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Wyoming Legislator Says Bill Prohibiting Gun Buyback Programs is “Goofy”

in News/politics
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

A bill submitted to the Wyoming Legislature would prevent cities, towns, counties and state agencies from initiating gun and ammunition buyback programs.

There hasn’t been a gun or ammo buyback program in Wyoming in recent memory, if ever.

But House Bill 28 comes at a time when buyback programs have been discussed and tried in other parts of the United States. Gun rights enthusiasts became concerned when Beto O’Rourke, the one-time Democratic presidential candidate, proposed a buyback of high-powered rifles.

“It’s not really a concern right now, but if it is ever a concern where organizations such as government — whether it’s local or state — are starting to do this in Wyoming, I want to make it as painful as possible to be able to peel back our pro-gun legislation,” said sponsor Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance.

Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said he agreed to co-sponsor the bill because he wants to protect the Second Amendment.

“My thinking on it, when I read the bill, is it’s a gun rights thing for me,” he said. “I don’t think government should get involved in going in and confiscating someone’s firearms under the Second Amendment.”

However, Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, called the bill “goofy.”

She noted that the 2020 legislative session will be focused on the budget, and lawmakers are staring at diminishing revenues this year.

Non-budget legislation will need a vote of two-thirds of either the House or Senate before it can even be sent to a committee, a protocol designed to defeat many bills to keep the lawmakers focused on the two-year budget bill.

“I think our budget is in crisis,” Burlingame said. “We’re going into a budget session that’s meant to be all-hands-on-deck to deal with it. I would never question the motives of my colleagues who are sponsoring this, but I just don’t see the urgency for spending time in a budget year for a hypothetical crisis that seems very unlikely to occur.”

The legislative session begins Feb. 10.

Wisconsin High Schooler Asks Legislators: “Does Wyoming Exist?”

in News/politics
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By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

The email sent to the 60 members of the state Legislature could have been ironic, maybe even a little condescending — coming from a Wisconsin high school senior who claimed his Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics teacher had asked him and his classmates to prove that Wyoming does not exist. 

“If you, as a State Assembly Member, could confirm that the State of Wyoming does not exist, this would be extremely helpful in our endeavor,” the teenager wrote. 

The wisecracks get old – about Wyoming not existing on the map, Wyoming having more horse than car parking, Wyoming having a higher population driving along Interstate 80 to exit the state than people who call it home. 

Transcending the impulse to hit the delete key, Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, turned the question back at the Wisconsinite: “How can we know any of us exist?” she replied.

“In the great state of Wyoming our AP students have been exposed to Plato and his concept of the Great Plane of Being,” she continued. “I don’t mean to cast aspersions on your fine school but I can’t assume that you’re familiar, as you would be had you attended a school whose state consistently ranks in the top 10 nationally.”

Ultimately, the point of Burlingame’s four-paragraph argument was that it’s impossible for people to prove with certainty that they exist. And if someone were to take the argument to its logical conclusion, the Wisconsin high school student is off the hook for his assignment. 

“If none of us really exists, then why does he have to do his homework?” Burlingame later said. “He doesn’t.”

Burlingame described the all-too-common feeling of defensiveness of her beloved home, and the angst when other people try to describe it. 

The director of Wyoming Equality, Burlingame has been asked if she’s been to “Brokeback, Wyoming.”

“This is probably true about most Wyomingites,” she said. “I have a little chip on my shoulder about, ‘Don’t feel bad about your state, you could be in Wyoming.’ Or, ‘Is there anything there?’ What teacher thought this was a good idea for a school kid to be snotty about a small, rural state?”

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, chose a reply that was not extremely helpful to the Wisconsin student’s endeavor. 

“It’s actually true,” he said. “We’re a government conspiracy. I’m in a bunker outside the D.C. area. Just don’t tell anyone.”

Zwonitzer then attached a video from the “Garfield” cartoon

“There’s no such place as Wyoming,” the orange cat says, pointing to a map of the state. “Think about it: Have you ever met anyone from Wyoming?”

Burlingame chose to end her reply on a serious note — with a Wyoming plug. 

“PS- You should check out the University of Wyoming – it’s a solid school, highly ranked and our constitution mandates that it be as close to free as possible. http://www.uwyo.edu.” 

