The Billings Outpost

Ballards win Y award

Dr. Bill and Merilyn Ballard were honored on Dec. 6 by the Billings Family YMCA with the 2012 Philip N. Fortin Award.

The Philip N. Fortin Humanitarian Award is bestowed upon an individual or couple by the YMCA Board of Directors in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished volunteer, civic and professional achievement which has improved the quality of life within the community. Originally established with the support of Mary Alice Fortin in 1981, the Y has honored community members for 32 years.

Past recipients include many of the founding leaders of philanthropy and community spirit: Russ Hart, Alberta Bair, George Selover, Ralph Nelles, Bruce Carpenter, Sam McDonald and recent award winners the Scott Family, Walt Stieg, Steve Corning and Mary and Bill Underriner.

Bill and Merilyn Ballard have impacted countless lives through their committed leadership and generosity, a news release said. The Ballards have been part of the Billings community since 1956, and have demonstrated the meaning of philanthropy through a life-time of service and giving. Although Bill is the more visible member in the community, Merilyn is his partner in everything he does.

Dr. Ballard established the geology department at Rocky Mountain College, and served on Rocky’s Board of Directors for more than 20 years.

He now serves as chairman of the Billings Clinic Board of Directors and is a major champion for advancing cancer care in the region.

The Ballards focus their philanthropy in the areas of higher education and health care, and have been passionate advocates for cancer care and cardiac programs.

They have also been significant donors to the RiverStone Health Foundation, and because of their passion for children’s programs, they have been major donors to the Yellowstone Boys & Girls Club Foundation.

“Bill and Merilyn have created a legacy of giving for the Billings community, by donating their leadership, guidance, and resources,” said Chief Executive Officer Tina Postel. She adds, “The YMCA is committed to building strong communities, and the Ballards exemplify that mission in everything they do; we are pleased to be able to honor them with this award.”

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 11:54

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Feeding deer in yard may violate state law

Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Every winter a few well-meaning Montanans put food in their yards supposedly to help wildlife through the cold and snow or because they like to watch the animals. In many instances, they may be violating state law.

Under Montana law, a person may not provide supplemental feed that attracts ungulates, bears or mountain lions. Nor may Montanans provide wildlife with feed that unnaturally concentrates game animals and could contribute to disease transmission or a threat to public safety.

Ungulates are animals that have a two-part hoof. In Montana wild ungulates include antelope, deer, elk, moose, bison, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden Kevin Holland said unnatural concentrations of wildlife, attracted to supplemental feed, inadvertently can contribute to the spread of disease or attract mountain lions and other predators to neighborhoods.

Though recreational feeding of birds is allowed under Montana law, game wardens may ask people to stop feeding birds if their birdfeeders attract ungulates or bears, Holland said. If a problem persists, the owner of a birdfeeder may be charged with a violation.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 11:50

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Fraudulent email sent

HELENA – The Montana Department of Labor and Industry is notifying Montana employers of a fraudulent email that first appeared in the eastern United States and has now been seen in Montana.

“We want to make sure Montana employers are aware of this scam, so they don’t unknowingly give information to a potential identity thief,” said Labor Commissioner Keith Kelly.

The initial email surfaced in Massachusetts purporting to be from that state’s unemployment assistance agency. It was asking for information from employers about former employees’ wage and separation information.

Reports of similar emails being sent to employers in Montana and other states have been received. The email references the Division of Unemployment Assistance and the need for former employees’ information in relation to a claim that has been filed.

The Montana agency responsible for unemployment insurance is the Montana Unemployment Insurance Division.

The Department recommends that any Montana employer that receives this fraudulent email not reply with any information and delete the email. For information, contact the Montana UID fraud investigator at (406) 444-1709 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:09

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Report points to success in Montana’s economy


HELENA – Public lands in the backyard are being credited with a strong economy in Montana. 

A new report, “West Is Best,” looks at jobs, income and population changes in Montana and other western states - against the backdrop of National Forests, parks and other public spaces. 

Ben Alexander, associate director at Headwaters Economics, which issued the report, says Montana’s biggest growth in jobs and income has been in high-wage service industries – such as health care and professional services – with companies relocating here because of the outdoors values.

