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Jackson Outdoorsman Dies From Botulism; Tainted Soup Blamed

in public safety/News/Food
29217

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

After a long struggle against a nightmarish botulism infection, Hans Russell of Jackson, 56, died Wednesday in a Salt Lake hospital, a family friend has confirmed. 

With his passing, Wyoming has lost a robust, humorous, talented and adventurous human being, James Peck of Jackson told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. 

“Hans was a very active outdoorsman, especially when it came to river running and paragliding,” said Peck, who was a family friend and Russell’s boss. “He was always looking to get out on the river, to get out in the woods. He did a lot of solo traveling.”

Russell had achieved legendary status as a whitewater river runner, and he worked as a bus driver for Peck’s Lewis & Clark River Expeditions, Peck said, adding that Russell had worked for him for six years.

Rare Infection

It is thought that Russell might have contracted botulism from tainted soup while on a river trip in Idaho in September. Botulism is a rare, toxic foodborne infection that can attack the nervous system and shut down most body functions. The toxin comes from anerobic bacteria. 

Russell lay paralyzed in the University of Utah Medical Center for more than 60 days before his death, Peck said. He was surrounded by a small group of family and particularly close friends when he died. 

Russell’s story was part of a Cowboy State Daily report published Thursday about the dangers of botulism.

The course of the disease was terrible, Peck said. 

“He couldn’t move, he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t breathe, but he was conscious and aware and could understand and somewhat able to communicate,” he said. 

One thing about the ordeal is that one of the nurses at the hospital was an old, close river guiding friend, Peck said. 

“I think it was a tremendous comfort for his family to know that there was somebody right there for him,” he said. 

Adventure, Talent And Humor

In addition to being keen on all things outdoors, Russell was a profoundly talented artist, Peck said. He earned a degree in fine arts from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. 

Russell was also quick with humor, drawing inspiration from the iconic late comedian George Carlin. 

“George Carlin was his hero,” Peck said. “Hans had a phenomenal sense of humor. He was very wry and very cynical in his humor.”

Russell had a unique point of view and a fearless approach to life, Peck said. Those attributes usually manifested themselves in epic adventures.

That include riding practically entire length of the Western Hemisphere on an Enduro motorcycle. 

“He once rode his motorcycle from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle,” Peck said. 

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Driskill Reappoints Bouchard, Snubs Laursen As Wyo Senate Committee Chairs Are Announced

in News/Legislature/politics
Photos by Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily
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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

New committees have been chosen for the upcoming 67th Wyoming Legislature and there are more than a few attention-grabbing appointments and snubs.

One of the most noteworthy selections is that state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, is being returned to the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee for a seventh year. 

The Senate voted to strip Bouchard of all his committee assignments last session in the wake of allegations of intimidating behavior and disorderly conduct. The claims stemmed from a complaint made by Wyoming Hospital Association President Eric Boley in early March, which led to the Legislature’s Management Council meeting to discern whether a formal investigation of Bouchard was necessary. 

Bouchard unsuccessfully ran for U.S. House of Representatives in the August Republican primary.

A Significant Appointment

Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle in August that a decision would be made before the upcoming session on whether a formal investigation would take place of Bouchard’s actions.

Although Labor is the only joint and standing committee Bouchard was put on for the upcoming session, down from two last session, the Labor Committee considers some of the most significant legislation each year, like Medicaid expansion and funding for the Wyoming Department of Health.

A Reputation

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, the Republican caucus nominee for Senate president, was responsible for making the Senate committee selections. 

“I called my chairmen and my committee members and a lot of other people that have worked with him and asked everybody, are we all willing to give him another chance assuming he can act within the decorum of the chambers?” Driskill said. “Literally everybody said yes.”

But Driskill said he couldn’t find more than one committee to put Bouchard on because of his reputation.

“The entire process was to be as fair as I could to everybody and put a team together for Wyoming,” he said. “My picks were made to encourage people to get along.”

Snubbed

Snubbed from receiving any committee assignments was incoming Sen. Dan Laursen, R-Powell. Although Laursen is a freshman senator, he has served in the House for the last seven years.

“He’s been very difficult to work with,” Driskill said about Laursen’s reputation among other lawmakers. “I don’t see any reason to enable him in any way unless he wants to sit down and honestly talk about being a team member and working with us instead of against us.”

During his Senate campaign, Laursen said he would challenge and take out leadership. He also was critical of Driskill’s partnership with a land trust that placed two conservation easements on his personal and family owned property at the base of Devils Tower.

Behavior Pledge

Driskill had all of his committee chairs verbally pledge to uphold respectful decorum during the upcoming session. The pledge includes a pre-written letter of resignation from all committees that can be made public by Driskill if he believes a member is in violation.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, was taken off the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions and Judiciary committees and placed on Appropriations. 

Promoted to chair of the Corporations Committee was Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander. Case made waves in August for voting to support drafting a bill that would strip the secretary of state of that office-holder’s duty to oversee state elections. He was censured by the Wyoming Republican Party for this and other acts of perceived infidelity to Republicans. 

Committees Get New Leadership

Three legislators were made chairmen of committees they have never served on.

Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, and Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, were named chairmen of the Judiciary Committee. Washut is a current member of Judiciary while Landen, a 15-year veteran of the Legislature, has never served on Judiciary in any capacity. Landen ran against Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, for majority floor leader in the Republican caucus elections in November, narrowly losing that vote.

“Running a committee is an art that you learn and really get good at, and those folks are really good at running committees and they’re hard workers,” Driskill said. “They’ll pick up the subject matter and they’ll go right into it and be very effective.”

Landen is the current chair of the Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee. 

Dockstader was made co-chair of the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. Dockstader is the current chair of the Management Council and has served in the Legislature for 15 years, but has never served on Minerals before. Joining Dockstader as chair will be Rep. Don Burkhart, R-Rawlins, who is currently serving on this committee. 

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, was made the House chair of the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee after previously serving as co-chair of Corporations. Zwonitzer, a 17-year Legislature veteran, has never served on the Labor Committee before.

More Appointments

The Corporations Committee will have a very different look this year with completely new House representation. Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, will be the new chair on the House side. Olsen, a veteran legislator, is current chair of the House Judiciary Committee. 

Case was taken off the Revenue Committee of which he is the co-chairman. Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, will be the new chairman from the Senate. Biteman served on Revenue from 2019-2020. Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, will continue to be co-chair of the Revenue Committee.

There will be two new leaders of the Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee who are not currently serving on this committee. Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, current chair of the Ag Committee, will become co-chairman of Transportation, a committee he hasn’t sat on since 2016. Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, will be the other co-chair. Brown was on the Transportation Committee until the last session after serving on it from 2017-2021.

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, and Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, will continue as chairs of the Appropriations Committee. 

And Even More

Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, in his first term back in the House after losing his Senate bid in 2020, will be co-chairman of the Education Committee. During his seven previous years in the Legislature, Northrup staked a claim as one of the leading lawmakers on the topic of education and was the House chairman of the Education Committee from 2015-2020. 

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, will be the new Senate chair of the Agriculture Committee. Steinmetz served on the Ag Committee from 2017-2020 as a member of the Senate and House. From 2020-2022, she served on the Select Water Committee. 

Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne, will continue as Ag chair on the House side, a role he has held since 2021. 

Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, is the new House chair of the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee. The third-term representative who has significant experience in recreation and business, has served on this committee since entering the legislature in 2019. Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, will be the new co-chair on the Senate side. Schuler has served on this committee since 2021.

The newly elected legislators will be sworn in at noon Jan. 10, the first day of the upcoming session.

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Homemade ‘Smith And Methson’ Firearm Unlikely To Catch On With Wyoming Crooks

in Wyoming outdoors/News
Photo Courtesy Meskwaki Nation (Iowa) Police Department
29200

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

The likelihood is vanishingly small that any Wyoming crime victim would find themselves staring down the twin barrels of a “Smith & Methson,” says a Wyoming a gunsmith and former law enforcement officer.

“It looks like it’s probably a hand grenade waiting to happen,” Brian Dimoff, owner of Gold Spur Outfitters LLC in Laramie, told Cowboy State Daily. 

He was referencing photos of a sketchy homemade firearm seized by police and dubbed a “Smith & Methson” model, which has become somewhat of an Internet laughingstock and social media meme among firearms enthusiasts.

The weapon’s design reflects some ingenuity, Dimoff said, but crooks in Wyoming and elsewhere have far easier ways of getting firearms than trying to build their own.



Sketchy Weapon’s History

Photos have been circulating online depicting a weapon that could perhaps best be described as a poorly conceived steampunk nightmare. 

The gun is real. 

It was seized earlier this year from a suspected meth dealer in Iowa, according to reports from the Meskwaki Nation Police Department. The suspect had a prior felony conviction and was therefore prohibited from owning firearms. 

That didn’t stop him from building his own from scratch, according to reports, and officers in Iowa dubbed it the “Smith & Methson.” 

That’s a play on Smith & Wesson, a firearms manufacturer probably best known for its revolvers, the most iconic of which could be the Model 29 .44 magnum. That was the weapon of choice for Clint Eastwood’s surly, cynical and quick-on-the trigger character in the “Dirty Harry” movie series. 


Photo Courtesy Meskwaki Nation (Iowa) Police Department

Not User-Friendly

But firing the “Smith & Methson” probably wouldn’t have made its shooter’s day, Dimoff said. 

“What he created would have been a gas jet pointing back toward himself,” he said. 

That’s because the breech is completely open. There’s no fully enclosed firing chamber as there would be in a properly constructed firearm, he said. And without that, the explosive force of the pressure and gasses meant to propel projectiles down a firearm’s barrel could just as easily launch backward and outward, instead of forward.

The weapon appears to chamber 410 bore shotgun shells. That the smallest commercial shotgun ammunition, but it can still pack a wallop. 

And in some firearms, the 410 bore is interchangeable with .45 Colt cartridges – such as in the “Judge” revolver made by Taurus. 

However, the metal in the “Smith & Methson” looks too flimsy to handle a 410 bore discharge, much less the far higher pressures of a .45 Colt round, Dimoff said.

“The cops did him a favor when they took that from him,” he said. “He would have ended up seriously injuring or even killing himself with it.”

Makeshift Weapons Rare

Dimoff said that judging from his experience in law enforcement, as well as continuing to interact with officers, homemade weapons aren’t particularly popular with the criminal set. It’s just too easy to get the real deal on the black market.

“What’s far more common to see is firearms with the serial numbers filed off,” he said. “And those were usually obtained through theft.”

More frequently, makeshift guns are used to scam police departments in larger metro areas that have gun buyback programs, he said. 

With a few materials from a hardware store and some creativity, “guys can go make a dozen makeshift single-barrel 12-gauge shotguns and then go to the police station to get paid for them through gun buyback,” Dimoff said. “It just goes to show how stupid those buyback programs are.”

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Pregnant Cop Busts Romanian Man For Stealing $8,000 Bottle Of Scotch In His Crotch

in News
29171

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

A Romanian man accused of smuggling a nearly $8,000 bottle of scotch from a Jackson liquor store in his pants crotch was arrested after a pregnant police officer found him soliciting on city streets three weeks later.  

Marian Firu, 50, faces a felony theft charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines if convicted.  

Security Footage 

On Nov. 2, Jackson Police Department officers responded to a report that someone had stolen a nearly $8,000 bottle of 35-year-old Dalmore scotch from The Liquor Store, Lt. Russ Ruschill, the department’s communications director, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.  

Officer Paul Jacobson viewed security camera footage showing “a person that really, really resembles Firu” removing the bottle from the shelf and stuffing it into the crotch area of his pants, said Ruschill.  

But police didn’t learn Firu’s name until later.  


The Liquor Store in Jackson.

Sad Signage 

A Jackson police officer on modified duty spotted Firu as he solicited money in Jackson on Nov. 21, Ruschill said.  

The officer, whom Ruschill did not identify by name, has been working in investigations but not contacting suspects because she is pregnant. She called Jacobson, who arrested Firu “without incident.”  

Firu had been panhandling for a while, Ruschill noted.  

“(He) had been actively standing on several of our street corners around the 1st of November,” Ruschill said, adding that Firu held a sign indicating that he had a 7-year-old child with cancer. Witnesses reportedly saw Firu accepting money from people.  

It has not yet been determined whether Firu has a 7-year-old with cancer, but Ruschill said that is not a priority finding for the felony theft case.  

Romanian Translator 

Ruschill said he’s not sure if Firu speaks English.  

Police used a Romanian translator to advise him of his Miranda rights, but Firu would not answer any questions, the Lieutenant said.  

“It was odd,” said Ruschill. “He never said, ‘I’d like an attorney,’ he just never responded to questions.”

Panhandling 

Panhandling was generally illegal in the city of Jackson until a little more than a year ago, Ruschill said. Because there were constitutional issues with forbidding the practice, the city changed its ordinance recently to require a permit for overt solicitation of funds on public property.  

If Firu hadn’t been the suspected scotch thief, police likely would have educated him on the policy and offered him a permit application, Ruschill said.  

Firu was not cited for soliciting on public property, said Ruschill, adding that, “Normally, we wouldn’t arrest people for shoplifting a bottle of liquor. However, an $8,000 bottle of liquor makes it a felony theft.” 

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Skyrocketing Costs Could Slow Wyoming Wind Projects

in Energy/News/wind
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images
29196

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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

It’s not a great time to build wind farms. Wyoming is home to the largest wind farm development in the country, as well as a number of others that are under construction. 

CNBC reported in October that employees of GE were informed that the company intended to lay off 20% of its U.S. onshore workforce, with further cuts to operations in other countries as well. The company estimated it will have $2 billion in losses this year. 

European turbine manufacturers also are struggling. The world’s largest manufacturer of turbines, Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems, reported a loss of $151 million for the third quarter of this year. 

Spain-based Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy reported an annual loss of $965 million, and the company is looking to shed 2,900 employees. The company’s chief executive told The New York Times it loses 8% every time it sells a turbine. 

There’s a number of pressures on the industry, including inflation, supply chain issues and increasing competition from Chinese manufacturers. 

Continuing To Monitor 

In Wyoming, there are a number of wind farms under construction, including the Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind project, which will cover 1,500 acres in southcentral Wyoming. When complete, it will have 600 turbines cranking out 3,000 megawatts of energy when the wind is blowing. 

Kara Choquette, director of communications and government relations for wind energy developer Power Company of Wyoming, said the company is still determining the models and vendors for turbines on the project. It will be a few years before the first turbines are installed at the location. 

“We’ll continue to work with the major turbine manufacturers and will monitor how equipment-related issues settle out over the months ahead,” Choquette said. 

PacifiCorp has several wind farms throughout southern Wyoming, and the company plans to build 3,628 megawatts of renewable resources by 2040. 

David Eskelsen, spokesperson for PacifiCorp, said costs coming down from wind turbine manufacturers will be incorporated into the next edition of the company’s integrated resource plan (IRP), which is a decades-long plan for the company’s electricity portfolio. It includes economic analyses of the cost of construction, and as those costs increase, the company’s outlook could change. The next release of PacifiCorp’s IRP is spring 2023.

‘I’m not aware of any specific changes to wind projects that are currently in development,” Eskelsen added. 

Power Density

Energy expert Robert Bryce told Cowboy State Daily the issue facing wind energy — and solar as well — is what he calls the Iron Law of Power Density.

Power density is the measure of energy flow that can be used from a given area, volume or mass. For example, a gallon of gasoline is about 34 kilowatt hours of energy, enough power to run a 100-watt bulb for 340 hours. A nugget of uranium-235, which is used in nuclear reactors, that weighs as much as a gallon of gasoline has an energy density enough to power that same bulb for more than 25 years. 

Calculating the energy density of wind depends on the pressure, wind speed and temperature, and a host of other factors. But a good comparison to other forms of energy is the amount of material needed to produce the same amount of power as conventional sources, like gasoline and nuclear energy. 

According to calculations by Bryce, wind requires 10,260 tons per 1 trillion watts of power produced, compared to 920 tons for nuclear power. 

Land Density

Another resource is the amount of land needed. For nuclear, you need less than 1 square meter to produce a megawatt of energy. Coal-fired generation requires 25 square meters per megawatt. The Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind farm will require more than 2,000 square meters per megawatt. 

All that extra material needed for wind wasn’t causing a problem until inflation and supply chain issues since the pandemic began driving up the costs of materials. 

“The resource intensity of wind energy wasn’t a problem for wind. We had cheap capital, cheap labor and cheap commodities. But we don’t have that anymore,” Bryce said. 

In an interview with CNBC, Siemens Energy CEO Christian Bruch confirmed the cost of materials are what’s driving up turbine costs, and he warned that the transition to renewable energy may fail unless the problem is fixed. 

No Easy Fix

Bryce said fixing that problem will require getting supply to meet demand, which means exponential increases in mining — which is no easy feat. 

“Fundamentally, the entire wind energy sector, like solar, depends on massive amounts of mining. And so what we’re coming up against are the limits of the systems that we have in place, and the wind energy business is just one indicator of that,” Bryce said. 

For the time being, the land resource isn’t as scarce, but it’s also one that can’t be increased. 

Land Resource

And as wind projects encroach closer to population areas, opposition to wind farm permitting is increasing. 

Bryce keeps a database of wind and solar farm rejections across the country. This year, there have been 53 rejections or restrictions on wind projects and 77 on solar projects. Bryce said the land resource required for the planned wind and solar buildout is something proponents won’t talk about.  

“They know that the land use constraints are the binding constraint on the expansion of wind. And it’s not just the projects themselves. It’s the transmission lines,” Bryce said.

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Power Company Denies Fault, Says Hurricane-Force 140 mph Winds Led To Deadly Wyoming Fire

in U.S. District Court for Wyoming/News
File Photo/Powell Tribune
29168

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

Saying a huge fire in small-town Wyoming stemmed from natural causes and an “act of God,” a power company has denied a Wyoming man’s claims that its negligence led to his wife’s death.    

William Jerome Ruth in November sued Beartooth Electric Cooperative and Asplundh Tree Expert, saying the two companies’ negligence led to his wife’s death in a power-line fire in Clark last year.   

Cynthia Ruth was trapped in her home and died as a large blaze known as the “Clark Fire” reached the home, her husband’s lawsuit states.   

Asplundh has not yet filed a response to William Ruth’s claims, but Beartooth Electric denied allegations of negligence in a Thursday response in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming. The electric company asked the court to dismiss Ruth’s lawsuit and have Ruth reimburse the company’s legal costs.   

Hurricane-Force Winds  

“Ms. Ruth’s tragic death was caused by extreme forces of nature and circumstances sometimes referred to as an ‘Act of God,’ over which (Beartooth) had no control,” wrote Beartooth in its response. “Specifically, weather conditions, including hurricane force winds in excess of 140 mph, that caused the spread of the Clark Fire.”   

The response says a tree limb near Beartooth’s right of way “appears” to have come into contact with a Beartooth powerline during the high winds, igniting the fire. 

Ruth’s complaint, conversely, alleges that Asplundh didn’t properly clear the right of way of tree limbs, and Beartooth didn’t properly inspect Asplundh’s work. 

The fire began late Nov. 14, 2021, and burned 300 acres, including consuming some homes in the Louis L’Amour neighborhood of Clark. 

Woman’s Choices, Trimmer’s Cuts  

Beartooth speculated that Cynthia Ruth’s death was caused by “smoke inhalation or the fire itself,” but denied fault in the matter, saying the woman’s own decision-making, the tree-trimmer’s possible negligence and other parties’ possible involvement also should be considered.   

“Upon information and belief, Ms. Ruth made several decisions during the evacuation of her residence that put her in harm’s way and resulted in her death,” Beartooth alleges. The company reserved the right to change that assertion if the case’s discovery process reveals a different account.   

“The Clark Fire may have been caused by third parties not yet known,” Beartooth continued. 

The company also implicated the tree trimming company as a possible culprit, saying, “if the tree was not properly trimmed by Asplundh, (then) Asplundh bears sole responsibility for any and all damages resulting from its negligence.”   

The case is ongoing in federal court.   

After 10 Years, Wyoming Whiskey Is Expanding To International Markets

in News/wyoming economy/Business
Wyoming Whisky founders, from left, David DeFazio, and Kate and Brad Mead. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
29159

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Kate and Brad Mead live on a perfectly splendid Jackson, Wyoming, ranch nestled among the foothills in Spring Gulch crowned by the majestic Grand Tetons in the distance. 

The ranch comes complete with a “unicorn” horse — Rowdy was his name, until he got a unicorn rainbow pattern to delight a grandchild. Now the horse is known as Rainbow. 

Rainbow is still rowdy, Kate Mead said with a chuckle as she and her husband showed their snow-laden ranch to a group of people there to learn more about the success of Wyoming Whiskey, which is now 10 years old. 


Bottles of Wyoming Whiskey at the Mead Ranch, including the company’s limited edition 10-year anniversary blend, center. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Going International

Not only is Wyoming Whiskey releasing an anniversary product to celebrate a decade of producing spirits, it’s also talking about a long-term future that includes international sales not just in Canada, but the UK and beyond. 

Of course, even perfectly splendid ranches have their problems from time to time, regardless of unicorn horses, and the Mead Ranch is no different.  

In fact, Wyoming Whiskey came about after a terrible problem. Brucellosis was confirmed in one of the couple’s cattle, and the entire herd had to be destroyed.

The federal government gives ranchers the option to quarantine herds, Brad Mead said. 

“But nobody can afford to keep cows for 12 months just feeding and feeding them,” he said. “So as a practical matter, you end up destroying the entire herd.”

Out Of Destruction, Something New

Beautiful things are often wrought unwillingly in the midst of tragedy. But that wasn’t something the couple was thinking about at the time.

