Good Work Wednesday: January 25, 2023

By Sage Sutcliffe

Top Montana News Stories

1. Why are people hanging out in Montana’s radon-filled mines? (Austin Amestoy and Aaron Bolton / Montana Public Radio)

Why do some people seek “radon therapy” in Montana mines, even if it’s dangerous?

“The people using these mines say the radon they’re exposed to in the mines causes a little stress on the body, spurring the body’s immune system to respond, reducing things like inflammation, chronic pain and other ailments,” said Bolton.

Amestoy (’22) and Bolton with Montana Public Radio’s The Big Why explore the present reason and the history behind the phenomena. Guest and UM alumna Katheryn Houghton also shares her research on radon-filled mines from her ’21 Washington Post story.

2. Montana beef processing ramps up with help from feds, but more butchers are needed (Tom Lutey / Missoulian)

If you have ever wanted to try your hand at butchering, now is the time.

“The number of cattle slaughtered in Montana has increased 75% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by rancher frustration with monopoly meatpackers and emptying refrigerated meat cases in grocery stores,” Lutey said. With more Montana ranchers feeding into a local “meat to market” chains, butchers are in high demand but short supply.

3. Flathead officials get pushback after calling on community to stop helping homeless people (Justin Franz / Montana Free Press)

Franz brings attention to a letter, signed by three Flathead County Board of Commissioners, that has sparked controversy from advocates for people experiencing homelessness.

“It is our hope that our community will be unified in rejecting all things that empower the homeless lifestyle,” the letter read.

In response, donations to a low-barrier shelter in Kalispell have “dramatically increased.”

4. Public, legislators debate obscenity law revisions (Alex Sakariassen / Montana Free Press)

UM alumni Sakariassen (’08) covers a movement to “toughen state obscenity laws” that restrict certain reading materials for children. The Montana Legislature’s House Judiciary Committee sat for a public testimony recently, with those for and against the proposal.

“Supporters characterized the measure as a necessary safeguard to protect children from exposure to inappropriate or pornographic material in public schools and libraries,” Sakariassen said. “Opponents cast it as a significant step in the direction of government censorship, one that threatens to criminalize teachers and librarians and erode the First Amendment rights of Montana citizens.”

Top Environment and Science Stories

1. Here’s what it takes to build Alaska’s highways of ice (Victoria Petersen / High Country News)

Petersen reports from the Kuskowim River in the Alaskan north, which in the coldest winter months, becomes the Kuskokwim ice road. If maintained, ice roads like this one allow for easier and cheaper transport of deliveries and access to healthcare services and neighboring villages.

“Frozen rivers provide a relatively smooth and solid corridor for traveling in the North. They have been used for thousands of years and still connect rural communities across the state,” reports Petersen. “There is no other road connecting the communities; without it, people would have to rely on air travel, which isn’t always an option because of bad weather or exorbitant costs.”

2. Twinkle, twinkle fading stars: Hiding in our brighter skies (Christina Larson / AP News)

Larson reports on a study that found “artificial lighting is making the night sky about 10% brighter each year.” Meaning, our visibility of the stars is decreasing 10% each year.

Brighter night skies disrupt wildlife patterns and human circadian rhythms, according to Emily Williams, a Georgetown biologist. “Art, science, [and] literature” are also at a loss; stars have served as inspiration for humankind for generations, said Fabio Falchi, a physicist at the University of Santiago de Compostela.

Top Alumni/Student Story

1. License to heal (Keely Larson / Kaiser Health News)

Keely Larson is an environmental and natural resources journalism student at UM who is currently covering the Montana legislature as the Kaiser Health News fellow.

In her story, Larson reports on the difficulty some healthcare professionals have in obtaining Montana practitioner licenses when moving to Montana after beginning their careers in another state. At a time when staffing shortages are burdening Montana healthcare systems, two house bills are on the docket this session that may alter requirements and make the transition easier.

Larson quotes Mary Windecker, the executive director of the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana: “We’ve got to get people in here to work.”