- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Billings Gazette, May 23, on MSU’s multimillion gift from gubernatorial candidate:

A public university that constantly struggles for sufficient funding can’t afford to turn down a multimillion-dollar gift.

But there are good reasons the Montana Board of Regents should have taken more time with gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte’s $8 million gift. The sudden revelation and the regents’ subsequent approval Friday denied the public the right to effectively participate in a transaction that affects their lives and their property.

Taxpayers of Montana built and funded the Montana State University Computer Science Department. With regents’ approval Friday, the department will be renamed the Gianforte School of Computing in exchange for money that Greg Gianforte and his wife, Susan Gianforte, pledged to contribute over the next five years. Additionally, a classroom in the College of Engineering will be named the Gianforte Auditorium.

A gift of $8 million is generous by any measure. However, the election season timing is no coincidence. Much of the public comment to regents meeting Thursday in Havre focused on concerns that the Gianforte Foundation has been a major funder of the Montana Family Foundation, which opposes equal rights for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The Gianfortes also actively opposed the LGBT non-discrimination ordinance enacted by the Bozeman City Council.

This certainly isn’t the first time that a large gift to a Montana University System unit drew public outrage. For example, last year, the University of Montana School of Law was renamed the Alexander Blewett III School of Law with a donation of $10 million, a move that also was nearly a done deal before it was announced to the public.

Before voting to accept the Gianforte gift and name, each of the regents who spoke Friday acknowledged the articulate and heartfelt public comments they received on both sides of the issue.

Protect principles

Nothing in the acceptance of the gift will compromise MSU’s policies of non-discrimination, Regent William Johnstone said before voting in favor of the “capstone” gift from “exceptional business leaders.”

Student Regent Ash Hohman, a first-year student at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law, spoke passionately of his generation’s determination to stand against discrimination and his desire to see that students have a say on donations. With “a great deal of conflict,” Hohman concluded that “we can’t not accept such a large and generous gift.”

Chairman Paul Tuss acknowledged that most public commenters were against accepting the Gianfortes’ gift, but Tuss said he looked at “the good this gift will do.”

The Gianforte millions will create faculty positions and student summer internships and expand the computing curriculum, Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner of communications for the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, told The Missoulian.

Regent Martha Sheehy of Billings was unable to attend the two-day Havre meeting, but argued against the acceptance. In comments read at Thursday’s meeting, Sheehy thanked the Gianfortes for their generosity, but urged the regents not to make a final decision last week. She also called for the board to consider and adopt a policy that would allow greater public and board oversight of future gifts.

Get a gift policy

“The public’s input is important to me on name changes, not just because I consider the name to be an asset owned by the public,” Sheehy wrote. “We are changing the name from ‘All of Us School’ to one person’s name.”

“The board should have more than a one-week review of a contract that has already been signed,” Sheehy wrote. “I question the efficacy of allowing independent foundations at various campuses to enter into these contracts.”

The announcement of a major gift to a Montana university campus shouldn’t be tarnished with political overtones in the midst of an election. The availability of public buildings or other public property for renaming through donations ought to be discussed and decided publicly before a specific deal is struck.

We, the taxpayers of Montana who built MSU, found out just eight days in advance that someone else’s name is going on our department and facilities. The regents must follow through on Sheehy’s advice to get a plan before selling any more names on university property.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/1XToEkn

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The Great Falls Tribune, May 21, on national park safety:

Two unpleasant incidents in Yellowstone National Park this month demonstrate how ignorance can be harmful.

On May 14, several members of a group called High on Life SundayFundayz walked into a sensitive Yellowstone Park hot spring. That’s illegal, so three arrest warrants were issued, but authorities said the group members might have already returned to Canada by midweek.

Perhaps these “adventurers” had not heard of tourists walking off designated paths and getting scalded to death by boiling-hot water in the park. Maybe they were thrill-seekers, or folks taking a “look at me” approach. Whatever their motivations, these jerks should stay on marked trails as they are told.

The group initially posted photographs and video of their trek onto the Grand Prismatic Spring, but later apologized and offered to make a $5,000 donation to the park. That’s something, but they should never have gone into the spring in the first place. Park officials said walking into a hot spring can damage sensitive wet, soft bacterial mats inside a spring. A fourth man involved in the incident has not been charged because he was not yet identified, officials said.

Yellowstone officials cited the hot springs walkers Monday, May 16, the same day they cited another group of visitors to Yellowstone for picking up a bison calf and placing it in their vehicle because they thought the calf needed help. The National Park Service later had to euthanize the calf after bison refused efforts by park rangers to return the calf to the herd.

It was a sad end to the bison calf and a reminder to human beings that national parks such as Yellowstone and Glacier are not amusement parks such as Disneyland. These are rough-hewn scenic spots full of wild animals and potential dangers. A tourist may walk to the edge of a cliff in a national park, with no special railing to keep him from plunging over the edge if he advances too far. Lightning can strike people if they are exposed in a storm. Falling rocks can be hazards.

Fortunately, deaths in national parks are rare, but here are several sensible rules to follow:

-Keep on trails and designated locations.

-Keep your distance from wild animals: 100 yards from wolves and bears, and 25 yards from bison, moose and other dangerous critters.

-Avoid animals with cubs, calves and other young; mess with them, and you can be hurt by the parents or cause the young to be rejected.

-Photographs of wild animals are great, but you’re supposed to keep a safe distance away. Solution: Buy a good SLR camera with a long lens, 200 mm or longer, to get good animal shots. Don’t try to get a good shot with a camera phone by getting too close, or attempting a “selfie” with an animal. Don’t do it.

-Take bear spray on hikes anywhere bears might be, and make noise while hiking to alert animals you are there.

-Don’t take food into areas where you might encounter wild animals.

Montana is beautiful, but read those brochures when entering national parks. Let’s have enjoyable, not tragic, experiences in Big Sky Country this summer.

Editorial: http://gftrib.com/1YXzjJ7

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, May 20, on restoring bison outside Yellowstone National Park:

The results of a very credible and thorough study published in a scientific journal this week lends more credence to what has become increasingly clear: Elk are far more likely to transmit brucellosis to livestock than bison.

The cattle industry has long opposed tolerance of bison outside Yellowstone National Park borders, arguing that many are infected with brucellosis and could spread it to domestic livestock. The disease can cause the animals to abort their young and can be devastating financially to ranchers when their herds are found to be infected.

But this week’s study - published in the journal Nature Communications - found elk are a greater threat of disease transmission than bison. Several recent outbreaks in cattle were in fact found to come from elk, and there has never been a documented case of bison infecting livestock in the field. The disease is primarily spread through the placenta when the animals are calving. And livestock and bison do not share the same areas when calving.

“Elk are definitely the driver of what’s happening with brucellosis in the greater Yellowstone,” one of the authors of the study said.

To be clear: Free-roaming bison can cause problems. They can destroy fencing and consume great amounts of fodder. But the threat of brucellosis is not a legitimate reason hazing and slaughtering bison on public land outside the park. Stockgrowers would garner more credibility in the bison debate if they would acknowledge these basic facts and admit that the real reason for opposing bison tolerance is that they compete for public lands grazing.

Bison are uniquely North American wild animals that played a pivotal role in U.S. history before being hunted nearly to extinction in the late 19th century. The Yellowstone bison are the most genetically pure that survived.

The goal in the 21st century should be to restore the bison to some of the species’ former range to be managed as other species of wildlife are managed. This latest study should lend impetus to those efforts.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/1TKvUNE

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