Bill Sniffin:  Terrible Winter, Big Loss Of Wildlife, Crazy BLM Plan Dominated The News In 2023

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes, "The biggest tragedy and what should be the biggest news story was the amazing loss of life among deer and antelope during these cold winter months.”

Bill Sniffin

December 30, 20235 min read

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A year ago, at this time, I predicted in a column that 2023 just might be a “gap year” for big news stories in Wyoming. Looking back as I write this on Dec. 26, it sort of turned out that way.

Lots of big stories on the national stage but here in Wyoming, we had a quiet year, especially in comparison to 2022 when we saw Liz Cheney’s election defeat become national news and saw the Cowboy State become the country’s epicenter for nuclear power.

But in 2023, we saw lots of money with near-record tourism, lots of severance taxes on our so-called declining fossil fuels, and Joe Biden’s government, once again, trying to destroy the Wyoming economy.

Locking Up SW Wyoming

This time Biden’s people came up with a crazy notion to lock up a giant piece of Southwest Wyoming in the Red Desert. It is a typical scheme hatched by bureaucrats who have no experience out here on the frontier.

Their best solution is to always lock things up. Keep people out. These folks are notorious pessimists. They believe people will ruin things so the best way to save anything is to put a fence around it and lock out people.

I have been all over the Red Desert. It has been peopled for 15,000 years. There is evidence of indigenous ancestors of our Indian tribes all over the place.

We were attracted to this part of the country by the mountains but my good friend, the late Bill Crump, said that the longer we were here, we would learn to “love the desert.”  He was right. 

Anyway, this was a big news story in 2023 as the Bureau of Land Management presented its plan for over three million acres of the Red Desert and they favored option B, which is the “lock up and lock out” option. If adopted, it would hurt our growing trona industry, banish much of our oil and gas development, and even curtail tourism. It is a nutty idea hatched by nutty members of the Biden administration. What a bunch of pessimists!

One of the biggest stories of the previous year 2022 was the announcement of a nuclear power plant proposed for the Kemmerer area. That project gained momentum in 2023 plus it was announced that hopefully Wyoming’s own uranium will power it. This project is still decades off in the future but let’s hope some fast-track effort can move it ahead.

And Now, The REALLY Big News

The first four months of 2023 will be remembered by locals for a long time as the worst winter in memory in most parts of the state.

It was just awful, especially across the central parts of the state and the southern Interstate 80 corridor. That highway was closed a nearly record amount. Locally where I live, South Pass highway was closed for 42 days. The old record was 18 days. Also, our highway from Lander to Rawlins was closed a record amount. It was just terrible.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of 2023 and what should be the biggest news story was the amazing loss of life among deer and antelope during these cold winter months. Some estimates as high as 300,000 animals perished because of the unusual bitter cold weather combined with odd snow patterns.

Hunting seasons were curtailed and some wonderful people even donated their licenses to save the animals that did survive. It will take years for the deer and antelope to recover.

Not sure what caused the constant cold, persistent wind, and bitter temperatures, but starting with a nasty December 2022 (it was -39 at my house in Lander on Dec. 21, 2022), and then on for four more months. Folks, it was a long, cold, dark, dangerous, and bitter winter in Wyoming.

Pandemic Still Lingers

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that ravaged the world in 2020 and 2021 could still be seen in Wyoming, but mainly because of the vast sums of government money that the Biden administration used for a few good programs and a host of silly ones.

Despite predictions of a recession, Wyoming’s economy boomed and an astonishingly high amount of $1.8 billion was put into savings accounts by Gov. Mark Gordon and the legislature.

With national inflation running high, real estate boomed in the Cowboy State, which saw property taxes then climb to new heights. This will prompt efforts in 2024 to provide relief. Stay tuned on that.

National Issues

Wyoming was the lowest in the country for homeless folks with just 572 in 2023. This compares to 181,000 in California.

Cultural issues like pornographic books in elementary school libraries were in the news, big-time, across Wyoming in 2023. A transgender student gaining membership in a UW sorority prompted lawsuits, which are ongoing.

So far, no sign of transgender athletes in the state yet.

Meanwhile, this winter has been mild in most of the state. Except here in Lander, where we had 28 inches of snow on Thanksgiving, then a foot of new snow on Christmas and then temperatures of minus 19. Oh well.

The sun is shining as I write this with wonderful blue skies and no wind. Just remember the date on the last day of this year was 12-31-23 or 123123, amazing. Happy New Year everyone!

Bill Sniffin can be reached at:

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.