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Transparency: State Ombudsman Should be Empowered to Resolve Public Record Disputes

in CJ Baker/Column
2902

By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Wyoming lawmakers and Gov. Mark Gordon deserve real credit for their efforts to improve citizens’ access to public records in 2019.

Revisions to the state’s public records law — approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor — set a definitive 30-day timeline for turning over records and created a new “public records ombudsman.”

We were excited about the addition of an ombudsman, hoping they could help avoid expensive court fights when information seekers get into an argument with a government agency over what information is public.

But it was dismaying to hear last week that the office may actually have little power to sort out disputes.

The new law says that, just like a judge, the public records ombudsman can deliver “a determination as to whether the custodian [that is, the government] has demonstrated good cause” for withholding any particular record.

However, the state’s first public records ombudsman, Ruth Van Mark, told members of the Wyoming Press Association on Friday that there’s some uncertainty as to how her office is supposed to handle disputes. For instance, Van Mark is not a lawyer, so there’s been some concern that she shouldn’t be giving anyone any legal advice.

And while Van Mark believes she needs to make a determination as to whether a particular record is public, the governor’s office is still working to figure out how to do that “within the confines of the law.”

“There’s some disagreement as to whether the act actually gives the ombudsman the authority to make opinions, issue opinions,” Van Mark said. It’s possible, she said, that her role is more to try persuading information seekers and government agencies to come together and meet in the middle.

Van Mark made very clear that the question has yet to be settled, and she has only been on the completely new job for a few months, so it would be premature to jump to any conclusions. But we suspect it will take more than persuasion to settle the kinds of disputes that are most likely to come before the ombudsman.

We’ve found local government officials and employees are, as a rule, open, transparent and helpful. For that reason, the disagreements over public records typically arise in some of the stickier situations and grayer areas of the law. For instance, would the release of an internal investigation into a government employee’s misconduct be in the public’s interest, or “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and thus confidential?

Governments are loathe to release any information that could possibly be construed as being part of an employee’s confidential personnel, in part because of concerns about liability. And that means prying any kind of employee information out of a government agency can require hiring a lawyer and paying high legal fees.

Here’s an example. In 2013, the City of Laramie hired a former mayor as recreation manager, and questions were raised about her qualifications for the job. When Laramie officials refused to release any information about her work history, the Laramie Boomerang went to Albany County District Court and ultimately won a ruling saying that such basic biographical information was a public record.

However, when the Powell Tribune later cited that opinion in seeking the resumé of a disgraced police officer, a City of Powell attorney told the Tribune it would need to get a separate order from a Park County District Court judge.

These are the kind of disputes that we hope an ombudsman can resolve.

To be sure, we appreciate Van Mark’s approach and her willingness to help anyone with a question about public records — and we appreciate the Legislature’s decision to create a position dedicated to helping bring public information to light. But ultimately, it will be a profound disappointment if the ombudsman lacks the power needed to settle tough disputes.

Opinion: We’ll Walk Across Hot Coals to Re-elect Donald Trump

in Column/Dave Simpson
2854

By Dave Simpson, Cowboy State Daily columnist

So, what have non-coastal, common-sense folks like us – odoriferous Walmart shoppers, wearers of hats with ear flaps,  purveyors of homespun wisdom – learned from the presidency of  Donald Trump?

What do we think out here in the Big Lonesome?

Some thoughts:

On his first day on the job, Trump should have fired everyone he could legally fire.

“Thanks for your service,” he should have said. “Good luck in your new careers as lobbyists, top-level hangers on, and screaming Trump critics on CNN and MSNBC. Don’t let the door hit you in the caboose on the way out.”

It would have caused chaos. The media would have screamed like mashed cats. Imagine getting along without the deputy undersecretary of the assistant to the administrator of the counsel on incredibly important affairs. But the festering boil would have been lanced.

Instead, Trump kept a lot of people in place, and many have proven to be knife-wielding scoundrels who were (and still are) itching to betray him. Did you ever think you’d see accounts of presidential phone calls to foreign leaders leaked to the press? I didn’t. Did you ever think an anonymous staff member would write an opinion piece for the New York Times, claiming to protect us from the dangerous man we stupidly elected president? I didn’t.

And some of these back stabbers are still on the payroll.

Saboteurs, even civil service saboteurs, can’t be tolerated. They have done terrible damage.

The guy who spent 15 years firing people on TV should be firing leakers in his administration.

We have also learned in the Trump years not to get in the way of Congress when it’s spending billions. (Borrowed billions.) All Trump did was delay sending $400 billion to the Ukraine, and ask some questions about corruption. Isn’t that a good thing?

But, it resulted in impeachment in the House and trial in the Senate. At a time when we’re already $23 TRILLION in debt.

