Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Voter project

Posted on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 3:19 PM

I loved reading about the upcoming Montana-based climate ride (see "Staff Pick: Best Way to Fight Climate Change," in the July 7 Best of Missoula issue). Lots of my friends ride in it and hike in Glacier to raise funds for Citizens' Climate Lobby, a volunteer organization working to create the political will for Congress to enact legislation to cut emissions and stabilize manmade climate change.

Did you know that a sizable percentage of Americans who are considered to be "super-environmentalists" don't vote? Researcher Nathaniel Stinnett found that even though tens of millions of Americans are super-committed environmentalists, as a group they have only about an 8 percent turnout rate on Election Day. For more information, please contact Stinnett's Environmental Voter Project or Citizens' Climate Lobby.

Judy Weiss

Brookline, Mass.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Listen to Montanans

Posted on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 3:43 PM

The Department of Interior has placed a sweeping moratorium on new federal coal leases in the United States. The stated objective of the moratorium is to pause the leasing in order to conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement, or PEIS, of this program.

But there are strong suggestions that the true aim of Interior's move is to simply place a permanent stop to all federal coal production. Even environmental groups, Interior's usual allies, agree that this is more than a temporary pause as they laud the decision as a means to kill coal jobs.

Interior recently completed a series of public listening sessions to collect comments on their PEIS process. They held sessions in a number of coal-producing western states, but they conspicuously avoided Montana, arguably the state most impacted by their decision. Oh, but they did find time to hold a hearing in Seattle—though Washington produces no federal coal and is not impacted by the proposal.

Interior's snub prompted Sen. Daines to hold his own listening session for Montanans, the comments from which will be put on the record with Interior. Hundreds of people turned out for Daines' hearing on June 21 in Billings, with opposition to Interior's decision outweighing the supporters by about four to one.

There was so much opposition to Interior because the elimination of federal coal leasing in Montana is a really big deal. Montana holds the largest coal reserves in the country, but more than half of that coal is owned by the federal government.

That means there are thousands of jobs in Montana directly dependent on federal coal. Interior's decision to stop coal leasing will eventually destroy all those jobsat the mines, on the railroads and in generating facilities.

This is going to be an enormous economic hit to the state of Montana. And though it's centered in southeastern Montana in places like Colstrip, it'll have a ripple effect that touches every community in the state.

Montana's budget depends a great deal on coal production. Federal coal is especially valuable because half of the royalty revenues collected by Interior are returned to the state, amounting to about $50 million per biennium for the state's general fund.

That revenue is in addition to all the other taxes paid by coal companies on federal production—taxes on property, business equipment, payroll and income. Simply put, our state budget is very dependent on coal production—especially production of federal coal—and undermining that industry will make it more difficult to fund education, law enforcement, infrastructure and other core functions of government.

Production of tribally owned coal is also put in jeopardy by Interior's decision. Already, the Crow have laid off hundreds of workers due to the political attacks that have undermined the industry over the last two years.

Interior has claimed that the leasing moratorium is necessary so they can determine if coal companies are paying their "fair share" for the federal coal they produce. That excuse rings hollow. Recent data indicate that coal producers pay five times as much in federal royalty payments as they make in profit from mining that coal.

The real objective of Interior's leasing moratorium is fairly obvious: put a stop to federal coal mining. When taken together with the plethora of other federal regulations aimed at killing coal, the picture becomes clear. The biggest threat to Montana coal is not soft markets—it's entirely political.

And that's why we need our political leaders to fight back. Sen. Daines deserves a big thank you from all Montanans for protecting their interests in this matter. It's a fight we can't afford to lose.

Sen. Duane Ankney

Colstrip

Wolf numbers

Posted on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 3:43 PM

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission are two different critters. Our FWP presents wildlife management proposals to five, governor-appointed commissioners. Commission meeting minutes regarding wolves, from 2007 through 2015, are available to the public. Get a copy, it's interesting history.

