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Wyo Moose Population Drops Amid ‘Perfect Storm’ Of Issues

in News/wildlife
Wyoming Moose
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By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily

Hundreds of people on Facebook were alarmed recently when a graphic shared widely on social media showed Wyoming’s moose population has been decimated in recent years, dropping from more than 10,000 animals in the mid-1990s to 1,500 by 2017. 

Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the graph showed the population plummeting by more than 4,000 animals. Wyoming Sen. Ogden Driskill shared the image on his Facebook page, pointing toward the rising wolf population as the culprit for the decline, like many others did.

“At what point do the moose become endangered and we start killing wolves to save an endangered species????” Driskill wrote in January.

The graph is not entirely accurate, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials.

“That graph had quite a few errors in it,” said Doug Brimeyer, the department’s deputy chief of wildlife, including the fact it showed a steep 2012 population drop that was actually the result of a change in the way the agency estimated moose numbers.

But the state’s moose population has declined significantly in recent years because of a mix of factors, Brimeyer said.

“I think it’s unfair to put it off on one single cause, because I think moose have faced the perfect storm of issues,” he said.

Currently, the statewide moose population is Wyoming is just under 3,500 animals, Brimeyer said. And the graph shared on social media isn’t all wrong — the population has been trending downward since hitting 10,000 in the mid-1990s.

“Overall, we’ve seen some significant declines over the last 25 years,” Brimeyer said. “Historically, it’s obviously a declining trend.”

Moose challenges

The “perfect storm of issues” that moose are facing is widespread. Officials in Idaho, Utah and Montana have reported similar population declines, a trend that’s raised concern since the early 2000s.

“They’re influenced by a whole variety of issues,” Brimeyer said.

Predation from wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions plays a role.

“Wolves start showing up in the late ‘90s,” Brimeyer said. “Around the same time, grizzly bears start expanding their range. They’re all a piece of the puzzle. I don’t want to diminish the role that predation played, because it’s pretty significant.”

Brimeyer said wolf hunting seasons are successfully keeping the predators in check in Wyoming, which could prove beneficial to moose.

In addition to predation, moose are threatened by other environmental factors, from massive wildfires that destroy habitat to tiny parasites that can bring mighty moose down from the inside.

Brimeyer said warmer, drier weather in Wyoming in recent years has made it easier for parasites like winter ticks, which attach themselves to moose in the fall, to stay alive and feed on the moose.

“In dry falls, those animals tend to pick up a lot of (winter ticks), which can affect their ability to maintain their nutritional status,” Brimeyer said. “Some of these animals can carry a very high tick load.”

A 2018 study on New Hampshire moose found that animals with high ticks loads died of emaciation and malnutrition linked to the arachnids.

Wyoming moose have also been affected by a carotid artery worm, a parasite transmitted by horseflies that constricts blood flow and can lead to death. The parasite’s target host, deer, are often asymptomatic.

“The moose is the wrong host for this parasite, so they have symptoms where they start walking in circles and eventually die,” Brimeyer said.

Humans aren’t blameless in the decline, either. Brimeyer said the department has seen an uptick in vehicle collisions resulting in moose fatalities.

Saving the moose

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has long been looking for ways to boost struggling moose numbers. Over the last 15 years, Brimeyer said, the agency has consistently decreased moose tag numbers and changed the structure of its hunting season to give the animals a better chance at recovery.

In the 1990s, Game and Fish changed regulations to ban hunters from harvesting cow moose with calves at their side. Around 2000, the agency eliminated cow moose hunts in some units. 

“In the ‘90s, we were harvesting over 1,000 moose,” Brimeyer said. “In 2019, we harvested about 300 moose.”

The efforts could be paying off — although it is difficult to determine because moose are notoriously difficult to count. Despite their huge size, moose are elusive and largely solitary.

“Right now, there’s no feasible census techniques out there,” Brimeyer said, adding that Game and Fish Department is working on trail camera counts, as well as DNA sampling of hair and fecal pellets to try to identify animals.

Still, department counts show some potentially good news for moose. Calf ratios are improving in Western Wyoming, where officials counted more than 2,000 specimens in 2018.

