BILLINGS – Coal mining in the Bull Mountains may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Cracks in the earth related to mining, called subsidence cracks, are one of the reasons landowners have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for granting a 2012 coal lease in Musselshell County.
Steve Charter is one of the ranchers involved. He explains that the BLM study that claimed surface effects would be minimal can’t possibly be true based on what’s being observed at other nearby mines. And there are below-ground concerns, too, he says.
“Our main water aquifer is above the coal seam, so, you know, we’re real worried that, that could be damaged,” Charter warns.
Charter is chairman of the Northern Plains Resource Council, which filed the suit with landowners. He says some of the cracks have been 15 feet wide and 19 feet deep.
Sometimes they heal on their own after the coal is mined, but not always - and the cracks are a livestock safety hazard.
He contends that the BLM conclusion of “minimal impact” was based on data gathered in 1990 – before the area was mined.
“They could have actually went and looked at what was actually happening, and instead of that, they took 20-year old, stale data,” he says.
Last Updated on Thursday, 22 May 2014 23:05
Bureau of Reclamation has implemented motor vehicle restrictions to specific Reclamation lands along the Yellowstone River near Huntley. The gated restriction area is located off of Creekmore Road and is southwest of Huntley.
“Access to the area by foot will continue to be allowed, but motor vehicle access will be limited due to the large amount of off-road vehicle damage to natural resources and other unauthorized uses. Restricting vehicular access will allow the area time to regenerate and deter the unauthorized use,” said Jeff Baumberger, Supervisory Resource Specialist.
Motor vehicle travel across open country, especially with soggy soils, is particularly damaging as native vegetation is destroyed and weed infestations will begin.
The section of bottomland also receives large amounts of trash left onsite from gatherings and bonfires. Graffiti is also becoming an issue on the sandstone bluffs overlooking the restricted area.
Last Updated on Thursday, 22 May 2014 22:51
Nestled between the Big Horn National Recreation Area and the Pryor Mountains of the Custer National Forest is the 38,000-acre crown jewel of wild horse management areas: the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.
One of the first two wild horse sanctuaries in the nation, the Pryor range was established in 1968 (three years before the passing of the Federal Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act) to protect the iconic Colonial Spanish horse genetics preserved in the herd.
Genetic testing shows the herd is one of the purest strains of the original horses brought to the New World by Spanish explorers. Their escapees became the herds that supplied Native Americans with the original “Indian ponies.”
Some of the horses still exhibit primitive “Old World” markings such as dorsal stripes on their backs and tiger stripes on their rumps. Many of the other markers of the old world origins such as small heads, convex ears and smallish body size (many weigh less than 900 pounds) are prevalent. When the herd is reduced, those without Colonial Spanish traits are among the first selected for culling.
While many of the federal wild horse ranges throughout the western United States are faced with the daunting task of warehousing thousands of unwanted mustangs, the Pryor herd seems to always have adoptees for the gentle, strong-hoofed, surefooted equines.
By law the herd is supposed to be between 90 and 120 animals. Some geneticists warn that a population below 120 will cause inbreeding and a lack of the genetic diversity required to maintain herd health.
The last population census claimed 160 horses on the range. The population is slowly creeping up each year by five to 10 animals. There will be a recount in June to correct for those that did not survive the winter and count new foals.
On average, 60 percent of the foals survive their first year. The main cause of colt mortality is abandonment, being stepped on, falling off the prominent cliffs, winter and drought. Their main predator, once the colts are old enough to keep up with the herd, are cougars.
The desired gender makeup of the herd is 50/50 but the current make up is 45 percent male and 55 percent female. Of the horses above the age of 20, four are stallions and 17 are mares. In the breeding population, 26 are stallions and 26 are mares.
To keep the population in check, mares below the age of 5 and above the age of 10 are darted with Porcine Zona Pellucide as the preferred method of birth control. The mares are approached on foot and darted in the hip at about 30 yards.
The only complications seem to be that the mares live longer and occasionally develop temporary nodules at the injection site. Without fertility control, there would be an annual herd growth of about 25 horses; with it, the average is about 12.
According to Jared Bybee, the wild horse and burro specialist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Billings Office, the desired grazing impact is to consume no more than 45 percent of the available forage based on dry year growth patterns. However, the range is currently utilized from 21 percent to 89 percent, which can cause soil erosion.