Wyoming Beef: Big Marketing Opportunities with Farm-to-Table Movement

in Agriculture/News
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Cattle outnumber people nearly two-to-one in Wyoming, but buying beef identified as locally raised can be a challenge, a Wyoming Stock Growers Association spokesperson said.

“These animals often get shipped out as calves, and they might even come back as yearlings, but they lose their identity as Wyoming beef,” said Jim Magagna, the Stock Growers Association’s executive vice president. “You may have eaten a lot of them throughout your life, but you’d never know it.”

A trickle-down affect of the farm-to-table trend is an American curiosity about where food comes from and a desire to consume locally produced vittles. This curiosity is increasing the demand for both small and large meat processors in Wyoming, Magagna said.

“I don’t know that (beef processing) was ever less common,” he said. “We’ve always had a good array of small processors throughout the state. But we’ve never really had processing on a level where we were providing volume of product.”

That could soon change.

Niche demand

Up until two years ago, Magagna said Wyoming didn’t have any beef processors inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture. 

State-inspected facilities can ship products throughout Wyoming, but not across state lines. USDA-inspected facilities can ship their products anywhere within the U.S. and internationally.

Nowadays, the state is home to two USDA-approved facilities, another is transitioning from state-inspected to USDA-inspected and two more are in the construction phase, said Ron Gullberg, the Wyoming Business Council business development director.

“In 2018, the ag marketing bill — Senate File No. 108 — looked at the data saying Wyoming beef is a dominant industry, but it’s not a value-added industry,” Gullberg said. “It’s a commodity industry. So, we’re looking at how we can work to develop strategies to bolster processing in Wyoming.”

Last summer, the Business Council initiated a beef study that could provide beef producers and processors information essential to capitalizing on Wyoming branded beef products, he said.

“We’re asking the question, ‘How big can we go to fill a niche demand for Wyoming beef?’” Gullberg said. “(The study) has  three parts: Market opportunities,  opportunities for offal or byproducts of the processing, and workforce.”

The study is slated to be completed within a few weeks, but not everyone is waiting for the results.

Homefront processing

Born and raised in northeast Wyoming, Kelsey Christiansen grew up around meat processing.

“When I was young, my dad and grandfather ran a small butcher shop,” Christiansen said. “That caught my interest, then in college, I got a job working at the meat lab at the University of Wyoming. That really pulled it all together for me.”

With 15 years of experience in meat processing, Christiansen decided to open his own USDA-inspected meat processing plant — the 307 Meat Company in Laramie.

“If we’re one of the leading cattle-producing states in the nation, then we should be able to eat our own meat,” he said. “Most all the cattle leave the state to be harvested. Hopefully, we’re making a move to change that.”

The plant is not operational yet, but Christiansen said he plans to open its doors this spring. 

“My main focus of my business plan is to be a service company and a private label company,” he explained. “Whether you have a 100 head of cattle or 15, you can bring them to us, and we’ll process them and put your labels on them exactly how you want.” 

While most ranchers send their cattle out-of-state to large-scale processors, because shipping in bulk is more economical, Christiansen said there is a growing interest in small-scale operations.

“There is a massive shortage in small meat processors to do work for the little man,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for Wyoming and the beef industry as a whole. I think you’re going to see a change in dynamic across the state with a couple more processors coming on line in the near future.”

Governor Gordon Will Support New Lodging Tax to Promote Tourism

in News/politics/Tourism
Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal
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Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

“I can support it,” Governor Mark Gordon said when asked if he can get behind the concept of a statewide lodging tax to fund the future of tourism.

Gordon was addressing the members of the Wyoming Press Association during that group’s annual meeting in Casper.

“This is an important step for the tourism industry, and I support that industry,” he said.

Tourism is the state’s second largest industry behind energy production and has more employees, 33,000, than any other industry.

Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

The new lodging tax proposal contains the following items:

• New title- Wyoming Tourism Account Funding.
• Joint Appropriations Committee sponsored bill
• Imposes a 5% statewide lodging tax (3% dedicated to tourism 2% guaranteed and replaces existing 2% local option lodging tax)
• Up to additional 2% local option lodging tax can be renewed every 4 years but would be vote of governing local government (city council or county commissioners depending if city or county wide tax) instead of vote of the electorate.
• State parks overnight camping would be subject to the tax (except annual resident camping passes, state fair campgrounds and county fair campgrounds- they would all be exempt)
• 80% of the 3% that is dedicated to tourism would be deposited into the newly created tourism account and shall be spent on Wyoming Office of Tourism/Wyoming Tourism Board (subject to legislative approval before spending every year)
• Remaining 20% would be deposited into newly created tourism reserve account. (Subject to legislative approval before spending every year) No more “tipping point”
• Local option lodging tax permissible expenditures amended to include “digital content, social media, staging of events, educational materials and other tourism related objectives including those identified as likely to facilitate tourism or enhance the visitor experience”
• The Bill, if passed, effective January 1, 2021
• Thresholds for when lodging tax shifts from 90/10 to 60/30/10 updated to 2020 dollar values (nothing changes, the thresholds have always been tied to the cost of living index and so thresholds are simply updated to what they are in 2020-they remain tied to index moving forward)
• All existing local option lodging taxes stay in place until their next scheduled election.

Farm Bureau Provides Tips for Tackling Springtime Ag Challenges

in Agriculture/News
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Spring is fraught with dangers for Wyoming’s agriculture producers, but networking and planning can help farmers and ranchers mitigate the worst mother nature has to offer, a Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation spokesperson said.

“The biggest challenge come spring is the weather,” said Brett Moline, the Farm Bureau public affairs director. “You have to be prepared for anything, because you’ll just never know what you’ll have year to year.”

As a reminder for old hands and a guide for the new ranchers, Moline provided a list of Wyoming ag producers biggest springtime hurdles and tips on how to clear them.

Problem: Calving in a Storm

For many ranchers, Moline said spring is a time of new life and the frailty it presents.

“Spring is the typical birthing season,” he explained. “But big storms and high winds can be a pretty big problem.”

Upon exiting the womb, newborns can struggle to keep their body temperatures up if the animals don’t have proper wind breaks and shelter.

“When they get wet, they can’t get dried off and warmed up,” Moline said. “They come out of something that’s 95 to 100 degrees to something that’s 10 degrees — that’s pretty shocking, and many don’t recover.”

Solution: Break the wind

Out on the range, shelter can come in several sizes and shapes from dense shrubbery to sizable structures.

“Most ranchers will run their first calf heifers through a barn,” Moline said. “It may not be heated, but it’s out of the wind and that’s half the battle sometimes.”

In areas with dense shrubbery and tree coverage, ranchers can use the landscape to protect the young, but not all pastures are created equal.  

“On the high plains around Laramie County, ranchers don’t have a lot of natural shelter,” Moline explained. “People will build wind breaks to make sure the calves have the best chance.”

Alternatively, some producers push their calving season back until around July to avoid the snow season altogether, he said.

Problem: Predators

Coyotes and wolves looking for a meal after a long winter can pose a significant threat to shepherds with lambing sheep, and in some cases, cattle as well.

“Predation will always be a problem,” Moline said. “I don’t think there is a solution that eliminates predation, but that’s not the goal. Ranchers just want to keep their predation loss down enough to allow them to still be economically sustainable.”

Coyotes cause real problems for sheep herds, especially during the lambing season. Cattle, on the other hand, present more of a problem to themselves when predators are on the prowl.

“I had a rancher tell me he didn’t think he’d ever lost a calf to a coyote,” Moline said. “But, he lost several to their mothers stepping on them when trying to defend against coyotes.”

Solution: Work with Local and State Agencies

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and county predator boards are excellent resources for dealing with predation, Moline said.

“Some county predator boards will locate the coyotes’ territory, fly over and take out some coyotes before birthing season,” he said. “For sheepmen, guard dogs are a good measure.”

Sheep dogs raised with the herd can reduce attrition caused by predation.

For cattle, the window of vulnerability is relatively small.

“Once a calf gets a few days old, a coyote isn’t going to be too much of a problem,” Moline said. “The trick is making sure they are safe those first few days.”ttps://wyagric

Problem: Balancing the Water Supply

Spring is planting season, and too much precipitation can be just as harmful as too little, Moline explained.

