Saturday, May. 4th, 2024

MSU graduate student venture nabs top award at fifth annual $100K Venture Competition

The winners of the 2024 $100K Venture pitch competition. MSU Photo by Colter Peterson.

— The finals of the fifth annual $100K Venture Competition, hosted by Montana State University’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad, were held April 24 in Inspiration Hall at MSU.

During the competition, the finalists pitched their innovative business ideas to a panel of five judges and answered questions to vie for a portion of the $100,000 prize money.

The entrepreneurial event included eight ventures, many from current students. The competition was open to all students, faculty, staff and recent graduates in the Montana University System. The eight finalists were selected from a pool of more than 40 applicants.

The winners are listed below.

  • First place, $30,000: Airspace: Modular Vehicle Rack System, a modular rack platform that doesn't compromise truck bed space and utility, presented by Miles Hogger and Daniel Sierra, both students in the business college’s Master of Science in Innovation and Management program.
  • Second place, $20,000: Bridger Bionics, which creates affordable prosthetic adaptations for action sports, presented by Brianna Daniels, an MSU alumna, and Calvin Servheen, a directed interdisciplinary studies and industrial engineering student at MSU.
  • Third place, $15,000: Smart Dorm Company, which creates cost-effective, sustainable technology for large-scale residential facilities, presented by Elliot Harrison, an MSU alumnus, and Kolter Stevenson and Trevor Wilson, both University of Montana students.
  • Fourth place, $10,000: BioCap Solutions, which sustainably manages algae by cleaning harmful algae blooms and capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, presented by Will Christian, a Ph.D. student in biochemistry. BioCap Solutions also nabbed the coveted People’s Choice Award, which came with a $6,000 award.
  • Social Impact Award, $6,000: English Para Todos, which provides holistic, affordable and accessible English language education, presented by Vanessa Zamora Moreno, an MSU alumna, and Kass Thompson, an MSU student studying cell biology and neuroscience.
  • Health Impact Award, $3,000: Neurofluidic Diagnostics, which offers precise drug testing environments to detect and monitor the hallmarks of neurodegeneration linked to Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, presented by chemical engineering doctoral students Zeynep Malkoc and Esther Stopps.
  • Additionally, the finalists that did not place in the top four each earned a $2,500 award.

"The $100K Venture Competition was an amazing opportunity,” said Hogger, a member of the winning venture. “There are some truly amazing ideas being developed in Montana and by MSU alums. I am excited to see future innovations that will come out of this campus. The resources at MSU provide amazing opportunities to learn and implement to allow anyone to start a business." 

The judges were Stacie Bruno, MSU class of ’08 and vice president of finance for the Outdoor Performance Group of Vista Outdoors; Magali Eaton, Technology Transfer Office associate director and technology translation lead at MSU; Otto Pohl, startup communications strategist and founder of Core Communications; Mitch Violett, MSU class of ’08 and vice president of product management, data science and business development at Outpost; and Chris Walch, CEO and co-founder of LifeScore.

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Bear activity picks up in Montana, bear aware habits can prevent conflict

Antler-hunter kills grizzly bear in encounter near Wolf Creek

GREAT FALLS – A man searching for antlers shot and killed a grizzly bear on April 25 during an encounter on private land northwest of Wolf Creek.

The man was walking along a ridge covered with low trees and brush with his two dogs at his side and the wind at his back while searching for shed antlers. After seeing a fresh grizzly bear track in a snow patch, he continued along his path and a few minutes later he first saw the bear standing near the top of the ridge about 20 yards away. The bear dropped to all four legs and charged the man, who drew his handgun and fired five shots from distances about 30 feet to 10 feet, grazing the bear with a one shot and hitting and killing it with another shot. The man was not injured in the encounter. He was not carrying bear spray.

The adult female grizzly was in good condition weighing around 300 pounds and was estimated to be 12 years old. The bear had a single cub-of-the-year nearby that was later captured by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear management specialists and taken to FWP’s wildlife rehabilitation center in Helena. FWP is currently looking for placement for the cub at an accredited zoo.

The incident remains under investigation by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Bear activity picks up in Montana, bear aware habits can prevent conflict

HAVRE – With the onset of spring weather, both species of Montana bears are active.

