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David Nolt

Obama Draws Nearly 8,000 in Bozeman, Talks Public Lands, Access

Photo by David Nolt.

Sen. Barack Obama continued his presidential campaign’s momentum through Montana yesterday, holding a town hall meeting in Billings, becoming an adopted member of the Crow Tribe and finally rallying in Bozeman on the Montana State University campus. In Bozeman, Obama primarily stuck to his standard talking points, not spending too much time on specific Western issues. But, he did continue in his efforts to reach across the broad demographic of sportsmen and outdoors enthusiasts, citing the importance of conserving public lands.

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Designing the New West

The Designing the New West: Architecture and Landscape in the Mountain West Conference is wrapping up here in Bozeman at the historic Gallatin Gateway Inn. Put on by NewWest.Net and sponsored by the Sonoran Institute, the conference brought together designers from all over the country to explore innovative design ideas, identify best practices, and better understand how to bridge the gap between good architectural theory and sometimes-messy building practices in the fastest growing region in the nation. A mix of presentations and engaging panel discussions tackled pressing Western issues like sustainable development, land design and the special challenges of urban, rural and resort design, historic preservation and affordable housing. Click on the photo or here for a slideshow of the days' events. Click "more" for a recap of the conference.

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Yellowstone Bison and the Fate of the Royal Teton Ranch Lease

A young bison near West Yellowstone. Photo by David Nolt.

As changing land use and attitudes toward bison open the possibility for reduced conflict between bison, cattle and humans on the west side of Yellowstone National Parl, a potential deal on the north side of the park could allow bison to follow a traditional migration corridor for the first time in a long time. But the deal is short some $1.5 million from the federal government, and it is also not without criticism from bison advocates.

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Proposed Ameya Subdivision Shrinks, State Land Dealings Continue

Wade Dokken, left, and Park County Commissioners Jim Durgan, middle, and Dick Murphy, right, at a site visit to the Ameya Preserve in September 2006. Photo by David Nolt.

The proposed Ameya Preserve vacation home subdivision south of Livingston, Montana, just became substantially smaller after developers recently sold about 4,000 acres to a neighboring property owner. The project, which co-founder Wade Dokken describes as a "private national park," will now include about 5,700 acres. Dokken says the sale to candy tycoon Giorgio Perfetti (think Mentos, "the fresh-maker") came at his behest, but Dokken told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle the deal also conveniently erased Ameya's debt and interest costs. Though their property shrunk, the developers say they are still planning to sell about 300 homesites. Co-founder Jaime Prieto says their homesite reservation numbers are "on target," but would not reveal numbers or prices. A coveted spot in the Neiman Marcus 2007 Christmas catalogue listed a homesite at Ameya for $2.3 million. Also pending is the potential sale of two state sections of land within Ameya property. The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is still deliberating on whether or not to sell the sections, which contain valuable elk winter range.

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Bison Slaughter, Funding Woes and Landowner Demands at Horse Butte

Above: Yellowstone National Park and Department of Livestock staff corral bison at the Stephens Creek capture facility north of Gardiner. Below: A sign at the entrance to the Galanis ranch. Photos by David Nolt.

Yellowstone Park and the Montana Department of Livestock sent this winter’s 991st bison to slaughter on Tuesday morning, and as the Billings Gazette reported, that number paired with the 166 killed in state and tribal hunts means nearly one quarter of the park’s 4,700 bison have been killed this winter. This year’s tally is the largest number of bison killed in a single winter, but not the highest percentage, which occurred in the 1996-97 winter when nearly one-third of the park’s 3,500 bison were killed. Park spokesman Al Nash said the park’s bison management strategies ensure genetic diversity and described the park’s bison population as “robust.” Meanwhile, 69 landowners in the Horse Butte area filed a letter with Earthjustice addressed to four Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) signatories demanding all haze and slaughter operations in the Horse Butte area cease until an Environmental Impact Statement addresses the changing nature of the now cattle-free peninsula. And if bison weren’t in the news enough, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle is reporting the Animal Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) doesn’t have the federal funds to complete a grazing lease on the Royal Teton Ranch, which would allow bison to access about 7,500 acres of winter habitat north of Gardiner.

