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Region in brief

Firefighters douse grass fireBillings Fire Department knocked down a grass fire Saturday afternoon that covered several acres near King Avenue West.

Battalion Chief Tim Bergstrom said the fire burned in dense, dry grass and brush that was interspersed among old gravel pits. The fire was south and west of Golden Meadows Trailer Court but did not threaten any structures, he said.

An engine and two off-road brush trucks staffed by seven firefighters doused the fire with water but also used some hand tools to stop the blaze. Bergstrom said it was a bonus that wind did not push the fire and crews were able to get ahead of the flames to slow the fire’s progress.

Because there was no significant weather when the fire broke out, Bergstrom said it is “highly probable” that the fire was man-caused.Man treated, released after accidentA Billings man was treated and released at Deaconess Billings Clinic Saturday afternoon after he was found lying in the weeds beside Highway 87 several feet away from his car.

Harold Roberts, 67, of Billings, was issued a DUI by Montana Highway Patrolman Mark Olsen. Roberts’ 1993 Mercury Topaz was sideways across the south-bound lane of the two-lane highway that runs between Billings and Hardin. Olsen said Roberts was disoriented when motorists stopped to help him at 2:20 p.m. Saturday. Roberts told Olsen that he had fallen on the road after he left his vehicle, which appeared to be scratched by barbed wire.

The accident occurred 8-1/2 miles east of Billings.

around the state

Man dies after hospital stayMISSOULA — A Missoula man who was injured in a two-vehicle collision in Missoula 14 days earlier died Friday in St. Patrick Hospital.

He was John Eichert, 93.

The Highway Patrol said Eichert was the only person seriously injured in the collision, which occurred June 23.

His death raised Montana’s traffic toll for the year to 95, compared with 115 as of July 8 last year.Firm wants to explore for coalbed methaneBOZEMAN — A Colorado company wants to explore for coalbed methane gas in an area east of Bozeman.

The J.M. Huber Corp. wants to drill two wells, each more than a mile deep, on private land in the Jackson Creek area just north of Interstate 90. Company officials said they had hoped to begin drilling this summer, but opposition by environmental groups delayed the project.

Coalbed methane is natural gas trapped in coal seams. Extracting the fuel has become a booming business in Wyoming and is gaining interest in Montana.

Huber announced plans last year to drill up to 18 exploratory wells on six sections of land in Park and Gallatin counties. However, officials said Friday they would only apply for two wells at a time, beginning with the sites on either side of Jackson Creek Road.

No actual production will be allowed until the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation completes an environmental impact statement.

A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30 in Billings to address the company’s proposals and discuss concerns from neighbors or other groups. Board officials said the board will decide that day to approve or deny the exploration project.Officials: Share results of park researchLIVINGSTON — The National Park Service wants companies conducting research in Yellowstone National Park to share their discoveries with the public.

At this time, corporations that conduct experiments in the park are not required to disclose results of their work. The Park Service is considering “benefits-sharing agreements” that would require corporations to reveal their findings.

The proposal will be examined in an assessment being developed by the Yellowstone staff. Through Aug. 10, the Park Service is accepting public comment on the scope of that assessment.

John Varley, director of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, said the advantages of benefits-sharing agreements are not just financial. One company shared with park officials the DNA profiles of Yellowstone wolves.

“They gave us something for free that was easy for them to do,” Varley said.

The agreements usually are associated with “bioprospecting” — probing Yellowstone’s hot pools for microscopic organisms and enzymes that might serve a commercial purpose, Varley said.

In 1997, Yellowstone entered a bioprospecting deal with Diversa Corp. of San Diego, a first for the Park Service. Conservation groups sued the agency, saying the agreement violated the Park Service’s mandate to “preserve and protect” the parks.

A judge sided with the Park Service on all but one point. The judge found that officials should have performed an environmental assessment of the agreements.

“The reason we didn’t think we had to do one is no one could come up with an environmental impact,” Varley said.

Work on the assessment began last week.

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