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Hundreds March for Martin Luther King, Jr. in Cheyenne

in News
2759

The annual march through Cheyenne in honor of slain civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an action in support of his dream of unity, participants in the march Monday said.

About 300 people took part in the 38th annual march and many agreed that while progress has been made in the cause of equality among the races, more remains to be done.

“We’re still fighting,” said Rita Watson, a march organizer. “We’ve moved, but we haven’t moved far enough. We have a lot of work to do and we can’t stop until it’s done.”

The event does show that some advances have been made, said participant Lakesha McBow-Kenner.

“Looking at today’s event and seeing everyone come together in such a large crowd, I do believe we are more together than we are divided, in spite of what other people may want us to believe,” she told Cowboy State Daily.

Guest speaker for the event, the Rev. Warnell Brooks, told participants that the principles espoused by King went beyond issues of race.

“It’s not just about color, it’s about injustice and trying to make a better life for everyone who lives in this world,” said Brooks, who grew up in Cheyenne and later moved to California. “As (King) said in one of his speeches, we all might have arrived here in different ships, but guess what, we’re all in the same boat.”

Wyoming’s celebration of Martin Luther King Day came about through the efforts of the late state Sen. Liz Byrd, D-Cheyenne, who worked for nine years to convince the Legislature to adopt the holiday.

Her son, state Rep. Jim Byrd, R-Cheyenne, credited the holiday’s existence to his mother’s perseverance.

“You would have had to live with that lady to understand tenacity,” he said. “When she sees something that’s wrong that she believes that she can fix or she can at least affect a change on that, she was going to be all over that and she was going to be relentless.”

Wyoming Coal Decline Could Continue, but Developments Might Help Industry’s Future

in Energy/News
2755

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As coal markets continue to decline around the country, Wyoming’s energy industry could be in for a rough year, a University of Wyoming economist said.

“From 2018 to 2019, Wyoming coal production was down 10 percent, which is just a little shy of 31 million tons,” said Rob Godby, the University of Wyoming director of the Energy Economics and Public Policies Center. “I expect we’ll continue to see that trend in 2020.”

Wyoming produced about 270 million tons of coal in 2019, a low not seen since the 1970s, Godby said. 

“People will think the Blackjewel LLC closure was the sole reason, and it was a factor,” he explained. “But if you look at mines across the state, production was down throughout the year.” 

Power producers nationwide are turning to natural gas and renewable energy sources, and Godby said they likely won’t look back.

“All Wyoming coal is used pretty much for electricity generation, and coal use in electricity generation has halved,” he explained. “Coal is no longer competitive with natural gas and renewables. The cost of renewable electricity development has plummeted in the past decade, and natural gas is currently the cheapest fossil fuel.”

The short-term outlook may be bleak, but he said there are several developments underway in 2020 which could impact the industry’s long-term outlook.

Governor’s Initiatives

Gov. Mark Gordon said coal may be in decline, but it is still an essential ingredient in U.S. energy production and could one day become something more.

“The national conversation talks about climate change, talks about renewables, talks about new technology as if there is no bright future for coal,” Gordon told Cowboy State Daily. “We have a solution to all of those things. We have carbon capture sequestration. We have the opportunity to move to bio energy carbon capture technology. And we’ll continue to make coal a viable commodity in the future.”

There is a demand for coal the state can count on, so the decline is less of a cliff and more of a plateau, he said.

Gordon started the Power Wyoming planning effort in 2019 to forecast multiple scenarios for future energy markets and this year he is requesting $25 million from the legislature for the Energy Commercialization Program.

“In Wyoming, there are a lot of little pieces that are all part of solving the puzzle,” Gordon said. “My effort (with the program) is to demonstrate our commitment to this to attract investors and build confidence in the private sector.”

The money is being requested from the Strategic Investments and Projects Account, and could be applied to providing a focused approach to researching new coal-reliant technologies in collaboration with UW and counties supportive of alternate coal-usage research.

Carbon capture research occurring throughout the state could be instrumental to securing Wyoming’s future coal production, Gordon said. But he added it will take time to reap the benefits of those studies.

Looking at 2020 as a whole, Gordon said the situation is dire, but not without hope.

“I don’t think (the coal decline) is going to be decimating to Wyoming,” he said. “But, it’s going to be concerning.”

Sovereign immunity

One item high on Godby’s watch list is the unprecedented case of a coal company owned by a sovereign nation operating mines on U.S. soil.

The Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC) was created by the Navajo Nation to operate mines within its boundaries.

