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Accessible huckleberries to the long-awaited and much anticipated acquisition of a 10-acre parcel of land needed to complete Milltown State Park. The property, owned by Champion International and then International Paper, was donated but came with tangled details that took several years to iron out. The successful agreement will allow the company to keep six acres that includes a landfill while the park takes ownership of an area that will provide improved public access, once construction is complete. Meanwhile, park officials will continue working toward the other planned park amenities, including more trails, a boat ramp, a picnic area and paved parking lots.

Chokecherries to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its incomplete ban on cyanide traps known as M-44s. These spring-loaded devices are smeared with bait to attract predators such a coyotes, and spray cyanide to poison the animals to death. Last month, however, a 14-year-old boy was injured when he came across one of the devices on federal land near his home; his Labrador retriever was killed. In response to that incident and a petition from environmental groups, the Agriculture Department issued a temporary ban on M-44s in Idaho. The prohibition on M-44s should be permanent and nation-wide, as several groups are now seeking to accomplish through a lawsuit filed in federal court in Montana.

Huckleberries to the many state legislators who voted in favor of House Bill 516, and especially to its sponsor, Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula. The new legislation will allow “taxing jurisdictions” to sue over delinquent property taxes of $250,000 or more, and will specifically allow Frenchtown-area tax collectors to sue M2Green Redevelopment LLC, which bought the former Smurfit-Stone mill site six years ago and has racked up an unpaid tax bill of more than $1.3 million. That unpaid tax money left a gaping budget hole for the Frenchtown School District, the Frenchtown Rural Fire District and Missoula County. HB 516, which passed by large bipartisan majorities, promises to help remedy that injustice.

Chokecherries to the relocation of the State A-C Track and Field Meet from Missoula to Laurel. The meet, which was scheduled to take place over Memorial Day weekend next month, typically brings scores of competitors and their families to town to stay in local hotels, eat at local restaurants and shop at local stores. It brought a sizable economic boom that will be enjoyed this year by the businesses of the greater Billings Metropolitan Area. While it’s understandable that unpredictable weather has left the completion date of the Missoula County Public Schools stadium in question, and the Montana High School Association was playing it safe by moving the meet, the loss of this fun and financially beneficial competition still stings.

Huckleberries to Montana’s work to better protect children in state custody. This week, Gov. Steve Bullock signed four bills recommended by a commission that studied the heartbreaking problem of children in Montana’s foster care system, which at last count was responsible for more than 3,400 kids, the highest ever in state history. The four bills:

  • set deadlines aimed at speeding up cases to establish permanent guardianship,
  • appoint court-appointed special advocates to represent the interests of abused children in court,
  • ensure foster parents provide appropriate opportunities for children in their care to pursue extracurricular activities and interests; and
  • allow legislators to review child welfare records.
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