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Articles written by Amanda Eggert

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  • Long-distance rail route through southern Montana garners another nod from feds

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Feb 28, 2024

    A Chicago-to-Seattle passenger rail route that passes through some of Montana's most populous counties has been included in a list of 15 long-distance routes tapped for restoration by the federal government. The development marks the second time federal regulators have spotlighted the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority's efforts to bring additional passenger train service to Montana. During a meeting on Feb. 8, the Federal Railroad Administration also provided a bit more detail on where the North...

  • Record-low snowpacks endure despite midwinter storms

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Feb 21, 2024

    Mid-January and early February storms brought some much-needed snow to the region, but a third of Montana’s basins continued to post record-low snowpacks as of Feb. 7, a situation likely to produce low summer streamflows and uncomfortably dry forests heading into fire season. The deficit is most pronounced east of the Continental Divide, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Sun-Teton-Marias, Upper Missouri, Gallatin, Upper Yellowstone and Powder basins all saw lower-than-average precipitation during the month o...

  • Broadwater County judge rules against developers in 'landmark' water ruling

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Feb 21, 2024

    A Broadwater County judge ruled last week in favor of a small coalition of landowners and water rights holders who challenged a subdivision proposed for an area already grappling with water supply and quality issues. In a sprawling, 85-page order, Broadwater County District Court Judge Michael McMahon chastised the Broadwater County Commission for authorizing preliminary plat approval of the Horse Creek Hills subdivision near Canyon Ferry, despite an “abjectly deficient” environmental assessment that failed to take into account impacts to wat... Full story

  • Conservationists signal intent to sue over decision not to restore wolves' federal protections

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Feb 14, 2024

    Less than a week after the federal government announced it would not add Northern Rockies gray wolves back onto the list of endangered species, more than a dozen conservation groups on Wednesday forecasted their intention to sue over the decision. Conservation groups argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged with oversight of species protected under the Endangered Species Act, used flawed population estimates and overestimated the population's genetic diversity in its finding that wolves are not at risk of... Full story

  • How to decode your NorthWestern Energy bill

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Feb 14, 2024

    Have you ever looked at your power bill and struggled to understand the various rates and charges that dictate how much you owe your utility company? If yes, you're not alone - even energy professionals can find their bills befuddling. To bridge that knowledge gap, we dug into the nearly 20 rates and charges that are factored into monthly residential bills for the state's largest utility company, NorthWestern Energy. NorthWestern supplies electricity or natural gas to approximately two-thirds...

  • Ballot initiative seeking to expand landowners' hunting access met with committee opposition

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Dec 13, 2023

    A ballot initiative seeking to allow landowners to hunt elk, deer and black bears on their property hit a setback last Wednesday when the Environmental Quality Council voted not to support the measure. At issue is Initiative I-193, which aims to “increase landowner hunting opportunity.” It would allow a landowner to hunt for deer, elk and black bear on their property during the general hunting season so long as the landowner is licensed and follows “all hunting laws and regulations pertaining to means of take and bag limits.” It also include... Full story

  • Chronic wasting disease found in Yellowstone National Park

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Nov 22, 2023

    Yellowstone National Park announced this week that a mule deer buck inside the park’s borders has tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The detection is a first for the park, which has previously managed to dodge the always-fatal disease despite its presence in the three states that neighbor Yellowstone. In a Tuesday press release, the park said that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department tested the carcass of a radio-collared mule deer that died in the southeastern section of the park near Yellowstone Lake. The release notes that t... Full story

  • NorthWestern Energy electric rates higher than regional peers

    Amanda Eggert and Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Nov 15, 2023

    Montana's utility regulation commission has come under criticism recently for an agreement that lets the state's largest power company, NorthWestern Energy, implement a substantial residential electric rate increase. With some help from retired MTN News reporter (and occasional MTFP contributor) Mike Dennison, we've compiled a comparison of the residential electricity rates charged by different utilities around the region, estimating the typical monthly electric bills paid by residential... Full story

  • PSC approves NorthWestern Energy Rate Hike

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Nov 1, 2023

    After at least 20 commenters urged the Public Service Commission to deny an electricity and natural gas rate increase for Montana consumers, commissioners Wednesday approved a new NorthWestern Energy rate structure that will go into effect next month. Residential customers will see a 28% increase in bills as compared to August 2022, or an 8% increase since the all-Republican commission approved an interim rate increase for Montana's largest monopoly utility last fall. The new rate structure was...