But in 2019, the company acquired Cloud Peak Energy’s Cordero Rojo and Antelope mines in the Powder River Basin as well as mines in Montana.

At the Powder River Basin Resource Council, an organization dedicated to advocating for responsible energy development in the basin, staff attorney Shannon Anderson has kept a close eye on the NTEC situation.

“There’s a real concern and a practical problem for those of us in Wyoming with this company operating the mines and potentially owning them,” Anderson said. “If they maintain sovereign immunity, it may block legal redress on the part of citizens, neighbors, workers and government entities trying to collect taxes and royalties.”

While the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has yet to approve permits for the company, NTEC is operating the mines under Cloud Peak’s permits, which Anderson said is problematic as well.

“Cloud Peak is in bankruptcy right now, doesn’t have any assets and isn’t really a company that can be held responsible either,” she explained. “(NTEC) can kind of operate under Cloud Peak’s permits forever.” 

Despite being created by the Navajo Nation, the nation announced last year it will not back NTEC’s $400 million reclamation liability for the mines.

Too many mines

Despite experiencing a major decline in coal production, no Wyoming mines have closed, Godby said.

“If you look at the Powder River Basin, it’s like a Wile E. Coyote moment,” he said. “We’ve already run off the cliff, and we haven’t realized it yet. We’ve got the same number of mines chasing fewer and fewer customers, which is not a sustainable outcome.”

Two companies — Peabody Energy and Arch Coal — control more than 50 percent of the basin’s production. In 2019, the companies announced a joint venture to consolidate their Western operations.

How a 42-Foot, 2,000-Pound Submarine Periscope Ended Up at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

in Economic development/News/Recreation/Tourism
2741

By Seneca Flowers
Cowboy State Daily

On some busy summer days, more than 100 people may walk through the Grand Conservatory in the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. They wait in line to peer through the 42-foot submarine periscope that stands in the building’s second floor classroom that gives them a view stretching many miles around the city.

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens volunteers boast theirs is the only botanic gardens in the nation to have a periscope. But the journey that ended with the periscope finding its new home in Cheyenne took a lot of planning, fast thinking and even more luck. 

Retired Navy Chief Jim Marshall said the idea to put a periscope in Cheyenne first surfaced during Cheyenne Frontier Days of 2005. 

Navy submariners who were part of the crew of the USS Cheyenne and the USS Wyoming visited Cheyenne during the rodeo to participate in community service. But the weather prevented them from working outdoors. 

“It rained and rained the whole week,” Marshall said. 

During the down time, one of the submariners suggested the group obtain a submarine periscope for Cheyenne residents and tourists to look through.

Later, Marshall said he attended Kiwanis meeting in 2007 where Cheyenne Botanic Gardens officials gave a presentation revealing the group had its sights on getting a periscope for the Paul Smith Children’s village.

However, Marshall spoke with those involved and soon realized they may have not considered the logistics of moving a 42-foot periscope weighing more than 2,000 pounds.

So Marshall decided to contact the group he was holed up with during that rainy Cheyenne Frontier Days week in 2005 and have them help get a periscope. However, he couldn’t find the original group members.

Marshall kept searching for anyone who could assist. He ended up contacting the past commanding officer of the USS Wyoming, who added his talents to the search for a periscope until one was found at a U.S. Navy facility in New England. 

The periscope was previously used in three submarines: the USS Corpus Christi SSN-705, the USS Alexandria SSN-757, USS Minnesota-St. Paul SSN-708. Marshall learned it could be moved to Cheyenne if officials at the New Hampshire facility could be persuaded to give it up.

Marshall eventually convinced them to hand over the periscope, but they had a condition — he had to arrange the transportation. This led him on a new quest to find an organization capable of carrying it across the country. The C-130s transport airplanes at the Wyoming Air National Guard in Cheyenne were too small. They were unable to carry the 50-foot long box. 

“A friend of mine in Virginia at the Fleet Reserve Association said, ‘Let me see what I can do to help,’” Marshall recalled. 

His friend contacted some higher-ups and reached the right people, finding a way to to transport the periscope via a larger C-130 housed at the Rhode Island Air National Guard’s headquarters in Cranston, Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Air National Guard brought the periscope to Cheyenne on Father’s Day in 2007. 

Dorothy Owens, who volunteers in the classroom with the periscope, said she remembered the day the periscope arrived. 

“It was a nice summer day,” she recalled. 

The plane arrived and a handful of volunteers, including Marshall and Owens, greeted it. The pilot looked at Owens and asked her what the group planned to do with the periscope in Cheyenne. 

