Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

March 12, 2018

HELENA, Mont. - It's Sunshine Week, a week that puts a spotlight on transparency and openness in government. 

Mike Meloy is an attorney who operates the Montana Freedom of Information Hotline. The hotline offers free legal advice to journalists and the public seeking to confront the government on closed documents or meetings. 

Meloy says the idea of "sunshine" in Sunshine Week is to improve the relationship between people and their government by making the government work in plain sight. He says this is essential to democracy.

"Whenever government tries to operate in private or in secret and away from the public view, the level of trust in their decisions goes down," he stresses.

Meloy says Montana is one of only a few states that has a right-of-access law written into its Constitution, giving Montanans a constitutional right to look at government documents and attend meetings. 

However, he says enforcing this law can be problematic because it often requires going to court, which is often a costly venture.

Meloy says cost has become an even greater barrier to transparency in another way. 

Because of a new statute that amends the state's open records law, governments can charge for the cost of producing their documents. That includes not just the cost of copies, but also the legal review to determine if the documents are open records. 

Meloy says it's discouraging openness in government.

"It has caused people not to ask for records because they're too expensive or they go back and forth with the custodian of the records trying to argue that these records are open," he points out.

Meloy says the instinct of governmental bodies is to operate in private, but that once people understand what the government's obligation is under the law, it responds favorably and complies.

March 11, 2018

(Three Forks, Mont.) At about 5:18 PM this evening, Three Forks Ambulance, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, and AMR responded to Front Street in Three Forks for an unresponsive adult male.

Emergency personnel were able to use life saving techniques to get the subjects heart beating. A helicopter from Life Flight responded and transported the man to the hospital for further treatment


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Big Sky Connection

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Eric Tegethoff

March 7, 2018

GARDINER, Mont. - Two people have been arrested at a Yellowstone buffalo holding facility as they tried to prevent the animals from being killed. 

Two members of the group Wild Buffalo Defense, Cody Cyson and Thomas Brown, locked themselves to the bars of a pen that holds the animals for disease testing on Tuesday. Yellowstone National Park has captured about 500 wild buffalo this winter and placed them in the Stephens Creek facility near Gardiner, a Montana town located at the gateway to the park. 

Talon BringsBuffalo with Wild Buffalo Defense is a member of the Blackfeet Nation. He said his group wants the federal government to pull out of the Interagency Bison Management Plan, under which the animals are culled; 

"... and work to restore buffalo to ceded treaty territory and the Plains once again and let the population expand, rather than keeping it at an arbitrary number of 3,000 for the cattle industry," BringsBuffalo said.

Yellowstone National Park is keeping buffalo in the Stephens Creek facility out of concern they could spread the disease brucellosis. The park plans to round up between 600 and 900 buffalo this year for quarantine or slaughter. 

The two protesters are scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday in Mammoth, Wyo.

Fears over the spread of brucellosis from bison to cattle may be misguided. BringsBuffalo said there are no recorded cases of buffalo transmitting the disease. He said the Interagency Management Plan is designed to please the cattle industry.

"Rather than keeping the buffalo kind of on a reservation of Yellowstone National Park, really it's the cattle that should be fenced in and the buffalo should be allowed to roam free," he said. "They are a sacred animal to the first peoples of this nation and really important to them."

There are about 4,800 wild buffalo in the Yellowstone herd - the last wild buffalo left roaming in the United States. In 2017, 1,200 wild buffalo were slaughtered, in part because the state of Montana does not tolerate the animal outside the park, according to Yellowstone officials.