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As feds move to drop Wyoming bear baiting lawsuit, environmental groups say they’ll continue to pursue it

in News/wildlife
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By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily

Sy Gilliland isn’t even entertaining the idea of how his business would be affected if a lawsuit that aims to end bear baiting in Wyoming is successful.

“The state of Wyoming is going to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the outfitting industry,” said Gilliland, president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association and owner of SNS Outfitter & Guides. “(The lawsuit) is frivolous. It’s not based upon sound science.”

The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June by environmental groups Wilderness Watch, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians. The groups claim that using food to bait black bears for hunting poses a threat to grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho, where grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act

Last month, federal officials filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, citing previous agreements allowing the states to regulate bear baiting through their own wildlife management agencies, even if the practice occurs on national forest land. The plaintiffs say that’s not a solid argument.

“The states get to regulate hunting; however, if you want to create a food dump on federal land, you need a permit,” Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, said Monday. “It’s not really a matter of legal debate.”

By early December, the lawsuit remained in U.S. District Court in Idaho.

At the crux of the lawsuit are questions over whether grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho still need to be protected. The bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were deemed “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1975, and federal agencies have been in and out of court over the last decade as grizzlies have been repeatedly removed and relisted as a threatened species. Most recently, protections were removed in 2017 and reinstated in 2018.

In the lawsuit, the conservation groups claim legal baiting of black bears also entices grizzlies into hunt areas. The groups cite eight instances in the last 24 years where black bear hunters have mistakenly killed grizzlies at bait sites.Rebekah Fitzgerald, communications director for Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the agency works hard to educate hunters on distinguishing the two species.

Additionally, Fitzgerald said, there are existing regulations in Wyoming regarding where bait can be used. Approved sites are outside of known grizzly bear range.

“If a grizzly is seen at a (bait) site, it will be closed for the season,” Fitzgerald said. “We continue to use black bear baiting because we believe it’s a tool to harvest black bears and do it selectively.”

Fitzgerald declined to comment further, citing the pending litigation.

According to Game and Fish Department research, the grizzly bear population continues to expand outside of the recovery zone in northwest Wyoming that was designated in a species recovery plan in 1993. 

In the lawsuit, baiting opponents claimed the Forest Service may not be able to accurately judge potential threats to grizzlies because it has not conducted a comprehensive environmental assessment of the species since the mid-1990s. The Forest Service maintains nothing has occurred to trigger the National Environmental Policy Act which would require an updated assessment.

“Grizzly bear populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are tenuous at best,” Molvar, the Western Watersheds leader, told Cowboy State Daily. “Certainly a better understanding of grizzly bear ecology and human/grizzly interaction is beneficial to everyone.”

Outfitter Gilliland can agree on that — sort of. He believes the population could be double the estimated 600 or so bears in Wyoming, second only to Montana’s estimated 800 bears.

“I would really love to see the truth come out about grizzly numbers,” Gilliland said. “The available grizzly habitat in Wyoming is full to the point of overflowing. We’re doing these bears a huge disservice by not managing them.”

Managing grizzlies — and all other wildlife — falls to the states. If the lawsuit against the federal agencies is dismissed, Molvar said he doesn’t feel a similar lawsuit against Wyoming and Idaho’s state agencies would be effective.

“We don’t think the states have the same requirement to protect the wildlife that the feds do,” he said.

And while Gilliland said he believes the suit is a veiled attempt to end all bear hunting in Wyoming, Molvar said Western Watersheds “has no stance, pro or con, on hunting.”

But he said he does feel it would behoove hunters to discontinue baiting on their own.

“I think it’s to the hunting community’s advantage to get rid of practices like bear baiting that are objectionable to the general public,” Molvar said.

Gilliland doesn’t plan to do that anytime soon. He echoed Wyoming Game and Fish’s stance on baiting.

“There’s a misunderstanding that you drop a bucket of jelly donuts (in the woods) and the bears start running in and you pick ‘em off,” Gilliland said. “Black bears are stealthy, and it would be very difficult to manage them by any means other than baiting.”

Increased timber harvest could play role in diversified approach to wildfire prevention

in News
wildfires
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As catastrophic wildfires become more frequent across the West, people are looking for a single culprit, but it’s not that simple, Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser said.

“People like to blame Smokey the Bear — that we extinguished every fire for 100 years. People like to blame lack of management from the U.S. Forest Service, saying they let our forests get into an unhealthy state. People like to blame climate change and the list goes on,” Crapser said. “Like everything, the easiest thing is to blame a single villain, but the reality is it’s probably all of that.”

A series of wildland fires racing across California caught the nation’s attention in October. 

The New York Times reported the fire threatened 90,000 buildings. 

