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A salute to aviation at Wyoming’s only Spaceport

in Tourism/Transportation/Travel
Wyoming Spaceport celebration
Three boys check out the interior of one of the planes that flew to the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport during the 2018 Spaceport Days festival. (Photo courtesy of the City of Green River)

A celebration of air travel at a Wyoming airport named with an eye to the future is in the cards this weekend.

Green River’s annual Spaceport Days, staged at the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport, will be held Friday and Saturday and will feature a magic performance, outdoor screening of a “Star Wars” movie and a demonstration of the Aviat “Husky” airplane, made in Afton.

The Intergalactic Spaceport is a public use airstrip about five miles south of Green River that was renamed a spaceport in 1994.

According to published reports, the rural airport was renamed by Green River City Council members to convey “an offer of sanctuary to the possible residents of the planet of Jupiter” threatened at the time by pieces of a comet headed for the planet.

The airport is used by local pilots and pilots of small planes, said Amanda Cavaz, Green River’s communications administrator.

“We have people who come in and land, then they come in to explore,” she said. “We’ve had some people who land there to make sure everything is OK on their aircraft. It’s a great airport for anybody who is coming in to do recreation here in Green River.”

Green River Spaceport Days
Crowds check out the helicopters and airplanes on display at the 2018 Spaceport Days at the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport. (Photo courtesy of the City of Green River)

Spaceport Days was organized as a way to celebrate aviation and local aviators, Cavaz said.

“And it’s to invite aviators from our region to come in and see our operation and share a breakfast,” she said.

Activities begin at 7 p.m. Friday with a performance by a magician, followed at 9 p.m. by the showing of a “Star Wars” movie and Star Wars costume contest.

Fire pits can be found throughout the area, allowing attendees to light campfires while watching the movie.

Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport
A young attendee at the 2018 Spaceport Days festival takes a look around the inside of a helicopter during the event held at the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport. (Photo courtesy of the City of Green River)

“It’s really a fun, family-friendly type event,” Cavaz said. “People bring trucks and camp chairs and set up their camp chairs and watch a movie outdoors.”

On Saturday, a pancake breakfast will start the day at 8 a.m. The cost is $7 per person, but pilots who fly into the area will eat for free, Cavaz said.

“Most pilots like to fly early in colder air, so they land, taxi off the runway, park the aircraft and have breakfast on us,” she said. “Members of the public then have a chance to come in and look at all the different types of planes.”

In past years, pilots have flown to Green River from areas of Wyoming including Laramie, Afton and Pinedale, she said.

After breakfast, a UH-60 “Blackhawk” helicopter and an “Airmed” rescue helicopter will be on display, while the “Husky” airplane created by Afton’s Aviat will put on an aerobatics demonstration.

For more information on Spaceport Days, visit there website here or go to the Spaceport Days and Fly-In page on Facebook.

Hometown boy makes good: Wyoming native wins world’s longest horse race

in Community/News
Mongol Derby Robert Long on Day 7
Cheyenne native Robert Long gives a thumbs up on Day 7 of the Mongol Derby. (photo courtesy of Mongol Derby)

Nicole Blanchard, special to Cowboy State Daily

It’s only fitting that a man dubbed “the most badass cowboy you will ever meet” hails from the Cowboy State.

Robert Long, a native of Cheyenne, Wyoming, earned the title after winning the Mongol Derby, a 620-mile race across the Mongolian Steppe, earlier this week. At 70 years old, Long is not only the oldest person to win the race but the oldest person to even finish the grueling trek, designed to replicate the route of Genghis Khan’s 13th century postal system.

“I’ve never in my life seen anybody as intense, as skilled, as intelligent, as driven as Bob,”said Gary Schaeffer, former Cheyenne mayor and one of Long’s closest friends. Both men now live in Boise, Idaho.

Long crossed the finish line on Wednesday, Aug. 14, the eighth day of the race. He and 41 other competitors had ridden upwards of 12 hours a day on “semi-wild” Mongolian horses, switching out mounts at checkpoints to ensure the horses didn’t become fatigued. 