“We’re optimistic that Wyoming’s moose populations are beginning to change a bit,” Brimeyer said.

Natural Gas Faces Difficulties as Market is Flooded with Cheap Product

in Energy/News
Jonah Field
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A victim of its own success, Wyoming’s natural gas industry has faced plummeting prices in recent years, leaving only one operator with active rigs in the state, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) reported.

“There are 23 active rigs in the state, and of those only two are natural gas,” said PAW Communications Director Ryan McConnaughey. “There are a lot factors impacting natural gas, but a big one is sustained low prices.”

More than a decade ago, natural gas experienced a surge in popularity with the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that boosted production, but a University of Wyoming researcher said the mining process was almost too successful.

“In the last decade, we’ve become so good at getting oil and gas out of the ground through unconventional methods — fracking and horizontal drilling,” said Rob Godby, the director for UW’s Energy Economics and Public Policies Center and an associate professor for the College of Business. “Prices have fallen through the floor. There’s just too much natural gas on the market.”

In 2008, national natural gas prices were around $7 per 1,000 cubic feet (MCF), Godby said. The price as of Wednesday was $1.77 per MCF.

“It’s only gone one direction, which is down,” he said. “The other thing that’s scary about that price is we’re in the middle of winter, and if you’re going to have a coldest month, it’s February.” 

As energy companies switch over to renewable power sources for electricity generation, natural gas and coal have stepped into backup roles to ensure the lights stay on during major winter storms. Previously, natural gas prices spiked to around $150 per MCF during these events, but Godby said those instances are becoming less frequent.

“In real terms, taking inflation into account, we’re essentially at the lowest point in gas sales history,” he said. “Operators are having a very hard time making money with natural gas.”

Permian Basin 

The hydraulic fracturing process is not selective, so when oil operators frack, they often capture natural gas as a free and marketable byproduct, Godby explained.

“People often think of oil and gas drilling as a jelly donut, and operators are trying to get that jelly out,” he said, crediting the analogy to Mark Watson, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director. “But, it’s really like Tiramisu.”

Operators horizontally drill through layers of rock containing oil and gas, then pressurize the hole with water and other additives, which fractures the rock and releases both oil and gas.

“In the last year or so, the U.S. just became the largest producer of oil, and all that oil growth brings with it a lot of natural gas,” Godby said. “And the most prolific field where this is happening is in the Permian Basin on the eastern half of New Mexico and Western side of Texas.”

Natural gas producers in Wyoming are typically producing only natural gas while competing with oil producers, whose get their natural gas essentially free.

Further complicating the situation, McConnaughey said Wyoming’s tax on natural gas is higher than New Mexico’s.

“Wyoming’s tax rate on energy production is not competitive with our peers,” he said. “It’s typically about 4 percent more than other states, and New Mexico takes 4.5 percent less than Wyoming does.”

Coronavirus

With less extraction comes less revenue for the state, a major challenge when considering mineral revenues paid for more than 50 percent of the state’s budget in 2017, the Wyoming Taxpayer’s Association reported.

Coal’s decline is well documented in Wyoming, but Godby said natural gas is not far behind.

Since 2015, Wyoming’s projected natural gas production declined by 18 percent, and natural gas severance tax payments have dropped 19 percent, UW documents state.

“Our economy has gone from riding a tricycle with coal, natural gas and oil to a bicycle with natural gas and oil, and now,” Godby said, “we’re down to riding a unicycle with oil, which is the most volatile of the three.”

Oil production is projected to increase 14 percent from levels in 2015, bringing the state a 9 percent increase in oil severance tax, but that income might not be reliable, he said.

“Oil production could rise and offset some of the declines,” Godby said. “The problem is oil is still the most difficult commodity to forecast for, and as the transportation industry moves away from fossil fuels in the future, it will become even more volatile.”

China is one of the two largest oil consumers in the world, and the coronavirus epidemic has “slowed their economy to a crawl,” decreasing their energy demand, Godby said.

“This is why gas prices at the pump are so low,” he explained. “Oil prices right now are really low, because demand has dropped.”

Firearms in Private Vehicle Bill Passes Moves Forward

in News
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would let workers carry firearms in their vehicles onto the property of their employers is headed for the House floor.

