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Gordon Deploys National Guard To Provide Hospital Assistance Across 17 Wyoming Cities

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is activating the Wyoming National Guard to temporarily assist with local hospitals due to a high number of COVID patients.

As of Monday, there were 202 COVID patients hospitalized across the state, according to Wyoming’s hospitalization tracker.

Gordon has called approximately 95 soldiers and airmen to active duty, assigning them to hospital facilities at 24 different sites within 17 Wyoming cities.

They will assist hospital and Wyoming Department of Health staff to help ease workloads imposed upon them due to large numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations, Gordon said.

“I am grateful to the members of our Wyoming National Guard for once again answering the call to provide assistance in our hospitals during this surge,” he said. “Our Guard members truly are Wyoming’s sword and shield, and their commitment to our state is something for which every Wyoming citizen can be thankful.”

Guard members’ responsibilities will include: assisting in environmental cleanup in hospital facilities; food and nutrition service; COVID-19 screening; managing personal protective equipment supplies and other support tasks.

Some will also be trained to administer COVID-19 tests.

“The Delta variant has overwhelmed the medical institutions of states across this country.  Our state is no different with most hospitals at or near capacity,” said Col. David Pritchett, director of the joint staff for the Wyoming National Guard. “The Soldiers and Airmen of the Wyoming National Guard are proud to jump back in to provide much needed assistance to our communities as we continue to battle the effects of COVID-19.”

The orders for guardsmen will be 14-30 day rotations, with the potential to extend beyond that, up until Dec. 31. The numbers and locations of guardsmen may change based on hospital needs.

This is the second time the governor has activated the National Guard to help with strained Wyoming hospitals. In November, when Wyoming had record levels of COVID patients, Gordon deployed the guard to the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center to assist hospital staff.

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Gordon Optimistic Grizzlies Will Be Removed From Endangered Species Act

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will try once again to gain the authority to manage the grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday he is confident the federal government will side with the state.

Referring several times to the catchphrase “Follow the science” used frequently by the Biden administration, Gordon announced during a news conference the state is filing a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to win the right to manage the bears inside its borders.

“I am optimistic,” he said. “If this administration, which continues to talk about the science and how we need to follow the science, Wyoming has the very best science so I’ll take them at their word.”

During his news conference, Gordon said the state will submit a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking for Yellowstone grizzlies to be removed from the endangered species list, clearing the way for state management of the animals. The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to issue a recommendation on the petition and then will have a full year to make a decision on the request.

Grizzly bears were removed briefly from the endangered species list in 2017, but a federal judge ordered them to be returned to the list, returning management of the animals to the federal government.

Agreement

There is agreement between the state and federal government on some of the requirements to remove the bears from the list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does consider Yellowstone’s grizzlies “biologically recovered,” with the bear’s population meeting recovery goals in 2003.

Today, estimates set the number of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at more than 1,000 — which is nearly 10 times what it was when the bear was first listed under the Endangered Species Act.

And this doesn’t count the number of bears outside of the area, which is believed to be significant. 

The push for delisting has been ongoing for years.

In 2015, President Obama’s Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said he was in favor of it.

Two years later, delisting did occur under the Trump administration, but only briefly. The courts intervened, relisted the animal, and management authority went back to the federal government.

Changes

Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik said the State of Wyoming has addressed the concerns expressed by the court in its 2017 ruling, giving him confidence the State will be victorious.

“We were very, very close to the finish line [in 2017],” Nesvik said. “I think if we make these changes, I’m optimistic that once they evaluate the petition based on science and its merits, that we will prevail.”

Those changes, according to a release from the governor’s office, include:

  • Amending grizzly bear management policies that will adjust the annual management and mortality targets.
  • Using the updated population model now adopted by grizzly bear experts.
  • Ensuring the bear’s long-term genetic health and and providing for translocation of bears into the population, as needed to maintain genetic diversity.

Geography

The third point, however, does not mean other parts of Wyoming could see a reintroduction of the grizzly. 

Nesvik said only the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is large enough to sustain the population.

“Frankly, there’s really not a lot of other places where grizzly bears could do well and be successful because of other uses,” he said pointing to the Big Horn mountains as an example.