“Those horses aren’t ridden every day like ours,” said Cheyenne rancher Doug Samuelson, who has spent time hunting in Mongolia. “They’re not our highly trained quarter horses.”

By the end of the race, Long had ridden 28 different horses.

Schaeffer, who first met Long in 1968, said his friend’s upbringing in Cheyenne no doubt came in handy in the race.

“He was born and raised on horses, used to break them, train them for people,” Schaeffer said. “Besides being a confident horseman and cowboy, he always takes care of his animals, and that shows in the race.”

Samuelson, who doesn’t know Long, joked that Long must be something of a horse whisperer.

“I’d love to shake his hand,” Samuelson said. “Maybe it’ll rub off on me.”

At each checkpoint, veterinarians inspected the small, hardy Mongolian horses to see that they hadn’t been overworked. 

“They’re small horses, but they’re tough,” Samuelson said. “They’re incredibly agile and surefooted.”

Riders received penalties if their horses weren’t in top condition, but by the end of the derby, Long earned a perfect record from the race vets.

“At one point they said he veered off-course to go get his horse water,” Schaeffer added. “I’m sure it cost him some time, but he was more worried about taking care of his horse. And he’s always been that way.”

Schaeffer said Long was matter-of-fact when he first shared his plans to ride in the Mongol Derby, which holds the Guinness World Record for longest horse race.

“He came over to the house and told us ‘I’ve entered the Mongol Derby,’” Schaeffer said. “We said, ‘What? Why?'”

“He said, ‘Because people told me I couldn’t. It’s there, it’s a challenge. I don’t like people to say because of my age I won’t be able to make it. It’s the toughest, most grueling thing a horseman can do, and I want to prove I can do it,’” Schaeffer recalled.

From day one, Schaeffer said, Long’s loved ones had no doubt he could complete the race, in part thanks to his impeccable research, planning and preparation.

Because Mongolian horses tend to be under 14 hands, there’s a weight limit for riders and gear to keep the horses safe. Long lost 30 pounds and practiced packing and repacking his bag to be sure he could make weight. He consulted with previous Mongol Derby riders and spent months building his riding endurance.

“He had this planned down to the inch,” Schaeffer said.

And while Long already had impeccable navigation skills (Schaeffer recalled how Long could always find his way back to the horse trailer during hunting trips in the Snowy Mountains), he honed those skills even more to prepare for the unmarked Mongol Derby route.

“He would try to get himself lost and work with the GPS to get himself back on course,” Schaeffer said. “Though I doubt if he ever got lost. He just doesn’t do that.”

According to a Mongol Derby news release, the riders faced arctic winds and downpours at the start of the race. They also had to watch out for rodent holes and marshy areas as they trekked across the steppe. 

“(The terrain there) is a lot like Wyoming,” Samuelson said. “You’ll see really flat plains areas and kind of high mountains on the side. The grasses are also similar.”

As the weather cleared up later in the race, Long took a lead that he maintained until the end.

Schaeffer wasn’t surprised when Long galloped across the finish line in a live video broadcast on Facebook by the Mongol Derby –but he was emotional.

“I was crying, tears were streaming down my face. We knew he could do it,” Schaeffer said.

“I’ve never seen anything he can’t do,” he added. “If he says he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it.”

Long, on the other hand, was cracking jokes the moment he dismounted.

“My horse just won the Mongol Derby,” he said. “It’s nothing, you just ride 650 miles on a death march. There’s nothing to it.”

Find out more about the Mongol Derby here. And for a great read on the Mongols and Genghis Khan’s 13th century postal system check out Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford.

Now a Ban on Natural Gas? Berkeley, California Fires “First Shot” in Potential Energy War

in Energy/News
Berkeley bans natural gas

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Californians are moving away from natural gas, which could complicate Wyoming’s energy-reliant economy in the future, but experts say it’s too soon to predict an actual impact. In Berkeley, California, city officials banned natural gas connections to new homes to fuel furnaces and appliances starting in 2020 as part of an initiative to reduce the city’s carbon emissions.

Wyoming Petroleum Association President Pete Obermueller said the move could be troubling if it gains momentum, but it’s not alarming at this point.

