Feds eye central Idaho forest road use following lawsuit
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Federal officials are reconsidering how roads and motorized trails in a portion of the Sawtooth National Forest could harm threatened bull trout following a lawsuit by an environmental group.
As a result, a federal judge on Wednesday put the lawsuit by WildEarth Guardians on hold until Feb. 14 while the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service analyze how motorized travel and climate change could harm critical habitat for bull trout.
The lawsuit filed Sept. 30 says that the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 designated 15 streams and their tributaries as critical habitat in the Fairfield Ranger District.
The lawsuit contends the federal agencies didn’t consult to make sure motorized use in the forest doesn’t harm bull trout following the critical habitat designation.
Corrections director to step down as Bullock plans next term
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Department of Corrections director Mike Batista says he will step down as Gov. Steve Bullock meets with his cabinet members about whether they will remain for his second term.
Batista told The Associated Press Thursday that his last day will be Dec. 31. The 57-year-old says he plans to retire from state government.
Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel says the governor is having conversations with all of his appointed directors about their desire to serve in his second term.
Abel says the governor deeply appreciates Batista’s dedication to the corrections department and the work he has done.
Batista has led the Department of Corrections since Bullock took office in 2013. Before that, he headed the state Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation. He also worked in intelligence research at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Interim committee recommends $1M for suicide prevention
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A legislative committee is recommending the state spend $1 million on suicide prevention efforts over the next two budget years.
The interim State Administration and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday suggested appropriating $500,000 for the state’s suicide prevention program and another $500,000 for grants for suicide prevention programs for military veterans. The funding amounts could be changed as the bills move through the appropriations process during the 2017 Legislature.
The first bill seeks to normalize the need for Montanans to address mental health problems. Republican Sen. Dee Brown of Hungry Horse said she wants people who are struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide to feel comfortable enough to seek help.
There were 555 suicides reported in Montana between January 2014 and March 1, 2016, including 121 among military veterans.
Butte woman dies of burns suffered in apartment fire
BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A 69-year-old Butte woman has died of burns suffered as she tried to extinguish a fire in her apartment.
Butte-Silver Bow Coroner Lori Durkin tells The Montana Standard (bit.ly/2f5ouD) that Betty Jean Zitting died Wednesday at the University of Utah burn center in Salt Lake City.
Zitting was burned Sunday afternoon when her clothes caught fire as she tried to put out a fire on a sofa cushion that had been started by a candle.
Firefighters say she mostly extinguished the flames, but authorities said she suffered burns on a large part of her body.
Employee dies in accident at Seeley Lake lumber mill
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — An employee died in a work-related accident at Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. near Seeley Lake just hours after a fatal highway crash in the same area.
Missoula County sheriff’s spokeswoman Brenda Basset says 66-year-old Philip Pohlman of Seeley Lake died at about 10 a.m. Thursday when a vehicle he was working on fell on top of him.
About four hours earlier, a 60-year-old Conrad man was killed in a crash on Montana Highway 83 near Seeley Lake. Basset says David Solum died after being thrown from his vehicle in the rollover crash.
Lawmaker panel declines to take action on pay raise bill
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A panel of Montana lawmakers will leave it to incoming legislative leaders to decide if they want to push for a pay raise.
The Legislative Council on Tuesday took no action a bill that would have tied legislative pay in 2019 and beyond to the state’s average weekly wage used to determine unemployment benefits.
Under the 2017 average weekly wage, that would have meant an 82 percent pay raise for lawmakers who made $10.33 an hour during the 2015 legislative session.
Democratic Rep. Bryce Bennett of Missoula said in the meeting that he favored approving the bill for consideration during the legislative session. He says he is proud of the work the council put into creating a thoughtful pay strategy.
Senate Minority Leader John Sesso, however, said the 2017 legislative leaders must lead the charge.