CNBC reported 10 of the Golden State’s worst fires occurred in the last decade. 

But it was a viral “Smithsonian” magazine article about goats that caught the eye of Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower.

“Goats — grazing goats — saved the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California,” Driskill said. “This whole country was sheep and goat country once, but nobody grazes anymore.” 

Additionally, he said reductions in timber removal allowed by federal agencies overseeing Wyoming’s public lands could put the state at risk of suffering California’s fate.

“There’s no doubt we’re in a dry cycle and fires are affected by climate change,” Driskill said. “But this was not an earth-shattering drought year in California. Our (U.S.) Forest Service logs less and less, and as they do, we’ll have larger and larger fires.”

State-owned lands

While no forest is fireproof, a healthy forest is less likely to suffer catastrophic fire damage, Crapser said.

Unlike the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Forest Service, Crapser’s Forestry Division is a state agency.

Counting seasonal firefighters, the division has about 50 employees to cover approximately 280,000 forested acres of state-owned lands. 

A significant portion of managing forest health is targeted timber harvests, which are usually handled by private contractors, Crapser said.

“We try to do a lot of thinning to reduce the basal area — the square foot of tree cover per acre,” he explained. “That promotes wood growth, helps grasses for grazing and makes the stands more fire resistant.” 

While the division promotes the use of grazing to manage fine fuels when consulting with private land owners, cities and counties, Crapser said it does not oversee grazing on state lands.

Yellowstone

Grazing isn’t a part of the Yellowstone National Park fire management plan, but the park is warming up to the idea of using private contractors for timber management, said John Cataldo, Yellowstone’s Fire and Aviation Management officer.

“This year, we started using a masticator — it’s got a drum head that basically mulches trees up to 6-8 inches in diameter,” Cataldo said. “We were able to treat about 60 acres around the government area in West Yellowstone (Montana). That’s going to buy us about 15 years of defensibility around that community.”

By mulching smaller fuels, the masticator creates a fuel break, which could cause a crown fire in the tops of trees — widely considered the hardest fire behavior to control — to drop down to the ground where fire crews can battle the blaze.

For about $35,000 and a few months of work, the masticator completed a timber management project that could’ve taken park staff years to complete with a much higher price tag, Cataldo said. 

Masticators are in high demand throughout the National Park Service, but the agency only has one operator and a couple of machines in the region. So Yellowstone is looking to private industry for future mulching efforts.

“This year and future years as these mastication treatments expand, we’ll be going to contracts,” Cataldo said, explaining the park has not previously used private contractors for timber management outside of emergency response. “We’ve used private industry when a fire is bearing down on a community, but these are proactive, pre-planned projects.”

Private industry

In recent years, the Forest Service has ramped up timber harvest projects, but nowhere near to the levels seen prior to the 1990s, said Ben Wudtke, executive director of the Intermountain Forest Association. 

The association is a collective of private industry leaders advocating for forest management, in part, by way of timber harvests.

“During the ‘90s, we had an administration that wanted to reduce timber harvest, and it did,” Wudtke said. “The Forest Service used to harvest 12 billion board feet annually, and that dropped to 2 billion board feet.”

Under the current administration, he said the Forest Service is allowing the harvest of about 4 billion board feet a year, but 30 years later, the damage to the logging industry was done.

Driskill said, “Look around, we hardly have any sawmills around the state anymore.”

According to Crapser, about nine mid-sized sawmills operated in Wyoming prior to the harvest reduction. 

Now, there are three.    

Wudtke said the federal government’s increased interest in timber harvesting is largely due to public outcry.

“A lot of that is seeing first-hand what happens when we’re not out there working together with these agencies to take care of these lands,” he said. “We have things like catastrophic pine beetle epidemics. We have stand- and forest-replacing wildfires. We have houses and lives being lost.”

Forest management requires human intervention, Wudtke said. 

“If we don’t, mother nature will,” he added. “And we don’t always like how she goes about it.”

Mounds of data exist in support of forest management through timber harvest, Wudtke said, but preventing future catastrophic wildfires in Wyoming isn’t a one-step solution.

“I’m not sure I’d put my finger on one thing and say if they change this, it would fix things,” Wudtke said. “It’s going to take a lot of work in a lot of areas from both government agencies and the public.”

Medicine Bow

In Medicine Bow National Forest, the Forest Service uses both targeted grazing and timber management projects as preventive measures against wildfire, Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said.

“We just finished a vegetation project in the Lake Owen area, and we’re getting ready to start some work in the Rob Roy area as well as Fox Park,” Voos explained. “Some of it was timber sales, some was working with public utilities around water sheds to protect from impact of wildfire as well as opening access to recreation areas.”