Instead, they were on focused fixing the problem at hand, where brucellosis had wiped them out. To solve that issue, they bought 1,000 acres in Kirby so they could send their cattle away whenever the risk of brucellosis became high, as it does this time of the year.

“I know this is more about the whiskey than the ranch,” Brad Mead said. “But the ranch led to the whiskey.”



Diversify To Survive

Like most cattle ranchers today, the Meads really needed to diversify their operation to remain profitable. 

Kate, for example, had found a niche selling fresh beef at farmers markets. The couple also rent the ranch at times, which makes a good venue for events. 

Having 1,000 or so acres sitting mostly empty for so much of the year gnawed at them. There had to be ways they could use that land to strengthen the ranch.

Kate was intrigued by the idea of a vineyard, but Brad was not convinced. He feared the climate would not favor grapes without a lot of work. 

As a bourbon drinker, he realized during this brainstorming process that the Kirby property actually has almost everything needed for making whiskey. 

“We had great water,” he said. “We could grow grains there. It seemed like we had all the right ingredients — except for any idea how to do it.”

Mead called David DeFazio and told him the couple wanted to make whiskey.

DeFazio’s first question was simple.

“How do you do that?”

“Well, that’s for you to figure out,” Brad recalls telling him.

Learning From Kentucky Masters

The two made several trips to Kentucky to learn about the industry together, figuring out what they would need to start a whiskey still. 

Among those visits was one with a world-famous company that makes copper stills. 

“We’ll make you a still, and we’ll never duplicate it,” they told Brad. 

It was like a “Godfather” moment – an offer Brad Mead just could not refuse. Before he knew it, he’d signed a contract to buy a giant copper still.

Now he had to tell Kate, who was not yet convinced whiskey was the way to go.

“I thought it was a boondoggle,” Kate Mead told Cowboy State Daily. “Brad and David would go off to like the bourbon festival and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s nice. Oh, great.’ And then they came back with a still.”

Kate’s first question when Brad told her what he’d done was all about practicality. 

“Can it fit in the garage?” she asked.

Brad shook his head. “It’s 38 feet tall.”

A garage wasn’t going to work.


Wyoming Whisky owners Brad and Kate Mead at their Jackson ranch. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Now What?

Several months and big trucks later, the components of the still finally arrived. These were heavy, huge pieces of copper and glass, now laying on the grounds of the property in haphazard fashion.

Its new owners had no idea how to put it together or what to do next.

“Luckily, through friends and connections, we ended up connecting with a guy named Lincoln Henderson, who was a renowned distiller, famous in the industry,” Brad Mead said.

Henderson saved the still, helping the Meads design and set it up in a way that would make sense for their Wyoming operation. 

Brad soon realized, however, that the size of the distillery didn’t just mean future capacity some far away day down the line. 

“I’m happy with it now, but then it was like feeding the beast,” he recalled. “It took three guys 24 hours a day, I mean it was huge.”

Not Wheat Farmers After All

Kate and Brad Mead also planted 40 acres of wheat after the still arrived, thinking they would grow their own grains for their whiskey. 

But they soon learned that they are cattle ranchers, not wheat farmers.

Fortunately, they also met a world-class wheat farmer named Brent Raglans. Not only was he enthusiastic about the idea of a Wyoming whiskey, he also knew just what varieties of grains the couple needed to grow for that whiskey. 

Meanwhile, the couple convinced retired master distiller Steve Nally, who had worked at Maker’s Mark for three decades, to come out of retirement and help them get started.

For five years, Nally helped the Meads elevate their whiskey and make it into a remarkable product, one that’s attracting not just national, but international interest.

Included in this incredible string of good luck were changes to the market itself. The price of wine took a nosedive, Kate Mead said, and suddenly people became very interested in tasting bourbon.

“Suddenly we had an advantage,” Brad Mead recalled. “We had bourbon that was already 3 years old.”



A New Star Is Born

After Nally left, world-class veteran Nancy Fraley joined Wyoming Whiskey to shepherd and develop its blends. She tastes 100 barrels of whiskey a day when she visits Wyoming from California and said she’s tasted 9,000 barrels of Wyoming Whiskey to date. 

She and Nally teamed up to blend the 10-year anniversary whiskey, which has just been released. 

It starts out sweet on the tongue, but quickly announces itself as something else with a spicy kick. It’s smooth going down despite the ticklish fire that accompanies even a tiny sip. 

Retailers have already bought every available bottle of the anniversary edition to sell in stores. That doesn’t mean the whiskey is no longer available. Consumers can still get a bottle of the limited-edition whiskey in retail stores that carry the brand. Suggested retail is $200 a bottle.

That may sound expensive, but given the 10-year timeframe involved in developing the product, and the amount of work involved between Fraley and Nally on their collaboration, the price point is less than some marketers had recommended to them, Brad Mead said.

“We wanted to keep it affordable to Wyoming bourbon drinkers,” he said.

The Next Decade

“In 2018, we partnered with a company from Scotland that has a long track record, a very successful track record, and they’re interested in having an American whiskey,” Brad Mead told Cowboy State Daily.

That company is doing all of its distributing and marketing now. The Meads believe they will soon also be selling bottles of Wyoming Whiskey in the UK within the next couple of years. 

“I think in the next five to 10 years, we’re going to build the volume we’re doing now to far more than that,” Mead said. 

They will also add more employees to the 15 they already have as part of Wyoming Whiskey.

The couple’s original mission statement was to create a product that showcases Wyoming’s natural resources in a way that makes the state proud.

Both now believe they have accomplished that, and Kate has no regrets about the unrealized vinyard.

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10-Year-Old Dies In Reported Sledding Accident On Wind River Indian Reservation

in Wind River Reservation/News
Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
29184

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By Cowboy State Daily

The FBI has confirmed that a young boy died Nov. 26 after an incident on the Wind River Indian Reservation, but says the case is still being investigated.  

Travis Blackburn Jr., 10, died in an accident, according to his obituary. He was a student at Rendezvous Elementary School in Riverton.   

WyoToday reported that Blackburn was “accidentally” run over by a vehicle while sledding on the reservation, presumably referencing police scanner traffic. 

Fremont County Coroner Erin Ivie, who investigates deaths on the reservation and throughout Fremont County, declined to comment.  

Cowboy State Daily will update this story as more information becomes available.

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Arapaho Tribe Ousts Two-Thirds Of Its Governance; Leaders Sworn In Thursday

in Northern Arapahoe Tribe/News
Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
29174

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

The Northern Arapaho Tribe has ousted two-thirds of its governing council.  

In the tribe’s Nov. 17 election, two of its incumbent Northern Arapaho Business Council members won reelection, while newcomers replaced the other four incumbents.  

Former Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter and member Kim Harjo were the only two incumbents who survived the election, with Spoonhunter tied as the second-highest vote-getter and Harjo with the fifth-most votes.   

Though Harjo placed last among winning vote tallies, she defeated Council Chairman Jordan Dresser, who was the top vote-getter in the 2020 election when he first won the seat.  

Lloyd Goggles, who was not an incumbent, was the top vote-getter this year, winning 592 votes – nearly 30 more than Spoonhunter’s 566.  

Chairman Chosen By Results

Council tradition holds that the top vote-getter will become chairman, though the Council has the option to vote for a different chairman.  

Tied for second with Spoonhunter was Karen A. Returns To War. In third and fourth places respectively were Keenan Groesbeck and Teresa His Chase. 

Incumbents Stephen Fast Horse and Jared White Bull, like Dresser, did not win their bids for reelection in the Nov. 17 general election. Another incumbent, Boniface Ridgely, narrowly missed out on a general election bid by falling short of votes in the tribe’s Oct. 20 primary election.  

Swearing-In 

A Wind River Tribal Court Judge swore the six victors into their duties Thursday in a gathering room of the Wind River Hotel and Casino, which the tribe owns. New and old council members swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the tribe’s laws.

The six-person Northern Arapaho Business Council oversees day-to-day operations for the tribe and its considerable federal grants and revenue streams, as well as state grants. 

Along with its executive-branch governance, the Council of the Northern Arapaho Tribe also has legislative powers, unlike the governing council for the neighboring Eastern Shoshone tribe.  

However, the Northern Arapaho General Council – any gathering of at least 150 voting-age tribal members – also has legislative authority as a direct democracy.   

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Dilbert, December 3, 2022

in Dilbert
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The features provided by Andrews McMeel Syndication are copyrighted material and all rights are reserved. Beyond the rights granted herein, you may not reproduce any of these features or distribute them electronically, in print or otherwise without written permission from Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64106, (800) 255-6734.

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Riverton Dad Accused Of Breaking Newborn Twins’ Legs: ‘I Pulled Too Hard And Heard A Little Pop’

in News/Crime
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Strong language: The following story contains descriptions of violence and language some may find graphic and disturbing. Read at your own discretion. 

By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

A Riverton man accused of breaking his newborn twin daughters’ legs has been transferred to a higher court after the case detective unveiled notes from the man’s phone calls in jail.   

Anthony Long, 27, was charged Nov. 23 with two counts of felony child abuse after Riverton hospital staff found broken bones and bruises on both of his twin daughters. The girls were about 3 weeks old, according to an affidavit filed in the case.   

Riverton Circuit Court Judge Wesley Roberts on Wednesday transferred Long’s case to the Fremont County District Court after determining there is probable cause for the state to pursue felony-level prosecution.   

Jail Calls  

Roberts’ decision came after Riverton Police Department Detective Kingston Cole read aloud from his transcription of Long’s jailhouse phone calls.   

Long is being held at the Fremont County Detention Center.   

Assistant County Attorney Ember Oakley asked Cole to read from a transcript documenting jail calls between Long and his fiancée, the twins’ mother.   

Cole said that the mother questioned Long during their phone calls, and Long tried to explain the events to her. 

‘I Pulled Too Hard And I Heard A Little Pop’ 

“She kept kicking, so I grabbed her leg, I pulled it to the side,” read Cole, from a jail call between Long and his fiancée on Nov. 23. “I pulled too hard and I heard a little pop.”   

Cole said the mother asked Long why he didn’t tell her what had happened so she could have taken the twins to the hospital earlier.   

“I was so scared,” read Cole, relating Long’s words. “I know my life was over … ashamed and embarrassed.”   

‘Caused By Me’  

In another conversation, Long reportedly said that the infants “were just so fragile. I was just too aggressive.”   

Cole said Long attributed the girls’ broken legs to his diaper-changing methods. One baby’s broken ribs he attributed to swaddling too tightly.   

“I didn’t know I was squeezing that hard,” read Cole, relating Long’s words.   

Cole also read the mother’s words, apologizing to Judge Roberts for using foul language in the court.  

“You didn’t feel the need to fucking tell me so I could, like, take her to the hospital right when this fucking happened?” read Cole.   

Long reportedly replied, “I was just so scared.”   

Cole read from a call in which Long reportedly said that “all of their injuries were of course caused by me.” He also spoke of scratches on their ears, which he said also were caused by him, according to Cole’s account.   

“What you did was fucking evil,” Cole said, quoting the twins’ mother.   

“Yes it was,” Long reportedly answered.   

List Of Injuries  

Oakley asked Cole to list the twins’ injuries according to the medical examiner in a trauma unit in the Primary Children’s Hospital in Utah.   

Cole said the first twin, whose swollen leg sparked the investigation, had:  

Lacerations and scarring on her nose and ears. 

• Bruising on her left cheek. 

• Rib fractures. 

• A tibia fracture. 

• A femur fracture.  

• Bruising on her back.   

Cole said the second twin, whose grandmother brought her to the hospital when hospital staff raised suspicions about the nature of the first twin’s injuries, had:  

• Bruising and lacerations on her nose and ears. 

• Broken ribs. 

• A tibia fracture.  

• A forearm fracture with bruising.  

• Burst blood vessels in her left eye.   

‘No Healing’  

Cole said doctors studied the injuries to determine whether the newborns could have acquired them during birth. They ruled out that possibility, he said, noting that there was “no healing” in the injuries, signifying that they are recent.   

The “constellation” of injuries was “not accidental in nature … they resulted from, using his words, ‘abuse,’” said Cole, quoting the twins’ doctor.   

No Questions From Defense  

Long’s public defender, Jonathan Gerard, chose not to cross-examine Cole. He also did not argue against transferring Long’s case to the higher court.   

Gerard told Roberts he would not contest the probable cause finding to elevate the case, because both child abuse charges also apply when injuries come from “reckless” behavior, not just intentional behavior.   

Long’s presumption of innocence remains with him, however, as he has not pleaded guilty or been convicted. He may seek a jury trial, a plea agreement or a mental illness finding in the district court. 

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Analysis: Incoming Wyoming Legislature Grows Younger, More Christian

in News/Legislature/politics
Photo by Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily
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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

The Wyoming Legislature has become younger, more Christian-affiliated and more represented by members without a college degree. 

These are some of the demographics Cowboy State Daily compiled using available data researching the backgrounds of all 93 members of the incoming Legislature and comparing the statistics to the outgoing body.

Data wasn’t available in every category for every lawmaker, but the demographics represent an overwhelming majority of lawmakers.

Age

The Wyoming Legislature will become younger in the upcoming session, dropping in average age from 57.5 to 53.98. This drop follows a similar decrease in average age seen in both chambers.

The Senate remains the elder of the two chambers at an average age of 58, while the House sits at 51. During the last session, the Senate had an average age of 62.

This drop was in part due to the departure of a handful of legislators who are older than 70. Also contributing to the decrease in average age is the addition of younger legislators like 21-year-old J.T. Larson, 25-year-old Daniel Singh and 27-year-old Dalton Banks.

But some of the older statesmen are still there, like 77-year-old state Sen. Charles Scott and 75-year-old Rep. Jerry Obermueller, both R-Casper. 

Religion

Although the most common religious affiliations stayed the same, there was a significant growth in legislators who describe themselves as Christian. 

Christian membership increased by 18% in the new House and 2% in the Senate. This growth correlates with an increase in membership of the House Freedom Caucus, a staunchly conservative voting bloc that recently sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis imploring her to not vote to codify same-sex marriage into federal law based on the argument of religious freedom.

Catholic and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints membership stayed relatively flat.

There are a number of other religious affiliations represented in the incoming Legislature, including Lutheran, Methodist, Unitarian, non-denominational, Episcopal, Presbyterian and others. There are no Jewish members in the incoming body. 

Education

Although a bachelor’s degree remained the most common level of education in both chambers, the number of representatives without a college degree increased in the House by 7%. The number of representatives with a bachelor’s degree increased in the Senate by 13%, while declining in the House by 7%. In total, those with just a bachelor’s degree represent 40% of the incoming Legislature, the same total held for the previous session.

A master’s degree was the second most common level of education in the new House, but not the Senate. There, a doctorate is more common, representing 25% of the highest level of education attained in that body. 

Entrepreneurs And Retired

Small business owners and retirees tied for the most common professions of the incoming Legislature. This was only a slight change from the previous session, when small business owners had a slight edge.

Ranchers make up a slightly smaller percentage of lawmakers in the upcoming session, and the number of attorneys also slightly decreased.

There are four members of the incoming House that are employed by a local county or city government as their everyday jobs.

Women And Minorities

The total number of women increased by three in the Legislature with Republicans Jeanette Ward, Tomi Strock, Martha Lawley, Abby Angelos and Evie Brennan, and Democrat Liz Storer replacing men. 

Wyoming is among 10 states in the nation with the lowest percentage of female legislators at 20.4%, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. A total of 51% of residents in Wyoming are women.

Minorities also are not well represented in the Legislature, a demographic that remained mostly flat. With Rep. Andi LeBeau, D-Lander, voted out in the recent election, Rep. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, is now the only remaining Native American legislator. There is no representation for those of Arapaho of Shoshone heritage.

Children And Grandchildren

The average number of children and grandchildren per legislator slightly increased in both bodies. For the incoming House, each lawmaker has an average of 2.37 children, while the Senate has an average of 2.68, making for an average of 2.47 children between both chambers. Last session, the average for both chambers was 2.3.

Average number of grandchildren also increased by a small margin, rising to 2.4 from 2.09.

Rep. John Winter, R-Thermopolis, has the most reported grandchildren in the Legislature at 33. 

Overall, 17 lawmakers in the incoming Legislature do not report having children.

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Feds Want To Put Tracking Devices On Big Rigs; Gov’t Could Access Data Whenever They Want

in Wyoming Trucking/News/Transportation
Kevin Killough, Cowboy State Daily
28259

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing a new rule that would require all commercial trucks used for interstate commerce to install tracking devices that would transmit location data and other personal information to police whenever law enforcement requests it. 

Roger King, owner of Cowboy State Trucking in Kemmerer, said it’s hard enough to find drivers, and putting federal tracking devices on trucks would be one more reason for people to find other jobs. 

“Nobody likes Big Brother looking at your every move,” King said in reference to the government surveillance figure in the George Orwell novel “1984.”

King said trucking companies have a financial interest to operate safely and follow the law, so he doesn’t see a need for the proposed law. 


Kevin Killough, Cowboy State Daily

Already Highly Regulated

According to the Federal Register, the growth of the commercial vehicle industry outpaces law enforcement resources, so the tracking devices would allow law enforcement to “to make timely and informed decisions to support their mission-critical operations.”

The trucking industry is highly regulated, however, and drivers and the companies they work for already have to provide a wealth of information to regulators. This includes roadside inspections at ports of entry, and drug testing and thorough background checks of drivers. 

Is It Constitutional?

The Fourth Amendment requires the government to obtain a warrant before entering a private space to gather information, and that warrant has to be based on probable cause. 

Since the law would require private companies and drivers to supply private information whether or not they’re breaking the law, some question whether it would pass constitutional muster. 

In its explanation for the proposed law, the U.S. Department of Transportation said that the devices will allow law enforcement to identify high-risk drivers. 

Police now spend some time doing unnecessary roadside inspections, and the devices would reduce the time they spend on that by automatically letting police know if laws are being violated. 

The register does note that there are grant programs to help companies install the devices on their fleets, if they’re forced to do so. 



Times Change

Dan Messier, a trucker with a HAZMAT rating who hauls mainly within the state of Wyoming, said that his truck will notify the company he drives for if he brakes hard to avoid an elk crossing the road. 

In one case, footage from his truck cams was used in a safety video. He’s been driving since 1986, when there was no GPS. 

Over the years, the surveillance of drivers has become so commonplace that most of them are used to it being part of the job, Messier said, adding that he doesn’t think the proposed law matters that much. 

“When we started this barn dance, we weren’t so into it, but things have changed,” Messier said. 

When there’s a crash or infraction, drivers have to fill out an incident report, and the company will provide information to law enforcement when required. 

Since Messier enters security sensitive facilities, he has a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). It’s a lot like the TSA pre-check applications that frequent flyers can pay for to get through airport security faster. 

Getting a card requires fingerprinting, physicals and background checks. A tracking device transmitting information to law enforcement wouldn’t be any more invasive, Messier said. 

Violation Of Rights

Not all truckers are comfortable with government tracking devices.

Glenn MacKenzie, a trucker from Milford, Delaware, said the minute a tracker is put in his truck is the minute he quits.

“Ain’t happening to me,” MacKenzie said while fueling up at the Sinclair Truck Stop off of Interstate 25 in Cheyenne. “Let ’em try it. Only one of us will be standing if they try to attach one. And I promise it will be me.”

Norris Uttridge, a driver from the El Paso area said it’s an invasion of personal rights and if people don’t stand up and say no, “it’ll just get worse.”

“This isn’t about China. It’s much closer than that,” Uttridge told Cowboy State Daily. “Look at what’s happening in Canada. We have two options right now: on your feet or on your knees. I won’t comply.”

Kaycee Sargent, an owner/operator, said he provides all the data on his driving to the companies he drives for. If all the data on his truck were to be transmitted to law enforcement on demand, it would be a violation of his constitutional rights. 

“I don’t see why they need more information than they already have,” Sargent said. 

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Wyoming Likely Safe From ‘Cocaine Bear’ Rampage; No Recorded Incidents To Date

in entertainment/Wyoming outdoors/News
Image from Universal Pictures trailer for "Cocaine Bear."
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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

If you’re terrified at the thought of the gruesome carnage that could be left in the wake of a bear’s cocaine-fueled rage, you probably don’t have anything to worry about in Wyoming – at least outside of movie theatres. 

At least one Wyoming outdoorsman said if the titular character of the upcoming Universal Pictures full-length project “Cocaine Bear” survives his movie debut, he’d like to see a sequel in which the hopped-up bruin munches on annoying celebrities.



Bear + Cocaine = Terror

A trailer for the film released Wednesday teases a plot that seemingly mixes elements of horror and comedy with enough nose candy to make Al Pacino’s “Scarface” character Tony Montana blush. 

In a nutshell, here’s the plot: A 500-pound black bear gets into a drug ring’s stash of cocaine, gets high by gulping entire bricks of blow and goes on a bloody rampage. 

The film is set for release Feb. 24. Its best-known stars include Keri Russel and Ray Liotta in one of his last roles. Liotta died in May at age 67. 

The trailer states the movie is “based on true events.”  

As it turns out, well, it is – sort of.

Wyoming Bears Just Say No To Drugs

“We haven‘t had any verified instances of bears ingesting controlled substances here,” Dan Thompson, large carnivore specialist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told Cowboy State Daily. 

“I know several years ago a black bear got into a beer stand in Washington State (I think) and downed over 30 cans of Rainier,” he said. 

That bear apparently survived, he added. 

Thompson wouldn’t speculate as to what effects eating large bricks of cocaine might have on a Wyoming black bear or grizzly. However, he said the premise of the move is “pretty interesting, I guess.”

