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Antarctica? Cowboy State was a sea of blowing snow during Great Thanksgiving Blizzard

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Snow
2480

By Bill Sniffin

Travel in Wyoming was horrific on the days leading up to the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday. Heavy snow and high winds struck at least three-fourths of the state. It was a mess.

For a while, the state was land-locked. There were few people able to get in to or out of Wyoming.  Interstate 80 was closed. Interstate 25 was closed. And most other major roads were closed.

Of course, this was occurring on Thanksgiving week and people were on the move.  AAA estimated 55 million would be traveling more than 50 miles and a good number of them planned to head through Wyoming. The snow not only affected people with connections to Wyoming but also folks east and west of the state that were hoping to travel across the state. Not on this week, at least for a while.

Besides highways, there were businesses, schools, colleges, and the University of Wyoming closing early for the holidays because of the storm. 

Last I checked we had 21 inches of snow on the ground at my house in Lander. And yet, we had it pretty good compared to some folks around the state.

Cheyenne was a disaster zone. Pete and Chloe Illoway recently moved north of the capital city and found themselves battered by wind and snow.

“We live in an area they call the ranchettes just south of the Torrington Highway so there is nothing to stop the wind or snow except for shelter belts. Our drifts are hard and high. They may not melt until early spring,” Pete says.

“It was quite a storm for early in the season. I do not have a gauge to measure the wind but it was strong enough we never went outside. It was a Doozie,” Illoway concluded, as he spoke for most Cheyenne residents.

Saddest story I heard was about Dean and Kathi McKee of Lander. They were headed to Casper to catch a flight to Fort Lauderdale. They had intended to join their daughter and her husband on a Caribbean Cruise to Jamaica.  They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

They made it to Casper but their flight was cancelled.  They could not make it to Denver on time so headed back home.  They ended up spending the night in a rustic nine-room motel in Jeffrey City.

When they went to get breakfast next door the next morning, the restaurant service was slow because the exhausted bartender had been serving drinks to stranded travelers until 4 a.m.  He was asleep in a lounge chair.

Kathi reported: “The people who own the hotel are the freaking best!”

She said: “A snowplow did come to escort us and eight other vehicles safely out of Jeffrey City on a closed road. Thank you WYDOT!”

Apparently there were a dozen carloads of folks stranded down the road at Muddy Gap, too.  Three Forks convenience center there takes good care of people.

Wyoming’s biggest heroes during the holidays were Highway Patrolman Sam Szott and an unidentified passing motorist who saved a person’s life in a terrible crash near Wheatland.

Just after midnight on Tuesday, Szott saw a pickup on fire down the embankment.  The driver was unresponsive and the two men got him out before the entire truck was engulfed in flames.  The driver recovered later. 

Press reports stated: “Without this trooper’s actions and the Good Samaritan’s actions, this guy wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity to be around for the holidays,” Lt. Kyle McKay said. “By their quick thinking, they saved this guy’s life.”

Kudos go out to Gary Michaud who runs the Wind River Transportation Authority in Fremont County. His crew sent a bus to Laramie to pick up Lander and Riverton UW students so these young people would not be out driving on dangerous roads.

One of those students was my grandson, so this is a pretty great service it seems to me.  Wonder if any other counties in Wyoming are providing this service?  If not, maybe they should.

Fremont County students headed back to Laramie Sunday in the safety of the bus, being helmed this time by Del Nelson.

Dave “Pop” Lukens was visiting Minneapolis prior to the storm. He says: “Donna and I were in MSP for Thanksgiving with our other two grandkids.  There is this web site called morecast.com where you can find out the weather for your route and we plugged in our trip back to Lander on Friday. 

“At 3 a.m. mountain time, we got an alert from this web site that said, “LEAVE NOW! And we did.  We drove those 970 miles in fog, snow, black ice, and heavy snow from Shoshoni to Lander. And with stops, somehow we averaged 66.8 mph including potty and gas stops.   

“Now keep in mind that all the signs said to turn off cruise control, so I did, but that resulted in much higher speeds. Happy we didn’t get stuck behind a big RV.” 

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

On Bone Broth, and Coexistence

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
Guardian dogs
2455

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The morning after Thanksgiving our house was once again filled with the smell of cooking turkey. But this time it was because we were boiling the carcass remains from the previous day’s feast. The bones are placed in the garbage once the broth is complete, but we pour the bone broth with chunks of meat in canning jars for reheating and pouring over the kibble of our working livestock guardian dogs on cold winter mornings.

