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US moves to block mining near Yellowstone

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The Obama administration is racing in its final days to keep industry out of natural and environmentally sensitive areas throughout the U.S. West, where the incoming Trump administration has raised fears of loosened regulations on federal lands.

Billings, Montana Correspondent Matt Brown _ who has an acute sense of the value in reporting on land out West _ has broken news repeatedly to keep the AP ahead.

Brown is deeply sourced with federal interior officials and consistently checks in with them. He was working on a story week about officials canceling oil and gas leases on land near Glacier National Park that’s considered sacred to tribes – also an APNewsBreak – when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell mentioned she was coming back to Montana in a week.

Brown immediately started asking around and was able to confirm that gold mining would be blocked on 30,000 acres near Yellowstone Park, an area populated by grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and other wildlife. Local officials worry mining could hurt an economy heavily dependent on tourism and outdoor recreation.

The story dominated play in the state. Of 10 daily newspapers in Montana, nine of which are AP members, Brown’s story ran on the front of at least five, and the story was used by all nine.

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US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, left, listens to a Forest Service official talk about the impacts of mining in the Absaroka Mountains near Pray, Mont., Monday, Nov.21, 2016. – AP Photo / Matthew Brown

Brown wrote the story days in advance with an agreement to send it out the night before Jewell’s announcement, long before other media. Then, because he already had the story on the wire, he was free to hike the rocky trail beneath the snow-capped peaks of the Absaroka Mountains along with Jewell, and shoot breathtaking photos and video of the soon-to-be protected area.

The story dominated play in the state. Of 10 daily newspapers in Montana, nine of which are AP members, Brown’s story ran on the front of at least five, and the story was used by all nine.

More than 200 member sites used Brown’s story, according to NewsWhip, and nearly 9,000 people engaged with it on Facebook. A tweet from the AP West Region account got 155 retweets.

Notably, the front-page play included the Billings Gazette, Montana’s largest paper, with Brown’s photos, and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, a member near Yellowstone that staffed the event, used the AP version in print editions before they were able to confirm for their own version online.

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For years of work developing sources combined with a longtime commitment to keeping the AP ahead on Western lands, Matt Brown wins this week’s Best of the States and its $300 prize.

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