Bears Can Be Drinkers

Stories of drunken bears are fairly common, avid bear hunter Joe Kondelis of Cody told Cowboy State Daily.

“I’ve seen YouTube videos of bears that apparently got into peoples’ beer and got drunk,” said Kondelis, who is president of the American Bear Foundation.

However, he’s never seen any drunk or high bears in Wyoming. Although, with questionable characters running about the woods, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility that a bear could somehow get into cocaine or some other controlled substance. 

“They (bears) will eat just about anything,” he said. “I suppose it could happen. It probably happens more than we realize.”

‘Cocaine Bear’ Gets Mixed Wyoming Reactions

While Thompson was at least somewhat interested in the film, Kondelis said that after watching the trailer he has no plans to see it. 

“It looks totally terrible, with bad acting,” he said. 

Adding that Liotta was one of his favorite actors, Kondelis said “Cocaine Bear” isn’t how he’d like to remember the movie star.

“I think I’ll keep my impression of Rayo Liotta based upon his acting in ‘Goodfellas,’” Kondelis said, in reference to the 1990 gangster epic directed by Martin Scorsese. 

While admitting that “Cocaine Bear” probably isn’t exactly Scorsese-quality cinema, noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich said he’s still looking forward to it.

“Thought of a grizzly on cocaine is terrifying on every level,” he said. “But the thought of an otherwise shy, reclusive black bear on coke is absolutely awesome.”

How ‘True’ A Story?

In typical Hollywood hype fashion, the makers of “Cocaine Bear” took about as much liberty with the truth as Scarface took with his “little friend” during that classic movie’s climatic scene. 

In 1985, a known drug runner named Andrew Thorton devised an ingenious, but dangerous, method of trafficking cocaine. He and his partners parachute from planes with loads of contraband over remote areas of the southeastern United States. 

His luck ran out in September of that year when he was killed in Tennessee while trying to parachute with too much weight, according to news reports at that time. 

However, some of his stashes still remained intact, because the carcass of a bear was found in Northern Georgia amid numerous open containers of Peruvian cocaine. It was surmised the bear had died from an overdose. 

While the real-life cocaine bear didn’t prevail, Ulrich said he hopes the fictional one does. 

“If the cocaine bear survives this film, I would love to see a sequel where the bear is in rehab with a bunch of annoying celebrities, but then relapses and loses his sh** again,” Ulrich said.

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Half-Naked Wyoming Man Convicted Of Shooting Drunk, Stoned Colorado Tourist Gets New Trial

in News/Wyoming Supreme Court
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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

An Albany County man convicted of shooting a Colorado tourist in a Wyoming campground in 2020 will get a new trial.    

John Gerald Howitt, 44, was convicted in a state district court of aggravated assault for shooting Drew Pickering, of Boulder, Colorado, in the hip in a campground near Centennial in the summer of 2020.   

Pickering was under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana at the time and had been stumbling through Howitt’s campsite. Howitt contended that Pickering also bumped against the SUV in which Howitt was trying to sleep, according to court documents.   

Howitt is serving a four- to eight-year sentence at the Wyoming Honor Farm near Riverton, according to the Wyoming Department of Corrections.  

A Man’s SUV Is His Castle  

A man may have the right to defend his vehicle with gunfire, if he has been sleeping in his vehicle, the Wyoming Supreme Court indicated in a remand order giving Howitt a new trial. But that’s something a jury should consider, the court added.   

In his original trial, Howitt had asked the court to instruct the jury on Wyoming’s castle doctrine; that is, the law that gives a person the right to use force when someone is unlawfully entering their home.   

After a dispute about whether an SUV used at a campsite counts as a home, camper or tent, the court did not instruct the jury on the castle doctrine, the remand order states.   

Because of this, the Wyoming Supreme Court on Thursday determined that Howitt can be given a new trial in district court.   

Socks And Underwear  

Howitt arrived at the Willow Creek Campground about five days before Pickering did that summer.   

Pickering reached the grounds at about 7:30 p.m. on July 24, 2020.   

He drove through the campground looking for available sites, drove away, then returned to Willow Creek at about 8:30, according to the remand.     

He sent “numerous text messages,” the order continues, indicating that he was lost, stumbling and didn’t know where he’d left his vehicle.   

Pickering heard a sound and felt something punch his left hip, then heard a man say, “Yep, you’ve been shot,” the order states. The man then said, “I thought I told you not to come back here again.”   

Howitt emerged from the SUV in his socks and underwear to shoot Pickering, court documents state. But he got dressed before authorities arrived.   

‘You’re Lucky I’m A Good Shot’  

After realizing he’d been shot, Pickering sat on the ground.   

The remand order says Howitt, the shooter, tried to call 911 several times.   

Eventually, passersby discovered the pair and started helping Pickering. 

During this time, Howitt said, “I’ll bet you’ll never drink again, f**ker,” and, “You deserved what you got;” “You’re lucky I’m a good shot;” “I could’ve killed you” and “I told you not to mess around with me,” the order states.   

Pickering reportedly asked Howitt questions like, “Why are you so mad at me?” and “Why are you so angry?”  

Bumped And Rocked  

Howitt also filmed Pickering while the others rendered aid, according to the remand order. Howitt later told law enforcement he was hoping to catch Pickering saying something incriminating.   

Two of the bystanders drove to Centennial to call 911 while another stayed with Pickering.   

A Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper arrived and arrested Howitt after finding Pickering lying on the ground, shot, the order states.   

Howitt told law enforcement that a man was stumbling and staggering around the campground that night, but he couldn’t get a good look at the man in the evening light. He said he was “concerned” about the man’s intentions.   

When Howitt went to bed, he said he felt someone repeatedly bump against or rock the front of his vehicle, the remand states.   

Howitt equated this action with an attempt at forceful entry into his SUV, which he said qualifies as his habitation under the castle doctrine because he’d been sleeping in it. 

Jury Should Decide 

The Wyoming Supreme Court determined that both the question of whether the SUV was a habitation, and whether bumping and rocking it could be forceful entry attempts, should have been decided by the jury, rather than dismissed from the jury instructions.   

“The district court erred when it refused to give (Howitt’s) proposed castle doctrine instructions that would have informed the jury about these presumptions,” the remand order reads. “There was evidence in the record which the jury could have interpreted to support (Howitt’s) defense that Mr. Pickering was ‘in the process’ of breaking into Mr. Howitt’s SUV when Mr. Howitt resorted to using force.”   

The high court did not determine whether Pickering was trying to break in or whether an SUV is a habitation, but left these questions to the next jury to hear Howitt’s case. 

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Move To Subpoena Wyoming Attorney General Killed By Management Council

in News/Legislature
Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
29134

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

A request to subpoena Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to testify before a state legislative has been rejected.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Management Council voted 6-2 on Thursday afternoon against funding an Agriculture Committee subpoena and an additional meeting that would have been added to the committee’s schedule to allow Hill to testify.  

The inspiration for the request came from the Agriculture Committee to analyze the way Hill had handled a particular state land leasing dispute originating in 2018. Hill was director of the Office of State Lands and Investments until 2019, when she began serving as attorney general after being chosen by Gov. Mark Gordon for the role.

Too Costly

For the majority of members voting against the request on Thursday, it was not a matter of whether or not Hill made a mistake during that leasing approval process, but rather whether paying to fund the nearly $12,000 cost of another meeting would impact future legislation.

“I don’t think we can fix this in one day,” said state Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, chair of the Management Council. “I just feel like it’s deeper than just one more day of decision-making.”

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, took a similar non-positional stance on the land dispute, but a contrary one about the request, voting in support of the subpoena. Rothfuss said there is a precedent for the Management Council to accept requests by committees that want money for an extra meeting day.


Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, talks during a Thursday meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Management Council. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)

Case In Hand

In 2018 under Hill’s watch, Wagonhound Land and Livestock Company LLC and John Leman submitted competing applications for a 10-year lease of a 146-acre parcel of state land in Douglas near their properties.

Wagonhound offered to lease the land for $1,360 a year while Leman offered $348.84 a year.

Wagonhound was awarded the lease by OSLI, a decision Leman appealed. 

The Office of Administrative Hearings recommended reversing the decision, a recommendation opposed by OSLI and not accepted by the State Board of Land Commissioners. 

By the time a final decision was made by the Land Commissioners in April 2020, Hill was advising the board as attorney general and did not recuse herself from giving advice to the panel about the Leman-Wagonhound appeal despite her involvement in it. She presented to the board on this matter in place of her successor, OSLI Director Jenifer Scoggin, at that meeting.

Most of the Management Council expressed empathy for the Lemans and their situation.

The Lemans have claimed Wagonhound was awarded its bid based on fraudulent statements and that it did not have an actual or necessary use for the land, which Wagonhound has disputed. 

Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne

More Arguments

On Thursday, Gigi Leman provided additional information on the case, arguing that cattle were not being cared for on the Wagonhound leased parcel because they did not have access to water.

“This matters because range management matters,” she said. “And how this has been totally changed on the landscape out into the field isn’t smart for animals.”

Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne, co-chair of the Agriculture Committee, said although the decision made in the Leman case was legal, that shouldn’t preclude his committee from learning about how Hill made her decision.

“As a rancher, I look at it and say it doesn’t seem fair,” Eklund said. “As an attorney, I look at it and say it probably looks legal enough. But I think we can do better than that as an Ag Committee and oversight of the State Lands and set rules and guidelines for them.”

Verbal Appeals

John and Gigi Leman testified before the Management Council on Thursday. Both stressed they don’t expect a reversal on their case, but want it used as an example for the Legislature moving forward.

“The reason why we’re here is because it’s our civic duty to see how it strings out,” Gigi Leman said. “It’s our civic duty to move it forward so others are not wronged. That’s why we have the legislative branch of the country to help here for the people.

“If we can’t have anyone to come to and have our voices heard and respected, why are we all here? That’s your job.”

John Leman also alluded to the questionable optics and alleged impropriety used in their case. The couple was not able to attend the April 2020 Land Commissioners meeting in-person as it was one of the first the state held during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At that meeting, Gordon mistakenly addressed Hill as “Director Hill” in reference to her prior position, when she first started addressing the panel.

“So, you almost got the impression that the director and the attorney general are almost one in the same. That’s disturbing,” John Leman said.

‘Major Conflict Of Interest’

Gordon was a member of the Board of Land Commissioners when he was state treasurer. The attorney general advises both OSLI and the Land Commissioners on leasing matters, thereby giving Hill the responsibility to advise the agency she recently led, and in the Leman case, advise the Board of Land Commissioners on a case she was previously involved with in her former role.

“That creates a major conflict of interest,” John Leman said. “That kind of policy of having a former director assume that kind of role as an attorney general can basically justify her actions and advise the board on how to rule in a case such as this.”

An invitation the Ag Committee made to Hill to attend its meeting earlier this month was rejected.

“I think the precedent here is if an agency can just stonewall, it’s a bad precedent,” said Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper. 

Gray argued for funding the meeting and described the Lemans as “patriots.” He said he has held multiple meetings about their case since 2021 and met with State Auditor Kristi Racines about it on one occasion.

“Something was wrong when a committee goes completely through the process and is not able to get their questions answered, a refusal of a state official to get their questions answered that they put forward,” Gray said. “This is totally within the agency oversight role that we have in the Legislature and it’s very important that we carry out that role.”

Upcoming Legislation

One of the biggest questions on the minds of the Management Council members was whether approving the meeting and allowing Hill to be questioned would significantly impact legislation.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, was not convinced it would.

“Contrary to other opinions, at this day, the clock has run out,” Nethercott said. “But that doesn’t mean the inquiries stop because we vote no today and that was kind of my greatest concern over unrealistic expectations and what we’re being asked to do today.”

Eklund said there are a handful of drafted bills for the upcoming session that he felt could be impacted by Hill’s testimony. One of the most specific to the Leman case is 23LSO-0205, which clarifies the actual and necessary use an applicant must have to lease vacant state land.

“I think it could be tweaked here and there,” Eklund said. “I think the bills are ready to go as they are. I’m sure we could make some good changes, but the legislation isn’t dependent on this meeting.”

Other legislation regarding vacant land leases passed in the last session clarifying state laws on the matter.

Eklund said he has also heard rumors of possible legislation drafted that would make the attorney general an elected official in Wyoming.

An Example

The Ag Committee wants to use the Leman case as a way to study the processes used by state decision-makers when establishing state land agricultural and grazing leases and the mechanisms used for determining and addressing conflicts of interest. 

Eklund said he wants to make sure OSLI is properly staffed and funded in the future so situations like the Leman case don’t happen again. 

Multiple members voting against funding the meeting said the Leman case could still be used as a case example as an interim topic for the Ag Committee. 

The Ag Committee will likely look vastly different in the next session as Eklund said there will only be two returning House members.

Precedent

Subpoenas are not uncommon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where agency heads and industry leaders are routinely compelled to testify before Congress. 

But the last time any branch of the Wyoming Legislature submitted a subpoena was in 2013 during the investigation of former Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill. That subpoena, which Cindy Hill accepted, came from an investigative committee. 

“I think officials need to be responsive so they can provide information that is being sought after,” said Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, who voted against the request. “I don’t believe in the committee process being done by a committee necessarily unless that committee is investigating.”

Even if the council had accepted the request for a meeting and subpoena, Bridget Hill could have exercised other avenues to avoid testifying before the Ag Committee, such as submitting a motion to quash. 

“Had she gone through that process, I don’t know how long that would have taken,” Eklund told Cowboy State Daily after the meeting. “And that would have really made a mess of things, because this is an issue that this committee needed to deal with.”

Eklund said he’s not concerned about her refusal setting a precedent for future officials who are asked to testify. 

Nethercott expressed concern that granting the Ag Committee permission to subpoena the attorney general would do nothing to change the Leman case and allow the committee to posture against Hill’s no-show. 

“I understand that frustration, but is it really about that piece of the refusal to appear and that’s not acceptable by the Legislature and we are a watchdog for everyone in the state?” she questioned Eklund. 

Nethercott also expressed concern that approving the subpoena might set an expectation from the public that their problems can be resolved by targeting state agency heads. 

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Tainted Soup Likely Led To Wyoming Man’s Paralysis From Botulism

in public safety/News/Food
28267

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

During her long career in food service, Becce Ford is thankful that she never saw a single case of botulism.

But given its horrific effects, she was always mindful of the foodborne neuro toxin that can shut down the entire body.

“That’s the biggest reason why we just didn’t use anything from dented cans,” Ford told Cowboy State Daily. “It wasn’t because of the potential loss of flavor or anything like that. It was because of the botulism.”

Ford lives in Laramie and in 2020 retired as associate director of Dining Services at the University of Wyoming. She continues to teach food safety classes at UW. 

Outdoorsman Completely Paralyzed

Hans Russell, 55, a well-known and previously robust and healthy Jackson outdoorsman, has for weeks lay completely paralyzed in a Salt Lake City hospital, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports. 

It’s thought his devastating illness resulted from a botulism infection that possibly came from a can of soup that wasn’t properly refrigerated.

Nightmare Bacteria 

Botulism can sometimes be fatal. And even those who survive can take months, or even years, to recover, said Justin Latham, manager of consumer health services with the Wyoming office of the USDA. 

The paralyzing toxin results from bacterial growth. It can be tenacious and hard to detect in tainted food sources, he said. 

“It’s one of those really hardy, spore-forming bacteria. And it grows in anerobic environments,” he said. 

Ford agreed that botulism can be a formidable foe. 

“The bacteria itself won’t survive boiling,” she said. “But the hardened spores will. And if they get into a food source and the conditions are right for it to grow, it will start growing again.”

Not Sure How Victim Got It

Latham and Ford said they didn’t know enough details of Russell’s case to speculate about when and where things might have gone wrong with the soup he ate. Improper canning methods, damage to packaging or improper food storage and preparation can lead to botulism.

They also weren’t aware of any other current or recent cases in Wyoming. 

When it comes risk factors, canned goods that aren’t particularly acidic, such as vegetables, can be particularly susceptible to botulism, Ford and Latham said. 

The inert spores themselves aren’t dangerous to humans, Latham added. 

But that’s why it’s so important to check for dents, he said. Dents in cans can “break the hermetic seal,” thereby creating the conditions under which the spores will sprout into toxin-producing bacteria.

Other conditions to watch out for might be something such as “garlic covered in olive oil,” allowed to sit to long in warm temperatures, Latham said. That’s because the olive oil can create the “low oxygen” conditions on the garlic that would allow the bacteria to grow. 

And poorly sealed fish or freeze-dried proteins such as eggs or meat might also be susceptible to botulism, he said. 

Watch Those Green Beans

Home canning in particular must be done properly, Latham and Ford said, and green beans are one food in particular that seem to cause cases of home-canning botulism. 

“It’s probably because the beans come from dirt,” Ford said, “and dirt can have the spores in it.”

In addition to making sure cans are properly sealed, home canners should add some sort of acid, such as citric acid, to the process, Latham said. Citric acid is highly effective at destroying the bacteria.

Some foods, such as tomato sauces, already have high acid content. 

Ford said she’s a home canner and never takes chances, even with tomato sauces. 

“Tomatoes don’t have as much acid as people think they do,” she said. “I always add some lemon juice even to my tomato sauces.”

People should be cautious when buying or trading home-canned goods, Latham said. Ask if the canner takes precautionary steps such as pre-boiling goods and adding citric acid. 

Ford said large operations such as UW dining services don’t buy or use home-canned goods. 

“We couldn’t. It wasn’t allowed,” she said. “We couldn’t buy home-canned, because we weren’t the end user. I was responsible for overseeing the cooking and serving of food to numerous other people.”

Fund For Russell

A GoFundMe effort is underway for Russell, with donations so far at about $13,200 of a $250,000 goal. 

Zina Horman, who set up the online fundraiser, reports that Russell remains mentally alert, but has very little control of his paralyzed body.

“Hans is currently mentally completely there and can understand what is going on, but is only able to wiggle toes and squeeze fingers,” she wrote. “This is his only way to communicate with us. 

“His lungs are still in a state of paralysis so he is on a ventilator among many other machines to keep him going. It is likely that he will make a full recovery but will take months of intensive treatment (we are already starting to see his mobility improving).”

She adds that the medical care is extensive and “very expensive.”

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Court Rules Construction Worker Can’t Sue Concrete Truck Driver Who Ran Him Over

in F.E. Warren/News/Wyoming Supreme Court
28235

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

A construction worker whose co-worker ran over him with a concrete truck at the F.E. Warren Air Force base cannot sue the co-worker, the Wyoming Supreme Court has determined.  

Augustine Lovato, the victim of the cement truck collision, asked the state’s Supreme Court to give him permission to sue the truck’s driver, Tim Case, after a state district court denied Lovato that opportunity.

The high court sided with the district court, noting that Lovato already had received compensation under Wyoming’s worker’s compensation laws. The court’s order also says that Case did not behave with the “willful and wanton” behavior that would have merited a lawsuit directly against him.  

‘Possibly His Girlfriend’ 

According to the Supreme Court’s order, Lovato, Case and a foreman identified as Mr. Bustos worked on a job site at the Air Force base on June 19, 2017.  

Bustos waved Case, who was driving the cement truck, to a new pour site, as Bustos and Lovato crossed in front of the truck, the order says.  

The document says Case drove ahead and soon felt a bump, thinking he’d hit a curb or concrete form.  

“In fact, he had run over Mr. Lovato, injuring his foot, leg, back and shoulder,” says the order, adding that Case did not see Lovato in his truck’s path. “And he admitted to using his cellphone to call the concrete or ‘batch’ plant and possibly his girlfriend ‘around the time’ of the incident.”  

Lovato in his earlier argument in district court suggested that he thought Case’s collision was beyond accidental.  

“Someone run (sic) over me in a 52,000-pound truck and they (sic) could see me,” said Lovato. “I have my hard hat with the shovel over my shoulder and a vest on… How does this dude hit someone that’s six foot (tall)?” 

Summary Judgment 

Lovato received worker’s compensation benefits. 

The order says Lovato then sued both Bustos and Case. Bustos settled his case with Lovato.  

Case, however, contended that because he was a co-worker he did not bear the same responsibility for Lovato’s safety as a superior would. He also contended that he hadn’t acted wantonly and willfully, so Lovato could not sue him in addition to getting worker’s compensation, according to the order.  

The district court dismissed the case, agreeing with Case on those points.  

Duty To Safety  

The Wyoming Supreme Court agreed with the district court’s decision to dismiss the case, saying that Case had been negligent, but not “willful and wanton.”  

Though the high court upheld the lower court’s dismissal. But, its decision states, the high court disagrees with the district court that Case was not responsible for Lovato’s safety as a co-worker.    

“The district court was mistaken about Mr. Case’s duty to Mr. Lovato, but summary judgment was still appropriate,” the document reads.  

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Researchers Explore Turning Human Poop Into Clean Energy

in Energy/News
An outhouse in Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park. (File Photo/Getty Images)
28255

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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Researchers at Washington State University are developing a new way to treat sewage, which will convert leftover sludge to renewable natural gas. 

Wyoming also is exploring renewable natural gas production by using byproduct gas from sewage treatment, and energy companies are developing it from coal seams in the Powder River Basin. 

How It Works

The Spokesman-Review reports that the WSU method pretreats sewage with high-pressure steam containing oxygen, which makes it easier to biodegrade. As a result, the method allowed researchers to convert more than 85% of the sewage sludge into methane, which could then be used to produce electricity. 

A report on the research published in the journal Waste Management notes that more than 13.84 million U.S. dry tons (12.56 million metric dry tons) of sewage is produced annually in the United States from publicly owned treatment works or wastewater treatment facilities. 

In other words, America is full of it, and it can be used to produce electricity. 