Much of Montana has both black and grizzly bears, with grizzlies showing up further and further east each year. Recently, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks confirmed a grizzly bear sighting in the Bear Paw Mountains east of Big Sandy.

“Though not common, grizzly bear sightings around central Montana have increased over the years,” said FWP Region 6 Supervisor Drew Henry. “This emphasizes the need to practice bear aware behavior.”

FWP has recently worked to increase grizzly bear awareness in northcentral Montana, including public presentations in both Havre and Big Sandy in the last few years. All hunter, bowhunter and trapper education students in the state are taught about bear safety and the effective use of bear spray, and great information can be found online at on how to live and recreate in bear country. 

“Much of central and north central Montana is cattle country,” said Henry. “If producers are worried about bear conflicts or need help securing their property, please reach out to us. We’ve got a number of tools that can be useful in helping landowners avoid bear conflicts.”

Grizzly bears remain a federally protected species under the Endangered Species Act, even though populations have biologically recovered in two of their recovery areas, including the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. 

Be bear aware

Montana is bear country. Grizzly bear populations continue to become denser and more widespread in Montana, increasing the likelihood that residents and recreationists will encounter them in more places each year.

Avoiding conflicts with bears is easier than dealing with conflicts. Here are some precautions to help residents, recreationists and people who work outdoors avoid negative bear encounters:

  • Carry bear spray and be prepared to use it immediately.
  • Travel in groups whenever possible and make casual noise, which can help alert bears to your presence.
  • Stay away from animal carcasses, which often attract bears.
  • Follow food storage orders from the applicable land management agency.
  • If you encounter a bear, never approach it. Leave the area when it is safe to do so.
  • Keep garbage, bird feeders, pet food and other attractants put away in a secure building. Keep garbage in a secure building until the day it is collected. Certified bear-resistant garbage containers are available in many areas.
  • Never feed wildlife. Bears that become food conditioned lose their natural foraging behavior and pose threats to human safety. It is illegal to feed bears in Montana.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Management authority for grizzlies rests with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, working closely in Montana with FWP, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, Wildlife Services, and Native American tribes. This collaboration happens through the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.

For more information and resources on bear safety, visit

Tips for Homeowners/Landowners:

To avoid conflicts with bears and other wildlife, residents can:

  • Remove or secure food attractants such as garbage, bird feeders and pet food.
  • Homeowners should stay at least 100 yards away from wildlife and try to haze animals off their property with hard-sided vehicles and loud noises.
  • Chickens and other small livestock should be properly secured with electric fencing or inside a closed shed with a door.
  • Domestic fruit should be picked up as soon as possible.
  • Recreationists are urged to “Be Bear Aware” and follow precautionary steps to prevent conflicts, including carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it, and traveling in groups while making noise.

FWP specialists work diligently to help landowners and communities avoid bear conflicts. In central Montana, to report a sighting, conflict or for assistance securing attractants, contact FWP bear specialist Wesley Sarmento in Conrad at 406-450-1097 or bear specialist Chad White in Choteau at 406-788-4755. In case of a conflict where livestock is involved, call your local USDA Wildlife Services agent.

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Public comment being accepted on proposals for June 20 commission meeting

HELENA – The Fish and Wildlife Commission is accepting public comment on agenda items for its June 20 meeting. The meeting will be held through Zoom only.

To make a comment during the meeting, you must register by noon on June 19 on Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ website. Written comments can also be submitted through May 27 on the FWP website or sent to 1420 E. 6th Ave., Helena, MT 59601, Attn: Erik Wickman.

The following proposals are up for public comment:

Resident SuperTag Draft Rules: At its April 17 meeting, the commission authorized FWP to draft administrative rules related to the Resident SuperTag established by House Bill (HB) 456 that provides each Montana resident purchasing a General Deer or General Elk License one free lottery opportunity for a Shiras moose, mountain sheep, or a mountain goat license, which is determined by the commission. The draft rules would establish eligibility, lottery structure, use of the license, and rotation between the three species.

Mountain Lion Quotas: FWP is recommending no changes to the mountain lion season adopted in June 2023 as amended in December 2023, except for the male and female quotas developed from the West-central LEPOC feedback. Winter season will continue to allow the use of hounds, and harvest will be allocated, in accordance with commission direction, between Limited Lion Licenses that will be awarded through the lottery draw and Unlimited Lion Licenses that are governed by sex-specific quotas.