“The state has grown its employment twice as fast as the rest of the U.S., and has grown personal income twice as fast as the rest of the U.S. over the last decade,” he said. “That’s a tremendous story for a state that is largely rural and micropolitan.”

The report finds that Montana and other western states, home to the largest share of public lands, have seen their economies fare better than the nation over the past 40 years. 

Lance Trebesch owns and related companies in Bozeman. He says outdoors recreation has long been a recruiting tool for his businesses.

“When you live in a great place that has hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands – skiing, hunting, fly-fishing, mountain-biking, running – you can attract great people and furthermore, you can retain the great people you already have in the state.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 December 2012 11:34

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Student project benefits church

MSU Billings News Services

Montana State University Billings is a place of teaching and learning. But elements of both often happen outside of the classroom.

One recent case in point involves seemingly incongruous elements: A handful of college students in a communications class; a group project assignment; a local plumbing supply company; and a South Billings church where only air was coming from the hot water faucets. 

The MSU Billings students learned how to pull together for a cause and the church learned the power of community.

“At first we thought this was an impossible task,” said Amanda Grubbs, a junior communications and theater major from Billings. “But once you get a certain number of people together and focus on reaching a goal, you can get it done in no time.”

It all started a few weeks ago in a 200-level communications class that deals with group dynamics. As part of the class, the groups were told to find a local need that could be addressed with a collaborative, solutions-oriented process. The group of Grubbs and fellow juniors Steve Joiner, Chase Robertson, Leah Jones and Lisa Sobolewski teamed up and were determined to find something that would be different from efforts already under way in various social service sectors.

After running through some ideas that didn’t gain traction, Jones, who moved to Billings in May with her husband to serve as pastor of the Heritage Christian Center, noted the church has been operating without hot water.

Jones said she was hesitant to even bring up the need because it would appear self-serving. But Grubbs said the group decided working to provide a hot water heater for a congregation of 65 people and a church that serves as a gathering point on that part of town only made sense. It was an easy decision to make, she said, since the group would be able to relate the idea to the class assignment and meet the needs of a specific part of the community.

The church has potluck dinners and the multipurpose room serves as a place for potlucks or other events as well as for two dozen children every week for Sunday School. The problem was, water had to be microwaved in one-gallon increments for five minutes at a time to get any hot water to clean things up.

More recently, the church was hit by vandals and nearly every outside window was broken. Money needed to be directed to get new windows, which made getting a professionally installed water heater – quoted at about $2,000 – was out of the question.

Still, Jones didn’t want to come across as pushing her own agenda.

“Then she missed class one day so that’s when we decided we would do Leah’s project,” Grubbs said, smiling broadly.

That got the ball rolling in late November. One person in the group had some plumbing background and contacted various vendors about parts that would put a new water heater in the church basement. Others in the group worked to find a business to donate a water heating unit.

“The problem was we were approaching Black Friday (the post-Thanksgiving day of sales bonanzas) and nobody wanted to take this on,” Grubbs said.

Then, after a late-November inquiry, Mountain Supply Co., a plumbing wholesale/retail company in Billings, stepped forward. The company donated a 40-gallon valued at $465 to the students. With another $130 in parts from another donor, the water heater was installed this month in a tight space on the western edge of the basement. 

Now, as the Joneses plan for this year’s Christmas play, hot water will arrive via the tap and clean-ups will be easy and any extra funds can be channeled into much-needed roof repairs. 

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 11:35

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More funds sought for Yellowstone River study

By JANE WHITE - The Billings Outpost

“We have not gotten our fair share of the federal resources,” said Don Youngbauer, head of the Yellowstone River District Council, at a five-hour meeting last week at Montana State University Billings.

Mr. Youngbauer wants at least $1 million in federal money to complete the first Cumulative Effects Study - a study designed to anticipate serious water shortages that was supposed to be completed five years ago.

“There has never been a study of this magnitude that has ever been done on any river in the world,” said Mr. Youngbauer. “We must look at the river, see how much water can be used and not compromise the people and communities downstream. It’s a travesty what we did to Mexico.”

Water in the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico has been all used up for agriculture, he said.

“We have not been very good to our neighbors to the south,” he said. “That river is just a dribble by the time it gets to the ocean now.”

