Montana is among several states being threatened by an invasion of “super-pigs”, according to New Atlas.

The pigs have wreaked havoc in Canada and are on the verge of crossing the border into Montana, North and South Dakota and Minnesota. They have been seen 18 miles from the North Dakota border.

“The growing wild pig population is not an ecological disaster waiting to happen – it is already happening,” said University of Saskatchewan’s Ryan Brook, professor and lead researcher for the Canadian Wild Pig Project.

The US has been home to ‘normal’ wild pigs for decades, but super-pigs are bigger, faster and more destructive, although less aggressive.

Disease is also a big concern.

Saskatchewan scientists have found that super-pigs are expanding their territory by 9% each year, leaving a path of ecological and agricultural destruction in their wake, having spread rapidly across the country, from British Columbia to Ontario and Quebec, in just a few years.

The hybrid animals are more mobile than other breeds, and there’s not much to stop them. Most of the US-Canadian boundaries are continuous farmland or forested landscapes, which can be easily crossed.

 In the late 1980s, Eurasian wild boar was introduced for game farming  and fenced-in hunting, but when market demand for hunting changed, some were released into the wild. They bred with domestic pigs, evolving an ecological superpower to tolerate supreme cold and a high rate of reproduction, as well as an increase in size. They easily adapt to new environments, free of the habitat constraints and migration challenges that most animals face.

Their prolific breeding and destructive foraging is considered a potential catastrophe for agriculture and the environment.

“Wild pigs can cause soil erosion, degrade water quality, destroy crops, and prey on small mammals, amphibians and birds,” said Ruth Aschim, a PhD student who led the 2019 study. “One of the main problems is the rooting behavior; they upturn the soil because they like to eat the roots and tubers of vegetation. It’s essentially like a rototiller went through an area.”

What’s more, the super-pigs can breed in any season, and sows will have a litter of around six piglets annually. The young are sexually mature in four-to-eight months, and not even a harsh winter can slow them down, as they thrive in the snow, living in ‘pigloos’ underground. They’re also not fussy eaters, and will demolish crops such as corn, wheat, sugar cane and canola, as well as native insects, birds, reptiles and other, smaller, mammals. This is on top of the destructive ‘renovating’ they do by rooting around in the soil.

While it is believed the pigs typically weigh about 250 pounds, a team captured and weighed a pregnant sow to discover she weighed 683 pounds.

And while the super-pigs aren’t aggressive unless threatened, they do bring with them a sizeable pathogenic risk. Disease is a huge concern with wild pigs. They’re reservoirs of not only African Swine Fever, but 39 other viral and bacterial diseases, as well as parasites. They can be transmitted to domestic livestock, wildlife, and humans.

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

A coalition of animal welfare and wildlife advocacy groups plans to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over gray wolf protections, pointing to the killing of a wolf in Wyoming as an example of why the species needs more protection.

In 2021, the USFWS said relisting “may be warranted,” but a final decision in February declined to relist gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act in the northern Rocky Mountain states, where they are regulated at the state level.

Animal Wellness Action, Center for a Humane Economy, Footloose Montana, and other groups pointed to an incident in Wyoming where a man captured and tortured a gray wolf before killing it, as reported by Cowboy State Daily.

Gray wolves are currently listed under the ESA as endangered in 44 states, while states maintain jurisdiction in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, as well as parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah.

“With its latest Finding, the FWS is repeating many of the same mistakes it has made in its many prior attempts to delist the gray wolf from ESA protection and the action is likely to face the same outcome as these earlier efforts,” the groups’ intent to sue letter said.

In a statement, Footloose Montana’s Jessica Karjala says states have proven they “cannot be trusted” to sustain the wolf species.

“They not only allow but endorse bounties on wolves,” she said. “They have encouraged increased hunting and quotas on wolves, spotlighting, baiting, trapping, snaring, hound hunting.”