Capital Crap 

Using human sewage to produce energy is nothing new. The wastewater treatment plant in Washington, D.C., which is the largest consumer of electricity in the nation’s capital, has been converting poop into “clean” power since 2015. 

The system processes leftover solids from the wastewater treatment system into methane gas, which is used to turn three 5-megawatt turbines. The power produced supplies one-third of the plant’s energy needs, which is the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world.

Could It Work Here?

Wyoming doesn’t have as many people as the nation’s capital, but at least one wastewater treatment facility uses Cowboy State bodily waste for energy. 

Brandon Price, wastewater manager for the city of Gillette, said its sewage treatment facility captures methane to burn in the boilers for heat. 

“It’s kind of a byproduct of the digestion process. We just capture that gas,” Price said. 

Reuters reports that researchers at a South Korean university developed an eco-friendly toilet, which is connected to a laboratory that uses excrement to produce methane.

The toilet uses a vacuum pump to send the No. 2 into an underground tank, which reduces the amount of water it uses. Once the feedstock is secured in a tank, microorganisms break it down into methane, which is then used as an energy source for the building where the toilets are located. 

Coal Seam Gas

Colorado-based Cowboy Clean Fuels is developing a facility in the Powder River Basin that will use non-productive coalbed methane reservoirs and agricultural byproducts to produce renewable natural gas. 

Noah Yates, vice president of finance, strategy and operations for Cowboy Clean Fuels, told Cowboy State Daily the facility will move toward commercialization next year. 

The coal seams act as natural bioreactors for agricultural byproducts. The process produces carbon dioxide and methane, and the carbon dioxide is captured and not vented. 

Yates said the process isn’t being used anywhere else in the world. 

“Cowboy Clean Fuels is the exclusive global licensee of the RNG production technology developed at the University of Wyoming and is therefore the only company in the world commercializing it,” Yates said. 

Yates said the agricultural byproducts in the process are not manure, but a variety of feedstocks that are byproducts from “various agricultural processes common to the Rocky Mountains and Northern Great Plains.” 

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Dave Walsh: Bold Prediction Puts Cowboys In Arizona Bowl

in Dave Walsh
28252

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By Dave Walsh, Columnist

One of the biggest weekends in College Football is here! 

There will be a number of conference championship games to be played, and those are huge.

These are very important games with big rewards going to the winners. Those rewards are invitations to “so-called” bigger bowls. Bigger Bowls are bowls that might have a bit larger payout to participants. They are bowls that will draw a more accomplished opponent too.

So, those conference championship games certainly carry a great deal of attention. 

But for most of College Football America, the biggest and most interesting day of the weekend is Sunday. After all those conference championships have been staged, there comes college football’s “Selection Sunday.”

That’s when all of the matchups are announced. Each and every bowl game, and each and every team that will play in those games will be announced Sunday.

And when there are to be 41 bowl games in total to be played, that makes for a lot of matchups. That 41-game bowl schedule begins Friday, Dec. 16 with the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, and will conclude with the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Inglewood, California, on Monday, Jan. 9.

And we’ll find out the wheres and whens for 80 college football teams this Selection Sunday.

Now, I’m one of those who will probably, at the least, “look-in” on every one of those bowl games. Like many, I’m just a big fan of the sport. The college football bowl season is a great time of year, it’s college football’s Thanksgiving and Christmas all in one month. 

We “feast” on the many “gifts” of the season. 

So, college football’s Selection Sunday is always of major interest.

Like many here in the Cowboy State, I’m also a Wyoming Cowboy football fan. And that, of course, brings a little more meaning to this year’s Selection Sunday.

The Cowboys posted seven wins this season, an overall mark of 7-5. The Pokes are a strong bowl-eligible football team, and it’ll be fun to watch and experience the thrill of Wyoming being named a participant. And it’ll be just as exciting to find out who and where the Cowboys will play.

Sunday’s selection announcements will be anticipated by many, and the interest it brings reminds me very much of college basketball’s announcement of its post-season field of 64. It’s a dramatic, an edge-of-your-seat experience when one is watching and waiting for their team to be announced.

College football’s Selection Sunday is very similar. The anticipation and excitement to hear the details of a bowl game appearance feels very much the same.

It’s been fun over the past couple of weeks speculating where the Cowboys might end up this bowl season. And, by the way, speculating is very much OK. When your team has had a bowl-qualifying season like the Cowboys just had, it’s an earned right. 

The Cowboys gave their fans the right to speculate and anticipate. These are just the early rewards one can enjoy before the game is ever played.

We know that there are certain bowls that the Cowboys are tied to. It’s really the Mountain West Conference that is associated with certain bowl games. 

The Mountain West is contracted to provide one of the opponents for the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque and the L.A. Bowl in Inglewood, California. The Mountain West also has ties with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise and the Arizona Bowl in Tucson, two bowls the Cowboys have played in before.

Some of the other bowls with Mountain West ties are the Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas; the Armed Forces Bowl in Ft. Worth, Texas; the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Florida; the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu; and the Texas Bowl in Houston.

And just speculating here, but here are my best picks for a landing spot for the Cowboys.

I think the Cowboys will be desired by the two bowls the Cowboys have most recently played in. The Idaho Potato Bowl would love to have the Pokes in that game for a third time. And I think the Arizona Bowl will have a keen interest in Wyoming to appear there for a second time.

I am also speculating that the Texas Bowl and the L.A. Bowl will like the Pokes as well.

Heck, I think all of those Mountain West-affiliated bowls will take a look at the Pokes. Wyoming Football has a great reputation for being a wonderful bowl participant because of the class of the program and its outstanding fans. Wyoming fans show up and participate fully, and bowl games and the communities in which they are played appreciate that.

I have no inside information, no really good reason, but I’ll take shot at it and predict an invitation for the Cowboys to the … Arizona Bowl! 

I have no idea on who the Pokes would play. It will be a team from the Mid-American Conference, but I wouldn’t mind a spot in the Arizona Bowl. 

And I wouldn’t mind seeing you in Tucson on Dec. 30. 

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Wyoming’s Abortion Trigger Ban Advances To State Supreme Court

in abortion/News/Wyoming Supreme Court
28244

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

A lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s anti-abortion law is headed to the state Supreme Court – and two lawmakers who sought to join the case have been denied.   

Judge Melissa Owens, of Teton County District Court, on Wednesday denied state Reps. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, and Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, and Wyoming Right to Life the chance to argue in favor of Wyoming’s abortion ban in the lawsuit against it.   

Judge Owens said in her order denying the intervention that she was “sympathetic” to the effort, but didn’t see the representatives and Right to Life as having significant, protectable interests in the case’s outcome.   

No Pain To Ease  

Rodriguez-Williams and Neiman, Owens said, launched their intervenor lawsuit because of their strong personal beliefs in the sanctity of fetal life, and to ensure that legislation passed by the Legislature would actually be enacted.   

Owens indicated that these are generic interests that many citizens hold, not an environmental or economic grievance to be eased by a court.   

“A challenge to a particular piece of legislation on the basis of its constitutionality is not an infringement on the legislators’ ability to enact laws,” wrote Owens. “The outcome of this case will not abrogate the individual legislators’ authority to continue to work on drafting, passing and enacting laws that restrict abortion services within the state.”   

Both Neiman and Rodriguez-Williams won their bids for reelection in November.   

Owens also found Wyoming Right to Life’s argument insufficient for the organization to intervene, saying the group can still advocate for and hold pro-life views regardless of the case’s outcome.   

State Not Doing Enough?  

To win the right to intervene, the lawmakers and Right to Life had to demonstrate that Wyoming wasn’t doing enough to defend its trigger law, which makes most abortions in Wyoming illegal on the June repeal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision.  

They did not win that argument, Owens decided.   

The would-be intervenors disagreed with the methods of the Wyoming Attorney General’s office, saying that the state hasn’t given enough of its own evidence to rebut the plaintiffs’ claims that the abortion law could harm women or doctors or that it’s unconstitutional.   

“Although the applicants and the state defendants appear to have a different opinion over their litigation tactics in this case,” wrote Owens, “their objectives are the same.”   

The state’s attorney in the case, Jay Jerde, told the court during the Nov. 28 intervenor hearing that the state didn’t oppose the intervention but disagreed with notions that it isn’t defending its law adequately.   

Law Still Asleep  

Earlier in the case, Judge Owens blocked state authorities from enforcing the abortion ban, saying there is a question as to whether the Wyoming Constitution equates abortion with health care. 

She pronounced a strong leaning toward that conclusion. 

The Constitution guarantees state citizens the right to make their own health care decisions.   

Abortion is still legal in Wyoming. 

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Under Threat Of Rail Strike, Lummis Urges Senate To Leave House Agreement Alone And Vote For It

in News/Cynthia Lummis/coal
28231

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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

The U.S. House passed a resolution Wednesday that would force rail worker unions to accept a tentative agreement reached earlier this year. The resolution would make a threatened strike illegal. 

Members of four of the 12 railroad unions voted against the agreement, which means the unions could strike as early as Dec. 9. A strike would bring Wyoming coal mines to a stop and, if prolonged, coal-fired power generation would stop when stockpiles are depleted at power plants. 

Including all the other industries the strike would impact, estimates suggest a rail strike would cost the economy $2 billion a day. 

Letter To Colleagues

Advocates for the railroad unions have criticized the agreement for not addressing time-off policies, especially paid sick days. 

As the House resolution heads to the Senate, Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, is urging the Senate to not alter the agreement. 

A letter to her colleagues signed by Lummis and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, says that granting more paid leave would set a precedent. 

“Other unionized employees of regulated industries would likely make that same gamble in the future, rendering Congress the arbiter of these types of labor disputes instead of the National Mediation Board,” the letter says. “It is in the best interest of all parties that the railroads, not Congress, work through issues such as paid leave directly with their employees.”

Urgent Situation

The letter also notes that it would impose significant costs on the railroads, and that it would be inappropriate for Congress to add additional labor costs without a “comprehensive understanding of the financial ramification that would cause.” 

Lummis and Cramer acknowledge the urgency with which Congress would intervene in the dispute, given the potentially enormous impacts on the U.S. economy, but the consequences of altering the agreement would be problematic in the long term. 

“While this position is undesirable, Congress must act,” Lummis and Cramer wrote. “Implementing an agreement that roughly half of the unionized workers support, along with all their leadership, is the most responsible path forward. Inserting ourselves further into a labor dispute will only cripple future labor negotiations for the railroads and other similar industries.”

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Boner Subpoenas Attorney General Over Decision Made In State Lands Office

in News/Legislature
28162

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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com

The Wyoming Legislature’s Agriculture Committee has voted to subpoena Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to compel her to appear before the committee after Hill declined an invitation to participate in its Nov. 14 meeting. 

At that meeting, the committee discussed a decision Hill made while she was director of the state Office of State Lands and Investments in 2018, concerning a particular state land leasing approval and the process of leasing lands.

Hill ‘Not Interested’

“The answer was simply, ‘No, we’re not interested,’” state Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, said about Hill’s response to the committee’s request.

Boner chairs the Agriculture Committee and told Cowboy State Daily on Monday morning that Hill’s refusal to cooperate with a legislative body is “really why the committee felt to take the action that they did.”

Hill was director of OSLI from 2013-2018, and became the state’s attorney general when Gov. Mark Gordon took office in 2019.

When contacted by Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday afternoon, Hill said she had no comment about whether she will comply if subpoenaed.

Digging For Information

Boner said the committee wants Hill to help clear up some questions lawmakers have.

“This sort of testimony is so we understand the significant impact an agency like State Lands on our constituents,” Boner said. “These are really important issues and I think it’s important that we have an understanding of how contentious some of these cases can be.”

At the meeting, the Agriculture Committee voted 10-4 to subpoena Hill to testify.

Last week, Boner and Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne, wrote a memo to the Management Council detailing why the committee is making the request.

“It’s important that she show up, or any agency show up, so we can make an informed decision regarding the bills before us,” Boner told Cowboy State Daily. “If nothing else, we need to understand the role the Attorney General’s office plays in this process.”

Management Council

On Thursday, Eklund will appear before the Management Council and seek permission to approve and pay for an extra day so the Ag Committee can meet with HIll. The Management Council is the approving body for funding all subpoenas issued by the Legislature’s committees. 

Specifically, the Ag Committee wants to study the processes used by state decision-makers when establishing state land agricultural and grazing leases and the mechanisms used for determining and addressing conflicts of interest. 

Although the Management Council won’t directly rule on the decision to subpoena Hill, it will take an indirect position on the matter by choosing whether or not to fund and OK the extra meeting and $250 subpoena that has not been budgeted. 

Boner and Eklund estimate the total cost of the meeting, including the subpoena, will run $12,085. If approved, Boner said the meeting would likely happen in late December or early January before the upcoming legislative session begins.

Any state leasing application goes before the OSLI for a first determination. After that initial determination is made, the application later makes its way to the State Board of Land Commissioners for a final decision. The Wyoming Attorney General’s office advises both parties on these matters.

Boner said he wants to ensure both parties are receiving fair and impartial legal advice in every step of the process.

Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, chairs the Management Council and told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that he will not vote to support paying for the subpoena and adding an extra meeting for the Ag Committee.

“It’s time to close out the old session and get ready to open the new session,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of new faces, we’ve got to get everybody on board and start up new.”

Motivation For The Subpoena

The primary motivation for getting Hill to testify before the committee is to have her explain some of the decisions made regarding a 2018 leasing appeals case.

In late 2018, applicants Wagonhound Land and Livestock Company LLC and John Leman submitted competing applications to lease a 146-acre parcel of state land in Douglas for 10 years. Wagonhound offered to lease the land for $1,360 a year while Leman offered to lease it for $348.84 a year.

Wagonhound was awarded the lease, a decision Leman appealed. 

Allegations Of Fraud

Leman claimed Wagonhound was awarded its bid based on fraudulent statements and that it did not have an actual or necessary use for the land, which Wagonhound disputes. Wagonhound said the area within the lease were fenced in with other lands the company owns west of the parcel. 

Under state law, grazing leases are to be awarded on actual and necessary use of the land. OSLI argued at the time the law only comes into effect as a tiebreaker when deciding between two bids of the same amount. 

Leman also argued OSLI helped Wagonhound obtain annual temporary use permits for grazing on the land for eight years prior to granting the lease without advertising this opportunity to him or verifying they were being used. 

Boner said a previous landowner before Leman had used the state land in the past, as it was not separated from their ranch property. Leman said he was previously told by OSLI the agency would not lease the vacant land to him because it was too small a parcel.

Land Wasn’t Used

Leman said Wagonhound eventually admitted during the appeals process it had not been using the land it was leasing because most of it had to be accessed through Leman’s land and would require building fencing to separate the two parties’ livestock.

A witness for Wagonhound during the appeals hearing said that although no grazing happened on the land from 2011-2017, it continued to lease the parcel out of the hope it would acquire other lands in the area in the future.

“Speculating on future acquisition of land is not a showing of actual and necessary use,” Leman wrote in his appeal.

In 2017, Wagonhound bought land to the west of the state parcel that is fenced in with the state lands and not separated because of an unmaintained fence.

Misleading Map

The Board of Land Commissioners agreed that a property map Wagonhound provided in its 2018 application was misleading, an action Leman asserted was used purposely as a point of leverage with OSLI. 

“If you’re an adjoining landowner you have an increased right or increased probability of getting that vacant land,” Boner said.

OSLI also argued it lacked authority to reject Wagonhound’s lease because its application did not contain any false statements that materially affected it. Wagonhound said because it showed intent to use the land it met the “actual and necessary” requirement. 

The Office of Administrative Hearings sided with Leman in January 2020 and recommended that he be granted the lease. The case was then remanded to the Board of Land Commissioners for a final decision. 

Both Parties Wrong

In April 2020, the Board of Land Commissioners sided with Hill and OSLI. The board argued that weighing the relative merits of each party’s historic use of the state lease was not necessary or appropriate in this case. 

It also mentioned how Leman used the state land without a lease in 2011 and 2012 because his property adjoined it, while Wagonhound did not make use of the land he said he would use. In the opinion of the board, those two wrongs made the parties equal.

“Under these circumstances, the board concludes that neither party should obtain any benefit from either their use without permission or their non-use despite permission,” the Land Commissioners said in their final decision letter.

A Teachable Moment

From 1998-2019, this was the only instance of the Board of Land Commissioners rejecting recommendations made by the Office of Administrative Hearings while upholding the OSLI Director’s recommendations. 

Boner said he has no expectations for a reversal of the Leman decision, but he wants the case to serve as a teaching moment for the Agriculture Committee to show how contentious and significant state lands use cases can be.

“In my mind, the most troubling part is how long this land sat vacant,” Boner said. 

State Treasurer Curt Meier and Interim Secretary of State Karl Allred accepted invitations to participate in the Ag Committee meeting earlier this month on behalf of the Board of Land Commissioners. Meier served on the board when deciding the Leman case, but Allred did not.

Ramifications

Boner said a subpoena has not been considered by the Wyoming Legislature or a legislative committee since 2013. 

While according to law, a subject must answer a subpoena or risk facing charges of contempt, Boner said it is unclear what legal ramifications Hill could face if she chooses not to answer the committee’s subpoena. 

“The Legislature has not used this tool in our toolbox,” Boner said. “I don’t have a good answer for that, and I think that’s a good reason to move forward because this is something we can legitimately use as an oversight function of the Legislature that we just haven’t used in recent memory.”

Boner said there is drafted legislation for the upcoming session that could be affected by Hill’s perspectives on the leasing matters. He mentioned one bill that would attempt to mitigate the quantity of vacant land, defined as state land not being used for grazing, by making changes to the leasing application and renewal process that would prevent land from going vacant because of a minor infraction in paperwork.

“When these bills hit the House or the Senate floor, we need to be able to explain the entire context of what these bills are operating in, and we can’t do that if agencies just don’t show up and frankly don’t make an effort to work with us either,” he said.

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Chinese Ownership Of Lithium Mine In U.S. Raises Concerns; State Rep Upset That U.S. Ceding Market

in Energy/News
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

The push for renewable energy is ramping up demand for minerals, many of which China controls, and the Wyoming mining industry wants to get in on the action. 

Eager to secure a domestic supply of critical minerals for solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles, the federal government is providing loans to companies to help develop domestic supplies. 

Now, China is investing in U.S. mining operations, which not only allows the communist nation to maintain global dominance of these critical minerals, it opens up opportunities to get loans from the federal government for their businesses.

Chinese Control

American Military News reports that Lithium Americas, a Canadian-based company, has been winding through the federal permitting process for a lithium mine in the northern part of Nevada, which is home to the only lithium mine now operating in the United States. 

The Washington Free Beacon reported last week that the largest shareholder of Lithium Americas is the Chinese mineral giant Ganfeng Lithium. 

As is usual, the permitting process has faced stiff opposition from environmental groups, but now Republican lawmakers in Nevada, as well as a U.S. senator, are raising concerns about China being involved in the operation. 

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, sent a letter to the Department of Energy in September objecting to federal money going to the company, which Cotton said is partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party. 

“The letter addresses the significant risks to national security and our supply chain that would arise if federal funding were to deepen Chinese control over America’s critical minerals,” Cotton said in a release about the letter. 

China-Free Wyoming

The prospect of Chinese ownership of mining operations in the U.S. also is a concern in Wyoming. 

State Rep. Scott Heiner, R-Green River, said that lithium deposits are found in southwest Wyoming. They’re not currently recoverable economically, but that could change. Across the state, there’s potential to develop rare earth minerals, uranium, gold and copper. 

“I think we need to develop our resources and provide an environment whereby we can foster companies to come in here and do that,” Hiner said. “But not companies that are owned by China.”

China controls 60% of the world’s lithium resources, which are used in batteries for electric vehicles among other uses. As more intermittent wind and solar resources are added to the grid, while coal-fired power plants are shut down, lithium will be needed for battery facilities to stabilize the electrical grid. 

Without a domestic supply of the mineral, the U.S. will be beholden to China for our energy. 

“Why would we continue to let them control the supply here in the United States and Wyoming?” Heiner said. 

Different Animal

Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming mining association, said he’s not aware of any Chinese or Russian companies involved in the Cowboy State’s mining operations. He cautioned against any blanket restrictions against foreign ownership of mining companies, as there are soda ash mines owned by Belgium and Turkey. 

“I think China is a different animal,” Deti said. “As we start pursuing our plans of developing a rare earth industry and bolstering our uranium industry, I think it’s just something we really need to keep an eye on.” 

Chinese ownership of mining companies is not just something that concerns American lawmakers. Earlier this month, Canada ordered three Chinese firms to divest from mining companies operating in the country over concerns that those investments undermine Canada’s national security. 

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Supreme Court Rules Couple Can Sue Hospital To See Records From Disabled Son’s First Hours Alive

in News/Wyoming Supreme Court/Health care
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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

A Wyoming mother and father who were denied access to some medical data from the hours just before their son’s birth to his cerebral palsy diagnosis now have a second chance to learn more from the hospital.  

The Wyoming Supreme Court on Tuesday determined that the family’s case is valid and should be litigated in a state district court, though the lower court had dismissed the case previously in the hospital’s favor.  

Rebecca and Tyler Wiese on Sept. 25, 2012, had a son at the Riverton Memorial Hospital after Rebecca labored overnight.  

The baby had no respirations, tone, reflexes or color, and was intubated and flown to Denver for care, according to the Wyoming Supreme Court’s remand order. There, the baby was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, caused by brain damage from a lack of oxygen to critical brain structures.  

Rebecca Wiese was discharged from the hospital the next day, the order states.  

Few Answers

Starting in 2015 when their son was 3, the family sought a full account of what happened during their hospital stay.