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National Sunshine Week and the Public’s Right to Know

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"Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” -Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis As members of the Fourth Estate, New West would be remiss not to plug National Sunshine Week, observed March 16-22. The project is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to celebrate and inform the public about open government and freedom of information. Sunshine Week started, appropriately enough, in the Sunshine State after legislators attempted, unsuccessfully, to create exemptions to Florida public records law. How are your state’s Sunshine laws? The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Citizen Access Project provides extensive freedom of information ratings and state comparisons across hundreds of issues. Disclaimer: The project only takes data from what is on states’ books concerning freedom of information. Public and government perceptions and interpretations may vary. See how Western states rank and find more freedom of information links after the jump.

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Forest Service Seeks Comment on Wapiti Grazing Allotment

The Forest Service is seeking comment on a revision of the Wapiti Grazing Allotment located in the Taylor Fork drainage west of Yellowstone National Park. The allotment comprises 7,690 acres of Gallatin National Forest land and has been host to cattle grazing since 1967 and sheep grazing since 1920. The intent of the revision is to "improve rangeland and riparian conditions over the long-term, while providing domestic livestock grazing," according to Hebgen Lake District Ranger Bill Queen. Despite the heavy presence of wildlife in the area, wildlife forage is not factored into the proposed plan. Bison, which are managed by the Department of Livestock and other Interagency Bison Management Plan agencies, will also specifically be left out of the plan. After the environmental analysis is considered the public will have one more chance to comment on the proposed action and alternatives. Click here to locate the scoping letter (at the bottom of the page under "Recent News." The public comment period ends Friday, March 14, 2008.

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Montana’s Gallatin County Moves Ahead with Countywide Zoning

Photo by David Nolt.

Gallatin County inched closer to county-wide zoning Tuesday as commissioners took public comment and helped assist the planning department in the drafting of zoning regulations. As the communities of Four Corners, Amsterdam-Churchill and Gallatin Gateway endeavor to form neighborhood plans, the Gallatin County Commissioners and Planning Department are tasked with establishing zoning outside those communities in a county that has never been too keen on the idea. Now, as citizens have seen what rampant growth looks like firsthand, they are pressuring the county to do something about it. And soon. Though unanimity didn’t hold the day, the commissioners did agree to move forward with several policy decisions on zoning. The commission and the planning department both acknowledged finalizing the regulations would be a slow, complicated endeavor. By moving slowly, however, they hope to engage a more meaningful public process. Still, planner Sean O’Callaghan described said process as “swallowing the elephant one bite at a time.”

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Fish, Wildlife & Parks Offers Scoping Period on Bison Hunt

A young bison near West Yellowstone, Montana. Photo by David Nolt.

In an effort to flush out “any other broad issues” related to the experimental bison hunt in Montana, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP) is offering a public scoping period on the hunt before a draft revised Environmental Assessment (EA) is released some time in April. The two-week scoping period ends on March 7, 2008. The already complicated issue of bison hunting is set to become even more so as Idaho’s Nez Perce seek a larger harvest of bison under treaty rights allowing the Nez Perce to hunt in “open and unclaimed land” around Yellowstone National Park. The Nez Perce claim they are able to harvest 70 to 110 bison, but MFWP contends they are limited to 41. The Nez Perce assertion comes as the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) and the Yellowstone National Park Service continue to capture and slaughter bison to prevent the spread of the disease brucellosis from bison to cattle, though there is no evidence of this ever occurring. The agencies have captured 661 bison so far this winter. The DOL contends the loss of Montana’s brucellosis-free status would cause significant economic harm to ranchers, who would then have to test cattle before sending them out of state to slaughter.

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Rural Growth, Climate and the Wildland-Urban Interface

Photo courtesy of Montana DNRC.

The wildfire issue is a pressing one in the New West. Fire seasons are getting longer and drier by the year, fires are more severe, and, to top it off, the modern western migration is bringing an unprecedented influx of homes into the wildland-urban interface (WUI). As wildland fire suppression operations increasingly consume dwindling Forest Service budgets and taxpayers grow ever wearier of footing the pricey bill of defending homes in the WUI, the onus for preparation and protection is increasingly falling on homeowners and local communities. In 2006, interested parties from the public and private sector gathered in Helena at the Montana Communities and Wildfire Conference to begin a new discussion on the WUI and the West’s changing fire seasons. According to organizers, participants expressed overwhelming support for the formation of a non-governmental non-profit to perform public education, outreach and on-the-ground assistance in wildfire mitigation in the WUI. The result is FireSafe Montana, which held its first annual conference in Bozeman this week.

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