Voos said he could only speak to Forest Service practices on the Medicine Bow National Forest, Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland. As to the federal agency’s historic timber management practices, Voos said he could only discuss what he personally observed during his time employed.

“What I’ve observed on the Medicine Bow and Routt is we are responding to changing forest conditions,” Voos said. “That hasn’t always been the case, largely because we’ve never seen a beetle infestation of this size before.”

The Forest Service is working on the Medicine Bow Landscape Vegetation Analysis project, dubbed LaVA, through the National Environmental Policy Act process. Over the next 10 to 15 years, the project is slated to treat up to 360,000 acres of beetle-kill affected areas in the national forest with a variety of methods, including private contractors.  

“Right now, we are very fortunate there is still a market for a certain amount of the beetle-killed timber that is still standing and still available,” Voos said. 

Medicine Bow also uses grazing allotments to manage fine fuels where fires can spread wide and fast. 

“There’s constant analyzing of those grazing allotments, and it is impacted by the potential for wildfire,” Voos said.

Even with numerous federal and state projects in play statewide, Crapser said Wyoming is on course to experience increasingly disastrous wildfire seasons.

“We’re probably going to see more fires in the future and rising costs of battling fires,” he said. “We’re also seeing a lot more people in the urban-wildland interface, and that creates a lot challenges for wildfire management.”

DOT continues work to stop falling rock on highway near Cody

in News/Transportation
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Department of Transportation is continuing its work to stabilize falling rock that has created a hazard for several years on a highway between Cody and Yellowstone National Park.

The department has been working since 2017 to stop rock from falling from steep hillsides onto U.S. Highway 14-16-20.

While the project has been expensive, it has been necessary for the safety of travelers in Wyoming, said Cody Beers, a spokesman for the DOT.

“We’ve been working in this area for a couple of years,” he said. “We kept finding more rockfall situations. We had to do some redesign. A lot of money was spent here, but it was about saving lives.”

The project was marked earlier this year by the death of a worker who was hit by a rock, Beers said.

“Through the history of this road, there’s been three or four different projects that have taken place,” he said. “And we have lost human life on every project that we’ve done on this section of road.”

Similar work is being done on the Chief Joseph Highway and the Wind River Canyon. Beers said the end result will be a safer highway system.

“We believe that the last couple projects over the last couple years that we’ve been doing have significantly upgraded the safety of this area, for residents, for travelers,” he said.

Northwest tries new tactics to attract students

in Education/News
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Northwest College in Powell, facing declining enrollment for the last several years, has launched several efforts to build up the number of students attending the two-year school.

As of the fall of 2018, the number of full-time students attending the college in Powell stood at 807, compared to 948 in the fall of 2017.

College President Stefani Hicswa attributed the decline to the improving economy.

“Community college enrollment is directly tied to unemployment,” Hicswa said. “As people go to work, they don’t go to college. This is the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, so they’re not choosing to attend college at this point.”

The college also faces competition from for-profit schools that can spend more on marketing, Hicswa said.

Northwest is changing some of its marketing approaches, such as relying more on social media, to reach students with its message, said Carey Miller, the college’s new director of Communication and Marketing.

Williams said efforts are focusing to spread the word about the college’s location, affordability, the quality of its programs and the college experience it offers.

“Those four things, Northwest College excels at,” she said.

In addition, the college is sending recruiters to meet with potential students, said Dee Havig, Northwest’s interim vice president for Student Services.

“Marketing tells us that social media is what students are wanting, but we’re also hearing they like that face-to-face and making that connection to someone with the school,” he said.

Hicswa said the college is also looking at new degree programs, partnerships with regional colleges and universities and the construction of a new student center to attract more students.

UW students, NCAR Supercomputing Center help improve forecasts in Asia, Africa, South America

in News/weather
Wyoming NCAR Supercomputer
Courtesy: ©UCAR; photo by Carlye Calvin
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

In the United States, Japan and a handful of western European countries, people can access state-of-the-art weather forecasts that are updated once an hour. 

That’s not the case with the rest of the world. Most people only get weather forecasts with such sophistication once every six or 12 hours.

But a team of undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Wyoming, led by Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Suresh Muknahallipatna, is working to change that. 

In 2017, IBM contracted with the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne with a project to help improve weather forecasting around the globe. NCAR then hired the UW team, Muknahallipatna said. 

The key to generating forecasts quickly lies with supercomputers with specialized electronic circuits called graphic processing units. GPUs are capable of better graphic resolution and can update at a greater frequency, according to IBM.

Traditionally, most weather forecasting originates on supercomputers built only with central processing units, Muknahallipatna said.

So the job of the UW team, Muknahallipatna said, is to take code from the supercomputers that only have CPUs and “refactor” it for supercomputers that contain graphic processing units. Refactoring essentially requires restructuring the computer code. 