One year later, the hospital produced hard copy records, according to the court’s order.  

In 2018, the Wieses wrote the hospital claiming it had withheld “significant records,” namely the audit trail associated with the hospital’s data software system, Centricity.   

An audit trail is a list of times the medical record was accessed, who accessed it, from where, what part of it was viewed, the content of entries made in the record and whether any information was deleted or altered, and how.  

The hospital wrote back two months later that it had already given the family all medical records to which it was legally entitled, the order says. It then agreed to produce the audit trail associated with Wiese’s records in the Hospital Management System, but not the audit trail associated with the Centricity system.

The hospital said that audit trail was “irrelevant and duplicative,” adding that a hard copy of the records also existed. It said it had spent “considerable resources and hired forensic computer experts” but still could not find the Centricity data, according to the order.

The hospital declined a Cowboy State Daily request for comment on the state Supreme Court ruling, saying it can’t comment on ongoing litigation.

‘Simply Never Saved’ 

The Wieses filed their lawsuit in June of 2018, alleging that the hospital had violated the Wyoming Hospital Records and Information Act by failing to provide them all health care information concerning Rebecca Wiese’s labor and delivery, including her audit trail.  

In its response, the hospital “maintained for the first time” that Rebecca Wiese’s audit trail was supposed to be on a CD, but was not on the CD.  

The hospital said its forensic expert had found that Wiese’s electronic record “(was) simply never saved,” the order says.  

The Wieses filed discovery requests in their suit asking for a joint inspection of Rebecca Wiese’s electronic record.

Eight days later, the hospital filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the district court to dismiss the case on the grounds that audit trails are not medical records under Wyoming law, and saying it couldn’t find the audit trail. 

The district court granted the hospital’s request, implying that audit trails are not medical records and essentially judging that the hospital had done enough to try to locate the missing records, the order indicates. 

Appeal 

After their defeat, the Wieses appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court.  

The higher court agreed with the family that audit trails should be considered medical records under the Wyoming Hospital Records and Information Act. That act has since been repealed, but the case still falls under it since it was in place in 2012 when the Wieses’ boy was born.  

“We conclude there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether … the hospital made a good faith effort to locate Ms. Wiese’s Centricity electronic record,” the high court wrote in its order.  

The hospital’s forensic analyst did not search the hospital’s backup server, adequately preview Centricity files or search for Wiese’s files as fully as he could have, the order says.  

The court remanded the case back to the state district court for further litigation. The Justices did not, however, order a joint inspection of the hospital’s Centricity storage devices as the Wieses had requested, writing that the district court could determine on its own whether such a search is merited.

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No One Else Was Home! 13-Year-Old Wyoming Boy Helps Mom Deliver Baby Girl

in Wyoming Life/News
Luke Reynolds, 13, with his newborn sister, Michaela, who he helped deliver at home. (Photo Courtesy Reynolds Family)
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Courtney Reynolds of Evansville is an experienced mom. Pregnant with her ninth child, Reynolds treated Sept. 27 as any other day, preparing her family for the arrival of their newest member.

The pregnancy was complicated – the little one refused to turn and was sitting in the breech position, rear end down, rather than head-first. So, a cesarean delivery (C-section) was planned in just a few days. 

It was a rare moment when only one of her eight other children was at their rural home – the oldest, 13-year-old Luke. Her husband had taken the five boys to town for football practice, and her mother and sister had the three little girls that evening.

Courtney didn’t anticipate that the day would end with the arrival of her fourth little girl, and with her eldest gaining an unexpected education by helping his mom deliver his newest sibling.

Luke said that “never in my wildest dreams” would he have ever thought he’d be there to help his mom deliver a baby.


Luke Reynolds, 13, is the oldest of nine siblings. His newborn sister Michaela is the youngest. (Photo Courtesy Reynolds Family)

Complications

Courtney told Cowboy State Daily that although she’s had nine children, that doesn’t mean she’s got all the signals figured out, so she doesn’t always make it to the hospital in time.

“My fifth boy was born in the car on the way to the hospital,” she said. “And at that time, we only lived two minutes away from the hospital.”

She and her husband had planned for the birth of this latest little one to happen at home with the assistance of a midwife, because of how quickly her babies historically have arrived near their due dates. But complications arose at 35 weeks when an ultrasound showed the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck.

“The contractions just pushing her down into the birth canal could have strangled her,” said Courtney. “So (the midwife) actually had me scheduled for a C-section that was supposed to be two days later.”

Birth Day

Courtney awoke the morning of Sept. 27 to contractions and was concerned that the baby might be born before the scheduled C-section. So she went to the hospital, where staff performed an ultrasound to check the position of the umbilical cord.

“My obstetrician did not see the cord around her neck anymore,” she said, which was a relief. 

To try to avoid Courtney having to go through a C-section, her doctor attempted to turn the baby so her head would be in the right position for a normal birth.

“He tried three times to flip her,” said Courtney. “And every time she would flip back.”

After giving her medication to pause the contractions, the doctor sent Courtney home. Her mother and sister had taken their three little girls while she was at the hospital, so Courtney settled down for a nap while her husband took the boys to football practice.

When she awoke around 5 p.m., Courtney found herself in a rare moment when she was at home with just her oldest son, who had taken the bus home from school.

“He was going to go with my husband and he’s like, ‘Well, I’ll just stay with mom in case she needs anything, in case she needs help,’” said Courtney. “So he decided to stay.”

At-Home Birth

When Courtney felt contractions coming on shortly after she awoke from her nap, she wasn’t alarmed, even though her husband was a half-hour away at the boys’ football practice. 

“I was getting contractions, but they were very irregular and not as strong as what I would usually (experience) going to the hospital,” she said.

But by about 7, Courtney said it was like a switch flipped.

“It just came on hard and fast,” she said. “I couldn’t move, I couldn’t really walk. I couldn’t even dial my husband’s phone number.”

Handing her phone to Luke, she instructed him to call his dad, which he did. Then, he turned to his mom and asked him if her water had broken yet.

“He doesn’t know exactly how everything works,” said Courtney with a laugh. “But I told him no, and he said ‘OK, well then you’re fine. You’re not actually in labor yet.’”

Baby No. 9 Just Wouldn’t Wait

But moments later while Courtney was in the bathroom gathering items to go to the hospital, her water broke. That’s when Luke panicked “just a bit,” she said.

“I was really, definitely scared,” Luke said.

Luke called his dad, who said he wouldn’t make it home in time. He told Luke to call Courtney’s sister, a nurse who lives about 15 minutes from their house.

“As he’s on the phone with her, she was telling him some things to do,” said Courtney. “I think she told him to go grab some towels and try to grab stuff in case the baby did come before she got there, that he could grab, like, stuff to clamp the cord and scissors.”

As Luke was busily gathering the emergency items, Courtney knew the baby was getting ready to make her appearance.

“She was coming out butt-first, and I just grabbed her and pulled her up and held her,” said Courtney. “And Luke went and got some towels, and we wrapped her up.” 

Courtney sent Luke to find clamps for the umbilical cord, which he found in her husband’s tool box. They clamped off the cord, but didn’t cut it right away. By this time, Courtney’s sister had arrived and her mom had called 911, so a sheriff’s deputy and EMS team were on their way.

“Once they got there, they cut (the cord), and then they loaded us up and took us to the hospital,” said Courtney.

Not What He Expected

Although Luke had seen his other siblings shortly after their births, Courtney said he wasn’t quite expecting to see how babies look immediately after they are born.

“I thought she was stillborn,” Luke said, which added to his terror. But the baby’s pale skin was just the white vernix coating all babies have when they are in the womb.

“When she came out, of course, she had the white vernix, she wasn’t clean,” Courtney said. “And he was just really concerned about the whole situation because nothing looked quite right for him.”

When the placenta came out, that was another shock for the teen, said Courtney. 

“I looked over and I thought it was her liver, and I almost had a heart attack,” Luke said.

As unnerving as the situation was, Courtney said Luke kept his concerns under control.

“He was pretty scared, but he didn’t show it,” she said. “He actually stayed pretty calm and was, like, under control. But I found out later that he was pretty concerned that things were not going right.” 


Luke Reyonolds, left, talks with first responders at home after helping his mother, Courtney, give birth to his baby sister at home. (Photos Courtesy Reynolds Family)

‘Heroic’ Response

Last week, the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office honored Luke for his quick response and assistance. Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Kiera Grogan said the responding officer, Deputy Dan Beall, felt the young man deserved recognition. 

“Deputy Beall felt that it was really important that we recognize him and express to him how his actions were completely courageous and, honestly, heroic,” said Grogan.

Luke was presented with a Natrona County Sheriff’s Office patch and challenge coin, which Grogan said is a high honor.

“Receiving a challenge coin from a law enforcement officer is a recognition of him doing something courageous in the community,” she said. “At just 13 years old, he acted quickly and without hesitation in helping his mom and ensured that they were comfortable until Deputy Beall and EMS arrived.”

‘Truly Remarkable’

Courtney said that although Luke is the big brother to eight other siblings, his bond with tiny Michaela is a little stronger.

“Whenever I pick her up, she calms down,” said Luke. “It’s almost like we have a bond.”

Courtney said that Luke has always been good with his smaller siblings, but with Michaela there’s a special relationship.

“He kind of takes on that ownership of being there,” she said.

But Luke said he has no plans to make delivering babies a career. The seventh grader has hopes to be an aerospace engineer one day – but if necessary, he said he thinks he’d be able to step in if anything like this happens again.

“I think I could probably handle it,” he said.

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Autistic Wyoming Man’s Creative Business Opens Doors To A World That Doesn’t Understand Him

in Wyoming Life/News/Business
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Kurmudgeon Kups were a big hit at the Frontier Mall in Cheyenne on Small Business Saturday, and so was their creator, Jonathon DeVries.

The mugs featured grumpy frowns and funny things DeVries has said to friends and family members, like, “Being an adult is not for me!” The back of that mug has a big grumpy frown.

The saying, meanwhile, is a favorite, mom Vicki DeVries told Cowboy State Daily. It’s Jonathon’s first thought anytime someone suggests he do something adultish that he doesn’t want to do. 

Living With Autism

Jonathon, 32, has autism. He was not just “dipped” in autism, as Vickie DeVries’ daughter puts it. “He was dunked.”

The business that revolves around him is their creative solution to the lifelong challenges Jonathon faces in finding his place in the world. 

“Sometimes, when something doesn’t exist for a person with different needs, you have to get creative and develop it for them,” Vickie said. 


Jonathon DeVries with displays of his Kurmudgeon Kups.

The Tasmanian Devil Stage

Jonathon was diagnosed with autism almost 30 years ago. Like many families with autistic children at that time, just getting a diagnosis was an arduous task. 

Vicki DeVries found herself, more often than not, being blamed for what was happening to her son.

“They kept putting notes in his chart,” she said. “’Parent needs parenting classes.’ ‘Child was out of control.’ I mean, they made all these comments, but nobody stopped to ask what’s going on when they have an older child who’s sitting here in the chair behaving, you know, not attacking mom, or anything like that.”

It took a year and a half before Vicki finally found a doctor who would listen, without judgment, as she explained her very real concerns, which ranged from her son’s slower-than-normal development to his wild “Tasmanian devil” behavior.

“He was just very aggressive toward us,” she recalled. “He hadn’t developed any, you know by 16, 18 months of age, he wasn’t talking yet. He was behind on everything.”

Finally, when the family was living in California, Vickie called yet another pediatrician for help. It just so happened that this time, the doctor also had a child with special needs. 

“And I did say to him when we took him in, I think he might have autism, because I’d read an article, and everything just kind of went from there,” she said.

One In 10,000 

At that time, autism was still a very uncommon diagnosis, maybe 1 in 10,000 children. It was barely recognized and hardly understood.

“There wasn’t really anything they could tell me about what to expect, what not to expect,” she said. 

It also was common in the beginning days of autism being recognized to blame “unemotional and cold” mothers for their children’s plight.

“Thank God we’ve passed that part,” Vickie said.

Positive Intervention

Despite these limitations, Jonathon still was able to access good early intervention, which is key for better outcomes for children with autism.

There have been many setbacks along the way, Vicki said, including a court battle in Wyoming with their school district that ultimately came back in her son’s favor. 

She credits the “village” of family and community with helping her keep Jonathon home for as long as she did.

“He had a teacher who really took an interest in him, and she taught him how to read, so he does read,” Vicki recalled. “He probably reads about second, maybe third grade level. He doesn’t understand the concept of math or time.”

But give Jonathon a legal pad and a fresh Sharpie, and he enjoys writing out his funny sayings, and he enjoys making things like grumpy frowns. They make him laugh and smile. 

TinMan Productions

The business idea, meanwhile, came about organically. Jonathon had a habit of making firewood kindling.

“He was really obsessive about it,” Vickie said. 

There came to be so much kindling, in fact, that it started to become a problem. Vicki started placing it in bags for sale and called the effort TinMan Productions, because Jonathon loves “The Wizard of Oz.” 

Making mountains of kindling might have been different, and to some perhaps stressful, but for Vickie it brought a sense of relief.

Here was something productive her son could do, an outlet for his energy. She held that idea close to her heart. 

Evolution Of The Idea

And then, after about two years of that her son announced one day that he was tired of making kindling.

“His needs changed,” she said, adding that her heart also was struck with fear. 

What was going to become of her son?

But the business idea soon began to evolve into something that could better suit her son’s new needs. From that evolution came funny, witty sayings and, finally, the development of Kurmudgeon Kups.

Then heck, why not Kurmdugeon Kards and Kurmudgeon Khristmas ornaments, too?

The backs of the cups get the trademark grumpy face that today makes everyone, not just Jonathon, smile.

“TinMan Productions made a profit for the first time this year,” Vickie said. 

More Than A Business

But the business is about far more than making money. It’s really all about Johnathon and his life, his story, his fight to belong in a society that’s often impatient with those who are different.

“Autism is a beautiful thing,” his main caregiver, Taylor Robinson, told Cowboy State Daily. “I’ve worked in this field for six years now with people with autism and I have family members who are autistic as well. Each one of them offer something different. They see the world in a different light than all of us.”

That perception could manifest in little ways, like stopping to admire the beauty of a single branch, for example. Things most of us miss in our hurry-worry days.

Robinson was with Jonathon at Frontier Mall for a three-day TinMan Productions popup shop. It was a great chance for life lessons. 

That day, he learned to introduce himself. Instead of whistling to get attention, he learned to instead say, “Excuse me, allow me to introduce myself,” and, “I’m Jonathon Taylor DeVries with TinMan Productions.”

That day was one of the business’ most successful ever, Vickie said.

They took one order for 50 mugs, and the business made a profit for the first time.

Uncertain Future

The interaction made Vickie feel good about the path her son is now on, though she still has many worries about his future.

She and her husband Tim are growing older and face more health problems. That prompted the Glenrock couple to place Jonathon with a full-time program, Treasure Abilities in Cheyenne, three years ago.

“With doing what’s best for him comes a lot of heartache,” Vickie said. “It sucks, but we always try to keep that in mind, what’s best for him long-term.”

She and her husband hope doing this now, instead of waiting until one or both parents have passed away, will ease the transition for Jonathon in the future. He won’t have to deal with their deaths and moving into a new living situation all at once.

Planning Ahead

The family also has set up an Enable Savings Plan to help their son as well, which allows savings of up to $100,000 for future disability-related expenses without affecting SSI or Medicaid.

“My dream goal would be to buy like an apartment complex where he’d have his own apartment, and then you strategically place people in the apartments around him as a support and kind of a checks and balance system,” Vickie said. “People who would keep an eye out for him, you know. Not necessarily staff, but a family member. 

“That would be our ideal goal, because then he’s not the one having to move anytime something goes wrong with the living situation.”

That’s a real concern, Vickie added. She knows of a girl with autism who has been moved no fewer than 22 times as circumstances changed for her.

But the apartment is not a certain dream by any means. The family’s own retirement is not where it should be either, Vickie said, in part from the need for at least one parent to stay home with Jonathon these many years. 

But the family takes life’s challenges one day at a time and, for now, are just thankful to have found a program willing to work with their son, to help him develop both his small business and his independence. 

“Jonathon lives in a world that doesn’t understand him,” Vickie said. “He has to figure out how to live here.”

Even after his parents are finally gone.

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Fed Government Creating Portable Wind Turbines To Be Used In Military & Disaster Operations

in Energy/News/wind
From left, wind turbine systems by HCI Energy, Uprise Energy and Deployable Advanced Renewable Power System
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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

The U.S. Department of Energy is pursuing a program to develop deployable wind turbines to be used in military defense and disaster relief operations. 

Like the fictional robots that turn into jets, helicopters and semitrucks in the Transformers movies, these wind turbines fit inside shipping containers and then fold out when they arrive at a site. 

Vulnerabilities

Many people might ask why a diesel-powered generator wouldn’t be a better tool for the job. They fit into a small space and provide constant, reliable power. 

According to a white paper on the project, the logistics of bringing in liquid fuel to generators in a military operation presents vulnerabilities, as the supplies can be attacked and destroyed.

The strength of the Defense and Disaster Deployable Turbine (D3T) concept is that an operation would have access to a source of power without having to bring in steady supplies of liquid fuel that can be blown up by the enemy.  

Brent Summerville, a researcher and systems engineer for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told Cowboy State Daily that defense and disaster industries also are interested in low-carbon energy in their operations. 

Optimus Turbine

Transporting a deployable wind turbine is the program’s challenge. It needs to be easy to ship, but also easy to assemble on site. 

A standard wind turbine is erected in a concrete foundation, and cranes lift the tall steel towers up. That’s not feasible in situations where the D3T turbines would be deployed. 

The team of researchers, which includes Sandia National Laboratories, developed 20-kilowatt wind turbines that fold up and fit into 20-foot shipping containers used by the U.S. military and American Red Cross. 

The project began four years ago with conversations between wind researchers at Sandia Labs and NREL and people in defense operations. Those in defense wanted to see what was available for deployable wind turbines, and the team of researchers wanted to know what the defense people needed. 

“There’s been this chicken and egg gap between those two organizations. We’re like, ‘Tell me what you need and we’ll develop it.’ And then they’re like, ‘Show me what you got, and we’ll buy it,’” Summerville said. 

After a few years of meetings and development, Summerville said they have some prototypes available, “which just really gets the juices flowing with the Department of Defense and these other disaster organizations.” 

With the prototypes, there was some back and forth about what was working and what needed to be improved. 

“I think it’s finally to a point where the end users and the developers can work it out and develop products that will be useful in the field,” Summerville said. 

Real Concerns

Microgrid setups in a disaster situation wouldn’t have to worry about protecting the equipment. In a war situation, enemies could just as easily fire a rocket propelled grenade at a turbine as they could set an explosive device in the road to take out a truck hauling fuel. 

And it’s not like you can build a barrier around a turbine, as that would block the wind it needs to operate. 

Col. Tucker Fagan (ret.) said a defense mission needs clear objectives, and it might put troops in jeopardy if concerns about emissions in operations dilutes the focus. 

Fagan, who lives in Cheyenne, spent 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, where he was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Nuclear Section. He led the team that created the so-called “nuclear football” for President Ronald Reagan, the briefcase with information that allows the president to authorize a nuclear strike.

“We learned that lesson in Vietnam. We applied it in the first Gulf War. And then we’re back to the old way. What is the objective?” Fagan said. 

The turbines make a lot of sense in a disaster situation, Fagan said, but if they’re going to be used in a military application, it shouldn’t compromise the safety of the military personnel. 

“I would really have some concerns,” Fagan said. 

The D3T program also incorporates aerial wind turbines, which are not as far along in development. These are a bit like kites with turbines on them, and they can hold communication equipment as well. 

Summerville said some deployments are sensitive to visible, tall objects and in those cases, the aerial turbines might provide a solution. 

“Where a wind turbine is going to be a problem because of its height or visibility, maybe they want something more stealthy,” Summerville said.

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Bird Flu Suspected In Deaths Of 77 Ducks In Central Wyoming

in News/wildlife/Hunting
Photo by Ken Jack/Getty Images
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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

After 78 wild birds died at the Ocean Lake Wildlife Management Area In Central Wyoming, game biologists are trying to determine if bird flu killed them.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department agents Tuesday found 77 dead mallard ducks and an “afflicted” Canada Goose at Ocean Lake southeast of Pavillion near the Wind River Reservation, the agency reports. The goose was euthanized.

A particularly bad outbreak of avian influenza, or bird flu, this year has been killing domestic poultry, as well as some wild birds across the United States and around the globe. The virus is suspected in the mass waterfowl death at Ocean Lake, Game and Fish’s Lander region wildlife supervisor Jason Hunter told Cowboy State Daily.

But that can’t be confirmed until test results on the birds’ carcasses come back from the agency’s wildlife health laboratory, he said, and that could take up to two weeks. 



Avian Pandemic Continues, Hunters Not Worried

Overall, there haven’t been any dramatic changes in Wyoming’s bird flu situation, said Michael Pipas, a wildlife disease biologist with the USDA Wildlife Services. 

He also told Cowboy State Daily that he didn’t know any specifics about the Ocean Lake bird deaths. 

The Ocean Lake area is a known “stopover” point for waterfowl that migrate through Wyoming from Canada or other U.S. states, Hunter said.

Calls inquiring about possible bird flu outbreaks among waterfowl in Montana and Nebraska to game agencies in those states weren’t returned Wednesday. 

Earlier this year, there was some concern that bird flu might have spread into Wyoming’s raptor population.

However, some Wyoming waterfowl hunters and hunting guides said they aren’t particularly worried about the disease dampening their hunting opportunities, threating their health or that of their clients.