He added, “Dang, when that oil spill happened on the Yellowstone, we got calls from India, France, England, and more. Everyone in the world knows how important the Yellowstone River is.”

Indeed, the meeting, hosted by MSU Billings, attracted the attention of Rebecca Wodder, a deputy assistant secretary to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who heads the agency that includes the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Ms. Wodder attended the Dec. 6 meeting and announced that she would relay the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council’s request for the funds to complete the Cumulative Effects Study to Mr. Salazar as soon as she returned to Washington, D.C.

Other studies of the Yellowstone reveal the importance of ecological, socio-economic and industrial aspects of the river, Mr. Youngbauer said. The river provides water for wildlife like ducks and geese, people and industry.

MSU Billings Professor Susan Gilbertz played a key role in the completion of the socioeconomic study, complemented by a summer tour of the river. Of the roughly 19 studies done on the river, the avian and the socioeconomic ones are complete, but many others languish, still unfinished, including an important economic study that was originally a pilot study, according to Mr. Youngbauer.

“Where would we be if we had not started these studies 15 years ago?” asked Mr. Youngbauer, in a telephone interview. “Oil people are buying water rights from cities, farmers” and others, he said. He explained that hydrologists, mainly in Sidney and Glendive, are drilling wells that eventually reduce water pressure. There are also water depots, where truckers transport millions of gallons of water to fracking locations.

“There is absolutely not enough water for the magnitude of development in the oil industry – right now, the oil industry could use all of the water in the Yellowstone and more,” he said.

A new federal program designed to protect rivers and watersheds is the Blueways Designation from the Department of the Interior, the focus of the Dec. 6 meeting. Encouraging diverse federal agencies to communicate with each other more effectively, the Blueways Designation identifies so far only the Connecticut River and its New England watershed as a federal Blueway.

During the five months of that river’s enjoyment of Blueway status, no significant reports have been released.

The primary federal agencies involved are the Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey and BLM. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet found a representative role in this effort.

On the state level, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation are involved. Mr. Youngbauer said more cooperation is needed between state and federal agencies, especially the Army Corps of Engineers, which helps protect rivers from erosion and builds levies to stave off floods.

Although the council does not know how much funding the YRCDC effort will receive, the council, via Mr. Youngbauer, said that the federal agencies have already contributed $6.5 million over five years and that there is now a cost-sharing mechanism through which Montana contributes 25 percent and the feds 75 percent.

Montana has invested way beyond its original obligations, said Mr. Youngbauer. Besides leading the YRCDC, Mr. Youngbauer is also a dentist and cattle rancher with about 500 head in Forsyth, 28 miles north of the river.

The public is invited to the meetings of the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council. Call 223-5702 or 247-4411 or check for information.

Last Updated on Friday, 14 December 2012 18:31

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Teens hit by weak job market


MISSOULA - Work experience is required to get a job, but you can’t get that experience without a job. It’s a tricky situation for Montana’s teens and young adults, with a new KIDS COUNT reportfrom the Annie E. Casey Foundation showing that 22,000 Montanans ages 16 to 24 are not working, and they’re not in school. Thale Dillon, director of Montana KIDS COUNT, says a tight job market is one reason positions are scarce.

“The jobs go to older workers who have experience. Young workers today have many fewer opportunities to gain the experience they need.”

She points to research showing that the brains of young adults need positive work experiences early on in order to develop properly. First jobs are about more than paychecks; they instill work ethic skills and self-management techniques that aren’t usually taught in school, she adds.

The report says there are many ways to help young people, and it’s not all in the hands of the government. Businesses have a role to play, too, Dillon says, and it’s in their best interest to invest in a workforce.

Multiple pathways would help, the report says, including finding ways to engage high school dropouts and exploring options to help Montanans afford higher education – as well as sticking with programs until graduation.

The full report can be found at at

Last Updated on Friday, 14 December 2012 17:59

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Waiting for Farm Bill


MISSOULA – Montana farmers and ranchers are watching closely as Congress gets back to work.

While the so-called “fiscal cliff” is garnering the most attention, an expired farm bill is also still sitting on the “to-do” list. 

Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, says rumors have been flying about the timing of a final bill, and he’s optimistic.

“There’s still a chance that it will be done before the end of the year. The key issue here is not just when it gets done, but that it gets done well.”

Hassebrook notes key differences in the versions passed by the House and Senate, and calls the Senate version more friendly to Montana and other rural states.

“The Senate bill invests in small business development in rural America; the House bill does not. And the Senate bill invests more in beginning farmer programs. So, doing the farm bill right is every bit as important as getting it done soon.”

Even though the bill expired, funding is being continued for federal crop insurance and the food stamp program, Hassebrook says, but some conservation programs are in limbo, as well as disaster programs, and funding was severely limited for rural entrepreneurship initiatives.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 10:24

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Christmas trees available

With the approach of Thanksgiving, the season for harvesting a Christmas tree is right around the corner. Christmas tree permits went on sale this week November 13 on both the Custer and Gallatin national forests.

Christmas tree permits are available for purchase at all local ranger district offices, including Big Timber, Livingston, Gardiner, Bozeman and West Yellowstone on the Gallatin National Forest and Ashland, Red Lodge, Billings and Camp Crook, S.D., on the Custer National Forest.

“Cutting a Christmas tree around Thanksgiving or leading into December is a popular and longstanding family tradition for many,” said Mariah Leuschen, public affairs specialist for the Custer and Gallatin national forests. “It’s a great way to spend time outdoors with those close to you and possibly start a new tradition.”

Permits are $5 each with a limit of three permits per family. Permits can be purchased at Forest Service offices during regular business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Additionally, the Beartooth Ranger District will be open to sell tags on the four Saturdays immediately following Thanksgiving starting Nov. 24 and continuing on Dec. 1, 8 and 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Maps, forest road access updates and tree species identification guides are available at all offices.

Those with a permit may cut a Christmas tree anywhere on the Custer or Gallatin National Forest except in campgrounds, trailheads, designated wilderness areas, developed recreation sites, posted timber sale units, recently planted locations and administrative sites. Permits are also valid for any national forest in the Northern Region, which includes all of Montana, northern Idaho and portions of North and South Dakota.

No tree cutting is allowed within 100 feet of any stream, lake, or wetland. Only trees 12 feet tall or less may be cut.

* Cut your tree as close to the ground as possible and below the lowest live limb. A remaining stump height of 6 inches or less is ideal.

* After cutting your tree, attach the purchased permit to a lower limb near the trunk for transporting home.

* “Topping” trees, or cutting the top off trees, deforms any future growth and leaves a visual eyesore. Take the entire tree or choose another one.

* Trees help protect watersheds, provide habitat for wildlife, and contribute to beautiful scenery. Keep these values in mind when selecting a tree.

For more information, contact any Custer or Gallatin National Forest office or online at and

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:20

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Long lines delay count

By ALLISON CONNELL - AARON CURTIS - and KYLE SCHMAUCH - UM School of Journalism - Montana Public Media

Officials in Montana’s most populous counties were reporting heavy turnout Tuesday night, with long lines of waiting voters and those still hoping to register. In some places, officials predicted people were voting long after the polls closed.

That was the story in Cascade, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Yellowstone and Flathead counties.

Ross Cavosos, a volunteer at the Yellowstone County office, said late Tuesdays afternoon that the turnout in Montana’s largest county was overwhelming.

“Everyone is surprised we have so many people trying to vote,” he said, adding that many of those in line appeared to be young voters. He said some would-be voters waited three and a half hours for late registration and he expected lines to remain long for most of the evening.

Across the state in Missoula, county election official Anne Hughes reported a strong turnout, which meant long lines for some hoping to register and vote.

“We always hope for a high turnout, even if that means a crazier time for us,” she said.

In Bozeman, a local TV station reported that some polling places had run out of ballots.

Heavy voting was the trend in Flathead and Cascade counties too. Flathead County elections supervisor Monica Eisenzimer said officials there expect to see their last voter vote an hour or two after the polls close.

Shantell McGraw from the Cascade office said doors may close at 8 tonight, but the voters could be casting ballots after 10.

“We have a crazy amount of people in here, probably about 200 people in late registration line right now,” said McGraw.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 16:58

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