“Obviously, if it is large scale and mandated and very widespread that would be detrimental,” Obermueller said. “I’m a little bit skeptical anything like that will happen quickly or on a large scale.”

At the University of Wyoming, Charles Mason, a professor of Petroleum and Natural Gas Economics who was raised in Berkeley, said the city’s decision was more symbolic than impactful.

“You could kind of think of it as the first shot in a war,” Mason added.

If the rest of California were to fall in line with Berkeley, Wyoming’s gas industry might not feel a pinch immediately, but could see reduced demands for gas in the future, said Severin Borenstein, faculty director for the Energy Institute at the University of California-Berkley’s Haas School of Business.

“This is not going to happen overnight,” Borenstein said. “Even the Berkeley law, which is way ahead of California, is only on new houses.”

While gas burns cleaner than coal, it still generates greenhouse gasses. 

“Presumably, reducing emissions is the thing that is top of mind (in Berkeley),” Mason said. “Gas is cleaner, but it’s not zero.”

The majority of California’s in-state electricity is generated by natural gas, although it’s closely followed by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, the California Energy Commission reports.

Gas burned in homes for appliances and heating creates more emissions than all the state’s power plants, California Energy Commission Chairman David Hochschild told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“It’s not that (homes) are more polluting,” Borenstein said. “But, there’s a lot of it. Most buildings in California are heated with the on-site combustion of natural gas.”

In 2018, the city of Berkeley reported 27 percent of its total greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 were generated by the ignition of natural gas within city buildings.

For Mason, the potential reduction of gas-fueled heating sources is notable.

“Heating is a lot bigger deal,” he said. “You could possibly see a measurable impact if this takes root and they convince a big chunk of California to follow suit.”

The gas wells currently operating in Wyoming “are pretty price insensitive” and unlikely to be affected by Berkeley’s decision, Mason said. However, if California or other states start requiring buildings to use non-gas heating sources, he said potentially reduced gas prices could affect Wyoming.

“Where a change in prices will matter is a reduction in new drills,” he explained.

Fewer drills could mean fewer jobs for Wyomingites. The oil and gas industry accounted for 12,600 Wyoming jobs in June, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.

If those jobs were to disappear, Mason said Wyoming workers would need to adapt.

“It’s not radically different than the situation facing coal miners,” he explained. “They may just have to find something new to do — maybe building wind turbines or working at Walmart.”

While some believe a move away from gas is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Obermueller said the U.S. relies heavily on the industry for electricity generation, and that’s not likely to change.

“Natural gas is the primary source in America of large scale electricity production,” he said. “The demand for energy is growing by leaps and bounds. There’s no doubt that (natural gas’) share of electricity is rising rapidly.”

Sound off: Converse County leads state’s boom

in Bill Sniffin/Business/Column/Economic development
Sound off Wyoming's local economies

Other counties report good news, too

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Of Wyoming’s 23 counties, why is Converse County leading the way economically?

The county boasts an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, the fourth-lowest rate in the state behind Teton, Crook and Weston counties. It is in the midst of an energy boom bringing new workers to the area. Who better than the local newspaper publisher to explain what it happening in Douglas, Glenrock and Converse County?  

Douglas Budget Publisher Matt Adelman says:

“Converse County is at the apex of a massive oil and gas exploration boom that appears to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“While we have huge amounts of exploration and development activity underway already, indications are the next few years will see an even bigger explosion of development as more wells are drilled – as many as 17,000 by some estimates based on those permitted. Those wells in the permit pipeline and the 5,000 wells being proposed are the subject of an environmental impact statement that is nearing its conclusion – and many more come into their own.”

Adelman says that all this oil and gas activity eclipses other energy-related activity.

“The Cedar Springs (phase 1) wind farm is beginning work this year, and phases II and III are already well into becoming realities concurrently and consecutively with phase I.

“Rocky Mountain Power’s multi-billion dollar Gateway West transmission line project is underway, with its starting point outside of Glenrock, and those and other wind farms will tie into that and other lines.”

Adelman notes that even though the coal industry has been hit with declines in demand and production, the industry — along with the railroads — is still responsible for most of the long-term energy employment in the area.

He sees development of other energy sources causing the Converse County economy to soar in a short time span.

