BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A wildlife advocate and a freelance journalist are suing the National Park Service to gain access to a program that ships Yellowstone National Park bison to slaughter.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Wyoming. It comes as Yellowstone administrators plan to kill up to 900 bison this winter through slaughter and hunting to reduce the size of the park’s herds.
During those operations, portions of the park are closed and public access is restricted at a large corral that holds captured bison destined for slaughter.
The lawsuit argues the restrictions violate free speech protections under the First Amendment by limiting access for journalists and the public.
The plaintiffs in the case are Stephany Seay (SAY) with the Buffalo Field Campaign and New York-based freelance journalist Christopher Ketcham.
Major mine expansions in West test moratorium on coal sales
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — An Obama administration effort to overhaul coal sales from public lands will be put to its first test this week as companies seek to advance two major mining projects in the Western U.S.
Cloud Peak Energy and Lighthouse Resources Inc. want to mine a combined 644 million tons of coal from government-controlled reserves in Montana and Wyoming.
Federal and state officials are meeting Wednesday to consider the request.
It comes more than a week after U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell ordered a moratorium on government coal sales to address climate change and ensure taxpayers aren’t getting shortchanged.
Pending applications still can be reviewed, but no final decisions will be made.
An Associated Press review shows the moratorium could affect 28 mining projects in nine states involving more than 1.3 billion tons of coal.
Montana averts huge shortfall for state-run health clinic
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana officials say they have averted a massive financial shortfall that could have possibly erupted into a political and budgetary headache over the state’s health care system.
Gov. Steve Bullock said Tuesday his budget officers originally projected a $12 million deficit last year for the Montana State Employee Health Plan. Instead, state officials squeezed out $2 million in savings.
Part of those savings comes from wider use of Montana’s six state-run health clinics across the state — the first of which opened in Helena in 2012 and was touted as the nation’s first government-run health clinic for state workers.
Without the cost savings, state officials say they would have had to increase insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays — or ask the state Legislature for more money.
Commissioner finds violations by candidates, student group
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The commissioner of political practices has found campaign violations by two candidates and a student organization in the 2014 elections.
Commissioner Jonathan Motl’s rulings released Tuesday are against Republican Rep. Randy Pinocci of Sun River, Democratic Rep. Zach Brown of Bozeman and the College Democrats at Montana State University.
Motl found that Pinocci failed to report a contributor’s name, the costs he incurred for video and print campaign material and details about in-kind contributions.
Motl says Brown did not report all the information required about contributors and vendors, and didn’t open an account for his surplus campaign funds in a timely manner.
Motl also says the student group filed late as a political committee, didn’t report contributions and expenditures in a timely manner and didn’t properly attribute campaign materials.
Most campaign violations are settled by a negotiated fine.
Former worker suggests changes for Child and Family Services
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The former field services director of the state Division of Child and Family Services says some families who have complained about the agency are justified in saying that their cases were mishandled.
Cori Costello told the Protect Montana Kids Commission Tuesday that overwhelmed caseworkers are only part of the story.
Gov. Steve Bullock appointed the commission to study the agency, gather public input and recommend legislative and systemic changes.
Costello says the agency needs to consider the input of a child’s extended family and others, including counselors and teachers, to determine what’s best for them.
She says those people went to the streets to protest because they were shut out. She adds it’s sad that those protests were what it took to bring about change.
Montana’s unemployment rate at 4 percent in December
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s unemployment rate was 4 percent in December.
The Department of Labor and Industry says that is a tenth of a percentage point lower than November’s final rate. The national unemployment rate remained at 5 percent.
Labor and Industry Commissioner Pam Bucy says state residents can look forward to a positive outlook for the economy in the new year.
The report says more construction jobs than usual were added in December, and fewer retail jobs than usual.
State officials say Montana added more than 10,200 jobs in 2015.
Oil industry group names ex-senator as executive director
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Petroleum Association has named a former Republican state senator as its next executive director.
MPA officials said in a statement Tuesday that Alan Olson of Roundup will replace Dave Galt, who resigned after 10 years as the association’s executive director.
The MPA advocates for the state’s oil and gas industry.
Olson left the Montana Legislature in 2013. He served two terms as a senator and four terms as a representative before that.
MPA officials say he previously worked as a field inspector for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation and for the past seven years for the energy service company Sanjel Corp.
Disabled daughter saves mother after oxygen tank explodes
BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A 48-year-old woman developmentally disabled woman with myotonic muscular dystrophy saved her mother’s life and stopped a house fire at their Butte home.
The Montana Standard reports that Joanne McClafferty and her armchair caught fire after her cigarette and medical oxygen combusted Saturday. Her daughter, Leeann Lundgren, was able to remove McClafferty’s oxygen tube and smother the flames on her lap and torso.
McClafferty also has limited mobility due to myotonic muscular dystrophy.
When the fire department and other emergency services arrived, the fire was safely out. The ambulance transported Joanne to St. James Healthcare, where she was then flown to the burn center at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
EPA pushes back Superfund decision on aluminum plant
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Officials say the Environmental Protection Agency will put off a decision on whether to approve Superfund cleanup of the shuttered Columbia Falls Aluminum Company plant.
Regional project manager for the EPA, Mike Cirian, had recently told community members that a decision could come as early as March. But Cirian told The Flathead Beacon on Tuesday (http://bit.ly/1JDE7kg) that agency officials informed him that a decision won’t come until this fall.
The aluminum plant closed last year and was determined eligible for long-term remedial cleanup under the federal Superfund program.
The community has been awaiting the EPA’s decision on a potential Superfund listing, as the 960-acre industrial site has been out of operation since 2009.
Tests at the property owned by Glencore have detected contaminants and metals.
Trial begins for woman accused of campground killing
(Information in the following story is from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com)
DILLON, Mont. (AP) — The trial of a 51-year-old woman who is accused of stabbing a Butte man at a southwestern Montana campground is underway.
The Montana Standard reports that Sandra Lee Ann Cantrell wept when she saw two photos of Mark Robert Mullen’s body during the prosecutor’s opening statements.
Cantrell is accused of deliberate homicide for stabbing Mullen. Her common-law partner Christopher Lee Stiles pleaded guilty in March to deliberate homicide.
Cantrell’s attorney says Mullen was intoxicated and told Stiles and Cantrell they could no longer stay at his campground near Wise River unless they had sex with him.
Prosecutors say Cantrell stabbed Mullen with a knife and Stiles hit him over the head with a stick, killing him.
Charges: Man, wife exploited elderly mother for thousands
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Warrants have been issued in Minnesota for a Montana man and his wife who prosecutors say financed their lifestyles by exploiting the man’s elderly mother for over $42,000 while overseeing her estate.
Court documents show Michael Christie and Martina Christie failed to show up to court in Chippewa County last week for their first appearances. Both are charged with 12 felonies each, including conspiracy to commit financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
Michael Christie became the conservator for his mother’s estate in 2012. Minnesota investigators allege the couple spent thousands of her savings, including over $7,000 on clothing alone.
Michael Christie also allegedly sold his wife two pieces of his mother’s land valued at over $300,000 for less than $500 and failed to pay expenses for his mother’s nursing home.