Bones from a beef roast, leg of lamb, or leftover bird carcass all provide for delicious bone broth that can be used to make soup, but we like providing a nutrition boost for hard-working dogs and females raising pups.

livestock guardian dogs

On Thanksgiving we got the turkey in the oven before daylight and proceeded to outside chores at the first welcoming rays of light. The sheep were still on their bedground with their dogs, so we went across the ranch to check our game cameras, a vital part of our wolf monitoring program.

Fresh wolf tracks in new snow confirmed that wolves had paid an early-morning visit to our sheep range – their third nocturnal visit in a week. A resident female wolf that we helped radio collar a year ago has mostly kept to herself, but after we eliminated her mate a few months ago, she’s brought in another large male to the ranch, and their excursions are becoming more frequent. This male wolf’s track is large and distinct, and I suspect it’s the elusive male we had trouble with last fall and winter.

After we lost our two top guardian dogs, the male had become emboldened, and as I checked the cameras every morning, I would find his tracks atop my boot prints from the day before. As I tracked the wolf, he tracked me, marking and tearing up the ground where I walked, and he began coming to the rocks behind the house. He avoided the cameras, approaching them from behind, until one night in a fit of rage last November he attacked a camera, taking 85 selfies in the process.

That’s when we spooled up the guardian dogs, penned and fed the sheep, and set out wolf traps. After splitting up his pack, the male disappeared from our range. It had been quiet since I’d last come across his sign, but looking at those fresh tracks in the snow, it’s with a tense familiarity.

We follow the wolf tracks through the area our sheep flock grazed the day prior and see where the wolves and the guardian dogs each marked the same territorial boundary. The sheep and their dogs use the area during the day before being pushed toward the house every afternoon. The wolves wait until darkness falls across the range before moving in to explore where the sheep had spent the day.

Two nights ago, the wind-driven snow pushed the flock into the protected cover in the bottom of Sheep Creek. We tracked the wolves up the drainage to within a half-mile of the flock as they moved in response to the sheep movement below. The tracks in the snow left by the wolves, the guardians, and the sheep, lays out the reality of coexistence on the ground. The wolves are nearby, but are currently maintaining a certain distance.

It’s been a hard-fought coexistence. We deferred grazing this range one year and a pack of six wolves took over the range as their own. When we moved in the next year, the wolf pack come within a quarter-mile of the house and our penned sheep, causing massive brawls between the warring canine cousins. The wolves killed pronghorn antelope and mule deer within half-mile of the house, and the pack lounged atop the rocky ridge overlooking our headquarters, as our guardian dogs struggled to widen the territory of protected space. We had guardian dogs injured and killed, dozens of sheep injured and killed, and we’ve injured and killed wolves.

The sheep flock has its own guardian dogs that move with the flock as it grazes, as do the cattle, and we also have a guardian dog pack that controls the area around the ranch headquarters and pens. The wolves are no longer able to roam the ridge overlooking the house because that territory has been taken by the guardian dogs.

The biggest risk is to the sheep, with their smaller size and ever-changing grazing pattern. The livestock guardian dogs have managed to impose a restricted buffer of protection around the flock, but we know that any weakness of the dog pack – or any strengthening of the wolf pack –will cause this uneasy coexistence to end. 

So we prepare the bone broth, to boost our working dogs on cold winter mornings, to nourish them for whatever may lie ahead.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Esther Hobart Morris Symbolizes Equal Rights

in Column
Esther Hobart Morris
2433

By Nancy Guthrie, Mary B. Guthrie, and Rosalind Routt Schliske

This year, three noteworthy events occurred in Wyoming—the celebration of the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the designation of 2019 as the “Year of Wyoming Women,” and the reopening of the newly renovated Wyoming Capitol.

The July 10 celebration of the reopening of the Wyoming Capitol was an extraordinary event. Wyoming residents are rightfully proud of the fine work done on that special building. 

However, the project is not finished because the heroic bronze statue of Esther Hobart Morris, the “Mother of Women’s Suffrage in Wyoming” and first woman justice of the peace in the world, has been banished to the basement connector between the Capitol and Herschler Building. 

It is unfortunate that the statue was not restored to its proper place in front of the Capitol. 

Since 1963, the large statue of Mrs. Morris has been a reminder to all who visited the Capitol that Wyoming was the first governmental entity in the world to grant women the right to vote and to hold public office.

