Members of law enforcement from across the Hi-Line attended a round table meeting with Montana Representative Greg Gianforte on Tuesday, May 28, at the Toole County Sheriff’s Department. Border Patrol officers from Sweetgrass and Havre, Customs personnel from Havre, Highway Patrol and members of TCSO were in attendance, along with all three Toole County Commissioners.
“I try to meet with everyone around the state, to touch base,” said Gianforte. “I’m interested to hear what is going on at the border and anything else that is taking place. Drugs come up in every community, but with being so close to the border, this is different. I’m here to listen.”
Gianforte was updated on how Canada legalizing recreational use of marijuana has affected the area.
“I know there is a lot moving through,” said Toole County Sheriff Donna Whitt. “Most of it coming over is personal use, not large quantities. About one third of our crimes are related to drugs in Toole County.”
“Meth and marijuana are the main two,” said Undersheriff Ryan Larson. “Pills and heroin as well, but mostly meth and marijuana.”
Gianforte was advised there are several agents assigned to a drug task force across the state and a majority of narcotics are coming from the southern border.
After touching upon the border issues, Toole County Commissioner Don Hartwell brought up what has become a major concern for many in the area, bears.
“We have a problem with bears,” said Hartwell. “It’s estimated that we have about 70 grizzlies around. There were just two of them playing in Lake Frances not long ago. This is a major problem.”
Gianforte agreed that the grizzly population in the area is causing problems and that something needs to be done. He assured those in attendance that he is working on doing what he can and that he supports legislation that focuses on allowing more state and local management of the grizzly bear and having them de-listed from the endangered species list.
“We should be celebrating the bears recovery and de-list them,” said Gianforte. “Science shows we have recovered in the northern Rockies, it’s extreme environmentalists that want them permanently on the list.”
“People in Valier don’t go out after dark because of bears,” said Hartwell. “There’s a cannon down at the golf course here that goes off throughout the night to try and keep them away. If something is not done somebody is going to die, a little kid, someone.”
Gianforte agreed something needs to be done and that stories like the bear on the football field in Choteau, walking through town in Valier and on the golf course helps when trying to push things the other way.
“We need to get them off the endangered list and give control back to the State. We are pushing for de-listing and will keep pushing. We don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Other issues discussed throughout the meeting included the hospital, Federal regulations that negatively impact rural communities and Amtrak.
Whitt explained, “I have a terrific working relationship with all the agencies,” said Whitt. “But the one issue is, when we ask for support the regulations say we need an operation order and for it to be approved. That could take months. We need to take care of something today, but we can’t, because their hands are tied and there’s nothing they can do. In emergency situations we can make decisions, but with warrants we have to do an operation order, which takes time.”
Toole County Commissioner Mary Ann Harwood spoke to Gianforte about Amtrak and how losing the ticket agents has negatively affected area residents.
“They took away our attendant but there are several people in these rural areas that don’t have or don’t use the internet,” said Harwood. “We have many, from all over, Great Falls and other places, who get on the train here. It is making it much more difficult without ticket agents.”
Gianforte said he shared the concern and he has been supporting the return of ticket agents to the Hi-Line depots.
“I will continue to support Amtrak and do what is best for the people,” said Gianforte.
“The offer is open,” concluded Gianforte. “Please reach out if you need a common sense appeal on things holding you up. There are no guarantees it will happen, but we’ll go to bat for you. Reach out and we’ll be helpful. Otherwise, we try to just stay out of the way.”