Because of the agricultural and recreational interests, there’s not enough space there, he said, that would keep the grizzly “out of trouble.”

“Grizzly bears need large tracts of unroaded areas, without a lot of other use in order to be successful. If they get close to those other kind of human uses, they find themselves in trouble,” he said.

That trouble can lead to death, Nesvik said stating that the department has had to kill up to 35 grizzlies per year.

Management

Through sound management practices, including hunting, the grizzly population can be managed at a sustainable level and fewer negative interactions with humans would likely occur, he said.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich praised the governor on Thursday.

“I applaud the governor for his actions today,” Ulrich said. “The grizzly has successfully rebounded to the point where they are encroaching on areas that just can’t handle it. I wouldn’t be surprised if grizzlies will be roaming the streets of Pinedale soon if we don’t manage them correctly.”

Others weren’t as supportive. Award-winning wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen told the Casper Star Tribune if delisting occurs, a legal battle would probably result.

“We’ll fight it again, just like we have the last two or three times,” he said. “It’s just frustrating that we keep going through this,” he said.

Federal Support

The governor has a lot of support in Washington. Members of the congressional delegations from Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are in favor of the move — even on the Democratic side.

Back in April, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, told Montana Public Radio, “The grizzly populations in Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide are recovered, and the folks at Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks have shown they are more than capable of managing the Yellowstone grizzlies.”

Wyoming’s delegation — U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, are also unanimous in their support of removing the grizzly from the endangered species at.

Cheney introduced legislation called the “Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2021,” which would empower states to manage their grizzly populations based on science. Barrasso and Lummis have offered the same legislation in the Senate.

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Gordon Mourns Loss of the 8 UW Athletes Killed By a Drunk Driver 20 Years Ago

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Before traveling to Gillette on Thursday to participate in a memorial for eight University of Wyoming athletes killed by a drunk driver 20 years ago, Gov. Mark Gordon mentioned he had a personal connection to one of the students.

At the end of a press conference before departing, Gordon said his son competed against a brother of one of the athletes who perished in the accident on U.S. Highway 287 between Laramie and Fort Collins, Colorado.

“My son wrestled against one of the Shatto brothers,” he said, referring to Shane Shatto, a Douglas native who was 19 when he was killed.  “Obviously, my heart has been heavy today with that loss.”

Gordon said the fact that 20 years later the accident still resonates so freshly in the minds of Wyoming citizens is “confirmation of Wyoming being a town with very long streets.”

“We should never forget how important it is that we drive sober,” Gordon said. “This was a remarkable group of young people. So we are joining with the rest of Wyoming today in remembering that awful day.”

The eight cross-country runners were killed in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2001. The car the group was riding in from Fort Collins back to Laramie was struck head-on by a pickup truck driven by Clinton Haskins, also a UW student, about 17 miles south of Laramie on the highway.

Killed in the accident were Nick Schabron and Joshua Jones of Laramie, Kyle Johnson of Riverton, Morgan McLeland of Gillette, Shane Shatto of Douglas, Kevin Salverson of Cheyenne, Cody Brown of Hudson, Colorado, and Canadian Justin Lambert-Belanger of Timmons, Ontario.

Gordon was to speak Thursday at the “Memory of the 8” event in Gillette — an annual eight-mile run followed by a dinner to remember the fallen students.

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Gordon To Memorialize Eight UW Students Killed In Crash 20 Years Ago

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon will speak at a Gillette event this week honoring the memory of eight University of Wyoming students killed in a car crash 20 years ago.

Gordon will be taking part in the “Memory of the 8” event to be held Thursday.

The eight cross-country runners were killed in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2001. The car the group was riding in from Fort Collins, Colorado, back to Laramie was struck head-on by a pickup truck driven by Clinton Haskins, also a UW student, about 17 miles south of Laramie on U.S. Highway 287.

“The governor is attending to honor the memory of these students, whose lives were cut short by this tragedy,” Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “He also recognizes the importance of this event to the families and wants to show his support for their work in preserving their memory.”

Pearlman noted that Gordon also wants to support the efforts of the Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving, which was started under former Gov. Matt Mead’s administration.

