US wildfire-fighters making plans for 2016 season
The nation’s primary wildfire-fighters are getting ready for the 2016 season, which is expected to be worse than average in Hawaii, Alaska and the Southwest.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will meet with regional forest officials Tuesday to discuss plans and preparations. The Forest Service is part of the Agriculture Department.
Last year, wildfires burned a record 15,800 square miles nationwide. Seven Forest Service firefighters died.
Forecasters said earlier this month the potential for significant fires this season will be average or below-average in most of the nation, but dry conditions could make thing worse in some regions.
The Forest Service spent more than $1.7 billion on firefighting last summer. Officials say fires are eating up a growing share of the agency’s overall budget.
Yellowstone tourists put bison calf in car, spurring warning
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A bison calf that tourists loaded into their vehicle at Yellowstone National Park because they were concerned for its welfare has spurred warnings to avoid wildlife after the animal had to be put down.
The incident last week and several other recent cases have led park officials to urge people to stay at least 25 yards from all wildlife and 100 yards from bears and wolves.
Visitors brought the newborn calf to a park facility, but rangers weren’t able to reunite it with its herd. The animal was euthanized because it kept approaching people and cars along the road.
In recent video that spread online, a woman was pictured trying to pet an adult bison. In another, tourists posed for photos dangerously close to bison.
Five park visitors were seriously injured last year after getting too close to the massive animals.
Protest showdown looms at Casper hearing on coal leasing
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A showdown is shaping up over the future of Wyoming’s coal industry Tuesday as federal officials look at overhauling the federal coal leasing program and possibly charging more to mine.
Pro-coal and anti-coal protesters both plan to protest at a U.S. Bureau of Land Management hearing in Casper.
On one side is the Wyoming Mining Association and workers from the Powder River Basin coal country. On the other side is WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group that has made clear it wants to shut down coal mining.
Gov. Matt Mead will address the hearing, one of several planned during a three-year moratorium on federal coal leasing.
The leasing reforms could shape the future of coal as more mines close in Appalachia and the remaining industry coalesces around mines in the West.
‘User error’ blamed for Missoula school data breach
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — An investigation by a digital forensics company into the release of sensitive student information from a Missoula high school in December has found that “user error” led to the data breach.
The Missoulian reports that Attorney Elizabeth Kaleva, who represents Missoula County Public Schools, released LGM Security’s report Friday on the incident at Hellgate High School.
Assistant principal Libby Oliver had resigned days after it was determined that she mistakenly sent an email on Dec. 4 containing the sensitive information. The email was sent to nearly 30 parents and included an attached document containing academic, medical, disciplinary and criminal information on about 1,100 Hellgate students.
LMG’s analysis found that the student information had been added to the document on Oliver’s computer due to user error.
Infrastructure looms as defining issue in legislative races
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — While infrastructure looms as a key issue in the governor’s race, it is also becoming a defining issue in key legislative contests as Republican moderates and conservatives battle over the direction of their party.
With less than a month before the June 7 primary, rifts between the GOP’s moderate and ideological purists are on clear display. Moderates are seeking a compromise to fund roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure projects while conservatives worry about debt and pork-barrel projects.
Last year, 33 House conservatives blocked a $150 million infrastructure bill that was one vote shy of passage.
The political action committee for the Montana Contractors Association —whose members would benefit from infrastructure projects —is supporting 10 candidates who they say may be more open to reaching a compromise to pay for the work.
Judge to decide contribution limits lawsuit without trial
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge says he will decide whether Montana’s campaign contribution limits are unconstitutional without holding a trial.
U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell signed an order Monday canceling a bench trial that had been scheduled for next week. He will decide the case based on briefs and arguments by the state and attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Those plaintiffs are individuals, businesses and political parties seeking to strike Montana’s contribution limits before the June 7 primary elections. They claim the limits restrict freedom of speech, association and candidates’ ability to raise enough money to effectively campaign.
Attorneys for the state say Montana is justified in keeping the limits because they prevent corruption and its appearance.
Lovell struck down the limits once before in 2012, but they were reinstated by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.