Experimental huckleberries to the more than 400 students who traveled from communities across the state earlier this week to show off their research in this year’s Montana Science Fair. The 63rd annual fair filled the Adams Center at the University of Montana with an astounding array of displays competing for $15,000 in prizes, scholarships and all-expense-paid trips to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this May. The event, which was open to the public Monday evening and Tuesday morning, was made possible thanks to the generous support of dozens of volunteers and sponsors, and 250 inquisitive judges.
Poisoned chokecherries to the close call last weekend when a dog picked up a packet of rat poison while walking with her owner near property overseen by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The dog, Lucy, was thankfully not seriously harmed by the deadly neurotoxin. Although it’s not 100 percent certain that the rodent bait came from the nearby nursery, the DNRC has pledged to ask nursery workers to notify office staff whenever they use such poisons in the future, so that people walking their dogs can call in to find out which properties to avoid. The number to call is 406-542-4300.
A breath of fresh huckleberries to the Missoula City Council for unanimously approving a ban on vaping and e-cigarettes indoors. The expansion of the 2006 Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, which council members voted on during their regular Monday night public meeting, also allows business owners to prohibit smoking of any kind within 25 feet of their entrances if they choose to, and outlaws smoking on certain outdoor public places in the city, including playgrounds.
Vacant chokecherries to the news that this past week, two small Montana communities unexpectedly lost buildings that were formerly grocery stores. The Harlem building collapsed, likely due to heavy snow accumulation on the roof, according to authorities. Fortunately, no one was inside the building at the time. In Heron, the community’s only store, which was already closed, burned to the ground last Sunday. A woman who was living in the building was rescued, and other occupants were luckily not home when the electrical fire started.
Belated huckleberries to Montana’s VA Health Care System, which is at last moving forward with expansion projects at clinics across the state to offer more space and bring current facilities up to code. The VA has been laboring under a shortage of primary care providers. Thanks to federal funding, a new 18,000-square-foot facility in Fort Harrison and a new 80,000-square-foot building in Helena will open within the next year to help address that shortage. The VA clinic in Missoula will also be expanded to become a “right-sized, state-of-the-art, energy efficient health care facility for veterans' needs,” according to the VA’s description, although a start date for construction has yet to be scheduled.
Extra huckleberry storage to the coming upgrade to the official email system used by state legislators. The new system that will be ready in the next couple of months has an auto archive feature and significantly more storage capacity, which should make it a lot easier for state officials to comply with Montana’s open records laws. Whether they actually will, however, is still an open question, as each legislator is still responsible for separating personal messages from state business and saving all public documents. As Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Hamilton, told his colleagues recently, “Don’t forget, this is public email; it’s not really ours. It is public data, state data, these emails we do as public officials. The law says we have to track this …” Extra huckleberries to Senator Thomas for the timely words of wisdom.