“It’s got to be dry enough to get a tractor in there, but you don’t want it too dry — it’s all about that balance,” he said. “If your planting is delayed, your harvest is going to be delayed, then you start worrying about snow again.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture determined too much precipitation was the cause of a recent irrigation tunnel collapse in Goshen County, which cut water off to hundreds of farmers on thousands of acres in Wyoming and Nebraska.

Solution: Preparation and Networking

Keeping an eye on the snowpack report can help producers predict how much irrigation they’ll need, Moline said.

“Listening to the weather report is big for ag producers,” he said. “They need to figure out what works best for them. But I think that’s what makes producers such a unique community. Ranchers and farmers always look at a problem and figure out how to adapt.”

For too much water, Moline said the best a farmer can do is wait it out and hope for the sun to shine.

For too little, planning ahead and adjusting crops to suit the availability of irrigation could prevent a lot of heartache, he said.

“Work with your neighbors — networking is key,” Moline said. “Together, you can make a plan to address each situation as it comes.”

Northwest College Adds Video Gaming (eSports) as Competitive Sport

in Education/News
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

When thinking of competitive college activities, sports usually comes to mind.

But Northwest College is looking to increase its enrollment by offering a new sanctioned competitive program — video gaming.

According to a report by Goldman Sachs, Esports — or competitive video gaming — is more popular now than major league baseball. Entire stadiums are being constructed to lure fans and gamers to the booming billion-dollar industry.

Brian Erickson,  athletic director for Northwest College, said the college is banking on the popularity of Esports to boost enrollment numbers. 

“What do college kids do these days? They’re not throwing a frisbee, they’re not throwing the football anymore,” he said. “What are they doing on their time off? Well, they’re in their room and they’re gaming. So let’s get them out of their rooms, let’s get them in this facility gaming with each other, to give them a different interaction.”

Erickson said he was able to apply for a grant through Northwest’s college foundation to begin funding the activity, which he said won’t be very expensive compared to other sports.

“It will really only cost about $10,000 a year to run the whole thing,” he said, “and we’re already out there trying to get sponsors.”

He said Northwest is the first Wyoming school to offer e-sports as a sanctioned activity.

Once established, NWC players will be competing in Powell against teams from all over the country. For example, if they play against a team from Florida, NWC competitors would be playing from Powell and Florida players would be playing from their campus.

Erickson said a group formed for college e-gaming, the National Association of Collegiate Esports, has 178 teams as members, with competitors playing 15 different games.

When NWC’s program is up and running, its students will play regional and national teams. 

“League of Legends, Rocket League, Fortnite are the ones we’ll probably start with,” Erickson said.

Erickson said the program is just getting off the ground, starting with a “club” for the existing players this spring. The college will then recruit for a full Esports program for the fall semester. 

“We’ve got to do a really good job of marketing, that Northwest College has an Esports team,” he said. 

Erickson explained that the NACE has recruiting websites where potential students can log in and upload their profiles. He said there could be international students interested in attending Northwest College to game.

Before they begin, though, there are logistics to be tackled.

“We’re moving forward with the facility right now,” he said, spreading his arms inside a large empty room in one of the classroom buildings on the NWC campus. “We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the Internet connection that can run these games, then get the computers.”

Erickson said the school is looking to recruit 30 to 40 new students going into next year. If the recruiting drive is successful, he said it would halt the downward trend in enrollment the college has seen over the last few years. 

He added NWC hopes to have scholarship money available for potential students in the next three or four years. 

“One of our missions for the college is to retain and recruit,” he said. “We’re trying to keep our students here, and get our enrollment numbers back up.”

Five Fun Ways to Enjoy Wyoming’s Winter

in News/Recreation/Tourism
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Weathering Wyoming winters can wear down even the most resilient Wyomingites, but hidden within the snow and wind is a veritable “wonderland” of recreation, a Wyoming Office of Tourism spokesperson said.

“I think winter in Wyoming is great, because it’s so accessible,” said Piper Singer, an Office of Tourism public relations and media manager. “There’s not just one spot for winter recreation and getting to those activities is usually a short drive from wherever you’re staying.”

