Merry huckleberries to all those who help make the darkest days of winter a little brighter for our neighbors in western Montana. The outpouring of generosity in response to the Missoulian’s We Care for the Holidays feature, published each holiday season, never fails to amaze – from the simple requests made by local nonprofits on behalf of individuals and families in need, to the giving spirit demonstrated by readers who take the extra time and make the extra effort to meet those needs. Thanks to their kindness and compassion, families of homeless students living in their cars have gas cards this winter, adults with mental illness living in group homes have warm pajamas, and parents escaping abusive relationships have stacks of books to read to their children. Merry Christmas to all.

A wall of chokecherries to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for his office’s as-yet unexplained block on grizzly bear recovery work in the North Cascades Ecosystem. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which met in Missoula this month, learned that Zinke’s office had asked the North Cascades National Park to stop working on its environmental impact statement even as park staff were in the process of evaluating tens of thousands of public comments. At the very least, Zinke’s office owes an immediate public explanation for putting the brakes on grizzly recovery efforts.

Matching huckleberries to U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte for introducing federal legislation this week to protect the Paradise Valley and a critical portion of East Rosebud Creek, and to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester for being the first member of Montana’s congressional delegation to introduce similar legislation several months ago. Montanans who live and work in the area known as the gateway to Yellowstone National Park have been united in calling for a permanent ban on mining exploration in the 30,000 acres of land covered by the congressional legislation. The East Rosebud has received similar united recognition of the urgent need to protect it from possible development.

Smoldering chokecherries to the fire that destroyed a beloved community restaurant in the Nine Mile last Sunday night. The historic building has been a de facto community center since it was first erected in the 1940s, and had undergone a number of remodels over the ensuing decades. The age of the popular Nine Mile Steak House, its remote location and other factors made for a challenge for the more than 30 firefighters, 15 engines and five water tenders that fought the fire. The good news is that nobody was harmed; the bad news is that the restaurant was a complete loss.

Bonus huckleberries to American Airlines for adding daily direct flights between Missoula and Dallas, and seasonal direct daily flights to Chicago as well. The new flights will be available starting in June, and the Chicago flight will be offered through Aug. 20. The announcement, made by the Missoula International Airport last week, was made possible through revenue guarantees provided to the airline by local individuals and groups who recognize the economic value of strengthening connections between Missoula and major transportation hubs.

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