“Of course, such a surge in growth – with employment spikes, drastically falling unemployment and the accompanying shortage of housing – is not without its struggles, but it is certainly a welcomed relief from the 2016-2018 crash in oil and gas prices and near-standstill in new exploration here,” Adelman concludes.

Converse County Bank President Tom Saunders echoes:

“Those of us that have lived through energy economic cycles remember how quickly the spigot can turn off when commodity prices fall out of bed and the workers spools their rags overnight and head back to Houston.

“When dealing with fossil fuel economies, 12-month budgets are considered long-range planning. Oil and gas economies are good until they’re not. The best cross on an Angus cow is a Lufkin pump.

“Our growth seems manageable at the present time, but the seams on our jeans are starting to get stretched tight. Any help in adding lanes to State Highway 59 would be welcomed. Those of us in energy counties understand the importance of mineral taxes paid in to the State’s coffers, as well as the strains our cities and towns undergo to meet the needs and costs of their development and production… we hope all our citizens of our wonderful State understand as well.”

The situation is different in Fremont County, where the unemployment rate in June was 4.7 percent, the highest in the state.

But in Fremont County’s seat of Lander, business owner Joe Quiroz said he sees opportunities ahead:

“I think we’re holding and have potential for growth. Last week in Jackson, three people asked me quietly and seriously about life in Lander. In fact, they’re all prosperous people who earn and spend, and are tired of the glitz and glam of a ski town.

“And the traffic. But they also need fast connectivity and transportation by a reliable air carrier. 

“I’m encouraged by the arrival in Lander of an interventional cardiologist and a vascular surgeon. These are people who will draw patients from around the state. Our future is not going to be based on employment of a large skilled workforce, but of small operators working in a knowledge based economy. 

“Lander has physical advantages that many places in Wyoming do not have. The sense of community is paramount. My wife Andrea runs a global enterprise from Lander, a place that will be our base camp as long as we are able to live here. We may have an apartment in London or Paris, but Lander is home.” 

Albany County is keeping steady with the University of Wyoming as a stabilizing anchor:

“The Laramie area economy is holding on, which is about all it ever does,” says John Waggener, an archivist for the American Heritage Center. “The tax base here is low due to the fact the largest employer, UW, is a public entity.”

UW historian Phil Roberts says:

“Hard to read the Laramie economy without reference to UW and, so far, I detect a ‘wait-and-see’ feeling about the interim and forthcoming new leadership. The mystery on departure of Laurie Nichols still spawns rumors. We’ll see in the next few weeks what the new semester holds.” 

Up on the eastern slope of the Big Horns, things are green and growing, according to retired community leader and former state Rep. Doug Osborn:

“I feel like the Sheridan-Buffalo area is doing well. The towns are clean and well kept, people seem generally happy and there seems to be building going on throughout.”

Retired Buffalo Bulletin Publisher Jim Hicks largely agrees, although he acknowledges the difficulty posed by the deterioration of coal-bed methane in the region:

“I believe Buffalo is holding its own economic issues.  The area has seen a sharp decline in Coalbed Methane activities and a lot of those jobs and supporting industries have gone away. Buffalo expects to see some negative spin-off from the decline of coal production, but that should be minor.  Tourism is up this year and cattle prices remain at a level to keep at least a small smile on the faces of ranchers.”

Pat Henderson, executive director for Whitney Benefits in Sheridan, describes his town:

“Our Sheridan area is doing very, very well.  Tax receipts are up.  Housing prices continue to increase. Lots of people moving here.  California, Texas and Colorado. We have diversified a lot with our economy. 

“One big dark cloud is Cloud Peak mine operating up north of here in Montana. Most of the employees live in Sheridan County. Very good wages but great uncertainty with them staying open. Going through bankruptcy currently and looking for a bidder.  If this mine closes, it will be a considerable loss.  Need to pray for them and their families.”

Gillette attorney Tom Lubnau II, a former Speaker of the Wyoming House, remarked on oil’s temporary ability to mask the struggles of the Powder River Basin’s coal economy:

“I live in Gillette.   The economy is average to below average.   Oil is covering for the slump in coal, for awhile.”