We have driven by the Capitol thousands of times and have been thrilled to see the statue of Morris, an important reminder of Wyoming’s history and the strong women who settled this state. Regardless of the time of day or weather conditions, visitors posed with and took photos of the imposing statue while marveling at the historic 1869 decision to give women the right to vote.

The state is missing an opportunity to educate visitors about our history and the accomplishments of Esther Hobart Morris and other Wyoming women pioneers. It is shortsighted to consign her statue and all it symbolizes to the basement of a state office building that is only open during business hours on weekdays.

We respect the hard work and dedication of the members of the committee that oversaw the Capitol renovation. Indeed, they are to be commended. But the decision to remove our Esther from the front of the Capitol should be revisited.

While we have heard several reasons for the statue’s removal, including fear of vandalism and aesthetics, these concerns can be addressed by experts.

In this “Year of Wyoming Women,” it would be fitting to celebrate Wyoming women by moving Esther back outside the Capitol where she belongs so that everyone who sees her would be reminded about Wyoming’s  contribution to women’s rights.

We are not the only people who would like to see the statue moved outside. Many have expressed the view to us that Esther should be visible to all at all times.  

The Capitol is lovingly referred to as “the People’s House.” State leaders should listen to and address the concerns of Wyoming people who treasure its rich history.

LET’S BRING ESTHER HOME.

(Note: Nancy Guthrie, a retired state district court judge, was Wyoming’s first female county attorney.  Mary B. Guthrie was the first woman to serve as Cheyenne City Attorney. Rosalind Routt Schliske is professor emeritus of mass media at Laramie County Community College, where she taught journalism for 40 years.   As members of the Cheyenne League of Women Voters, Mary and Rosalind co-wrote the play marking Wyoming’s 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage and performed it at the grand reopening of the Wyoming Capitol on July 10.)

Thanksgiving thoughts: Sanctity of life: Stacy M and Baby M

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Baby M
2438

By Bill Sniffin

We live in unusual times when what defines life is under constant attack.  This got me thinking about two instances in my past that involved the dignity of life concerning two seemingly useless human lives.

There have been many people over the years who typified what this phrase means but two who stand out are a teenage boy named Stacy M and a tiny girl named Baby M.

They came into my life at two different times, almost 20 years apart, but both helped show that the real test of a civilization is how it treats the least of its citizens.

In the 1980s, we met a young man named Stacy Martell.  He was a neighbor to my parents in the Capital Hill section of Lander.

Our son Michael, who was about seven at the time, became great friends with Stacy.  

Stacy was a shrunken little shell of a boy stuffed somewhat crookedly into a wheelchair. He suffered from Muscular Dystrophy and was probably someone that a lesser civilization would have shuttered away. But in Lander, his high school classmates made him a hero. They had him give a speech at their commencement in 1989. The band played The Wind Beneath My Wings following his talk.

His talk that day was inspirational; so were his writings:

“There are times when I want desperately to be like everyone else. I’ve thought about marriage. There’s a void when I think this won’t happen, that I’ll never be able to have a family of my own.

“But I know a person can’t dwell on improbables. You have to take what you’ve got and go with it. I used to worry about what people thought of my body. But now I know it is a person’s inner self that is important, not your outer self. I’ve looked at my inner self: It’s healthy, strong, vibrant, and active. When I think of myself this way, I’m satisfied. I’m at peace with myself.”

Stacy wrote the following about life and death:

“I’ve lived, I’ve done my best, what happens, happens. I’ve seen an unspoken question in some people’s eyes. It’s ‘Do you wish sometimes you had never been born?’

“Absolutely not! It hasn’t always been easy but I’ve met the challenges and I’m here to say that life is worth living.”

A few years later, Stacy died. His life was a struggle and ended way too soon.

Almost 20 years later, we encountered Baby M, also known as Baby Miracle.  She was probably an example of what became known in Wyoming as “meth babies.” These were children born with profound disabilities as a result of their mother’s drug use while not realizing she was pregnant.

Our advertising agency had just earned the contract to do the anti-drug campaigns for the state’s Substance Abuse Division and we were introduced to the story of Baby M.

My wife Nancy, my brother Ron (a videographer), and I visited Baby M and her foster mother at a modest home in Douglas one fall day almost exactly 16 years ago.

We worked all day to create a video documentary, which we planned to use to promote the negative impacts of drug use.

State employees viewed that video but they never quite figured out how to disseminate it publicly, so it pretty much ended up on a shelf at the Department of Health in Cheyenne.

Baby M was a beautiful baby girl, who looked about six months old although she was a year old when we met her. She was blind, could barely hear, and had a terrible time breathing.  It was assumed she was profoundly developmentally disabled.