The House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee last week approved by a vote of 6-3 House Bill 78 for House debate.

The bill would prohibit employers from making rules to ban weapons in private vehicles on their property. A weapon would have to be out of sight inside a locked vehicle.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, said the bill addresses concerns over the right to carry weapons.

“I had some constituents of mine work at the trona mines,” he said. “They drive out there, 20 miles out of Green River or 40 or 50 miles out of Lyman and tehy’re told you cannot bring your firearm and leave it in your firearm and leave it in yuor car while you’re parked in your employer’s parking lot. I think we have the right to do that.”

The bill would allow schools, colleges, churches and government entities to put policies in place banning firearms from their properties.

The bill is awaiting its first review by the full House. The review must be completed by Tuesday for the bill to move ahead in the legislative process.

Group Forms to Represent Emergency Medical Service Workers

in News/politics
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A new organization is giving emergency medical services personnel a unified voice in the Legislature.

The Wyoming Association for Emergency Medical Services represents paramedics and emergency medical technicians, giving them a way to influence policies that affect them.

Sharla Allen, the organization’s executive director, said there are more than 4,500 emergency medical service providers working for 72 different organizations in Wyoming, including both public and private entities. 

Allen’s organization is in the middle of a membership drive.

Allen said the group will provide a way for those workers, including some volunteers, to reach out to policy makers in an organized way.

“There is no single, solitary, united voice for EMS providers such as here at the Legislature,” she said. “And also the organization is pulling together so they can provide excellence in advocacy and education.”

Don Day’s Weather Forecast for Friday, February 21, 2020

in News/weather/Wyoming
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This is a rushed transcript of today’s Don Day weather forecast: Good morning and good Friday to everybody. Thanks for watching the Day Weather podcast.

Well, we’ve enjoyed some pretty quiet weather. Yesterday, was gorgeous across the region. Sunshine, not much wind, a little chilly but a really day that gives you spring fever a little bit.

For today and Saturday, for the most part, we’ve got two more days of quiet weather across Wyoming. It really looks nice for two more days.

We’ve got a little bit of a storm system that is going to bring some rain to southern California today and tomorrow.

Then it is going to come up and produce some snow. I’ll show you the snow forecast from one of our computer models that takes us through Sunday afternoon.

Notice it will be Colorado’s mountains and western slope that sees the best chance of accumulating snow and look how the northern part of this system just barely gets into southern Wyoming.

This area here is a question mark. If the low tracks a little more north, I think this system could bring some snow to places like Laramie and Cheyenne. 

If it goes a little more south, it could all stay south of the border.

There are a lot of question marks right in northeast Colorado. It could very well be dry as the model is showing but this band of snow along Interstate 70 we are pretty confident about.

We may see this band go north or south. I guess what I’m leading up to here is there are a lot of question marks as to where the best snow is going to fall on Sunday especially in eastern Colorado.

The question mark is if it will get into Laramie or Cheyenne because it’s right on the edge.

Notice the rest of Wyoming will have a very nice day on Sunday. 

But things will change next week. We go to a colder pattern. Here is the snow forecast through Wednesday.

And you can see the winds aloft coming from the northwest again. That drags some cold air and this will bring cold out into the plains in most of Wyoming from Monday thru Wednesday next week.

This snow, that you see right here, is coming Monday through Wednesday, along with a pretty good drop of temperatures.

So the nice weather lasts for two more days. Three days for some of you.  Then early next week, expect a change.

And here, we can see the upper level pattern of the jet stream, this is by Tuesday morning. It gets much colder again.

Tjhis high pressure ridge will move east. Monday thru Wednesday will turn quite a bit colder.

But the end of next week and into next weekend, the high pressure will likely move in temporarily.

One thing I want to show you, we’ve shown it before : the eastern Pacific oscillation. It is an indication of how stormy a pattern may be in the Rockies and the high plains. Anytime we see the eastern Pacific oscillation near this zero line or below it, it means an active pattern.

This is where we are right now. Notice how nice the weather is right now?  The eastern Pacific oscillation is in a positive phase.

But as we get into next week and beyond, the oscillation forecast average is right near the zero mark. You see these dips? These ups and downs.