Specialist Bybee, who has a degree in range management, says that with the law not allowing cross fencing, or herding of the horses, the only option is to “give them a reason to graze somewhere else.” Acknowledging that the older horses will always follow the snow line up to high grazing, he hopes to get the younger horses to frequent the 10 new water developments and use lower grazing opportunities.
While the Pryor herd boasts among the purest strain of Spanish Colonial genes in America, the horses are not pure. A stallion from Wyoming in the late ’80s was introduced to add to genetic diversity in the herd, which was the last intentional introduction. The entire range is fenced and, despite rumors to the contrary, Bybee maintains that no mustangs roam the national forest adjacent to the sanctuary. The lesser genetic strains that show up in the tests include common light riding and racing type ranch horses used over time. Prevalent in these is quarter horse genetics.
Of the BLM’s $300,000 budget for this area, only $85,000 is dedicated to range projects, fertility control and water projects on the 38,000-acre range. The viewing of the horses is a growing destination for many on vacation and locals. When the horses are at lower elevations, they can be seen from all-weather roads in the Bighorn Canyon.
Later in the season, many Montana families mount four wheelers and 4x4 vehicles to go up the Pryor Mountains and drop into the top of the range, hoping to catch a glimpse of the West’s living history.
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 May 2014 09:44
HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock has announced that he is appointing Judge Jim Shea to serve on the Montana Supreme Court.
Shea will replace Judge Brian Morris, who was recently appointed to serve as a federal district court judge in Great Falls. Shea, who was raised in Butte, graduated from the University of Montana in 1988 and the University of Montana School of Law in 1991. He has served as a Montana Workers’ Compensation Court Judge since 2005, a position he was twice confirmed to by the Montana Senate.
“From humble beginnings in Butte, and with more than 20 years in the law field, Judge Shea will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Montana Supreme Court. Because of his reputation as a fair and intelligent judge and lawyer, he received broad-based support for his appointment,” Bullock said. “His understanding and respect for both the Montana and U.S. Constitutions make him well suited to serve the people of Montana as a member of the Supreme Court.”
In April, the Judicial Nomination Commission sent four names to Bullock for consideration. He held public interviews with each of the candidates.
Shea will be subject to confirmation by the Senate. If confirmed he will be up for election in November 2016.
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 May 2014 09:38
After conducting a nationwide search, President Waded Cruzado introduced Mark Nook as the new chancellor of Montana State University Billings earlier this week. Nook will succeed Dr. Rolf Groseth, who announced his retirement in January.
“Dr. Nook inherits one of the strongest institutions in our system,” commented President Cruzado. “He will have an opportunity to build upon a solid institutional and community foundation. His enthusiastic leadership-style is an ideal fit for the Billings campus.”
Nook said he felt humbled and honored by the appointment and was eager to become a part of the Montana State University family.
“I feel fortunate that Dr. Cruzado has entrusted me to lead this storied university,” Nook said. “Everyone we met during the search process greatly impressed my wife, Cheryl, and me. There is a deep commitment to helping each student reach her or his educational, professional and personal life goals. I look forward to addressing the challenges ahead and strengthening our institution within Billings and our region.”
Nook, 56, serves as the senior vice president for academic and student affairs for the University of Wisconsin system. He was previously the interim chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point from August 2009 to July 2010. Nook also served two separate stints as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs during his tenure at Stevens Point. From 1990 until 2007 Dr. Nook worked at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn.
Nook received his bachelor’s in physics and mathematics from Southwest Minnesota State University, a master’s in astrophysics from Iowa State University and a doctorate in astronomy from UW-Madison.
Bruce Brumley, academic senate chair at MSU Billings and search committee member, said the search process yielded a strong field of candidates to lead MSU Billings.
“The faculty are excited that Dr. Nook will be our leader for years to come,” said Brumley. “I am confident he will help our campus and the system reach new heights.”
Vice president for administration and finance on the MSU campus, Terry Leist, chaired the 18-member search committee.
“I am proud of the work the committee performed to bring the best candidates forward during the process,” remarked Leist.
Sarah Brockel, director of MSUB alumni relations, knew during his visit that Dr. Nook was the right fit for the campus, community, students and alumni.
“MSUB alumni will thoroughly enjoy working with Mark,” commented Brockel. “He understands the value in being a Yellowjacket and we are excited to help him tout our institution.”
