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Montana Editorial Roundup

August 29, 2018

Billings Gazette, Aug. 28, on suicide prevention:

My dad took his own life on the family farm in September 2016.

So begins Darla Tyler-McSherry’s story of why she and her brother, Big Sandy wheat farmer Randall Tyler, began advocating for suicide prevention in Montana and across the nation.

In an interview last week, Tyler-McSherry, of Billings, said they decided: “We have to do something. We can’t let our dad’s death be in vain. If we can save even one family, we’re going to do what we have to do.”

In the difficult days after their father’s death on his land near Big Sandy, many friends and neighbors brought food and offers of help with fall seeding. One of her dad’s friends said something that inspired her prevention website, askinearnest.org.

“In this call, he said, ‘When your dad would see someone in town walking down the street, he would stop and ask in earnest how they were doing,’ ” Tyler-McSherry wrote. “He wasn’t asking to be nosy or gossipy, he genuinely cared how they and their family were doing.′ It is one of the most beautiful things anyone has said to me about my dad since his death.

“The single most important concept I want to share with others is just that: ask in earnest to help prevent suicide in farming.”

The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Yellowstone County provided a grant to create the user-friendly askinearnest.org website designed by April Buscher. McSherry wrote the content, which was reviewed by Dr. Don Harr, longtime Billings psychiatrist and mental health volunteer. McSherry has considerable experience in health communications; she is director of student health services at Montana State University Billings and coordinator for the Yellowstone County DUI Task Force.

In June, Tyler-McSherry and her brother spent three days with a CNN news crew that reported the story of the siblings’ suicide prevention efforts.

“Since the story came out, I’ve been contacted by people from all over the country,” she said. Email messages brought words of encouragement and writers have shared their personal experiences of loss, perseverance, resilience and recovery on the farm.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester was Tyler-McSherry’s grade school music teacher. The Testers and Tylers farm adjoining lands.

Tester is a co-sponsor of the Farmers First Act, S.2712, which would establish a farm and ranch stress assistance network. It would authorize appropriation of money for competitive grants to state agriculture departments, cooperative extension services or nonprofit organizations to deliver community-based assistance, such as help lines, websites, support groups and other outreach to farm and ranch families in need of behavioral health care.

Tester’s office told The Gazette that a version of the Farmers First Act is in the Senate version of the Farm Bill being negotiated by the House-Senate conference committee.

“Senator Daines was pleased to see the language make it in the Senate Farm Bill, and is working to ensure the final Farm Bill is signed into law before Sept. 30,” Daines’ spokeswoman said in response to The Gazette’s request for comment.

Commodity prices have fallen significantly in the past few years, and threats of an international trade war give agricultural producers more stress. The Farmers First Act is a bipartisan bill that ought to be part of the safety net for the Americans who grow food for us and much of the world.

However, rural health care isn’t top of mind for most members of Congress. As representatives of the state with the worst suicide rate in the nation, Tester and Daines must speak up for good mental health on farms and ranches. The lives they save may be their own constituents’.

As Tyler-McSherry said: “It’s not a partisan issue; it’s an issue of humanity. It acknowledges that our farmers and ranchers need this help.”

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2MBcZcE

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Aug. 27, on Montana saying goodbye to fire season:

A little rain and cool breeze can work wonders on smoke-filled skies. With September just around the corner we can hopefully (knock on wood) say goodbye to another fire season.

We can also feel grateful that damage from fires in the immediate region was minimal. Other parts of the state and country were not so fortunate. Deadly fires in California took seven lives of and destroyed more than a thousand homes.

We should also extend gratitude to the firefighters who put in long hours on fire lines around the state and nation. Fighting wildfires can be some of the most difficult and dangerous work. And we are not making things easier for them.

Our fondness for building homes near and in the forest - the so-called wildlands urban interface or WUI - has meant that firefighting resources have been increasingly channeled away from fire suppression and toward structure protection. This has hampered efforts to contain blazes quickly and made firefighting more expensive.

And scientists tell us to expect longer and hotter fire seasons in the years to come. These are predictions we should take to heart on a number of levels.

Land-use planners should factor in wildfire dangers posed by proximity to forest land when housing developments are proposed. Mandated vegetation-free buffers around homes and the use of fire-resistant landscaping and building materials should become part of development requirements. Individual homeowners who live in the WUE should take measures to safe up their homes in ways that won’t require firefighters to take extraordinary measures to save them. A number of these measures can be found on a National Park Service website at https://www.nps.gov/articles/p52-wildland-urban-interface-fire-safety.htm. And there are other state and federal sources of this kind of information.

Smoke, mostly from fires in other regions of the West, has made life unpleasant for the past few weeks. But look at what happened in some of those regions and realize we could face the same here.

This fire season may be coming to a close. But it’s not too soon to start thinking about those to come.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2BVeBJf

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Montana Standard, Aug. 26, on needing more blood:

The lifeblood of the community is ... blood.

That’s right — and we need more of it.

Hospitals — and, of course, those desperately needing transfusions — depend totally on volunteer donors. There is no substitute for blood, or donation; every transfusion is a gift of blood donated by a volunteer.

Less than 10 percent of the population supplies 100 percent of blood donations. And when you think that blood is needed by one in seven hospital patients; that 30 percent of blood donations go to cancer patients and another 15 percent to heart patients; and that there must be blood on the shelves for emergency patients — before the accident occurs — it’s easy to see why blood is perpetually in short supply.

Now, it is even more critical. Summer’s a busy time, and often the frequency of blood donation drops as donors are busy with other activities. But the need does not decrease.

Joy Pletan, donor recruitment representative at Butte’s United Blood Services, a nonprofit that is sole provider of blood to several medical entities in the state, including St. James Healthcare, says the organization often partners with businesses, schools, churches, civic groups and others to hold blood drives. But you don’t have to wait for a blood drive — you can simply call UBS and make an appointment.

Pletan says the No. 1 reason people give for NOT donating blood is, “I’ve never been asked and I don’t know where to donate.”

Consider yourself asked.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2wpjzc5

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