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Sinks Canyon and Loop Road are magical places this time of year

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Travel
Lander Wyoming Loop Road
Folks who live on the east side of the Wind River Mountains have a tradition of getting “looped,” as often as possible. This is my term for driving the spectacular Loop Road.
2094

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Folks who live on the east side of the Wind River Mountains have a tradition of getting “looped,” as often as possible. This is my term for driving the spectacular Loop Road.

Fall colors were already showing up on the Loop Road when this photo was snapped Sept. 15. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

On a recent Sunday, there was just a hint of color as we headed for the mountains. It sure felt like fall, but the colors were still green and summer-like. Soon it will turn totally golden.

We were re-visiting a magical place that cast a spell on us exactly 49 years ago.  Sinks Canyon and the Loop Road outside of Lander are what caused my wife Nancy and me to move to Wyoming from Iowa almost a half century ago.

It is every bit as beautiful now as it was then. I recall telling Nancy about being blown away by how the Popo Agie River was so picturesque. It looked liked color photos I had seen on calendars but never dreamed that these places really did look like this in reality. It was a transcendent experience.

A tourist from Washington state was swimming in the Little Popo Agie River on the Loop Road on this sunny afternoon before finding this nice rock for sun bathing. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Sinks Canyon is the primary gateway to the Wind River Mountain Range from the east. Located just south of Lander, the canyon’s sheer cliffs and magical river make it a haven for sightseers.

The remarkable reason for the name of Sinks Canyon is that the river disappears into the side of the canyon wall and reappears a quarter mile downstream on the other side of the canyon.  If you have not visited this eighth wonder of Wyoming, you should. There are wonderful visitor centers there to explain things.

This huge rock formation called Windy Point towers over Sinks Canyon south of Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Then you climb out of Sinks Canyon and head up the Loop Road. The highway up the paved switchbacks and pretty soon you are climbing up to the saddle below Fossil Mountain and Windy Point.  I always thought Windy Point should be called Chief’s Head, as it looks like old Chief Washakie looking up to the heavens.

Beautiful lakes in the form of Frye Lake, Worthen Reservoir, and Fiddler Lake greet you along this first section of the Loop Road, which is graveled but passable for sedans.

Wind River Peak is the tallest mountain in the southern end of the Wind River Range.  This view is also showing Frye Lake along the Loop Road. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The gigantic form of Wind River Peak at 13,192 feet looms over this entire scene.  It is the tallest mountain in the southern Wind Rivers.  It has plenty of snow on it now and glistens in the distance.

Another monolith that shows up in your rear view mirror is the massive hunk of rock known as Lizard Head Peak, which is 12,842 feet high.  It is one of the signature mountains in the famous Cirque of the Towers.  It is amazing that you can see it so well from the Loop Road, but you need to know where and when to look.

A huge mountain named Lizard Head Peak strikes a pose in the distance for tourists driving the Loop Road south of Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin) 

Highest point of the road is Blue Ridge, which sits at 9,578 feet above sea level. A short hike farther up and you can climb stone steps to an old Forest Service fire lookout station. Again, well worth the trip and the view is breathtaking for 360-degrees.

There is a spectacular spot where the road crosses the Little Popo Agie River.  I stopped and snapped some photos and then saw a gal swimming in the frigid river. She climbed out of the water onto a big rock and started to sun bathe.  It must have been very invigorating. She was from Washington state, according to the license plate on her small car parked nearby.

Louis Lake on the Loop Road has nice beaches for families to enjoy at an altitude above 8,000 feet. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Louis Lake (pronounced Louie) is the showpiece of the Loop Road. It is a very deep lake. It has nice beaches on its east end and is a favorite place for boating, canoeing, fishing, and just enjoying life.

From Louis Lake to WYO Highway 28 on South Pass, the Loop Road goes by Grannier Meadows and up and around Dead Horse Curve.  The reason it is called the Loop Road is that you never need to backtrack.  You just keep going and complete the loop drive back to Lander.

As you get to South Pass, you look off at the vast Red Desert, which is one of Wyoming’s seven legitimate wonders.  Continental Peak and the Oregon Buttes stand out in the distance.

A moose casually munches on lily pads in a small pond next to Fiddler Lake on the Loop Road. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin) 

On the way back down the mountain back to Lander the most stunning sight is the vast Red Canyon. This is a huge box canyon, which is striking by all the red rock of the Chugwater Formation. It is one of the most photographed places in this part of Wyoming.

And then we were back home, having enjoyed a wonderful three-hour drive that reinforced all the wonderful reasons of why we live here.

Another of our reasons for this particular trip was that we had not driven the entire Loop this year.  We ALWAYS drive the Loop at least once each year.  Time was running out. What a great pleasure it has always been; it was this time, too.

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.

The Nature of Conflict: Managing Wildlife Damage

in Column/Range Writing/wildlife
2080

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I spent last week in our nation’s capital, one of 20 citizens from around the country gathered to serve on the national advisory committee for USDA Wildlife Services. The committee’s job isto provide recommendations to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue, on policies and program issues necessary to manage damage caused by depredating wildlife to safeguard our nation’s resources and safeguard public health and safety. Since Wildlife Services is tasked with resolving wildlife conflicts, much of what we discussed was about conflict.

From fellow committee members, we learned about the millions of dollars of bait fish and food fish lost annually to depredation by cormorants, and the inability to utilize measures to combat those losses due to a federal court ruling and the bird’s protect status under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act despite its abundance. That prompted discussion of similar conflicts involving other wildlife species protected under federal laws, from eagle and black vulture depredations on livestock, to conflicts involving large carnivores.

We learned about feral swine issues that plague most of the country, with an annual cost of more than $1 billion for damage and control efforts. Some states seek to eradicate this invasive species, while others use feral swine as an economic engine that funds wildlife agencies through license sales and wild pig hunting enterprises.