Did I say she was beautiful?

It was heartbreaking to think of the lost potential you were holding in your arms.  Because of the assumed high-risk behavior on the part of the biological parents, this child appeared to not have a chance.

But this was a human being.  And she was loved by her foster mother (the real hero of this story), loved by her foster siblings, and loved by everyone who came into contact with her.

At the time, a friend of the family wrote the following about the baby girl:

“Some people would define a miracle as something amazing, unexplainable, with bright lights or fluttering angels’ wings. Or simply, a glimpse of God.

“A special needs baby, Miracle, was born Sept. 29, 2002. Doctors gave her little chance of survival, but because of her will to live they considered her a miracle, hence the name. At five weeks old, Miracle was placed in the arms and the heart of her foster mom, who loved her so much that she later adopted her.

“Miracle’s family knew that she was not like other little girls and never would be, but she touched so many lives. Her innocence taught lessons in humility and her gentle little spirit gave people a reason to believe.

I wrote a note to myself, at the time, that: “You could not look at this beautiful child without catching a glimpse of God.”


And on a spring day in Douglas in 2008, Baby M passed away. She was six years old.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Linguistic Weapons

in Column/Range Writing
Snowflake
2420

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

As National Public Radio’s Sam Sanders noted, “Words that begin with a very specific meaning, used by a very specific group of people, over time become shorthand for our politics, and eventually move from shorthand to linguistic weapon.”

These linguistic weapons are fired daily, and I’ve had a few shot at me. Fortunately for me, I’m able to deflect the shots since my lexicon is more archaic than that used by the word-weapon warriors with new verbal arsenals. What I mean is that the warspeak falls on deaf ears, since I tend to wield words with their original meanings (I’m old school). Let me provide a few examples.

Snowflake: A snowflake is that delicate work of symmetry found in nature of which no two are identical.

Hit me with the “Ok boomer” and I’ll show scorn. Not only do you not know in what generation I was birthed, but “ok Boomer” were the words called out to the huge Saint Bernard dog named Boomer who liked to put me up a tree as a child, much to the pleasure of my childhood friends who lived with said Boomer.

Triggered: Oh, I’ve got triggers; the one I use most is attached to a Henry rifle. #TrueThat.

Woke, as in past tense of wake. I was starting to get used to the new informal use of the word as an alert to societal injustice, but when that finally happened, I listened to Sam Sanders and found out that version was dead.

PC: personal computer. Yup, my language is that old. And BLM is an acronym for a land management agency. And all those AI headlines initially confused me, but then I realized they weren’t referring to artificial insemination, which is what AI means for ag folks.

Safe spaces: Places like my kitchen table, where someone in need is welcome to come in and find safety and nourishment. I hope your kitchen table serves the same purpose.

Witch hunt: you know, like that thing that happened in New England when people were accused of practicing witchcraft and were then executed.

Rabid: A current favored adjective of lazy linguists who would reject such casual diction if they had ever dealt with a living being afflicted with the fatal viral disease of rabies.

Whistleblower: I know a lot of whistleblowers. Do yourself a favor and attend a sheepdog trial and you’ll get to know them as well. Whistleblowers are good people.

Perfect means as good as it could possibly be in this world. For an example of perfect, see actual snowflake.

Troll: One who lurks in darkness and is eventually knocked down while harassing a large billy goat. Hey troll, I’m your goat.

Anonymous: Like trolls, generally an unidentified person, and often one making statements or claims for which they are unwilling to have their name associated. Bottom line: Never me.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

This Is Rural America

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
2391

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

A recent Twitter rant by a University of California Berkeley PhD student philosopher that claimed rural Americans “are bad people who have made bad life decisions” and should live “uncomfortable” lives and should have to pay more for rejecting efficient city life brought predictable condemnation.

The man later deleted the tweet with a comment that “my tone is way crasser and meaner than I like to think I am” but he never actually backed down from his rural condemnation. But this bruhaha got me thinking about rural life in America, and what that actually means. 

In western Wyoming’s version of rural America, what comes to mind is broad and dramatic landscapes with vast populations of wildlife and domestic livestock (the typical Wyoming pastoral scene) with a relatively small human population density.

The community’s components include a wide variety of people. We have sheep herders from Nepal, ranchers whose familiesmoved here from the Old Country more than a century ago,immigrant families from Mexico, and people who fled natural disasters or economic instability in other areas of America.