The Center Square previously reported on a lawsuit against USFWS challenging the agency’s February decision by The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and Sierra Club.

The finals of the fifth annual $100K Venture Competition, hosted by Montana State University’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad, were held April 24 in Inspiration Hall at MSU.

During the competition, the finalists pitched their innovative business ideas to a panel of five judges and answered questions to vie for a portion of the $100,000 prize money.

The entrepreneurial event included eight ventures, many from current students. The competition was open to all students, faculty, staff and recent graduates in the Montana University System. The eight finalists were selected from a pool of more than 40 applicants.

The winners are listed below.

* First place, $30,000: Airspace: Modular Vehicle Rack System, a modular rack platform that doesn’t compromise truck bed space and utility, presented by Miles Hogger and Daniel Sierra, both students in the business college’s Master of Science in Innovation and Management program.

* Second place, $20,000: Bridger Bionics, which creates affordable prosthetic adaptations for action sports, presented by Brianna Daniels, an MSU alumna, and Calvin Servheen, a directed interdisciplinary studies and industrial engineering student at MSU.

* Third place, $15,000: Smart Dorm Company, which creates cost-effective, sustainable technology for large-scale residential facilities, presented by Elliot Harrison, an MSU alumnus, and Kolter Stevenson and Trevor Wilson, both University of Montana students.

* Fourth place, $10,000: BioCap Solutions, which sustainably manages algae by cleaning harmful algae blooms and capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, presented by Will Christian, a Ph.D. student in biochemistry. BioCap Solutions also nabbed the coveted People’s Choice Award, which came with a $6,000 award.

* Social Impact Award, $6,000: English Para Todos, which provides holistic, affordable and accessible English language education, presented by Vanessa Zamora Moreno, an MSU alumna, and Kass Thompson, an MSU student studying cell biology and neuroscience.

* Health Impact Award, $3,000: Neurofluidic Diagnostics, which offers precise drug testing environments to detect and monitor the hallmarks of neurodegeneration linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, presented by chemical engineering doctoral students Zeynep Malkoc and Esther Stopps.

* Additionally, the finalists that did not place in the top four each earned a $2,500 award.

“The $100K Venture Competition was an amazing opportunity,” said Hogger, a member of the winning venture. “There are some truly amazing ideas being developed in Montana and by MSU alums. I am excited to see future innovations that will come out of this campus. The resources at MSU provide amazing opportunities to learn and implement to allow anyone to start a business.” 

The judges were Stacie Bruno, MSU class of ’08 and vice president of finance for the Outdoor Performance Group of Vista Outdoors; Magali Eaton, Technology Transfer Office associate director and technology translation lead at MSU; Otto Pohl, startup communications strategist and founder of Core Communications; Mitch Violett, MSU class of ’08 and vice president of product management, data science and business development at Outpost; and Chris Walch, CEO and co-founder of LifeScore.

There’s a big property rights victory from the Supreme Court that is being little talked about and somewhat shunned as being as significant as it is by much of media.

The Supreme Court has ruled that home equity theft qualifies as a taking, and that state law is not the sole source for the definition of property rights. The ruling sets an important and valuable precedent.

In a unanimous Supreme Court decision local governments seizing the entire value of a property in order to pay off a smaller delinquent property tax debt has been declared as a takings or “home equity theft.” The case, Tyler v. Hennepin County, addressed the case of Geraldine Tyler. The plaintiff in the case was a 94-year-old widow whose home, valued at $40,000, was seized by Hennepin County  after she was unable to pay off $15,000 in property taxes, penalties, interest, and fees. The County then kept the entire $40,000 for itself, as Minnesota law allows.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that such practices qualify as takings requiring the payment of “just compensation” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Importantly, it also concluded that state law is not the sole source of the definition of property rights under the Takings Clause, and therefore state governments cannot seize private property without compensation simply by redefining it as the state’s property.

Besides the clear merits of the case, property rights advocates noted that the case set a significant precedent in declaring that states cannot just redefine property rights at will, which has important implications for other property rights issues.