Wildlife Services personnel led the committee through thenational program to combat rabies in the United States, and its current focus on controlling the disease in raccoons. Although the canine rabies variant has been eliminated in the United States, wildlife populations continue to harbor the disease, with raccoons responsible for spillover infections into dogs, cats, and other wildlife species. Last year Wildlife Services distributed more than 10 million vaccination baits in 17 states to reduce rabies in wildlife. Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any known disease on the planet, and still kills one person every nine minutes globally, so the importance of this program to publichealth can’t be overstated.

Although our discussions moved from one conflict to another, our recommendations targeted methods to minimize or reduce conflict.

We talked about chronic wasting disease in ungulate populations, and how to position Wildlife Services and its National Wildlife Research Center to assist state and tribal governments in advancing scientific understanding of this disease to help combat its spread in ungulate populations.

We advanced recommendations on providing for emergency response to natural disasters, animal disease outbreaks, and other national emergencies, as well as emerging wildlife conflict issues and techniques to minimize these conflicts.

We expressed support for the development and registration of wildlife toxicants for lethal control of depredating animals, and to continue the use of existing toxicants, including M-44 devicesfor coyotes and sodium nitrite for feral swine. As animal activists work to eliminate each method of lethal control of problem animals (either through litigation or the ballot box), it’s important that Wildlife Services continue to be innovative in method development.

The use of lethal methods to resolve wildlife conflicts will remain a hot-button issue for some members of the public, and we recommended that Wildlife Services become more proactive in communicating the positive impacts of protecting resources through integrated wildlife damage management, and the relevancy and value of Wildlife Services activities to the public’s quality of life.

And no surprise to those who know me, I worked with biologists on the committee to advance a recommendation addressing scientific research, urging publication of objective science-based reviews that incorporate economic and ecological effects of wildlife damage management and the value of wildlife management for the promotion of healthy ecosystems.

Wildlife Services employs a fleet of about three dozen aircraft for conducting wildlife damage management and emergency response nationwide. From dropping rabies vaccine baits in eastern states, to capturing and tagging various species, and aerial gunning of targeted predators in the West, the aviation program involves high-risk flying, often at low altitudes and relatively slow speeds. Aviation safety has to be a top priority within the agency, and the committee’s recommendation was that the Secretary of Agriculture create and sustain the Wildlife Services Aviation Center of Excellence in Cedar City, Utah to focus on providing unmatched training services to personnel, to modernize and standardize the agency’s aerial fleet, and to encourage pilot recruitment and retention.

Although Wildlife Services may make headlines for killing millions of animals each year, those headlines never reflect that half of those animals were invasive species, and that 80 percent of the millions killed were starlings or blackbirds actively causing damage. The headlines should have read that the agency protected more than 8 million head of livestock last year, andprotected 185 threatened or endangered species, and protected the flying public at more than 800 airports.

Contrary to the slant adopted by animal activists, this agency isn’t rogue or secretive. Want to know how many animals the agency has killed in each state, for any species, any given year?It’s all available on the agency’s website.

Wildlife conflict management isn’t an easy or pleasant task, but it is necessary. The issues addressed by this federal agency have far-ranging impacts to human and animal health, public safety, and food security. 

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.

September Song: One Shot memories remind why I love this month so much

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Donald Trump Jr. One Shot
At the 2004 One Shot Hunt, Donald Trump Jr. got his bullet blessed by the late Darwin St. Clair, who served as ceremonial Shoshone Chief for the festivities. Chief Medicine Man Willie LeClair is pictured on the left. (Courtesy: One Shot)
2055

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

“Well, the sun’s not so hot in the sky today; And you know I can see summertime slipping on away.”

 – James Taylor

To me,  September in Wyoming means two things:

First, it is probably my favorite month, despite the occurrence of allergies and the ominous evidence of winter’s onset. And despite the need for an occasional jacket, the weather is usually quite predictable.

Second, it is when the annual One Shot Antelope Hunt occurs here in Lander.

Most Wyomingites keep an emergency travel kit in their cars year-around, but September is the time when you make sure you have re-stocked your trunk with this indispensable item.  Mountain highways across Wyoming can be very wintry in September.

Yellowstone Park is at its “yellow-est” at this time of year. It is fun to watch the locals in their wool shirts and jeans walking along a path next to a confused Californian, shivering in his tee shirt, shorts, and sandals.

Fall is the most colorful time of year in Wyoming. The leaves turn to breathtaking yellows, golds and reds.  Green lawns offer a nice contrast.  And the sky is as deep blue as always, the sun is shining its most golden and the high mountains glisten with early snow.

On the political scene, it often is the month where key decisions are being made.  Pundits always talk about “October surprises,” but the heavy campaign lifting needs to be done in September.

One Shot Antelope Hunt guide
The vast Red Desert and the High Plains of Wyoming served as a backdrop for Gov. Freudenthal’s 2004 hunt, here pictured with his guide Mike Yardas.

In my hometown, September also means it is time to go antelope hunting.  The 76th annual One Shot Antelope Hunt will be held during this upcoming weekend, Sept. 19-21. It is the Super Bowl of Shooting Sports.

I was the historian for the Hunt for decades before retiring some years ago.  While looking back on some of the hunts held this century, the one in 2004, some 15 years ago, sure was fun.

Then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal was the host and got his antelope with one shot.

One Shot Antelope Hunt
The 2004 One Shot Hunt featured some good shooting by then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal and U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi (right).

One of his fellow hunting competitors that year was U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, who also was considered a winner, shooting his buck with one shot. Sen. Enzi dedicated his hunt to his grandpa who always followed the One Shot.  He even used granddad’s old Springfield rifle that always “shoots four inches high and four inches to the right.”  Frankly, I cannot imagine anything to do with Sen. Enzi “moving to the left.”

The senator was so tickled with his success, he talked about it on the Senate floor the following Monday.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s team during the 2004 One Shot consisted of (l-r) Tony McRae of Lander, the governor, and Arch Coal CEO Steve Leer. Also pictured in their greeter Dave Kellogg.