Beartooth Grazing Lease: FWP is proposing to renew a six-year grazing lease on a portion of the 36,000-acre Beartooth Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

Tri-state Grizzly Bear Memorandum of Agreement: FWP is seeking commission approval of a Tri-State Memorandum Of Agreement (MOA) among the Idaho, Wyoming and Montana commissions and fish and wildlife agencies regarding management of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).

Flathead Lake Wildlife Habitat Protection Area Rules: FWP proposes the installation of composting toilets and establish designated campsites on Bird and Cedar islands to mitigate negative habitat impacts, reduce the potential for social conflicts, and reduce the overall impacts to existing vegetation. Camping fees would be charged to offset the cost of operations.

Conservation Leases: FWP seeks approval from the commission to enroll up to 500,000 acres in Prairie Habitat Conservation Leases as funding and interest allow. The lease agreements would be funded from a combination of Habitat Montana, Pittman Robertson, Migratory Bird Wetland Program, and other state, federal, or private sources as available. 

Isaac Homestead Addition: FWP proposes an approximate 414-acre addition to the Isaac Homestead Wildlife Management Area (WMA) by fee title acquisition.

Weapon Restriction on Bjornberg Bridge Fishing Access Site: FWP recommends the commission adopt as final the recommendation to restrict rifle hunting at Bjornberg Bridge FAS. This means that rifle hunting would be prohibited. Shotgun, muzzleloader, traditional handgun, crossbow, and archery only would be allowed.

Big Game Policy Repeal: FWP recommends the commission repeal ARM 12.9.101, which established the Big Game Management Policy. This rule became effective on Dec. 31, 1972. In the intervening years, this rule has become obsolete due to FWP’s adoption of species-specific plans.

For more information on these proposals, including supporting documentation and any collected public comment Fish and Wildlife Commission page on the FWP website.

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Friday, May. 3rd, 2024

Careers That Make Sense for Military Veterans

Serving in the United States military is an honorable calling. Millions of veterans across the country have spent time in the Armed Forces and had to transition back into civilian life once their service was done. This transition can be a difficult phase of life for veterans as many struggle with adapting to society because of their experiences in the military.

Often, one of the primary challenges at this time is finding a suitable career. The practical experience you have may not line up with many job descriptions back home, and you may even be dealing with serious mental, emotional, or physical challenges as well.

Fortunately, you can find the right career path if you know what to look for. There are many opportunities in the business world that will allow you to take advantage of the skills and knowledge you have gained from military service. Here are a few careers that make sense for military veterans to pursue.

Personal Trainer

A personal trainer is someone who works with others to help them achieve their health goals, usually centered around physical fitness. Reaching these goals often requires discipline and planning, which are skills that you have developed during your time in the Armed Forces. Former military personnel can excel as personal trainers because they know what it takes to achieve an objective. You can help your clients plan out steps, stay focused on the task, remain disciplined, and maintain motivation. People often need that leadership from someone who can guide them toward their fitness goals, and because of your training and experience, you could be the perfect candidate.

HVAC Contractor

Serving in the military is both physically demanding and educational. You may learn many practical skills that can play a role in a civilian career. If you enjoy working with your hands and gained experience doing so in the military, then perhaps becoming an HVAC contractor would suit your interests. States have varying requirements for being able to get a mechanical HVAC contractor license. For example:

● In Arizona, you need four years of experience in the field or two years plus graduation from a course or apprenticeship
● In California, you must pass a licensing exam and a business and law exam, plus four years of experience in the last ten years
● In Michigan, you must have three years of experience and pass the specific licensing exam, for which you can study online through RocketCert
● In New York, there are no statewide licensing requirements, only local ones

Remote Consultant

The workforce has shifted dramatically in recent years, with thousands of remote positions opening up. This is a great opportunity for veterans to take advantage of, especially if they have serious injuries that prevent them from pursuing certain careers. Maybe you are recovering from a knee injury without surgery but still need to make money in the meantime. You could serve as a remote consultant for businesses. Your skills of leadership, detailed planning, commitment, and ambition would be valuable traits to offer to your clients as you guide them through challenging business decisions, and the work is not as physically demanding.

