video announcement. "I'll be the most transparent congressperson ever by doing video updates like this while I'm in office. You might finally know what actually happens in Congress."

Shortly after Curtis posted her video, another Democrat who had expressed interest in the seat, state Rep. Casey Schreiner of Great Falls, wrote on Facebook that he would no longer seek the party nomination.

The Democratic candidate will be selected during a nominating convention by members of the party central committee once Zinke resigns from his seat.

Curtis is competing for the nomination against at least one other anti-establishment candidate. Musician Rob Quist, a founding member of the Mission Mountain Wood Band, received an endorsement from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer. He has no political experience.

Central committee chairman and Billings state Rep. Kelly McCarthy has also expressed interest in the seat, and MTN News reported last week that Zeno Baucus, son of longtime U.S. Sen Max Baucus, is mulling a run as well.

Once Zinke is confirmed as Interior secretary, a special election will be held in 85 to 100 days.

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Made for revolution: Missoula's presence at the Women's March on Washington

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 10:22 AM

Missoulians and former Missoulians hold a flag created for the March on Washington.
  • Missoulians and former Missoulians hold a flag created for the March on Washington.

During her speech at the Women's March on Washington on Saturday, Gloria Steinem called out to the crowd, “God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the connections." Our group of women who had traveled from Missoula to Washington D.C. couldn't see her when she said it, because more than 500,000 people stood between us and her—but we felt it. We felt it as we navigated our way through the crowd, holding on to each other so we wouldn't get lost, and we felt it as we saw face after face of smiling, caring, angry women and men.

We felt it even before we heard her say it, in the weeks before we left Missoula for D.C., when one friend knitted "pussy hats" for us to wear and another friend organized a group to create an American flag for us to carry. Each piece of the flag was sewn by a different woman and then all the pieces were sewn together to represent us: a diverse group of progressive patriots, daughters and granddaughters of immigrants who believe that everyone is welcome here, black lives matter, and the future is female.
Missoula women march on Washington Saturday, Jan. 21.
  • Missoula women march on Washington Saturday, Jan. 21.

We felt it when we boarded the plane in Missoula at 5 a.m. on Friday and were seated next to familiar and unfamiliar faces all heading to the same place we were, and we felt it on our second plane out of Minneapolis when we realized it was entirely full of women. We felt it again when every passenger on the plane yelled "Thank you, Nasty Woman," in unison after the stewardess delivered the standard safety talk before we took off.

This connection is something we so deeply long for when we read the divisive tweets and alarming headlines from the elected president—a man who chooses words not to connect but to divide and create fear. This is the connection we knew we needed to cultivate in order to move forward in a world that seems to be moving backward. The need is what motivated us to make the long trip to Washington D.C.

About the march: I loved seeing all the men and boys who were with us at the march. Thank you. We need you in this movement. I loved your supportive signs, and your powerful deep baritone echo when we yelled "our bodies our choice," and you responded, "their bodies their choice."
Missoula's Niki Vanek marching in Washington.
  • Missoula's Niki Vanek marching in Washington.
But, the women. Looking around in the sea of powerful women before me and behind me and on every side of me, I saw the hope I needed. Thousands of hand-knit hats—and let me just say that I was a bit skeptical about the silliness of the pussy hat at first, but seeing so many, all so different yet the same, handmade and soft as a counterpoint to the red, manufactured “Make America Great Again” alternative—my heart swelled with love for them. Every protest sign was beautifully crafted and full of wit and wisdom. It seemed like every other person was passing something out to the rest of us: a pin that said “Love Trumps Hate,” a sticker, a button.

Of the eight hours that we were in the streets, I don't think 20 minute period went by without someone checking in to see if I was thirsty, hungry or comfortable. These women were armed with extra snacks and water to feed and hydrate the strangers around them. I saw a strength in their crafty work and nurturing, in their resourcefulness and unity, that made me realize that women have been preparing to lead this revolution for thousands of years. Women know how to take care of each other and stay connected. I saw this yesterday, and I'll carry it in my heart as we move forward.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Gov. Steve Bullock slated to speak at David Brock-led Democratic conference in Florida on Saturday

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 2:09 PM

The nation’s capital descended into inauguration madness today. Masked protesters smashing store windows. A former America’s Got Talent competitor crooning “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Our new president promising a skittish country that “I will never, ever let you down.”