  • Report calls for wildlife crossings to lessen collisions

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Oct 18, 2023

    A report describing how two Montana highways could be made safer for motorists and wildlife has conservationists optimistic that roadway changes are afoot in south-central Montana - or will be soon. The report comes after a year of high-profile crashes resulting in the deaths of iconic Northern Rockies species including dozens of bison and elk and at least one grizzly cub. Authors of the U.S. 191/MT 64 Wildlife and Transportation Assessment argue that those highways are ripe for wildlife... Full story

  • Legislative audit describes lack of trust, communication between FWP headquarters and game wardens

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Oct 4, 2023

    Wardens working for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks described a shift toward enforcement and administrative tasks that has moved the division toward a "cop" culture versus the "cowboy" culture most prefer, according to an audit the Legislative Audit Division released last week. The audit, which was completed at the request of the bipartisan Legislative Audit Committee, also highlighted communication issues, waning morale and concerns about a lack of trust between the agency's headquarters in... Full story

  • Environmental groups challenge logging project bordering Yellowstone National Park

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Sep 13, 2023

    Three environmental groups signaled Wednesday their intention to stop a 16,000-acre logging and prescribed-fire project located in a national forest west of Yellowstone National Park. In their notice of intent to sue the Custer Gallatin National Forest, the Center for Biological Diversity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Council on Wildlife and Fish argued that the South Plateau Project’s clear-cutting, logging and road-building will threaten grizzly bears and lynx, both of which are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. T... Full story

  • EPA scales back federal wetland protections to comply with Supreme Court order

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Sep 6, 2023

    Federal rules codifying which waterways are afforded Clean Water Act protections under the “Waters of the United States,” or WOTUS, rule have been changed once more, continuing a back-and-forth regulatory saga shaped by presidential administration changes and court rulings going back at least a decade. The federal agency that administers the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, announced Tuesday that it amended its WOTUS definition to comply with the Sackett v. EPA decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued in May. The law...

  • Montana attorney general urges the EPA to scrap CO2 rule aimed at the energy sector

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Aug 16, 2023

    Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen this week joined 20 other attorneys general urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to scrap a proposed rule that seeks to dramatically decrease carbon dioxide emissions in the energy sector. In a 55-page letter dated Aug. 8, the signatories argue that a rule the Biden administration unveiled in May amounts to an unlawful overstepping of the EPA’s authority and an attempt to circumvent a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision. That ruling took a dim view of the executive branch’s efforts to use the Cle...

  • Declining trout population in southwest Montana prompts research and advocacy push

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Jul 5, 2023

    Marked declines in trout populations across several of Montana’s iconic fisheries have led a group of anglers, fishing guides and community members to launch a “Save Wild Trout” initiative in hopes of better understanding the cause of those declines. Wade Fellin, co-owner of Big Hole Lodge, announced the launch of the privately funded effort on June 22. Save Wild Trout seeks to develop science-based solutions to the problem, which Fellin described as an “ecological emergency” affecting salmonid species in the Big Hole, Ruby, Beaverhea...

  • Gianforte announces leadership change at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Jun 7, 2023

    Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Friday that Henry “Hank” Worsech is retiring as director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the agency charged with managing Montana’s wildlife and 55 state parks. Dustin Temple, who’s been serving as the agency’s acting director, will take Worsech’s place overseeing the department. Worsech, who’d been on medical leave since February, is retiring from FWP for a second time. Prior to taking the director post, Worsech served as the agency’s license bureau chief. He also formerly served as the executive direc... Full story

  • Bill sponsor pushes for veto override after Gianforte rejects popular marijuana tax bill

    Amanda Eggert and Arren Kimbel-Sannit, Montana Free Press|May 10, 2023

    The sponsor of a popular initiative seeking to divvy up more than $50 million of marijuana tax revenue is requesting that lawmakers be given an opportunity to override a veto Gov. Greg Gianforte issued in the final hours of the 2023 legislative session. At issue is Senate Bill 442, which proposes to divide tax revenues levied on recreational marijuana sales between the General Fund, county road construction and maintenance, conservation and recreation programs, addiction treatment and veterans services. Gianforte vetoed SB 442 May 2, the day...