Listed below, the Office of Tourism suggested some winter activities to help residents and visitors break a bad case of cabin fever.

Winter rodeo

February is a lame duck for economic development in northeastern Wyoming.

But in 2019, Sheridan Travel and Tourism Executive Director Shawn Parker decided to shake up the city in the most Wyoming way ever — a ski rodeo.

“I worked with the WYO Rodeo Board and the city engineer to put together something crazy for the slowest spending day of the year,” Parker said. “The result was Sheridan Winter Rodeo.”

The main attraction — skiijoring — combines horseback riding and skiing in a mad dash for the finish line.

“Skiijoring is a sport where a horse and rider tow a skier or snowboarder along a snow-covered course with jumps and obstacles, competing for fastest time,” Parker explained. 

The event was a success last year, drawing thousands, and this year, he said the organizers are stepping it up a notch.

“We’re adding Nordic skiing and fat biking the weekend before the rodeo,” Parker said. “And we’re extending the rodeo a full day to give all the (skiijoring) teams an opportunity to compete.”

Scheduled for Feb. 15-23, the event is quickly growing in popularity, but he said visitor lodging is still readily available.

“Not a lot else is going on, so people will probably be able to easily find a room,” Parker said. “But, the rodeo is becoming such a big hit that people will want to think about booking ahead to get the best accommodations.” 

Hot springs

When the weather outside is frightful, visit the hot springs in Thermopolis, Singer said.

“It’s in a central location with great options for lodging and dining,” she said. “With the Hot Springs State Park, not only can you soak in the natural hot springs, but you’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from great opportunities for watching wildlife.”

Home to bison among other native wildlife species, the park boasts a free bath house, allowing visitors to bask in nature’s hot tub with water temperatures averaging about 104 degrees.

“It’s a charming town, and it definitely has that Western feel so many people come to experience,” Singer said. “Plus, for many, it’s on the way to Yellowstone National Park. It really is one of Wyoming’s hidden gems.”

While the park’s public restrooms, drinking systems and outdoor pool are closed during the winter, the bath house is open year round.

National parks

The Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks are as synonymous to Wyoming as the Statue of Liberty is to New York, but some people miss out on the opportunities these destinations offer during the winter, Singer said.

“Both parks are open throughout the year, but for Yellowstone, you’ll need snow coach transportation to get there,” she explained. “There are several companies located at either entrance people can book rides with.” 

Exploring the parks in the off-season grants visitors an opportunity to see nature’s splendor through a different lens, Singer added.

“In many cases, it’s even easier to see the wildlife in the winter,” Singer said. “There’s several guides and outfitters that offer winter tours.” 

Lodging is available in Yellowstone, but Grand Teton National Park is accessible via a day pass only.

“It’s absolutely beautiful and a whole different world up there in the winter,” Singer said. 

Skiing, sledding, snowshoeing 

For just the price of a cold, wet backside, sliding down a snowy hill is perhaps the most affordable and memorable winter activity in the history of mankind, closely followed by snowball fights and snow sculptures.

But at some point, the neighborhood sledding hill just isn’t enough, and that’s where Wyoming shines brightest, Singer said.

“Jackson is internationally known as a world-renowned ski destination, but we have high-quality skiing in nearly every corner of the state,” she said.

In the southeast, Snowy Range Ski Area offers numerous downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails about 30 minutes  from Laramie. Eleven miles from Casper in central Wyoming, Hogadon Basin Ski Area features 28 machine-groomed trails, two lifts and minimal lift lines. On the Western side of the state, Pinedale is home to one of Wyoming’s oldest ski destinations: White Pine Ski Area. And, to the North near Cody, Sleeping Giant Ski Area and Antelope Butte Ski Area provide Rocky Mountain skiing opportunities without the hassle and long wait-times common to ski resorts south of the Wyoming border. 

With snow flying during as many as nine months a year, Singer said the state boasts numerous state parks and public lands for residents and visitors to discover their own trails via cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Snowmobiling

For those with a need for speed, snowmobiling combines the petrol-fueled antics of off-road motor sports with the ability to visit awe-inspiring landscapes previously inaccessible without spending days or weeks slogging through the snow.

