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Latest Montana News
Tuesday, January 24th 2017
Associated Press Montana News
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. MST
ELK POPULATION

Elk numbers stabilizing in northern Yellowstone

(Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com)

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — State and federal biologists say elk numbers in the northern part of Yellowstone National Park have stabilized after a long-term decline.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports more than 5,300 elk were counted earlier this month in Yellowstone's northern range and areas outside the park near Gardiner, Montana. The elk numbers were released Monday as part of the Northern Yellowstone Wildlife Working Group elk survey.

They show a 9 percent increase in the area's elk population from 2016 and mark the third consecutive year the count has surpassed 4,800.

Biologists say it appears elk numbers have rebounded from a significant decline that started in the mid-1990s.

But even with the growth, the Yellowstone area elk population is still far below what it was in 1994, when 19,000 elk were counted.

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BISON HUNT

Tribal bison hunt measure receives initial approval

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Native American tribes would be able to resume licensed bison hunts near Yellowstone National Park under a measure given initial approval by the state House.

The House voted 65-35 Monday to grant eight tribes two state licenses each. Those hunts are separate from the unregulated hunts by four tribes that have treaty rights to take bison near the park.

Since November, state hunters have killed 34 bison and treaty tribes 139.

The bison killed in the licensed hunts are to be used in ceremonies, such as the sun dance and the medicine pipe dance. The Legislature originally passed a bill allowing the tribal licenses in 2005; that measure expired in 2015.

The bill is up for a final vote Tuesday before it goes to the Senate.

HEALTHCARE PROVIDER ASSAULT

Bill would create crime of assault on health care provider

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — State lawmakers heard testimony on a bill that would make it a felony to assault a health care worker or emergency responder.

Supporters of House Bill 268, including many nurses, argued Monday the enhanced penalties of a felony charge could deter assaults they have suffered at the hands of patients, who often aren't prosecuted.

Lee Newspapers of Montana reports opponents raised concerns the law could be applied to people with mental health issues or other diminished capacities.

The legislation says for an assault to fall under this proposed law, the person must act "purposely or knowingly."

Opponents argued there are already assault laws on the books that would apply to such situations. Supporters have noted that assaulting a police dog brings more punishment than assaulting a nurse.

The House Judiciary Committee did not act on the bill.

BC-US-SENATE-ZINKE-PERRY NOMINATIONS

Energy panel postpones votes on Energy, Interior nominees

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has postponed a meeting that had been scheduled for Tuesday to vote on the nominations of Ryan Zinke and Rick Perry to head the departments of Interior and Energy.

No reason was given for the delay, although the Senate has a shortened work-week because of a Republican retreat in Philadelphia later this week.

Only three of President Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees have been confirmed so far, although secretary of state-designate Rex Tillerson has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

No mention of the postponement of a vote appeared on the committee's website.

There have been no particular controversies through the pair's hearings so far, although Perry did retract his campaign statement saying that he wanted to abolish the Energy Department.

TOXIC PIT

Brimming toxic pit nears critical level after bird deaths

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Residents of the Montana mining city of Butte say the deaths of more than 3,000 snow geese should be a wake-up call for the future of a former open pit mine that is filled with 50 billion gallons of acidic, metal-laden water.

The birds died last fall in the toxic stew that is part of the nation's largest Superfund site.

The Berkeley Pit is expected to reach a critical water level in 2023. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials are finalizing a plan to prevent contaminated water from escaping into other waterways or Butte's groundwater system.

Community activists say the plan to divert pit water into a treatment plant is risky and isn't a long-term solution.

EPA officials say the treatment plant will be tested and any necessary changes will be made before the critical level is reached.

BANKRUPTCY JUDGE

Missoula lawyer named US bankruptcy judge for Montana

(Information from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com)

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A Missoula attorney has been named U.S. bankruptcy judge for Montana.

The Montana Standard reported Saturday that Benjamin Phillip Hursh will serve a 14-year term starting Feb. 1. A formal appointment ceremony will be held Feb. 3 in Butte.