“By running this on the graphic processing unit we can finish the computations in less than an hour, so you can have a forecast every hour,” he said. 

IMB said in a statement that while there are some computers that have the ability to do fast, high-resolution forecasts for a region, what makes the work it’s doing with NCAR and UW unique is that it’s the first global weather computer model to run on a graphics processing unit with “high-performance computing architecture.”

“This is the first time a full global model exists to provide forecasts for the day ahead at this scale, resolution and frequency,” according to an IBM statement. 

The forecasting gaps the UW is helping to fill include areas among those most vulnerable to increasingly extreme weather resulting from climate change, the company said, specifically pointing to Asia, Africa and South America.

And more frequently updated weather forecasts can make all the difference to people who live off the land. 

“The enhanced forecasts could be revolutionary for some areas of the world, such as for a rural farmer in India or Kenya,” Cameron Clayton, head of IMB subsidiary The Weather Company, said in a prepared statement. “If you’ve never before had access to high-resolution weather data but could now anticipate thunderstorms before they approach your fields, you can better plan for planting or harvesting.” 

The work is providing UW students experience that has led to internships and job offers, Muknahallipatna said.  

“All of them having been doing refactoring code,” he said. “It’s very a special skill set, not all students have this skill.”

Refactoring requires the students to understand code, or software, but also a machine’s hardware. 

“That is why electrical engineering and computer engineering are suited for high-performance computation coding,” he said. “You need to know both software and hardware.”

State legislator takes national stance against ‘endless wars’

in military/News
Bring home the troops
2461

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

If Congress is not willing to declare war in the Middle East, Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, wants America to bring home its troops.

“This is ridiculous,” Lindholm said. “We’ve been over there for more than a decade, and we don’t really know why.”

By relying on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the Middle East instead of an actual war declaration, Lindholm said Congress has denied service members the clarity they need to finish the job — whatever that may be.

“The reality is, when it comes to the Middle East, we don’t actually have authority to be over there from our Congress,” Lindholm said. “We’re operating off an AUMF from 2001 and 2002. The AUMF of 2001 was to go after terrorists in Afghanistan, and in 2002, it was to be ready to go after Iraq. But none of those speak to full-time occupation.”

As the country moves into its 19th year of combat operations in Afghanistan, Lindholm said enough is enough.

“We need to end the endless wars,” he said, echoing sentiments voiced by President Donald Trump. “I’ve got four kids, and none of them have ever known a nation not at war.”

In a column co-written by Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, and published across the country, Lindholm called out U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, and other “war hawks” for encouraging Trump to retaliate against Iran after a U.S. drone was shot down earlier this year.

Additionally, Lindholm is leading the Wyoming branch of Bring Our Troops Home, a non-profit organization intent on ending “the Forever Wars and encourage Congress … to support President Trump’s plan to withdraw our troops.”

Life abroad

Raised in Sundance, Lindholm joined the U.S. Navy to see the world and find his place in it.

“I wasn’t really ready to be a grown up, but I knew I needed to get something going in my life,” he explained. “I left two days after I graduated high school.”

It was May 2001. The U.S. was at peace. The world was a different place.

“I remember training in Pensacola, Florida, before 9/11 — taxi cabs would pull right up to base,” Lindholm recalled. “Then after the attacks, things really shut down. It changed the whole mission going from peacetime to wartime.”

A helicopter mechanic who exited the Navy at the rank of Petty Officer Third Class five years later, Lindholm never deployed to the Middle East, but he did see a side of the world he never imagined.

“We were headed to go shake our sword at North Korea in the 2004 timeframe, and we rolled into Hong Kong on Christmas,” he said of his time stationed aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. “While we were there, this tsunami struck Indonesia — it was a hell of wreck.”

His ship was to diverted to help with rescue and relief efforts.

“We were first on scene there,” Lindholm said. “I remember we were still 50 miles out from our destination, and I was on the flight deck with the rest of the crew.”

The sailors spotted a bloated, sun-bleached body floating near a palm tree, he remembered.

“We were shocked, but the ship just kept on a-steaming,” Lindholm said. “We were asking why we weren’t stopping for the body, but then as soon we got into position we could see why. There was 200,000 people that died in that tsunami and there were bodies everywhere. More than you could count.”

Using the carrier’s helicopters, the Lincoln’s crew spent months resupplying the Banda Aceh province with fresh water, rice and medical supplies. Shortly after Lindholm’s ship returned to the states, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. 

“We were, at that point, the Navy’s rescue and relief experts,” Lindholm said. “So, my squadron got deployed to respond to (Katrina).”

Whereas the Indonesians welcomed the Navy’s response, the U.S. was a different story.