Security Guard

Combat training may not have many practical applications in the business world, but some positions turn this experience into an advantage. Many businesses and event organizers want to hire security guards to protect assets, customers, properties, and event attendees from harm or theft. With your combat training experience, you would have a leg up on many other applicants, not to mention the discipline and attention to detail that you have developed during military service. As a security guard, you would get to utilize many of the skills you learned in the Armed Forces, so it would be a simpler transition into a career.

Business Owner

Every company needs an effective leader at the helm. As a veteran, you are uniquely positioned to leverage your leadership skills as the key decision-maker for a company that you care about. In many cases, businesses are looking for new owners or executives who have unique leadership experience, and many veterans would fit that description. Even if you are unfamiliar with a particular industry, your dedication will help you learn the business quickly and get up to speed faster than the average candidate. If you cannot find a business that suits your interests, perhaps starting your own would be the right path.


Transitioning back into civilian life from the military is not easy. Whether you are facing mental, physical, or emotional challenges, it is important to find a new purpose as a member of society. Choosing the right career that matches your skills and experience will be the key to re-integrating into civilian life. With opportunities like those listed above, you can find a position that turns your military experience into a strength.

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Gallatin County Sheriff Springer reports Belgrade man arrested on multiple warrants

On Thursday, May 2, 2024, Jordan C. Kirsch of Belgrade was arrested on a federal warrant for Prohibited Person in Possession of firearms and ammunition, a local warrant for Partner or Family Member Assault, and a local warrant for a traffic violation. A Writ of Assistance, commonly referred to as an eviction order, was issued by the Eighteenth Judicial Court on April 9, 2024, ordering the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office to enter and remove Kirsch from the property on Airport Road, east of Belgrade.

Information gathered by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office indicated Kirsch had fortified the residence and property to prevent the Sheriff’s Office from safely contacting him. Kirsch further indicated through social media that he had no intention of leaving the property in a peaceful manner, verified by his observable fortifications. For the duration of this incident, Kirsch made no actions or statements indicating that he was a threat to the public, however he made numerous credible threats directed at law enforcement.

The Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of several other law enforcement agencies, made continuous efforts to bring the event to a peaceful resolution. For the duration of this event, the Sheriff’s Office had a plan to take Kirsch into custody with the least amount of force necessary while keeping the community safe.

On the morning of May 2, 2024, this plan was executed as Kirsch attempted to leave the property by vehicle and was quickly taken into custody without incident on a traffic stop. The property was secured for further investigation by the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Dan Springer would like to thank the citizens of Gallatin County for their trust and support during this event, and all assisting agencies for their assistance in bringing this matter to a peaceful resolution.

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Thursday, May. 2nd, 2024

Getting Your Procurement Process to New Heights

Streamlining the process of acquiring goods and services for your company is crucial for enhancing efficiency, reducing costs, and maintaining a competitive edge in the business environment. A well-optimized procurement process not only ensures that your company receives the necessary resources in a timely manner but also facilitates better vendor relationships and cost savings. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to streamline the procurement process for your company:

Establish Clear Procurement Objectives
Begin by clearly defining your company's procurement objectives. Determine the specific goods and services required, budget constraints, quality standards, and delivery timelines. Having a clear understanding of your procurement goals will guide decision-making and resource allocation throughout the process.

Centralize Procurement Functions
Centralizing procurement functions can significantly streamline the process by consolidating purchasing activities, standardizing procedures, and leveraging economies of scale. Establish a centralized procurement team or department responsible for managing all procurement activities, including vendor selection, negotiation, and contract management.

Implement Procurement Software
Invest in procurement software or utilize enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems with integrated procurement modules to automate and streamline procurement processes. These tools can facilitate requisition approvals, manage purchase orders and vendor relationships, contract tracking, and spend analysis, thereby reducing manual errors and enhancing efficiency.

Standardize Procurement Procedures
Develop standardized procurement procedures and policies that outline the step-by-step process for requesting, approving, and procuring goods and services. Ensure that all employees involved in procurement are familiar with these procedures to promote consistency and compliance across the organization.