We all know there are different rules for Democrats, who are the passionate love interests of the media, and Republicans, who are hated by the media. In Ukraine’s struggle with Russia, Obama sent blankets and meals ready to eat. Trump sent missiles. And Trump gets impeached for somehow abusing Ukraine. Go figure.

Joe Biden can be seen on video telling Ukrainians that $1 billion in U.S. aid would be held up unless they fired a prosecutor. We’ve all seen it. And yet, the adoring media says any suggestion that Biden did anything wrong is a “debunked conspiracy theory.” But, Trump gets impeached for maybe doing what we SAW Biden doing. (Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.)

Does anyone remember the word “debunked” being used in reference to Obama’s lie that if we liked our doctors we could keep our doctors? How about that $2,500 he said we would save?

Why aren’t those promises dubbed debunked?

We have also learned that asking questions about corruption in Ukraine is off limits for Republicans. And questioning Joe Biden’s son making $50,000 a month, or maybe $83,000 a month, from a Ukrainian gas company is way out of line, and none of our business. So if your dad is running for president, any sweet deal you can come up with is nobody’s business. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

Say what you want in defense of the Bidens, but a guy making $50,000 a month, or maybe $83,000 a month, will never fly out here in Flyover Country.

(Fifty thousand a month would buy you one heck of a bass boat.)

Most stark of all, Barack Obama, who killed hundreds of terrorists with drone strikes, was a hero for giving the go-ahead to kill Bin Laden. But Trump’s decision to kill Iranian terrorist Gen. Qassem Soleimani was immediately dubbed an “assassination” by hysterical, hair-on-fire Democrats, who then passed a meaningless House resolution to limit Trump’s war powers.

Funny how that works.

Looks to me like there’s only one way to win this stacked-deck deal with the Democrats and their liberal media pals:

Flyover Country folks like us have to be ready to crawl over broken glass and hot coals to get to the polls in November.

Dave Simpson began his journalism career at the Laramie Boomerang in
1973. He has worked as a reporter, editor, publisher and columnist at
newspapers in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska. He lives in
Cheyenne. Dave Simpson can be contacted at davesimpson145@hotmail.com

Bill Sniffin: Is it Really 2020? Reflections on a Half Century in Wyoming

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2847

Is it really 2020? Back at the turn of the century (yeah, 20 years ago at 2000), our little town put together Project 2020, which was a guide for the town’s future.

That Project 2020 is the topic of a future column, but my point here is that we are now at that far distant place that we used to identify as “the year 2020.” 

My wife Nancy and I are very active and I just continue to deny how old we are – we keep busy, we keep working, and we keep traveling.  No slowing us down yet.

But this column is about growing older and also watching my beloved Wyoming grow older.

Heck, I have been around so long I worked on the original Wyoming Futures Project back in 1986. That Futures Project was headquartered in tiny Ucross, Wyoming, and we were an optimistic bunch.

Our moderator was a youthful TV anchor from Casper named Pete Williams. He is now that mature, graying legal correspondent for NBC News.  During these times, he is on national TV all the time. He does a great job, but I digress.

Further back in 1974, Wyoming was starting to boom. Our Gov. Ed Herschler, a Democrat, won election with a slogan “Growth on Our Terms.” 

Wyoming’s chaotic economy, because it is tied to energy, was about to hurdle through eight more years of spectacular growth. It was a boom and we all loved it.

Crash!  Arguably the worst bust in Wyoming’s history hit in 1982. It lasted until 2002.  Everything went wrong.  Oil and natural gas prices plummeted. Coal was still in its infancy.  Uranium crashed after a huge boom and 2,000 jobs in Fremont, Carbon, and Converse counties disappeared. 

Gov. Herschler said our town of Lander was hurt the worst. We saw an iron ore mine close that had 550 highly paid workers.

The economy was so bad one year the Legislature would have had a tough time balancing the budget had not a wealthy Jackson woman died, leaving millions in estate taxes.

The year 2020 was just a far away gleam in peoples’ eyes.  Around 2002, we saw oil prices surge, and natural gas (and coalbed methane) really take off.

Congress put in regulations against smoky coal plants so Wyoming’s coal, which burns cooler and pollutes a lot less, suddenly became the fuel of choice for power plants across the country.

With 300 years of coal in the ground, it seemed like this was a gravy train that would never end.

Along about this time, a couple of drilling entrepreneurs named Mick McMurry and John Martin of Casper struck big time with a deep natural gas well in the Pinedale area in 1992. They used a new technique called fracking. Little did anyone know what that technology would mean to the future of energy.