One of the governor’s teammates was Steve Leer, then-CEO of Arch Coal.  Leer also nailed his buck with one shot. He spoke very highly about the quality of the Wyoming workers who work for his huge company. What a heady time that was for Wyoming coal.

Gov. Dave joined a group of hardheaded Lander Republicans called the Fox News All Stars for coffee that Friday morning prior to the Hunt.  I teasingly referred to them as  “Republicans for Freudenthal.” Although all were fond of the governor, not sure many liked him enough to join such a group.

As we left the restaurant, a passenger in a passing car flagged down the governor and appeared to recognize him. Was this an old friend? The governor walked over to the car.  A man opened his window and asked: “Hey, can you tell me how to get to Dubois?” Obviously the man did not realize who he was talking with.

After Gov. Dave answered the man’s question and the car started to pull away, someone yelled: “You might want to look at the picture on your highway map!”

Coincidentally, Donald Trump Jr. also shot in that year’s hunt.

He seemed to avoid the limelight during the weekend and was courteous to everyone around him.

This weekend Gov. Mark Gordon will participate in his first One Shot.  It is a fantastic tradition and I predict he will do a good job as host and will have a memorable weekend.

September is also football season.  As I write this, UW is boasting a 3-0 record and a seven-game win streak. I have great faith in coach Craig Bohl. 

This month, which used to be famous for containing the first day of autumn, is now known for other things since Sept. 11, 2001.  It will forever be recognized as the month when 3,000 innocent Americans died. 

And here in the Cowboy State, it will be recalled as the time when eight young Wyoming men died in their athletic prime on a dark highway south of Laramie. They were all killed when a drunk driver lost control of his big pickup and slammed into them head-on. An unbearable tragedy.

On a brighter note, around our house, it is wild bird frenzy time. My wife Nancy keeps two ducks around and this time of year, dozens of the wild ducks descend on our house to commiserate with our domestic fowl.

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.

Not To Be Critical, But Let’s Try Critical Thinking: From fast fashion to landlocked public lands, the devil is in the details.

in Column/Range Writing
The devil is in the details
2043

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I’m a news hound, and when I come across a topic that interests me, I try to read about that topic from a variety of news sources in attempt to see a range of perspectives. I read news from major media in the United States, Europe, Russia, and Turkey on a regular basis. Every few days I hear or read statements that give me pause. I am routinely perplexed at reporters allowing these statements to go unchallenged – not even questioning the veracity of the claims being made.

For example, last week as Dana Thomas, author of the new book “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes,” was making the rounds talking up her new book, some of her statements were grating, such as her insistence that vegan “leather” may help to replace “industrial farming which is horribly polluting on so many levels” and how this is great because then people won’t be killing animals to make clothing.

Of course, leather is a byproduct of meat production; sheep and cattle aren’t killed for the purpose of making leather. But what really struck me was a statement I heard Thomas repeat as she made her media rounds: “the average garment is worn seven times before it’s thrown away.”

What? Seven times? Who does that? A quick internet search revealed news outlets around the globe repeating the claim during the last four years. Australian women, British women, American women – apparently we all discard our clothes after wearing them only seven times. It took about 15 minutes to track down where this claim originated: from Barnardo’s Retail, which encourages women to donate clothing, which is then sold at its 590 stores across the United Kingdom. How did they come up with the wearing-seven-times-before-tossing number? According to a press release, Barnardo’s conducted a 2015 survey of 1,500 British women, hardly providing for the worldwide consumer insight being touted. 

Other alarming statements making the news come from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX (a GPS tech firm) claims that “The American people are currently locked out of 9.52 million acres of our own public lands” and “Wyoming holds the most inaccessible public lands with 3.05 million acres – or almost a third of the total landlocked acreage across the region.”

Although the press release for the “Off Limits, But Within Reach: Unlocking the West’s Inaccessible Public Lands” report didn’t go into the details, the report itself added an asterisk to these claims, directing the reader to the details of the calculations.

As they say, the devil is in the details, and the report defined landlocked public lands as federal lands “that cannot be accessed directly from a public road (direct access) and cannot be accessed via adjoining public land by way of a public road (indirect access).” Thus, the report deemed land as landlocked unless it can be accessed by a public road.

The report also noted: “Only permanent legal access was considered for this report, but existing access across some private lands may be given at the discretion of the landowner, and in many places permanent public access is assumed but not proven. Unless such access is legally documented, it was not included in our analysis.”

And since “comprehensive public easement data is not available for federal public lands,” no lands with such public easements were deducted from the total landlocked acreage calculation.

There are huge information gaps that are being used to claim that millions of acres are “off limits.” The existence of “checkerboard” lands is one example. Checkerboard land ownership is found throughout the western states, the result of railroad land grants offered by the federal and state governments in the mid-1800s for western expansion and construction of infrastructure. 

In Wyoming, much of the I-80 corridor is alternating public and private lands in one-square mile plots. This huge checkerboard corridor stretches for 80 miles from north to south and across most of the southern tier of Wyoming. Most of the private property in the checkerboard is held by energy and railroad companies, and grazing associations, many of which leave their properties open to the public unless otherwise marked.

And the importance of state access programs isn’t even factored into the “landlocked” claims. Last year Wyoming’s Access Yes Program provided hunters and anglers access to 2.6 million acres of private, state and federal lands that otherwise lack legal public access. In Montana, 1,200 landowners enrolled more than 7 million acres of land in that state’s Block Management Program which provides free hunting access to private land and isolated public land.

While western states do have landlocked public land, which should be a priority for land exchange or other remedies, the problem isn’t as extreme as the claims being made. Millions of acres are accessible through state programs, goodwill of landowners, and other means. What some parcels lack is permanent legal public access, which is entirely different than the American public being locked out of more than 9 million public acres.

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.

Yellowjackets are carnivores – they don’t want you; they want your barbecued steak!

