Missoula lawyer named US bankruptcy judge for Montana
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.
Elk numbers stabilizing in northern Yellowstone
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.