Quite a ways down the coast, at Miami’s Turnberry Isle Resort, politicians and progressive donors are presently gathered for an event of their own: a conference, led by liberal operative David Brock, dedicated to resistance. Titled “Democracy Matters 17,” the three-day affair includes an array of panels and presentations from names like former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and EMILY’S List President (and Butte native) Stephanie Schriock. Also on the agenda is a Saturday luncheon with former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and—here it comes—Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock - COURTESY GOVERNOR.MT.GOV
  • Courtesy
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock

The conference has attracted increasing media attention since BuzzFeed first broke the news on Jan. 13 of Brock’s efforts to create a Koch-brothers-like leftist donor network capable of fighting back against Donald Trump. Bullock’s scheduled appearance, of course, raises a few more questions for those of us back home. The Democracy Matters 17 agenda describes the Bullock-Holder luncheon as an opportunity to discuss “how Democrats can build momentum from the ground up, starting in the states, to advance progressive policy and defend voting rights,” and to examine “legislative opportunities in governors races in 2018 and how we can impact the big prize of redistricting in 2020.” So, yeah, fairly vague stuff there.

The Indy reached out to Bullock’s office for a little more insight. A spokesperson told us via email that the governor is “interested in being a part of the conversation about the future of the country and the future of the Democratic Party.” Apparently Bullock doesn’t have any prepared remarks or presentation material available, but his office added that he will be discussing his experience as Montana’s top executive, “including his ability to work with a Republican-majority legislature to advance an agenda that includes Medicaid expansion, campaign finance reform, equal pay for equal work, and expanding public education. He will also be discussing his successful re-election bid as a Democrat in a state that voted for President Donald J. Trump by a margin of 21 points.”

According to a copy of Brock’s opening remarks for the conference, Democracy Matters 17 is geared toward discussing what worked (and, more important, what didn’t) in the 2016 election, and how Democrats can build a bigger, sleeker machine to leverage Republican weaknesses in 2018 and 2020. Brock’s speech jabbed at the Clinton campaign for failing to use information he insists could have taken Trump down, while also acknowledging that Trump “threw out the political rulebook” last year. “Democrats showed up for a boxing match, and Trump was wrestling the whole time.”

As folks in Washington, D.C., continue to celebrate or protest, Brock is using his conference to send a clear message: “We’re already at work resisting Donald Trump at every turn and protecting and defending our shared values and the Obama legacy,” he wrote in his remarks. “We certainly don’t have all the answers, but hopefully you’ll view this conference as a constructive, thoughtful, and politically savvy starting point.”

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Montana in Rockies Today, Jan. 19

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 1:43 PM

Today's top headlines from around the state, as collected by Mountain West News:

Montana groups seek fracking chemical disclosure:
Two environmental groups and a handful of landowners filed a lawsuit earlier this week to force the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to require oil and gas drillers to disclose the fracking chemicals they use. (Courthouse News)

Why do some trees fend off mountain pine beetles?

YouTube personality and educator Hank Green interviews bark-beetle expert Diana Six, both of Missoula, to discuss how genetically adapted trees that resist infestations could be, as Six says, “the ace in the hole for the future.” (YouTube)

Montana tribes closer to managing Bison Range:
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will prepare a conservation plan for the National Bison Range, accompanied by an environmental impact statement, a step forward in the effort to transfer management of the wildlife refuge to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in northwest Montana. A lawyer for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which opposes the transfer and has sued to stop it, called the move a “desperate Hail Mary pass” ahead of Trump’s inauguration. (Missoulian)

Opinion: Zinke speaks to urban and rural Idahoans:
The Idaho Stateman’s Rocky Barker writes that Interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke’s message during his Senate confirmation hearing resonated with urban and rural Idahoans alike.

