- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Montana Standard, Aug. 13, on increasing U.S. Forest Service funding:

Does it seem to you that Western wildlands are burning at a far greater rate than they used to?

Does it seem there are more large fires consuming tens and hundreds of thousands of acres?

Does it seem that more residences and other structures are being threatened and destroyed by wildfires than ever before?

There’s a good reason it seems that way. All of that is happening, and more. This week’s proliferation of lightning-caused fires in drought-parched Montana forests is a case in point.

In the process, the U.S. Forest Service budget is being burned up, too. A report issued by the Forest Service a week ago puts hard numbers to the spiraling cost of firefighting and the impact it is having on the agency’s other important responsibilities — including conservation, recreation and land management. And that’s all too convenient for some groups who don’t much value the federal government’s efforts in those areas.

“In 1995, fire made up 16 percent of the Forest Service’s annual budget,” the report said. “This year, for the first time, more than 50 percent of the . annual budget will be dedicated to wildfire.”

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the huge increase in wildfires is not primarily attributable to reduced timber harvests. Rather, it is one of the clearest indications yet that climate change is a reality. Add to that the rapid increase in development on private lands adjacent to national forests, and it’s easy to see why wildfires are putting more private property at risk than ever before.

While Montana’s congressional delegation is all for increasing U.S. Forest Service funding, they diverge on how the forests should be managed.

In a nutshell, we shouldn’t be appropriating more money to save forests from fire, just to cut them down instead.

While sensible management can reduce fire risks, particularly in forests that have already been logged, “thinning” has too often meant clear-cutting. And the promised reduction in fire risk from some thinning operations has not been scientifically supportable. Thinning can raise soil temperatures, remove windbreaks and leave flammable slash behind that makes excellent kindling.

We have eliminated 95 percent of our old-growth forests - partly by “managing” them with timber profits, not conservation, in mind.

In this instance, climate change is indeed an inconvenient truth. The federal government needs to respond to what is in fact a public safety and health crisis.

If we allow the huge increase in fires to rob the Forest Service of its ability to do all of its job, we lose twice. Among the areas that have lost funding are “the very programs and restoration projects that reduce the fire threat,” the report said.

The Forest Service needs an infusion of funds - not just from timber sales but from a Congress committed to preservation as well as profit.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1J1K44b

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Aug. 16, on grizzly bear recovery efforts:

Following the tragic death of a seasonal health worker in a Yellowstone Park grizzly attack, social media and news website comment threads lit up with sympathy - for the bears. As park officials set about the task of trapping and killing the bear involved - and shipping her cubs off to a zoo - wildlife lovers questioned why a bear had to die for doing what bears do.

Online comments ranged from heartfelt pleas to spare the bears to crude suggestions that the incident is just Darwinian selection at work. Park officials were also inundated with calls and emails pleading on behalf of the bruins, as was Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s office.

Yes, it is sad that the grizzly and cubs were taken out of their habitat. But it was the only option. And this won’t be the last time a bear will be killed in the wake of human contact - not by a long shot.

It was 40 years ago this year that grizzlies in the Northern Rockies were designated a threatened species. Bear numbers then were down to a few hundred in the Yellowstone and Glacier-Bob Marshall ecosystems. And those estimates may have been high.

Since then, wildlife managers have taken on the challenge of restoring the species. And they have achieved remarkable success. Today there are an estimated 1,800 bears in the lower 48. That recovery has hinged on minimizing contact with humans by a combination of negative reinforcement and altered behavior on the part of those who live, recreate and ranch in and around grizzly habitat.

By choice or error, problems have arisen and will continue to arise. Now we must accept the decision of professionals - some of whom have devoted their entire careers to the grizzly recovery effort. When they, along with the body of research and data they have accumulated, say bears that have consumed human flesh will likely kill humans again, that’s the end of the story. Anything else just risks more trouble - primarily for the grizzly species.

The struggle to nurture this species of large predator in an increasingly populated region continues. What we can all do is listen to the advice of bear biologists: keep food out of the bears’ reach, don’t hike alone and learn to use and carry bear spray. And wildlife professionals, outdoor recreation vendors and all bear advocates in the region can continue to spread the word about the best ways to avoid a bear confrontation.

But despite all the best intentions, there will more human-bear encounters. And when those incidents cross the threshold into unreasonable risk, more grizzlies will have to be killed for the benefit of the species as a whole.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1K48w9v

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Daily Inter Lake, Aug. 15, on the benefits of coal for the Crow Tribe in eastern Montana:

Rep. Ryan Zinke has been a strong supporter of Montana’s development of its coal resource, and has been especially outspoken about how Obama administration environmental rules will have a devastating effect on the Crow Tribe in Eastern Montana.

Coal, of course, is carbon - and carbon (in the form of greenhouse gas) is the root of most environmental evil in the eyes of many folks who are honestly terrified of man-made climate change.

But coal is also black gold, and for a largely impoverished community such as the Crow, it is asking a ridiculously large price to expect them to leave the coal in Asia.

Unfortunately, in addition to federal rules that restrict the domestic market for coal, there has also been a movement afoot to impede the development of ports that can accommodate the shipping of coal to China and elsewhere.

