Montana COVID-19 testing
Montana COVID-19 testing lab
Montana COVID-19 testing lab
Boulder River Bridge view
Boulder River Bridge view
Combat Crochet
Combat Crochet
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
Bikers and Hikers stranded at Mystic Lake Cabin
Bikers and Hikers stranded at Mystic Lake Cabin
Goat Fire mapped at 300 acres
Goat Fire fought in rugged terrain
Goat Fire fought in rugged terrain
Griz management exceeds sustainable mortality rate
Griz management exceeds sustainable mortality rate


Butte Commissioner Jim Fisher (left) exchanges words with Legion Oasis board chairman Mike Lawson (right) across the street from American Legion Post 1 today. Tenants gathered before a Legion Oasis board meeting to protest rent increases and management changes. Fisher represents District 6. Both the Legion Oasis housing project and the Legion hall reside within his district.

Dec 20, 2022
Story and photo by Jim Larson

 Montana has filed a complaint against Butte’s American Legion post and Legion Oasis, Inc. The complaint was filed in September.

 Legion Oasis is a Butte housing project located on Hill Ave. It’s board is composed of four members of Montana’s Legion Post 1, and three community members.

In 2014, through the Legion Oasis board, the Butte post began to transfer thousands of dollars from the housing project to itself, first to make construction payments, then mortgage payments, on a social center built by the post, said Legion Oasis Manager Deb Smith.  Once the mortgage was paid off, the Oasis board continued to transfer $8,000 per month to the Legion post, the manager said. 

 According to the complaint, the project’s funds are to be used for low-income and middle-income housing. The post, said Smith, used the funds for charitable contributions and other purposes. Montana’s complaint says, “Transfers of property and funds to Post 1 by Legion Oasis, as well as the incurrence of significant indebtedness by Legion Oasis, have not and are not going towards providing low- and middle- income housing to community members. Rather, such conveyances and indebtedness have been provided by Legion Oasis on behalf of and benefitting Post 1 and its members.”

 The complaint argues, among other things, that Legion members on the Oasis board possessed a conflict of interest when they voted to move funds to the post from the housing project. It says that transferring the funds was harmful to the project.

 The complaint says that the defendants are in violation of Montana law, and it argues that a “constructive trust” be imposed that requires “... Post 1 to reconvey all legal and equitable title to that property; and require Legion Oasis to cease making additional transfers to Post 1’s account to cover mortgage payments and other costs of the facility and operations.”

 The complaint goes on to say that if such a trust is not imposed, Post 1 should reimburse the Legion Oasis for “...all substantial monetary transfers Legion Oasis has made for the direct support and benefit of Post 1.”

 The current president of the Legion Oasis board is Mike Lawson. He posted on Facebook that the housing project’s staff would be laid off on January 31. On February 1 Blueline Property Management would take over. According to members of the project’s staff, they learned of their dismissal in the Facebook post. Blueline is owned by persons who reside in Missoula, Lawson’s post said. It appeared in the Facebook group Butte 411 on December 17. +

So far, about 15% of the estimated 90,000 children ages 5-11 statewide have received a first dose of the pediatric COVID vaccine.

covid vaccine child children
Credit: Adobe stock. May not be republished without license.

When children ages 5 to 11 were approved for Pfizer’s lower-dose pediatric COVID-19 vaccine in November, Annie Edwards was eager to get her daughter Hannah, then 5, the shot because of underlying health conditions she has stemming from her premature birth.

“She was on a ventilator for the first month of her life. Throughout this whole COVID ordeal, I just keep thinking of those memories,” Edwards said.

Many parents in more urban areas of Montana quickly found the vaccine when it became available. The search was more challenging for Edwards, who lives in eastern Montana’s rural Dawson County, pop. 9,000, where just 38% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.

She called the Dawson County Health Department, but officials said they were waiting for more parents to show interest before scheduling a clinic for kids to get the shots. The local hospital wasn’t offering the vaccine for younger kids either.