Mike Gray, the Laramie Area Visitor Center operations manager, said interest in Wyoming’s snowmobile trails has significantly grown during the last decade.

“Albany County sells the most snowmobile permits of any county throughout the state,” Gray said, explaining permit sales is the primary method for tracking the sport’s popularity. “We’ve definitely seen an upward trend in recent years, too. I think it’s because the Snowy Range is the perfect backdrop for spending a day on the sled.”

Albany County is home to 200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and about 120 of un-groomed trails, he added.

Farther north and east, Singer said snowmobilers can follow trails for hundreds of miles along the Continental Divide. 

“The Black Hills area near Sundance is another nice area to ride,” she added. “They have a 295-mile trail that loops through South Dakota, which is a great way to see some of the state’s greatest offerings like Devil’s Tower.”

Whether on horseback, snowmobile, skis or snowshoes, Wyoming is a frozen theme park for outdoor enthusiasts.

“All of these activities come together to create a unique winter wonderland that is sure to have people coming back year after year,” Singer said.

Wyoming Attorney General Declines to Sign Letter Condemning Impeachment

in News/politics
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill did not sign a letter condemning President Donald Trump’s impeachment because she wants to remain impartial in her role as an appointed public servant, she said.

“As an appointed, not elected, attorney general, it is important to me that I remain impartial in matters that may be viewed as political or having a political component,” Hill wrote in an email. “My position is not elected and is not based on a political campaign.”

Republican attorneys general from 21 states signed a letter sent to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, which said the impeachment process “threatens all future elections and establishes a dangerous historical precedent.”

The new precedent set by the impeachment could erode the separation of powers between the nation’s legislative and executive branches, the letter opined.

Hill wrote that her duties as attorney general are to focus on legal matters alone, so she would not to join what may be seen as a politically motivated rebuke.

“In addition to actually remaining impartial, it is important that I maintain an appearance of impartiality so that the citizens of Wyoming know that my decisions are based on legal factors alone and not my personal political views,” Hill wrote.  “In this instance, the letter in question was only from Republican attorneys general and thus had the potential to create the appearance that it had a political component to it.”

Hill wrote her decision not to sign the letter is not a personal statement, nor an indicator of her stance on the impeachment.

“Nor should my not signing the letter be viewed as agreement or disagreement with the contents and legal points in the letter,” Hill wrote. “My decision was based solely on the potential for this letter to be viewed as me making a political statement, which as an appointed attorney general I refrain from making.”

Hill was joined by four other Republican attorneys general, who did not sign the letter from Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire and North Dakota.

Attorneys General who signed the letter:
Alan Wilson, South Carolina
Jeff Landry, Louisiana
Sean Reyes, Utah
Steve Marshall, Alabama
Curtis Hill, Indiana
Kevin Clarkson, Alaska
Derek Schmidt, Kansas
Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas
Daniel Cameron, Kentucky
Ashley Moody, Florida
Douglas Peterson, Nebraska
Christopher M. Carr, Georgia
Lynn Fitch, Mississippi
Eric Schmitt, Missouri
Jason Ravsborg, South Dakota
Tim Fox, Montana
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Tennessee
Dave Yost, Ohio
Ken Paxton, Texas
Mike Hunter, Oklahoma
Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia

Wolf Pups Killed on Road Became Used to Humans, Officials Say

in News/wildlife
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

To many in northern and western Wyoming, wolves are now a part of everyday life. Ranchers, wildlife enthusiasts, backcountry hikers and Sunday drivers are conscious of the presence of wolves – even if they can’t be seen.

In November, two wolves in Yellowstone National Park were hit by a vehicle. 

The pair of black wolf pups from the Junction Butte Pack, one of the most visible packs in the Park, were struck on the road between the park’s northeast entrance and Tower Junction. 

According to park officials, the pups had become habituated to humans due to a number of hikers who violated the required 100-yard barrier between people and wolves. Because they had grown accustomed to humans, the pups had several close encounters with visitors – which eventually led to their deaths, as they started spending more time near the highway. Officials said they attempted to haze the wolves away from human hangouts, but were unsuccessful.

Ken Mills is a large carnivore biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department who focuses on the state’s wolf population. He said officials don’t often have to use hazing, because the animals tend to shy away from humans.