In the decision, Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out that the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation…. States have long imposed taxes on property. Such taxes are not themselves a taking, but are a mandated ‘contribution from individuals . . . for the support of the government . . . for which they receive compensation in the protection which government affords.’”

The Takings Clause does not itself define property. For that, the Court draws on “existing rules or understandings” about property rights. Phillips v. Washington Legal Foundation, 524 U. S. 156, 164 (1998). State law is one important source…. But state law cannot be the only source. Otherwise, a State could “sidestep the Takings Clause by disavowing traditional property interests” in assets it wishes to appropriate. Phillips, 524 U. S., at 167; see also… Hall v. Meisner, 51 F. 4th 185, 190 (CA6 2022) (Kethledge, J., for the Court) (“[T]he Takings Clause would be a dead letter if a state could simply exclude from its definition of property any interest that the state wished to take.”). So we also look to “traditional property law principles,” plus historical practice and this Court’s precedents….

By Steve Wilson, Center Square

Requiring publicly traded companies to make climate-related disclosures has voluntarily been put on hold by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC’s move came before a decision was reached by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. John Rady, counsel for the SEC in the case, notified the court in a letter.

The commission’s decision was made, Rady wrote in part, because of “procedural complexities of this litigation” and avoiding “potential regulatory uncertainty” if the rule went into place during the legal challenge.

This means until legal challenges at the 8th Circuit are resolved, registrants are not subject to the newly adopted SEC climate disclosure rules. The phase-in period doesn’t begin until 2025 at the earliest; it is unclear if that will be delayed.

The new rule was to be fully in effect in 2026.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, in a release, said, “The Biden administration wants to radically transform the SEC run by unelected bureaucrats and make them champions of climate change, regardless of what the agency’s functions are – Biden is creating a federal bureaucracy to suit his agenda. The rule would provide for coordinated discrimination against areas of the country like West Virginia that depend most heavily on fossil fuels for energy.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, in a statement, said, “Today’s victory shuts down the most outrageous climate mandate for businesses since Biden took office. The SEC’s job is to protect people from fraud. It has no business slapping companies with extremist climate mandates. We are making it clear that Biden has to follow the law like everyone else.

“By halting this mandate, we are protecting businesses from costly red tape, securing our supply chain, and defending family farms. Next, we are going to make this win permanent!”

In the order, the SEC says it “will continue vigorously defending the final rules’ validity in court and looks forward to expeditious resolution of the litigation.”

The SEC rule was adopted in early March and was to have required publicly-traded companies to inform investors of the climate change-related financial risks of that company’s operations. Those include greenhouse gas emissions, severe weather events, and “other natural conditions” such as rising sea levels.

The SEC says most companies are already providing this information, with 90% of Russell 1000 Index (the top 1,000 stocks traded in the U.S.) already providing information related to climate change and 60% of those on the index issuing data on greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide. 

Following the SEC’s adoption of the new rules, challenges were made at six different federal appellate courts.

On March 21, the federal Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation combined the litigation into one complaint at the 8th Circuit.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) published a draft permit and environmental assessment for a proposed discharge at Spanish Peaks Mountain Club associated with their Snowmaking Project to be located in Madison and Gallatin Counties, near Big Sky.  

Cross Harbor Spanish Peaks Acquisitions (CHSP), LLC, applied to DEQ for a Montana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MPDES) permit to discharge treated domestic wastewater as artificial snow on ski runs of the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club on Spirit Mountain, Andesite Mountain, and the Spanish Peaks base area. The source of the treated wastewater is the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District wastewater treatment facility.  

The reuse of wastewater provides environmental benefits by reducing the demand for freshwater to create snow. In its review, DEQ considered whether the wastewater reuse would contribute to nutrient pollution in the watershed. Excessive nutrients in streams can lead to algae growth and water quality issues. DEQ is currently studying excessive algae growth in parts of the Gallatin River Watershed. The applicant submitted a multi-year study that analyzed data on nutrients from the proposed snowmaking based on a pilot project. DEQ carefully reviewed this information in preparing the draft permit and proposed stringent nutrient monitoring. 

