|Latest Montana news, sports, business and entertainment
YELLOWSTONE VISITATION RECORD
Yellowstone sets record with 3.8 million visits this year
Yellowstone National Park has set a visitation record this year with more than 3.8 million visits at the end of September, and is on track to top 4 million visits by the year's end.
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/1JRfmKe) that according to park statistics, the number of recreational visits this year has surpassed a 2010 record of more than 3.6 million by nearly 5 percent.
Visitation has been following an upward trend all year, as each month topped its 2014 total. This year's numbers have already outpaced 2014's end of year visitation count by 300,000.
Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett says the increase in visitors can be attributed to the "Find Your Park" campaign, lower gas prices and the upcoming National Parks Service centennial, which takes place next year.
Judge blocks Montana from using drug in executions
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Helena judge has blocked Montana from using a particular drug in executions, saying it does not meet the standard set by state lawmakers.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled Tuesday that the drug pentobarbital is not an "ultra-fast acting barbiturate" as required by state law for lethal injections.
Sherlock says in his decision that medical evidence shows only three barbiturates can be classified as "ultra-fast acting," and pentobarbital is not one of them.
Montana's lethal injection law calls for use of an ultra-fast acting barbiturate and a paralytic agent. The state's execution protocol lists sodium pentothal as the barbiturate, with pentobarbital as a substitute.
Sodium pentothal is no longer available for use in executions in the U.S.
Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes says state attorneys are reviewing Sherlock's decision.
After coal plant outage, utility challenged over charges
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Attorneys for Montana consumers and two environmental groups say NorthWestern Energy wrongly charged customers at least $8.5 million after a 2013 power plant outage forced it to buy electricity on the open market.
The state Public Service Commission on Tuesday launched a hearing into the rate dispute that is expected to continue for several days.
The case centers on costs incurred by NorthWestern after the Colstrip coal plant in southeastern Montana was partially idled for more than six months for repairs beginning in July 2013.
Attorneys for the South Dakota-based utility say it was following state regulations by passing along electricity replacement costs to 350,000 Montana customers.
Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine counters the company should have known about potential problems at Colstrip and should bear the costs for the shutdown.
Bullock reports $776K saved for re-election campaign
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock has more than $776,000 to spend on his re-election campaign.
Documents filed with the commissioner on political practices shows the Democratic incumbent raised $286,261 and spent more than $105,000 over the three-month reporting period that ended Sept. 30.
That leaves him with $776,525 in the bank as the focus begins to shift toward the 2016 governor's race.
His possible Republican opponent, Bozeman entrepreneur Greg Grianforte, has raised more than $255,000 since forming an exploratory committee in August.
Gianforte has spent more than $71,644, leaving him with $183,705 in the bank as he decides whether to declare his candidacy.
The other major Republican to announce a run, Public Service Commission chairman Brad Johnson, reported raising no money in the period.
Trial underway for man charged with breaking clean water law
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A trial is underway against a miner near Basin who is charged with violating the federal Clean Water Act.
Prosecutors say Joseph Robertson dug ponds in 2013 and 2014 that discharged dredged and fill material into wetlands and a tributary of Cataract Creek in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
Robertson lives on the adjacent White Pine Lode patented mining claim. Cataract Creek flows into the Boulder River.
He is charged with unauthorized discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters and malicious mischief for injuring the property of the United States.
Roberston's attorney says the ponds were to protect his property from fire.
Robertson argues he received permission from a state wildlife official and the ponds don't fall under the federal law's jurisdiction.
A jury trial began Monday in Helena and is scheduled to last five days.
TRAIN HITS SUV
Man dies after train hits vehicle west of Bozeman
(Information in the following story is from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com)
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Authorities say a 70-year-old man has died after a train struck his vehicle at a railroad crossing west of Bozeman.
Montana Highway Patrol officials said the man's vehicle was hit at the private crossing Monday afternoon. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports the victim was extracted from the SUV and taken to a nearby hospital, where he died that night.
The Gallatin County coroner's office identified the man Tuesday as Michael Paul Hockel of Bozeman.
County officials said in a statement the crash is under investigation.
Cattle-killing bear shot by wildlife officials
COLUMBUS, Mont. (AP) — Wildlife officials have shot a grizzly bear that killed 12 cows in Stillwater County.
Shawn Stewart of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks tells the Stillwater County News (http://bit.ly/1Z8gwwg ) that U.S. Wildlife Services officials killed the bear Thursday along East Fiddler Creek.
The bear was responsible for a dozen cattle deaths in the Fishtail and Fiddler Creek area since Aug. 14.
Stewart says the sow eluded wildlife officials for weeks. The bear did not return to any of the kill sites and seemed to sense where traps had been set.
The bear had been fitted with a radio collar after previously being trapped east of Red Lodge in July. It was released along the Gallatin River only to be trapped and released again by researchers in the Gardiner area.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.