He and his wife, Cheryl, enjoy outdoor activities and attending university cultural and athletic events. Cheryl and Mark have three adult children and one grandchild.
Nook’s appointment will be on the Board of Regents agenda next week in Havre. The board will vote on Friday, May 23. Upon approval, Dr. Nook will assume his role as chancellor on July 1, 2014.
Located in Montana’s largest city, MSU Billings is a comprehensive regional university with an enrollment of near 5,000 students. It has more than 80 academic programs in five colleges that provide certificate, two-year, four-year and master’s degree education.
It is one of four universities in the MSU system that serves students and the state through campuses in Bozeman, Billings, Havre and Great Falls.
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 May 2014 09:14
May is a good month for well-behaved women (and men).
A few years ago, historian Thatcher Ulrich observed, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” You may have seen her observation printed on a T-shirt or a coffee mug.
It might cause a woman to think, “Exactly what is a well-behaved woman and what can I do to avoid becoming one?”
The news is good. We don’t necessarily have to be outrageous, outspoken, or obnoxious (though outrageous and outspoken can be fun). We can behave in ways that would make our mothers proud at the same time we change the world and make history.
Take the case of one woman, Edna Ruth Byler. In 1946, Edna witnessed extreme poverty in Puerto Rico and decided to take action. What she did would begin the global fair trade movement.
She believed that she could provide economic opportunities by creating a marketplace in the United States for goods that were handcrafted by the women she had met in Puerto Rico. She began purchasing needlework and then selling it out of the trunk of her car back in the United States. While she sold, she also educated her community about the lives of artisans around the world.
In 1987, in Billings, Montana, three local women, Barbara Bert, Betty Jean Young, and Anita Doyle, decided they wanted to help alleviate world poverty by helping people become self-sufficient. Our three heroes gathered funds from friends and local churches and started an independent, nonprofit organization – Global Village – with the idea that all people deserve to earn fair wages for their work, to be able to raise their children and build their communities with respect and dignity.
Edna Byler worked for more than 30 years helping to develop a nonprofit organization that is now a standard bearer for the principles and practices of Fair Trade. That organization, called Ten Thousand Villages, is a founding member of the Fair Trade Federation.
Ten Thousand Villages was named one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” by the Ethisphere Institute and Forbes Magazine. It is now one of the world’s largest fair trade organizations, working with low income artisans in 38 countries.
Meanwhile, Global Village continues to pursue its mission of providing opportunity to low-income artisans and farmers around the world. Operating a Fair Trade store is the main tool Global Village employs in that mission, but it also sponsors educational activities that promote the values of Fair Trade, tolerance, and cultural appreciation.
Global Village has been a member of The Fair Trade Federation for the past 20 years. More than 40 volunteers, mostly women, staff the store, serve as board members, and help with education and outreach activities.
The Fair Trade business model promotes operating principles of fair wages, environmental stewardship, safe working conditions, the rights of children, financial transparency, respect for cultural identity, and helping local people improve their communities and the lives of the people who live there.
Today, U.S. fair trade sales exceed $1 billion annually; worldwide sales are more than $2.6 billion.
As we learn more about fair trade, we gain an understanding of its ethical as well as practical importance. We know that we must treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated. This means an end to slavery, no matter where it exists. This means an end to exploitation of people and the planet. This means standing by our convictions, speaking out, and working hard to build a truly just world. And it requires that, in the end, we are “well behaved.”
The international Fair Trade community celebrates World Fair Trade Day each year with events in more than 80 countries. This year, in the U.S. and Canada, more than 100,000 people will be attending events between May 3-19.
Here in Billings, Global Village will celebrate World Fair Trade Day on May 9-10 with a coffee-tasting at 2720 Third Ave. N. Montana Women’s Run runners are invited to bring in their bibs that Saturday for a 20 percent discount.
Global Village is also holding its annual fundraiser on Saturday, May 17 (5:30-7:30 p.m.), at the Valley Federal Credit Union downtown. Tickets are $30 and are available at the Global Village store.
This year’s theme is “A Party in the Orient,” with a silent auction, hors d’oeuvres by Abby’s Catering, and no-host beer and wine from Angry Hank’s and the Good Earth Market.
You can learn more about Global Village and Fair Trade at:
www.globalvillagebillings.org or www.fairtraderesource.org or www.fairtradefederation.org.