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Bees
2027

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

What a strange critter! 

This time of year a yellowish bee-type critter and its buddies swarm down on you just as you sit down to eat a newly barbecued steak. Or hamburger. Or chicken.

But these bees are not after you – they may be a type of critter called a Vulgar Bee, which are really members of the wasp family. And they love meat.

They will buzz right by you and head for your delicious steak. The more freshly cooked, the better, it seems.

Apparently as your mouth is watering, so is theirs.

Monday night, Nancy and I were barbecuing kabobs.  Two were beef and two bacon-wrapped chicken. They cooked up nicely and smelled with that tantalizing odor. We were hungry and anxious to dive into this wonderful meal.

As we sat down on our picnic table, we were descended upon by six of these guys.  They buzzed and swarmed all around us and landed on our plates faster than we could shoo them away. Who are these buggers?

According to Wikipedia: Yellowjackets are social hunters living in colonies containing workers, queens, and males (drones). Colonies are annual with only inseminated queens overwintering. Fertilized queens are found in protected places such as in hollow logs, in stumps, under bark, in leaf litter, in soil cavities, and in man-made structures.

Queens emerge during the warm days of late spring or early summer, select a nest site, and build a small paper nest in which they lay eggs. After eggs hatch from the 30 to 50 brood cells, the queen feeds the young larvae for about 18 to 20 days. Larvae pupate, and then emerge later as small, infertile females called workers. Workers in the colony take over caring for the larvae, feeding them with chewed up meat or fruit. By midsummer, the first adult workers emerge and assume the tasks of nest expansion, foraging for food, care of the queen and larvae, and colony defense.

From this time until her death in the autumn, the queen remains inside the nest, laying eggs. The colony then expands rapidly, reaching a maximum size of 4000 to 5000 workers and a nest of 10,000 to 15,000 cells in late summer. (This is true of most species in most areas; however, vespula squamosa, in the southern part of its range, may build much larger perennial colonies populated by scores of queens, tens of thousands of workers, and hundreds of thousands of cells.)

At peak size, reproductive cells are built with new males and queens produced. Adult reproductives remain in the nest fed by the workers. New queens build up fat reserves to overwinter. Adult reproductives leave the parent colony to mate. After mating, males quickly die, while fertilized queens seek protected places to overwinter. Parent colony workers dwindle, usually leaving the nest to die, as does the foundress queen. Abandoned nests rapidly decompose and disintegrate during the winter. They can persist as long as they are kept dry, but are rarely used again. In the spring, the cycle is repeated; weather in the spring is the most important factor in colony establishment.

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.

“A Plane Just Hit the Pentagon!” – A Wyomingite’s Memories From the White House on 9/11

in Column
911
2012

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

There was nothing spectacular about the Denver Broncos – New York Giants game on September 10.

Just a Monday Night Football game. The Broncos were trying to stay relevant following the departure of John Elway a few years beforehand. We had steaks and martinis and watched it from my friend Rob Wallace’s house in Northern Virginia.

I remember it because of the next day. The events on September 11, 2001 make everything traceable.  What I was doing the night before, the weekend before, the day of, the next day. It’s not just the memory. I can still feel the dread. I can still smell my smoke-filled apartment. Some images are as clear as if they happened last week.

Working in the White House on September 11 doesn’t change the tragedy of the event but makes it surreal.

Not a replay

Going to Starbucks on 17th street following the communications meeting was a daily ritual. Colleagues Mercy Viana (Schlapp) and Wendy Nipper (Homeyer) and I walked back to our offices talking about the day ahead as we always had.

The image on the TV screen stopped us. The Today Show host said she heard the plane lodged in the World Trade Center was a Cessna. They were speculating it was a fluke.

Because of that when Mercy’s phone rang, she picked it up. We had no idea of the enormity facing us or the country. I stood next to the TV, more perplexed than anything.

With absolute terror, I watched as another plane careened into the second World Trade Center building.

“No, no, no, no, no, no” I said to the screen as the images appeared to happen in slow motion.

I remember gasping and not believing what I had just seen. I feel it now. I can feel that same dread. I walked over to my boss’ office and told him what I saw.

“You saw a replay,” he said, cupping his phone.

“I saw a second plane,” I insisted.

“You saw a replay,” he said, waving me off.

Moments later he came into my office and apologized. “Gather the team, we need to have an emergency meeting.”

Emergency

We grouped together at the table in his office. We all worked in the Old Executive Office Building — the giant, grey battleship of a structure on the White House Grounds right next to the West Wing.

I had forgotten my pager (remember it was 2001). I got up mid-meeting to grab it and picked up the ringing phone on my desk.

“Dude, a plane just hit the Pentagon,” said my friend Rob Jennings, a fellow Wyoming friend who worked as a fundraiser in DC.

“Are you sure,” I asked him.

“I just saw it. I’m looking at the burning Pentagon now.”

Rushing back to my boss’ office to let him know, the sirens went off. Moments later, the Secret Service began banging on every office door and yelling for us to evacuate.

“A plane is headed for the White House,” screamed one secret service agent.

The sight and sound of dozens of shaken White House staffers running – literally running — toward the north entrance of the White House is crystal.

As is the memory of being among more than 100 staffers standing in Lafayette Park stunned and wondering what we should do next. I wanted to call my family. I couldn’t. My flip phone fell off while running for the gate.

“A bomb just went off at the State Department,” someone said.

That rumor kept circulating throughout the rest of the day.

Scramble for answers

We all went to the Chrysler Building blocks away to regroup. The most senior of the White House staffers were picked off by the secret service and taken to the Situation Room or other locations.

As a White House spokesman and the Digital Director, my only goal was to get the White House website online again.

It was bad enough from a communications perspective that we couldn’t get the president’s statements up on the website. But it paled in comparison to the enormity of the message we sent the country and the world that the White House site was down. Or missing. Or removed.

