Education Environment Montana Politics Ryan Zinke Steve Daines

Thursday short takes: state budget, Daines, Zinke, and Arntzen

Photo by Don Pogreba

Special session?

Dire budget news out of the governor’s office: state agencies need to cut spending by another 10 percent. This is on top of July’s $70 million in budget cuts.

Some of the blame rests with our horrendous fire season. The state took half the firefighting fund, about $30 million, earlier this summer to patch holes in other state budgets. Since the firefighting fund will run out at the end of this week, these other agencies’ budgets will be raided to cover continued firefighting costs.

Blame can also be placed on unrealistic revenue estimates and the fact that the legislature wouldn’t allow any new or increased taxes. Sen. Dick Barrett (D-Missoula) sums it up:

Of course the situation wouldn’t be nearly as bad if the Republican majority in the legislature had approved some – at least one! – of the tax measures the governor proposed to raise revenue. But that never happened. Republicans even voted down a bill I proposed that would have stopped multinational corporations from hiding their Montana taxable income in foreign tax havens. I guess in their relentless effort to shrink government, they can even stomach blatant tax avoidance.

But it’s not too late. If there are enough Republicans who believe enough in what government does to join with Democrats, we can call a special session, go back to Helena, and raise a little revenue. Maybe not enough to stop all the cuts, but at least enough to stop the worst of them.

Those who will suffer from the cuts will be the most vulnerable: elderly, people with disabilities, children in foster care and special education kids.

As to finding moderate Republicans willing to hold a special session to address budget shortfalls, well, good luck — they’re rarer than a white buffalo.

One of the areas that won’t see any cuts is the salaries of elected officials. Sorry guys and gals, but if everyone else is going to feel some pain, you should, too.

Dangerous Daines 

Sen. Steve Daines’ rhetoric on Montana’s wildfires is heating up. While touring the fires last week with Rep. Greg Gianforte and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the three laid the blame on “environmental extremists” filing anti-logging lawsuits.

In an email today, he’s upping the ante. “Radical environmentalists” are “defying decency and common sense” for threatening to sue the Forest Service unless it reviews a logging project in critical lynx habitat. And he’s blaming “an activist court” for aiding and abetting these radicals.

A more reasoned approach to managing wildfires was advanced by former Montana Wilderness Association president Joseph Scalia:

Years of fire exclusion is the main culprit behind current catastrophic wildfire activity. Drought and heat play a big part. Years of fire suppression have resulted in accumulations of woody fuels that, once ignited, no longer can be extinguished during the hot summer. There is a complex interplay of many factors. Thinning and logging may or may not reduce the occurrence of wildfire: consider that heavily logged British Columbia is burning up now, one wildfire burning there being 80 miles long. “Radical environmentalists” have not stopped the logging in British Columbia and yet big fires still burn.

The entire letter, including sensible forest management tools, can be found here.

Daines closes his missive with this polling question:

 Quite the rhetorical device. His entire email to me is below the fold.

A pair to draw to: Zinke and the NRA

Backed by the National Rifle Association, the SHARE Act (Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement) is headed to Congress. It’s described by Wilderness Watch as “a thinly disguised measure to gut the 1964 Wilderness Act.”

The SHARE Act would allow endless, extensive habitat manipulations in Wilderness under the guise of “wildlife conservation” and for providing hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting experiences. The Act would also allow the construction of “temporary” roads in protected Wilderness areas to facilitate such uses and would allow the construction of dams, buildings, or other structures within Wildernesses.

Now I have no problem with folks hunting and fishing in wilderness areas, that’s part of what they’re about, but that doesn’t seem to be the intent of this act. And where does Zinke’s Department of the Interior fit in?

The analysis corresponds with a leaked memo McClatchy obtained and reported on last week ( that found the Trump Administration has so far prevented the National Park Service from voicing its serious concerns over the National Rifle Association (NRA)-backed SHARE Act. When the Park Service shared such concerns in a memo to the Department of Interior (DOI), the DOI responded by crossing out the Park Service’s comments, and the agency was told not to go to Congress.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Arntzen to fix what isn’t broken

The venerable Montana Teacher of the Year program has been going on for 22 years. Through the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, public school educators are nominated for the award. At an educator’s conference in October, one teacher will be selected and will be in the running for the National Teacher of the Year award.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen wants to take over the program. From MEA/MFT:

Elections have consequences.  This is one of them.  Small perhaps but indicative of how Elsie looks upon her role as our superintendent.  She will take the best of what other folks have been doing such as the Montana Teacher of the Year Program and make them her own where she can stand at the front of the room and pretend to be the teacher leader she is not . . . or inexplicably trash them as she did Graduation Matters.

