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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Page One News at a Glance

Metcalf and Guthrie honored

Impact fees being considered for Corvallis School District

Fire at wildlife refuge possibly arson

Some burns planned on Forest land

Tax Day protest draws a crowd

Ravalli County to revise its subdivision regulations

St. Mary’s Mission open for tours

Metcalf and Guthrie honored

By Michael Howell

Two remarkable Montanans, one from Stevensville and one from Choteau, were recently honored at a ceremony held in the rotunda of the state capitol. On Thursday, April 16, Senator Lee Metcalf, heralded for his commitment to sound resource management, and A.B. “Bud” Guthrie, journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, were inducted into the Gallery of Outstanding Montanans.

The Gallery of Outstanding Montanans was established by the State Legislature in 1979 to pay homage to citizens of the Treasure State who made contributions of state or national significance to their selected fields of endeavor while epitomizing the unique spirit and character that defines Montana. Inductees into Montana’s hall of fame are rotated into the gallery on a biennial basis; each is honored for an eight-year period. The program is managed by the Montana Historical Society.

Metcalf, who was born in Stevensville in 1911, represented the state in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1953 to 1961, and in the U.S. Senate from 1961 to 1978. He also served in the state Legislature, as Assistant Attorney General, and as a member of the Montana Supreme Court.

Throughout his distinguished career, Metcalf worked tirelessly to protect the interests of working people and family farmers. He was an early and enthusiastic sponsor of legislation for clean water, federal aid to education and reclamation of strip-mined land. He was also a key player in bringing rural electricity to the state.

One of his passions was preservation of natural resources, and he was instrumental in creating the Montana Wilderness Study Act, the Missouri Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and in establishing wild river status for the three major forks of the Flathead River.

Metcalf died in 1978 and after his death the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, in Stevensville, and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area in southwestern Montana became a lasting monument to his commitment to conservation on behalf of the people and the land that he loved.

Guthrie, in contrast, is proof that you don’t have to be born in Montana, or even reside here uninterruptedly, to become a Montanan, even a great Montanan. He was born in Indiana in 1901, but came with his family to Montana at six-months of age where he grew up in Choteau. He was the author of such classic portrayals of the American West as "The Big Sky," "The Way West," and "These Thousand Hills." He also wrote the screenplays for the movie classics "Shane," and "The Kentuckian." He earned a Bachelor of Journalism Degree at the University of Montana in 1923 and began his journalism career with the Lexington Leader in Kentucky.

He later received the prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, where he began his writing career with his first novel "The Big Sky" published in 1947.

He returned to Montana in 1956 where he continued his writing, and became an outspoken advocate for the preservation of Montana's wild lands, especially along the Rocky Mountain Front.

He died in 1991 at his home facing Ear Mountain on the Rocky Mountain Front near Choteau.

Governor Schweitzer kicked off the ceremony. He called Metcalf “a fighter”.

Schweitzer said that people told Metcalf “you can’t take on the power company and try to make wilderness areas at the same time. But he never gave up, he never gave in, and they called him Ironsides Lee. [They said] Lee, you can’t take on that much baggage, and Lee would say, ‘to hell with them. I didn’t get here to be re-elected, I got here to do the job and finish it.’ That was Lee Metcalf.”

Schweitzer said that Metcalf served along with and worked in conjunction with Mike Mansfield. One was a statesman, the other a fighter. One built consensus, the other said ‘hell no.’

“But today I honor a fighter,” said Schweitzer.

Schweitzer called Guthrie “a man of words, but above all a story teller who told the story of Montana to the entire world. He brought Montana in all its color and majesty to the world, but he told it through the eyes of families from Montana.”

Teddy Roe, who worked as a journalist for the Great Falls tribune before going to work as an assistant for Mike Mansfield and then for Lee Metcalf, said that the two men worked as partners.

“Mike Mansfield was Montana’s greatest statesman,” said Roe, “but Lee Metcalf was Montana’s greatest senator.”

