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Montana Woman Covers Kentucky Derby From Outside the Saddle

On Saturday, 28-year-old Montana native Kris Prather will be at Churchill Downs for the 133rd Running of the Kentucky Derby. It was at Churchill Downs in 2000 that Prather rode her first race as a jockey, igniting a sensational career that would take her to the top of the thoroughbred-racing world. But on Saturday Prather will be watching the race as a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, part of a writing career that has brought new purpose to her life since a string of injuries cut short the career of her dreams. Growing up on a farm near Stevensville, just south of Missoula, Prather said she devoured the Black Stallion series and was excited by the harrowing tales of the mythical racehorse. In a state of quarter horses and rodeos she dreamed of riding sleek thoroughbreds on America’s oval tracks, an ambition she pursued with a tenacity that would become her trademark. At age ten, she got her first horse, an Arabian just like the stallion. Her first riding competition hardly foreshadowed her future success.

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Overflowing Film Fest Crowd Winces Through Graphic “Montana Meth”

The film Montana Meth made its world premiere Thursday night at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in front of an audience that overflowed the Wilma Theatre’s main auditorium. The crowd winced its way through the often-graphic hour-long film that features scenes of real meth addicts smoking and injecting the drug while delving into the painful world of meth addiction. Many in the audience cringed when the film showed a dentist tear a shrunken, rotted tooth from a recovering meth addict’s mouth. A common response after the screening was that it was “disturbing” but “effective.”

Click here to listen to the NewWest.Net interview with "Montana Meth" director Eames Yates.

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Big Sky Film: “Gimme Green” Explores America’s Lawn Obsession

At more than 40 million acres it’s the largest irrigated crop in America and 5,000 new acres are planted daily. It uses 30,000 tons of pesticides a year, billions of gallons of water and looks great with garden gnomes. It's lawn grass. And Gimme Green,, a short film at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this week, explores the American obsession with it -- and the tidy, green front yards it creates. In just 27 minutes this sometimes funny, sometimes scary film ambitiously pulls together the environmental, economic and social impacts of lawn cultivation, all the while toying with the idea of lawns as a symbol of social status.

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Big Sky Film: “Montana Meth”

Since taking his first hit of methamphetamine more than a decade ago, 22-year-old “Weasel” has been hopelessly addicted to the drug and easy money he makes dealing it. “I know it’s all going to come to an end, and it’s all going to come crashing down,” he says. “If I remembered who gave it to me the first time I did it, I’d probably want to shoot them.” Weasel is one of the addicts whose voices make the film Montana Meth a disturbing yet compassionate look into Montana’s methamphetamine underworld. The film, set to premiere with a free public screening Thursday at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, was made through a collaboration between the Montana Meth Project and HBO Documentary Films.

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National Park Service to Test a “Park Scorecard”

The National Park Service will test a complex new system for comparing and evaluating parks this year, with the hopes of using it to help determine the 2008 fiscal-year budget. The “park scorecard” will use 33 efficiency and performance metrics to rank parks into four efficiency categories, according to a Park Service memo released by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility or PEER. The Park Service says the new system will give superintendents the data and tools they need to justify budgets and will add transparency to management decisions. In a press release earlier this week, PEER berated the scorecard system as overly complicated “bureaucratic pretzel making” and the product of poor leadership in the Park Service. The scorecard is one of many tools being developed to make the park service better at business management and could play a role in determining how to meet President Bush's request for $100 million to be shaved off the Park Service budget. National Park Service spokeswoman Elaine Sevy said the scorecard allows park managers to prove their efficiency on paper and better ask for additional funding where it is needed.

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Bill Would Lift Offshore Drilling Moratorium

A bill aimed at lifting the 26-year-old moratorium on offshore natural gas development along U.S. coastlines has riled environmentalists who say the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and the Rocky Mountain Front will be next on the list. Previous attempts to lift the ban have never garnered more than 100 votes in the House. This new legislation, which the House may vote on later in May, already has 150 sponsors.

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Timber Teams With Conservation on Beaverhead-Deerlodge Proposal

Three conservation groups and four timber companies have allied to submit a proposal they hope to have included in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest’s new forest plan. Their proposal would double the amount of proposed wilderness suggested in the Forest Service’s draft plan and open up 700,000 acres for timber harvest. But the heart of their plan is the forest using stewardship contracting as a way to put timber revenue to work and keep the money local. Some environmentalists, however, see "stewardship management" as just another fancy term for timber sales on public lands, and doubt the ecological motives.

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UM Faculty Members Rally For Endangered Species Act

Three University of Montana faculty members held a press conference in front of University Hall today to rally support for the embattled Endangered Species Act. They drew a sparse crowd on a warm, rather-be-playing-frisbee Friday, but their message was clear: The ESA has been successful in rehabilitating many species, and can save more if it remains intact.

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Bitterroot Resort Requests Public Land Use For Skiing, Mountain Biking

Bitterroot Resort has requested a special use permit for creating alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and summer mountain bike areas on 1,680 acres in the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests adjacent to developer Tom Maclay’s ranch. The proposal was announced by the resort in a press release Tuesday afternoon and confirmed by the Bitterroot National Forest today. The request is a revision of an earlier proposal that was denied by the Forest Service because it was not allowable under the forest plan. A new forest plan is in the works and is expected to be released soon.

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Western Montana Growers Go Beyond Organics & Get Local

When Lifeline Farms began growing and selling its natural produce from the Bitterroot Valley 25 years ago, "organic" had a slightly different connotation. “We took our crate of food to Safeway, we had all our letters saying it was organic, and we said, ‘This is organic, do you want it? The managers looked at it and said, ‘Oh, it’s organic? Well, we’ll take it anyway,'” says Luci Brieger, who with her husband Steve Elliott runs the produce portion of Lifeline Farms, one of the oldest organic farms in Montana. Since those early days, Brieger and Elliott have seen organics go from obscurity to a mainstream marketing boon. And now, many organic farmers, including Brieger and Elliott, feel that organic programs have lost touch with their roots in small farms and close communities by embracing corporations that ship their produce all over the world. In that spirit, 12 Missoula-area organic farms have formed a group that will offer an alternative to the USDA organic certification -- a "Homegrown" label focusing more on growing and selling food locally.

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