Welcome to 2014. When the calendar flips to another new year, we tend to mark the occasion with renewed hope and anticipation. Resolutions are made. Bad memories are discarded. Fortunes are cast. For the second consecutive year, we're doing our part with a list of bold predictions, compiled by our staff and some select members of the Missoula community.
A lot can happen in 365 days. It takes a certain combination of luck, insight and calculated risk to accurately foretell what some of those happenings might be. A bold prediction doesn't always hit the bullseye—just look at the results from last year's issue in our accompanying sidebar—but they often set a certain level of expectation for the year ahead. And when a bold prediction does hit pay dirt, well, that means something is going right—or, in some cases, horribly wrong.
Montana becomes the beeriest state of all
With the opening of three new microbreweries in the greater Missoula area, as well as a string of new taprooms in Whitefish, Livingston, Great Falls and Sidney, Montana finally and officially topples Vermont from its position as the state with the most breweries per capita.
Vermont currently has one brewery for every 24,066 residents. Taking into account planned openings for 2014, Montana will soon have a brewery for every 21,382 residents. Montanans will celebrate by doing what they pretty much already do on a daily basis: Drinking craft beer.
Barry Beach is freed from prison (again, and for good)
The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, along with Gov. Steve Bullock, support Barry Beach's petition for clemency, enabling him to be freed from prison after serving decades for a crime that he maintains he did not commit.
By now, Beach's story is well known. In 1983, he confessed to killing 17-year-old Kim Nees on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Weeks later, he said that he "broke weak" on the heels of a seven-hour police interrogation, during which detectives threatened him with the electric chair. Beach received a 100-year sentence with no chance of parole.
In 2011, Roosevelt County District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips found that new evidence introduced by Beach's attorneys warranted a new trial. After serving nearly 30 years in prison, Beach was released on his own recognizance pending a new trial. During the 18 months that Beach lived free, he worked full time and spoke to students and social service organizations about his experiences. Beach also championed the causes of others he believed had been wrongfully convicted.
But on May 14, 2013, the Montana Supreme Court reinstated Beach's sentence. In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the new evidence cited by Phillips did "not displace the evidence tested at Beach's trial, including his confession."
The decision shocked and angered Beach's supporters. An online petition calling to "Free Barry Beach" garnered 15,000 signatures. A September clemency request to the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, meanwhile, drew more than 200 letters of support from notables including Sen. Jon Tester, former Sen. Conrad Burns and Bullock's predecessor, Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
In 2014, Bullock and the Parole Board will approve Beach's clemency request, enabling him to return to Billings to continue building the life that he started during his 18 months of freedom.
Grizzlies get delisted
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service heeds the late 2013 recommendation from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and drafts a new rule lifting Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. History repeats itself as environmentalists challenge the delisting decision in court, this time on the grounds that a dramatic decline in elk numbers has left the bears without another key food source. The anti-wolf contingent in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana quickly hijacks the message, publicly blaming the grizzly's plight on wolves and arguing that state wildlife agencies should allow unregulated hunting of wolves throughout the Yellowstone region as a conservation measure for other species.
Guest prognosticator: John Engen, mayor of the city of Missoula
Something majorly controversial will happen (and we'll survive)
During the course of eight years serving as Missoula's mayor, I've learned that predicting much of anything is a risky business in local government. Still, once in a while, I'm willing to stick my neck out and prognosticate.
So, my bold prediction for the city of Missoula in 2014: A controversy will arise. Some folks will think it's the worst thing that's ever happened to the good people of our fair city, while others will believe it's the best thing that could ever happen for the citizens of Missoula. We'll talk about it at a city council meeting or two. There will be a vote. And we'll wait for the next controversy to come our way.
In the meantime, most Missoulians will continue to love this place we call home and will appreciate all our city has to offer. And that ain't bad.