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NW Today: Forest Service won’t evict Jesus statue

What’s news in the Northwest today:

HELENA — The U.S. Forest Service says it will re-authorize a permit for a 57-year-old statue of Jesus that had been facing eviction from a northwestern Montana ski resort. The agency faced a firestorm of criticism from religious groups, the state’s congressman and residents after it decided last fall to boot the Jesus statue from its hillside perch in the trees. The Forest Service said today it will renew a 10-year special-use permit for the Knights of Columbus Council statue. Service supervisor Chip Weber says the decision took into account that the statue “is important to the community for its historical heritage.” The agency received more than 90,000 comments on the issue. The Freedom From Religion Foundation argues the religious statue does not belong on public land.

MT wolf hunting closes along Glacier border

BILLINGS — Montana officials are closing down wolf hunting in parts of northwestern Montana bordering Glacier National Park after hunters filled the area’s two-animal quota. Hunting closes after sunset Wednesday in portions of Lincoln and Flathead counties west of the park. Hunters across Montana have shot 145 wolves since the season opened in early September. That’s out of a 220-animal quota that wildlife officials say could reduce the statewide population to about 425 wolves. The season runs through Feb. 15. Wildlife officials want to extend that to April 1 in parts of southwest Montana if the quota there has not been met. Wolves in Idaho and Montana were taken off the endangered species list last spring under orders from Congress. Idaho hunters and trappers have killed 269 wolves since August.

Amtrak passengers arrested with pot in Havre

HAVRE, Mont. — A routine check of the passenger list on an Amtrak train led to two arrests at a stop in north-central Montana and the discovery of two duffel bags containing five pounds of marijuana. Pete Federspiel with the Tri-Agency Drug Task Force says agents learned Chaidon Kang and Sitha Puth were traveling from their homes in Tacoma to Minneapolis, where Puth had an outstanding warrant. The task force met the two when the train stopped in Havre on Friday and arrested Puth on a probation violation. A drug-sniffing dog alerted to the compartment Puth and Kang had been in and officers seized the duffel bags. The Havre Daily News reports both remained jailed today on charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and immigration charges.

Study links Treasure Valley to Snake River algae

PARMA, Idaho — Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey say farms and sewer systems in the Treasure Valley region are dumping enough phosphorus into the Boise River to contribute to algae blooms and fish kills in the lower Snake River. The two-year study, commissioned in part by Nampa and Caldwell, found phosphorus concentrations at the mouth of the Boise River were consistently higher than the target set by the state. Phosphorus causes algae to grow rapidly, making water murky and depriving fish of oxygen. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports the data will help communities along the Boise River establish a baseline for measuring long-term efforts to meet state and federal standards.

Company to drill for gold samples near Wenatchee

WENATCHEE — A Canadian exploration company is planning to drill holes in search of gold deposits at a site south of Wenatchee. Lorne Brown of Lovitt Resources tells the Wenatchee World that crews could begin drilling by late February to extract ore samples. The Vancouver, B.C., company has a permit from Chelan County to drill for core samples through 2012. It plans to drill up to 50 holes, some about a half-mile deep. Brown says the area contains billions of dollars in gold. Exploratory drilling will take place not far from two gold mines that has produced 1.6 million ounces of gold in a 40-year period that ended in 1992.

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