Wildfires Top 2007 Montana News

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – The Montana wildfires that raged around the state this past summer was picked as the top news story in Montana for 2007 by members of The Associated Press.

Montana had 1,763 fires this past summer that burned about 740,000 acres. The cost surpassed $100 million for the first time in years, and the Legislature convened in a special session in September to pay the bills.

The collapse of the regular legislative session amid partisan bickering was the No. 2 story.

Here are 2007’s top 10 state stories, as voted by AP members:

1. The wildfires dominated the news during the summer season, where fires started sooner than usual and cost more to fight than in most years. Officials said the wildfire season was part of an ongoing trend toward more large-scale fires.

2. For the first time, the Montana Legislature was unable to complete its constitutional duty to adopt a budget in the time it was given. Republicans and Democrats argued over spending and tax priorities before stalling amid sharp differences. The governor later ordered a special session to set the state budget.

3. Montana’s ranchers received the news they had dreaded for years when they learned this past summer that brucellosis was found in a state herd. The discovery ignited old arguments about the management of wildlife in and around Yellowstone National Park, where the disease can be found in bison and elk.

4. The Montana Public Service Commission rejected plans by NorthWestern Energy to merge with Australian-based Babcock & Brown Infrastructure. The panel said there was no clear cut benefit for Montana ratepayers, and too many risks in allowing the state’s largest utility to change hands again.

5. A contentious legislative session was marred at the end by a profanity-laced tirade by the House Republican leader against Gov. Brain Schweitzer. Rep. Michael Lange was replaced shortly afterward by his GOP colleagues. He has since announced a bid to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in 2008.

6. Montana State University fired football coach Mike Kramer in May following the arrests of several current or former football players in less than a year’s time. Kramer has since sued the school, saying he was wrongfully terminated.

7. Butte legend Evel Knievel, an international icon for his exploits as a motorcycle daredevil, died in December. His funeral was attended by several thousand people who recalled his fearless spirit.

8. Montana State University was not alone in problems off the field. Arrests at the University of Montana captured headlines, too, when three players were charged with a home break-in in November. That followed the arrests of several other former or current Griz players.

9. The Montana Legislature approved a $400 tax rebate plan advanced by Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The rebates went to Montana homeowners and exempted corporations and part-time residents.

10. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January proposed a plan to take gray wolves in the Northern Rockies off the endangered species list. If enacted after a year-long review process, the plan would expose the region’s approximately 1,545 gray wolves to public hunting for the first time since the animal was declared endangered in the 1970s.