At their July 14, 2011, meeting, the commissioners established a three-wolf quota north of Yellowstone National Park. On July 9, 2015, the commissioners reduced their quota to two wolves. Yellowstone buffer zone wolf quotas were instituted by commissioners at final season setting meetings. They were not proposed by the FWP or sent out for comment.

On May 12, 2016, department biologists proposed a six-wolf quota and a Montana trapping quota of seven fisher. Commissioners rejected the department's proposal and put out two-wolf and zero-fisher quotas. Department biologists made no Yellowstone wolf quota proposals before their six-wolf quota that was shot down by a commission majority.

Do wolf advocacy groups and their "green decoys" masquerading as sportsmen try to influence Montana politicians? Could Montana hunters and trappers be "sold down the river" to placate national wolf advocacy outfits who couldn't care less about Montana's hunting heritage? Are environmental activists seeking more federal control over Montana resources, pouring political action cash into our governor's reelection campaign? Does wolf predation impact Montana's ungulate populations? You decide.

Edwin Johnson

Gardiner

A vote for community

Posted on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 3:42 PM

I am one of nearly 10,000 Missoula County residents visiting the Missoula Public Library each week. My fixed income prevents me from buying new books, but at the library I have access to bestselling titles, the classics, as well as novel topics. My reading choices are accessible to me in traditional bound form, audiobook or even downloadable to my computer. It saddens me that for a new book to be added to the library's collection, another book has to be "retired" because there is not enough shelf space. A new building would alleviate this problem.

I've loved having access to the educational opportunities Missoula Public Library provides. I've learned about art history, becoming a writer and have been able to participate in a local book group. My computer skills have been enhanced with classes on Windows, Android and QuickBooks operating systems. All of these opportunities might be available in different locales around Missoula, but they often have a monetary requirement to attend them. My free library card is all I need to learn. With the new building, I would be able to pass this desire on to my extended family, with the addition of The Children's Museum, SpectrUM Discovery and MCAT, free and accessible to all.

Have you or your kids visited the library or one of its six satellite branches for books and programs? Have you benefited from the Web On Wheels bus to access the internet? Imagine a newer, more current library that offers 21st century services for you and your family. A vote of "yes" for the library bond issue is a vote of yes for our community. Visit YesForMissoulaLibrary.org for more information and how you can support this vital local effort.

Kristina Hurley

Missoula

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Follow directions

Posted on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 3:15 PM

This year I had the opportunity to participate in the processing of mail-in ballots for Missoula County in the 2016 primary elections. I was one of 42 people selected to remove ballots from the blue, secret envelopes and unfold them so they could be fed to the vote-counting machines.

I was impressed with the percentage of ballots returned this year as compared to previous years. I'm sure people who mail in their ballots really want to have a voice in government, so I was disappointed in how many of the ballots had to be rejected because people could not follow simple directions.

According to ballot instructions prescribed by the secretary of state's office, "in an open primary, the voter is provided all eligible party ballots, BUT MAY SELECT ONLY ONE." In addition, the Missoula Elections Administration added a supplementary, very detailed set of instructions on the back of the prescribed instructions to help reduce the number of rejected ballots as it is a theme of every primary.

More than a few people put two voted ballots in one blue envelope. When this happens, both ballots are rejected and none of the votes on those ballots make it into the count.

I believe everyone who wants to vote should have their vote count, but that can only happen if the rules are followed. Please take the time to read the rules on your mail-in ballots for the general election in November and perform the steps one-by-one (including putting only one ballot in a blue envelope) so that your vote can be counted. Frequently in local elections only a few votes make the difference between winners and losers.

C. Burt Caldwell

Missoula

Destroyed trust

Posted on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 3:14 PM

The U.S. Forest Service continues to ignore public input and destroy trust as it did last year with proposed logging in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area. At a meeting last week, the Bitterroot National Forest made it clear that before releasing the final decision, they had already lined up workers to complete logging that threatens the integrity of a popular trail near Hamilton. The trees have also been marked and geotechnical work for a new road bridge has been completed prior to the final decision.