Guthrie’s stepson, Dr. Bill Luthin, a professor at Clarion University, in Clarion, Pennsylvania, specializing in Linguistics, Sociolinguistics & Dialectology, Native American Languages & Literatures, praised his stepfather’s storytelling abilities.

“He could make a story about a pair of muddy boots in the corner of the room,” said Luthin.

Luthin read from an article by Guthrie printed in Mother Earth News in 1989. Luthin called it “an old man’s piece,” written just a few years before he died. It describes April in Montana, and conveys the harsh fickleness of a month that nonetheless proceeds to unroll, in a slow procession of blossoming plants across the countryside, the promise of spring.

It was especially fitting that Dale Burk, being from Stevensville and a politically active proponent of wilderness, like Metcalf, and being a journalist and recipient of a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, like Guthrie, should be called upon to honor both Metcalf and Guthrie, since both men (as well as Mansfield), wrote letters of endorsement for Burk when he applied for the Nieman Fellowship award.

Burk praised Metcalf for his legal acumen and foresight.

“He put in place legal language that will continue to impact our good land, our forests, our streams, our wild lands, our wild rivers, and us, not only for their time, but for all time to come,” said Burk.

He praised Guthrie for the crispness, cleanness, and simplicity of his language that served to convey the many moods of Montana.

“You never misunderstood what he was trying to say,” said Burk, “and ultimately, isn’t that the purpose of writing, to be understood?”

“We have come to honor two of the greatest Montanans…” said Burk, “and we do so with the knowledge that this place, Montana, was a grand land even before they, Lee and Bud, each in his own way, and with his own combination of special gifts, worked and lifted himself into a place of significance in the land he loved so much…yes, Bud and Lee, we honor you, but more importantly we thank you. We are a better people and Montana is a better place because of you.”

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Impact fees being considered for Corvallis School District

By Michael Howell

The Ravalli County Impact Fee Advisory Committee has scheduled a public meeting on Thursday, April 23 at 7 p.m. at the Corvallis High School gymnasium. The public will have an opportunity to comment on a proposal by the Corvallis School District to assess a $4,000 capital impact fee on each new home built in the district. The fees assessed will be used to defray the increased capital costs to the Corvallis School District generated by the population increase from new residential development. Information gathered at this public meeting will be considered by the advisory committee and included with the committee’s recommendation to the County Commissioners regarding a decision whether to establish an impact fee for the Corvallis School District.

According to John Meakin, chairman of the Impact Fee Advisory Committee, the Corvallis School District commissioned an independent study in 2006 that yielded a maximum supportable amount for impact fees in the district of $6,822 per new residence. The school board recommended that the committee consider a lesser fee of $4,000 per new residence. The fee would be payable by the builder of the new home upon application for a septic permit.

“It’s not the magic bullet,” said Meakin, “but it could really help the schools.”

Meakin said that the local building industry has expressed some resistance to the fees due to the increased cost that would be passed along to the home buyer when selling spec homes, making new housing in the valley even less affordable than it is now.

Once the County Commissioners receive a recommendation from the committee a public hearing will be scheduled to take public comment once again before making a final decision. While impact fees for fire, sewer, water and emergency services only require a majority vote to be approved, state law requires a unanimous decision to enact impact fees in a school district.

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Fire at wildlife refuge possibly arson

By Michael Howell

On Monday, April 13, approximately 160 acres of grass and cattails burned on the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge north of Stevensville. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but Refuge officials suspect that it was human caused since there was no lightning in the area that day. An investigation of the incident is underway.

According to the Refuge’s District Fire Management Officer Louis Hartjes, Refuge staff noticed smoke from the fire around 2:45 in the afternoon and made a 911 emergency call. Hartjes said the fire was estimated to have started about fifteen minutes earlier. Volunteer firefighters from 3-Mile, Florence, and Stevensville fire districts responded. The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation sent a fire engine from Missoula and the Refuge used its own fire engine to battle the blaze.