Ultimately, because of fracking, natural gas could be drilled anywhere.  Besides natural locations like Wyoming, Texas, and North Dakota, new states like Ohio and Pennsylvania became leading producers.  Natural gas prices continue to plummet to lowest levels in memory, right here in 2020. Gov. Gordon announced to a group of press folks Friday that prices hit a low of $1.87 MCF.

Wyoming is not in a bust right now as these are a different kind time. Towns all over the state are benefitting from the local diversification that has occurred in the last 38 years – over a third of a century!

Although the above dissertation is about some past history, this story is prompted by where I am at writing this column. Holed up in my room at the beautiful Ramkota in Casper, we are getting ready to attend the early bird cocktail hour for the Wyoming Press Association.  This is my 50th year of being in the Wyoming press.

When I attended my first press convention, I was a 24-year old publisher, the youngest in the room. Unless Pat Schmidt or Jim Hicks shows up this year, I will be the oldest attendee at this year’s event.  What a life cycle.

Back in 1970, a majority of the newspapers operated with what is called “hot type,” a system of page formatting that actually is not that far removed from what Gutenberg invented in the Middle Ages.

Today, they all still print on paper but most of them also have digital and video offerings. 

Based on national contests, Wyoming has the best newspapers in the country.  This is something of which to be proud since our state has just 44 newspapers.

It’s always fun hanging around with the Wyoming journalists.  They are a confident and optimistic lot. 

Sure there are a few sour lemons here and there but most of these folks love their towns and cover them enthusiastically.

Wyoming is a far better place because of their efforts.  Happy 2020.

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.

Colorado Wolf Reintroduction: Why it Doesn’t Make Any Sense

in Cat Urbigkit/Column
2830

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Wolf advocates are celebrating the 25-year anniversary of transplanting wolves into Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho, at the same time the campaign heats up for the ballot-box measure to conduct a similar transplant program on Colorado’s western slope.

It’s my view that to support such efforts requires either a blissful or willful ignorance of the Endangered Species Act and the science underlying its application.

I’ve long been a fan of the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) purpose to provide programs for the conservation of imperiled species, just as I am also a critic of efforts that leave species under federal protection long after the biological justification for doing so has ended.

The ESA isn’t meant to be a popularity contest for charismatic species; science is to be the driving factor for conservation of truly imperiled species. The act defines species to include “any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.”

It’s with the act’s noble goals in mind that I became fascinated with the distinction of unique ecological units, and how such units are defined and managed. We find these distinct ecological units in populations here in Wyoming, from the Kendall Warm Springs Dace (a fish), to the Big Piney Milkvetch (a beautiful high-elevation cushion plant).

But in terms of defining unique ecological units, definitions exist in two worlds – one in science, the other in policy. When it came to the wolf reintroduction program for Yellowstone, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service brazenly proclaimed “a wolf is a wolf” in selecting wolves from northern Canada to be placed in Yellowstone park.

The Canadian wolves came from packs located some 550-750 miles north of Yellowstone, and from a different subspecies of wolf than was native to the Yellowstone region. The National Park Service (the same agency now aerial gunning mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park because they are non-native) fully supported the move.

Wolf managers purposefully ignored the biological implications involved in selecting Canadian wolves. Since wolf reintroduction is now 25 years behind us, why should we care now? Because what comes next may have huge impacts.

There is no doubt that Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, is a distinct ecological unit. It primarily inhabits Mexico, but our nation’s recovery program is focused in Arizona and New Mexico.

Should voters force the release of northern gray wolves into Colorado, those transplanted wolves could pose a threat to the survival of the truly endangered Mexican wolves found to the south.

Female wolf with pups at a den in Sublette County, Wyoming in 1906. Photo by Vernon Bailey. Wyoming State Archives.

It’s a concern that scientists have written about long before the ballot measure became an issue: “Interbreeding of Northwestern wolves from Canadian sources and Mexican wolves does not represent the historical cline of body size and genetic diversity in the Southwest.

If Northwestern wolves come to occupy Mexican wolf recovery areas, these physically larger wolves are likely to dominate smaller Mexican wolves and quickly occupy breeding positions, as will their hybrid offspring. Hybrid population(s) thus derived will not contribute towards recovery because they will significantly threaten integrity of the listed entity.”

So if you are an animal advocate concerned about upholding the integrity of the ESA and actually conserving critically threatened species, you won’t be supporting the transplantation of northern wolves within such close range to Mexican wolves.

While I doubt that we will ever recover Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico (Mexico provides its habitat stronghold and that is where hope resides), I have no doubt that transplantation of a more abundant and widespread northern gray wolf type into Colorado will hasten the decline of the Mexican wolf population in America.

The Northern Rockies wolf reintroduction program has become so “successful” that the transplanted wolf population has expanded to other states in the northwest, including Washington and Oregon.

