- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Missoulian, Feb. 14, on management of the National Bison Range:

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed signs it is finally coming to its senses with regard to the National Bison Range.

The 18,500-acre range in the heart of the Flathead Reservation, home to hundreds of healthy buffalo, has long suffered a bad case of federal foot-dragging disorder. The obvious cure is for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to assume management.

The tribes have strong cultural, historic and legal claims to both the land and the iconic species that calls it home. The Fish and Wildlife Service, however, has been unable to decide on any course of action that might open the way for the tribes to assume a stronger role in management. And it has arrived at these indecisions at an agonizingly slow pace.

That is, until the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 5, when FWS Mountain-Prairie Region Director Noreen Walsh sent an email to employees that indicates support for tribal management and points a way forward.

“In an effort to achieve the best, long-term solution for our many conservation priorities, the specific conservation goals of the National Bison Range, and to support the principles of Indian self-determination,” according to Walsh’s email, “there was a discussion today with the CSKT about the potential for the Service to support legislation that would transfer the lands comprising the National Bison Range to be held in trust by the United States for the CSKT.”

Walsh’s message signals a significant change of direction for FWS on the Bison Range, and an opportunity Montana’s congressional delegates ought to seize right away. They should begin working with FWS and tribal leaders to craft legislation that would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to officially transfer management of the National Bison Range to the CSKT.

The National Bison Range was created more than a century ago thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt, who authorized funding to establish the range in 1908. FWS has managed it ever since as part of the National Wildlife Refuge system.

While the federal government’s goal of conserving bison is certainly noble, its treatment of the tribes throughout this process is nothing to be proud of. The wishes of Native Americans were not taken into account, and when CSKT asserted its claims, they were repeatedly marginalized or outright ignored.

For decades now, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have fought to make their case heard. They continue to fight for the right to manage an animal of distinct cultural and historic importance, on what is culturally and historically tribal land.

Legally and politically, the groundwork for their case was laid 40 years ago, when the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistant Act was passed by Congress. It contains provisions that explicitly allow tribes to manage programs that affect tribal welfare.

This very obviously includes the National Bison Range. Yet it wasn’t until 2004 that CSKT was finally able to land an agreement to assume a portion of the management responsibilities concerning the range. And that agreement fell apart within two years amid a flurry of petty squabbles and unfounded accusations.

A second agreement was reached in 2010 after negotiations resumed, but it was cancelled in court because it ran afoul of federal procedure by failing to include an environmental assessment. An environmental assessment was then completed; however, negotiations on a third agreement since then have gone nowhere.

If Congress eventually does take action on this issue - and it should - it will only cede “management” of the range, while the federal government will continue to “hold” it. Indeed, Walsh’s email specifically indicated support only for legislation that would allow the range “to be held in trust by the United States for the CSKT.”

With all due respect for political realities and the congressional process, that’s backwards. It ought to be the CSKT that holds the bison range in trust for the people of the United States - including its original inhabitants.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1Ql9g8y


Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Feb. 12, on making changes to the geothermal tax credit:

A Feb. 7 Chronicle report on a geothermal heating system tax break that goes primarily to wealthy homeowners exposed a fundamental flaw in the way Montana deals with all tax credits.

Many existing tax credits were enacted years ago and have never been revisited to find out if they are doing what they were intended to do.

Lawmakers approved the geothermal tax credit 25 years ago as an incentive for homeowners to install highly efficient heat pumps that extract energy from the earth to heat and cool homes. It was adopted as an incentive for homeowners in rural areas to convert their homes from heating systems that used wood or propane that has to be hauled to remote locations.

In some cases, though, the tax credit has been used by wealthy homeowners. These are hardly situations where a tax credit is justified.

The geothermal tax credit is just one of many the Legislature has enacted over the years. And in 2014, all tax credits cost the state more than $270 million in revenue. Certainly many of the credits have merit and produce the incentives lawmakers intended. But they all should be subjected to periodic review to ensure that is the case.

Many states include an automatic sunset provision of from three to six years that forces lawmakers to reconsider them to determine if they are effective and producing the desired effect. This is something that Montana lawmakers should adopt.

A bill introduced in last year’s legislative session would have put expiration dates on 24 personal and corporate tax credits. But that bill was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock who said the measure selectively targeted certain tax breaks while leaving others alone.

That’s easy enough to fix.

When the Legislature convenes next year, lawmakers should consider an automatic sunset date on all the state’s tax credits. That doesn’t mean they have to repealed. It will only mandate that they be reconsidered periodically. If they are determined to be effective - prompting the actions they were intended to - they can be reenacted with a sunset date of, say, five years.

It’s just a common-sense, responsible to do when giving away the taxpayers’ money.

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


Great Falls Tribune, Feb. 12, on Montana’s commissioner of political practices:

Jonathan Motl, Montana commissioner of political practices, has been depicted by some critics as a fire-breathing partisan, but his actions in a recent decision involving GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte’s campaign don’t reflect that.

For starters, it’s clearly not kosher for candidates to send solicitations to a public employee’s governmental email address. That’s what Gianforte’s campaign did when it obtained email addresses from the Montana Association of Counties directory; some of the email addresses were government addresses.

Rather than roast the Republican candidate’s campaign, however, Motl dismissed the complaint against Gianforte, saying a prohibition against candidates contacting government employees via government email had not been clearly laid out.

Then Motl took the opportunity to say other candidates have been forewarned, and they will face penalties if they do the same thing in the future. We think it’s a fair way to have handled the situation.

Some GOP stalwarts have complained the hard-headed Motl has been unfair to Republicans, although he was reappointed to his post by the Senate last year. Plus, much of the dark money directed to campaigns in Montana in recent elections has been in Republican primaries, with conservative and more moderate Republicans facing off. That’s where much of the controversy has taken place.

We think Motl handled the Gianforte issue wisely, but it’s sure to be a bitter road ahead during the 2016 election year as candidates trade barbs and accusations.

Editorial: https://gftrib.com/1TqhFOH

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