“We’re going to build a building around it,” she replied.

The construction took time. In fact, people weren’t exactly sure what the building surrounding the periscope would look like. The boxed periscope waited in a stockyard surrounded by overgrown grass and weeds until the former Botanic Gardens Director Shane Smith could settle on a location. 

Smith originally wanted to house the periscope in the Children’s Garden.

However, plans for the building that would house the periscope grew with every new idea for features and education. The price tag also grew. The estimated cost for the periscope’s housing unit soared to $40,000, and funding was nowhere to be found.  

When the conservatory construction became closer to reality, Smith decided to move the periscope to the second floor to expand the view available through it, according to Marshall. 

Things began to fall into place from there, literally. It took two attempts to install the periscope in its housing unit on a windy Flag Day in 2017.

The periscope was officially opened to the public August, 2017. Operated by a unique hydraulic lift system to accommodate both children and adults, Owens said those who take a look through the 7.5-inch diameter periscope are usually impressed with the view.

“‘Amazing’ is the word I get most,” Owens said. “People are just enchanted. They cannot believe what they can see, how far they can see or how clear it is. People really are enchanted with it, both tourists and locals.”

Owens said she encountered several children and adults who did not know what a submarine was, so, as a former librarian, she has taken on a mission to educate the visitors.

“I feel like it’s my duty to let people appreciate this (the periscope). Owens said. “I just do this because it’s fun.” 

She added she and the community wouldn’t have had the opportunity if it weren’t for Marshall’s creative solutions. 

Marshall wanted Cheyenne visitors to experience a unique opportunity than many across the country wouldn’t otherwise. Through the periscope’s journey to Cheyenne, it found its place as an attraction far beyond its original intended use. 

“It’s one of a kind,” Marshall said. 

Meatless Options Having Little Impact on Wyoming Beef Producers

in Agriculture/Food/News
2736

By Tim Mandese
Cowboy State Daily

Despite a growing trend toward meatless meal options, Wyoming’s beef producers are not seeing much of a decline in the demand for their product.

Plant-based meat substitutes are popping up in supermarkets and restaurants across the country. Burger King sells its Impossible Whopper, Qdoba has an Impossible fajita and burrito. Even Dunkin’ Donuts is selling a plant-based patty as a sausage substitute on its breakfast menu.

Although plant-based meat substitutes are more available than ever, their presence in the market has not dampened the demand for Wyoming beef, said Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

“I think it’s gotten a huge amount of media attention because it’s something new,” Magagna said. “The media attention far exceeds what it’s gotten in the meat case and grocery stores or food establishments. At this point in time, the percentage of the market they’ve taken is so very small that we certainly haven’t felt an economic impact, but that could come if this continues to grow.”

WSGA figures show plant-based foods make up a little more than 1 percent of the beef market.

“The hype would lead you to believe it’s taking over the country and I dont see any evidence of that,” Magagna said.

The majority of current media attention is centered around meatless products from a company called Impossible Foods, founded in 2011 by Dr. Patrick O. Brown.

Impossible Foods did not respond to an emailed request for an interview. However, the company’s website said its mission is to end the use of animals to make food. The company’s goal is to make convincing meat, dairy, and fish from plants-based sources.

In 2016, Impossible Foods launched its first product, the Impossible Burger, a substitute meat patty. Today, it’s served in 15,000 restaurants world wide.

According to the company’s website, the patty used in Burger King’s Impossible Whopper is made of the following ingredients:
•Water

•Soy-protein concentrate
•Coconut oil

•Sunflower oil

•Natural flavors.

Impossible “meat” also contains 2% or less of:
•Potato protein
•Methylcellulose
•Yeast extract

•Cultured dextrose
•Food starch, modified

•Soy leghemoglobin (Heme)
•Salt
•Soy-protein isolate
•Mixed tocopherols (vitamin E)
•Zinc gluconate
•Thiamine hydrochloride (Vitamin B1)
•Sodium ascorbate (vitamin C)
•Niacin
•Pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6)
•Riboflavin (vitamin B2)

•Vitamin B12.

According to ImpossibleFoods.com, its patty is made mostly of soy protein derived from soybeans.

Another soy ingredient, and the one said to be responsible for the meat-like taste, is soy leghemoglobin.

“Soy leghemoglobin is short for legume hemoglobin — the hemoglobin found in soy, a leguminous plant” said the ImpossibleFoods.com website. “Leghemoglobin is a protein found in plants that carries heme, an iron-containing molecule that is essential for life. Heme is found in every living being — both plants and animals.”