Last Updated on Thursday, 08 May 2014 11:59
William J. (Bill) Speare, a candidate running to succeed G. Todd Baugh as a district court judge in Montana’s Thirteenth Judicial District Court, held a press conference this week to introduce himself to the voters of Yellowstone County. Speare said he is late coming to the race, but he is the best candidate to replace Judge Todd Baugh. Here is his edited statement:
Speare was born and raised in Billings and has lived his entire life in Montana. He is a Billings kid who is the son of a Laurel kid. Speare graduated with honors from West High, Montana State University in Bozeman, and the University of Montana School of Law in Missoula. He and his wife, Lisa, are raising their two daughters in Billings.
Speare understands the importance of the position of district court judge. The justice system has control over individuals’ liberty, the custody of their children, and in many cases whether they face economic ruin. Speare touted his experience, his honesty, and his reputation for fairness and common sense among his colleagues.
Speare has tried approximately 100 criminal cases to verdict in both bench and jury trials. The majority of his practice has been devoted to complex civil law cases. He has worked with individuals from all walks of life, as well as with partnerships, small local companies and large international companies.
Speare notes his experience in all manner of civil law is important, since two-thirds of the filings in Yellowstone County in 2013 were in the civil field. Just over 18 percent of cases were criminal filings, and the remaining filings were warrant requests and cases related to juvenile law and abuse and neglect.
Four of the five candidates on the ballot to replace Judge Baugh also applied for the position Mike Moses will fill. Speare is the only candidate actively seeking to replace Judge Baugh whom the Montana Judicial Nominating Commission certified as qualified for appointment to a judicial position. If Speare is elected, he would follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a district court judge in Billings from 1979 until his retirement in 1994.
Speare urged voters to get as much information as they can on the judicial candidates.
, and to speak with people they know who work in the law or with the courts. The position is too important to rely on a slogan on a sign or a brief conversation with a stranger in deciding how to vote. Voters can visit the Montana Court website at http://courts.mt.gov/supreme/boards/jud_nomination/default.mcpx for the Judicial Nominating Commission and review all but one of the candidates’ writings and public comments made by people who know them.
Last Updated on Thursday, 08 May 2014 11:57
The aromatic mingled smell of tomato, onion, garlic, sausage and cheese drew a small group of vets living in Independence Hall to the kitchen where Jerry Schusted was putting on oven mitts to draw a large baking pan from the oven.
“Oh, man, that smells good,” one said.
“Yeah, but it’s not for us,” another bemoaned.
The cheese-smothered pasta was Jerry’s lasagna for nurses at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings.
“I don’t have much I can do to thank them, but I can take them this,” he said, pulling the pan from the oven. None of the spectators complained.
“They were so good to me when I was in the hospital, this is the least I can do,” he said.
In a way, given Jerry’s circumstances, it’s the most he can do.
Jerry, who served nine years in the Navy, including in the Aleutian Islands, wound up in the hospital three times in the past two years because of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The first time, in March 2012, he nearly died. His heart and lungs were so damaged he had 60 pounds of liquid build up in his body. He lost his job in the receiving department of a major retailer.
“I couldn’t lift anything. I could barely stand up,” he said.
He had worked all his life, mostly as a restaurant and hotel manager. When the recession hit, those jobs vanished.
He had bought a home, but, unemployed and unable to make his mortgage payments, he lost it.
He had no family and he couldn’t prevail on friends for a place to stay except for short periods.
Suddenly, as his medical conditions overpowered him, he “lost everything. I came within an inch of being homeless and with winter and my vulnerability because of my lungs, there’s no doubt I would have died,” he said. “That’s when I was told to go see Scott Powers (the program director for Volunteers of America Northern Rockies) who was able to get me into Independence Hall, and it saved my life.”
Jerry was hospitalized two more times at St. Vincent Healthcare, in September 2013 and in March 2014.
“If not for Independence Hall, I would have been living on the streets, homeless and exposed, and I would have died,” he said.
Independence Hall is a 20-bed transitional residence built in the Billings Heights in 2009 for honorably discharged homeless veterans. Thanks to VOANR and the caregivers at St. Vincent Healthcare, Jerry was saved.
“Those nurses are the greatest people I ever met,” he said. “They were always ready with a smile. I tried not to be a bother or to bug them, but they always checked to see I was OK.”
The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, which operates St. V’s, forgave some of his hospitalization; Volunteers of America provided a place for him to live, to obtain Veterans Administration benefits he was entitled to, and to get healthy.