  • $1 million wildlife crossings fund passes MT legislative committee

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Apr 5, 2023

    A bill seeking to make Montana roadways safer for motorists and wildlife by creating a $1 million pilot program for wildlife crossing structures passed out of committee last week. The House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee voted 13-6 to pass House Bill 887 shortly after holding a hearing on the measure. The bill would create a fund for the design, construction, restoration, protection and study of wildlife crossings and other highway features to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. If passed,... Full story

  • PSC greenlights NorthWestern Energy's restructuring plan

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Mar 29, 2023

    Montana's largest utility company has garnered approval from the state's utility board to restructure its multi-state operation. Last June, NorthWestern Energy asked regulators to separate its operations in Montana from its business in South Dakota and Nebraska, asserting that the restructuring will insulate Montana ratepayers and provide Montana regulators with a more focused look at relevant operations. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and utility regulators in Nebraska and South...

  • Committee votes on four wolf bills

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Mar 8, 2023

    The House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee voted on four wolf-related measures last week ahead of a key legislative deadline. The committee narrowly approved two bills that would codify wolf trapping season dates and trappers' ability to use neck snares in state law. The committee also tabled two wildlife advocate-backed measures related to a controversial hunter and trapper reimbursement program and the hunting and trapping of wolves near national parks. Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, s... Full story

  • Feds to explore delisting of Greater Yellowstone and NCDE grizzlies

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Feb 8, 2023

    nnounced Friday that it is exploring whether grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems are sufficiently recovered to no longer be considered as an endangered species. The agency's announcement was welcomed by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and other Republican officials, who've long sought to restore management of grizzly bears to state agencies. Environmental and conservation groups expressed wariness at the development, questioning whether state... Full story

  • Fish and Wildlife Commission calls for a 'legislative solution' to Madison River crowding

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Jan 4, 2023

    An 11-year-old effort to manage crowding on one of Montana's most popular fisheries stalled out without resolution in late December when the Fish and Wildlife Commission decided not to advance regulatory changes on the Madison River. In lieu of pursuing a commission-directed rulemaking process, the commission expressed interest in putting the issue on the Environmental Quality Council's plate, a move that would effectively delay any regulatory changes by several years. Commissioner K.C. Walsh of... Full story

  • Judge rules against suspending Montana wolf hunts while lawsuit proceeds

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Dec 7, 2022

    A Helena judge reinstated the 2022-2023 wolf hunting and trapping regulations passed by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission Tuesday in a ruling that rejected environmental groups' request for an order halting wolf hunting and trapping while the larger issue of Montana's wolf management is weighed by courts. Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Christopher Abbott's order also dissolved his Nov. 15 restraining order that had temporarily reinstated regulations from 2020-2021, before the... Full story

  • Montana wolf regulations challenged in state court

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Nov 16, 2022

    Environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and Project Coyote are asking a Lewis and Clark County District Court judge to toss out Montana's current wolf-hunting regulations and declare four hunting laws passed by last year's Montana Legislature unconstitutional. In a lawsuit filed Oct. 27, the groups argue that four bills the Legislature passed in 2021 and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission-set wolf quotas for the 2022-2023 hunting season violate the Public Trust Doctrine, "an ancient... Full story

  • Revised Montana wolf regs aim to limit Yellowstone-area kills

    Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press|Sep 7, 2022

    The Montana Fish and Wildlife commission recently to reinstate a cap on the number of Yellowstone-area wolves that hunters and trappers can kill, abandoning an approach that allowed hunters and trappers to kill 21 wolves last season. Most of the approximately 100 commenters speaking about wolf management at the Aug. 25 commission meeting expressed frustration with wolf hunting and trapping generally, or the prospect of hunting and trapping wolves that leave the northern border of Yellowstone... Full story

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