Given the list of ingredients found in the meatless patties, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association is working with legislators to set labeling standards for plant-based products.

“Our big concern and our focus the last couple of years is on how these products are advertised,” Magagna said. “If they are advertised for what they are and it’s fair competition, it’s a free marketplace, as long as it doesn’t lead people to think they are eating real meat when they are eating plant-based products.

“We’ve worked on and are still working on legislation at the national level and we passed a bill here in Wyoming last year in our legislative session, that identifies how those products have to be labeled,” he added.

The introduction of a meat alternative has helped the beef industry better understand what it must do to compete in changing markets, Magagna said.

“There’s plenty of evidence out there that red meat is an important part and a healthy part of a balanced diet,” Magagna said “If it’s done anything, in one way it’s helped us, because it’s inspired us to better recognize the need to market our product and to focus on marketing the healthy attributes of our product”

Legislature Brings $1.25 Million Impact to Cheyenne

in News/politics
2728

By Ellen Fike

Cowboy State Daily

It’s not hard to spot a legislator downtown during the legislative session. Any Cheyenne resident who’s lived in the town for more than a year or two can attest to being behind a representative at Mort’s Bagels or seeing a group of senators walking toward the closest parking garage. 

On Feb. 10, 75 legislators from all over the state (excluding the 15 that live in Laramie County) will descend on Cheyenne for the 2020 budget session, which is tentatively scheduled to run for four weeks. 

This year will also be the first time in four years the legislators will meet at the Capitol, meaning that they’ll definitely be frequenting the downtown area. But it won’t be just legislators; this influx of visitors to downtown Cheyenne will include lobbyists, constituents traveling for various committee meetings and other individuals.

Estimates for the 20-day session put its direct economic impact at more than $500,000.

Darren Rudloff, chief executive officer for Visit Cheyenne, said the visiting legislators generate about $1.25 million in direct spending during a typical 40-day session. Direct spending means that this is what the legislators (or their spouses or staff members) spend in Cheyenne, whether it’s for meals, lodging, transportation and business services. 

As for indirect spending, Rudloff said the legislators will add another $1.9 million to the economy in 40 days. Indirect spending is expansive, almost like a ripple effect, where businesses will buy more inventory or bring in more staff to take care of their guests. 

“So indirect spending is something like if you went to The Metropolitan downtown and wiped them out of broccoli and tequila,” Rudloff said. “This means they need to restock their supply of broccoli and tequila. This is also going to mean things like a hotel bringing in more cleaning staff to ready the legislators’ rooms or something along those lines.” 

As for local taxes, Rudloff said Cheyenne receives around $37,000 during a 40-day session. 

While it’s not quite the same impact that Cheyenne Frontier Days brings every year, Rudloff did note that potential hotel developers often ask why there’s such an increase in traffic every February. This annual increase helps developers decide whether or not to put a new hotel in the city.  

“It definitely makes a difference, their being here every year,” he said. “It’s a nice shot in the arm to the economy. Constituents usually worry when there’s a special session, but for the local economy, it’s great.”

Little America Hotel and Resort general manager Tony O’Brien said that while the hotel definitely brings in its share of legislators every year, he’s noticed a shift toward the lawmakers choosing rental properties when they come for a month-long stay. 

AirBnB’s website boasted more than 300 listings in the Cheyenne area that would be available during this year’s session, ranging in price from $600 to $1,400 for a one-month stay in not only guest rooms but entire apartments and houses.

O’Brien and Rudloff mentioned occasions when lawmakers would rent an AirBnB house or an apartment and split the cost.

“We haven’t seen a decrease in legislators staying with us, but I’ve talked with some of them during receptions and other events and I’ve noticed the younger legislators using an AirBnB instead of a hotel,” O’Brien said. “I think sometimes when you’re staying here for a long time, you want to be able to have that home away from home experience.” 

The legislators aren’t just coming to the hotel for overnight stays, though. There are also a number of receptions held throughout the session that are hosted at Little America. 

But O’Brien is quick to point out that the legislators’ leisure activities affect all of Cheyenne, not just his hotel. 

“There has been some quality space added to Cheyenne in the last few years,” he said. “Cheyenne just offers a great product for visitors, not just the legislators. Obviously, we at Little America want to provide quality service for all of our guests, including the legislators, but the city and county have just incredible services as a whole.” 