Now, with a small disability income and medical bills to pay, Jerry struggles to make ends meet. His prescriptions are discounted by the Veterans Administration, but he still must pay some of that cost. He is proud he is able to pay some rent at Independence Hall, diminish his debts, and, when he can, and save a little money to buy the ingredients for lasagna.
“I don’t know when I can take lasagna to them, so they don’t know when I’m coming. It depends on how long it takes me to save up to buy the ingredients.
But when I can bake a pan, I just drive down there and take it up to the third floor where I was cared for.”
He usually arrives when there’s a shift change so no one makes a big deal about his gift.
“They’re too busy so I just drop it off and hope they enjoy it.”
Jerry may not have been around after he delivered his pasta, but the nurses at St. Vincent were elated with the gourmet gift, according to 3T Nurse Manager Debbie Rang.
“The nurses remember Jerry well and said he was so very kind and appreciative,” Rang said.
“In addition, I talked to another nurse who was here the night the lasagna was delivered and he said that lasagna was a godsend that night. Our usual food vendor downstairs ended up being closed that night and many of the nurses had not brought a lunch figuring they would grab something downstairs,” Rang said. “The nurses on duty said the lasagna was awesome and it couldn’t have been timed better with the Bistro being closed. We would have had some hungry nurses that night but for Jerry. He became a ‘lasagna angel’ for our staff.”
Last Updated on Friday, 09 May 2014 11:59
Bill O’Connor, a Billings attorney for 33 years, has filed as a candidate for district judge. Here is his campaign statement:
“Billings needs judges who can bring breadth and depth of experience and knowledge to the bench,” O’Connor said. “While some vying for a judgeship in Yellowstone County know a great deal about one area of law, I bring three and a half decades of experience representing individuals and businesses across countless topics. I have practiced extensively before Montana’s state and federal trial courts, and I have successfully argued numerous matters of constitutional law before our Supreme Court.”
O’Connor seeks a seat being vacated by current Judge G. Todd Baugh this November.
O’Connor was also among several attorneys in contention for the appointment to the seat vacated by Susan Watters last year. Watters was appointed to the federal bench here in Billings.
“Being judge is about ensuring a just and equitable outcome for those in your court. That requires knowledge of your community, the law, and the people who live here. I raised three children in Billings. It is my home. It would be an honor to continue serving this community as judge.”
His website is www.billoconnorforjudge.com.
Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 12:05
Former Secretary of State Brad Johnson is a candidate for the Public Service Commission, District 5. Here is his edited campaign announcement:
“I look forward to serving the people of Montana in this important role and I am extremely pleased to have the enthusiastic support of Sen. Conrad Burns.” said Johnson. Burns announced his endorsement of Johnson saying: “I have known Brad for a long time and he’s always been an honest, positive professional, a principled conservative and a good leader. He will do a good job for his district and for our state. I urge voters in District 5 to give Brad their vote.”
In addition, Johnson recognized Commission Chairman Bill Gallagher’s decision to remain neutral in the primary race as another example of his leadership and professionalism.
“Montanans have been well served by current Commissioner Bill Gallagher and I deeply regret that he has chosen not to run again. Under Bill’s leadership, the atmosphere at the commission was transformed from one of turmoil and divisiveness to one of civility and professionalism.
“Chairman Gallagher has personally assured me that he will not endorse a candidate in the primary but that he will enthusiastically support the candidate chosen by Montana Republicans. I appreciate Bill’s commitment to unity and leadership in this matter.” Johnson concluded.
“The PSC is a little-appreciated yet vitally important part of Montana’s economic structure. Its mandate is to ensure Montanans and Montana businesses have access to energy, telecommunication, water and sewer and transportation services which are affordable, reliable and sustainable. ...
“Having served Montana as secretary of state and State Land Board Member, combined with my success as small business owner, make me uniquely qualified to serve in this important office. The PSC is a quasi-judicial body which must adjudicate requests and complaints that come before it in a professional, equitable and unbiased manner and I have demonstrated that I possess the leadership skills and judicial temperament required to be an effective commissioner,” he added.
“The privilege of serving as your secretary of state was one of greatest of my life and my heartfelt commitment to continue serving the people of Montana remains undiminished. That is why I have decided to seek election to the Montana Public Service Commission in 2014.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 12:04