Up in Park County, things are plugging along:

Powell real estate agent Dave Reetz says, “Our area is holding its own in my opinion.”

Powell Tribune Publisher Toby Bonner added:

“I would say our economy here in Powell has been holding its own… but unfortunately we’re beginning to see a downturn due to closings of key retail stores like Shopko and others. Amazon and other e-commerce have really hit our Main Street hard. Closings of these retail stores locally have really put a damper on retail advertising in the Powell Tribune as well. We have more doctors, dentists, legal and insurance offices now than retail.”

Snuggled up against the Idaho border, Lincoln County’s Star Valley is benefitting from spill over of the robust tourism economy in Teton County plus agriculture and agribusiness operations.

“The Star Valley area is doing well economically, says Sarah Hale, editor of the Star Valley Independent in Afton.

Up in Newcastle, Newcastle News Letter Journal Editor Alexis Barker says:

“Economically I think we are holding fairly steady, we have had low unemployment rates, a recent increase in our valuation and increases in our taxable sales. I wouldn’t say that these increases necessarily make us above average but are definitely making Newcastle not have to struggle as much as we have in the past. We are also looking at an increase in new businesses in the area with a new grocery store being built, a new travel center (truck stop) and a new private practice (doctor’s office) opening locally.” 

John Davis, a retired Worland attorney and author, says:

“We are below average. Worland has not recovered from the oil slowdown of a few years back, when all activity in the oil field slowed.  Especially ruinous was the closing of the Worland Schlumberger office.”

Cheyenne attorney Jack Speight says:

“Economy is very good here in Cheyenne thanks the government, Walmart distribution plant, and the other warehouse giants on the east and west side of town. You can’t forget F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which is huge boost to the economy and to the volunteer base for Frontier Days.”

Tom Satterfield, a retired member of the Wyoming Board of Equalization in Cheyenne, says:

“Cheyenne is doing above average thanks to the college, the air force base, good medical hospital and being the center of Wyoming government all contribute. The new renovation of the Herschler/Capitol complex was a big factor for the last four of five years.  Good little theater and a great symphony orchestra as well as a very active arts group and a fine Civic Center add to the enjoyment of every one. Also a very active economic organization LEADS are all factors making Cheyenne an enjoyable place to live.

But the former director of one of the state’s most visible business advocates is glum:

“I think the state is in serious trouble given future spending obligations and current revenue streams. Tourism is fine; coal–a transitional mainstay– is getting hammered,” says Bill Schilling. 

Former Sweetwater County Commissioner Paula Wonnacott says:

“I think our economy is OK. But, there are uncertainties and I think everyone is worried. There are numerous homes for sale.”

Tax numbers cast doubt on assumption of tough times

in News/Taxes
Wyoming economy

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Poor Gillette obviously is in the doldrums from mines closing. Poor Casper with all the downturns in the energy industry, is certainly lagging, right?

Not necessarily.

If you go by taxable retail sales, the conventional wisdom that Wyoming, as an entire state, is hurting just is not true.

The map showing the ups and downs of taxable sales for the first three months of 2019, compared to 2018, shows a far different story than what folks around Wyoming seem to believe.

Douglas and Converse County sales tax collections have increased by 64 percent, year-over-year.

Rawlins and Carbon County collections are up 31.7 percent, followed by Buffalo and Johnson County with gains of 31.1 percent and Rock Springs and Sweetwater County with an increase of 30.8 percent.

Cheyenne and Laramie County collections were up by 16.4 percent.

Gillette, with all its woes, saw collections increase by 12.7 percent in 2019 over 2018. And if those two mines are bought and the workers go back to work, things are going to be just fine in Campbell County.

Casper and Natrona County tax collections increased by 14.2 percent in 2019 over 2018.

So if all these places are doing so well, who is not showing an increase?

Pinedale and Sublette County have seen the steepest decline in tax collections, down 25.5 percent, which echoes the current slide in the natural gas production.

Lander and Riverton in Fremont County saw a collections decline of 7 percent.

Big Horn County (Greybull, Basin, Lovell) saw tax income drop by 6.4 percent and Thermopolis and Hot Springs County declined by 3.5 percent.