Low Risk, But Caution Needed For Humans

The strain of bird flu circulating can potentially infect people, but is still listed as a low risk to human health, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

The Game and Fish Department is recommending precautions, Hunter said. 

Some of those include keeping away from birds that appear to be sick or the carcasses of those found dead. Also, waterfowl hunters should wear gloves when plucking or gutting the birds they’ve killed and make sure that duck or goose meat is thoroughly cooked before eating it. 

In light of the Ocean Lake bird deaths, “we want to get the word out,” Hunter said. “Even though nothing is confirmed yet, we need to be cautious.”

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Black Bear Hunting Outlook Good For Wyoming, But No Grizzly Hunting Anytime Soon

in Wyoming outdoors/News/Bears/Hunting
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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Wyoming’s black bear hunting has been good, and could be even better, despite chances being slim that the state will see a grizzly bear hunting season anytime soon, says an avid bear hunter and conservationist. 

Meanwhile, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department this month is seeking public comment on proposed changes to black bear hunting seasons, set to resume next spring across the state. 

“We have more bear hunters every year and our bear numbers are strong, really strong,” Cody resident and American Bear Foundation President Joe Kondelis told Cowboy State Daily. 

Proposed Changes

Proposed changes include splitting some parts of the Bighorn Mountain region into separate hunt areas, as well as limiting the number of bait containers hunters may place at their hunting sites. 

Drawing bears in with bait is allowed in Wyoming. Hunters will frequently spend hours waiting in blinds or tree stands near bait sites, hoping for a shot opportunity.

Bear hunters also will sometimes use the “spot and stalk” technique. That involves locating bears – usually with binoculars or spotting scopes – and then trying to figure out how to sneak in close enough for a kill shot.  

Bear hunting seasons will continue to operate under a mortality quota system. That means only a certain number of bears, particularly females, may be killed within any given hunt area before the season for that area shuts down – regardless of how many hunters are left holding unfilled tags. 

Splitting Bighorn Area Good Idea

Parsing the hunting zones in the Bighorn Mountains into different areas is a good idea, because it should give hunters more opportunity, Kondelis said. 

“The east side and west side (of the mountain range) are very different areas” and weather can vary greatly between them, he said. 

So, spring snow could still be too deep on one side of the mountain for hunters to access there, while the other side might be clear enough to get to, he said. That means hunters on the drier side could fill the quotas before those on the snowy side even got a chance to hunt. 

The quota system “isn’t a bad thing, we’re managing black bears on the side of caution,” he said. 

Bear Meat – Make Sure It’s Cooked Properly

And that’s paid off with a robust black bear population that also seems to be attracting more people to bear hunting, Kondelis said. 

“The amount of bear hunters compared to deer and elk hunters is still relatively small,” he said, adding the number appears to be growing. 

“There’s more people getting interested in it,” he said. “That’s for a couple of reasons. It gives people an opportunity to get out and hunt in the spring. And I think we’re starting to break down barrier of people not wanting to eat bear meat.”

People have a mistaken perception that bear meat isn’t particularly tasty, Kondelis said. But it can come down to how it’s prepared. 

“Almost all of our bears we make into breakfast sausage, jerky and slow roasts,” he said. 

Proper and thorough cooking of bear meat is a must, he added. That because, like pork, bear meat can carry trichinosis, a round worm infection that can make people sick. 

The infection can be treated with medication, according to the Mayo Clinic. But left untreated it can cause an array of symptoms, some of them serious, including fatigue, high fever, aching joints, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, skin irritation and maladies. 

Not Holding Breath For Griz Hunts

Like many Wyomingites, Kondelis thinks it’s high time Wyoming has grizzly hunting seasons, but he doesn’t expect that will be anytime soon. 

Grizzly hunts in Wyoming were set to open in 2018, but then shut down by a court order to keep grizzlies in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana under federal protection. 

There’s no reason to think that shutdown will be lifted in time for the 2023 bear hunting seasons, Kondelis said. 

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t even ruled on the petitions we sent them,” Kondelis said. “And that was a year ago.”

He was referring to petitions requesting clearance for grizzly hunts sent in 2021 from the governors of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to the USFWS. The agency still has overriding control of grizzly bear management in all three states. 

Meanwhile, in apparent hope that someday Wyoming will have grizzly hunts, the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force recommended that, should the hunts get the green light, nonresident grizzly hunting tags should cost $7,500. 

It was part of a proposal to boost non-resident fees for all of Wyoming’s “Big 5” trophy game species. 

Wildlife Task Force Recommends Cranking Up Out-Of-State “Big 5” Trophy Hunting Licenses | Cowboy State Daily

The other “Big 5” species include bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bison and moose. 



Public Gets Its Say

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department reviews black bear hunting regulations every three years. That’s happening again this year. 

The agency is hosting public meetings around the state to gather comments from bear hunters and taking comments online. Drafts of the bear hunt regulations, including proposed changes, also are available online.

The regulations will be considered by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission when it meets in Cheyenne on Jan. 11-12. The commission has the authority to set Game and Fish policy. 

Spring and fall black bear hunting seasons are set for 2023, with the earliest spring hunts opening in April and May in hunt areas across the state. 

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Buffalo Teacher Wins National Milken Educator Award for Excellence And $25,000 Cash Prize

in News/Education
Photo Courtesy Milken Educator Awards
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By Cowboy State Daily 

A kindergarten teacher in Buffalo is the first in her district to receive the “Oscar of Teaching” – the Milken Educator Award for teacher excellence.  

Jessica Kavitz teaches at Meadowlark Elementary School, where she eases students into the school year with movement, colorful and creative exercises, and social and emotional learning tools, according to a Tuesday press release.  

Kavitz’s mother was an educator in Gillette for nearly 30 years, the release notes.  

At a schoolwide assembly Tuesday, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder presented Kavitz with the award and an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.  


Jessica Kavitz, center, received $25,000 as part of being named a Milken Educator Award winner. (Photo Courtesy Milken Educator Awards)

Kavitz is among about 40 elementary school educators nationwide who will receive the award this school year. She’s the first recipient of the award from Johnson County School District No. 1, the statement says.  

“Jessica Kavitz is the kind of teacher you hope your children have for their first year of school – compassionate, thoughtful and engaging. Jessica’s classroom is a nonstop learning hub that prepares students well for their academic journeys,” said Greg Gallagher, Milken Educator Awards Senior Program director, in the prepared statement.  

“Jessica is a shining star among Wyoming’s excellent teachers. She is creative, dedicated and genuinely believes in her students. Congratulations to Jessica – Wyoming is very proud of you!” added Chad Auer, Wyoming’s deputy superintendent of public instruction. 

Now on their 35th year, the Milken Educator Awards are intended to inspire and uplift with unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The specific states and schools on this year’s winners’ list remain a closely guarded secret until each Award is announced, the statement says.  

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As City Faces Housing Crisis, Future In Limbo For Row Of Empty Historic Cheyenne Homes

in Wyoming Life/News
Looking down a row of four empty historic homes at the High Plains Arboretum in Cheyenne. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

A row of gorgeous homes in a picturesque Wyoming landscape sit perpetually empty in Cheyenne even as the city is feeling the pinch of a severe housing crisis.

The puzzlingly vacant properties lie on land shared by the High Plains Arboretum and leased from Cheyenne to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for 199 years and were, once upon a time, used as homes to house the agency’s employees.

“The buildings have been used less during the last years as research projects were relocated or refocused,” a USDA-ARS spokesperson told Cowboy State Daily. “Although no formal deals are available, ARS is in discussions to repurpose these structures.”

The spokesperson would not elaborate on what type of purpose they could be used for and did not respond to further inquiries, such as when the homes were sealed up.


A row of houses at the High Plains Arboretum sit vacant as officials explore ways to use them instead of having the homes torn down. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

New Life For Old Homes?

Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins, meanwhile, told Cowboy State Daily that he has tried unsuccessfully to find new life for the homes, which were built when the research station was established around 1928 to 1930.

“I did meet with some developers who, you know, could we work out a land lease where they could — because we still have 90-some years left on that lease — could they put the money in and rent them out?” Collins said. “But I couldn’t find any takers for that.”

Obstacles To City Owning Them

Collins said the city isn’t in a position to put six-figure sums of money into renovating and restoring the homes, then becoming a landlord for the next 90 or so years until the lease runs out.

Selling the homes also wouldn’t make sense, because someday the city will get all of that land back, and having an island of a few homes in the middle of it belonging to someone else could be awkward.

“I’d hate to have some private land in the middle of it that would prevent (future Cheyenne City Councils) from being able to do whatever they want to do with that area,” Collins said. “So that was what concerned me, and I didn’t want to sell them for that reason.”


One of the empty historic homes on property at the High Plains Arboretum in Cheyenne. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

Overall, In Good Condition

Three in a group of four homes near the arboretum’s entrance are in very good shape, Collins said, while one has significant water damage but is likely still salvageable.

“They’ve been preserved very well on the outside,” Collins said. “They have new roofs on them and, you know, they’ve been buttoned up tight and things like that – with the exception of one of them, where it looks like there’s been a collapse. There’s water and some mold in it, but three of them are in really good shape. 

“They’re just old, so they would need substantial money to go into them, and I don’t know what they would actually rent for way out there.”

City Needs Housing Options

Collins acknowledged that Cheyenne needs more housing — 5,000 more homes, according to a recent study on the city’s housing shortage.

“I think the housing crisis is really bad,” he said. “But we just don’t have a fund, you know, to put $200,000, $300,000 into those homes to, you know, modernize the utilities and carpet and do all the things that need to be done in those homes to get them where they’d be in a rentable state.” 

There’s also a clause USDA-ARS put into a recent agreement releasing the Arboretum back to Cheyenne that precludes pursuing National Historic Registry for the homes.

Listings on the NHR come with stipulations dictating how homes can be restored, ranging from use of materials to other considerations for preserving their historic nature. It would also preclude simply tearing the homes down, which Colins acknowledged could be their future if they continue to remain vacant.

Holding Out Hope

Collins said he continues to hold out hope a developer will come forward to save the homes. 

“I’d love to see people living out there who would have prevented some of the vandalism that happens maybe in some of the areas, the greenhouses and things that happen out there at night,” he said. “If somebody would be interested in doing a long-term lease and could get them cleaned up and make them rentals, you know, take on the maintenance of them and the responsibility, obviously, I think the governing body would be interested in having that conversation.”

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Lummis Votes Yes On Same-Sex Marriage Bill

in News/Cynthia Lummis/politics
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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaly.com

The Respect for Marriage Act, legislation codifying same-sex marriage into federal law, passed the U.S. Senate on a 61-36 vote Tuesday afternoon with U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ supporting vote.

During a speech given on the Senate floor Tuesday, the Wyoming Republican mentioned America’s early founding fathers and how she believes the bill respects both religious and secular views, a testament she believes to be representative of the American spirit. 

“People of diverse faith, beliefs and backgrounds had to come to terms with each other, had to tolerate the seemingly intolerable about each other’s views, and had to respect each other’s rights even before the Constitution enumerated those rights,” Lummis said. “They had to tolerate each other in order to survive as a nation.”

Wyoming’s other U.S. senator, John Barrasso, voted against the bill.

Final Hurdle

The bill’s passage in the Senate was the highest hurdle it had remaining before passing into law, as the U.S. House has a much larger Democratic contingency likely to support the legislation and already passed its own version of the bill this summer. 

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, voted to support that bill.

Over the past few weeks, Lummis has stood behind her Christian belief of marriage being a union between one man and one woman. She said she views the federal legislation as the strongest protection of religious freedom legislation enacted since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

“I, and many like me, have been vilified and despised by some that disagree with our beliefs,” Lummis said.

Pushback

On Nov. 16, Lummis, along with 11 other Senate Republicans, voted to allow the bill to go to a vote, which drew a sharp backlash from many conservative Republicans in Wyoming. 

The bill passed with a a 62-37 margin, surpassing by two votes the threshold to avoid a Republican filibuster, which would have nixed any further consideration of the bill. 

“My days since the first cloture vote for the Respect for Marriage Act as amended have involved a painful exercise in accepting admonishment and fairly brutal self soul searching, entirely avoidable I might add had I simply chosen to vote no,” Lummis said Tuesday afternoon. 

State GOP Responds

The Wyoming Republican Party put out a press release against her decision to support letting the bill go to a vote, and the state Legislature’s House Freedom Caucus wrote her a letter imploring her to vote against it. 

The Freedom Caucus made the argument that a vote for the bill would go against First Amendment protection for freedom of religion.

“The Democrats in Congress are attacking the Defense of Marriage Act and placing Christians and other religious people’s freedom of belief at risk,” state Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, wrote in a Facebook post last week. “Senator Lummis must reverse her stance and stand for free speech and freedom of religion. The First Amendment must be upheld.”

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that the Wyoming Pastors Network also wrote a letter asking Lummis to “reverse course” on the bill.

Past Loyalty

The Wyoming Republican Party has maintained a firm benchmark for those it considers loyal to its ranks, requiring an 80% adherence to its platform for support. 

Lummis has maintained a conservative stance on virtually all other issues, making the fervent opposition to her vote on this bill unusual.

In contrast to Cheney, both Lummis and Barrasso have mostly been able to avoid the crosshairs of state GOP rebuke in the post-Donald Trump era.

Lummis was voted into office in 2020 with 198,100 votes, the most ever cast for a candidate in Wyoming history. 

Supported Trump

Lummis supported former President Donald Trump in his reelection bid and was endorsed by him in her campaign. One of her first acts as senator was voting against certifying the Pennsylvania results of the 2020 election, a move in lockstep with Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the election. She also voted to acquit Trump during his second impeachment trial following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

“I want to thank all of the Republicans who have supported this, I know it has not been easy, but they have done the right thing,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said during discussion before the bill’s passage.

On Tuesday, Lummis voted to support amendments made by Republican Sens. Mike Lee, James Lank and Marco Rubio that would have added various religious and private business protections to the bill. None of those amendments passed.

Federal Recognition

The bill as passed, would guarantee federal recognition of any marriage between two individuals if the union was valid in the state where it was performed.

It would also require states to accept the legitimacy of a valid marriage performed elsewhere but not require any state to issue a marriage license contrary to its own law.

If the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn its 2015 law legalizing same-sex marriage and previous state prohibitions on same-sex marriage came back into effect, the Respect for Marriage Act would require states and the federal government to respect marriages conducted in places where it is legal, but not require states to facilitate these marriages.

People or groups would not be legally required to provide services for a wedding ceremony or celebration if it’s against their religious beliefs. It also would not recognize polygamous unions.

Colloquy

Lummis supported an amendment to the bill ensuring religious liberty protections, which passed. Lummis and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. conducted a colloquy on the legislation after its passage, a performance which Lummis said in a press release was, “to ensure courts interpret the Respect for Marriage Act in a manner that protects religious liberty.”

“The amendment I cosponsored ensures religious organizations are protected from government retaliation and the tax-exempt status of non-profit religious organizations is not impacted in any way,” Lummis said. “Additionally, the Wyoming Constitution protects the political equality of all people, and I believe this legislation is in line with that protection.”

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Incoming Natrona School Board Member Stands Ground After Outgoing Trustee Blasts Her

in News/Education
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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

An outgoing Natrona County School Board trustee on Monday openly ridiculed a newly elected member who will soon join the board.   

Trustee Debbie McCullar delivered what she called her “swan song” during her last regular meeting of the board. Her remarks came after she and the board voted to keep sexually graphic books “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” in the Kelly Walsh High School library, with the caveat that parents must opt their students in to access the books.   

McCullar’s “swan song” was a lengthy rebuke of Trustee-elect Mary Schmidt, who defeated McCullar in the general election Nov. 8. Schmidt campaigned on a parental control platform, especially regarding library materials.    

Mask Outcry  

McCullar also criticized the Natrona County Moms for Liberty, which advocates for parental rights in schools, and Patriots for Liberty, a conservative group.   

“I think it’s time that you get a taste of your own medicine. So let’s pretend that it’s story hour, are you ready for a story?” McCullar asked, adding that her comments were mostly directed at Schmidt, whom she called the “driver of discontent among her minions.”   

“When you guys first came to the board, I thought you a passionate group who wanted masks to be optional because they weren’t good for kids, and I wholeheartedly agreed,” said McCullar. “But because of an overabundance of concern we didn’t vote to apply for a variance. 

“Our mistake. And the crowd roared – and you haven’t quit since.”   

Schmidt in a press release Tuesday afternoon countered, saying that the mask protests started with four moms whom she does not know. After reading their comments via news outlets in spring 2021, Schmidt said she “became curious” and began attending board meetings regarding masks.   

“I don’t even believe I spoke at those meetings,” Schmidt said.   

Critical Race Theory  

McCullar said Schmidt and her peers “schooled” the board on critical race theory, “which we didn’t even teach.”   

Schmidt in her statement said the “schooling on CRT… was born out of a concern regarding the (social-emotional learning) program Character Strong that was being used at the local high schools last year.”   

Character Strong touts its social-emotional learning program for high schoolers as a community- and character-building curriculum.   

Schmidt said she and other mothers researched the program and discovered “alarming” information about the program, its parent company and organizations involved in its creation. 

In a follow-up email, she said the program appears to lack oversight and consistency, and that it may be designed to collect “sensitive personal non-cognitive data of (minors)” in a way that could violate students’ privacy.   

Pornography  

McCullar said Schmidt’s handling of the controversy surrounding the sexually graphic books was “manipulative.”   

“You did find two books from your Moms for Liberty talking points to be outraged about,” said McCullar. “These books that have been on the shelves for three years and checked out to fewer than 20 students over that time – you used these books to inflame the community. 

“The pornography claim was born.”   

McCullar said that the Moms and Patriots for Liberty disparaged and bullied board members.   

McCullar recalled when Schmidt during a September meeting asked that the book debate be delayed, out of respect for the local Diaz family, which had just lost two of its members to a fatal car wreck.   

McCullar theorized that Schmidt was asking for a postponement because “those weren’t your people here to speak.”   

There was a large turnout of sexually graphic book defenders at the meeting.   

Sexualization Of Children  

Schmidt did not address that claim directly, but she delivered a strong-worded counter regarding the books in question.   

“If you support keeping books that are intended for school-age children that instruct on sexual acts, toys, occupation and surgeries then yes, I believe that you are supportive of the educational sexualization of children,” Schmidt said. “If you support keeping books that depict sexual graphic pictures and sexually graphic language, then yes, I believe that you are supportive of the sexualization of children. That is my opinion.”  

Schmidt said that the high school has a social and reading competency problem, and also happens to have a high number of books on “transgenderism.”   

Pedophiles And Groomers  

McCullar also railed against the comments of Eric Paulson at a past board meeting, when Paulson called a substitute teacher who defended the books a “pedophile” and a “groomer.”   

“I never heard a single one of you apologize for the remarks of your fellow patriot, Mr. Eric Paulson, who also believes that if one is against censorship, that makes one a pedophile,” said McCullar.   

Schmidt said she believes this is a mischaracterization.   

“Ms. McCullar apparently did not observe Jenifer Hopkins (another newly-elected board member and book challenger) get up and walk out after Mr. Paulson and admonish him in the lobby of the district office for his comments that evening,” Schmidt said.   

Demonic Screeches  

McCullar launched numerous personal attacks on Schmidt.   

She accused Schmidt of being an activist homeschool mom, a hypocrite, a bully, divisive, a purveyor of misinformation and said Schmidt likely hears “demonic screeches” when listening to people who disagree with her.   

“You know Mary, you’re a pretty woman,” said McCullar. “But I never noticed … because you always have a scowl on your face.”   

Schmidt said she attributes the attacks to “the difficulty in accepting the election results. I hope in time (McCullar) will reconcile herself with the results.”   

Schmidt said she’s proud to be an activist homeschool mom.   

Board Cooperation  

Other board members in their final speeches for this term cycle bid farewell to the exiting members and expressed fondness for all trustees, as did McCullar before she began addressing Schmidt.   

McCullar said she was “really impressed” when Schmidt congratulated Michael Stedillie, the top vote-getter in the school board election, on Facebook, but indicated that she soon ceased to be impressed.   

After his election, Stedillie told Cowboy State Daily he supports keeping the two challenged books in the high school.   

McCullar said Schmidt published a subsequent post “encouraging your minions to attend tonight’s board meeting because Mike is against censorship, which you equate with condoning the sexualization of children,” she said. “In my opinion, Mike should sue your ass – bet he’s really anxious to work with you.”   

Schmidt in her written statement said she looks forward to working with the five trustees who will remain on the board, and with Trustee-elect Kevin Christopherson. She said she had a cordial conversation with Stedillie at the Monday meeting and looks forward to working with him also despite their disagreements. 

“Based on the reaction and support of Debbie McCullar by the existing board after her comments last night, I will assume that we are not entering into an amicable environment,” said Schmidt, presumably referencing herself and Hopkins, who ran for office together.   

Applause followed McCullar’s speech.  

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‘Thwop!’ Disabled Man Fills Cow Elk Tag With Help From Wyoming Volunteers

in Wyoming outdoors/News/Hunting
28104

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Joe Jaumotte can’t wait for his elk meat to get back from the butcher. 

“It’s gonna be good eating, for sure,” the Bridger, Montana, man told Cowboy State Daily. 

If it hadn’t been for Cody-based volunteer group Wyoming Disabled Hunters, it’s likely Jaumotte would have never had a chance to fill his freezer with tasty steaks, roasts and burgers from a Wyoming cow elk. 

Ten years ago, Jaumotte suffered traumatic brain injury and was left partially paralyzed in a vehicle accident. But Wyoming Disabled Hunters made his successful hunt possible earlier this month. 

“They took care of everything,” he said. 