Wolf expansion into Washington has become complex in that the wolf population in Washington is now composed of a combination of two specific wolf ecotypes: the coastal rainforest wolf (from coastal British Columbia and southeastern Alaska), which is declining in numbers; and the more abundant Northern Rocky Mountain (interior forest) wolves resulting from the Yellowstone reintroduction program.

The coastal wolves (sometimes called the Pacific Northwest wolves, or Alexander Archipelago wolves) are known for behavioral, morphological, and genetic differences that separate them from inland wolves. The wolves have gained fame for their reliance on salmon as a primary food source.

To further complicate the plight of distinct wolf populations like that of the Mexican wolf are red wolves – a distinct wolf species more commonly known from the failing recovery program in North Carolina, but originating in Louisiana and Texas.

While red wolves were declared functionally extinct in the wild, there have been recent discoveries of red wolves surviving in wild enclaves in both Texas and Louisiana in the last few years – survivors of remnant populations.

As the researchers note, “rediscovery of red wolf ancestry after almost 40 years introduces both positive opportunities for additional conservation action and difficult policy challenges.” But we can’t even discuss those policy challenges while wolf advocates continue with the cavalier “a wolf is a wolf” policy in public discussions.

It is possible to support wolf conservation by opposing transplants of wolves without a full understanding of the complexities involved. To learn more about the intricacies of wolf subspecies and hybridization, don’t look to propaganda presented by advocates, but check out the work of the National Academies of Science Wolf Taxonomy Committee.

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.

Eating Wyoming: Casper’s Little Shop Of Burgers

in Column/Food/Tim Mandese
2805

By Tim Mandese, Eating Wyoming columnist for Cowboy State Daily

It’s creepy, crawly, weird and wacky and offers up some of the best burgers around. A horror-themed restaurant serves up whimsy with a side of fries, and it’s the best kept secret in Casper.

Have you found yourself hungry for a good burger, but you’re surrounded by clowns and kings and endless drive-through lines? Well, if you’re in Casper, head north down Center Street….way down Center Street. Just before K Street, you’ll find a place that’s truly off the beaten path — Little Shop of Burgers

Walking into the Little Shop of Burgers, you’ll find it’s a treat before you even get seated. The walls are covered with vintage horror movie posters and the shelves are decorated with enough creepy items to make the most avid Halloween fan giddy. 

On one wall, there’s a movie poster for “The Mummy,” on another, one for “Dracula.” There’s a suitcase full of heads on a shelf, and playing on the speakers are songs that would fit in at a monster’s ball. On the top of the wall next to your table is a little girl’s doll with clown makeup that would send chills down the Joker’s spine. 

In September of 2018, owner Sarah Weikum opened this one-of-a-kind burger shop. Having worked in the restaurant business in places like San Francisco and New Orleans, as well as Casper, Weikum wanted to bring her love of good burgers and classic horror movies together in one place.

Menu items are all named with a macabre sense of humor. 

Burgers like “Fungus Among Us,” which is Sarah’s take on the classic mushroom Swiss burger. Then there’s the “Drac Attack,” a burger topped with garlic sauce and Havarti cheese.

Sarah recommends her favorite, the “Freddy,” a jalapeno and cheese lover’s dream. 

My go-to burger is “The Fester,” named for Uncle Fester from The Addams Family. It’s a bacon cheeseburger with an amazing barbecue sauce. 

All of the patties are made fresh by hand, seasoned, and each burger is cooked to order. 

Want something other than a burger? Look no further than the selection of chicken sandwiches. But which one? “The Ripper?” Barbecue sauce, bacon, cheddar and green onion on grilled chicken breast. 

Or maybe “Carnival of Chickens?” A crispy chicken sandwich, with your choice of cheese. 

All of the sandwiches at Little Shop of Burgers comes with PLOTS. What’s PLOTS? Pickles, Lettuce, Onions, Tomatoes and Sprouts of course. 

What about the sides? All the fries are fresh cut. My personal favorite, the garlic parmesan fries, will scare off the vampire hordes! But you can go for the crispy onion rings, tater tots, sweet potato fries, sweet potato tots (YUM) or chips. If you want a lower carb side dish option, there’s cottage cheese or side salad.

Shakes? Of course. New on the menu is a full lineup of fresh made milkshakes. You can order “The Gloop,” a Chocolate shake named after Augustus Gloop, the naughty chocolate-craving kid from the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” It’s a shake so full of chocolate and chocolate chips, that you need a spoon, because a straw just won’t cut it. 

You have got to try the “Candy Man,” another name taken from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” It’s a scrumptious Butterfinger delight.

