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Montana Editorial Roundup

May 8, 2019

Montana Standard, May 8, on the need for transparency in the selection of members for the grizzly bear advisory panel:

It speaks to Montanans’ high interest in grizzly bears that 157 individuals have been nominated to serve on a grizzly bear advisory committee that may have 20 seats at most. Now comes the difficult task of whittling down the lengthy list of volunteers.

Gov. Steve Bullock is already committed to ensuring the committee encompasses the widest possible range of perspectives and a comprehensive variety of expertise. But Bullock must also take pains to make his selection process as transparent as possible, and to fully explain to the public the reasoning behind his picks. At a minimum, the names and qualifications of the volunteers need to be posted on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website. That way, when the eventual selections are made, people can see for themselves just how representative the council is.

After all, the advisory council will represent the general public on critical grizzly bear management matters, an issue of looming importance as the bears face the likely loss of federal protections.

Montana shares responsibility for four grizzly recovery zones, each of which is home to its own unique challenges. Moreover, on top of the regional distinctions, a key component to successful recovery involves connecting genetically isolated populations. The council must therefore consider how to promote healthy bear populations while also finding effective ways to reduce conflicts with humans.

According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website, the advisory council will consider how best to:

—Maintain and enhance human safety

— Ensure a healthy and sustainable grizzly bear population

— Improve the response to conflicts involving grizzly bears

—Engage all partners in grizzly-related outreach and conflict prevention

—Improve intergovernmental, interagency, and tribal coordination

That’s a tall order, and to that end, the members of the council clearly should come to the table prepared to share expertise on bear behavior — but also human behavior. Montanans across the state will need to learn how to safely share a home with grizzly bears.

As FWP Region 2 Supervisor Randy Arnold noted in a recent Missoulian news article: “There are a lot of folks who will soon be dealing with grizzly bears who have not been a part of this conversation.” The governor’s advisory council offers an opportunity for these folks to have their concerns considered and answered before any major problems arise.

But Governor Bullock must first reassure the public that no legitimate concern will be ignored, and no voice will go unheard. He can get started on the right foot and set a clear expectation of transparency throughout the process by being open with the public as he selects the members of the Grizzly Bear Advisory Council.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2VRtJQC

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Missoulian, May 5, on University of Montana’s initiative to support women:

It’s a fact that women in Montana, as elsewhere in the nation, hold fewer leadership positions than men, fill more lower-paying jobs and earn less money for the same work.

The reasons for this are complex, varied and longstanding. And while some progress has been made — the number of women-owned businesses has grown exponentially over the past two decades, for instance — it’s painfully clear that much more could be done.

So the University of Montana’s recent announcement that it is launching a new initiative to support women should be hailed as an important step toward closing the opportunity and achievement gaps between men and women. We look to our institutions of higher learning to thoroughly research society’s most difficult problems, evaluate potential solutions and lead the way forward through effective policy. UM’s acknowledgement of the unique challenges facing women in the workforce and its pledge to help overcome those hurdles therefore holds a lot of promise, not just for Missoula but for all of Montana.

And as the nation recalls the history behind the 19th Amendment in advance of its centennial anniversary, it’s also an opportune time for the university to closely examine its own obstacles and come up with a focused, concrete plan of action to eliminate them.

The university’s new initiative is called S.E.A. Change, and it is aimed at creating a campus environment that is “safe” for women, that “empowers” women and that “accelerates” them in their careers. Importantly, it includes a commitment to advancing societal change “toward equity for all,” according to the university’s announcement.

Drawing attention toward gender equity as a shared value is a critical starting point. Next, the university plans to draw more attention toward efforts already underway on campus, and also invite the campus community to share ideas for crafting specific goals.

As UM Chief of Staff Kelly Webster noted, “We fully recognize that working toward equity for all means persistent effort, and we recognize that there is a lot more work to do. We are not afraid of that work and want to use this effort as a chance to understand what that work looks like and what we need to do to get it done.”

As part of this important work, the university must start to untangle the reasons why a woman who is a full professor earns less than a man in the same position. Chronicle of Higher Education data shows that a female professor at UM is paid an average of $79,275 while a male professor is paid $83,146 — a difference of nearly 5%.

And unfortunately, the gap appears to be widening. As the Missoulian recently reported in a news story announcing the S.E.A. Change Initiative, in 2007, male professors received an average of $2,492 more than their female counterparts. Ten years later, they received $3,871 more.

