Bears to keep threatened tag until at least 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Environmentalists say wildlife managers should proceed with caution as they consider the future of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone.

Federal and state wildlife officials insist there are enough bears in the three-state Yellowstone region to guard against a reversal in efforts to bring them back from near extermination. But, the animals will keep their threatened status for at least the next two to three years while officials bolster their case from stripping them of their federal protections.

Louisa Wilcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council, however, says the managers need to determine whether a slight decline in the bear population last year was the beginning of a larger drop-off or whether the population will stabilize.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game says the bears are being undercounted and need to be managed as a recovered species.


State officials reviewed Lake county complaints

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Department of Justice says charges could be coming as it investigates allegations of wrongdoing against the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

The state agency said it has received 10 complaints about the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Allegations include possible poaching violations by local officers, potential election law violations, theft of ammunition and gun parts and obstruction of justice.

DOJ administrator Mike Batista says three of the investigations are ongoing and could result in prosecution.

Batista says all of the cases have undergone a thorough screening process up to this point.

The attorney general's office has told the interim Law and Justice Committee it can't discuss specifics in any of the cases. But it did point out the complaints coincided with a contentious election for sheriff among candidates employed at the agency.


Montana's unemployment rate stays at 6.2 percent

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's unemployment rate remained at 6.2 percent in March.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry said Friday that the unemployment rate was unchanged from February, though it has fallen .8 percent since last August.

Labor Commissioner Keith Kelly says job growth has likely slowed because of increased oil and gas prices, but he is positive about continued job growth.

The national unemployment rate declined slightly to 8.2 percent in March.


County payments stay alive in Congress

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A glimmer of hope has arisen in Congress for extending federal payments to rural timber counties, but even if it comes, the money remains far short of what counties need to stave off painful cuts.

The House this week passed a transportation bill, raising the possibility it could be melded with a Senate version that has an amendment extending $106.4 million in payments to Oregon timber counties for one more year.

Sen. Ron Wyden's office says as long as no one in the House actively opposes it, county payments should be in the final bill.

In Josephine County, which has long depended on the payments, County Commissioner Simon Hare says the payments would cover just a third of the $12 million budget hole the county is facing.


Nearly 2,500 ballots mailed to overseas voters

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's secretary of state says nearly 2,500 absentee ballots have been mailed to military and overseas voters ahead of the June 5 primary election.

Linda McCulloch says that all other voters who signed up to receive an absentee ballot for the primary will be mailed theirs on May 7.

McCulloch says this is the first year the Electronic Absentee System has been available for a federal primary election. It allows Montana's absent military and overseas voters to register to vote, apply for and mark a statewide election ballot.

Any registered voter can vote by absentee ballot as long as an absentee ballot application is turned in by noon the day before Election Day.


Billings man pleads guilty to 11th DUI

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Billings man has pleaded guilty to his 11th drunken-driving offense.

Richard Eric Persson pleaded guilty Friday in state District Court. The Billings Gazette reports ( that the 58-year-old Persson was arrested March 4 after a caller reported that a possible drunk driver hit a fence and pulled into a grocery store parking lot.

Police conducted field sobriety tests on Persson and then measured his blood-alcohol content as .176 percent at the county jail. That's more than twice the legal limit.

Prosecutors have said that Persson has seven previous DUI convictions in Georgia and three in Montana.

Judge Ingrid Gustafson set sentencing for July 10. The maximum sentence is 13 months in state custody followed by five years of probation.


Elko commissioner opposes wild horse eco-sanctuary

(Information in the following story is from: Elko Daily Free Press,

ELKO, Nev. (AP) — An Elko County commissioner says a proposed eco-sanctuary for hundreds of wild horses in northeast Nevada will damage the range and could put some ranchers out of business.

Demar Dahl says backers of the project "have a big hurdle to cross" to prove the concentration of as many as 900 horses won't cause harm to public rangeland in violation of U.S. environmental regulations.

He told the Elko Daily Free Press it makes no sense to him to take viable cattle ranches important to the economy and turn them into taxpayer-supported horse reserves.

Madeleine Pickens and her non-profit group Saving America's Mustangs want to establish the eco-sanctuary across nearly 100 square miles east of Elko and south of U.S. Interstate 80 — from the Ruby Valley to near the Utah line.