“The people of Indonesia were just so damn thankful,” Lindholm said. “When we deployed to Katrina, there were people shooting at our aircraft, it was nuts. They definitely weren’t thankful we were there.”

Getting mad, getting political

Once his enlistment was complete, Lindholm moved to Texas to work on U.S. Army helicopters as a civilian contractor, but it wasn’t long before Wyoming called him home.

“It was around 2006-2007, and things were really cooking off in northeast Wyoming,” he said. “So, I figured I’d return home to the ranch and find a job.”

Using the electrical expertise he gained in the military, Lindholm went to work as an electrician. But the more he learned about the way of the world, the more it got under his skin.

“Honestly, I just got mad,” Lindholm explained, chuckling. “When I was in the military, I didn’t really think about what I was doing, I just did what I was told. Then I got out, and I really got to thinking about the things I didn’t like, especially in relation to the family ranch, so I became politically involved to change them.”

Now in his second term as a state legislator, Lindholm serves as the House Majority Whip.

“To be 100 percent honest, I thought I was going to be whipped off into the corner,” he said. “But, when I got in there, I realized these are just normal folks like me.”

He campaigned on the idea people should be allowed to drink raw milk if they choose and sponsored Wyoming’s “food freedom law,” which passed in 2015.  Since then, he’s also helped craft legislation facilitating blockchain businesses and banking.

Now, he’s shifting focus to either bring troops deployed in the Middle East home or pass a law in Wyoming hamstringing Congress’ access to the state’s National Guard units.

“This legislation would prevent our guard from being deployed to a foreign place where war has not been declared,” Lindholm explained. “It’ll appear in the 2020 session, and I’ve got bipartisan support on it.”

Working with the other side of the aisle to legitimize or end the nation’s war efforts has been trickier than he expected.

“Before 2008, I could always lean on the democrats to be anti-war,” Lindholm said. “Now, we’re kind of stuck in this weird spot where Democrats and Republicans don’t really know how to feel about these wars. It’s a weird shift.”

As a state representative, Lindholm doesn’t have the power to force Congress’ hand, but he said he hopes Bring the Troops Home will ignite a national conversation.

“We want Congress to think about it, we want them to talk about it, and we want them to vote on it,” Lindholm said. “We owe it to the next generation, because that’s who’s going to be serving over there next. That’s who is serving over there now.”

Customer-generated power electrifies calls for net metering reform

in Energy/News
solar power
2471

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Dr. Jason Bloomberg spent more than $100,000 on his home’s solar and wind energy system with the idea he could recoup the costs through energy savings during the next 20 years.

“The goal is to reduce how much power we are using from the grid,” Bloomberg said.

But his repayment schedule could be put at risk if a plan to make renewable energy system owners pay a larger share of the costs faced by electric power providers is adopted by the state.

While renewable energy system owners can generate a large portion of their yearly power needs, most are still connected to power grids for supplemental power and as backup in case of system failure.

When they generate more power than needed at their location, the surplus is transferred to the power company’s system. For that power, the customer earns credits toward his total power bill. 

This billing mechanism is called “net metering” and is regulated by state statute. 

A net metering proposal brought before the Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee on Nov. 19 could have increased Bloomberg’s timeline to recoup his system’s costs to about 84 years, he said. 

“They are trying to fix something that isn’t broken,” Bloomberg said. “It’s a numbers shell game, it’s a Ponzi scheme that’s being presented by power companies, because the real competition of residential renewable energy is it’s hurting their monopoly on power production.”

While the proposal failed in a tie vote, committee Senate chair Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said legislators would likely continue to seek reforms in the state’s net metering policies at a later date to eliminate what he described as a subsidy for those generating their own power.

“This next session is a budget session, so I don’t think that’s the place for it,” Case said. “But, we’re going to be talking about this for a long time.”

Nickels and dimes

The debate centers around how much power customers who do not generate their own electricity have to pay compared to the costs paid by those who do have their own power generation systems.

At the Legislature’s request, the Public Service Commission’s Office of Consumer Advocate this year analyzed fixed and variable costs for three private power companies: Rocky Mountain Power, Montana Dakota Utilities and Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power. 

The results, while varied, showed customers who do not generate their own power could spend 9 to 71 cents per month more on their power bill than those with generating systems.

“This is the amount Sen. Case is going on about when he says there is a subsidy being paid by regular rate payers to net metered customers,” Bloomberg said.

For Case, the amount — no matter how small — proves net metered customers are not self-sufficient and rely on their neighbors to foot a portion of their bill. 

“If nobody had net metering, there would be no cost shift, no subsidies,” Case said.

Case explained the cost shift occurs because private power companies wrap many of their infrastructure costs into the variable fees that net metering customers avoid paying by using credits earned through generation of their own power.