Compounding the problem, while 71% of staff was women, only 34% of full professors were women at last count. Overall, men tend to hold more of the higher-wage positions while women hold more of the lower-paying jobs.

This gap is not unique to UM, and in fact, it’s even worse off-campus. Last month, the Women’s Foundation of Montana noted that women who hold down full-time work make only 78% of men’s wages - which is actually progress, because in 2013, women made only 73% of men’s wages. That dismal number put Montana in 29th place on a national scale of pay equity and prompted Gov. Steve Bullock to establish an Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force.

The task force is comprised of state government officials, private business representatives and other key leaders in the state — including UM President Seth Bodnar. Its mission is to share expert advice on how to ensure pay equity, and to that end its website (equalpay.mt.gov) offers information on wage negotiation for employees and best practices for employers, among other helpful resources.

Members of the task force were among those marking this year’s National Equal Pay Day on April 2, the date by which the average women has earned as much income as the average man did just last year. But on the same day they gathered to pay homage to a century of equal pay laws in Montana, a legislative committee killed one of the task force’s key recommendations.

House Bill 547, sponsored by Livingston Rep. Laurie Bishop, proposed to level the playing field for women by prohibiting employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their previous salary, and allow employees to discuss their wages with coworkers without fear of reprisal.

The Paycheck Transparency Act, as it was initially called, withstood torturous amendments designed to eliminate any obligations on employers before it squeaked through the House on a 52-47 vote. The Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee then tabled it. Perhaps it matters that this 10-member committee includes only three women legislators, and is chaired by a man: Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls.

It’s also worth noting that a previous bill to establish a Montana Pay Equity Act, introduced by Missoula Sen. Sue Malek in the 2017 legislative session, was also tabled in the same committee. But that year, the committee included only one female legislator: Sen. Dee Brown of Hungry Horse.

Montana law has required employers to provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex, for 100 years. At the time, the law was both groundbreaking and in step with burgeoning efforts to advance women’s rights across the nation. Montanans take pride in our state’s role in helping to ratify the 19th Amendment, which recognized the right to vote regardless of sex, with its vote on Aug. 2, 1919. The amendment was certified one year later, on Aug. 20, 1920, and on Nov. 2, 1920, more than 8 million American women voted for the first time.

Montanans can proudly celebrate our state’s role in this historic milestone. But as we do so, we must not lose sight of the important work that remains. Montana clearly has a ways to go toward achieving full equality between the sexes. UM should be applauded for stepping up, encouraged to make measurable improvements — and joined in its efforts by public, private and nonprofit leaders throughout the state.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2VN1NgX

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The Daily Inter Lake, May 2, on a proposal for new trails in the Flathead National Forest:

Study after study has shown that outdoor recreation opportunities and access to public lands are essential to maintaining Montana’s robust economy.

In fact, the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation estimated in a 2018 report that the state’s outdoor recreation economy supports some 71,000 jobs — about 10% of all jobs in Montana and more jobs than in manufacturing and construction combined. All told, $7.1 billion in consumer spending in Montana can be attributed to outdoor recreation.

The study also shows that the vast majority of folks in Montana — about 80% — live here for the outdoor lifestyle. Most agree that access to our wild places creates happier and healthier communities.

That’s why we support a proposed alternative that would create nearly 40 miles of new multi-use trails in the Flathead National Forest near Whitefish.

The Taylor Hellroaring Project would impact about 1,851 acres of the Whitefish Range near Big Mountain, with the proposed trails connecting high-alpine terrain to the well-used Whitefish Trail network around Whitefish Lake.

The new trails would disperse hikers and mountain bikers using the Whitefish Trail onto more remote and challenging trails “with greater opportunities for solitude,” the environmental assessment notes.

Volunteer groups would lead trail-building efforts, using grant funding for the work.

Better access to more trails, with an economic boon to boot? That’s a win-win.

Another benefit of the project is the proposed fuels management to reduce wildfire risk in an area squarely in the wildland-urban interface. Forest treatments would include commercial thinning, clearcuts and some prescribed burns.

We take comfort in the fact that the Whitefish Face Working Group has been involved with this project from the beginning. Members of this diverse group include representatives from F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co., Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish Legacy Partners, the Flathead Snowmobile Association, the city of Whitefish and others.

Now is the time to share your thoughts on the plan. Public comments on the environmental assessment will be accepted through May 23.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2VPKH20