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Dec 23, 2012 - The Associated Press

Speer pleads not guilty

CODY -- A Montana man charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old Cody girl has pleaded not guilty.

Jesse P. Speer appeared Friday before District Judge Steven Cranfill in Cody.

Speer only answered routine questions, responding that he understood his constitutional rights.

Speer's court-appointed attorney, Travis Smith of Cody, entered not guilty pleas to three felony charges for Speer.

Cranfill didn't set a trial date Friday. Speer has a right to be tried within 180 days.

Authorities charge that Speer, of Belgrade, Mont., abducted the girl in Cody in early October.

They say he sexually assaulted her before releasing her. Hunters later found her and took her to safety.

Court records filed in Montana say Speer told arresting officers he abducted and assaulted the girl.

Forest merger criticized

JACKSON -- The Teton County commissioners and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance are joining those concerned about the possible merger of Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee national forests.

Commissioners and alliance members met Thursday in Jackson to discuss the U.S. Forest Service's plan to study the cost-cutting idea.

The alliance's executive director, Trevor Stevenson, said merging the two sprawling forests is a bad idea and studying it is a waste of money.

He thinks it could be an excuse to move the supervisor's office away from Jackson.

The commissioners sent a letter to regional forester Harv Forsgren asking him not to pursue a merger.

Forsgren is set to retire Jan. 5. and his replacement hasn't been announced. A decision on the merger is expected by the end of January.

Fewer wolf kills in Idaho

LEWISTON, Idaho -- Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials say hunters have killed 116 wolves this hunting season through Dec. 15, about the halfway point of the 2012-2013 wolf hunting season.

hat's down from 162 wolves killed by hunters at this time last year.

Jay Crenshaw of Fish and Game says it's not possible to draw many conclusions from year to year on harvest rates because Idaho hunters haven't been pursuing wolves long enough for biologists to establish trends.

So far this wolf trapping season, which started Nov. 15, hunters have taken 10 wolves.

Last season, hunters killed 255 wolves and trappers took another 124.

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