Vendor Management
Establish strategic relationships with key vendors and suppliers to streamline the procurement process. Conduct regular vendor assessments to evaluate performance, reliability, and quality of goods and services. Consolidate vendor relationships where possible to negotiate favorable terms, bulk discounts, and improved service levels.

Implement e-Procurement Tools
Embrace e-procurement tools and platforms to digitize and streamline the purchasing process. These tools enable electronic requisition submission, online bidding, electronic invoicing, and real-time tracking of orders, leading to faster cycle times and greater transparency.

Optimize Inventory Management
Implement inventory management techniques such as just-in-time (JIT) inventory, demand forecasting, and stock optimization to minimize excess inventory and storage costs. By accurately forecasting demand and maintaining optimal inventory levels, you can reduce carrying costs while ensuring timely availability of goods.

Streamline Approval Processes
Simplify and automate approval workflows to expedite the procurement process. Implement electronic approval systems that route purchase requests to the appropriate stakeholders based on predefined criteria, such as budget thresholds or departmental requirements, for faster decision-making and processing.

Monitor and Analyze Procurement Performance
Continuously monitor and analyze procurement performance metrics to identify areas for improvement and optimization. Key performance indicators (KPIs) such as procurement cycle time, cost savings, vendor performance, and contract compliance can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of your procurement processes.

Continuous Improvement
Foster a culture of continuous improvement within the procurement function by soliciting feedback from stakeholders, benchmarking against industry best practices, and implementing process enhancements. Regularly review and update procurement procedures to adapt to changing business needs, market conditions, and technological advancements.

In conclusion, streamlining the procurement process is essential for enhancing operational efficiency, reducing costs, and driving business success. By establishing clear objectives, centralizing procurement functions, leveraging technology, optimizing vendor relationships, and continuously improving processes, your company can streamline its procurement operations and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

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Wednesday, May. 1st, 2024

Montana State junior Doriane Keiser receives prestigious Udall Scholarship

– Doriane Keiser came to Montana State University planning to return one day to the Fork Peck Indian Reservation where she grew up. She hopes to improve the community’s mental health services and resources – a goal the faculty members who know her are certain she will achieve.

“During my first conversation with Doriane, I could tell she was passionate about transforming mental and emotional well-being and support back home,” said Steven Davis, who works with Keiser in his roles as assistant dean of the MSU Honors Collegeand director of its Honor Bound program.

Keiser, a Presidential Scholar who is finishing her junior year majoring in psychology and community health with minors in sociology and human development, came one step closer to her goal this month when she was named one of 55 Udall Undergraduate Scholarship winners nationwide. The scholarship, worth up to $7,000, recognizes students who demonstrate exceptional leadership, community service and involvement in the fields of health care, environment or public policy surrounding American Indian and Alaska Native communities and issues.

Keiser ultimately plans to become a clinical psychologist. She wants to work both with individuals and within institutions, such as schools and law enforcement agencies, to ensure that effective mental health interventions and referrals for people in crisis are available in the Fort Peck community. She first learned about careers in the field when taking online psychology and criminology classes in high school while watching many young people, including her younger sister, struggle with mental health issues without finding help to deal with them.

“There was a lot of suicide on the reservation – I saw it over and over again in middle school and high school,” she said, adding that the situation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aside from occasional short programs presented to students in schools, Keiser said, “we never really got an education on it.” To her knowledge, few in the community were equipped to help students develop suicide prevention safety plans.

She said that when an acquaintance of hers attempted suicide, he was sent to juvenile detention instead of being referred for mental health help. Then, when Keiser was a high school senior, her sister died by suicide.

“Growing up seeing examples of how mental health issues can affect an individual ended up leading me to want to pursue an education in the mental health realm,” she said. “Losing my sister just solidified my passion and drive to gain the ability to help other individuals who are struggling like my little sister.”

To acquire the necessary skills to achieve her goals, Keiser plans to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology. In the meantime, she has found ways to connect with Indigenous communities, including a project that has taken her back to Fort Peck with the MSU chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to teach engineering and  programming skills to fifth- and sixth-graders while flying miniature drones.

“Before I came to MSU, I never knew engineering was a thing, so making such a huge impact on these students’ lives through this activity was very nice,” said Keiser, who is the current president of MSU’s AISES chapter.