Killed in the accident were Nick Schabron and Joshua Jones of Laramie, Kyle Johnson of Riverton, Morgan McLeland of Gillette, Shane Shatto of Douglas, Kevin Salverson of Cheyenne, Cody Brown of Hudson, Colorado, and Canadian Justin Lambert-Belanger of Timmons, Ontario.

Haskins, who was a member of the UW rodeo team, crossed the highway in his Chevy and hit Schabron’s vehicle, killing all eight of the men inside. Haskins was the only person who survived the crash, and his blood-alcohol content was 0.16%. At the time, under Wyoming law, anyone with a blood-alcohol content of 0.1% was considered intoxicated.

He was sentenced to 14 to 20 years for eight counts vehicular homicide and was released in 2011.

A similar situation occurred earlier this year on U.S. Highway 287, when three UW students were killed in an accident several miles south of the Wyoming/Colorado state line.

The students killed were: Sienna Potter, 18, a first-year student in early childhood education who attended high school outside of London but had family in Laramie; Rebecca Marley, 19, a first-year student in marketing who attended high school in Dubai and had family in The Woodlands, Texas; and William Malone, 21, a senior in computer science from Fort Collins, Colorado.

Two other UW students were injured in the crash. 

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Gordon Prepares For Two-Prong Attack On Biden Mandate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is preparing for both legislative and legal action to block the vaccination mandate issued last week by President Joe Biden, he announced Wednesday.

Gordon said he has advised Attorney General Bridget Hill to begin preparing a lawsuit to stop the mandate as it applies to private employers and has also started talking with legislators about holding a special legislative session, if necessary, to address the federal order.

“We cannot sit on our hands just watching this egregious example of federal government overreach,” Gordon said in a statement. “We are already communicating with other governors and states to prepare legal options once emergency standards are issued.”

The need for a special legislative session will be determined by the nature of the federal rules adopted to put the mandate in place, Gordon said.

“If there is a need and ability for the Legislature to respond to the emergency standards, specific bills and the rules for the session will be drafted,” the statement said.

Biden last week issued a mandate requiring that all federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies employing more than 100 people either get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested weekly for the illness.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration would enforce the mandate for private businesses through fines that would be levied against those that fail to comply.

Gordon said if a special legislative session is called, it could be held as soon as October and would focus only on addressing the emergency standards to be handed down by the Biden administration.

“Wyoming is a conservative state with a constitution designed to constrain the actions of government, so special sessions are meant to be very rare,” he said “They cost taxpayer money, so they should never be frivolous. That is why legislative leadership and I will work together to ensure any potential special session held to respond to vaccine mandates will be focused, effective and efficient.”

Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that if a special session is called, the Legislature will probably examine several ways to deal with the mandates.

Among other actions, the Legislature may decide to use federal COVID relief funds to pay the fines of companies that do not comply with the mandates or provide unemployment benefits for workers who lose their jobs, Driskill said.

Driskill also suggested the state may order its own OSHA office to ignore the federal mandates.

Gordon said all possibilities must be thoroughly examined.

“This is not a fire, ready aim moment,” he said. “We must be smart, thoughtful and effective in the way we respond to these overreaching efforts by the Biden administration.”

Gordon said while he agrees that the vaccines are an important tool for ending the pandemic, he does not believe the Biden administration should order their use.

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Gordon Blasts Biden’s Vaccine Mandate: “This Has No Place in America”

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Gov Mark Gordon on Thursday blasted President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate as un-American and has asked his attorney general to fight it.

“I have asked the Attorney General to stand prepared to take all actions to oppose this administration’s unconstitutional overreach of executive power. It has no place in America. Not now, and not ever,” Gordon said in a statement.

On Thursday, President Biden announced his administration was enacting rules that would mandate all employers with more than 100 workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly for the virus.

The mandate could affect as many as 100 million Americans.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said in the press conference. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

“We are in the tough stretch and it could last for a while,” he said.

Gordon said Thursday’s announcement was an example of “big government overreach” and questioned the constitutionality of the rules.