It’s people who develop routines based upon their own priorities and rules of life. Like the gentleman who insisted on getting up early every morning and making sure the steps to the rural medial clinic were kept free of snow. He didn’t work there, or get paid, but it was important to him that anyone needing medical attention shouldn’t be deterred by Wyoming snow.

And another gentleman who served as the community grave digger. He had a paying job, but this is just something he did for his community, his way of honoring the dead.

Or the thoughtful woman who started volunteering her time to help others in need, even if just cleaning up a yard, slapping on some paint, or chopping wood. Her kind acts drew others to her side, and a loose group now mobilizes to serve wherever there is need in the community.

And it’s the artist who donates her valuable work at a fundraiser to help cover the medical expenses for an accident victim. That she’s never met the victim isn’t even considered.

It’s the relatively new couple to the community who attend nearly every public event held in the county, simply to show support. They just show up, and they’ve become valued friends to all.

It’s the woman business owner on main street who knew that the teenaged girl preparing to put a winter coat on layaway was waiting tables and living on her own, so she set up the girl’s first charge account. And she knew that girl would honor her debt.

That kind and beautiful woman who cuts hair over at the salon is a former commercial airline stewardess who survived a horrific airplane crash but has found solace in the quiet of a rural countryside. That older man you meet on the ski slope has saved more lives and birthed more babies in his decades of practicing frontier medicine than most doctors working in municipal hospitals. That friendly retired couple spent their working lives as public servants, and still dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus every Christmas.

That cattle rancher over there is a former nuclear engineer, that sheep rancher down the river has a master’s degree in education.That tiny older woman who lives alone spends hours playing her grand piano, and the suntanned woman down the road is a talented saddlemaker. That lean, bearded man cuts timber with a team of horses during the week, and volunteers for the youth hockey team on weekends. That grandmother is a retired nurse who volunteers at the bedside of the terminally ill – an earthly angel to the families she’s served. That weird-looking teenaged boy is an artist, and the goth-girl is a writer. That single mom is a small business entrepreneur and graphic designer. That single dad makes a living through hard physical labor during the day,and then takes his kids ice skating after school.

Those people in the grocery store are emergency medical technicians, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, teachers, search and rescue volunteers, military veterans, librarians, and coaches for our school sports teams.

That guy you see at a construction site is the same guy who flies a helicopter to pluck injured climbers off the face of the mountain. That guy moving cows along the road is part of the highly skilled team that is dropped in by the helicopter on a rope to stabilize the patient before evacuation. That guy you see always fishing out at the lake is also part of a swift-water rescue team that is deployed all over the region to recover those lost to the waters. That woman cheering on the local football team doesn’t have kids of her own, but is there at every game. She’s also the head of the search and rescue team.

These are the people who hitch up their stock trailers and drive towards wildfires to help their neighbors in rural subdivisions evacuate with their animals to safety. They keep their snowmachine trailers supplied with emergency equipment and go out into blizzards to find anyone lost in the wild after dark.

We’ve all heard about those lazy kids of the younger generation. Yet it was those kids that used the school shop to build a mobile library to serve the underserved areas of the county. The librarians living in town, and those folks over at the senior center, take books and meals to people who can’t leave their homes dotted around the countryside.

These are the people of rural America. They are the extra hands that suddenly appear when help is needed. These are the people who bring food as an expression of love, and who drop off books they think you’ll enjoy. These are people who weep with you, and for you, and who cheer you.

This is rural America.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

In hunting, who is at the top of the food chain?

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Recreation/wildlife
hunting
2376

By Bill Sniffin

One of the largest armed forces in the history of the world is taking to the field right now.  We are talking about the 36 million hunters who stalking the mighty deer and elk in the USA.

Here in the Cowboy State, hunting is a fall tradition.  It is viewed as an entitlement. But the biggest difference between now and 50 years ago is that often the human hunter is not at the top of the food chain out there in the wild. More on this later.

The first time I heard the phrase about the “fun ending when you pulled the trigger,” was from my old friend, former game warden Bill Crump, when he recalled all his Wyoming hunting trips. He, of course, was talking about enjoying the fall scenery. Once you pull the trigger and kill your prey, it is time for some serious work.

Not sure what all those thousands of wives and girlfriends get in return, but they seem eager to send their hubbies and boyfriends off armed to the teeth and loaded down with food in rustic old campers. Or super-fancy brand new RVs with flush toilets, plus quad runners, huge pickup trucks, and even portable satellite television receivers.

Oh yeah, and cards.  Lots of playing cards. And quantities of liquid refreshment.