Waiting wasn’t an option for Edwards. So she and her daughter made the nearly 500-mile round trip to Billings while visiting family for Thanksgiving weekend. They are scheduled to return Dec. 19 for the girl’s second dose.

“How many people can say, ‘Yeah, I’ll make two trips to Billings?’ That’s a lot of miles,” Edwards said, acknowledging that she was fortunate to have the means to do so.

“I think availability of the vaccine in rural areas is absolutely a factor in Montana’s struggle to vaccinate as quickly as other states.”


Dr. Lauren Wilson, a Missoula-based pediatrician and the vice president of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has heard from parents like Edwards across the state who can’t find the shot in their hometowns.

“I think availability of the vaccine in rural areas is absolutely a factor in Montana’s struggle to vaccinate as quickly as other states,” she said.

The state and many local public health agencies have not produced targeted campaigns to educate people about where children ages 5 to 11 can get vaccinated, making it that much harder on parents. Wilson said a lack of access and a lack of promotion are both playing a role in Montana’s lagging vaccination rate for younger kids.

So far, about 15% of the estimated 90,000 children in that age group statewide have received a first dose of the pediatric COVID vaccine. Montana ranks 33rd among states on vaccination rate for younger children, and its rate lags behind the national rate of nearly 17%, according to a KFF analysis of federal data.

Twenty-two of Montana’s 56 counties had vaccinated fewer than 5% of kids ages 5 to 11 as of Dec. 10, according to data gathered by the state health department.

A half-dozen counties reported vaccinating no children younger than 12: Carter, Daniels, Dawson, Garfield, McCone and Wibaux. All six are in rural eastern Montana, where driving distances between towns are great.

In both McCone and Wibaux counties, health officials said they aren’t offering the shot because of low demand and that it would be difficult to go through the minimum order of 100 doses within the 10-week period that shots can be stored in a regular freezer or refrigerator. The shots can be stored longer in special ultracold storage units that are few and far between in rural areas of Montana.


children covid vaccine montana

Gianforte nixed a kids’ vaccine campaign, so health officials plan their own

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s administration quashed plans for a public service campaign to promote COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible teenagers over the summer, a former state health official said. That has led public health and medical experts to plan their own ad campaigns, in anticipation of the administration not publicly backing shots for kids 5 and…

Parents in McCone and Wibaux counties who want their young children to be vaccinated must drive 40 to 100 miles round trip.

Despite storage issues and low demand, some rural health departments, like the one in Richland County, are offering the pediatric shot. Public health nurse Kathy Helmuth said she’s seen parents from parts of eastern Montana where the pediatric shot isn’t available make the trek to vaccine clinics she has put on at local schools.

In November, Helmuth vaccinated nearly 40 kids, more than she expected. Some shots had to be thrown out, she said, because the demand wasn’t always high enough to get through the 10-dose vials.

“I keep having to remind myself everyone we get vaccinated is important and that’s more important than the dose or doses I might be wasting,” she said.

Local health departments that are struggling to provide vaccines because of storage or low demand are encouraged to reach out to state health officials, according to Jon Ebelt, a spokesperson for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Ebelt declined to answer questions about what areas the department had identified as vaccine deserts or whether any local health departments had reached out for help.

Jennifer Kates, senior vice president of global health and HIV policy at KFF, said the number of kids being vaccinated nationally had slowed by the Thanksgiving holiday and has continued to decline.

“If it’s not very easy, very accessible and top of mind, they’re not going to do it for reasons that are complicated,” she said.

“It’s a chicken-and-an-egg thing. You need to have a certain amount of demand to have a clinic be sustainable, but in order to have a demand, you have to have that access out there.”


Kates said politics may be affecting people’s willingness to get their children vaccinated in deeply conservative states like Montana. According to KFF’s latest survey data, about half of Republicans said they won’t get their 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated, and an additional 10% said they’d do so only if required.