Optics are important. And the site going back online (thanks to my friend George Lewis) was every bit as important and comforting as the president flying back to DC after stops at Air Force bases in Louisiana and Nebraska.
The next few hours were a blur – not nearly as vivid as the preceding time. We were told to research anything associated with the morning’s events – the date, the time, the locations, etc. Anything that might give us a clue as to why this happened.

When I arrived home that evening, I was struck by how much smoke there was in my apartment. I lived less than a mile away from the Pentagon but my windows and doors were closed. There was no escaping the day.

Haunting images

Like many of my colleagues I didn’t sleep that night and the next few days, weeks, and months were hard as they were for all Americans. But nothing like it was for the families of the victims.

The two images that haunt me the most were not from that day. Instead, the first happened that weekend when we spotted my friend Rob Wallace’s 3-year-old daughter building towers out of wooden blocks and then knocking them down with her toy plane. It was very hard not to cry.

It was impossible not to cry when family members of those lost in Flight 93 came to the White House for a memorial service two weeks later. As all the White House staffers lined up to shake their hands and express our condolences, I still remember that little boy in his little suit who jumped up to me to get a hug. I was told his father was on that plane. I never felt less worthy.

These memories have not faded. As painful as they are, it’s important that they don’t.

Jimmy Orr was a White House spokesman and Digital Director for President George W. Bush from 2001 – 2005.

Peterson: A cautionary tale from 27 years of public service

in Column/Education/Government spending
Peterson public service
2000

Ray Peterson served as a state senator for 13 years, from 2005-2018.  In this column, he shares his thoughts on his 27 years of public service.

Public Service

I hesitated to write this article but decided to share my story of public service for only one reason, to better inform our citizens.  This certainly is not done with any self-promoting agenda, as I do not have any future plans to run for any public office.  My 27 years of public service has come to an end.  But I think my story could be used to improve our understanding of the challenges of public service.  Perhaps this article may even convince someone to run for office or volunteer their time or just get involved.

I was first elected to the Cowley town council in 1986.  I served six years and enjoyed the opportunity to learn about town government while offering my input into community projects and working with others.  It was exciting and fulfilling to see a project through, from concept to planning to completion.  

While working on community projects, I was introduced to county concerns.  I had ideas for the county and saw needs that I thought I could help with.  I was elected to the Big Horn County Commission in 1992, where I served eight years dealing with budgets, a new jail, a new dispatch system, improved roads and public land issues.  

State Involvement

I was appointed to the Senate in 2005, where I was appointed to the Appropriations Committee and served for six years.  

After my years on the Appropriations Committee, I was given the assignment to chair the Senate Revenue Committee.  As the Senate president put it, “You’ve seen how we spend the money, now you need to know where it comes from.”   This taught me another valuable lesson in that I realized our Legislature was an institution that trains its own leaders to promote continuity and knowledge to ensure that the best decisions are made on the state’s behalf by our elected representatives.  

I will also mention that the pressure is unreal.  There are no simple votes on the floor of the Senate.  My wife would always notice when I returned home after a session that I had lost both weight and a little more hair.  

My Last Year       

As I gained experience and seniority in the state Senate, more responsibilities were assigned to me.  I was serving on the Management Council, a number of select committees, the Labor and Health Committee and chaired the Senate Revenue Committee.  

Added to this mix was the fact that our revenue projections were down and we were contending with a $1 billion shortfall, which meant that we had lost 25 percent of our projected biennial revenue.  Assignments were made to look for ways we could increase our revenue in Wyoming, which fell squarely on the Revenue Committee.  We were told to bring every revenue generating idea to the Legislature for consideration during the upcoming session.  

We also knew that our expenditures would need to be reduced.  We could not tax our way out of this downturn without looking at reductions to our budget as well.  The assignments were made to form a recalibration committee to look into possible ways we could reduce the education funding model.  I was assigned to that committee.  My summer was spent on  taxation issues and budget cuts to education. 

I remember admonishing our committee to have the courage to bring these tax bills to the floor for consideration, even if it meant that some of us would pay the price politically. I would imagine that most on the committee voted against the proposed revenue bills during the session, but we had done our job in bringing options to the floor.  

Because we had cash reserves, we elected to use them to cover the shortages, which meant no taxing proposal passed that session, but the studies were completed and the information was current for the Legislature to consider, so the Revenue Committee had completed its assignments.

The Recalibration Committee had even a tougher time in meeting deadlines, hiring consultants, gathering information and then making recommendations to the full Legislature during the upcoming session.  

You can imagine the popularity of this committee.  As an example, the business I worked for was boycotted by some schools around the state because of my perceived stance against education. I really didn’t know I had an anti-education stance, but there were a lot of people who thought I and a few others were public enemies to education.  

Articles in the papers that portrayed the Senate wanting to gut education seemed to be the flavor of the day.  But we had a budget to balance and the year before, we had cut the Health Department by almost $100 million, 10 percent of its biennial budget.  Now our attentions were turned to the largest state budget, K-12 education.  

Like the Revenue Committee, the Recalibration Committee completed its job and made recommendations for reductions based on the findings of our contracted consultants.  The committee members were not in total agreement and disagreed on where cuts should be made.  But one thing everyone understood was that cuts to the K-12 funding model were going to be made, it was just a matter of how much.

My Last Session

I was asked to sponsor the bill proposing reductions to the K-12 funding formula. I agreed to sponsor the bill knowing the subject and having spent the summer listening to the consultants and the recommendations.  I also thought that I could use this bill to ensure that my concerns with funding for our smaller schools would be protected.  

I had shared with other senators, over the years, that I felt that the funding model was flawed in favor of the larger schools.  Although this bill would not be a popular bill to sponsor, it would put me in the chair to control the outcome.  My first amendment was to slash $100 million from the proposed funding reduction of $140 million.