Here’s the story, and here’s the close to the piece:

October 19, Hilton Garden Inn, Missoula, in conjunction with the annual MEA-MFT Educators’ Conference, the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation will present what may well be its last Montana Teacher of the Year Celebration.


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  • I used to know how to do a page break and put content below the fold. I have since lost that talent. So here’s the Daines email placed in the comment section:

    August 30, 2017

    Dear Pete,

    I have bad news. Defying decency and commonsense, in the middle of Montana’s fire season, several radical environmentalist groups hope to stop Montana’s efforts to lessen the threat of wildfire in northwestern Montana.

    These groups have given 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue under the Endangered Species Act, to block the community-developed Beaver Creek Project in the Flathead National Forest. These radicals are more concerned with ideology than our safety and they used the Ninth Circuit’s terrible Cottonwood decision as their justification to block the Beaver Creek Project.

    So what is this Cottonwood decision? In 2015, an activist court invented a new standard that makes harvesting timber in our national forests that much more difficult. Already, one project area is now impacted by wildfire that would have been treated had it not been for the Cottonwood decision. Four other projects are stopped in their tracks and likely more could be impacted if these radicals get their way.

    I have introduced legislation that would statutorily reverse the Cottonwood ruling and remove this unnecessary burden and I will work hard to see it signed into law.

    The Beaver Creek Project and others should move forward – the threat of wildfire is real and Montanans know better than radical environmentalists how to care for our forests and mitigate the threat of wildfires. They need to step back now.

    Tell me what you think:

    Do you believe radical environmentalists are using activist judges to stop responsible forest management?



    • Good post Pete. Regarding this part of Daines’ email “I have introduced legislation that would statutorily reverse the Cottonwood ruling and remove this unnecessary burden and I will work hard to see it signed into law.”

      Folks should know that groups such as the National Wildlife Federation, lead by Tom France in Montana, the Montana Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Boone and Crockett Club and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation all fully support Daines’ anti-ESA, anti-lynx, pro-logging bill talked about above. Oh, and Senator Jon Tester is also a co-sponsor of Daines’ anti-ESA, anti-lynx, pro-logging bill.

      Also, for the record, over the past 15 years the U.S. Forest Service in our region has achieved 89% of their timber volume target. The reason they can’t increase the volume targets is because people like Daines don’t give them the funding to do it. Here’s a post about that 89% figure:

      Finally, some of the “environmental extremists” that Steve Daines’ complains about are actually his constituents. These Montana citizens have gotten death threats and been assaulted in the past because they are environmentalists. All Daines’ is doing here is fanning the flames and hatred, and potential violence. What’s crazy is that the media, for the most part, let’s him get away with it, and so few people stand up to this type of behavior from our senator.

      Montana Public Radio should be commended for yesterday’s in-depth interview featuring the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

      Here’s a good quote from Mike Garrity in that interview: “Well, we’re doing everything by the book. We file a lawsuit and we most often win. So we only win if we’re following the law. So by definition that’s not an extremist. What’s an extremist is a candidate who runs for Congress and body slams a reporter who asked him a question and then pleads guilty. So maybe Congressman Gianforte should look at himself in the mirror before he starts calling people extremists.”

      Meanwhile, the Missoulian/Lee reporter Eve Byron had a story printed this week, which included this outright lie about environmentalists.

      “But some area neighbors are suspicious of the activity, saying the Forest Service took advantage of the Lolo Peak fire to complete planned burns that were part of the 2013 tree-thinning project, but were thwarted by environmentalists.”

      The truth, which has been documented and provided to the Missoulian’s editor Kathy Best and reporter Eve Byron, is that no environmental groups opposed any of the Bass Creek timber sale or prescribed fire. I called Kathy Best twice to talk about this issue and at first it sure seemed like she was going to run a correction. But then Eve Byron wrote back and said no correction or clarification was warranted. Wow, seriously? Seems like people can make up any lie they want about environmentalists during wildfire season. Hopefully rains come soon, and nobody gets hurt, assaulted or has to deal with death threats because some in the media knowingly print lies and refuse to correct them.

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Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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