Bill Would Prohibit ‘Gun Buyback’ Programs in Wyoming

in News/politics
2725

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would prohibit governmental entities from running “gun buyback” programs has been filed for consideration by the Legislature during its upcoming session.

House Bill 28 would prohibit any Wyoming government body, including the University of Wyoming, from buying firearms from citizens.

The programs have been used in some large cities around the country in an effort to reduce the number of firearms on the street, however, no such program has been staged in Wyoming.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said he wants to make sure it is difficult in the future to launch a “buyback” in Wyoming.

“It’s not really a concern right now,” he said. “But if it is ever a concern, where organizations such as governments, whether local or state, are starting to do this … I want to make it as painful as possible for them to be able to peel back our … legislation.”

The measure has supporters among firearms retailers such as Ryan Allen of Cheyenne’s Frontier Arms.

Allen said in such programs, governments often end up paying far more for firearms than they are worth.

“The broken firearms, the inert, the $20 to $35 firearms … they’re paying four to five times what they’re worth,” he said.

Lindholm agreed.

“There will be some people who take advantage of the incompetency of government and bring in grandpa’s old over-and-under (shotgun) that’s been broken for the last 30 years and get $500 for it,” he said.

Both agreed that the more important issue is that of preserving Second Amendment rights.

“In regards to gun violence, the answer’s pretty clear at that point, you should let people defend themselves, let them practice their own God-given right,” Lindholm said.

“Firearms and gun ownership is part of our culture here in Wyoming,” Allen said. “So hopefully that doesn’t change.”

The Legislature’s budget session begins Feb. 10. Because Lindholm’s bill is not related to the budget, it would have to win support from two-thirds of the House to even be considered.

Wyoming Coal: Are Export Facilities the Answer?

in Energy/News
2723

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming coal producers have an eye on foreign markets as stateside coal demand decreases, but exporting coal comes with a new set of challenges, a Wyoming Mining Association (WMA) spokesperson said.

“When we look at the coal industry going forward in 2020 — it’s a simple fact — domestic markets are declining,” said WMA Executive Director Travis Deti. “However, Japan, Korea and Vietnam have a growing interest in buying our coal.”

Developing countries in the Asian Pacific are ramping up their coal-generated electricity operations and in some places like Japan, coal is replacing nuclear energy, he said. 

“Coal is still the cheapest alternative globally to bring your country into the 21st century,” Deti explained. “These countries want what we want, and Wyoming coal is desirable because they want to meet their emission goals, too.”

The problem is getting it to them. 

To export Wyoming coal, companies currently have to ship it north to the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The journey is long and costly, making the international exporting business unattractive to Wyoming companies.

“Right now, the amount of Wyoming coal being shipped is almost zero,” Deti said. “Maybe a few hundred thousand tons, but that’s next to nothing when you consider we’re shipping nearly 300 million tons annually inside the country.”

Closer to home, developers are working on expanding the Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, Washington, but the project is mired in court battles.

“What’s been happening over the last five to six years is you have these projects in the Pacific Northwest to expand existing ports,” Deti said. “About six years ago, there were five projects — going right through the heart of environmental movement. And one by one, these projects have fallen by the wayside because of protests.”

Of the five, Millennium Bulk is the only viable option left for Wyoming, he said.

A spokesperson for Gov. Mark Gordon said in an email the governor is exploring the option of filing a lawsuit against the state of Washington for its role in blocking the port expansion.

If the project moves forward, Deti said it could open new shipping lanes in phases.

“During the first phase, there is a potential for shipping 8 million to 9 million tons (annually) through Millennium Bulk,” he explained. “But the second phase could see as much about 30 million tons of coal being exported.” 

Clear eyes

In 2008, Wyoming shipped more than 460 million tons of coal to customers around North America. 

By 2018, that number was down around 300 million — a trend that continued into 2019 and contributed to the closures of the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines following Blackjewel’s bankruptcy.

At the University of Wyoming, Rob Godby, the director for the UW’s Energy Economics and Public Policies Center and a college of business associate professor, keeps a mindful tally on the coal decline.

“Oftentimes, when people talk about the problem we have with the coal industry in Wyoming, I get the feeling they think it is we can’t get our coal to market,” Godby said. “I’m under the impression they think coal ports would be the answer to the current downturn.”

If approved and completely built out, Millennium Bulk’s full capacity would be about 10 percent of Wyoming’s current production value. 

Godby said at best, the terminal could slow the decline of coal production, but it wouldn’t reverse it.

“Revenues from exports are very volatile, volatile means uncertainty, and uncertainty is exactly what the coal companies don’t want right now,” he said.