Responding fire crews were able to contain the blaze by late that evening. Some private homes in the area were threatened by the fire, according to Hartjes, but local fire fighters were able to defend the homes successfully. Although the source of the ignition has not been identified, the point of origin of the fire was determined to be in the northeast corner of the Refuge near 3-Mile Creek. Law enforcement officers are talking to local landowners, seeking any information about the fire or activities in the area immediately prior to the fire.

Anyone with information that may be relevant can call the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge at 777-5552.

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Some burns planned on Forest land

Residents of the valley may soon see smoke from some planned burns on the Bitterroot National Forest.

With the recent arrival of warmer temperatures and diminishing precipitation Bitterroot National Forest fire managers plan to begin their spring prescribed fire program. Over the course of the next several weeks/months as the weather window allows, fire managers will be burning to reduce fuels and meet resources objectives. There are 21 proposed major prescribed burn areas planned throughout the forest from Stevensville to West Fork on about 2,100 acres. Smoke will be visible from the main valleys for several of these burns.

A proposed prescribed burn may consist of a unit such as the proposed Sheafman burn west of Pinesdale near Cow Creek or the proposed Coffee Gulch units located up Skalkaho Highway on the Gird Point Road consisting of 5 separate units for a total of 3100 acres located approximately 20 air miles northeast of Darby. Burning may consist of piles of slash materials from logging activities, thinning projects, or underburning with hand or helicopter ignitions.

Underburning is a process of putting fire in an area that has enough moisture in the burnable materials to keep the intensity low so the fire impacts mostly plants and trees with limbs that are closer to the ground. These are referred to as ladder fuels and if allowed to continue to build up, they increase the risk of large, high intensity fires. In a ponderosa pine forested area, these ladder fuels also impact the health of this particular tree species. Before a decision is made to ignite a prescribed fire, fire managers will be looking for burning conditions that will meet the intent of the burn plan for a particular unit. If air dispersion forecasts are not good or better, fire managers will not ignite a prescribed burn. A final decision to ignite a prescribed burn is made on the morning of the scheduled date. This allows for a last minute check on weather and air dispersion forecasts.

For information regarding the burning program in your area contact your local Forest Service office or the Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 363-7100.

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Tax Day protest draws a crowd

By Michael Howell

About 500 Bitterrooters turned out at the corner of First and Main Streets in Hamilton last Wednesday, April 15, as part of a nationwide Tax Day “Tea Party” Protest. The noon-time protest in Hamilton was followed by a similar demonstration in Stevensville later in the day.

Protesters lined the sidewalks in Hamilton and marched through Stevensville waving placards and signs expressing a myriad of complaints, but primarily protesting what organizers of the nationwide effort call the government’s “irresponsible fiscal policies.”

An organization called the American Families Association (AFA) claims on its web site to have organized the national effort. The organization was founded by Donald Wildmon and is headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi. AFA claims on its web site to have sponsored rallies in 2,000 towns and cities throughout the country. They also claim that at least 3,000 rallies were held with over 200,000 people attending nationwide. Other news sources that investigated the claims disagree. The Christian Science Monitor and the Gaurdian, for instance, both place the total number of rallies at close to 800 and a lot less people in attendance.

Nonetheless, it was a big showing in the Bitterroot.

Local protesters seemed to be primarily peeved at the Obama administration’s bailout of the financial industry and the accompanying economic stimulus plan. They see the bailout and stimulus programs as something like a cement overcoat being placed on their grandchildren’s generation who are doomed to sink in a sea of national debt. But some of the protesters also expressed contempt for the Bush administration’s policies that they believe led to the economic crisis to begin with.

AFA plans another nationwide “Tea Party” protest on July 4.

A small group of 15 to 20 locals, not associated with the AFA and claiming to be a “fiscally conservative non-partisan” group of people, have planned another meeting on May 1, at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds at 6 p.m. A slate of speakers, as yet unnamed, is scheduled to speak about the country’s financial crisis, national health care, gun control, energy, and the state of Montana.

James McCoy, one of the leaders of the unnamed group, said that the aim of the event is to provide information rather than just wave signs. He called the national debt a “disgrace.” He said that he is very disturbed by the country’s “hard left turn toward socialism.”