The news media continued to refer to the bill as cutting $140 million from our schools up to the day it died in the house.  Although the reporting was not accurate, the bill was now in a form and an amount that I felt our schools could deal with.  The reductions were in areas that would not affect the classroom or salaries or even the quality of our schools in the least.  These reductions were recommended by consultants and would be phased in over three years, just as our school administrators had requested.  

Three small schools stood out as taking larger hits to their budgets than all the other school districts.  Where all other schools were presented with reductions of 2 percent to 2.5 percent over three years, these three smaller schools faced 10 percent to 12 percent reductions. I now had evidence that some of our smaller schools were taking a bigger hit than our larger schools.  

To correct this, my last amendment to the bill was to provide a ceiling that would protect these smaller schools from unfair reductions in comparison to the other schools. I remember sitting down at my computer to check my emails after the  amendment passed on the floor of the Senate. They were pouring in from all over the state telling me how bad a person I was to cut education, but one caught my eye as it was from a superintendent back home telling me that he had sent out a letter to all of his teachers informing them I had broken my promise to the smaller schools and was gutting their district’s money. I, of course, was not happy about the accusations and made every attempt to respond and explain what I was trying to do with this bill, but I’m sure my explanation fell on deaf ears.  

The bill passed the Senate with a proposed $40 million reduction plan over three years and with my amendment.  

The House, meanwhile, had its own reduction bill, which was set cuts at $15 million.  The Senate file was quickly killed in the House Education Committee.  The Senate took the House version and deleted most of the House wording and inserted the Senate file wording and the reduction amount of $40 million. This is what led to the Conference Committee where the House and Senate agreed on a $37 million reduction plan to the K-12 funding formula — $3 million short of my original Senate file but with my amendments intact.  The House was hailed by the media as the saviors of education that session.

I was unseated in the August primary.

My Take on Things  

After the session was over, the Senate president asked If I was going to be all right back home as I was up for re-election.  I told him that I should be okay as I would get back and explain my intentions and work on the bill to the educators back home.  What I was not counting on was that the educators did not want to listen to an explanation and did not attend any of my meetings where I offered a report of the session and the bill that I had worked on.  

Our favorite lobbying group, the Wyoming Education Association, had invested time and money to see that I was unseated.  I don’t really know what it was telling the voters in Senate District 19, but I know it wasn’t the fact that I voted for teacher salary increases each time they were introduced over the previous six years, or that I fought to reinvest general fund money into the teachers’ pension fund after we lost a good portion of it in 2008, or that I voted to increase spending on additional new school construction. 

What the WEA saw in me was a threat.  I had knowledge and education of the budget and the education funding formula as well as the seniority to present and push through legislation that would have threatened their plans for continued increases.  I was asked to be the next Majority Floor Leader in the next session which would have made me president of the Senate in 2021.  I would have also served as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in 2019-20.  The WEA was going to have none of that.  

Conclusion

Now back to my reason for sharing my story.  I’ve asked myself many times what I might have done differently to ensure my own re-election.  I could have kept my distance from those issues by not accepting those difficult assignments.  But considering all the training and cost of my public service education over the years, I would think that running away from those issues would have been self-serving rather than doing what I was elected and trained to do.  

I remain concerned about what happened and could happen to another public servant.  To allow the media and a union to dictate what we think of a candidate is foolish and dangerous.  The overwhelming problem did not go away with my replacement.

The end result of the 2 percent or $37 million reduction over three years to our K-12 education funding?  Each of the four school districts in Senate District 19 gave raises shortly after the budget session was over.  New school construction and building maintenance continues.  The K-12 education budget continues to grow each year and the WEA continues to be one of, if not the, strongest employee unions in our state.  

We need to be better than this, Wyoming.  Media with an agenda other than fair reporting is dangerous.  Unions that control elections are dangerous.  We should protect openness, transparency, honesty and integrity to our political process.  And certainly, the more knowledge we have, the better we are all served.

Are “Guard Coyotes” A Thing?

in Column/Range Writing
Guard coyotes
A coyote paruses the Wyoming range. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)
1993

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Predator-prey systems (including predator-livestock conflicts) are complicated, multi-faceted, and site-specific, but an Oregon Extension publication has provided a broad solution for those of us in animal agriculture, virtually eliminating the need for lethal control of predators: Keeping well-behaved breeding pairs of coyotes in place in their territories to exclude other coyotes that may kill sheep. Thus, keeping these “guard coyotes” and “guard wolves” in place serves to protect our livestock.

Using Coyotes to Protect Livestock. Wait. What?” is the title of an article posted by the Oregon State University Extension Service that has garnered much attention (and is widely shared among animal activists) but its claims have received little scrutiny. The Oregon paper is rife with oversimplification and omissions, but I’ll limit myself to a few points that are important since they form the premise of the entire piece.

Oregon Extension dives into the issue by citing a USDA study as claiming “researchers found that as more predators were removed, more livestock were killed.” Now that’s an interesting slant, and it’s absolutely true: the researchers did find that more predators were removed and more livestock were killed. To Oregon Extension writer, that apparently means that when you remove predators, more livestock are killed. So the message given to the masses is that “Coyotes can protect your livestock from predators” and we should all be protecting our livestock with these “guard coyotes.”

But what the USDA paper actually stated was this: “There is a strong correlation (probably causative) between predator-livestock conflicts and the subsequent removal of predators.” That makes sense: predators are removed in response to conflicts. It doesn’t claim that because predators are killed there are increased conflicts with livestock.

And what both the USDA paper and the Oregon Extension article fail to mention that the wolf population that was the subject of the USDA paper had increased 336% during that same time period, from 152 to 663 animals. The truth is that as the predator population increased, so did the number of livestock killed by wolves, as did the number of wolves killed in response to depredations. Leaving out this important fact changes the entire narrative.

It reminds me of the fun research paper published in a major medical journal last year in which researchers concluded that parachute use did not significantly reduce death or major injury when compared with an empty backpack if you have to jump from an aircraft. What’s important to know about the parachute study is that the people who jumped from the aircraft in the study did so while the aircraft were parked on the ground, jumping about two feet. If we omitted this fact, the entire narrative would be different.