Cigars used to be a big part of the equation but surprisingly a lot of the groups I talked to recently just do not smoke. Not even a celebratory cigar?

There are a lot of very serious hunters in Wyoming.  But even some of them have decided that that hunting trip is still going to happen, the rifle may not even be removed from the scabbard. 

Sometimes these old veterans are just tired.  Maybe their wives finally confided to them that they are tired of cooking elk, deer, antelope and even moose.

Other times these hunters are more interested in taking their sons (or daughters), or grandchildren on the big hunt and really just want to concentrate on those younger folks getting their first kill.

A big reason for that annual hunting trip is that weather in the mountains or foothills of Wyoming can be so darned nice in the fall. They are just wanting to get away from the humdrum of daily life and enjoy the paradise that God has put at our disposal called Wyoming.

Plus another reason the “fun ends” is that when you pull the trigger it often signals the end of the hunting trip. Darn it, we have to leave the mountains and go back to our regular lives.

Now let’s talk about the “real” hunters.  Those men and women who are truly serious about killing their prey and filling their licenses. Most of these folks have a strong ethic where they plan to eat what they kill. They deserve our respect.

In the northwest part of Wyoming, these hunters are discovering that they are no longer at the top of the food chain.

Many folks suspect that grizzly bears are reportedly stalking both human hunters and the game those same hunters recently killed. Several hunters told me that the most uneasy feeling they can recall is when they are gutting their animal and suddenly things get real still.  Sort of like maybe some big critter has smelled your animal and is sizing up the fresh carcass.  And yours, too?

A famous photo circulated around the internet a while back showing a hunter taking a selfie photo of himself with his kill. In the background was a huge mountain lion.  Yikes.

A Cody hunter considered himself the luckiest man alive in Wyoming after his close encounter with a grizzly in the fall of 2011.    

Steve Bates, ended up on the losing end of his scrape in the Shoshone National Forest. He was happy to be alive, despite fractured ribs and cuts on his face and scalp.

A grizzly rushed him on a dead run before Bates could react.  After he was knocked over, the bear worked him over, clawed him, and chewed on him, before ambling off.

Once he recovered his senses, Bates grabbed his rifle and aimed it at the bear, then paused.  He wisely let it lope off.  Game and Fish officials said they would not track down the bear because it was reacting normally to its perceived threat.

“Considering what happened, “ Bates, recalled at the time, “I think I came out pretty good.”

That same year, a grizzly bit an Oregon hunter on the hand, also in our Shoshone National Forest.  Now that hunter must have one helluva story to tell. Names were not released.

One of my favorite bear stories concerns an old grizzly bear known as “Old Number One” – a sow in Yellowstone National Park. She was the first grizzly to ever wear a radio collar in the park.

A long-time agent for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Roy Brown of Lander, told me this story.

When the bear died some years ago, Brown headed up a necropsy procedure on the bear and the team found a surprise. The bear had six .38 caliber bullets in her head.  It must have happened many years before because skin had even grown over the injuries.

Roy says people wondered: “Hmmm, what happened to the guy who emptied his revolver into this bear?”

That poor guy may have found out first-hand where human beings are finding themselves in the food chain these days.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

My Dog Is Not A Fur Baby

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
Livestock guardian dogs
2349

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Americans are animal lovers, so much that 95 percent of pet owners view their pets as family members. According to a survey from the American Pet Products Association, less than 15 percent of dogs in America sleep outside at night, and more than 70 percent of dogs are allowed to sleep in a person’s bed, according to another survey. In American society, dogs have become “fur babies” and humans now identify as “pet parents” – which is either a wonderful thing, or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Animals are no longer simply our companions; they’ve become children in “interspecies families.” 

Although some people dress their dogs up in clothes, or bake cakes on dog birthdays, I don’t. These human-dependent dogs provide a great service to their humans, helping them to stay active while providing health benefits, social opportunities, and companionship. I also believe that dogs can help humans in creating a moral character, and in having relationships outside of self. Even though some dog breeds are not meant to survive on their own, there are dogs throughout the world that can survive in the wild, with or without human assistance. I live with a close relative of these dogs: our livestock guardians.

Personally, to consider myself a pet parent would be a disservice to my dogs. I refuse to anthromorphize the dog out of its noble fundamental existence as a dog. We love dogs for what they are; for their character, their enduring loyalty, their unconditional love, their ability to live in the moment, and for their keen instincts – for their basic doggedness. There is a special connection when gazing into the eyes of a dog that is looking directly at you, when you understand that you are looking into the depths to a remarkable soul. That connection rises to higher plane when you and dog then join together to complete a task, with the human doing human things, and the dog doing dog things, all toward the same end, and both KNOWING that we are engaged in an active partnership. This is the reason humankind has had a dog at its side for at least 20,000 years.