Kates said educating parents about how the pediatric vaccine is safe and effective will take more effort than was necessary for earlier rollouts for older kids. That burden will largely fall to state and local health departments, she said.

Montana’s state health department has said it will continue to promote COVID vaccines for everybody who is eligible but doesn’t plan to promote the shots for kids, as Utah has done.

The Montana Medical Association is planning a statewide campaign directed at families. And Matt Kelley, CEO of the Montana Public Health Institute, said his organization is working with local health departments to promote the shot for kids.

“It’s a chicken-and-an-egg thing. You need to have a certain amount of demand to have a clinic be sustainable, but in order to have a demand, you have to have that access out there,” Kelley said.

Kelley said mobile vaccine clinics can be part of the solution.

Pharm406, a Billings-based mobile pharmacy, has been offering vaccine clinics in eastern and central Montana throughout the pandemic. Owner Kyle Austin said he’s put on about 15 pediatric vaccine clinics. He said that turnout was low for his clinic in Glasgow but that he vaccinated 60 kids in Red Lodge.

“It’s really hard to tell where the demand is,” Austin said.

In Sanders County, on the western edge of Montana, getting to the closest pediatric shot requires a 70-mile round trip into Idaho or a drive of more than 100 miles to and from western Montana’s larger communities.

So far, 99% of the county’s children ages 5 to 11 have yet to receive a first dose.

“We most certainly will see lower vaccination rates because of that barrier,” said Nick Lawyer, a local medical provider and the county’s former health officer.


 Aaron Bolton is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.

Dec 10, 2021
BY: DailyMontanan.com

 Provided by Pexels.com.


Board members of Lee Enterprises, the newspaper chain that owns many of Montana’s largest dailies, has rejected an unsolicited offer on the company from Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that’s developed a reputation for drastically cutting costs on its way to becoming the country’s second largest newspaper owner.

In a statement to investors, Lee, which owns the Missoulian, (Butte) Montana Standard, Billings Gazette, Ravalli Republic and Helena Independent Record, said Alden’s $24-per-share all-cash offer “grossly undervalues Lee and fails to recognize the strength of our business today.”

Lee operates more than 350 daily and weekly publications in 26 states and stands as one of the few remaining independent newspaper chains — the finance sector, as with Alden, has begun to take an increasingly large chunk out of the media industry, often prioritizing whatever profit is possible in a struggling business environment over quality of coverage. That said, Lee doesn’t have a sterling reputation itself, as its purchase of several papers from Berkshire Hathaway also led to dramatic cuts. Lee’s purchase of several papers from Berkshire Hathaway also led to dramatic cuts.

The company’s Montana newsrooms have faced challenges with layoffs, buy-outs and resignations. Nonetheless, unions in the Lee network, including the Montana News Guild, which represents staff at the Billings Gazette, have been vocally opposed to a takeover by Alden.

Alden currently owns 6 percent of Lee shares, a purchase that foreshadowed the takeover bid. Lee has already adopted a shareholder rights plan that would prevent Alden from acquiring more than 10 percent of the company over a year period. Alden, however, has proven willing to forge ahead regardless, mounting an ultimately unsuccessful hostile takeover of Gannett in 2019. Earlier this year, the fund successfully acquired Tribune Publishing despite vociferous opposition from the historic publishing company’s reporters.


Letter outlines staffing shortages, vilification of public educators, ‘likely unconstitutional’ new rule

Dec 8, 2021

 Eight district superintendents signed a letter to Superintendent Elsie Arntzen expressing no confidence in her leadership.


Editor’s note: This story was updated to add Superintendent Elsie Arntzen’s comments.

Asserting that Superintendent Elsie Arntzen’s leadership is “creating serious deficiencies” and undermining public education as a central tenet of democracy — one recognized by the Montana Constitution — the top leaders of the state’s AA schools are demanding the head of the Office of Public Instruction restore the agency and start supporting schools instead of “throwing rocks at local school districts.”