Laramie and Albany County are holding their own, down just 0.3 percent from 2018 and Lusk and Niobrara County are down by 1.5 percent.

Note: Please check out our additional story in the Cowboy State Daily featuring comments from folks living in these cities and towns.

Wyoming Officials Warn of Toxic Algae Bloom Danger to Dogs

in News

State officials are urging pet owners to keep their dogs away from water where a toxic algae may be found.

Harmful Cyanobacteria Blooms or HCBs have been blamed for the deaths of dogs in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. In each case, the dogs jumped into ponds or lakes containing blooms, also known as “Blue Algae,” and died within hours.

Blue Algae has been spotted in ponds and lakes around Wyoming and officials with the state Department of Health, Department of Environmental Quality and Livestock Board are urging people to stay out of water with the blooms.

The danger the algae poses for dogs is very high, said Dr. Karl Musgrave of the Wyoming Department of Health, and there are no known antidotes.

“The main toxin in this … bacteria produces a nerve toxin that actually paralyzes the lungs, the respiratory system,” he said. “So it acts really fast, within hours, and often there’s not much that can be done. If people do run into that situation, just try to get your pet to the veterinarian as soon as you can.”

The algae blooms typically occur during late summer to early fall and are most often found in still or slow-moving water. The blooms are generally blue or green and may look like grass clippings, scum, floating mats or spilled paint.

People who find themselves near the algae are warned by state officials not to swallow any water from around the bloom. The toxins cannot be removed by boiling, filtration or any other treatment.

Fish caught in the area of blooms should be thoroughly rinsed with clean water before they are eaten and then, only the filet of the fish should be consumed.

Pets or livestock should not be allowed to drink water near a bloom, eat the algae or lick their fur after contact. Any animal or human coming in contact with a bloom should be rinsed as soon as possible with clean water.

Algae blooms seen in Sweetwater County reservoir

The Wyoming Department of Health has issued a recreational use advisory for Eden Reservoir in Sweetwater County due to a harmful bloom of cyanobacteria, commonly known as “Blue-Green Algae”. 

On Aug. 5, the Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN), a division of the Environmental Protection Agency, used satellite imagery to identify the HCB or Harmful Cyanobacterial Bloom, covering portions of the Eden Reservoir north of Farson.  

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality collected water samples on Aug. 8 and found bacteria densities exceeding the recreational use threshold prescribed by Wyoming’s HCB Action Plan.
Eden Reservoir remains open during the recreational advisory, but the DEQ advises members of the public to check for posted warning signs because algae bloom conditions change frequently. Also, visitors are advised to keep pets and children away from affected areas.

For information about health effects and recreational use advisories, contact Dr. Karl Musgrave, State Environmental Health Epidemiologist and Public Health Veterinarian at the Wyoming Department of Health, at karl.musgrave@wyo.gov or (307) 777-5825.

Information on cyanobacteria sampling can be obtained from Michael Thomas, Natural Resource Analyst, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, at michael.thomas@wyo.gov or (307) 777-2073, or by contacting Lindsay Patterson, Surface Water Quality Standards Coordinator, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, at lindsay.patterson@wyo.gov or (307) 777-7079.
More information on HCBs can be found at,
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
www.wyohcbs.org/

Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN)
https://www.epa.gov/
water-research/cyanobacteria-assessment-network-cyan

Revenues ahead of estimates, though structural problems remain

in Government spending/News/Taxes
Wyoming taxes

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

Sales taxes, investment income, oil severance taxes and federal mineral royalties are proving to be the saving grace for state coffers, according to a recent report, but the overall revenue picture for Wyoming remains bleak.

In the first six months of the year, production of natural gas and coal – as well as prices for coal – came in below the state’s official forecast, according to the Census Revenue Estimating Group, made up of revenue experts from the legislative and executive branches of Wyoming government. 

CREG recently released a six-month revenue update for Wyoming, and compared those revenues against its previous official state forecast, released in January. 

At one time, coal and natural gas were counter-cyclical – when one was down, the other was up – which helped Wyoming absorb the booms and busts of a natural resource economy, and money continued to flow to keep state government running. 