According to the applicant, snowmaking would occur primarily during the early portion of the ski season, as a base layer. During the season, natural snow would accumulate on top of and mix with the artificial snow. DEQ reviewed the application, and the draft permit proposed limitations to ensure protection of human health and the environment as well as the beneficial uses of identified nearby waterbodies. The wastewater would be treated and disinfected to standards required for wastewater reuse prior to snowmaking.  CHSP would also be required to conduct significant surface water and snowmelt monitoring during the spring snowmelt and runoff season. The monitoring must be conducted, and the results reported to DEQ every year of the permit term.  

DEQ prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) in compliance with the Montana Environmental Policy Act to analyze potential impacts of the proposal. The agency is now accepting public comment on the draft permit and EA, after which DEQ will review comments and make a final decision on permit issuance. Public comment closes June 6, 2024, and comments can be submitted electronically or by mail.

Helixx Technologies has begun taking registrations in Southeast Asia for its electric car and van subscription service and some observers are calling it the end of automobile ownership – and they are excited about it. They are calling it “a fascinating roll-out of what appears to be a thoroughly excellent and potentially VERY disruptive idea.”

They point out perceived advantages such as if your car stops or is in an accident, there’s an instant replacement available. “The car is immediately replaced like-for-like and commercial activity resumes post haste,” states a report in New Atlas. Helixx Technologies has four models which are ready to race to their subscribers’ rescue. The subscription rate is $0.25 per hour, which covers everything except electricity.

The report says that while the automobile industry has served the US well – not so much many other countries in the world. “In America, only 8% of households don’t have a car. There are 50 countries in the world where only 8% of households DO have a car, and where it is still an aspirational dream to have the freedom that powered personal mobility brings,” states the report.

The article further states, “…Helixx’s business model could bring disruptive innovation to one of the world’s largest industries and how that might have dire consequences across the broader economic landscape … by achieving its intended purpose of empowering under-privileged communities access to greater mobility.

Helixx is in the process of building a production facility in Singapore which is expected to begin full production in 2025.

Water’s Edge Winery owner Angela Zuba was elated when she was contacted by producers of “America’s Best Restaurants.” The show highlights eateries and bars all across the country. Zuba and her husband Trevor opened Water’s Edge Winery in 2020, the franchise has 11 locations throughout the United States. The business is known for its large wine menu and made-in-house blends. All their wines are made on location, using grape varieties from all over the world.  

Enrollment data released recently from the Office of Public Instruction shows an increase in students seeking private or homeschooled instruction. There is also been a decrease in public school enrollment for the 2023-2024 school year. Public K-12 students decreased by 1,988 students, or 1.3%, this year and the nonpublic enrollee population grew by 403 students or 2.4%.

A German-inspired restaurant called Gute Laune has opened 10 W. Main St. of the Rialto. “Gute Laune” means “good spirits” or good mood in German. All of the meat is sourced from Montana. The baked goods are made in Bozeman.

Independence Bank recently promoted Lacy Farmer to finance officer/executive assistant at the Havre Branch. Farmer started at the bank as an executive assistant in 2018. In her new role, she is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of all financial matters related to the organization are handled in a responsible and legal manner.

The Sidney Sugars Incorporated sugar beet plant is closed, but its history isn’t going away any time soon. Thanks to the MonDak Heritage Center and a grant from The Foundation for Montana History the history of plant is being preserved. They’re looking to find at least 10 people to interview, including former employees and beet farmers connected to the plant. The histories will be recorded and transcribed, then housed at the MonDak Heritage Center.