For the complete 'Rockies Today' roundup with dispatches from across the west, visit

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hey Betsy DeVos, you don't need a gun to get a bear out of your school—just ask Bozeman

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 11:56 AM

The argument for allowing guns in school took a wild turn Tuesday on Capitol Hill when Trump's nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, raised the threat of... grizzly bears.

"Potential grizzlies," to be precise. That's how DeVos explained why states and local school districts—not the feds—should be able to decide whether teachers can pack heat. Pressed on the issue during her tense Senate confirmation hearing, DeVos referenced an elementary school in Wapiti, Wyoming that installed a fence around the playground to keep bears out. "I think probably there, I would imagine that there's probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies," she said.
In this file photo, black bears hang out in the Rattlesnake. In Montana, they've been known to wander inside high schools, too. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BOB WIESNER
  • photo courtesy of Bob Wiesner
  • In this file photo, black bears hang out in the Rattlesnake. In Montana, they've been known to wander inside high schools, too.

Perhaps DeVos, like most Republicans, was a faithful viewer of The Colbert Report, whose host tirelessly raised awareness of grizzlies as "Godless killing machines" and "the number one threat to America." And in her defense, DeVos was referencing an earlier comment about the Wapiti fence made by Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi.

Montanans also know a thing or two about the threat bears can pose to our children's lives and ACT scores. Just ask the teachers at Bozeman High School, where a black bear wandered the halls last school year.

As the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported at the time, the beast found its way through an open garage door after being spotted on the football field. It then waltzed into a main corridor lined with student lockers. The paper reports:
For a couple of minutes, the bear sniffed around the hallway as about 10 students watched from one side and nervous staff members on the other.

The whole account is worth a read, but we'll cut to the chase. School officials and law enforcement didn't need a gun to ward off the God-hating bruin menace. They just opened all the doors.

More shameless clickbait: Watch a grizzly bear run an obstacle course around Wash-Griz Stadium.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Stop flipping off the Mayor:" City official censures volunteer after she resigns from Historic Preservation Commission

Posted By on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 1:05 PM

The anger was palpable in Kate Kolwicz's letter of resignation from the city Historic Preservation Commission last week. She acknowledged as much, writing that "as we are all aware, the past many months have been difficult and frustrating." The sources of frustration, Kolwicz wrote, included lack of training and a historic preservation officer, Leslie Schwab, who was "openly dismissive and contemptuous" of commission members. But Kolwicz, the third volunteer board member to resign over the city's handling of the Missoula Mercantile demolition, says she also wanted to offer constructive criticism as she bowed out. So, in addition to explaining the sources of her frustration, Kolwicz offered four suggestions toward fixing the broken system. Then she emailed her letter to the board, thinking that was that.

Schwab wasn't about to give Kolwicz the last word. She fired off a string of rebuttal emails to her and other HPC members accusing Kolwicz of lying, disregarding legal advice and abusing staff "at your every convenience."

"Also," Schwab concluded, "please stop flipping off the Mayor in public. It's childish."
Email from Historic Preservation Officer Leslie Schwab to commission members
  • Email from Historic Preservation Officer Leslie Schwab to commission members

Such is the state of affairs in the wake of last year's power struggle over the fate of the Merc. That bitterness and mutual distrust has only intensified in recent months, spilling into open hostility between Schwab and HPC members during public meetings. Even as Kolwicz ran for the door, Schwab made sure it hit her on the way out.

"It's like the Cold War," says HPC member Scott Loken, who has served on the board for ten years. "There's no connection between our historic preservation officer and the commission."

The standoff has virtually paralyzed the commission. It has been unable to obtain a quorum for the last four months, leaving those members who do attend unable to take votes or even approve meeting minutes. City Council has yet to fill vacancies stretching back to March 2016. Remaining members, Loken says, "don't want to come."