Obtaining permits for the Gateway Pacific Terminal in northwest Washington state has been a slow and lugubrious process, and every delay has meant that the Crow Tribe has been forced to wait for its chance to lift itself up by its bootstraps and achieve the American dream.

Last week, the tribe took a major step toward prosperity when it signed a deal with Cloud Peak Energy and SSA Marine to form a partnership in the Gateway Pacific Terminal. Hopefully, the tribe’s direct involvement will encourage Washington state to stop dragging its feet and allow Montana coal to pass through the state on rail and use the port to reach foreign markets.

In addition to its benefits for the Crow Tribe, the project is expected to create as many as 4,400 jobs during construction and 1,250 ongoing jobs.

Zinke and Sen. Steve Daines praised the agreement, as did Montana Attorney General Tim Fox.

“For too long, economic opportunity for the Crow has been stifled by outside bureaucrats and interests,” Zinke said. “Senator Daines and I remain committed to doing everything we can to see this project completed for the Crow Tribe and for Montana.”

Fox stressed that fair play and the rule of law need to carry the day, saying the announcement “further reinforces the need for a fair and lawful permitting review process, not one driven by politics toward a pre-determined outcome. Montana has interstate commerce rights under the U.S. Constitution and it would be inappropriate for a sister state to arbitrarily pick and choose what Montana goods can pass through on their way to market.”

We agree, and wish the Crow Tribe well as they seek to utilize their natural treasure to better the lives of their people.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1NrhfUm

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Billings Gazette, Aug. 19, on chickenpox vaccinations and children’s health:

The risk of potentially serious childhood illnesses will be lessened in Montana this year, thanks to a law enacted by the 2015 Legislature and Gov. Steve Bullock.

By updating the state’s requirements for vaccines needed to attend K-12 schools, Montana leaders are giving our children the same healthy advantage that children in other states have benefited from for years.

The law changes two things:

- Students must have two varicella (chicken pox) vaccines. Previously none was required.

- Students in grades 7-13 must have one pertussis (whooping cough) booster shot.

Both of these requirements have been previously recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Montana was the last of the 50 states to require the chicken pox vaccine for school children. Earlier this year, only two other states lacked the requirement for teens to get a pertussis booster.

Montana’s outdated requirements had bad consequences for our children: In 2013, Montana was No. 1 in the nation for the highest rate of pertussis infection and one child’s death resulted from pertussis, according to testimony to lawmakers. In that year, Montana’s pertussis rate was 69 cases per 100,000 population, compared with 9 cases per 100,000 nationally.

Montana year after year has had more chicken pox cases reported than our neighboring states, all of which require the vaccine for children to enter kindergarten.

According to the 2013 National Immunization Survey for Adolescents, 84 percent of Montana kids had received the pertussis booster, compared with 86 percent nationally.

Only 59 percent of Montana kids had the two-shot varicella series, compared with 78 percent nationally.

The impetus for the update enacted this year actually came from a Legislative Audit Division audit that recommended seeking legislation to better align state requirements with national recommendations.

Vaccinating school kids helps other Montanans. Many school-age children have younger siblings who would be at risk of infection if the school child fell ill. Whooping cough is most serious in newborns, but the vaccine cannot be administered to infants younger than two months. Thus, by vaccinating the school-age youngsters, the babies are better protected.

The law also protects children and adults who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, such as having an impaired immune system related to cancer treatment.

Exemptions remain

Montana law still provides exemptions from vaccines for religious and medical reasons. The 2015 legislation didn’t change the exemptions.

When House Bill 158 had hearings, its supporters included Montana public health officials from the state and counties, school nurses, Billings Clinic, Montana Medical Association, Montana Public Health Association and MHA, an association of health care providers, including hospitals, nursing homes and home health agencies.

Lack of updated requirements cost taxpayers money, in addition to the suffering caused by these preventable diseases.

A pertussis outbreak in a rural Gallatin County school earlier this year resulted in 11 cases of whooping cough, and 300 contacts that public health officials had to contact for preventive treatment, Jill Seeley of the Gallatin City-County Health Department told the House Education Committee. That outbreak required more than 80 hours of nursing work.

Seeley recalled another pertussis outbreak a few years ago in Bozeman High School that resulted in 43 cases with 1,500 contacts and cost taxpayers $38,000.

Voting for health

Rep. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, sponsored the bill, which passed the House on a 57-43 vote and cleared the Senate 36-14.

We applaud MacDonald and the lawmakers of both parties who voted for HB158 to support healthier Montana kids. Those voting for kids included Sens. Duane Ankney, Elsie Arntzen, Taylor Brown, Robyn Driscoll, Doug Kary, Mary McNally, Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, and Roger Webb.

In the House, the vote split more on partisan lines. The only Yellowstone County Republican representatives who voted for the vaccine update were Geraldine Custer, Don Jones and Tom Richmond. These lawmakers stood up for public health despite their party leaders voting against the update.

If your kids haven’t been vaccinated against chicken pox, or you have a student going into grades 7-12 who hasn’t had a booster shot, now is the time to catch them up. Check with your family health care provider, or county health department for vaccine availability. In Yellowstone County, RiverStone Health, 123 S. 27th St., has scheduled extra vaccine clinic hours through Sept. 16.

The law says the children should be up-to-date on vaccines by Oct. 1.

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