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Ravalli County to revise its subdivision regulations

The Ravalli County Planning Department is moving forward to update its subdivision regulations.

In December 2008, the County Commissioners made updating the subdivision regulations a high priority for the Planning Department. The Planning Department then developed a process by which the subdivision regulations will be revised, including an internal review of the existing regulations by both the Planning Department and the Planning Board, and external review by interested groups and citizens.

Commissioners, Planning Board members, and Planning staff have heard over the years from many individual subdividers, consultants, and the valley’s citizens that elements of the existing subdivision design standards and review process should be updated. The design standards currently used to review local subdivisions were created in 2000. The revised subdivision regulations are anticipated to reflect modern design principles and review practices, while maintaining compliance with the requirements of Montana law.

The Planning Department started soliciting comment from agencies and interested groups, and will continue discussions with this broad range of stakeholders over the next three to four months. Also, representatives from the Planning Department will accept invitations from any group to discuss their interests in revising the subdivision regulations. Contact the Planning Department to arrange a meeting.

A subcommittee of the Planning Board has been tasked with providing a complete and thorough diagnosis of the existing regulations. Their meetings are open to the public and noticed on the Planning Department’s website. This is the first task of several for this group of hardworking volunteers, and expected results include a written report with suggestions for improving the organization, user-friendliness, and clarity of the subdivision regulations.

A public open house is scheduled for Saturday, June 13, from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at Hamilton City Hall. At this event, citizens will be provided information about the existing subdivision regulations and given the opportunity to provide their own diagnosis. Booths addressing different aspects of subdivision design are planned at the open house, and citizen input will be sought regarding design preference of road and lot layout, pedestrian facilities, and other subdivision design considerations. Written public comments on the subdivision regulations will also be accepted at any time throughout the process.

The work of the Planning Board combined with the results of the public open house and group meetings will form the foundation for the latter steps of the revision process. The Planning Department will summarize the comments received during this diagnosis period, and produce a report summarizing findings. From here, planners and Planning Board members will collaborate on the creation of a first draft of updated regulations. Public comment and required updates from the 2009 Legislature will be incorporated into the first draft, which will be released for a written comment period. Ultimately, the final draft will go through a public hearing process, culminating with consideration and ultimate adoption by the County Commissioners.

Planners are hopeful that this process will elicit input from all affected and interested entities and result in a set of up-to-date subdivision regulations tailored to the unique needs of Ravalli County. Planners are optimistic that the process can be at or near completion within the next year.

More information is available by contacting the Ravalli County Planning Department: call 375-6530, e-mail, or visit

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St. Mary’s Mission open for tours

Historic St. Mary’s, Inc., is a non-profit organization, formed in 1988. The goal is to preserve, restore, maintain and promote the Mission Complex that was founded in 1841 by Jesuit priests under the leadership of Father Pierre Jean De Smet. Stevensville and the State of Montana were formed from these early beginnings.

The Mission is administered by a seven member Board and operated by a Director. Volunteers serve as tour guides, grounds keepers, clerical workers and see to the operation of the gift shop.

The maintenance and operation of the Mission is reliant on donations, tour fees, gift shop sales and grants. Programs such as the $2 A Month Club also help support operating costs.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, St. Mary’s Mission is a cultural and historical icon of the early days of the American West. Historic St. Mary’s Mission, Inc., continually strives to strengthen ties with, and acknowledge its roots in Native American culture, while preserving the area’s delicate past for future generations.

For travelers and local visitors alike, the old Mission affords a look back to "Where Montana Began" - the place where agriculture, medicine, education and religion were first introduced in what was to become the State of Montana.

The Mission Complex is open for tours from April 15 through October 15, and the Visitor's Center, Gift Shop and Museum are open year around. Groups and school tours are always welcome.

The web site provides a "tour" for those unable to visit in person. Here you will find photos, the history of Historic St. Mary's, and discover the roles Fr. Pierre De Smet, S.J. and Fr. Anthony Ravalli, S.J. played in its development.

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