USFWS considers protection for Rocky Mountain fisher

On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was considering the Northern Rocky Mountain fisher for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The announcement opens a 30-day public comment period.

A petition submitted by six environmental groups, including the Friends of the Bitterroot, the Friends of the Clearwater and the Friends of the Wild Swan, prompted the action. The petition says fishers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are threatened by loss or curtailment of habitat or range, disease and predation, overutilization via incidental and direct trapping, and various other factors.

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BLM report: Improve antiquated coal fees and oversight

The Bureau of Land Management should not only require a better return on coal leases for U.S. taxpayers but also work harder to balance coal production against the growing threat of climate change, according to a new Department of the Interior report.

On Wednesday, the BLM released an exhaustive report on the federal coal program, which applies to the 570 million acres of coal mineral estate owned by the federal government. In short, it calls for both government and industry to use better business practices, both financial and technical, than those that were available or allowed more than 30 years ago.

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Bill: More elk tags for hunter-friendly landowners

A bill proposed by the Private Land Public Wildlife council would up the incentive for landowners to allow members of the public to hunt on their land.

With landowners pressuring Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to control elk populations that are over FWP objectives, the agency needs to find ways to open up more access to private land that is normally closed to public hunting. So House Bill 96 would increase the proportion of elk tags available for willing landowners from 20 percent to 25 percent.

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NorthWestern Energy opposes net-metering cap increase

The Legislature should allow government entities to produce five times more solar energy for credit, according to one Republican’s bill.

Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, got a little excited as he tried to overcome NorthWestern Energy arguments against House Bill 34, which would increase the net-metering cap to 250 kilowatts from 50 kW for solar projects by government entities such as schools or prisons.

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Digital hunting tags raise privacy questions

Montana's tribes may regain their licenses to hunt bison but Montana's hunters may have to solve privacy problems before gaining the right to have digital hunting tags.

In the Senate Fish and Wildlife Committee, Sen. Jennifer Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, learned her bill promoting digital game tags already faced an amendment because of privacy concerns.

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Early FWP bills address block management, fishing access funding

As the 65th Montana Legislature convenes on Monday, legislators have already proposed least two bills that would affect Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ shoestring budget.

After hours of hearings and counter proposals in 2015, the Legislature approved most of FWP’s proposed budget that had been developed by a working group of hunters, fishermen and outfitters. One of the major changes was having the budget cover four years, unlike previous versions that were mapped out over 10 years.

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Claims of Montana's deer-collision risk may be overstated

An insurance company claims that drivers are at higher risk of hitting a deer in Montana than in other states. But Montana might not deserve the ranking.

State Farm Insurance released its annual calculation that seems to show that Montana ranks second in the nation as far as a driver's likelihood of hitting a deer, elk or moose. Montanans are supposed to have a 1-in-58 chance of hitting a deer. West Virginia takes top honors with a 1-in-41 chance, and Pennsylvania comes in third.

But since the company’s purpose is to sell car insurance, a smart consumer might give those calculations another look. Data can show certain trends that may not be so when put in the proper context.

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Counties seek predator bounties as Wildlife Services funding drops

Wildlife Services helps Montana livestock producers kill thousands of wild predators every year. But as its funding decreases, the agency may have to leave producers to their own devices, which may include bounties.

On Friday, John Steuber, Montana State Director of Wildlife Services, told the Montana Board of Livestock that Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, probably couldn’t continue killing predators without the money it gets from the state, especially from cattle producers who pitch in 50 cents to a dollar per head.

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Poll finds Montanans shifting to renewable energy, more public access

While polls repeatedly show that a majority of Montanans value open lands for recreation, hunting and fishing, some have assumed that those in the east - where private property predominates - cared less. Now a new poll finds that eastern Montanans don’t think too differently from those in the rest of the state.

A bipartisan team of pollsters asked the opinions of more than 500 Montanans on everything from energy sources to public land issues between Sept. 1 and Sept. 8. They found that overall, a majority supports renewable energy; phasing out Colstrip instead of fighting to keep it open; funding public-land access programs; and protecting rivers with federal designations.

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Legislators oppose changes to wolf management, hatchery trout

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks requested state legislators’ blessings for a dozen proposed bills, but two dealing with wolves and trout didn’t get the nod.

On Thursday, FWP Director Jeff Hagener stepped the Environmental Quality Council through 12 bills that would either improve FWP procedures or help preserve a few species. But Hagener got an earful from Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, when he described a bill intended to allow the Fort Peck Hatchery to produce a few more cold-water fish.

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