I have great love and affection for our dogs, but more importantly, I also have great respect for them – for their work ethic, bravery, intelligence, independence, (all characteristics for which I also curse at times) – and their willingness to demonstrate their affection to a lowly, unworthy beast like me. 

Every day I greet sunrise with a check on the guardian dogs, and having a 100-pound canine rush at me with wagging-tail enthusiasm is always a pleasure, no matter how many times its repeated. But usually within about three minutes, the excitement at the sight of me fades and the dogs return to their true calling: watching over their sheep, a lesser species that the dogs devote their lives to protecting. I, the mere mortal, am cast aside – unless and until I join the dogs with the sheep. Then the dogs walk alongside me, slowing to rub their bodies against my legs as they pass, allowing my fingers to caress their toplines from the top of the head to the end of the tail. They move back and forth, from me to the sheep, as we all move forward as one living mass.

These dogs are my working partners. I don’t believe I live in an interspecies family, but I do live and work in an interspecies world – a world that involves daily interactions among a mixture of wild and domestic animals and humans. We aren’t apart from nature; we are all components of one nature. We are all animals.

So don’t call my dog a fur baby. It’s a dog, and I don’t want to reform the dog into a human construct. If we’re evolving closer together, I’d much prefer that humans become more dog-like rather than the reverse.

When our dogs die, they don’t go to a rainbow bridge purgatory to wait for us, their beloved humans. These faithful creatures need not wait for anyone before taking their rightful place in a divine kingdom.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

The Fallacy of Gold-Standard Predator Research

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
sheep
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

As a frequent reader of new research on livestock production and carnivore conflicts, I am often reminded of the divide between researchers and practitioners. Papers will explain that research was conducted on sheep, without necessary information about those sheep, which practitioners (livestock producers) know will influence outcomes. For instance, we need to know not just the number of sheep involved, but breed, sex, age, breeding status, etc. because these cohorts may react differently in a given scenario.

Last fall, a new paper was published that cited the need for livestock protection to be more evidence-based, calling for more scientific papers to be based on “gold standards” for scientific research. A previous paper by some of the same co-authors went so far as to call for a halt to lethal control until such gold standards are achieved. Most of the only gold-standard studies cited by these authors are for non-lethal techniques, which are easier to study.

It would seem easy to support the call for “gold standards” but too often scientists fail to recognize the realities and complexities of field situations makes that unattainable, and the policy implications are significant. For example:

• Lethal versus non-lethal: 

Most studies assessing lethal versus non-lethal control of predators only acknowledge non-lethal control when undertaken or funded by government or NGOs. Rarely is there an acknowledgment or assessment of the various non-lethal measures already used by producers prior to lethal control, so it’s not really an accurate or fair assessment.

• Feasibility & Affordability: 

When livestock producers make management decisions, the feasibility and affordability of an action are foremost considerations, yet scientists expend little effort in this sort of assessment for field conditions. Having a great predator deterrent is of little use if it’s not affordable, or is only applicable in limited conditions.

• Gold means controlled:

Gold standard research usually takes place under captive-animal scenarios, where variables can be limited by researchers. This is in contrast to field conditions, where researchers would have little or no control of variables that influence outcomes. Researchers need to understand that difference, and that just because “gold” standards aren’t achieved doesn’t mean field research isn’t valid and useful. Researchers shouldn’t stretch to such broad condemnation as did those calling for a halt to lethal control because “gold” standards weren’t used in the studies they reviewed. That recommendation was simply the reflection of researcher bias.

• Motivations Differ:

Acknowledge the motivations and goals of researcher and livestock producers are not the same thing. Much research is being conducted to reduce conflicts between domestic livestock and wild predators, yet livestock producers are rarely included in study design, and livestock producers readily find flaws in implementing recommendations resulting from the research. Perhaps if livestock producers were more involved in study design, the results could be more readily adopted.

• Partnerships: 

The new paper refers to “livestock owners” only twice; once was to discredit the use of the livestock owner’s “perceived effectiveness” of an intervention, noting “widespread placebo effects, whereby patients feel better simply because they have participated.”