In planning the Westside Collaborative Vegetation Management project, the USFS has disregarded numerous public comments, discounted possible compromises, and dismissed almost all 17 objections filed. At the center of the controversy is the proposal to commercially log more than 2 square miles of mature ponderosa forest, build 7.6 miles of new logging roads and run log trucks on quiet residential roads. Much of this work will occur around the Coyote Coulee trail, a popular 9-mile loop in a pristine, unroaded area that was acquired by the USFS in the 1970s for big game winter range. The trail was built and has been maintained by the Backcountry Horsemen in true collaboration between the Backcountry Horsemen and the Bitterroot NF. Recently, Darby students have also participated in its maintenance. With this history of cooperation, it's astounding that the USFS is now ignoring public concerns, including a request for a buffer around the trail. And this project will cost taxpayers almost $1 million.

If it is truly necessary to make this forest "more resilient," the work could be accomplished with less impact in sensitive areas like Coyote Coulee by keeping new roads out and using noncommercial hand thinning. Considering public input by implementing compromises to keep this area pristine would certainly help the USFS win back the trust of the American people.

Jeff Lonn and

Michele Dieterich

Hamilton

Embracing change

Posted on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 3:14 PM

Thomas Edison said in 1931, "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."

Three quarters of a century later, the promise of solar energy is finally being realized. The price of solar panels has dropped by more than half since 2009, and there are now more jobs in solar in this country than there are in oil and gas extraction or coal mining.

To allow Montana's solar industry to continue growing toward its enormous potential, we need the right policies in place. That's why I was so glad to see the energy plan recently released by Gov. Bullock.

Here in Montana, rooftop solar is growing at a rate of 30 percent per year, and large-scale solar projects are also beginning to be developed. Within the last year, three Montana electric cooperatives have installed community solar projects, allowing co-op members to buy into a larger solar array built by the co-op. Solar developers have signed contracts to build six large-scale solar arrays in Montana and dozens more similar projects have been proposed.

As the owner of a solar business near Red Lodge for the past 22 years, I've witnessed the growth of Montana's solar industry firsthand. In addition to creating jobs and boosting our economy, solar is a valuable energy resource. It produces at times of high demand for electricity, when energy is especially valuable, and it helps to diversify our energy portfolio and make the grid more resilient.

Despite its recent growth, today solar accounts for just 0.1 percent of Montana's in-state electricity use. But its potential is huge. A recent study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that rooftop solar in Montana could meet 28 percent of Montana's electricity needs.

The governor's plan addresses our state's shifting energy landscape and lays out a variety of strategies to advance clean energy. When it comes to solar, the plan includes a goal of doubling solar development in the state by 2025. I am confident that we will meet that goal well ahead of schedule, thanks in part to some of the strategies outlined in the plan.

For example, net metering is Montana's foundational solar policy and has made rooftop solar development possible in the state. The governor's plan opposes efforts to weaken the net metering law, ensuring that rooftop solar be allowed to continue growing.

It's also great to see the state government leading by example on solar. The plan calls for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to evaluate the potential of solar on its own building in Helena, as well as other state-owned buildings and facilities around Montana.

As the governor's plan points out, "Over the coming decades, the energy landscape will dramatically change." Coal has been an important part of Montana's economy for a long time, but as buyers of Montana electricity increasingly demand cleaner energy sources, there's no question that our energy sector is in flux. Change can be disorienting, but with change comes opportunity. The people of Montana have always been known for their resourcefulness and adaptability. By seizing the clean energy opportunities before us, we can come through this transition stronger and more prosperous than ever.

Thank you, Gov. Bullock, for an energy plan that embraces Montana's clean energy potential.