“In the utility industry, when you buy electricity, part of the price per kilowatt hour covers the energy,” Case explained. “But two-thirds of the amount per kilowatt hour covers fixed costs, including transmission lines, power plants and the other costs.”

Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson Spencer Hall said all the power company’s customers pay an interconnection fee, about $20 a month, but that only covers the maintenance of transmission lines, not necessarily additional infrastructure costs.

While the OCA report indicated fewer than 1,000 of the 200,000 customers served by the power companies studied used net metering, Case said that number could grow as people become more carbon conscious, increasing the potential subsidy to regular customers exponentially.

“There’s a lot of commitment here by people putting their own money on the line to make the planet a better place,” Case said. “These are very good people here. They’re very motivated. And, they really don’t believe there’s a subsidy, or if they do, they think it’s offset by them combatting carbon.”

Batteries required

Because the net metered customers are using renewable energy sources, they produce less power at night and during the winter, Case said.

“You might think net metering customers reduce cost on the system, because they are generating,” he said. “But the trouble is they don’t produce all the time.”

During those lulls, Case explained the power companies are experiencing the same problems, so they switch over to providing energy through other means, such as coal-fired power plants.

Essentially, net metered customers create a surplus of power when the company needs it least, generating credits to buy power back when it is most costly for the company to create, he said.

Bloomberg said power companies are installing more solar and wind power generation facilities, which would be counter-intuitive to Case’s peak-time usage argument.

“The reality is these industries are switching to solar and wind, because it makes financial sense,” he said. “There’s less costs associated with natural gas, solar and wind.”

According to Hall, Rocky Mountain Power is the largest renewable energy producer in the West.

“Once you build the windmill, you don’t have to pay for the wind and the sun,” he explained. “That’s a real value to our customers.”

But Hall said the company’s coal generation fleet still ramps up when needed.

“Coal generation is still an important part of our fleet,” he said. “But certainly, the future is renewables and low emissions.”

One of the reasons the power company can rely on renewable energy is the developing field of battery technology.

“Right now, battery technology is still expensive, and most folks can’t afford to incorporate that into their (net metered) system,” Hall said. “A lot of people think when they see those windmills turning, they are storing energy. That’s not the case.”

Because they can’t store the power, it is pushed onto the grid, Case said.

“When I’m producing excess electricity, the utility has to take it,” he explained. “It can’t stop it. So the utility will reduce its other sources of power, which are sometimes cheaper.”

As long as that remains the situation, Case there will be a call for net metering reforms.

Taco John’s to open satellite office in Minneapolis

in News
Taco Johns
2465

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Taco John’s is expanding its corporate office to Minnesota, the restaurant’s president and CEO announced Monday morning. 

At a press conference, Jim Creel told reporters that the Cheyenne-based corporation will open a satellite office in Minneapolis. He stated that the idea to expand came about two years ago when he instituted a strategic planning process. 

During that process, the company’s board of directors agreed that the expansion should be inside the restaurant’s existing area of operation, which would allow for the greatest potential of growth. Since there are more than 200 Taco John’s locations within a few hours drive from Minneapolis, the board felt expanding to that area made the most sense. 

“This is an exciting time for Taco John’s,” Creel said in a news release. “We have taken a number of steps over the past two years to lay the foundation for expansion. In order for it to take place, we decided that we needed to have a presence where it was all happening.” 

Creel told Cowboy State Daily that he expected the satellite office to open in March 2020, with around 15 staffers holding down the fort. Only a few employees from the Cheyenne headquarters will make the transition to the Minnesota, with most of the rest being new hires. 

“When we’re driving from Cheyenne to Denver to fly out to Minneapolis, we’re losing most of the day,” he told CSD. “It’s the same when we return. The chain will benefit from having our people out working with the franchisees more consistently.” 

With the announcement, Creel said he’s had potential franchisees contact him about opening new locations in the Minneapolis area.  

While some franchisee-oriented departments will be centered in Minneapolis, most of the corporation will continue to be headquartered in Cheyenne, since that’s where the restaurant chain was founded more than 50 years ago. Creel added that the impact of the expansion to the Cheyenne headquarters would be minimal and should only last for a short time. 

“Concurrently, it makes good business sense for departments that provide direct franchisee support to be located where the majority of the franchisees and future franchisees are located,” he said in his news release. 

Taco John’s recent successes made the opportunity for expansion much easier, with a new menu and restaurant redesign that’s soon to be  adopted across the country. The store on Cheyenne’s South Greeley Highway was the first to feature this prototype.  

Creel added that he expected expansion in the Cheyenne headquarters would occur at some point in the future, but he said it was too early to specify what changes might take place.

