Big Sky Connection


Eric Tegethoff

 January, 17, 2017

HELENA, Mont. - Montana's Ryan Zinke is scheduled for his confirmation hearing today to become secretary of the Interior. If confirmed, the first-term congressman would guide the nation's public lands, wildlife and natural resources. But Zinke's sometimes contradictory voting record has conservationists wondering where he stands on these issues.

 Bob Dreher, vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, says Zinke's history when it comes to protecting endangered species isn't encouraging. Of note is a bill Zinke co-sponsored that would have undercut a multi-state effort to protect the greater sage grouse.

 "We have significant concerns about whether Rep. Zinke is going to be able to take a national perspective on the role of the secretary of the Interior as steward of the federal public lands and steward of wildlife and steward of all the natural resources that the federal government owns," he said.

 Dreher points out that the Interior Department oversees a vast array of agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service and more.

 Executive director of the Montana Wilderness Association, Brian Sybert, says the congressman has voted for legislation that would allow for development in wilderness areas, hurting wildlife. He describes Zinke's voting record when it comes to public lands as "checkered."

 "Given sometimes supporting keeping public lands in public hands, but also at times supporting legislation that could undermine public-lands management and the public's ability to play a role in influencing our public lands," said Sybert.

 At the beginning of this month, Zinke approved a rule change that Sybert criticizes as a step toward transferring public lands to states. The rule change accounts for such a transfer as budget neutral, meaning costs for this action would not have to be offset with the U.S. Treasury. After the vote, Zinke maintained that he does not support the transfer of public lands to states.


by Tyler Morrison

When did the American people decide as a culture to stop toasting things? Watching any old-timey movie, or reading any classic book, I get the impression that our forefathers knew how to mark an occasion. Kid got accepted into college? “I’ll get the champagne!” Promotion at work? “Break out the bubbly!” Find a sweet, unmetered parking spot? “Drinks all around!”

I can’t help but wonder if we have less opportunities to celebrate, or if we moved the bar for what was worthy of celebration. Asking around, I find that people seem to be a little intimidated by champagne. Even for people who know their way around a wine rack, champagne seems a little more exotic and unapproachable than the normal varieties of grown-up grape juice. However, approached with a little know-how and open mindedness, sparkling wines can be  a welcome guest to any celebration.

Champagne, in true French tradition, follows a lot of rules. True champagne can only be produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and following rules that require, among other things, secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation, specific vineyard practices, sourcing of grapes exclusively from specific parcels in the Champagne appellation (read: region) and specific pressing regimes unique to the region. While many use the term Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine, in many countries it is illegal to officially label any product Champagne unless it both comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation.

That being said, there are a litany of high quality sparkling wines that should never be scoffed at. The viticultural and winemaking practices of making sparkling wines have many similarities to the production of traditional wines with some distinct differences. At the vineyard, grapes are harvested early when there is still high acid levels. Unlike still wine production, high sugar levels are not ideal and grapes destined for sparkling wine production may be harvested at higher yields. Care is taken to avoid tannins and other phenolic compounds with many premium producers still choosing to harvest by hand rather than risk mechanical harvesting which may split the berries and encourage maceration between the skins and juice. This process encourages, primarily, subtle flavors and aromas that make sparkling wines so darn good and pairing with other flavors. High acid content and softer perfume qualities make sparklers an easy going friend, and one who tends to get along with everyone.

Now that we know a little about what makes sparkling wine so special, what is the best way to go about indulging ourselves?

Contrary to popular belief, the best way to enjoy champagne is in a white wine glass. A white wine glass's larger bowl enables the wine to open up in the glass, allowing you to better enjoy all the aromas and to savor the complexity of the champagne. Traditional champagne flutes are perfect for showcasing champagne's stream of bubbles, but their narrow shape limits the drinker's experience of aromas and flavors.