The Oregon writer then focused on a 13-year study at the University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center, claiming “researchers found that trapping of coyotes did not reduce sheep losses.” What the researchers actually found was this: “the number of sheep killed and kill rates decreased with increasing numbers of coyotes removed.”

But the Oregon writer then added, “In fact, scientists found that as trappers worked more hours, more lambs were killed by predators.” What the researchers actually found was “There was a positive correlation between the number of lambs killed per year and number of trapper hours worked” per year, and “There was also a positive correlation between the number of coyotes removed per year and number of trapper hours worked” per year. Sounds a lot different when all the facts are presented, doesn’t it? Context is important.

Coyote in Wyoming. (Photo credit Cat Urbigkit)
Coyote surveys a snowy meadow in Sublette County, Wyoming. (Photo credit Cat Urbigkit)

But the Oregon writer plucks a few sentences from a detailed research paper, while ignoring the all-important context. Broad statements, including “Most coyotes do not kill sheep” are not accompanied by citations or context. And although the Oregon writer claimed that sheep are “usually ignored by adult coyotes in an unexploited, stable population,” the Hopland researchers found “All breeding pairs in territories with access to sheep eventually killed sheep” – regardless of whether these pairs successfully bred or whelped pups. The researchers also noted that at Hopland, “all pairs with access to sheep eventually killed sheep, suggesting it is unlikely that there are nonkilling pairs when sheep are present year-round.”

But according to Oregon Extension, with the use of a proper nonlethal program, “lethal control should not be necessary except as a last resort to selectively target and kill a demonstrably habituated, dangerous, or chronically depredating individual.”

Such broad statements lack credibility. Even the scientific literature cited by the Oregon author don’t make such claims. One paper noted regional differences in sheep production and coyote depredation, suggesting “preventative, selective removal of breeding female coyotes prior to whelping, but too late for replacements to breed, may be the most effective lethal control strategy” in the Intermountain West where the spring-summer lambing season coincides with pup-rearing. In contrast, “corrective, selective removal of breeders in response to depredations may be the only effective approach to coyote control” in north-coastal California where sheep are present in pastures year-round and the lambing season begins in late fall.

When I read the Oregon Extension piece, I wondered how such a piece had made it past fact-checkers. I hadn’t heard of the author, so I did an online search and found he is a member of the Benton County, Oregon team advising area ranchers on nonlethal methods of predator control.

Four of the six program advisors are affiliated with Project Coyote, the California “compassionate conservation” organization seeking to change human attitudes towards coyotes, wolves “and other misunderstood predators by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding, respect and appreciation.” These are the people telling livestock producers how we are to successfully coexist with predators.

I am offended when those who know little or nothing about animal agriculture and specific conditions in the field try to tell me how to run my ranch. Now consider how my fellow producers will feel when they learn their advisors weren’t being entirely truthful in the first place. Lying by omission is knowingly peddling a storyline to drive a false narrative.

Now that I’ve added some context to the “guard predator” hypothesis, I’ll add that there is some validity to the concept, which has been oversimplified nearly to the point of unrecognition by the Oregon Extension piece. We’ve left non-depredating coyotes in place on our home place, and watched their numbers grow to a pack of seven adults that hunted pronghorn antelope on their crucial winter range. We left the pack in place until the next spring when they took to killing lambs on our lambing grounds. We’ve done the same with a local wolf pack – they’ve left our well-guarded sheep alone for now, but I know it’s only a matter of time before the quiet is once again broken.

I’ll take livestock guardian dogs over guard coyotes and wolves any day.

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.

Wyoming Bucket List: Driving Through Carbon County Over Battle Mountain

in Bill Sniffin/Column
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
1978

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

If you blast through Carbon County on Interstate 80, you begin to think that all there is to see is high desert and the towering Elk Mountain.

But that part of Wyoming offers so much more.

Last week, I fulfilled a bucket list item by driving State Highway 70 over Battle Mountain Pass for the first time.  Wow, what a gorgeous trip!

Thomas Edison plaque
This 1949 plaque recognizes the place where Thomas Edison went fishing on Battle Mountain in Carbon County.

Near the top of the pass, almost 10,000 feet, is a prominent plaque placed where the famous inventor Thomas Edison went fishing and reportedly came up with the idea for filament to use in the invention of the light bulb. It occurred while he was messing with flies during a wonderful fishing trip. That very impressive plaque was mounted on a big brick podium back in 1949 by a statewide historical group.  More on that later.

There are massive groves of mature aspen trees all along the way and I kept looking for the famous Aspen Alley.  This is a narrow road cut through a mighty grove of aspens that shimmers like gold in the fall. Famed Wyoming photographer Randy Wagner of Cheyenne has the best image I have ever seen of that site.

The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.

On this day, I missed it because it is a few miles down WYO 71, which goes north from Battle Mountain Pass all the way to Rawlins. Hopefully next time.

The name Battle Mountain Pass came from a famous fight between Indians and some trappers on Aug 21, 1841. Mountain Man Jim Baker, just 21 at the time, had to lead his men after Captain Henry Frapp was killed. After a six-day fight, the trappers left. However the formerly named Bastion Mountain has been re-named Battle Mountain for the past 178 years. Baker went on to become one of the more famous mountain men exploring Wyoming mountain ranges.

To get to this famous pass, we drove south from Interstate 80 to Saratoga and briefly visited with Joe Glode. He is an extraordinary community leader for that area. We were going to eat some of the best prime rib in Wyoming at Doug and Kathleen Campbell’s Wolf Hotel, but they were not open yet. We had to get to our granddaughter’s wedding celebration in Montrose, Colorado, so we soldiered on.

After passing through the beautiful towns of Encampment and Riverside, we climbed up the Sierra Madre Mountains.  I can only imagine how that area must look in the fall.  All those aspen trees must make the place look like it is on fire.