However, Creel did note that he thinks there will be around 15 new stores opening in 2020 and 20 opening the following year, a rapid growth compared to the company’s normal opening schedule. Creel stated that the ultimate goal for Taco John’s is to have around 500 to 600 stores in the country. Right now, the company is looking to expand in cities including Kansas City, Missouri, Omaha, Nebraska, St. Louis and certain cities in Kentucky. 

Currently, Taco John’s operates and franchises around 400 stores in 23 states.

“We wouldn’t have been able to expand had we not put together back-to-back outstanding years,” he said in the news release. “I have been with Taco John’s for 20 years now and I haven’t seen excitement like this in the franchisee community.”

On Bone Broth, and Coexistence

in Agriculture/Cat Urbigkit/Column
Guardian dogs
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The morning after Thanksgiving our house was once again filled with the smell of cooking turkey. But this time it was because we were boiling the carcass remains from the previous day’s feast. The bones are placed in the garbage once the broth is complete, but we pour the bone broth with chunks of meat in canning jars for reheating and pouring over the kibble of our working livestock guardian dogs on cold winter mornings.

Bones from a beef roast, leg of lamb, or leftover bird carcass all provide for delicious bone broth that can be used to make soup, but we like providing a nutrition boost for hard-working dogs and females raising pups.

livestock guardian dogs

On Thanksgiving we got the turkey in the oven before daylight and proceeded to outside chores at the first welcoming rays of light. The sheep were still on their bedground with their dogs, so we went across the ranch to check our game cameras, a vital part of our wolf monitoring program.

Fresh wolf tracks in new snow confirmed that wolves had paid an early-morning visit to our sheep range – their third nocturnal visit in a week. A resident female wolf that we helped radio collar a year ago has mostly kept to herself, but after we eliminated her mate a few months ago, she’s brought in another large male to the ranch, and their excursions are becoming more frequent. This male wolf’s track is large and distinct, and I suspect it’s the elusive male we had trouble with last fall and winter.

After we lost our two top guardian dogs, the male had become emboldened, and as I checked the cameras every morning, I would find his tracks atop my boot prints from the day before. As I tracked the wolf, he tracked me, marking and tearing up the ground where I walked, and he began coming to the rocks behind the house. He avoided the cameras, approaching them from behind, until one night in a fit of rage last November he attacked a camera, taking 85 selfies in the process.

That’s when we spooled up the guardian dogs, penned and fed the sheep, and set out wolf traps. After splitting up his pack, the male disappeared from our range. It had been quiet since I’d last come across his sign, but looking at those fresh tracks in the snow, it’s with a tense familiarity.

We follow the wolf tracks through the area our sheep flock grazed the day prior and see where the wolves and the guardian dogs each marked the same territorial boundary. The sheep and their dogs use the area during the day before being pushed toward the house every afternoon. The wolves wait until darkness falls across the range before moving in to explore where the sheep had spent the day.

Two nights ago, the wind-driven snow pushed the flock into the protected cover in the bottom of Sheep Creek. We tracked the wolves up the drainage to within a half-mile of the flock as they moved in response to the sheep movement below. The tracks in the snow left by the wolves, the guardians, and the sheep, lays out the reality of coexistence on the ground. The wolves are nearby, but are currently maintaining a certain distance.

It’s been a hard-fought coexistence. We deferred grazing this range one year and a pack of six wolves took over the range as their own. When we moved in the next year, the wolf pack come within a quarter-mile of the house and our penned sheep, causing massive brawls between the warring canine cousins. The wolves killed pronghorn antelope and mule deer within half-mile of the house, and the pack lounged atop the rocky ridge overlooking our headquarters, as our guardian dogs struggled to widen the territory of protected space. We had guardian dogs injured and killed, dozens of sheep injured and killed, and we’ve injured and killed wolves.

The sheep flock has its own guardian dogs that move with the flock as it grazes, as do the cattle, and we also have a guardian dog pack that controls the area around the ranch headquarters and pens. The wolves are no longer able to roam the ridge overlooking the house because that territory has been taken by the guardian dogs.

The biggest risk is to the sheep, with their smaller size and ever-changing grazing pattern. The livestock guardian dogs have managed to impose a restricted buffer of protection around the flock, but we know that any weakness of the dog pack – or any strengthening of the wolf pack –will cause this uneasy coexistence to end. 

So we prepare the bone broth, to boost our working dogs on cold winter mornings, to nourish them for whatever may lie ahead.

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.

Wyoming opens avenues for cryptobanking

in News
Bitcoin bank
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Division of Banking is working to finalize the first two applications for a new type of bank: Special Purpose Depository Institutions (SPDI) or “speedy banks,” which will specialize in transactions involving cryptocurrency.