Hursh, a partner in the Missoula office of Crowley Fleck PLLP since 2011, will fill a vacancy resulting from the retirement of Chief Bankruptcy Judge Ralph B. Kirscher, who had served on the court since 1999.

He will keep his chambers in Butte.

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, January 23rd 2017
Associated Press Montana News
AP-MT--1st Right Now/862
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. MST
TOXIC PIT

Brimming toxic pit nears critical level after bird deaths

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Residents of the Montana mining city of Butte say the deaths of more than 3,000 snow geese should be a wake-up call for the future of a former open pit mine that is filled with 50 billion gallons of acidic, metal-laden water.

The birds died last fall in the toxic stew that is part of the nation's largest Superfund site.

The Berkeley Pit is expected to reach a critical water level in 2023. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials are finalizing a plan to prevent contaminated water from escaping into other waterways or Butte's groundwater system.

Community activists say the plan to divert pit water into a treatment plant is risky and isn't a long-term solution.

EPA officials say the treatment plant will be tested and any necessary changes will be made before the critical level is reached.

HIGH-SPEED CHASE-CRASH

High-speed chase near Helena ends in crash, arrests

(Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Authorities say they have arrested two people following a high-speed chase that began north of Helena and ended when a vehicle crashed.

The Independent Record reports that deputies began chasing two vehicles Saturday night, with speeds reaching up to 130 mph.

Lewis and Clark County Undersheriff Jason Grimmis says the two suspects were arrested after their Honda Accord spun and crashed.

The driver was a minor and the other occupant was a Great Falls man suspected in a break-in three weeks ago.

Both suspects are expected to appear in court Monday.

The occupants of a red Subaru that was also involved in the chase have not been located. The vehicle, which is believed to have been stolen, was found abandoned in Cascade County.

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US ATTORNEY-CIVIL RIGHTS

Montana US attorney designates civil rights prosecutor

(Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. attorney for Montana has designated a prosecutor to focus on civil rights, part of a nationwide push by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Lee Newspapers of Montana reported Sunday the job will be handled Brendan McCarthy, an assistant U.S. attorney for the past four years.

U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter declined to speculate on what affect President Donald Trump's election will have on the office.

Trump has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, to be attorney general. Some groups have questioned Sessions' commitment to civil rights. He has said he will defend freedom and equality.

Cotter says hate crimes and hate rhetoric have been increasing. The FBI reported 30 hate crimes in Montana in 2014 and 45 in 2015.

Most involved race but the fastest-growing category was religion.

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TRUMP INAUGURATION PROTEST-MONTANA

Women's march draws thousands to Helena

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Despite below-freezing temperatures, thousands of people attended a march and rally in Helena in answer to President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Organizers estimated about 10,000 attended the event Saturday. Many were dressed snuggly with ski and stocking hats and winter coats against the cold.

The event included songs and speeches, including one by first lady Lisa Bullock.

There were many signs, including one that read "A woman's place is in the House and Senate."

It was among other similar marches and rallies around Montana and throughout the country.

Trump was sworn in Friday.

TEST SCORES

Arntzen says test-score report 'falsified'

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen says some Montana student test data submitted to the U.S. Education Department before she took office were "falsified" and out of compliance.

Arntzen says the data didn't meet state and federal reporting standards and misrepresented student proficiency.

However, her predecessor, Denise Juneau, told Lee Newspapers of Montana that Arntzen was misconstruing the issue and "jumping to conclusions."

Juneau, who was superintendent for eight years before Arntzen took office this month, says she was never contacted and could have clarified the situation to Arntzen.

Arntzen says the issue could put federal funding for our Montana schools at risk although she said no federal officials had raised the specter of lost funding.

Juneau says she doubted federal officials would pull funding for the state.

ASBESTOS TOWN-LAWSUIT

Montana asbestos victims to get $25 million from state

(Information from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — The state of Montana has reached a $25 million settlement with more than 1,000 victims of asbestos-related disease over claims that health officials failed to bring attention to the hazards of a contaminated mine.