The Northwest Agricultural Research Center is celebrating its 75th year. A field station for Montana State University’s College of Agriculture, the center conducts crop science research. Originally established as the Northwestern Montana Branch Station, the station is one of seven scattered throughout the state operating under the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station system. It was established to conduct agricultural research for producers in the Flathead Valley.

Hess Pipelines of Minot ND has requested a subdivision be created to include two lots, one approximately 50 acres and another approximately 178.28 acres. Hess wanted to change the zoning of the 50-acre lot from Agricultural to Heavy Industrial. Hess plans to use the new zone to construct a compressor station facility. The plant would create 51 million standard cubic feet per day of compression capacity.

Independence Bank, Havre, recently promoted Mason Sheppard to assistant vice president of lending. Sheppard came to the bank in 2015 as a credit analyst and was later promoted to loan officer. In 2021, Mason became manager of credit analyst department and in 2022 took on the supervision of the ag/commercial lending Havre. In 2023 Mason became a senior Loan Officer.

Representatives from the Big Sky Rail Authority updated the Transportation Interim Committee of the Montana Legislature after Secretary Buttigieg visited the Treasure State.  Big Sky Rail Authority has identified a federal rail study with two long-distance routes through Montana, an east-west line connecting Seattle to Chicago and a north-south line to Billings.

Atlantic Richfield, under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun yard cleanups in the community of Black Eagle to address lead and arsenic-affected soils resulting from 80 years of smelting activities at the former ACM Smelter and Refinery. The cleanups are anticipated to take two summers to complete. Lead- and arsenic-affected soils will be removed and replaced with clean topsoil and groundcover consistent with landscape material present in the yard pre-cleanup.

At least 15 staff members of Billings Clinic Bozeman have been laid off from positions that range from advanced practice providers, to leadership and support staff. Some of the cuts included physicians whose contracts will not be renewed when they expire over the next 60 to 180 days. Areas affected at the Bozeman campus include urgent care, behavioral health, ophthalmology, pediatric cardiology, general surgery, neurology and urology.

The Butte Central Maroons will continue to compete in Class A, at least for the next two years. Despite enrollment lower than most Class B schools, Butte Central petitioned the Montana High School Association Executive Board to remain a Class B school. The board discusses reclassification every other year at its April meeting.

John Mercer will replace outgoing District Court Judge Kim Christopher in the 20th Judicial District, which covers Lake and Sanders counties. Mercer is a 1979 graduate of the University of Montana and got his law degree at Northwestern University School of Law in 1982.

The Great Falls Development Alliance and the Economic Development Authority in Lethbridge, Alberta have signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two communities to plan for greater cross-border cooperation that will raise awareness of the region, ease the experience of companies looking to start, expand or relocate on either side of the border, and to attract investment to our region- especially in the world of food, ag and bio processing.

Cottonwood Environmental Law in Bozeman is threatening to “go after the state” for not protecting the environment. The nonprofit law firm won a lawsuit last fall challenging House Bill 407, which prevented residents from passing local ballot initiatives. Winning that law suit allows them to submit a petition to the elections office for a plastic ordinance that would prevent retailers and food vendors from using polystyrene foam packaging and providing customers with single-use plastic bags. They report they have similar plans for ordinances in Billings and Missoula.

As teachers in Gardiner are retiring, the community is looking at a need to build more housing to attract new teachers. New condos are being built in a $2 million project.  In addition, Yellowstone National Park was recently awarded $40 million for housing, and HRDC is planning to develop 30 units in Gardiner, on Jardine Road, bringing the promise of more families, including teachers, and the housing to support them.

Wyoming dropped two spots in this year’s economic outlook ranking in the “Rich States, Poor States” report from American Legislative Exchange Council, but still remains in the top 10. The Cowboy State came in at 8th best for economic outlook in the report, which is in its 17th edition. The state is 44th when it comes to economic performance. Economist Jonathan Williams, one of three co-authors of the report, says it does not hurt being the only state in the region outside of South Dakota that avoids both a personal and a corporate income tax.