Although in an opening paragraph the authors stated, “Livestock owners, natural resource managers, and decision-makers each have an important role to play in research partnerships to collaboratively guide the testing of predator control interventions,” the paper substantially ignored the livestock owner value and role in such research.

• Animal husbandry ethics:

To achieve gold standard research in this field requires experiments that are ethically questionable. A true test of effectiveness of no-control, non-lethal control, and lethal-control would result in the deaths of domestic animals without intervention to protect them during the research. I, as a livestock producer, find that intolerable and would refuse to participate in such research that would result in pain, suffering and death for the animals I am responsible to tend.

Until researchers bridge the divide between the needs of scientists and the needs of practitioners, I see little room for progress. 

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Giant bronze horses created in Cowboy State, headed for Sicily

in arts and culture/Bill Sniffin/Column
Bronze horses
Eagle Bronze Foundry workers are dwarfed by the size of these bronze horses created in Lander by the Italian-American artist Arturo Di Modica. They were recently shipped to Sicily. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

In a state where the cowboy culture of horses is almost a religion, it was fitting that two of the largest horses in the world were created here.

Artist Arturo Di Modica, one of the world’s greatest living sculptors, has been using the Eagle Bronze Foundry in Lander for many of his gigantic works.

The first efforts on this project started 13 years ago. In terms of all the projects undertaken by Eagle Bronze, this one might have set the record for its long time in their shop.

But first a person is impressed by the gigantic size of these horses. They are 26 feet tall. They dwarf the workmen who have been putting the finishing touches to the huge bronze work of art.

It is not certain how the horses will be placed in Di Modica’s native Sicily, but they will sure create a stir when installed.

Monte and Bev Paddleford founded Eagle Bronze in 1985 when Bev wanted to return to her hometown to sculpt and to create a small foundry to cast bronzes made by her late father, artist Bud Boller.

Bev Paddleford, one of the owners and founders of Eagle Bronze, shows the relative size of the horses by standing next to a hoof.
Bev Paddleford, one of the owners and founders of Eagle Bronze, shows the relative size of the horses by standing next to a hoof. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

They formed the business with the vision of being a Christian company. In the next decades it exploded into the largest bronze foundry in the country specializing in huge bronze monuments.

Work from the foundry can be found all over the world. Some of the more famous include the huge black panthers at the Carolina Panthers football stadium in Charlotte, N. C.

The largest bronze monument in Texas was created in Lander – it shows a bronze cattle drive through Pioneer Park in downtown Dallas. It features 40 cows and three cowboys.

The Paddlefords worked with a local committee in Lander to use three of those steers plus a cowboy to create what is called The Bronze Roundup – which might be the largest bronze monument in all of Wyoming. It was the millennium project for the Lander community.

For years, Lander has been known as the City of Bronze because of all the bronze monuments that line the town’s Main Street. Most of this effort was spearheaded by the Paddlefords. The first bronze sculpture on Main Street was by Bev’s father, Bud Boller, sponsored by the local Ambassador’s Club in the 1980s.

In recent years, both Casper and Sheridan have placed tremendous numbers of beautiful bronze statues in their cities. But no small Wyoming town has put as many statues on public display as Lander, although Buffalo and Thermopolis have lots of bronzes, too.

Monte tells their story on their web page: “We decided to move back to our hometown so that we could start a small foundry and for me to pastor a Vineyard Church. I guess the Lord had slightly other plans. Having redesigned the way we build and engineer monuments, we have been told that we are the largest producer of monuments in the world, and can do them quicker than most, keeping the integrity that the artist had originally produced.

“Beverly also started sculpting along the way and is a very gifted and talented artist. Her ability to create softness and life in everything she sculpts is truly a gift from the Lord. Her work has kept our vision of ministry going. I may not be the pastor I thought I was called to be, but I have been able to see the impact Bev’s art has had and been able to use this as a tool to minister to people along the way. God was calling me to ministry, just not how I had seen it!

“Along the way, we added some additional help to our facility. In 1999, our oldest daughter Heather and her husband Matt decided to help run our business. Heather studied accounting in college and is now our Controller. Matt, having studied Structural and Mechanical Engineering in college, is now our Vice President. With the addition of these two, we now have the ability to expand our operations and move in directions we never would have if they were not present.

“We have rebranded Eagle Bronze to move in a direction that has made us more than just a fine art foundry. We have become an art marketing group that can take conception to completion, help our artists find and place projects, and much more. We have become a facility that can do more than just recreate and manufacture art.

“Above all, it has always been about the relationships we have made over the years. It is about our everlasting friendships we have built and hope to continue to build.”

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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