But the July 31 CREG update underscored a new reality: Production of both commodities was down, and the income for two accounts that fund most day-to-day operations in state government would have also missed estimates had it not been for other forms of revenue. 

Revenue receipts to the General Fund, which is something of a state checking account, were $201 million or 16.9 percent ahead of earlier forecasts for the year due to higher-than-anticipated sales tax, investment and oil severance tax income.  

Receipts to the Budget Reserve Fund, which is akin to a state overdraft account, were 6.7 percent ahead of projections, thanks to severance taxes and federal mineral royalties. State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said that Wyoming can’t always count on high returns on investments. 

“Future projections for investment returns are nowhere near where they’ve been the last four years,” he said. “They’re looking at 5.5 percent, 5.25 percent (rate of return) for the retirement system. We have some serious problems ahead of us.”

Zwonitzer is a co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee, which is studying whether to implement new taxes, such as a corporate income tax or a gross receipts tax. 

The difference between the two? A corporate income tax is assessed on business profits, or income. Gross receipts taxes are levied on sales. 

Companies don’t pay corporate income taxes if their profits are zero or negative. But that’s not true with gross receipts taxes, according to the conservative Tax Foundation.

Forty-four states have a corporate income tax and four have a gross receipts tax, Zwonitzer said. 

Other taxes under consideration: 

  • A higher assessment against wind power generation
  • An increase of the statewide mill levy for schools
  • Increases for some property taxes
  • Adding a fourth category of property taxes – currently there are residential, commercial and industrial – which would consider multi-million dollar residential homes. “That would require a constitutional amendment,” Zwonitzer said. 

However, tax talk is tough in the Cowboy State, where people are conservative and used to one of the nation’s lowest tax rates. Previous tax proposals – such as requiring taxes be assessed on services including haircuts, real estate transactions and legal services – went nowhere. 

“Some in the Republican caucus say we need to be cutting services more before raising taxes,” Zwonitzer said. “They can’t identify where those cuts are” outside of education. 

Revenue bills must first be introduced in the House, where Zwonitzer said many proposals will likely gain the two-thirds vote necessary to clear introduction and be referred to a committee on budget years, such as the 2020 session. 

“I think we’re going to have some good discussions,” he said. 

Wyoming products make their way to Taiwan

in Economic development/News

By Wendy Corr for Cowboy State Daily

Some Wyoming businesses are starting to introduce their products into the market of Taiwan, thanks in part to assistance from the Wyoming Business Council.

The Council is offering small businesses across the state a chance to make connections with Taiwan, where demand for American products is high.

Amy Quick, the northwest regional director for the WBC, said the council also tries to help businesses prepare for the challenges they might face when learning how to export products.

She added the focus on Taiwan is the direct result of a visit to the country by former Gov. Matt Mead, who saw Idaho beef listed on a restaurant menu.

“And he said ‘Why isn’t there Wyoming beef on the menu?’” Quick said. “So it was really a big effort of the governor’s office and the Wyoming Business Council to make that happen.”

One of the first companies to make the connection with consumers in Taiwan is Murraymere Farms, a Powell ranch that raises all of the beef it ships.

Val Murray of Murraymere said she is working to increase the exports of Wyoming beef so more Wyoming producers will have a chance to enter the market.

“We’re sending a very small portion over,” she said. “So we’re trying to find a margin there to help other producers in Wyoming so we can get a bigger market. We have all kinds of importers wanting Wyoming beef.”

Another Wyoming product making its way to Taiwan is coffee produced by Cody Coffee Roasters.

Jesse Renfors, the company’s owner and operator, said the process has been more involved than he expected.

“There’s a lot of schedules to try to mesh to figure this all out,” he said. “We’ve got to do some packaging changes, stuff like that, to appeal to that Asian market.”

Renfors praised the Wyoming Business Council for the help it has provided his company as it has grown.

“The support that we get from the Wyoming Business Council is epic,” he said. “It definitely helps us out a lot. We’re always looking for answers and I roast coffee, I don’t have those answers. And they’ve been a great resources to really lean on to help us grow so exponentially.”