A new flight is taking off from Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell. Avelo Airlines is now offering nonstop flights between Kalispell and the Bay Area’s Sonoma County Airport on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This is the second non-stop flight for the airline out of GPIA. Avelo also has direct flights to Burbank on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

As growth in the Flathead Valley continues to slow following the pandemic-fueled spike in 2021, development and tourism demand is leveling off, city officials in Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls said at the Kalispell Chamber Tof Commerce Growth Summit. the number of building permits issued has dropped off significantly since peaking three years ago even as housing and transportation remain their top priorities. In Kalispell, more than 1,000 new housing units have come online in the last few years and multifamily development interest has started to taper off while single-family permits are seeing a resurgence. Tourism is also slowing in Whitefish compared to the peak in 2021. The decline is reflective in resort tax revenue. “Growth is much slower than we thought. They had anticipated a 2.5% rate of increase, but most recent data was 1.3% .

Dear Editor

I recently heard that Yellowstone County is considering increasing the size of the Board of County Commissioners from three (3) member to five (5). This was done in Ravalli County, through our Local Government Review process in 2006. There were a number of factors that contributed to the decision, an effective campaign declaring that more commissioners would generate better decisions, increase representation and increase efficiency (in my opinion ALL of these claims were ultimately disproven…)

At the same time voters reduced the length of terms to four (4) years following a theory that they could correct ballot choices sooner. The concern is that you can potentially elect a new majority every four (4) years and could conceivably have a senior commissioner with only two (2) years’ experience, creating a suboptimal level for continuity of government. There was also a failed attempt to have commissioners elected by district, rather than at-large, in a partisan attempt to control at least one district for a political party.

A quick synopsis of the effect of increasing the number of commissioners:

—Cost increases:

     —Two more commissioners (66% increase)

    —Additional support staff (administrative assistant)

   —New office space/ furniture as required

   —Increased travel and training expenses

—Increasing the number of commissioners provided an opportunity to allow two (2) commissioners to legally discuss matters at a sub-quorum level outside of public meetings (behind closed doors).

—Debate took longer to address 5 opinions.

—The higher number of commissioners dilutes accountability of individual board members.

— There may be opportunities to gerrymander districts and increase the not only political divide, but also the urban vs rural divide…

When has bigger government been more efficient? In my opinion, it was a very bad decision for Ravalli County. In 2016 the voters overwhelmingly overturned the 2006 decision and returned us to a three (3) member board.

I hope Yellowstone County can learn from Ravalli County’s experience!


Greg Chilcott

Ravalli County Commissioner

The size of Billings’ labor force grew by 2000 over the first quarter of this year.

For the last quarter the size of Billings’ labor force – those employed and those seeking employment  —  has grown about two percent, and stands at 94,800. The labor force – people actually working — has also been growing over the past quarter … Billings has the largest labor force in the state more than double that of Great Falls and a quarter more than Missoula.

Statewide, the number of employed is about 578,000,

Both of these economic indicators probably reflect the increase in population in Billings but most interesting it says that the people who are coming here aren’t just retired people as has sometimes been claimed. The reality is Billings is growing the size of its labor force and therefore the size of its  economy.

 The only economic sector in Billings that declined slightly, over the past year, in the number employed was “business services.” Education and health services increased the most. Statewide construction is the sector that increased the most at 4.3 percent – and a category called “information” which is information technology and media types of businesses  was the only sector in the state to decline and it declined 6.9 percent.

The unemployment rate for Billings has been hovering right around 3.5 percent, which is extremely low compared to the nation and also compared to the rest of the state.

Another factor reported is that about ten percent of the workers in the US belong to unions and that amounts to about 14.5 million people. Since COVID, wages for non- union jobs have been escalating at a much higher rate than union jobs.

The consumer price index rose The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 12-month price growth accelerated from 3.2% in February to 3.5% in March.

Over the past five years, Americans have seen average prices increase more than 20% overall.