Handful of huckleberries

Huckleberries-for-hire to the U.S. Department of Labor for recognizing the need to help Montana’s coal industry workers train for careers in other fields. As the state’s future prospects in coal fade, and particularly as portions of the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip move toward shutdown, hundreds of workers in Montana will need to find other stable, well-paid jobs. The $4.6 million allocated to the state this week will be used to make workforce retraining and other employment aide immediately available to some 1,700 coal workers in Colstrip and throughout eastern Montana, according to an announcement from the Governor’s Office.

Smoked chokecherries to western Montana’s sooty skies, one result of wildfire that affects everyone who breathes, especially those of us who live in certain valleys where the air can become trapped for long periods of time. Despite being surrounded by a number of wildfires, the air quality has been deemed mostly “moderate” in Missoula and nearby communities. For much of this past week, however, the air quality in the Seeley Lake area was classified as “hazardous” due to the heavy clouds of smoke from the nearby Sunrise fire. Visibility on Monday was so bad, firefighters had to keep their helicopters grounded.

Squeaky-clean huckleberries to all those who volunteer for the annual Blackfoot River Cleanup for helping to make a noticeable difference in the cleanliness of the beloved river. Each year for the past 14 years, volunteers of all ages have spent a part of their Saturday scouring the river and its banks for trash, and lately, they’ve been finding a lot less. In 2005, volunteers counted more than 3,000 bottles and cans. Last year, it was just 441. That’s still too many, of course, so dirty chokecherries to those who dare use this treasured public resource as their own personal garbage bin.

Chokecherries as well to the steep drop in commodity prices that, combined with historic drought conditions and massive wildfires, is giving Montana’s farmers and ranchers an extraordinarily tough time. From 2015 to 2016, farm earnings in the state dropped by 71 percent for a “nightmare year,” according to an economist at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana. The Lodgepole Complex fire in eastern Montana has scorched more than 270,000 acres – including 16 homes, hundreds of miles of fencing, farming equipment and field after field of hay, wheat and other crops. And, as agriculture is the largest industry in the state, the financial struggles of Montana’s farmers and ranchers are certain to be felt throughout the state’s economy for years to come.

A raft of huckleberries to Emily von Jentzen, who this week became the first person to ever swim the entire length of Flathead Lake – and back! The Kalispell attorney swam for 40 hours to cover the 56-mile distance, fighting headwinds and high waves so fierce they made the crew in a support boat sick. She left Somers last Saturday morning and returned to Somers on Sunday night alongside fellow swimmer John Cole, who became the sixth person to swim the length of Flathead Lake one way. Von Jentzen was the first person to set that record too, in 2010. Last weekend’s swim was not just her latest feat; it was also her latest fundraiser. Von Jentzen and her nonprofit, the Enduring Waves Foundation, have raised some $50,000 to help the families of children with health problems cover their medical expenses.

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