Nicholas Stadie, the chapter’s faculty adviser and an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said the outreach project is becoming an annual tradition and is just one example of Keiser’s passion for fostering connections between communities and exchange of goodwill.

“Doriane is proud of her identity and engages with a wide range of Indigenous initiatives, tackling issues like food sovereignty, stress and youth mentorship,” Stadie said. “She clearly has a natural talent for and tendency toward public policy and a strong connection to her home community.”

Among her other activities at MSU, Keiser has served as a research assistant to Neha John-Henderson, associate professor of psychology, who is leading a study on the relationship between social connectedness, health and stress on the Blackfeet Reservation; bundled seeds bound for Indigenous communities with the Buffalo Nations Food System Initiative, a project of the Department of Native American Studies and the College of Education, Health and Human Development; traveled with the Honor Bound program to learn aquaponic farming techniques from Indigenous Hawaiians; worked with MSU’s McNair Scholars program to explore the impact of cultural exchanges on Native American and Alaska Native students at MSU; and served as a senator in student government representing the College of Letters and Science during her sophomore year.

“Her vast potential and future accomplishments will be limited only by the hours in her day,” said Davis, who predicts Keiser will go on to make a generational impact through her profession. “She’s going to transform people’s lives at both the individual and community level, not just as a clinical practitioner but as a scholar and researcher. I really believe the best is yet to come.”

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License required for training bird dogs using birds not raised in captivity

HELENA – Anyone training bird dogs using game birds not raised in captivity needs to hold a bird dog training license, whether on private or public land. If you are training dogs with captive-reared birds, a license is not required.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission requires anyone purchasing a bird dog training license intending to train on public land to designate the number of dogs being trained.  

These licenses can be purchased online through the FWP Online License Service, any FWP regional office or any license provider. The license is $5 for residents ages 18 and over and $10 for nonresidents 18 and over. For residents and nonresidents ages 12 to 17, the license is free.

Bird dog training season with wild birds on public lands for residents runs from Aug. 1 to March 31, 2025; for nonresidents the season runs from Sept. 1 to March 31, 2025. 

For those commercially training bird dogs on state trust land, a special recreational use license (SRUL) is required from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. 

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Verge Theater’s New Works Fest May 9|10|11

BOZEMAN - Verge Theater is excited to announce its inaugural New Works Fest! This highly anticipated weekend features 13 brand-new playwrights sharing their original works with the Bozeman Community, some for the first time. Over the course of this three-day festival, our community will have the incredible opportunity to be a part of these playwrights’ creative process by being a responsive audience member in the room, witnessing these incredible works brought to life on stage.

New Works Fest will feature thoughtfully written productions starring some of your favorite local performers. Featured work will display a wide variety of genres, subject matter, and staging by an eclectic group of creative writers that span the ages, social backgrounds, and lived experiences. Verge is honored to include one of Verge’s Teen Theater participants, an MSU film student, an Academy Award Winner, and more! From full production to a selection of monologues to a collection of poetry to works actively still in progress, there is a little something for everyone.

HEADLINER! Coming off the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and sold-out run at the Echo Theater in Los Angeles, Verge Theater is honored to welcome to the stage, Certain Death and Other Considerations by Eliza Frakes. The world will end in exactly 80 years – just enough time to have a baby!

Certain Death and Other Considerations is a devised dark comedy that follows two couples (and a surrogate) as they prepare to welcome new life into a dying world;  “A compelling premise, a smart script, and five engagingly understated performances.”- The Stage review from Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Certain Death and Other Considerations will be performed Friday May 10 and Saturday, May 11 at 8:30 p.m.

Passes to the New Works Fest are on sale now! There are weekend passes, day passes, and tickets available for individual productions. Please note, that passes do not include the headlining performances of Certain Death and Other Considerations. To see a full schedule and purchase passes, please visit

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Montana State team publishes new research on coral reef health

A coral reef in French Polynesia where MSU scientists conducted collaborative research examining the importance of sea cucumbers to coral health. Photo courtesy of Zoe Pratte.

– Montana may not have any coral reefs of its own, but a team of scientists in Montana State University’s Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology is studying a surprising partnership that may offer insight into keeping the world’s reefs healthy.