As if the amazing burgers, fries, shakes and theme weren’t enough, Little Shop of Burgers has a movie screening room! Yes, you can watch a horror movie and eat your horror-themed burger and drink your horror themed shake, all at no extra charge! The screening room features family friendly movies such as “Goosebumps,” as well as the classic Universal Films monster movies and others. Check with your host to see what’s playing. Being the most popular room in the restaurant, it is often rented for parties and business functions. 

Little Shop of Burgers is located at 1040 N. Center St. and is currently open during its winter hours of 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sundays. In April, the restaurant will switch to its summer hours of 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Phone: (307) 234-3472 

Follow Little Shop of  Burgers on Facebook to discover the daily specials. If you are an Instagrammer, look for them there as well. 

For a scary good burger, don’t be afraid to get the off the beaten path. If you are alive, dead or one of the undead, you’ll be glad you did.

Ray Hunkins’ Book About Wyoming is a Delight

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2802

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

At 224 pages, the new book, The View from Thunderhead by Ray Hunkins, is a delight. You almost wish it were even longer.

Hunkins is an iconic Wyomingite. He has had a varied career as an attorney and as a rancher.  He twice ran for governor and has been a champion for the University of Wyoming. Part of the reason for this book is to recognize our state’s amazing history with Women’s’ Suffrage.

He was the chairman of the Louisa Swain Foundation, of Laramie, from 2008 to 2010. This group celebrates the woman who was the first woman to legally vote anywhere in the United States.  As a result of the Wyoming territorial legislature’s decision to allow women the vote, Louisa was the first woman to cast a ballot in an election, doing so in Laramie, on Sept. 6, 1870.

Hunkins, 80, and his wife Debby had a ranch for decades outside of Wheatland near Laramie Peak called Thunderhead Ranch. They currently live in Cheyenne.  

Over the years, Hunkins has been a prolific writer with most of his articles appearing in the Casper and Cheyenne daily newspapers. This book contains some of his favorite stories and they are very good. 

Hunkins is a dedicated and experienced ranchers so many of his favorite stories are about ranching.

As a politician, he does not shy away from taking some serious stand concerning the issues of our time.

But most of all, Hunkins loves Wyoming.  It comes through again and again.  Whether he is talking about some upsets pulled off by the University of Wyoming football team or when talking with a Marine recruiter about why so many young people in the Cowboy State sign up for military careers.

He defends the traditions of Wyoming in one essay when he felt the state was unfairly attacked.  In 2002, Sam Western wrote a book called “Pushed Off The Mountain, Sold Down the River,” which was very critical of the state.  Hunkins eloquently defended Wyoming.  He and Western ultimately debated their positions on a Casper TV program later that year.

He even has an interesting piece about meeting with Pope John Paul II, which might make him unique among Wyoming people.

The book is priced at $55 and was published by the Swain Foundation. Copies are available at the Swain Foundation website.

Ray is a great cheerleader for Wyoming.  It is so fitting that this book got published so everyone can see for himself or herself.

Casper Rundown — What’s Happening in Casper, Wyoming

in Column/Tim Monroe
2842

By Tim Monroe, Cowboy State Daily

ENERGY  – Did you ever wonder how much oil and gas comes out of Wyoming’s fields? The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission met in Casper recently.

Governor Mark Gordon chaired the first day’s activities. Supervisor Mark Watson gave his monthly report that showed oil production for October 2019 was 8,556,613 barrels, up about 9 percent from October 2018. Natural gas production was down about 10 percent from the previous year at 140,410,169 million cubic feet.

Supervisor Watson noted that applications for permits to drill (APD) were 1,060, down about 21 percent from November 2019. The rig count reported by Drill Info for the week of January 13 was 25, down 3 from the previous month. Converse County is still the leader in rig counts with rigs, down 1 from the prior report.

Baker Hughes historical records show Wyoming’s rig count is 24, compared to 33 rigs operating at this time last year.

LIGHTS OUT? – The city is encouraging residents to report streetlights that are burned out, flickering or damaged. The city will send repair crews out to make them operational. Outages can be reported using the City’s website atwww.casperwy.gov or by calling the Streets Division at 235-8283.

If the failing light is part of the Rocky Mountain Power system, get the pole number, usually found on a metal plate nailed to the pole, and call the power company or report it to the City. Streets Superintendent Shad Rogers said that with many people going to work and returning home in the dark “it is important to identify streetlights that are out or flickering.”

VACATION TIME – Where to go on our vacation this summer? Many people are thinking about a vacation trip when school’s out. VISIT CASPER, the destination management organization for Natrona County CHILLI, has joined tourism partners across the country to encourage people to participate in National Plan for Vacation Day, scheduled for Tuesday, January 28.