Yellowstone Visitors Need to Give Wildlife More Space

in News/Tourism/wildlife
Bison in Yellowstone

By Seneca Flowers, Cowboy State Daily

A bison chucked a 9-year-old Florida girl visiting Yellowstone National Park into the air like a rag doll in late July. The incident was shared via social media and was soon followed by an unrelated video of a man reaching over a fence to pet a bison. 

Time and time again, videos surface of park visitors, often branded “tourons” by social media, violating rules that many people in the area see as common sense. 

But officials say knowledge of safe wildlife interactions isn’t always common.

“Sometimes they [tourists] don’t really know what they can or can’t do,” said Linda Veress, a spokeswoman for Yellowstone National Park. 

Veress said tourists will often watch what other people do and assume that those actions are acceptable because they have never been in those situations before.

Yellowstone provides a different environment than those in which people usually see wildlife, such as in zoos that have barriers and other forms of dividers. So tourists may not completely understand how to safely view and appreciate wildlife, Veress said.

Yellowstone and Wyoming have a variety of wildlife for viewing, but Sara DiRienzo, a public information officer with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, reminded Wyomingites and visitors to give the large animals plenty of space.

“Keeping a safe distance from wildlife is important for the individual’s safety as well as the wildlife’s,” DiRienzo said. 

She recommended people stay a respectful distance from wildlife and remember to observe the animal’s behavior. She added that if the animal begins making eye contact or acting nervous, it is time to back away. DiRienzo recommended people understand how to handle various wildlife situations before setting out to view animals.

The National Park Service website states that 67 mammals, including bison, wolves and bears, call Yellowstone their home. Bison cause more injuries than any other animal in the park, Veress said.

Bison are agile and sometimes aggressive creatures with the ability to charge at 30 mph, and bulls can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. This means people should stand at least 25 to 100 yards away from the animals, according to Yellowstonepark.com.

Veress noted when people visit Yellowstone, large numbers of animals are often visible in public areas. This is an unusual experience for many people. But she added that people can forget the animals are still unpredictable and wild.

The park attempts to educate tourists with the widespread use of illustrated signs with warnings written in several languages at key locations. But she also recommended visitors take the “Yellowstone Pledge” for wildlife education prior to visiting the park. 

The Yellowstone Pledge is part of a National Park Service public education initiative found here. It offers 10 tips designed to educate visitors about proper park etiquette in several of the most common tourist languages, such as Chinese and Spanish.

As recordings of Yellowstone wildlife conflicts become more widely available, officials are using social media to pursue individuals acting inappropriately within the park. Veress said it was hard to tell what kind of effect videos and other social media sharing are having on tourist behavior because the posting of videos is a new phenomenon. There is no way to correlate a reduction or increase of incidents to the videos. Videos are mainly used for identifying individuals.

“Some of these incidents were taken on video and passed onto us,” Veress said. “From there, the videos can result in court (action).”

The videos enable park rangers to deduce locations and identify people involved. As federal law enforcement officers, rangers are able to issue citations to help reduce incidents, Veress added.

Many people are more worried about the dangers of bears than bison, but bears are often less accessible than bison in the park, she said. In addition, there are fewer bears than bison, and they tend to remain further away from people. 

The National Park Service website states that eight people have died from bear attacks since the park opened in 1872. But deaths caused by bears are less common than other causes of death in the park, such as drowning, which has claimed 121 lives in the park’s history.

The Wyoming Game and Fish currently offers “bear wise” education on its website along with other wildlife information. The key to viewing any wildlife is to stay back and stay safe, according to the department.

“The onus is people to be safe around all types of wildlife,” DiRienzo said. “Wyoming [and Yellowstone] offers an incredible opportunity, anywhere you go, to view and enjoy wildlife. It can give people some of the most incredible experiences outdoors.”

Gun Control: Sara Burlingame OK with Sensible Gun Regulation

in News

Much like we did with Representative Tyler Lindholm (R- Crook County) earlier this week, we sat down with Wyoming State Rep. Sara Burlingame (D-Laramie County) to discuss national gun control measures following the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.

Burlingame says she believes the U.S. can and should adopt stricter gun regulations and these measures can make the country safer without infringing upon Second Amendment rights.

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