‘Compassion For The Animals’

The companion hunters on Jaumotte’s outing got him set up on a group of cow elk within a good shooting distance, his caregiver, Daisy Hoffmann, told Cowboy State Daily. 

When he apparently missed the first shot, they took great care to make sure none of the elk had been hit, she said. 

“They watched every little detail, there were even interpreting the elks’ ear movements to make sure they were OK,” Hoffmann said. “The compassion that the had for the animals was amazing. They were very knowledgeable and I loved their senses of humor.”


Joe Jaumotte on his successful Wyoming hunt. (Courtesy Photo)

The Telltale ‘Thwop’

Jaumotte’s next shot resulted in the telltale “thowp” of a bullet striking a good hit, Hoffmann said. 

Once the cow elk was down, the companion hunters were amazing efficient, she said. It took about 40 minutes to take photos and quarter the carcass for transport to a meat processor, she said. 

With the hunt finished, she and Jaumotte had enough time to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West museum in Cody. 

The only disappointment of the trip was barely missing a chance to see a grizzly bear in the wild, Jaumotte said. 

“There had been one on a carcass where we were hunting, but he was gone when we got there,” he said.

More Than 300 Helped

Wyoming Disabled Hunters has been active since 2009. It offers deer, elk and antelope hunts in the Cody area for disabled people of all ages, including veterans with 50% or greater service-related disabilities, group president Terry Skinner told Cowboy State Daily. 

In that time, the group has hosted 313 hunters from Wyoming and all around the country, ranging in age from teenagers to octogenarians. 

Moreover, the success rate of the hunters has been about 90%, Skinner said. 

“This year, 100% of the 20 hunters we took out got animals,” he said. 

The group is an all-volunteer, registered nonprofit run by a nine-member board of directors, Skinner said. It relies on donations, as well as the help of local businesses. 

Hunters frequently stay together at the Bull Moose Retreat near Cody, Skinner said. That lends itself to comradery. 

“They can meet other hunters, swap stories, get to know others who are facing similar situations and network out from there,” he said. 

Companion hunters

Companion hunters go out into the field with the disabled hunters, acting as guides and helping with all aspects of the hunt from scouting out game animals to helping recover and field dress the carcasses, Skinner said. 

Wyoming Disabled Hunters also has a full range of gear and equipment, including for all-terrain wheelchairs, he said. Those are wheelchairs outfitted with tracks, such as those on a bulldozer or snow coach. 

Donated Hunting Tags

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has a provision by which residents may choose to donate their big game hunting tags to disabled hunters. 

That’s the primary means that Wyoming Disabled Hunters gets tags for the hunters it hosts, Skinner said. 

“If we are overrun with too many tags, we just send them back to the Game and Fish to be donated to other disabled or eligible veteran hunters,” he said. 

The group can host roughly 20 hunters per season. Hunters must apply for a spot through the group’s website.

Wyoming Disabled Hunters | Bringing An Affordable Hunt To Disabled Hunters

The application period for the 2023 hunting seasons opens Thursday and runs through Jan. 28. 

Those interested in volunteering also can visit the website, Skinner added.

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Kroger, Albertsons CEOs Grilled On Capitol Hill About Mega-Merger

in News/Business
Cheyenne Albertsons. Photo by Jimmy Orr
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Pointed questions were just what Local 7 union president Kim Cordova was hoping to hear during a congressional hearing into the merger deal between grocery giants Kroger and Albertsons, and she wasn’t disappointed.

Lawmakers asked many of the same questions Cordova has been asking about the proposed merger, which would create a grocery store behemoth that would control one-fifth of the nation’s food supply. 

“I think it sounded like the only two in the room who are for the merger were the two CEOs,” she told Cowboy State Daily after the hearing Tuesday afternoon. 

Cordova represents about 750 grocery store workers in Wyoming. She said Local 7 and other unions will continue to push lawmakers to stop the merger, which she believes will broaden food deserts in the West and put hundreds of jobs at risk.

Not To State The Obvious, But …

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, led off the round of questioning with this one.

“Kroger has made public commitments to spend billions of dollars to lower prices to improve its stores and to raise wages,” Lee said. 

Yet, at the end of 2021, Kroger announced a billion-dollar stock buyback. 

“Things have gotten considerably worse since then,” Lee said. “Just the beginning of last year, the average U.S. household paid an additional $110 for food in the month of October 2022. The average Utah household paid an additional $125 in October of 2022, so it’s even worse in Utah. 

“If Kroger wasn’t passing on savings to consumers when it was competing with Albertsons — competition is very often what brings down prices. It’s one of few things that can be counter-inflationary.”

Because competition often leads to lower prices, “why would we think it would pass on savings after it eliminates that competition?”

CEO Says Prices Are Lower

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said Kroger has lowered pricing by more than 3% since 2003, which is $5 billion a year.

“If you look at our merger with Harris Teeter, we’ve lowered our gross profit rate to more than $100 million per year there,” he said. “And if you look at our merger with Roundy’s in Wisconsin, we’ve lowered pricing there by about $130 million per year.”

But simply lowering prices is not what creates the best market scenario for Kroger, he added.

“What we have found is by giving customers a better value, using personalized pricing for each household based on what’s really important to that household and passing those savings, that creates more loyalty,” he said. “And then we also really focus on fresh foods. And that’s really from a competitive standpoint, we always try to make sure we have the freshest product in the market.”

Next Question

Those personalized customer deals, however, aren’t binding on the company going forward, Lee pointed out before asking his next question of Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran.

“Albertsons has just proposed handing out $4 billion to its shareholders, which dwarfs the $2.8 billion in commitments tied to the merger,” Lee said. “Why do Kroger and Albertsons need to merge in order to lower their prices and treat their employees better, when it seems like they already have the money to do so now?”

Sankaran said Albertsons had bought a number of distressed stores from SuperValu in 2013, spending $11.5 billion since that time to turn the stores around, as well as an additional $1.5 billion for communities where Albertsons operates. 

“In every year since the merger of Safeway, increasing wages and, at the same time, becoming more competitive. We have not returned cash to shareholders over that timeframe,” he said. “This $4 billion is a return of cash to those shareholders who have supported us over this decade. It has nothing to do with the merger itself.”

Sankaran also denied that paying the dividend will weaken the company.

“Albertsons companies is in excellent financial condition,” he said. “And that was the case before the dividend payment and will remain the case after the dividend payment.”

Haggen Deal A Failure

Lee also brought up the bankruptcy of Haggen Foods & Pharmacy, after Albertsons sold off most of its available 168 locations to the smaller grocery chain as part of the Safeway-Albertsons merger in 2014. 

“I don’t think it’s controversial to say that when divested assets required to be divested in connection with the merger had to (declare) bankruptcy less than a year, just nine months, and then end up simply being re-acquired by the merged firm, that remedy is an embarrassing failure,” Lee said. “You have any response to that?”

Sankaran said the divestment and buyer were at the time both qualified and approved by the FTC. 

“We did everything we could to help the Haggen stores at that time and, when it didn’t work, we bought it,” he said. “But if you step back and look at the bigger picture, the merger by any measure is a success, where we put two companies together, one of them struggling, and have turned them around, and we’re sitting at this table with the financial performance we have because of that merger.”

Timeline

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, meanwhile, asked about the timetable for implementing price cuts.

“If the merger is approved, who will analyze whether or not you meet that commitment?” she asked.

McMullen said the process would begin Day One.

“Obviously, we won’t be able to, we’re not able to do any of the analysis before we merge because of the information that’s involved,” he said. “But it will start immediately Day One. And we would expect that the $500 million to be (cut) over a four-year time horizon as well.”

Not Convinced

Klobuchar expressed skepticism that consumers would ever see price reductions.

“Your operating profit increased from $2.8 billion in 2020 to $3.5 billion in 2021,” she said. “That’s a 25% jump. And so that is why you’re sensing some cynicism about this idea about bringing prices down when we have even less competition.”

McMullen said he appreciated the directness of Klobuchar’s question.

“One of the things in retail, you have to re-invent yourself every 10 to 12 years, because you have new competitors come in,” he said. “And at one point that was Walmart. At another point that was Costco. At one point that’s Amazon. It’s just part of the industry.”

That reinvention involves creating better value for consumer’s money, he said.

Klobuchar said she was asking about the future, not the past.

“(Do) you think that having less competition is going to create pressure on you to reduce prices?” she asked.

“Yeah, I just don’t see less competition going forward,” McMullen replied. “It’s easy for a customer to take a right turn or a left turn. And we will continue to invest in pricing because it’s incredibly important to our customer. We will also invest in service and fresh product.”

Kroger Already Huge

Klobuchar also pointed to Kroger’s own factbook issued in 2021, which lists 49 major markets where the supermarket already has nine or more stores in one city.

“It says that you have the No. 1 or No. 2 market share in 41 of the 49 markets already today,” Klobuchar said. “And that’s without even accounting for the Albertsons stores. 

“What is your market share today and do you think, just as you’ve done here with your own factbook, do you think that you should be considering market share on a market-by-market basis instead of a nationwide basis?”

McMullen said Kroger takes both perspectives into account.

“We always have,” he said, “because from a local basis, looking at market share, the infrastructure (such as) a warehouse, some of the other parts are incredibly important to create efficiency.

“So, we would always look at market share from both perspectives.”

More Food Deserts, Higher Prices

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, meanwhile, said he finds many communities up and down his state where constituents will clearly have fewer retail grocery store options if the merger goes through.

“In your testimony, you both suggest that your stores compete with premium stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts, or warehouse stores like Costco, or expensive online grocery delivery services,” he said. “But from my experience, consumers know better. Replacing the neighborhood grocery store with premium alternatives means a consumer would face a dramatic increase in the price of their basic staples, and likely the number of stops they would now need to make to buy what they need. 

“Do you really believe that your customers could easily substitute all the shopping that they do at your stores with shopping at Whole Foods or Costco or Amazon?”

McMullen said surveys of Kroger’s customers indicate they’re shopping on average at five to six locations.

“Obviously, we are actively working with the FTC, and we will expect to continue to do that, and would expect that every market will be just as competitive going forward as it is today,” he said.

Sankaran, meanwhile, added that the goal is not to close stores, but to divest them and keep a viable competitor going forward.

Increased Pay, Benefits

Sen. Padilla expressed skepticism about the answer, but moved on.

“The proposed merger announcement noted that the combined company expects to invest $1 billion to continue raising associate wages and comprehensive benefits after close,” he said. “I’d welcome more detail about the $1 billion investment; what it will look like in practice?”

McMullen said the increase to pay and benefits would phase in over a four-year time period and will be a combination of improvements in both areas.

“If you look at the benefits we offer, it would be world class across the U.S. in terms of retirement benefits,” he said. “Other health care benefits, and things like that. And we would expect to continue to do that, which many of our non-union competitors would not offer to the same degree.”

Spinoffs

Sen. Lee had a pointed redirect for the viability of spinning stores off into a much smaller chain.

“If Kroger and Albertsons, which each have over 2,000 stores currently, if they can’t compete with Walmart, then how would the spun-off companies survive with only a few hundred stores dispersed throughout the country?” Lee asked.

McMullen said it’s about “connecting with the local community” and a “combination of price, service and freshness.”

“There’s several competitors that would actually be smaller than what Spinco would be,” he added. 

Market share for small regional grocers has grown 25% to 33%, McMullen added, based on information from the National Grocers Association.

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New Flaring Rules Will Hit Small Wyoming Companies Hardest

in Energy/News
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images
28101

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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

As energy costs soar, the Biden administration continues to add new rules to oil and gas production. The Department of the Interior announced this week proposed rules to limit the amount of methane released from oil and gas operations on federal lands. 

This year, primary energy expenditures will hit an all-time high of more than 13% of global gross domestic product, which is a measure of economic activity, according to an analysis by the consulting firm Thunder Said Energy.

Ryan McConnaughey, spokesperson for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said the new regulations are unnecessary and will be hardest on smaller producers in the state. 

“With all of these federal mandates coming down, it’s really our small and medium-sized operators that are going to get hit the hardest,” he said. “They just don’t have the capital outlays to invest heavily in these new regulations.”

Proposed Provisions

The rules would require technological upgrades to detect and reduce methane leaks at well sites and place monthly limits on how much gas an operator can flare. 

Companies also would be required to include in their applications for drilling permits plans to minimize waste and demonstrate a well site has the pipeline capacity to handle associated gas production. If the Bureau of Land Management decides the plan will not avoid excessive flaring, the agency can delay or deny the permit. 

“That would create a lot of regulatory uncertainty for drilling operations and create significant investment risks for these companies, which would just make it less likely for companies to even invest in new drilling. That is exactly what the administration wants,” McConnaughey said. 

The EPA is updating regulations to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas development across the country. The proposed BLM rule will apply specifically to oil and gas development on federal land. 

Not Practical To Capture

Isaac Orr, policy fellow for energy and environmental policy at the Center of the American Experiment, explained that gas is flared because the infrastructure isn’t in place to collect the gas to sell on the market. 

By flaring the methane, it converts it to carbon dioxide, which has less of an impact on climate change. It also burns off some of the volatile organic compounds that also have impacts on the environment. 

There are a number of barriers to putting gathering pipeline infrastructure in place. In the West, the vast distances from processing facilities sometimes make it uneconomical to build the pipelines.

“Historically, the price of natural gas has not supported that level of investment from a market perspective,” Orr said. “And now we have more hurdles than we did previously to building that takeaway capacity that you need, whether that’s federal or state regulations that are preventing it.”

Regions Present Different Problems

In Eastern shale plays of Pennsylvania and Ohio, which are close to millions of consumers in New York, environmental regulation makes pipeline project permitting difficult and costly.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also is proposing rules that would require pipeline developers to calculate the social cost of carbon into its environmental reviews, which will make pipeline projects more expensive.

“They’re really cooking a book here for the social cost of carbon in order to justify these regulations from a cost-benefit analysis. And it’s all baloney,” Orr said. 

No More Drilling

President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to end all oil production, and he’s taken many steps throughout his presidency to make good on that promise. 

McConnaughey said the new flaring rules are just part of an overall effort to stop drilling on federal land by making it too expensive to do so. 

The rules are “going to cost the industry tens of billions of dollars to implement, and the industry has already voluntarily invested significant resources into methane reduction technologies in recent years,” McConnaughey said.

In a statement on the proposed rules, the BLM said that total venting and flaring by federal and Indian onshore lessees between 2010 and 2020 increased from the previous decade by more than 33 billion cubic feet per year. 

But the revolution in hydraulic fracturing between 2010 and 2020 more than doubled American oil production over the previous decade. Total methane emissions in that time rose from 628.18 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalents to 745.24 million tons — about a 16% increase. 

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Report: Climbing Contributes Millions To Wyoming Economy, Could Bring In Millions More

in Wyoming outdoors/News/wyoming economy
Oscar winner Alex Honnold climbing art Wild Iris near Lander. (Photo Courtesy Sam Lightner)
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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com

Climbers leave behind a multimillion-dollar wall of spending in Wyoming every year, according to a report that tracks the popular sport in one part of the Cowboy State – Fremont County. 

WyoClimbers commissioned the study, which found that 37,000 climbers lay out $4.5 million in direct expenditures for food, lodging, transportation and retail items in Fremont County every year. 

They spend another $1.1 million getting to and from Lander. 

That economic windfall, meanwhile, has a ripple effects that supports another $1.7 million in wages for local workers, as well as 51 jobs in the study area.

These economic impacts also may be somewhat understated given that many climbers report they are spending less than usual since the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Photos Courtesy Sam Lightner

Economic Potential Is Huge

Climbing has grown into one of the world’s most popular activities. 

It’s increasingly featured in television ads and has been included as an Olympic sport. There’s even an International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup, as well as gyms that are now devoted to bringing this sport to the masses in a safe way. 

Wyoming, meanwhile, has some of the best adventures available in the climbing world. It’s a tourism opportunity that has been surprisingly under-marketed so far, one climbing enthusiast told Cowboy State Daily.

“It actually is quite surprising,” said WyoClimbers member and founder Sam Lightner. “When I first met with Governor Gordon when he was a candidate, he singled it out as one of the things that he said ought to be bigger in our state.”

Untapped Potential

Neighboring Colorado, California and Utah all have large climbing communities, Lightner said. Smart marketing to these nearby enthusiasts could potentially bring thousands more climbers to Wyoming for adventure.

That’s an opportunity not just for Lander, he said.

“If you spread yourself a little bit further out in the state, you’ve got unique things like Devils Tower, you’ve got Ten Sleep Canyon, you’ve got the Tetons, you’ve got Vedauwoo,” Lightner said. “So Wyoming is just a really good place for a climber to live. 

“You even have lots of ice climbing up around Cody in the winter months. It’s just a great, great place — but there’s also a huge amount of variation straight out our back door in Lander.”


Liz Lightner at Wild Iris near Lander. (Photo Courtesy Sam Lightner)

Low Budget

Climbing does not take a huge investment from communities interested in cultivating the sport as an economic driver. No expensive amphitheaters are required. In fact, anything like that would tend to detract from the great outdoors experience most climbers seek.

“You don’t have to build a carnival ride for climbers to be entertained. They want to be out in the wild,” Lightner said. “So, climbing areas tend to leave places as open spaces. Not that there’s no buildings, but there doesn’t need to be, you know, that kind of structure.”

Easy To Begin

About the only investment really required are some trails to the climbing opportunity, and then there are the small anchors, 3/8-inch in diameter, that are spaced every 80 to 100 feet on a climb.

Those are generally placed by climbers themselves, but they need to be periodically upgraded or replaced, since they can wear out.

“They’re re-used by everybody, so it’s a very clean form of recreation,” Lightner added. 

In fact, climbers in general tend to think of themselves as environmentalists, and three’s a whole culture built around keeping wide open climbing spaces clean. 

“It’s considered really bad form to leave anything garbage-wise,” Lightner said. “It’s a bump up in the economy that tends to not be one that you see having a visual impact.”


Photos Courtesy Sam Lightner

Climbing Opens Door For New Residents

Climbing, Lightner added, is the reason he chose to live in Lander. 

He has traveled the globe, climbing rock faces in many foreign and exotic locations. But ultimately he settled on Lander as the best of the best.

“I had a peer group here, and Lander is also just a really nice community,” he said. “It’s still got a small town feel to it. You know, everybody turns out on Main Street when the football team comes back in after having won a game and the Fourth of July parade is a big deal. It’s just a nice community and then, frankly, it’s got an incredibly diverse amount of climbing opportunities.”

Those opportunities range from tall granite peaks and wind rivers to sandstone buttresses and dolomite buttresses, not to mention Sinks Canyon and granite mountains — these are all endlessly fascinating, Lightner said. 

Climbing opportunities also are year-round.

“Lander is kind of the banana belt of Wyoming,” he said. “We’re on the lee side of the Wind River Range, so we get far less snow. We have far less wind and it’s warmer in this valley.”

The rocks on many faces are also brown, Lightner added, which means they can be as much as 30 degrees warmer than the temperature elsewhere. It’s not uncommon to see someone climbing these rock faces in a T-shirt in what is 10-degree weather everywhere else.

‘Huge Ripple Effect’

Lightner is not the only climber to choose Lander as home primarily for its climbing opportunities.  

Among these Lightner counts Mike Lilygren, who is one of the owners of Maven, an optics company, and Wind River Outdoor mountain guides. 

There’s also the National Outdoor Leadership School, which employs 300 people, along with several other mountain sports businesses.

“It’s a huge (ripple) effect,” Lightner said. 

Climbing has enduring popularity, Lightner believes, and is not just a fad that will be here one year and gone the next.

“You have to have cardio, you have to have upper body strength, lower body strength, you have to have flexibility, all of that,” he said. “But it’s problem-solving, too. 

“How are you going to get your body in that position? How are you going to get your hand to that spot, your foot to that spot, and so forth. So, you’re constantly having to engage your brain. And I think that’s a lot of (the reason for climbing’s popularity.)”

While Lightner believes there’s room to grow the sport in Wyoming with better marketing, that wasn’t the main reason WyoClimbers decided to commission its study.

“Our goal is just to maintain access to the mountains and make sure people understand that we’re not just a bunch of kooks, and we do have a positive impact on communities,” Lightner said. “But it probably is going to grow, just because Wyoming has so many climbing opportunities.”

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Natrona County School Board Votes To Keep Sexually Graphic Books In High School Library

in News/Education
28065

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

The Natrona County School Board voted Monday to keep two sexually graphic books in the Kelly Walsh High School library, with some caveats on students’ access.  

Board Treasurer Dave Applegate made a motion during the regular meeting to affirm the earlier decision by an appointed reconsideration committee to keep “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” in the high school’s library.  

But he attached to his motion a statement that the books are “most appropriate” for students 17 and older. He also attached an opt-in system: While usually parents may opt their students out of the right to check out certain books, parents who want their teens to have access to these two books will have to opt students in to access them.  

Applegate said his motion also was informed by the board’s legal counsel, which cautioned that the decision to keep or discard the books must be based on board policies that existed when they were first challenged.  

Earlier in the meeting, the board approved a draft policy prohibiting librarians from buying books with sexually explicit images.  



Easier Not To Buy 

Trustee Kianna Smith also expressed concerns around legal challenges that could come from discarding the books. She said it’s more complicated legally for a school district to remove books than it is for them to not buy them in the first place.  

“Students have First Amendment rights when it comes to their access to information,” said Smith. “That includes in school libraries, because they’re public.” 

Smith voted against Applegate’s motion, saying she agrees with its basic gesture of keeping the books, but she couldn’t vote for it because she thought the opt-in caveat could cause problems in the future.  

Smith, who graduated high school about 10 years ago, said that judging from her recent high school experience, both books are age appropriate.   