“We write to express our disappointment in your leadership as our state’s chief public education officer,” said a Dec. 6 letter signed by eight superintendents across Montana overseeing 64,000 students. “Indeed, for the reasons described in this letter, we express no confidence in your performance as Montana’s chief public education officer.”

 Elsie Arntzen, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, walks into Parental Rights Education Action meeting at Crosspoint Church in Missoula, Montana on November 1, 2021. (Tommy Martino for The Daily Montanan.)


Re-elected in November 2020 with 52 percent of the vote, Arntzen of Billings took her oath of office in January at the state capitol. An announcement from her office at the time noted the former teacher was the first Republican re-elected for a second term as state superintendent of public instruction in 28 years.

In a statement provided by her deputy of communications, Arntzen said she takes the concerns from superintendents “humbly and seriously,” and she said OPI’s mission is to put Montana students first.

“The OPI will continue to make necessary changes, revisit our programs, communication, and outreach, and strategically work to ensure that every district has the tools they need from the OPI,” Arntzen said in the statement. “While we have multiple touchpoints of communication with school districts and their leadership each month, your letter has made it clear that it’s not enough.

“I welcome increased mutual dialogue. Your concerns are noted, and I look forward to continuing to make OPI the best office possible while providing necessary support, outreach, and resources to school districts throughout Montana, in support of our student learning.”

In the letter, the superintendents said they were not concerned about Arntzen’s politics but about her “leadership (or lack thereof),” including her advocacy for an administrative rule that is “likely unconstitutional,” one that would allow parents to “opt out” of local school policies. The school officials maintained Arntzen is participating in events that vilify public educators, undermining locally elected trustees, and allowing OPI to “bleed to death” with a turnover rate of nearly 90 percent during her tenure and “absences in critical areas.”

“To provide examples, we note here some specific instances of the deficiencies at OPI under your management, which we believe transcend the political scrums of the day,” said the five-page letter, which noted the superintendents appreciate and do not blame other OPI staff.

The communication was submitted on Billings Public Schools letterhead and signed by the following superintendents, who noted they together oversee 45 percent of public school enrollment in Montana: Greg Upham, of Billings; Casey Bertram, interim superintendent, of Bozeman Public Schools; Rob Watson, of Missoula County Public Schools; Micah Hill, of Kalispell Public Schools; Godfrey Saunders, of the Belgrade School District; Thomas Moore, of Great Falls Public Schools; Jody Jonart, of Butte Public Schools; and Rex Weltz, of Helena Public Schools.

“With limited resources and ever more obligations under state and federal law, it is increasingly difficult to provide the constitutionally protected education our children deserve while your office is simultaneously failing to provide the critical assistance we need,” the letter said. “The bottom line is that for us to best do our jobs, we need you to be doing yours.”

The specific problems the letter discusses include poorly managed personnel shortages, harm caused to school districts applying for grant funds, a lack of coordination with higher education and industry leaders for workforce development, and lapses in keeping educational material and codes current and up to standards. The letter also identifies an odd notification sent to one school district that alleged federal compliance violations, but ones that didn’t end up having any basis.

“Additionally, your months-long campaign against our districts’ efforts to combat COVID-19 in our schools and communities has undermined the role and responsibilities of our locally elected officials and disrespects the honorable volunteer efforts of hundreds of trustees in our Montana communities,” the letter said.

It outlined specific problems including the following:

  • A fall report counted more unlicensed teachers than is typical during a time the state is facing “a critical shortage of licensed educators,” the letter said, and a related backlog of applications at OPI can mean educators aren’t paid on time for their work. “If teachers are not being paid, they may consider looking to other states with better functioning licensure programs, further exacerbating Montana’s educator shortage.”
  • The letter said there appears to be no plan to update content standards, which creates problems for students and districts: “In addition to the disservice it does our students when we are forced to teach to outdated standards, districts also regularly plan curriculum review cycles years in advance to plan for the enormous budget expenditures that follow updating to new standards, so the lack of leadership from OPI on this is also causing districts financial uncertainty we can ill afford in these increasingly uncertain times.”
  • Current staff are helpful, but the lack of a special education director at OPI means technical support is difficult to obtain, and high turnover means the loss of longstanding connections between districts and the state, the letter said: “Special education is one of those high-risk areas where districts, especially districts without dedicated compliance staff, can get into trouble in a hurry if they cannot rely on technical assistance from the state education agency.”
  • The letter said the head of OPI provided “misinformation” at a public meeting in response to a review of ethics code by a body of professionals: “As the Superintendent of Public Instruction, your actions and statements should support the professional educators in Montana. In this instance, you instead used the influence of your office to speak against the efforts of public educators chosen to review and revise the Code of Ethics that guide our profession.”
  • The letter also said OPI had compromised school districts’ abilities to seek grant money: “Numerous issues at OPI have resulted in districts being unable to timely apply for or access funds they need to do their work.” The letter said the problems include inaccurate formulas and lack of stable staffing to provide technical assistance.

Other issues include a lack of support for and rushed process jeopardizing a review of rules and procedures regarding educator licensure, the letter said. It described the staffing level at OPI for accreditation as “frankly absurd,” with just one recent hire joining just one other person. A lengthy paragraph also described OPI’s bungled attempt to alert one district it was being flagged as “high risk” due to allegations it was out of compliance with three federal programs — and subsequent notification OPI was dropping its “high risk” determination: “It does not appear there was any basis for the designation in the first place.”

Arntzen has attended events in the state in support of parents who oppose mask mandates, and she spoke at a meeting in Missoula where a school board member and parent advocated parents take their students out of public schools. At the meeting, the school board member asked a lawyer what to do with superintendents, and the lawyer said, with a smile, “shoot ’em?” Arntzen was not in the room at the time and later condemned the remark, and the lawyer later apologized for his comment, but the letter from superintendents said the situation was not isolated for Arntzen.

“Like you, we have educated hundreds of children,” the letter said. “Some days were hard, but most were calm and productive, and we ended the day feeling like we made a difference. To have someone at a political rally you attended ‘joke’ that we should be shot because of the professional roles we play shook and outraged us. We realize you attempted to distance yourself from those comments, but this was not the first time you participated in an event that vilified public educators.”

The letter said the local superintendents expect better of Arntzen in guiding OPI and managing its resources for the betterment of all Montana’s public schools: “We hope our concerns do not fall on deaf ears, Superintendent Arntzen.”

In her statement, Arntzen said she wants to continue to support students.

“To do that, it’s imperative that we have unity and ongoing support readily available for our students, teachers, administrative staff, and school districts,” Arntzen said in the statement. “The OPI, like you, continues to go through the growing pains of pandemic change.  We must work together to provide the best opportunities for every student in Montana through respectful actions.”



‘Hell with the Lid Off’ sat in a trunk for decades until author William Lambrecht helped publish it

Dec 7, 2021
BY:  -

 The book cover of “Hell with the Lid Off: Butte Montana,” by Horace Herbert Smith (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).


Though Horace Herbert Smith spent the bulk of his life in New York City, rubbing shoulders with literati like Upton Sinclair and Zane Grey, and even though he barely escaped with his life while covering a volcano in Martinique, the greatest adventures of his life were during the heyday of Butte, working as a cub reporter for Marcus Daly’s Montana Standard.

And Smith’s story may just have been lost or buried if not for William Lambrecht and the discovery of a lifetime at the Butte-Silver Bow Archives.

Lambrecht was in Butte for a writers-in-residence program before COVID-19, and he was looking for something to write about. While there, he found the historical gold mine of the archives. After striking up a conversation with the archivist, he learned that it had just received a manuscript from a newspaper reporter turned author. The reporter had been in Butte in the 1890s, working at the powerful Standard, the rival of copper king William Andrews Clark’s Butte Daily Miner.

Lambrecht was amazed by the stories and the writing.