Cody’s Rev. Warren Murphy’s first assignment was Dixon and Baggs.  He writes about the area: “Route 70 is indeed one of the most amazing and unknown highways in the state. Especially in mid- September when the golden aspen leaves fall. They cover the highway and when driving along you are riding on a carpet of gold. There is so little traffic. Aspen Alley is a unique piece of ground but sadly the alley trees are aging out. However, the young ones are growing fast.”

John Davis of Worland tells this story about his early experience on Battle Pass: “When I was first married, Celia and traveled to the Sierra Madres to hunt deer.  We didn’t get any deer, but proceeded toward Baggs and Savery.  Celia got worried about the amount of gas we had, but I wasn’t worried, because most Chevrolet vehicles (we were traveling in a 1955 Chevrolet sedan) still had 5 gallons when showing empty. 

“Well, this one didn’t, and just before the pass, it coughed and died.  We caught a ride down the mountain, got some gas, returned to the vehicle, and proceeded home. 

“But this incident had long term consequences.  Ever since, Celia gets nervous whenever the gas gauge in one of our cars is just a little past half full.  We never again ran out of gas as we did on Battle Mountain Pass, but I’ve heard complaints about getting gas about a hundred times since.”

After enjoying the beauty of the aspen-covered pass, Nancy and I started our way down the mountain. We drove through Savery and Dixon, two pleasant little towns.

My friend radio station owner Joe Kenney said his dad grew up in Encampment and his mom, Maudie Lake, grew up in Savery. He recalls visiting those towns as a little kid and marveling at how high the snow was.  When I asked him how his dad and mom got together, since the highway was closed all winter, he said, “they always met up in Rawlins.” 

I grew up in a very small town and these towns reminded me of home. My wife calls these little towns “peek and plumb towns.” She says, “you peek around the corner and you’re plumb out of town!”

I always said my hometown was so small that both “resume speed” signs are on the same post, just on opposite sides.

Growing up in my little town, we had a public restroom, which was an outhouse.  The toilet tissue consisted of the town’s yellow pages. Unfortunately, the yellow pages only consisted of one page.

We always like getting to Baggs. This is a pretty little town with a great museum along the Little Snake River. Again, the roads north and south of Baggs go through high desert country, which lack scenery. But Baggs area residents have a lot of fun places to visit in their little bit of heaven.

Zane Bennett of Powell
Zane Bennett of Powell was riding his motorcycle from Wyoming to Colorado.’

Rocky’s Quick Stop is a wonderful convenience store which has a fine restaurant attached to it at the north edge of Baggs.

We should mention that our trip to Montrose was hot, hot, hot. We chatted with Zane Bennett of Powell at the motel in Montrose and he said he drove his motorcycle through a hailstorm south of Green River.

Oh yes, about Thomas Edison and how he discovered filament for light bulbs.

Historian and author Phil Roberts of Laramie says the story is a wonderful tale but is just not true. Edison was just 31 but already a famous inventor during his visit to Wyoming.

He joined a group that traveled to Wyoming by train in 1878 to watch a total eclipse of the sun.  Edison had a device that he wanted to use to measure temperatures during an eclipse, which did not work at all.

Edison had a great trip, killing elk and deer. Reportedly his fishing party caught 3,000 trout.

He returned to Menlo Park, New Jersey, rested and ready to invent. After experimenting with 6,000 different materials, he was able to get a filament to work in his light bulb.

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

Sniffin: Linkages over the ages of time

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Tourism
Bill Sniffin
1950

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming column

From 1989 to 1994, I was a member of the Wyoming Travel Commission. Gov. Mike Sullivan appointed me to the post. I was chairman of that wonderful entity in 1992-1993.

The Director of Tourism was a wonderful man named Gene Bryan, a true legend in the travel business here in Wyoming. His life is full of great Wyoming stories. He even recently wrote a detailed book about the history of tourism marketing for the state.

But that’s another story for another time.

During my time on the Travel Commission, there was a bright young guy in Cheyenne who handled international travel for the Commission. It was the now famous author CJ Box. Coincidentally 28 years later, he is now vice-chairman of the state’s current version of the Travel Commission.

But that’s another story for another time.

Box and I formed a company to promote international travel as a result of that, which was called Rocky Mountain International.  Around 1997, I sold my interest to my partner, CJ Box.

I had founded it  in the early 1990s and well, we did some amazing things. Box did some even more amazing things after I sold him my interest.

But that’s another story for another time.

I took the money from the sale of my interest and bought a newspaper in Maui.  Wow, was this going to be fun!

My wife Nancy and I loved going to Hawaii and we thought a Wyoming-Hawaii connection could be just about the best thing ever.

The editor of our Maui newspaper was a part-time protestant minister named Ron Winckler.

Our adventures in the People’s Republic of Hawaii, were, well, partly good and mainly bad.

But that’s another story for another time.

Ron is a friend of mine on Facebook. He just posted the most amazing item, which I would like to repeat here:

“So, this is about is my mother-in-law, Charlotte. She’s 95, having been born in 1924.

“We were talking a couple of days ago. I asked about her childhood in San Diego. She brought up a man that used to come to her mother’s diner. She remembered his name, ‘Daddy’ Hayes and his age, almost 100-years-old.

“Daddy Hayes drove a horse-drawn wagon and collected scrap. He was born into slavery. Daddy Hayes, also told her that as a young adult, he had been present at President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

“In 2019 I was talking on the phone with a woman who once talked with a former slave who actually heard Lincoln speak!

“Beyond amazing!”

Now that’s another story I can read about any time.

Amen, Brother.

* * *

How many old-timers are there in Wyoming these days?

When I wrote a column some 18 months ago about the oldest people in Wyoming, we had folks ranging from 104 to 107 all over the state. Today, we are not sure if there is anyone over 102?

If you know of someone over 100, please let me know at bsniffin@wyoming.com.  I would like to include them in a future column.

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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