Henry Dykema

Montana Renewable Energy Association

Red Lodge

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thank you, voters

Posted on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 3:56 PM

I want to thank the over 10,000 Missoula County voters who supported me in the Democratic primary for Missoula County commissioner. With that victory, I'm now ready to take on the Republican candidate in the general election this fall. It's been a pleasure meeting residents across this great county over the past few months, from Condon to Lolo to the Ninemile—hearing your concerns and visions for the county, and looking for creative solutions that balance competing interests.

I also want to thank my opponent in the race, Stacy Rye, for her commitment to public service, for running a strong campaign, and for shining a spotlight on many important issues. Running for or serving in public office—regardless of party affiliation—is not easy, and I applaud folks who are willing to step up, make themselves accountable to their constituents and give back to their communities. So thanks, Stacy, for your continued service to our community.

In the weeks and months to come, I'll continue reaching out to folks across our county to hear how we can ensure that Missoula County remains the brightest star in Montana's Big Sky. We may not always agree, but I'll do my best to listen and figure out where common ground exists to move the county forward. My priorities remain the same: land stewardship and conservation, good planning, public safety and social justice. And through it all, bridging the urban-rural divide that too often dominates politics. How we achieve these goals is where the rubber meets the road, but I'm confident that we can get there together.

Dave Strohmaier

Missoula

Just one story

Posted on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 3:55 PM

My name is Max Firehammer. Last week, I graduated from Hellgate High School. This September, I will go to study creative writing at Hamline University in Saint Paul. I owe much of my success to the Missoula Public Library.

When I was in middle school, I began to write short stories. Given my lack of experience, most of these were just collections of drifting ideas or blatant imitations of my favorite writers. But I tried. Then I began attending a young adult writers group at the library. We shared our writing with each other, and received feedback, praise and constructive criticism.

I continued to go to the young adult writer's group as often as possible for the next five years. Through this program at our public library, I was motivated to write fiction almost nonstop and acquired skills that have helped me not only in my pursuit of this passion, but also with my college preparation and a wide range of other areas.

All of this is only the story of how a single resource at the library has helped a single person. Considering how long the library has been around, the variety of resources it provides and the sheer number of people it serves each day (1,500, on average), there must be hundreds who have had experiences similar to my own. However, our library could easily be doing so much more. The building is sadly outdated. The shelves are full. There are not enough outlets or even enough places to sit. The library is not currently able to achieve its full potential to serve our community. We can fix that. If the bond is passed and these problems are solved and the resources provided are expanded, just imagine the possibilities. Please vote YES for our library.

Max Firehammer

Missoula

Searching for answers

Posted on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 3:54 PM

I carried an M-16 for a year in Vietnam. Upon returning home, a high school friend wanted to know if I had smuggled home a selector switch, which apparently can be installed in an AR-15 for full automatic capability. If this is true, do you suppose there is a black market for this device and are there such weapons available? Machine guns are still illegal, aren't they?

This is a serious question: Can any gun owner explain why they feel the need to own an assault weapon? Is it just because you can? Is it a slightly wicked thrill to have one or do you really see yourself in close combat against whoever it is you fear? Is it just to assert your right to own whatever weapon you desire? An AR-15 shoots a high velocity round that will destroy flesh and bone and is not that good at long range, so it's not ideal for hunting. What do you do with such a weapon?

Just for the record, I own long guns and pistols, and I once had a concealed weapon permit—although, after Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, I have become somewhat of a peacenik, thinking those wars pretty much only benefited arms manufacturers at a huge cost to American citizens.

Maybe you think an assault weapon ban will lead to losing the Second Amendment entirely (fat chance), and of course there are a bajillion assault weapons already out there, just waiting for the next drunk, stoned or mentally unstable person to pick one up. And I also realize our current political status has us so polarized that any compromise will be unlikely. But if you support the sales of assault weapons, explain to the public how you would prevent mass killings. I know, if there aren't guns people will use knives and clubs. But if those are so dangerous and effective, why don't you just arm yourself with those?

I really want answers to these questions. Anybody willing to write a reply?

Steve Wheat

Polson

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