Additionally, it is unlikely Wyoming will be able to capitalize on the terminal’s full capacity. While coal from the Powder River Basin burns cleaner than coal mined elsewhere, it has a lower energy value, which makes it harder to sell across the Pacific Ocean.

Coal mines in Montana, meanwhile, have access to ample high-energy coal and are closer to the proposed port, further reducing their shipping costs, Godby explained.

“I’m not trying to throw cold water on this opportunity, but let’s look at this with clear eyes,” he said. “It’s not a reason to not invest, but to hear some talk about it — it’s as if they think it will be the slam dunk coal needs right now, and I don’t believe it will.”

Follow the leader

Millennium Bulk might not save Wyoming coal, but it could pave the way for other port expansions, said Jason Beggar, the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority executive director.

“The key is adding additional capacity,” Beggar said. “There are a lot of projects waiting to see what happens with Millennium Bulk.”

The authority works independently under the umbrella of state government to facilitate infrastructure development beneficial to Wyoming industries such as coal. 

“The global market is so hungry for coal,” he said. “There’s an incredible demand in Japan.”

While Asia Pacific buyers get most of their coal from Indonesia and Australia, Beggar said there is a need for a stable supply.

“We’re at a generational transition with utilities in the U.S. — a lot of this stuff was built in the ’50s and ’60s, and it’s served its lifespan,” he explained. “But that’s not the case with Asia.”

Many new coal-generated power plants are being built across the Pacific Rim, and Beggar said they will likely be in operation for the next 40 to 50 years. 

Regardless of the market, Deti said for now, the best the coal industry can do is watch and wait. 

“We’re going to wait and see how some of these court cases play out,” he said. “Domestically, 2020 is going to be tough as those markets (in the U.S.) continue to decrease.”

Deti said he doesn’t believe expanding export terminals would prevent the coal decline, but it’s still worth fighting for.

“Are you ever going to make up that difference overseas — probably not,” Deti said. “But, every little bit helps.”

Wyoming Ag Year in Review: Crops Hit Hard in 2019, but There Was a Silver Lining

in Agriculture/News
2712

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Agricultural producers were hit hard by weather across Wyoming throughout 2019, but on the upside, government agencies rose to the occasion on many fronts, a Wyoming Department of Agriculture spokesperson said. 

Stacia Berry, Department of Ag deputy director, said 2019 was a challenging year for farmers and ranchers alike, but Wyoming came out on top by the end. 

Listed below, Berry highlighted major problems producers faced in 2019 and notable boons for the industry from the department’s point of view.

High: Trade momentum

In December, the U.S. House approved the United Sates-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), an update to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

“There’s a lot of positive momentum in the trade area,” Berry said. “From an agriculture perspective, USMCA is something we’re excited to see moving forward.” 

While the agreement is heavily focused on the automotive industry, Berry said it could also provide several benefits to ag producers who trade internationally.

“Mexico and Canada are two of the top three markets for ag goods exported from the U.S.,” she said.

The nation is also in the first phase of trade negotiations with China and opening additional market access in Japan.

“Those three trade deals are going to provide more opportunities for export for agriculture in general, but also more opportunities for (Wyoming) producers,” Berry said.

The Wyoming Business Council is getting ahead of the trade deals with a Wyoming beef industry study that could help producers understand how best to capitalize on foreign markets, said Ron Gullberg, the Business Council business development director.

“Even though there’s trade deals being cut, it’s not like the flood gates open, and we’re ready to ship a bunch of beef,” Gullberg said. “We’ve got to work on the supply and logistics, too.”

High: Governor’s initiatives

The ag industry received significant support from the state’s executive branch in 2019, Berry said. 

“Gov. Mark Gordon has a great focus on agriculture in land health, soil quality and his focus on invasive species,” she said. “As well, (Wyoming’s) First Lady (Jennie Gordon) released big news last year with a hunger initiative for children around the state.”

In October, Gov. Mark Gordon launched an initiative to slow the spread of invasive plant species across Wyoming.

Wyoming’s agricultural lands could experience significant impacts as a result of terrestrial invasive species, Berry said.

The initiative is slated to include both technical and policy teams.

To address food insecurity, Jennie Gordon founded the Wyoming Hunger Initiative last year. 

“As agriculture is in the food production and safety businesses, they have great initiatives that work hand-in-hand with the work that is being done,” Berry said. 