“Travel is a key economic driver in the United States and especially in Wyoming,” said Brook Kaufman, CEO of Visit Casper. “In Natrona County the tourism industry puts 2,600 people to work every day with spending in the county amounting to $293 million per year.” So, get your calendars and road atlas out to start your vacation planning. PS: The answer is 193 eateries in Casper!!

CASPER CHILLIN’ – The city council has agreed to a contract to spend almost $2.5 million to relocate the ice making equipment from the Casper Events Center to the city’s ice arena that is part of the Casper Recreation Center. The current equipment at the skating rink is 35 years old and has exceeded it’s operational life expectancy.

The switch-out should be completed by November 1. The project involves building a 1,250 square foot structure to house the transferred equipment. And, modifications may allow a second sheet of ice at the Recreation Center facility.

SEWER PROJECT – Back in the 1980s Casper built a fairly high capacity sewer line to serve Mills and western neighborhoods. Usage didn’t meet expectations so hydrogen sulfide gas built up in the line.

The City has applied for a state loan of some $8.0 million to rehabilitate the line between the western suburb and the waste treatment plant east of the soccer complex. The gas is a highly dangerous compound that can cause death if inhaled in high quantities.

Joan Barron: Hall of Fame Reporter

in Column/Dave Simpson
2774

The easiest job I ever had in newspapers was editing news stories written by longtime Wyoming capitol reporter Joan Barron.

That was back in the early 1980s, when I was state editor for the Casper Star-Tribune.

Talk about a sweet deal. Not long after I got to work in the morning, Joan (pronounced Jo ANN) would submit a list of stories she would be writing that day. There were always four, maybe five stories, about all kinds of things going on at the state capitol. After lunch, her stories would start arriving, and they would keep arriving all afternoon.

While being state editor involved some heavy duty pick and shovel work for a number of the 25 correspondents spread out all over Wyoming – part-timers with varying levels of writing talent, paid by the inch –  Joan was full-time, and a real professional. Her copy was clean as a whistle.

(Conversely, one of our far-flung correspondents once submitted a story with this lead: “It was an island, completely surrounded by water.”)

If you asked Joan to cover a story late in the day, she never complained, and always got right to work and had something for you on deadline. It usually ended up on the front page. That’s how good she was.

She was the Star-Tribune’s capitol reporter for an amazing 45 years, covering legislative sessions, committee meetings, state government issues, and the administrations of six Wyoming governors. (Ed Herschler called her “Snoopy.”) She retired in 2014 at the age of 85, and continues to write a weekly column for the Star-Tribune. If you want to understand state government issues in Wyoming, read Joan’s Sunday columns.

Simply put, she was the best reporter I ever worked with in over four decades in the newspaper business. And she never editorialized.

So, it’s great news that this weekend, in Casper, Joan is being inducted into the Wyoming Press Association Hall of Fame, at the group’s annual convention. She is the first inductee who worked an entire career as a reporter. The other 28 inductees, named since the Hall of Fame started in 2003, are publishers, editors, advertising executives, an author, and two former directors of the press association.

Joan started out as a part-time correspondent for the Star-Tribune in Rock Springs in 1966, a job that allowed her to take care of her young son and daughter. In 1969, she became a full-time capitol reporter in Cheyenne, and remained in that job for the next 45 years.

While she had opportunities to move into editing positions, “I never wanted to,” she told me. “I was holding my breath that nobody would say I had to.”

When she retired in 2014, she told an interviewer she was perfectly happy to be an observer of the news, and report on it.

“The fly on the wall,” she said. “That’s me.”

For a time in the 1980s, editors and reporters from Casper would come to Cheyenne to help cover the legislative sessions. Joan was busy working on a story one day, so I filled in for her at a news conference held by Gov. Herschler.

I noticed that the governor kept delaying the start of the news conference and looking out at the gathering of reporters. It finally occurred to me that he was looking for Joan, so I raised my hand and said that I would be covering the news conference for the Star-Tribune. I could tell he wasn’t pleased to be dealing with the junior varsity. That’s the kind of trust and respect he had for Joan.

Dan Neal, former editor of the Star-Tribune, said Joan “knew people in offices throughout state government. People trusted and respected her reporting. Those relationships are built over time. The institutional memory she compiled over many, many years is invaluable. We’ll be lucky if we ever see it again in Wyoming.”

Rob Hurless, former publisher of the Star-Tribune, agreed.

“With her long career, I think it is safe to say that she probably has been read by three generations in the same family trees across Wyoming,” Hurless said. “What an amazing contribution, and legacy. Her recognition for literally decades of service is wonderfully deserved.”