Smith had written the manuscript in his last years, hoping to sell the story of a woolly reporter in a crazy mining town in the Old West to a movie studio. He never fully completed the manuscript and his attempts to sell it to Hollywood were rebuffed.

The manuscript sat in a trunk for decades before his Smith’s granddaughter, Melissa Smith Fitzgerald, found the Butte-Silver Bow archives and donated it, hoping it would someday be discovered.

Lambrecht found the manuscript, which chronicled the legendary “Richest Hill on Earth” at arguably the mining city’s zenith. Smith’s memoir of those years was a find that every historian lives for – an undiscovered, unpublished account of what daily life in the city was like.

About the book

Title: Hell With The Lid Off
Author: Horace Herbert Smith
Editor: William Lambrecht
Publisher: New Bay Books
Price: $20

When Lambrecht started paging through the manuscript, he realized the importance of what he was reading and what it may mean to future researchers, even though the number of books already published about Butte could fill a bookshelf.

“My gosh, it seemed to lend a reporter’s eye to many of the events we read about in the wonderful histories written about in Butte,” Lambrecht said. “And, the great thing about it is that reporters have access to all the sides of the law – not just the officials but the outlaws, too.”

And it was those outlaws who would ultimately star in one of the most dramatic scenes in the memoir when two separate gunslingers whom Smith had written about both sent word to Smith that he’d be shot the next time either man saw him.

How Smith managed to wriggle out of that situation can be found in the book, but the situation is also illustrative of Lambrecht’s gentle writing and editing. The two men who wanted to shoot Smith were well-known gunslingers and outlaws, but the unfinished manuscript seemed to indicate that the erstwhile reporter had meant to research their fate, but was unable to do so before he died. However, Lambrecht was able to locate the obituaries and the stories of how each of the outlaws met their fate, and he was able to add those details.

Lambrecht admitted editing the book wasn’t easy. Many of the events and names had to be checked – something made easier with the advent of digitization and websites like newspapers.com. Still, Smith appeared to be writing much from memory, making dates, places or even name spellings spotty. Lambrecht had to comb through the manuscript fact-checking – not unfamiliar territory for the former newspaper editor.

“There were a good deal of errors. But I was able to correct them,” Lambrecht said. “In his failing health, he was unable to verify a lot of things.”

Smith died in 1936 of a heart attack, after having the manuscript turned down by no less of name than Samuel Goldwyn of MGM.

Still, Lambrecht said that for the number of names imprecisely remembered, he was amazed how much the veracity of the events held up, 40 years after the fact.

“I am still surprised what a good writer he was and I still laugh at his humor. I still laugh out loud,” Lambrecht said. “I wondered a bit whether these things could happen and worried about it because he was a bit of a rascal, but it turns out, he was quite accurate.”

Smith had come to Butte as a green reporter, and chronicles the heated newspaper rivalry between fellow Copper King Marcus Daly and Clark, and their two respective newspapers, which were slugging it out for readers and access to the biggest stories of the day. Butte was a place where the newsrooms remained open for nearly as long as the bars, and the stories could be just as audacious and bawdy.

“He had this sense of what fun there used to be in a newsroom,” Lambrecht said. “Today, newsrooms are sad places with many cuts and there are feelings of doom all around. All that has happened to print is a result of readers’ habits changing, but back then, newspapers were in this great soaring period where creativity reverberated through every corner of the country. There was a great deal of enthusiasm, hope and humor.”

For example, just to tweak the rival Copper King, the staff of the Standard covered several of the social gatherings and dances hosted by Clark, with the headline, “W.A. Clark’s balls.”

Still for the distant halcyon days of Butte, Lambrecht sees a few similarities between the times Smith writes about and today.

“It was a very significant time in history where everyday life was changing because of technology,” Lambrecht said.

Butte was home to new-fangled contraptions like elevators, phones and the lightbulb – some of which were shot out at night just for sport.

“It was a changing world and culture, and what was remarkable is that he caught the wonderment of it all and agreed with the locals that Butte was the greatest place on earth,” Lambrecht said.