Working together, ag initiatives, non-profit organizations and Jennie Gordon’s initiative could significantly reduce the number of people in Wyoming who spend their days wondering where the next meal will come from, she added. 

High: Leadership positions

Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto was honored with high-level national appointments that could allow Wyoming to play an integral role in future policy decisions, Berry said.

“We are strategically positioned right now for Director Miyamoto to serve as the president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA),” she said. “He was just installed as the secretary-treasurer on the board, and will be the president four years from now.”

The position could grant Wyoming access and opportunities in national policymaking decisions that could affect the state. 

“To my knowledge, there has never been a president of NASDA from Wyoming,” Berry said.

During the summer of 2019, Miyamoto was also appointed president of the Western United States Agriculture Trade Association (WUSATA).

“WUSATA promotes the export of U.S. food and agriculture products throughout the world from the Western region of the country,” Berry said.

In conjunction with those leadership positions, Berry said the department has worked with the Wyoming Congressional Delegation to support farmers and ranchers in Washington D.C. 

Low: Weather 

A late spring and early winter prevented ag producers from getting seeds in the ground early enough and forced many to prematurely harvest their crops.

“In April and May, it was good and bad in that it was wet and cold,” Berry said. “Even though we were getting more moisture than we typically would, alleviating drought worries, that also put most everybody behind on spring work.”

Ag producers waited out the weather, which pushed harvest time later into fall, creating a domino effect that came to a head when the snows flew early. 

“Summer felt like it was here, and then, gone,” Berry said. 

While the weather affected crops statewide, she explained its impact was particularly felt by sugar beet producers and by crop producers in southeastern Wyoming, where increased spring precipitation was determined to be the primary factor in the  Gering/Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal collapse. 

Low: Tunnel collapse

In July, a century-old irrigation canal collapsed, leaving more than 100,000 acres of farm land in Wyoming and Nebraska without water during the hottest stretch of the year.

“(The USDA Risk Management Agency) were able to determine the cause of the collapse was weather related,” Berry said. “That was a very positive thing, because it meant ag producer’s insurance could cover their losses.”

Originally estimated to cost the economy about $90 million, the collapse affected more than 400 producers in Wyoming and Nebraska. 

A bout of late summer precipitation staved off the worst of the damages, a University of Wyoming spokesperson said in December

Tunnel repairs are slated to be complete by spring. 

Low: Sugar beet harvest

Sugar beet markets have been in flux for the last several years, resulting in the 2018 closure of a nearly century-old sugar beet plant in Goshen County, but weather was the culprit behind crop problems in 2019.

“A late spring and an early winter really hurt the sugar beet producers,” Berry said. “Your crop is never going to be as good when it’s frozen in the ground, and you’re trying to dig it out.”

A root product, freezing in the ground reduces the beet’s sugar content, and subsequently, its market price.

In December, Gordon sought to have the USDA declare Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties federal disaster areas as a result of the decline in beet harvests.

““Weather is a defining part of agriculture,” Berry said. “Wyoming is home to a lot of harsh weather, and you have to be very resilient as an agriculturist in any part of the state.”

It’s not yet clear if 2019’s weather will impact the 2020 growing season, but Berry said the department has its fingers crossed for a break in the storm.

“Even though winter showed up early, it depends on how long it decides to stay,” she said. “Weather really can dictate how any year goes for agriculture.”

Wyoming Drone Pilots Have Concerns About Proposed FAA Rules

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Several Wyoming drone pilots are expressing some concerns about proposed FAA rules that would require drones to broadcast user ID information.

While the pilots said they were generally open to the idea proposed as a way to improve the safety of drone operations, they also expressed concern about invasion of privacy and whether all drones could handle the technical requirements of the new rules.

“(A)s far as airspace usage, drones are safe, there have only been three confirmed incidents of drone and aircraft collisions,” said Nathan Rogers, a commercial drone pilot for Noetic Creative, a company that operates drones in Wyoming. “I find my pilot information being publicly available to be an invasion of my privacy, plus, none of the drones I currently fly would work with this system.”

Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAS, are most commonly used for aerial photography by hobbyists, but a growing number are used commercially. The most commonly used drones are defined by the FAA as “…an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds on takeoff…” 

However, drones can be large or small and used for many purposes. In Wyoming, commercial uses range from oil rig and pipeline inspection to ranching and livestock inspection. Realtors sometimes use drones commercially to take aerial pictures of their listings. 

With the growing number of drones in the skies, it is the FAA’s aim to adopt rules that would make the operation of any drone safer for all. 