The induction ceremony in Casper this week is serving as sort of a reunion for Star-Tribune veterans from over the years. Some are coming from as far away as California, North Carolina and Tennessee to honor Joan. I can’t think of a single Star-Tribune alum who isn’t delighted to see her inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The only question in the minds of many Star-Tribuners:

What took them so long?

Dave Simpson began his journalism career at the Laramie Boomerang in
1973. He has worked as a reporter, editor, publisher and columnist at
newspapers in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska. He lives in
Cheyenne.

Eating Wyoming: It’s Restaurant Week in Casper

in Column/Food/Tim Mandese
2780

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

We all know the age-old question that’s vexed couples and families everywhere: “Where do you want to eat?” Which usually gets the dreaded reply: “I don’t know. Wherever you want to.” Normally followed by a grumble and someone ordering a pizza. 

There’s no reason to let this happen this week in Casper.

From now through Sunday, Visit Casper is partnering with dozens of restaurants, breweries, sandwich shops, tasting rooms and others to present “5150′ Restaurant Week.” Participating venues will have special offerings with price points of $3.07, in honor of Wyoming’s area code, $18.90, the year we became a state, and $51.50, Casper’s elevation. 

So the question isn’t where to eat, but how many places you can get to before Jan. 25? Let’s plan out a whole day and see where it leads us. 

Imagine: It’s early morning. You just just woke up and need coffee. Good coffee! Strong coffee! The first stop of the day is Scarlow’s Art and Coffee, located in downtown Casper on Second Street. When you get there, Barista Kate Magee says that Scarlow’s has a special on a single flavor latte for $3.07. But you tell her you want to hit the town and see what other things you can find to eat because you are getting hungry. 

“No problem.” Kate says. “We also have a ceramic Scarlow’s to-go cup for $18.90.” 

Perfect! You grab your hot latte and hit the road heading east on Second Street. 

Suddenly on the right side of the road, you spot the old-fashioned, shiny stainless steel, blast-from-the-past, Johnny J’s Diner. Inside, Joshua DeArmon, general manager, greets you and sees you to a table. You ask “What ya got Josh?” 

He tells you that you can start with their hot homemade cinnamon roll or pie with coffee or some other beverage for $3.07. 

“Yes please! Start me out with that. What else ya got?” 

He replies: “You can get two breakfast combos with french toast, waffle or pancake, and two cups of coffee for $18.90.” 

AWESOME! MORE COFFEE! 

With the coffee kicking in, you finish your breakfast, pay the bill and hit the road. Only you realize you are going 45 mph in a 30 mph zone — and you forgot your car.

Two hours later, you are about out of caffeine fuel and you come to a stop for lunch outside of Grab & Go Gourmet. All that coffee has left you hungry again. Inside you are greeted by Chef Maggie King, who proudly tells you their special is any two hot or cold sandwiches, two chips and two deserts for $18.90. 

After cruising around a while, you realize that — yes you guessed it — you’re hungry again. But this time, for just a little snack. 

Checking your phone, you go to 5150local.com and check out where to get your snack on. You spot Frosted Tops, Custom Cakes and Sweet Treats. Sounds good so you head on over. When you get there, you find out you can get any treat and a cup of coffee or hot cocoa for $3.07. 

WOOHOO! MORE COFFEE! 

You jump in the car and head out once again. After a long internal debate about who makes the best coffee, you see the sun is setting and, yeah, you’re hungry again. Time for dinner! 

Steak and lobster sounds good. It’s a good thing you spot the FireRock Steakhouse’s $51.50 special, steak and lobster with choice of appetizer or dessert. BINGO! 

The night grows late and the plate in front of you is empty, except a lobster shell, steak bone and a small piece of parsley (who eats that, anyway?). You’ve had a wonderful day! 

There’s a lot more out there to nosh on, so get out there and enjoy the 5015 Restaurant Week in Casper before it’s all over! Stop by check out the dozen other places to get filled up. And don’t forget THE COFFEE! 

Eating Wyoming is a semi-regular column on food, dining, coffee and all things related to them written by Cowboy State Daily staffer Tim Mandese.

Ignorant Food Zealots Reject Agriculture

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Uncategorized
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Hollywood’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony made the news for its climate-change awareness with much ado about its meat-free dinner.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which organizes the event, made the decision to serve an entirely plant-based meal out of concern for climate change.

That was apparently the extent of the climate change concern, since thousands of flowers that decorated the ballroom were flown in by jet from Ecuador and Italy.

I haven’t seen an estimate of how many Italian flowers were used this year, but 10,000 blooms came from Ecuador, and last year, 20,000 tulips were flown in from Holland.

It seems odd that such extravagance is necessary when all the luxuries needed to stun attendees could be harvested right there in California.