Another common misconception about champagne is to leave it in the fridge. If you're planning to enjoy your bottle of champagne immediately (within 3 or 4 days after buying it) storing it in the refrigerator is fine. But if it sits there for weeks the cork can dry out as refrigerators are also de-humidifiers. As corks dry out, the seal between the bottle and the cork loosen up and the champagne will oxidize faster, changing its aromas. Instead, keep it in a cool place in your home, away from any light, and where the temperature is consistent.

Once you're ready to enjoy your champagne, the best way to chill your bottle is to fill an ice bucket with ice and one-third water and allow your bottle to cool for 15-20 minutes. Bonus points for awesome presentation. Also, remember to hold your glass by the stem and not by the bowl because your hands will warm the champagne up too quickly. (Also, holding the glass by the stem will make you look like you’re an old hand at bubbly.)

Don't be afraid to experiment with food pairings! Oysters and caviar are fantastic with champagne, and more casual foods like french fries, fried chicken and cheese are equally delicious with Champagne! Champagne loves oily, salty and fatty foods as they bring out the wine's fruitiness and freshness, so foods like burgers, tacos, BBQ sauce, and lobster are exciting new pairings to try that champagne connoisseurs have been enjoying for years!

If you have a bottle of champagne in your refrigerator, don't wait for a special occasion to enjoy it. You will see that by opening that bottle, the special occasion will come to you.


January 11, 2017

Helena – The Montana Department of Revenue is mailing livestock reporting forms this week to Montanans who own livestock and need to meet upcoming reporting and payment deadlines.

About 18,500 livestock owners who reported last year will receive reporting forms. All livestock owners need to report by March 1, 2017, any livestock they owned as of February 1. Livestock owners can file online at or submit the hardcopy form.

Livestock owners who have not reported in the past need to report online or fill out a reporting form available from or their local Department of Revenue office.

Livestock per capita fees are due May 31. Livestock owners who do not pay their per capita fees when they report will receive their bill in early May with payment due May 31, 2017.

“The department wants to make it more convenient for livestock owners to report their livestock and pay their fees,” said Director Mike Kadas, Montana Department of Revenue. “The online system is efficient and secure, which makes it easier for livestock owners to do business in Montana.”

 For more information, visit or call toll free 1-866-859-2254, in Helena 444-6900.

Big Sky Connection



Eric Tegethoff

January 11, 2017

HELENA, Mont. - Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and Montana is not immune to the crime often referred to as modern-day slavery. Human trafficking involves labor or sex slavery and can leave victims physically and emotionally scarred.

Although overall numbers are small, the Montana Department of Justice reports the state rescued five juveniles in 2016, compared with just one in 2015. The state also rescued 22 adults from trafficking, an 83-percent increase over the previous year.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox says the number of cases has gone up in the past year.

"It's a troubling thing that people would do this kind of crime," he lamented. "It's a heinous crime. We're going to try to stop it as best we can, but we need our Montana citizens to help us out."

Fox encourages people to contact law enforcement if they see signs of trafficking, such as a person who is living with his or her employer or someone who doesn't have an ID, since traffickers typically take a person's identification.

On Wednesday, the traveling portrait exhibit "Faces of Freedom: Voices Calling for the End of Modern-Day Slavery" is in Helena to raise awareness about trafficking. The exhibit also will make stops in Billings, Kalispell and Missoula.

This week, the website shut down a section of its website that had been used for sex trafficking and other crimes. The classified ad website is known for advertising escorts and other illegal adult services, and a 2016 Senate report said Backpage officials acknowledged it was a hub for sex trafficking, especially of minors.

Fox says law enforcement has used these websites against traffickers, but he doubts that just because a website such as Backpage is shut down, trafficking will be shut down with it.

"Unfortunately, what we suspect may happen is it will drive that illegal criminal business to some other area of the internet," he said. "So we'll continue to watch these developments as they happen."

Fox is concerned the governor's proposed budget cuts to the state's Department of Criminal Investigations and Highway Patrol could hinder the campaign against human trafficking.