Unscathed huckleberries to Montana’s cautious approach to grizzly bear management. Unlike neighboring states Idaho and Wyoming, Montana opted not to open the grizzly population to hunting outside of Yellowstone National Park — which is prudent considering that they were only recently considered recovered enough to be removed from the endangered species list. Idaho is moving ahead with plans to allow the hunting of a single male grizzly, which hardly seems worth the effort, while Wyoming has proposed a hunt of up to 24 bears, including two females, which seems extreme for a newly recovered population still estimated at only about 700 bears in the entire tristate Yellowstone region.
Lost chokecherries to the study confirming what Montanans already suspected — that wildfires drive tourists away and reduce the amount of visitor spending. The conclusion may not have come as a surprise but the dollar amount certainly raises eyebrows: the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana reports that wildfires and related smoke may have cost the state more than $240 million last year alone, when more than 1 million acres burned in Montana. On the bright side, tourist spending overall was significantly higher in 2017 than it was in 2016, topping $3.4 billion.
A line of huckleberries 80 miles long to Marita Growing Thunder for continuing to bring attention to the shockingly high rate of missing and murdered indigenous women. Starting this past Sunday, Growing Thunder and other participants walked the 80 miles from the northern boundary of the Flathead Reservation to the southern tip — a journey of four days — for the second year in a row. In addition to now annual walk, Growing Thunder also makes and wears ribbon skirts and dresses throughout the year in memory of missing and murdered indigenous women, including members of her own family. While the exact number of missing Native women remains uncounted, available statistics suggest that Native women suffer disproportionately high rates of physical and sexual assault.
Extra-safe huckleberries to the wonderful news that, for the first time in more than 10 years, Montana went more than a month without experiencing a fatal car crash. The Montana Highway Patrol reported that the most recent such crash occurred on Feb. 26, and so far this year there have been only 19 fatal crashes; over the same period in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 37. While each and every crash is a tragedy, it’s encouraging to see Montana making headway on reducing the number of deadly vehicle accidents.
An open box of huckleberries to Montana’s Supreme Court for its 5-0 ruling this week that the public cannot be shut out of public meetings with only a vague reference to privacy rights. Government agencies, from school boards to state departments, have to provide at least some information about whose privacy rights are being protected by closed-door meetings. The decision came out of a case in which a teacher with the Wolf Point School District waved her rights to privacy, but school trustees closed the meeting anyway and refused to let the teacher record it. They cited the privacy of other unnamed individuals as justification, even though no evidence was ever provided that any such individuals were involved. Fortunately, the Supreme Court justices rightly recognized that the Montana Constitution presumes open meetings, and that those who want to close them have the burden of first providing a good reason why.