Associate professor Frank Stewart (Bozeman Magazine's May 2024 Cover Artist) and research assistant professor Zoe Pratte are part of a multi-institutional team that recently published a paper in the prestigious journal Nature Communications examining the importance of sea cucumbers to the health of nearby coral. The paper, titled “Removal of detritivore sea cucumbers from reefs increases coral disease,” was authored alongside researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Sea cucumbers, Stewart said, are a part of the animal group known as detritivores, meaning they clean the sediments that surround coral reefs, feeding on bacteria, algae and organic matter. Detritivores keep the environment clean and can help reduce the spread of pathogens that threaten coral.

“When you boil things down, it's a pretty straightforward interaction,” Stewart said. “Cucumbers, by cleaning sediment, seem to help corals. The mechanism by which that occurs is not so clear, and that's the next step. That's where more of the microbiome science comes in.”

Coral reefs are known to be in decline and are particularly threatened by disease, note the paper’s authors. Those diseases are commonly spread through the sediment in which corals grow – the very part of the environment kept clean by sea cucumbers. However, sea cucumbers have been harvested by humans for more than 100 years, Stewart said, and population recovery can take decades or can fail altogether. The paper’s authors estimate that at peak harvest, as many as a billion sea cucumbers are harvested annually.

To examine the direct interaction between sea cucumbers and corals, the team used open-water containers surrounding corals at a research station in French Polynesia. The containers allowed the environment to maintain natural water flow, and the team added or removed sea cucumbers to observe the impacts on nearby corals. The results were surprisingly stark.

In one of the coral species studied, removing sea cucumbers for 45 days increased tissue mortality by 370% over mortality levels when the cucumbers were present, said Stewart. The risk of overall coral colony mortality increased by as much as 1,500% in the same time frame.

“Sea cucumbers are so overlooked,” said Pratte. “I think it speaks to the importance of the entire ecosystem staying in balance, not just the things we think are pretty. Ecosystem balance depends on everything, even the creatures on the bottom of the ocean floor.”

With such dramatic results, Stewart said the study points to a potential, if logistically challenging, opportunity for remediation.

“I think the effect points to this idea of keeping the system as close to natural conditions as possible,” he said. “Sea cucumbers were a natural component of reefs for a very long time, and that speaks to an obvious strategy that could help corals. You try to keep the participants there that have that have a positive effect on the reef.”

Stewart said that next steps in this project include narrowing down the chain of microbial events that allows sea cucumbers to be so effective at keeping the environment clean and healthy for coral. But there are also ongoing projects closer to home that illustrate similar phenomena.

This work, said Stewart, highlights sea cucumbers as a touchstone species with outsized impacts on their local environment. When those species are disrupted, the downstream effects can be surprisingly large, and those types of critical species exist in all types of ecosystems, including Montana’s most spectacular landscapes. He highlighted an ongoing collaboration with scientists in MSU’s Department of Ecology exploring the environmental importance of caddisflies, a common sight on many Montana waterways.

“They're everywhere in our stream ecosystems and they're also known to have a disproportionately large effect on other species, including changing the water flow dynamics through the system, impacting things like the retention of nitrogen,” Stewart said. “It's the same idea here, in a very different system. We’re looking at participants with outsized effects and the mechanisms by which those effects exert themselves.”

Whether returning sea cucumbers to depleted environments can help coral reefs recover remains to be seen, but providing more knowledge about the health of delicate and threatened ecosystems can help scientists and managers make decisions about how to protect them, said Pratte.

Stewart said the collaborative project also highlights the interconnectedness of seemingly remote environments. While the species may not be the same around the world, many of the systems and processes are, and the more that is known about those processes, the more diverse species and their homes can be protected.

“This is a principle that’s likely operating in most ecosystems, whether it's an agricultural field or a forest,” he said. “There are likely to be animal and plant components of the system that have these really strong effects. If we can identify those participants and effects on the health of others in the system, we can figure out how it works.”

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News Comments

This is so typical of a sign in, which we should not have to do to check if we or some one in our party got a permit. I have been working or "creating an account" for 30 minutes and just get the same ...

Smith River permit drawing results available

Sunday, Mar. 10, 2024

Why not leave those cheerful, colorful garlands up longer? What’s the rush?

Main Street Closed Jan 2

Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023