Organic meats are raised in natural grazing systems throughout the state, and California also happens to be the largest cut-flower producing state in the nation. If HFPA wanted to have a positive impact on the environment and the climate, it could simply reduce its impact by buying local.

The awards came during the strange month of Veganuary, in which people are encouraged to go vegan for the month – omitting all animal products from their diets, as if animals are the worst things for the planet.

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot certainly thinks so. His view is that food farming and fishing “are the most environmentally damaging of all industries.”

He’s predicted the end of food farming (not just animal farming) within a few decades, claiming that the world’s population should soon be fed on food created in labs from bacteria, and all we would need to grow is some fruit and vegetables. He claims commercial fishing is a worse threat to the world’s oceans than plastics. And he gets paid to write this stuff.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions include agriculture’s 9% share. Of agriculture’s 9%, only one-third is due methane emissions from livestock.

Take a look at EPA’s emission’s pie-chart and then try to explain why animal agriculture is receiving so much negative attention as the cause of the climate crisis by the jet-setters.

Even on a global scale, agriculture (all agriculture, not just animal ag) is responsible for only 13 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, so the assault on ag seems all far of proportion to its impact.

Yet the notion that animal agriculture has a huge negative impact on climate has taken hold: Note the hypocrisy of an actor (Joaquin Phoenix) flying to the nation’s capital for one of Jane Fonda’s Friday climate change protests so he could urge people to not eat meat. He actually flew across the country to deliver the anti-meat message.

The New York Times recently published a column on Effortless Environmentalism, suggesting consumers should eat less meat and fewer dairy products, and that we can also pay for our sins by buying carbon offsets for air travel.

Curious about how one could pay money to offset air travel emissions, I found that the money goes to projects such as this one “by protecting land from conversion to agricultural, a rich ecological habitat is maintained.”

But the land is already agricultural: a working cattle ranch in Colorado. The money to “offset” emissions simply goes to fund a conservation easement so the land can continue to be operated as it has in the past.

Another project on the same site was also for a conservation easement – paying the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania to not allow commercial timber harvest within its confines.

Other projects simply provided further protection for land that was already under some level of protected status, or to fund monitoring and management of these protected areas, or to expand national park borders in other countries.

Since I have a few United Airlines flights in the coming weeks, I checked into buying carbon offsets for those flights directly from the airline. And learned that my sin-money would then be passed to Conservation International.

I checked out Delta’s program, and found: “Donations support forest conservation and restoration efforts while empowering local communities to transition to sustainable livelihoods.” Delta’s carbon offset funding apparently goes to The Nature Conservancy.

While many of these carbon-offset programs simply fund environmental groups, I suggest that if you really want to pay to offset your air travel emissions, you might want to examine where your money will be spent.

I found great projects coordinated by terrapass, including those that enable farms to make better use of animal waste, and landfill gas capture projects turning garbage into energy.

England’s vegan activist/columnist Monbiot fronted a show called Apocalypse Cow in which he put forth the argument that farming is the ruin of the world, and food farming needs to be replaced by factories producing food from bacteria. Yes, to save the world, food farming must be wiped from the face of the earth.

What these anti-animal-ag activists tend to ignore is that across large swaths of the world, livestock are grazed in areas that are otherwise unsuitable for food production; and all food production has an environmental impact. The planting of monocultures (row crops) for vegetable production is not really known an environmentally friendly method of food production.

They’ve also forgotten the precaution about not putting all your eggs in one basket. Centralizing food production into industrial settings is trending, but we know that disease outbreaks in such facilities can cause catastrophic loss.

Just look at China’s current pig crisis – the world’s largest animal disease outbreak. The same concern applies to food crops: Remember the Irish potato famine? The blight hitting potato crops ending up causing the death of about one million people.

Advocating the mass-production of food in laboratory or industrial settings is pushed by zealots who fail to recognize the tremendous risk to humanity’s food security. When we look at food production on a global scale, we find inequality, with food insecurity, hunger, and poverty. That we would take action to cause further harm is appalling.

Efforts to have giant food-technology businesses monopolize the world food supply should be rejected. Instead, grow local, buy local, eat local. Don’t adopt a system of industrial ag over regenerative farming techniques that sequester carbon and improve soil health.

In all our discussions about global meat production, we rarely mention the significant pillars of the foundation of animal agriculture. One is the religious beliefs that tie people to domestic animals, and the rich cultural heritage of tending to animals throughout human history (in various ethnic groups around the globe and over time).

We neglect the importance of the second part of the word: agriculture. Agriculture is based on culture, which means to cultivate or grow, but also includes “the concepts, habits, skills, art, instruments, institutions, etc. of given people in a given period; civilization.”

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.

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