This takes us up to early April. We expect March to be more busy.

Thanks for watching the Day weather podcast. See you on Monday.

Bill Would Let Frontier Days Bypass Cheyenne For Beer Sale Permits

in News/Tourism
Cheyenne Frontier Days
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A legislative solution to a dispute between the city of Cheyenne and Cheyenne Frontier Days has been proposed by a state senator.

The city and organizers of the 10-day rodeo are debating the use of Cheyenne Police officers as security during the rodeo in July.

City officials have said that unless Frontier Days agrees to cover the cost of the security, estimated at $100,000 to $200,000 per year, the permit that allows the sale of beer at the rodeo grounds will be withheld.

As a result, Sen. Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, has proposed a bill that would let Frontier Days buy a special event malt beverage permit directly from the state for $100.

“We have no qualms with public protection, we think it’s critical to the public safety of Cheyenne Frontier Days as well as they do,” he said. “But holding up their malt beverage permit because of that is, in my opinion, extortion.”

But Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr said many believe security should be paid for by Frontier Days, not with taxpayer dollars.

“And just from what we’ve seen on social media, the public really believes that this shouldn’t come out of taxpayer funds, that Cheyenne Frontier Days has the ability to pass along that cost to their attendees,” she said. “It’s a private event, it should be picked up privately.”

Orr said both sides in the dispute will meet to try reach a compromise.

Bob Geha: Bill Prohibiting ‘Gun Buybacks’ Wins House Approval

in News/politics
Tyler Lindholm
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A bill aimed at prohibiting “gun buybacks” using public money won final approval in the House on Wednesday.

Representatives voted 55-4 to approve House Bill 28, which would prevent any Wyoming government entity from running a “buyback program,” where entities buy weapons to keep them from being used in violent crime.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said such programs are usually a waste of taxpayer money.

“At the end of the day, it’s somebody with a junk shotgun that they’ll never use, never have any intent of using,” he said. “So it’s just a waste of taxpayer dollars to say that’s somehow taking guns off the street because that gun was never on the street to begin with.”

Lindholm said such programs have not worked well in other states.

“Often times, we as the government, politicians, we like to pretend that everything we create is flowery and it’s all working wonderfully,” he said. “In situations like this, it’s clearly not. In places that do have gun buybacks, they haven’t seen the expected results.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for review.

Tom Burman: Wyoming Working With Clemson to Replace Game

in News
Tom Burman
3129

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

University of Wyoming officials are working to fill the hole in the school’s football schedule with the announcement that Clemson will not play the Cowboys as scheduled in 2021.

But the University of Wyoming will be well-compensated for the cancellation.

“Clemson will pay Wyoming $1.1 million to buy out its contract to play the Cowboys during the 2021 season, according to the contract signed by both parties in July of 2013,” the Greenville News reported.

UW Athletic Director Tom Burman said the university is holding off on making formal comment on Clemson’s decision until a replacement game can be scheduled.

“We’re still trying to figure out how we can replace that game and Clemson’s working with us to solve that,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

The Cowboys were originally scheduled to play at Clemson in September 2021, but Clemson canceled the game in favor of one against Georgia.

Burman said the game was scheduled around 2009, before Clemson had gained national championship status.

He added a game against Georgia would be difficult for Clemson to pass up.

“That’s a big national game, I don’t know what the money is but the money’s going to be significant for them,” he said. “Those are the kinds of games schools like that are looking for.”

Burman said he will issue a formal statement about the game in about two weeks.

Cat Urbigkit: Quickly and in Darkness, Wyo Gov’t Works to Buy 1 Million Acres

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Government spending/News/politics
Wyoming
3103

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

I listened attentively to Governor Mark Gordon’s live-streamed State of the State address on Monday, Feb. 10. There was no mention of a proposal for our state government to purchase 1 million acres of private land in southern Wyoming in that address.

Two days later, on Feb. 12, two polished bills were filed in the Wyoming Legislature that would allow our state’s top officials to negotiate an undisclosed land deal, for an unknown price. 

Governor Gordon and our legislative leaders held a press conference on Monday, Feb. 17 in Cheyenne to announce the proposal – a full week after that live-streamed State of the State address.