The Flathead Beacon reported Thursday that the settlement stems from nearly 100 lawsuits brought against the state for failing to protect residents in the northwestern Montana town of Libby.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands sickened by asbestos exposure from Libby's now-shuttered W.R. Grace and Co. vermiculite mine.

The Montana Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings in 2004, ruling that the state should've warned miners of the dangers first identified by officials in the 1950s.

Wednesday's settlement marks the end of lengthy negotiations between victims and the state.

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, January 22nd 2017
Associated Press Montana News
Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment at 1:20 a.m. MST
TRUMP INAUGURATION PROTEST-MONTANA

Women's march draws thousands to Helena

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Despite below-freezing temperatures, thousands of people attended a march and rally in Helena in answer to President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Organizers estimated about 10,000 attended the event Saturday. Many were dressed snuggly with ski and stocking hats and winter coats against the cold.

The event included songs and speeches, including one by first lady Lisa Bullock.

There were many signs, including one that read "A woman's place is in the House and Senate."

It was among other similar marches and rallies around Montana and throughout the country.

Trump was sworn in Friday.

TEST SCORES

Arntzen says test-score report 'falsified'

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen says some Montana student test data submitted to the U.S. Education Department before she took office were "falsified" and out of compliance.

Arntzen says the data didn't meet state and federal reporting standards and misrepresented student proficiency.

However, her predecessor, Denise Juneau, told Lee Newspapers of Montana that Arntzen was misconstruing the issue and "jumping to conclusions."

Juneau, who was superintendent for eight years before Arntzen took office this month, says she was never contacted and could have clarified the situation to Arntzen.

Arntzen says the issue could put federal funding for our Montana schools at risk although she said no federal officials had raised the specter of lost funding.

Juneau says she doubted federal officials would pull funding for the state.

ASBESTOS TOWN-LAWSUIT

Montana asbestos victims to get $25 million from state

(Information from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com)

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — The state of Montana has reached a $25 million settlement with more than 1,000 victims of asbestos-related disease over claims that health officials failed to bring attention to the hazards of a contaminated mine.

The Flathead Beacon reported Thursday that the settlement stems from nearly 100 lawsuits brought against the state for failing to protect residents in the northwestern Montana town of Libby.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands sickened by asbestos exposure from Libby's now-shuttered W.R. Grace and Co. vermiculite mine.

The Montana Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings in 2004, ruling that the state should've warned miners of the dangers first identified by officials in the 1950s.

Wednesday's settlement marks the end of lengthy negotiations between victims and the state.

___

MISSING INMATE

Walk-away from Missoula Pre-Release Center caught

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Missoula Correctional Services says one of its residents at the Pre-Release Center has been apprehended after walking away from the center.

Authorities say 32-year-old Bryon Chaska walked away from the facility about 6:50 a.m. Saturday and was caught about six hours later by police.

Chaska has a felony conviction out of Dawson County and is serving two years with the Department of Corrections for burglary.

CONVICTED MURDERER-CLEMENCY

Convicted murderer denies probation violation

(Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A judge will decide whether to revoke a suspended sentence for a man convicted in a woman's death.

The Billings Gazette reports Barry Beach and his attorney said Friday that he did not violate his probation.

Beach was convicted in the 1979 death of 17-year-ld Kim Nees.

He served over 30 years in prison before Gov. Steve Bullock granted him clemency in November 2015.

Beach is now suspected of violating a temporary protection order.

Justice Department spokesman Eric Sell said the state will recommend that Beach go back to prison if his probation is revoked.

Beach's next court appearance is set for late February.

___

WINTER WILDLIFE

Winter closures seek to protect wildlife

(Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com)

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Forest managers in western Wyoming are reporting some skiers and snowboarders are illegally making tracks in winter range closed to protect wildlife.

The winter habitat closures are designed to protect wildlife.

Animals use those areas to conserve energy and survive a long, harsh winter of the Rockies.

Heavy snowfall has pushed animals to the valley floor, which is why there have been so many wildlife encounters in tow

Marisa Wilson, of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide that when humans disturb wildlife in the winter, it can force them to expend precious energy, which can lead to a long, slow death.

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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