“Our Constitution was written and fought for to protect our liberties as American citizens,” he said.  “This administration’s latest pronouncement demonstrates its complete disregard for the rule of law and freedoms individuals and private companies enjoy under our Constitution. In Wyoming, we believe that government must be held in check.”

State Rep. Landon Brown told Cowboy State Daily that he concurs with Gov. Gordon’s sentiments and said he encouraged the the governor’s office to take “any and all action to protect Wyoming’s businesses’ rights.”

“This federal government overreach is inexcusable and we should not stand for it,” Brown said. “Government should not be dictating business practices like this.”

Carbon County Republican Party chair Joey Correnti told Cowboy State Daily that although he hasn’t read Biden’s vaccine “action plan” yet, he was completely opposed to “anything that has mandate in the title.”

“The problem with the way Biden is doing things is that it’s an emotion and an intention with a title, none of it is quantified on paper,” he said, comparing it to the administration’s controversial “30 by 30” environmental plan.

“The Biden administration on almost every policy has been vague or not totally forthcoming on the full content on any of their emotional plans which are destroying America,” he said.

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Gordon Allocates $30 Million To Help With Health Care Staffing Issues

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is allocating $30 million in federal funds to provide staffing relief and support for current health care staff and to secure traveling medical staff.

Gordon’s office announced the move on Wednesday, saying this was his way to address staffing challenges at Wyoming health care facilities amidst a surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations.

“Wyoming’s healthcare system and healthcare workers, in every community are feeling the strain of this surge,” Gordon said. “We need to recognize our healthcare workers’ commitment to caring for our neighbors during the pandemic. They are working extra-long hours and at times having to cover for sick colleagues. These are very stressful times for all of us, but particularly those in the healthcare industry. This is a means to thank them and to try to make sure we can keep them on the job.”

The governor has allocated the $20 million to be used by facilities on a discretionary basis to stabilize staffing levels. The funding is available to fill staffing shortages, provide hazard pay, and strengthen recruitment efforts for the state’s existing healthcare workforce.

The additional $10 million will be available to privately-owned Wyoming hospitals and long-term care facilities for traveling medical staff through a contract with the Wyoming Hospital Association.

Nonprofit and county-owned hospitals that have secured their own traveling medical staff will continue to be eligible for 100% reimbursement through FEMA funding.

The governor will pursue additional options to support healthcare providers during the surge, including the utilization of Wyoming National Guard members as needed.

As of Tuesday, Wyoming hospitals reported a total of 230 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, nearly as many as were hospitalized during the peak of the last surge in November.

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Gordon Reiterates No Mask Mandate; Local Control Best Option

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By Ellen Fike and Tom Ninnemann, Cowboy State Daily

Local government officials are the best leaders when it comes to making decisions about the coronavirus in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon told a group in Jackson on Tuesday.

Gordon appeared at the Teton County Library on Tuesday as a part of the library’s Teton County Centennial series, where he started his comments by addressing the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

As of Tuesday, the state had more than 3,400 active cases and 195 people hospitalized for treatment.

However, Gordon has steadfastly refused to implement a second statewide mandate for the use of facemasks and he told his Jackson audience Tuesday he feels it is better to let local governments, rather than his administration, make decisions regarding how their communities should handle the the pandemic.

“We don’t believe that mandates from on high work,” he said. “We do think local control, local government is where the nexus lies. Those are locally-elected people, they’re your communities. They can appreciate the circumstances at a local level in a way that we find from on top can’t happen.”

He did note that his office will work to make sure the state’s communities have adequate supplies of vaccines, personal protective equipment and COVID tests.

Currently, only Teton County has implemented a countywide mask mandate, which came late last week after a rise in cases both in the county and state.

The mandate for Jackson was extended until December by the Jackson Town Council in a special meeting Monday. The Teton County Board of Commissioners will meet later this week to discuss extending the life of the mandate in the county outside of Jackson.

Gordon said that while he respected Wyoming residents’ freedom to choose, he also said residents know what they need to do to slow the spread of the virus — wash their hands, wear facemasks and practice social distancing.

“In this environment, I think it is extremely important that we recognize we are a community and what we do together can be very successful in defeating the virus,” he said.

Gordon also addressed the record tourism year being seen in northwestern Wyoming, saying the state is looking at ways to control visitation without imposing a permitting system to limit the number of visitors in one area.