Fortunately Casper Star-Tribune reporter Nick Reynolds was able to attend the press conference, because his breaking news article announcing the proposal is all we have to go on.

According to the article, the deal involves 1 million acres of private land and 4 million acres of mineral rights along the I-80 corridor that is held by Occidental Petroleum in an area of checkerboard land ownership.

This deal “would be part of an effort to improve public land access and generate revenues from its sale.”

Our state leaders called this a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity “to improve the state’s ability to raise revenues” according to the article.

For some, the thought of 1 million acres of private land being gobbled up by government – in a state that is already majority-owned by government – is a hard pill to swallow. Perhaps that’s why the legislation proposes to establish “payment in lieu of taxes” to local governments for loss of private lands from the tax rolls.

The proposed legislation also says “all state laws governing the management of state lands shall be applicable to assets purchased” so at least we know that the land could be subject to multiple uses. 

Another bill, House Bill 37, would expedite the process for the exchange of state lands for the purpose of public access to state lands, and this is also part of the legislative bundle to enable this land deal.

Reynold’s article also tells us that yet another bill, House Bill 222 would exempt members of the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) from provisions of the state’s public meetings law “which could be used to investigate details of the purchase prior to pursuing it.”

I’m glad Reynolds noted that because I had no idea that was the purpose when I read the bill itself. All the proposed bill says is that the SLIB board is exempt from the public meetings law “when meeting solely for the purpose of receiving education or training provided that the board shall take no action regarding public business during the meeting.”

Although this proposal has been worked on for months, according to Reynold’s article, the public became aware of it only yesterday.

The proposal, and the legislation enabling it, are being fast-tracked during this 20-day legislative session so that the deal can be negotiated this summer and perhaps completed by the end of the year. The Governor’s office has promised to issue a press release about the proposal later today.

I looked at the records on land parcels in Carbon and Sweetwater counties and when I searched for Occidental, got no results. Then I remembered that Occidental now owns Anadarko and that’s how the county GIS data lists the parcels.

Since we know very little about this whole deal, we can only assume it’s some of the parcels we’ve included in the screen captures accompanying this column. If you want a closer look, go to the GIS systems of Sweetwater County, and Carbon County and type “Anadarko” into the search engine.

It appears that some of the land in the deal is located in Colorado and Utah, and legislation allows for the sale of those parcels.

House Bill 249 would allow investment of unknown but substantial amounts of state funds for the deal, and Senate File 138 does the same. The fiscal notes for both bills are identical:

“The fiscal or personnel impact is not determinable due to insufficient time to complete the fiscal note process.

“This bill authorizes real property purchases from the following sources:

 The Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA)

The Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund

The Common School Permanent Land Fund and 

Other unobligated unencumbered funds to the State Loan and Investment Board or to the Board of Land Commissioners.

There is appropriated funds necessary from the State Building Commission Contingency Account.

There is appropriated funds necessary from the LSRA.”

I know that there needs to be some level of confidentiality in land purchases. But the State of Wyoming’s cavalier attitude that we the public should just trust our state leaders isn’t enough when it comes to this big of a deal. 

Let’s shine some light on our government. If the State wants us to go along on this land deal, then sell it to us.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Clemson Dumps Wyoming from 2021 Football Schedule

in News
3115

Numerous media outlets in South Carolina have reported that Clemson will no longer host Wyoming in a scheduled 2021 football game.

The Tigers have scheduled a game against Georgia instead.

In announcing the change, The Athletic reported Clemson’s original 2021 schedule “didn’t offer much to quash a long-standing notion that its lineup of opponents tends to be too easy.”

The solution? Dump Wyoming, apparently.

“That slate wasn’t going to cut it for one of the premier programs in college football, which is a driving reason behind why Clemson is now making a much-needed swap.”

“The game replaces Wyoming for Clemson … setting up what should be one of the best matchups of the season.”

Davis Potter, Cowboys beat writer for the Casper Star Tribune said yesterday, nothing was official yet.

“In regards to this report, Wyoming AD Tom Burman tells me UW entered a contract with Clemson for the 2021 season “years ago” and that nothing has yet been finalized. Hoping to reach an agreement in the coming weeks,” he tweeted.

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