“I think that high school students are able to handle the content in both of the books,” she said.  

Policy Accepted 

The board also voted to adopt a new policy addressing controversial issues. The policy directs librarians to avoid inappropriate material, especially where materials with “similar content” but without sexually explicit images are available. 

Policy language defines sexually explicit images as any picture, photograph, drawings, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting the human sexual acts of masturbation, intercourse or direct physical stimulation of the genitals.  

The policy also directs each school library to keep a list of its materials onsite or on the school library website because, the policy states, parents and guardians “hold an essential role in the education of their student(s) and a have the right to guide what their minor student(s) read.”  



Grace For Librarians 

Applegate said he spoke with the Kelly Walsh High School librarian about a month ago, and he believes the librarian “has not, and does not, intentionally purchase books with such imagery,” and that book reviews don’t always indicate whether those images will be present.  

Applegate said the new policy will “take effort” to implement because of the size of the collections and the lack of comprehensive book reviews.  

“I am asking that grace be extended to our librarians,” he said.  

Policy Rebuked 

Before the board voted to accept the new policy, numerous people spoke out against it, and against the possibility of the board discarding the two challenged books.  

Alex Petrino, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Casper, said removing the books would signal to students that school authorities are untrustworthy. She said many of the youth she’s counseled pronounce a lack of trustworthy adults to be a large problem in their lives.  

“We when as adults take away access to information, refuse to have uncomfortable conversations, speak to our students with judgment and distain and don’t encourage curiosity with our students, we are signaling to them that we are untrustworthy,” said Petrino. “This scares me as a mental health professional and as well as a parent.”  

‘Ban The Bible’ 

The Rev. Dee Lundberg, of the United Church of Christ in Casper, also spoke against removing the books. She said she believed the book challenge was a veiled attempt to censor the LGBTQ community.  

Lundberg referenced Genesis Chapter 19 in the Bible, in which Lot, the nephew of religious patriarch Abraham, is considered the only good man in the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  

To spare two angels from being raped by the wicked men of Sodom, Lot offered the villagers his virgin daughters instead.  

“Would we like to condone that?” asked Lundberg. “Is anybody asking you to remove the Bible from the library?”  

Ultimately, the angels spared Lot’s daughters by striking the would-be rapists blind. 

Lundberg offered the board an ultimatum: “If you choose to ban those books, I respectfully request that you ban the Bible. Thank you.”  

No Parental Right? 

Brent Pickett, political theory professor at the University of Wyoming, said he believes heterosexual parents have no right to restrict their children’s access to books about homosexuality.  

Pickett emphasized that his views are his own, not the university’s.  

He rebuked the policy draft, saying the board was adding work to the “already overwhelming job” of being a school administrator or librarian.  

He said librarians shouldn’t be tasked with monitoring students’ book selections, and that “we live in a deeply pluralistic society” with no one correct lifestyle.  

“My children were raised in a home where they were not exposed to organized religion, and when the subject came up at home, it was often negatively,” he said. “Should I have had the power to compel school libraries to withhold from them books about Christianity or Islam or Judaism? No, of course I shouldn’t have had that power.” 

Pickett continued: “But also a straight parent shouldn’t have the power to have the library withhold a book about homosexuality from a child.”   

Sex Toys And Sex Workers 

Renea Redding, who supported efforts to remove the books, said speakers who claimed book challengers were discriminating against LGBTQ people were mistaken.  

“We’re not looking to erase a community. What many of us in this community are looking for is to remove sexual content from books in a school library,” said Redding. “Sexually explicit content does not belong in a school district that is meant to teach academics.”  

Redding said it was “interesting” to hear from many teachers who approved of the books. “Books that talk about sex workers and how to use sexual toys – how can we be OK with this in a school district?” 

Read More On This Subject

Nov. 15: Natrona School Board Hears Draft Policy On Sexually-Graphic Books, Vote In Two Weeks

Nov. 10: Voters Oust Wyoming School Board Members In Wake Of Debate Over Sexually Graphic Books

Oct. 25: Degenfelder Says Sexually-Explicit Books ‘Not Suitable For Minors’

Oct. 18: Conservatives Declare War On ‘Sexualizing Children’ At Rally In Cody

Oct. 14: Furor Over Sexually Explicit Books Misguided, Says LGBTQ Advocate And State House Candidate

Oct. 12: Casper School Board Asks For Police To Intervene After Teacher Gets Called ‘Pedophile’ In Book Debate

Oct. 5: Books In Wyoming School Library ‘Groom’ Children, Says Sex Crimes Investigator

Oct. 4: Legislators Disagree How To Address ‘Pornography’ In Schools If School Boards Won’t

Sept. 30: What Is Pornography? Casper Residents Clash At School Board Meeting Over Library Books

Sept. 29: Controversial Books ‘Gender Queer’ and ‘Trans Bodies’ Remain In Casper High School Library – Here’s What’s In Them

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Little Wyoming: Cowboy State Ropers Winter in Wickenburg, Arizona

in Wyoming Life/Rodeo/News
Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
28072

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Horse folks know that if they want to play year-round, they need to head south come November. And increasingly, ropers and riders are making their way to Wickenburg, Arizona, which bills itself as the “Team Roping Capital of the World.”

At any given roping event (and there are several that happen in the Wickenburg area daily), there will be a number of Wyoming riders who have made Arizona their winter home. 

Folks like Ron and Kay Miller, who own several businesses in the Cowboy State but have taken up a semi-retirement in south-central Arizona.

“I’ve come down here since 1989,” said Ron, who first experienced the Arizona winter lifestyle from a friend’s house in Cave Creek, just north of the Phoenix area.

“We’d be here a month, or six weeks, and then every year right after Christmas we were coming here,” Miller said.


Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It Just Makes Sense

From the perspective of someone who grew up in the small town of Wickenburg (population 7,700), it makes sense that so many Wyomingites are finding their way to Arizona. 

“I think the atmosphere here is a lot like what people in Wyoming are used to,” said Jeanie Hankins, publisher of the Wickenburg Sun newspaper. 

Although born and raised in Wickenburg, she spent 20 years in the newspaper business in Douglas and Torrington before returning to the Grand Canyon State 10 years ago.

“When I left Wickenburg and went to Wyoming, I felt at home in Wyoming,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “They really were the same type of down-to-earth, Western-minded people. It’s one reason why I loved Wyoming and stayed for so long.”


Jeanie Hankins was born and raised in Wickenberg, Arizona, and spent 20 years newspapering in Wyoming. She said the town and Cowboy State share many of the same Western values. (Photo Courtesy Jeanie Hankins)

Horse People

Hankins said that many of the Wyoming people she’s met who spend winters in Wickenburg have agricultural backgrounds, “that love for animals, and wide-open spaces,” she said. “And Wickenburg provides that to them.”

Ted and Lisa Emmons of Sundance are those kinds of people. 

Ted, a musician who plays summers at a popular chuckwagon dinner in the Black Hills of South Dakota, said that he and his wife, a retired teacher, first visited Wickenburg right before COVID hit in 2020. They enjoyed their time so much that they made it a point to return earlier this year after pandemic-related restrictions had eased.

“We went just for a month in January, and we just absolutely loved it,” said Ted. “Except that I broke two ribs, and that kind of slowed me down.”

‘We Can Rope Every Day’

But he and his wife – both ropers – are hoping to do better this year. Ted and Lisa will arrive at their winter camping spot at the Simpson Ranch Arena in Wickenburg this week. 

“We can rope every day and ride that Hassayampa riverbed all we want,” said Ted. “So that’s what we’re planning on doing.”

And there are no shortages of opportunities to swing a rope in Wickenburg.

“I just counted, there’s 12 ropings today within 30 miles of here,” said Miller. “That’s just today.”


Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Like Home

Miller said he didn’t plan to buy a home near Wickenburg, but he got a great deal on a house about 20 miles away. And although he is mostly retired and spends every day on horseback, he’s even moved part of his hearing clinic business to Arizona.

“Now we have a little office, and we work a couple days a week,” Miller said. “And business is really good.”

But mostly, he’s here to do what he loves, with people he’s known since his childhood near Powder River.

“These people are people I’ve roped with since I was 10 or 12 years old,” said Miller. “They’re all here because that’s what they want to do. And they play golf some days, and they rope some days.”

Sticking Together

Hankins said when she first got back to Arizona and saw anyone who was driving a vehicle with a Wyoming license plate, she would strike up conversations, because Wyoming’s population is so small, “you always know someone that they know,” she said.

And even though she’s been back in Arizona for 10 years, that is still the case – and even more common now that so many Wyomingites have discovered Wickenburg.

“I was (at the grocery store) and turned around, and these people from Douglas that I had known for 20 years were just standing there,” said Hankins. “And I was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And they said, ‘Jeanie, what are YOU doing here?’” 

Turns out, they are just two of many Wyomingites who have recently bought homes in Wickenburg.

“They said, ‘Well, everybody’s doing it,’” said Hankins. 

Emmons said Wickenburg and its roping arenas are like “a country club for ropers instead of golfers.”

He said that while not all residents of Wyoming are into the rodeo way of life, when he gets to Wickenburg, those he meets are all about the Western lifestyle.

“In Wickenburg they’re pretty much concentrated,” he said. “That’s all ropers down there.”


Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s the Weather

Emmons said the horse folks from the north he knows are here primarily to escape the cold winter weather.

“Everybody goes so they can rope all winter long,” said Emmons. 

Miller said that because of Wyoming’s harsh winters, it’s hard to find a place to rope there between November and March. But that’s not the case in Wickenburg.

“There’s little indoor arenas here and there, but we don’t have the ropings up there because they’re all here,” he said. “Even the young kids are coming down here for months.” 

And Miller said that because of the temperate winter climate, people are able to stay more active.

“Say, I was home (in the winter),” he said. “Well, what do you have to do? It’s too cold to ride horses, they might rope in Torrington on one or two nights a week, but the rest of the time you’re sitting around watching TV or go down to the bar and have a couple beers or go have coffee – and I get bored.”

But in Wickenburg, Miller said, he’s never bored. 

“I never sit around, I’m just always doing something,” he said. “I think (people) just live longer down here. It’s more healthy.”

Hankins said despite record-high temperatures in the summer, some Wyoming folks are choosing to stay in Arizona year-round.

“It does get hot, but they’ve probably got a place in Wyoming and they go back for a couple of months,” she said. “But there are getting to be more and more year-round residents in Arizona.”

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US State Treasurers Campaign Against Woke Capitalism; Elon Musk Says ‘ESG Is A Scam’

in News/wyoming economy
28086

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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Woke capitalism, as some call it, has faced increased challenges from the private sector, but now some public officials also are pushing back against the movement. 

A group of Republican U.S. state treasurers with the State Financial Officers Foundation have launched a campaign to push back against Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) ratings. 

The campaign, called Our Money Our Values, argues that ESG puts pressure on corporations to adopt progressive policies, and in this way allows agendas to move forward without the constraints of a democratic process through state legislatures or the courts. 

It warns that ESG policies are harmful to not only the oil, gas and coal industries, but also agriculture, as farms and ranching are increasingly targeted as contributors to climate change. 

How It Impacts Public Money

A low ESG rating can drive investors away from a company, which effectively forces companies to adopt policies that will raise their ratings. 

State treasurers are in charge of their states’ investments and 401k, pension or retirement funds, which means they invest taxpayer dollars in index funds that can be influenced by the ESG system. 

Where Does Wyoming Stand?

Wyoming Treasurer Curt Meier declined to comment on the Our Money Our Values campaign, but Wyoming has a history of not supporting ESG policies. 

In 2018, when Gov. Mark Gordon was state treasurer, San Francisco-based Bank of the West adopted ESG policies, which seek to divest from companies involved in fossil fuel production. 

In response, Gordon vowed that Wyoming would no longer do business with Bank of the West. 

Gordon told Cowboy State Daily he remains committed to Wyoming’s fossil fuel industries and doesn’t support companies and investment firms that “implement myopic ESG principles promoting a solely anti-fossil fuel policy when an all-of-the-above energy future recognizes the full spectrum of ways to address climate change.” 

Agenda First

State Financial Officers Foundation CEO Derek Kreifels told Cowboy State Daily that “ESG is a highly subjective political score infiltrating all walks of life and forcing progressive policies on everyday Americans resulting in higher prices at the pump and the store.”

Companies that would appear to be in good graces with ESG can easily fall out of favor unless they demonstrate a commitment to a range of progressive ideals. 

Green, But Not Green Enough?

Even a company like electric car and solar manufacturer Tesla can run afoul of the ESG raters. Despite being a crusader for solar energy and electric cars, the company was removed from the S&P 500’s ESG index last May. 

S&P Dow Jones Indices’ senior director and head of ESG indices Margaret Dorn explained in a blog post how a company dedicated to transitioning the globe to sustainable energy like Tesla fails the ESG ideological purity test. 

Tesla was dinged for not having a low-carbon strategy and two claims of racial discrimination and poor working conditions at a Tesla factory, among other matters. 

“While Tesla may be playing its part in taking fuel-powered cars off the road, it has fallen behind its peers when examined through a wider ESG lens,” Dorn wrote.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has become the target of progressive criticism since taking over Twitter and implementing free speech policies. Conservatives have long claimed the platform discriminated against their ideas and applied community standards inconsistently. 

In response to its downgrading in the ESG world, Musk tweeted, “ESG is a scam. It has been weaponized by phony social justice warriors.” 

Fiduciary Responsibility 

Research also is finding that high ESG ratings don’t always translate to better investment performance, which is further confirming the suspicion that too much emphasis on political objectives is distracting from financial objectives. 

Gordon said that, as treasurer, he advocated against investment restrictions that “interfere or conflict with the state’s primary fiduciary responsibility to ensure Wyoming citizens receive all necessary services, as well as the best possible return on the state’s investments.” 

This point was raised by the Republican treasurers involved in the Our Money Our Values campaign at a press conference earlier this month announcing the initiative. 

“We’re … not going to allow the assets under our management to be politicized and weaponized. We’re committed exclusively to the financial best interest of our constituents,” Brietbart reported Nebraska State Treasurer John Murante said at the conference. 

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Ho, Ho, Hold It! Wyoming’s Favorite Christmas Movie Is What?

in Wyoming Life/News
28092

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

“Krampus” is a 2015 horror-comedy based on a character from ancient European folklore – a fearsome, horned demonic beast who punishes naughty children at Christmastime.

And according to a recent Associated Press story, it’s the most popular Christmas movie in Wyoming.

The Process

The writers took the Rotten Tomatoes list of the 100 best Christmas movies of all time, then filtered down to the top 20, according to the number of online searches. Then Google Trends data was used to determine the states in which people were searching the most for certain Christmas films.

And the results computed for Wyoming?

“Krampus.”

Not “It’s a Wonderful Life,” not “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and not even “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”



‘Never Heard Of It’

However, Wyoming movie-goers strongly debunk the AP’s determination, with many sharing the same reaction: “Kramp-what?”

“Never seen it….barely remember the name of it,” said Barbara Anne Greene from Basin. “Doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would be a hit in Wyoming.”

“I’ve never even heard of it!” said Marilyn Montville of Cody. “My favorite is the Christmas Story (1983) about Ralphie Parker yearning for a BB gun.”

“I have heard of Krampus but never watched it,” said Cheryl Shaffer, who said she prefers Hallmark Christmas movies. 

A Few Fans

There were a few fans of “Krampus” who piped in, however.

“I love Krampus!” said Betsy Trollinger of Cody. “I watch it every year, LOL.”

Mary Spencer said her husband, Nick, and sister-in-law Stephanie never miss a chance to watch the spooky holiday flick.

“You won’t find Nick in an ugly sweater at Christmas, but he does have (a Krampus) T-shirt,” she said.

“We LOVE Krampus, we own it and watch it together every year,” said Sarah Froehlich of Laramie. “It’s a great movie, and I live with 2 big movie enthusiasts!” 

And there were others who had never heard of the movie but may seek it out after hearing about the report.

“I have never seen this movie but will have to now!!!” said Joann Almlof of Lovell. 

Favorite Christmas Shows

For those who chimed in on Facebook about their favorite holiday films, treasures included “White Christmas” and George C. Scott’s rendition of “A Christmas Carol.”

“It’s a tie between ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’” said Leslie Callahan.

There were a few more modern preferences as well.

“My favorite is ‘Love Actually,’” said Almlof.

“We also watch ‘Christmas Vacation,’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ (Jim Carrey version) and ‘Elf’ every year,” said Froehlich.

“I am a fan of Hallmark Christmas movies!” said Janet Haddix. “I’m already watching them.”

“Hallmark puts on some of the best family movies I’ve ever seen!” added Rhonda Lynam.

Top Favorites Around the Country

According to the report, the movies that were favorites in the most states include “Trading Places” (Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania); “The Polar Express” (Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina); “The Grinch” (Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia; and “Love Actually” (Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Virginia, District of Columbia).

But for two states – Michigan and Wyoming – the twisted horror comedy “Krampus” takes the top prize.

Ho, ho, ho indeed.

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No Decision Yet Over Lawsuit To Remove 100-Yards Distance Rule In Polling Places

in elections/News/politics
Photo by Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily
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By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
Leo@Cowboystatedaily.com

A lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s law prohibiting electioneering within 100 yards of a polling place on Election Day is still being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, more than six months after final oral arguments were made in the case.

Since those arguments May 17, Chief Judges Jerome Holmes, Scott Matheson Jr. and Veronica Rossman haven’t made any rulings or decisions.

Don’t Stand So Close To Me

It is illegal in Wyoming to distribute electioneering materials, which can include petitions, campaign fliers, political signs and other political documents, within 100 yards of an active polling place on Election Day, and within 100 feet all other days.

In 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled that Wyoming’s electioneering restriction violates the First Amendment. 

About six months later in February, Laramie County Clerk Debra Lee, Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove and former Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan appealed the decision.

What’s The Harm?

Political activists John Frank and Grassfire LLC are challenging the law, claiming people have a right to campaign and gather signatures closer to polling places. 

When it comes to Election Day efforts, Klein said he would be fine with a 100-foot rule, while he believes electioneering around courthouses once the pre-election and absentee voting period begins should be allowed as long as electioneers don’t physically impede anyone’s way in or out of a polling place.

“Is someone collecting signatures from someone on their way out really disruptive?” Klein questioned.

Steve Klein, a Washington, D.C. attorney and member of  Wyoming Liberty Group, a nonpartisan group that encourages citizen participation in government and free speech, is representing the original plaintiffs in the case. 

Mixed Legal Standing

The state and county officials argue in their appeal that the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 decision of Burson v. Freeman, although featuring some dissent among the justices, dictates a decision being made on the narrowest grounds. 

“The state’s restricted zone is reasonable and does not significantly impinge on Frank or Grassfire’s rights,” the state writes in a 2020 filing. “The little case law that exists applying Burson to electioneering buffer zones larger than 100 feet misapplies Burson or is otherwise unpersuasive.”

In the Burson case, the Supreme Court upheld the state of Tennessee’s right to enforce a law restricting campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place.

“The Burson plurality’s standard opinion is controlling precedent that should be applied in this case,” the state’s attorneys wrote in a May filing.

‘A Lot To Chew On’

In 2015 in Kentucky, a 6th Circuit Court judge ruled a 300-foot buffer unconstitutional after the plaintiff successfully argued the size of the zone was arbitrary with no compelling interest to back it up.

Wyoming had a buffer zone of 60 feet prior to 1973. A 1988 lawsuit, NBC v. Karpan, forced the Wyoming Legislature to allow exit polling within the buffer zone after an outright ban was found to be unconstitutional.

Louisiana’s electioneering buffer is the highest in the nation at 600 feet, a distance that has been challenged in court multiple times. 

Klein said he feels confident the court of appeals will uphold the lower court’s decision when it comes to the Election Day distances, but is less sure how it will rule on early and absentee electioneering distance, an issue he said the court has never considered before.

“It’s pretty novel,” he said. “The court is really taking this seriously. There’s a lot to chew on.”

Highly Relevant

Klein said he has no idea when a decision could be released on the case, but hopes the judges will come back with a decision before the upcoming legislative session so lawmakers can make potential changes to laws immediately. 

He said if they lose the appeal, he will encourage his clients to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2014, Don Wills, an independent candidate for governor, challenged the state’s 100-yard law after the election, arguing it prevented him from collecting signatures from voters after his volunteers were forced to leave from where they were working outside the Laramie County Courthouse.

A similar instance happened to Republican gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess in 2018 when he was told he had to be 100 yards from the property line of the Cam-Plex Wyoming Center in Gillette on Election Day. 

“Sometimes we joke, when you give 100 feet they take 100 yards,” Klein said.

Around Wyoming

This fall, a conservative voter guide was distributed on the Campbell County Courthouse steps “on at least one day during the absentee voting period,” according to a complaint made to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office. 

Klein said he was pleased to see the Laramie County Courthouse did not enforce its 100-yard rule in the November election. But in Crook County, there were supporters of write-in state Senate candidate Roger Connett who were asked by local law enforcement to remove campaign signs that were too close to a polling place.

Voter Intimidation

There were many allegations of voter intimidation raised in other states like Arizona leading up to the November election, with claims of election watchers showing up in military gear, filming voters with their phones and following them to their cars.

Axios reported in October that far-right extremist groups Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers attempted to sway the upcoming midterms in favor of their preferred candidates by signing up as poll workers and drop-box watchers.

Klein said if voters feel intimidated by those surrounding polling places, they should vote by mail. 

In Wyoming, there were no documented instances of acts of voter intimidation. There was an organized effort made by the Wyoming Republican Party to train hundreds of volunteers to serve as poll watchers throughout the state.

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