Currently, all drones weighing more than 249 grams — about one-half pound — need to be registered with the FAA via its website, faadronezone.faa.gov Additionally, UAS used by commercial pilots fall under a section of FAA rules referred to as “Part 107” that require an operator to obtain a special license and undergo testing.

The newly proposed regulations, which would affect both commercial and recreational drone operators, state that all UAS flown in U.S. airspace would be required to be equipped with remote ID systems. These systems would broadcast information about the drone’s owner, as well as the aircraft’s and controller’s location, to anyone equipped to receive the remote ID broadcast. 

The proposal has generated heated debate nationally. One of the points of debate is whether the public should have access to the same remote ID broadcasts that would be available to law enforcement.

Also proposed are regulations that would require all drones operate with a WiFi or cellular connection to broadcast the ID. Wyoming’s cellular service can be spotty at times and some pilots fear this would ground any drone trying to operate in remote locations. 

Andrew Ruben, a commercial drone operator and owner of Wild Sky in Cheyenne, has perspective on the regulations as both a commercial operator and a first responder. As a volunteer with Laramie County Fire District No. 2, Ruben uses his drone experience for search and rescue work as well as firefighting operations. 

Ruben said he supports the idea of a remote ID for drones because it would promote safe drone operation.

However, he added technical limitations could cause problems with putting the rule into effect.

“I just have questions about its implementation, and the issues of rural places that have lower connectivity, especially when I think about first responders working in those areas,” he said. “The biggest question I have is how this would affect firefighters and law enforcement that are using drones to support their operational objective.” 

Drone sales are on the rise nationwide. According to an FAA report, drone sales could triple by 2023. (https://www.faa.gov/data_research/aviation/aerospace_forecasts/media/FY2019- 39_FAA_Aerospace_Forecast.pdf) Whether it’s a hobbyist taking vacation photos, Amazon delivering Internet purchase or a first responder keeping people safe, it is likely an increasing number of drones will share the skies of Wyoming in the future. 

These FAA regulations are in the proposal stage and are currently open for public comment until March 2, 2020. If you would like to read the proposed regulations, and leave your comment, visit https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/12/31/2019-28100/remote-identification-of-unmanned- aircraft-systems 

Bill Sniffin Named Publisher of Cowboy State Daily

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Long-time Wyoming journalist Bill Sniffin was named publisher of Cowboy State Daily at a board meeting on January 6.  He succeeds the site’s founder, Annaliese Wiederspahn.

Sniffin, in his 50th year as a journalist and publisher in Wyoming, joined Cowboy State Daily in mid-2019. He and his wife Nancy live in Lander and owned newspapers there for 30 years.  

Over the course of his career, Sniffin was involved in the ownership of more than 20 

newspapers, magazines, print shops, ad agencies, internet companies, and book companies.

In recent years, he is best-known for publishing the most successful coffee table book trilogy in Wyoming’s history with more than 34,000 books sold. His weekly column is also published in more than 20 Wyoming newspapers and digital sites in the state.

“I welcome this challenge,” Sniffin said. “Annaliese has done an outstanding job of turning her dream into a reality. Cowboy State Daily has done a fantastic job up to now in covering stories around the state.” 

“Above all, the Cowboy State Daily is pro-Wyoming. Our stories will continue to reflect that,” he said.

Wiederspahn launched the statewide digital news site in the fall of 2018 and launched in January with full video coverage of the 2019 legislative session. 

Startup funding for Cowboy State Daily was provided by philanthropist and former gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess.  Friess felt Wyoming needed a “pro-Wyoming” statewide news source and joined up with Wiederspahn to launch the site. Friess has not played an active day-to-day role in the operation.

The news site has produced over 700 original news stories and more than 250 video news stories since inception. The publication reaches more than 100,000 Wyoming people each month.

As a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation, the Cowboy State Daily is donor supported and Wyoming funded.

Looking ahead, Sniffin said he was focusing his efforts on advertising and acquiring sponsors.

“Foster Friess has been like a Johnny Appleseed in helping to get worthy projects like this one up and running,” he said. “But going forward, it will be up to us to generate our own income to keep the site viable.”

Cowboy State Daily will again be covering the legislative session, which begins in February.  Sniffin also says he plans to add an editorial section to the site and will be seeking additional columnists and guest editorials.

“There is a place for a comprehensive statewide digital news site like Cowboy State Daily in the lives of Wyoming people,” Sniffin says. “We just have to make sure we are providing readers and viewers with the type of news they want to see in fulfilling the needs of their daily lives.”

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