Providing financial services for the modern age, SPDIs could facilitate transactions with cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, and access to cryptographic keys. 

Chris Land, general counsel for Wyoming’s Banking Division, said the agency is the chartering authority for the new banks, which were made possible by legislation earlier this year.

“Once an application is filed, the chartering process takes six to nine months, which is the same as any other bank,” Land wrote in an email, adding the first applicants filed in October. “During this time, we’ll review their applications closely and determine whether they have a proposal that meets our high standards and doesn’t present significant risks to the state or national financial system.”

Despite Wyoming typically trailing national trends, the state is paving the way for SPDIs, said Caitlin Long, a member of the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition.

“We’ve done this at least twice before — we did it 150 years ago when we gave women the right to vote,” Long said. “And Wyoming invented the Limited Liability Company in 1977, which is the most prominent form of business entity in the United States today.”

Other states are taking note. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told Gov. Mark Gordon, “You guys are leading the way on blockchain, and I’m coming for you,” Gordon’s senior policy adviser Renny Mackay told the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Committee on Minerals, Business and Economic Development.

Long said kudos are owed to the policy makers. 

“Other states are behind the curve, because they just haven’t had someone roll up their sleeves and do it,” she explained. “We really needed new economic ideas in Wyoming, and both Gov. Matt Mead and Gov. Gordon got behind this. Legislative leadership recognized this is an opportunity for us to truly lead, and hat’s off to them. They did it.”

Clarifying ownership

SPDI facilities most likely won’t resemble traditional banking institutions, Long said. 

“The average person won’t even know it’s a bank,” she said. “It’s really there to provide custody of access to the cryptographic keys.”

Unlike a typical digital password, private cryptographic keys are a type of password that can’t be changed used to lock or unlock cryptographic functions such as authentication, authorization and encryption. 

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said companies attempting to conduct their finances with cryptocurrencies encountered several obstacles in their day-to-day business operations, creating a need for the SPDIs. 

“We put together the legislative framework for SPDI banks based on concerns of federal regulations and statutes that were challenging for innovative companies to overcome,” Rothfuss explained. “They were dealing with these challenges when they were just trying to bank, things like make payroll for their employees.”

Although cryptocurrency has a negative reputation for being hard to track — thus, the currency of the criminal underworld — Long said the opposite was true.

“I came across cryptocurrency in 2012 when I was working on Wall Street,” she said. “When we put money in (a traditional) bank account, we technically are lending the bank that money, and they may or may not pay it back to us. I wanted to be able to own my assets outright.”

On the stock exchange, bookkeeping can be inaccurate as Dole Food Company shareholders discovered in 2015 when more than 4,500 shareholders submitted claims for nearly 50 million company shares, despite the fact only about 36 million existed. Cryptocurrency, on the other hand, allows people to accurately track their assets.

“With cryptocurrency, it’s very clear who owns the asset,” Long said. “If you control the private cryptographic key, which is what enables you to move the asset, then you own the asset.”

Land said law enforcement agencies are catching up to the technology and using cryptocurrency data to track down criminal organizations.

“As long you follow the data, you’ll be able to trace where the asset goes, and where it’s coming from with a higher degree of certainty than you would have with large amounts of cash,” he said. “There’s a lot of software products out there that specialize in bringing transparency to the digital asset markets.”

Bipartisan tech

As with most new technologies, cryptobanking has a potential for hiccups.

“There’s always a risk, because it’s innovation,” Land said. “I’m literally spending 90 percent of my time trying to mitigate those risks. In case one of the banks fail, we have policies and procedures and resources to ensure it doesn’t cost the state money.”

Making sure SPDIs don’t cost taxpayers money while providing a “net benefit” to the state is a top priority for the division, he added.

“We’re trying to control the known unknowns,” Land said.

Wyoming has more laws regulating blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrency, than any other state in the nation, he said.

According to Rothfuss, Wyoming jumped to the head of the financial technology pack when Mead created the Blockchain Taskforce in 2018.

“This is an emergent field in financial technology that does not have a lot of robust governance structures around the country or world,” he said. “There were a lot of industry advocates trying to get some time with any government. They found a receptive ear in the blockchain task force and people flew in from all over the world.”

Despite growing divisions between political parties nationwide, Rothfuss said penning legislation for the growing sector has been a bipartisan effort.

“This is an area where we fortunately do have a tremendous amount of support from both sides of the aisle,” he said. “This is an area where everyone — regardless of party, regardless of branch — wants to see a path forward to success.”

Although the foundation was laid, but Rothfuss said Legislature has more work ahead.

“Much like with the LLC, you learn from experience, you amend the statutes to improve the functionality of that entity,” he explained.  “We’ll be doing much the same thing as time goes forward with SPDI banks.”

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