“I think that there are some ways that we can look at how we can manage the number of visitors that come through Jackson, come through our parks, and do that without imposing some sort of permitting system,” he said. “Do that in a way that doesn’t hamper the freedom of people wanting to come visit.”

If visitors can be convinced to see areas other than Jackson and Yellowstone National Park, it might ease the burden on those areas, Gordon said.

“So if people come and they want to see the oldest national park, on their way if they could stop and see, perhaps a hot springs, perhaps some of the wonderful soft terrain that we see elsewhere in the state,” he said. “We need to encourage that. We need to be able to make sure that visitor see how friendly people in Wyoming are and how great our communities are.”

The governor also touched on the drought that has gripped the West this year, noting that for the first time ever, water has been pulled from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to supply downstream users on the Colorado River system.

“For the first time, Flaming Gorge level will diminish this year and probably will diminish more next year if we don’t have recharge of snow, rain, etc.,” he said.

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Gordon Says Interior Dragging Feet On Mineral Leases

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The U.S. Department of the Interior is dragging its feet in complying with a federal court ruling for it to resume mineral leasing on federal lands, according to Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Wednesday issued a statement criticizing the Interior Department for its response to a federal court judge in Louisiana who ruled against the halt on mineral leasing imposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“Wyoming does not believe that Interior is following either the letter or the spirit of the court’s ruling and certainly continues to violate the law,” Gordon said. “Interior has only committed to move forward with preliminary scoping for the past canceled lease sales, an action that should have occurred long ago.”

“It’s the governor’s belief that Interior is doing the minimum amount necessary to meet the court order,” said Michael Pearlman, a spokesman for Gordon.

A federal judge in June ruled that the Interior Department did not follow its own rules when it imposed a halt on oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

Because the ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the state of Louisiana against the Biden administration, it applies only to federal lands in Louisiana, but officials in other states, including Wyoming, have said it could set precedent as other judges review challenges to the halt.

The Interior Department, which is appealing the judge’s ruling, has filed documents showing what steps it will take next to comply with the ruling and resume leases.

But Gordon said it is obvious the Interior Department is doing the minimum amount of work to resume lease sales.

“From these actions it is clear that Interior has no intention of conducting a lease sale at all this year,” he said. “That is unacceptable and unlawful.”

The delays appear to be the result of an effort by the Biden administration to complete its appeal of the ruling before being forced to resume lease sales, Gordon said.

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Gordon Calls Wyoming’s Low Vaccination Rate “Disappointing”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s ranking as the state with the lowest percentage of its population vaccinated against the coronavirus is “disappointing,” a spokesman for Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily that the low vaccination rate in Wyoming was likely due to a number of factors, including its largely rural population and the fact that in small communinties, people have seen fewer health impacts from the coronavirus among their friends and neighbors than in the state’s cities.

He also noted there has also been misinformation circulating about the effectiveness and safety of the COVID vaccines.

“On the positive side, Wyoming has seen an increase in the number of vaccinations given since July 4,” Pearlman said. “Each day, more Wyomingites are getting vaccinated. We are hopeful that full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 and over will encourage more Wyomingites to choose vaccination.”

Gordon continues to believe vaccination will help keep the state’s businesses and schools open.

“He believes the science is clear that vaccination reduces the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” Pearlman said. “He knows that vaccination provides protection for individuals and their loved ones; can help ensure healthcare access remains available for all Wyomingites; that our schools remain open and our economy remains healthy..

Pearlman added that Gordon is also encouraging people to get the vaccine, but like U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, he believes vaccination is a personal choice based on certain circumstances.

According to the CDC, Wyoming had 201,863 unvaccinated adults, 45.36% of its population, the highest rate of unvaccinated people in the country.

West Virginia and Mississippi each owned the distinction of having the highest share of unvaccinated residents in the nation for months until Wyoming recently surpassed each state.

West Virginia is in 49th place with 44.36% of its citizens being unvaccinated while Mississippi is next at 44.20%.

Texas actually had the highest number of unvaccinated adults, with 6.6 million, but that amounted to only 30.8% of its population.

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