As the staff liaison to the board and an employee of the city's Development Services division, Schwab was at the center of the Merc tug of war. City Communications Director Ginny Merriam says the toll led Schwab to engage in the email exchange with Kolwicz—an exchange Merriam described as "never appropriate, nor is it professional or a best practice." No formal disciplinary action has been taken, Merriam says. Schwab did not respond to a request for comment.
In wake of the contentious Merc decision, the relationship between the volunteer Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Preservation Officer Leslie Schwab has eroded to the point where Schwab accused one member of lying and "flipping off the Mayor" after she resigned from the commission. - PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan
  • In wake of the contentious Merc decision, the relationship between the volunteer Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Preservation Officer Leslie Schwab has eroded to the point where Schwab accused one member of lying and "flipping off the Mayor" after she resigned from the commission.

On Monday, Schwab did email HPC members an apology for her "unprofessional" emails. "I have felt picked on, and I became defensive," she wrote. Kolwicz tells the Indy that while she appreciates Schwab's apology, "I was disappointed that she did not specifically retract her false and libelous allegations towards me."

Schwab's emails also prompted councilwoman Emily Bentley to contact HPC members in an attempt to begin rebuilding trust. Bentley says City Council plans to revise its much-maligned historic preservation ordinance, reexamine the HPC membership structure and fill open seats once Merc litigation with Preserve Historic Missoula concludes. What the city doesn't plan to do, Bentley says, is undermine the commission's authority.

"I feel like we could give them more support," she says.


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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Zinke's book offers some insight on the Interior Secretary-to-be's approach to public lands

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 12:01 PM

Congressman Ryan Zinke can’t seem to stay out of the headlines lately. He won reelection in November. He was nominated to Donald Trump’s cabinet in December. And just this Tuesday, he rankled conservationists by voting for a bill that would ease congressional transfers of federal lands to state or local control. His office has been increasingly mum on these developments, either supplying boilerplate statements or, as in the case of his nomination to the Interior, declining to even acknowledge receipt of email inquiries from the Indy. Spokeswoman Heather Swift offered only this in response to Zinke’s Tuesday vote on Republican Utah Rep. Rob Bishop’s controversial proposal:

"The Congressman's position on federal lands and their ownership has not changed."

Slipping through the cracks of all this Zinke news was the November release of his new book, American Commander: Serving a Country Worth Fighting For and Training the Brave Soldiers Who Lead the Way. The 240-page tome—an autobiography of sorts penned with an assist from American Sniper author Scott McEwen—offers rare insights into Zinke’s mind at a time when comments from him are harder to come by. It’s an admittedly tough read, unfolding less like a chronological narrative and more like a series of tales told elbow-to-elbow in some Montana dive bar. But if you can tolerate the constant tangents, the dangling threads, the generals and Navy SEALs and NFL stars who flit in and out, there are some interesting passages pertinent to the Interior post Zinke now appears destined for.

Zinke is fond of describing himself as an avid outdoorsman, though American Commander spends virtually no time in Montana’s backcountry. The closest readers come to adventuring alongside Zinke in the elements comes during his recollection of hoofing it through the jungles of Thailand while on assignment with his SEAL crew. It’s a vivid passage, replete with game trails and swamps and Zinke’s leg “nearly black from being covered by leeches.” Mostly it leaves you thirsting for a similar glimpse of the home-state rivers and trails Zinke repeatedly says he loves.

What we do glimpse, however briefly, is the genesis of Zinke’s espoused soft-spot for wildlands. He got his start in the Boy Scouts of America, where he “learned how to cook, camp, and use a compass.” He describes the first time he turned a “critical eye” on the environment, conducting an Eagle Scout project that tested soil and water samples from the Whitefish River to gauge pollution from the nearby railroad’s oil-holding ponds.

The BSA has always been at the forefront of environmental awareness: You put out fires you build. You leave a campsite cleaner and better than when you found it. You respect wildlife and habitat. This is in addition to the cliche of helping elderly citizens cross a street—which isn’t a bad quality either, this idea that we should slow down and help one another.

Zinke has long cast himself as a conservationist and politician in the Teddy Roosevelt mold. And he’s fond of quoting the irascible former president. In discussing his beliefs about land management, Zinke invokes not only Roosevelt but the first chief forester of Roosevelt’s then-new U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot. The result is something of a mixed bag when it comes to natural resource development on public lands:

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