“We have tools such as cracker shells shot out of a shotgun or a specific cracker shell gun that explode and make noise, and we use those to haze different species,” he explained. “We do have available what we call ‘turbo fladry,’ which is an electrified single strand wire fence with red flags hanging off it, and those can be effective to keep wolves out of specific areas, say, a calving pasture. We’ve used flashing lights before.

“Any sort of negative interaction with a person would scare a wolf away,” he added.

Yellowstone National Park biologists report that there were at least 80 wolves in nine packs living primarily in the park at the end of December, 2018. 

According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, that number is included in the total estimate of 286 wolves that reside within the state’s borders – which is down significantly from the 2017 count of 347, and is the fewest recorded since the department took over management of the species in 2012.

A total of 177 wolf mortalities were documented statewide in 2018, according to the Game and Fish Department. Mills said the decline in the population is due to a combination of factors.

“It’s partly hunting and there was some disease operating in the population, because it had been at high density for a number of years,” he said. “So that initial decrease in 2018 was from a combination of disease, from hunting, and from other human-caused mortality.”

In 2018, the Game and Fish Department implemented a wolf hunting season, with an objective of reducing the population to around 160 wolves in the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area. 

According to the 2018 annual report from the department, 90 percent of wolf deaths that year were human-caused, either through hunting, conflict control or predator control measures. The other 10 percent died of natural causes or the cause of death was unknown.

Despite the high mortality rate last year, Game and Fish reported that the wolf population is still significantly higher than the target number set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“(The 2018 count) was near our population objective, which is quite a bit higher than the minimum recovery criteria, what we’re required to maintain following de-listing,” Mills pointed out. 

While hunting allows the Game and Fish Department to control the population, the novelty of wolves being present and visible in northwest Wyoming can itself pose a danger to the animals, as demonstrated in the deaths of the wolf pups this winter.

“Visitors must protect wolves from becoming habituated to people and roads,”  said Doug Smith, Yellowstone’s senior wolf biologist. “Stay at least 100 yards from wolves, never enter a closed area, and notify a park ranger of others who are in violation of these rules.”  

Plan to Reduce Money for Student Transportation to Buses Rejected

in Education/News
2787

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

A plan that could have potentially halved the reimbursement to parents who drive their children to and from distant bus stops has been rejected by the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE).

The WDE, in a policy memo, said it would continue to reimburse parents for all four legs of a trip to take their children to bus stops before school and pick them up after.

“The Wyoming Department of Education will reimburse transportation claims for up to two round-trips per day,” WDE Chief of Staff Dicky Shanor wrote in the memo to school superintendents, principals and transportation directors. “This interpretation (of Wyoming state law) will take effect immediately for all claims submitted on Nov. 18, 2019, and thereafter.”

The policy provides reimbursement for parents, who in effect, act as the school bus for their children, providing transportation for students that school districts would otherwise be providing if schools could access remote rural areas.

Shanor confirmed the policy interpretation change in an interview with the Cowboy State Daily this week. 

“We decided to interpret it more favorably for the parents,” he said. “The whole goal is to provide the best transportation options for students. If a parent is making that round trip twice daily, it seems more prudent to allow for full reimbursement for parents to get their students where they need to be to get to school.”

Wyoming State Statute 21-4-401 states that school districts “shall provide transportation for isolated students when it is in the best interests of these students to provide transportation to existing schools, instead of establishing a new school for them.”

During the 2017-18 school year, WDE reimbursed Wyoming school districts $480,111 – $449,151 for mileage reimbursement and $30,960 for maintenance costs – for following the state’s policy isolation/maintenance payments to rural parents.

School districts with the highest student isolation/maintenance state reimbursements in the 2017-18 school year included Crook County No. 1 (Sundance/Hulett/Moorcroft), $92,699; Converse County No. 1 (Douglas), $48,543;  Natrona No. 1 (Casper), $46,968; Albany No. 1 (Laramie), $42,363, and Teton No. 1 (Jackson), $32,611.

A policy change occurred last summer when the Education Department formed a committee to review its rules. The change effectively reduced reimbursements to parents from two daily round trips to the bus stop to one round trip per day.

When the change occurred, Shanor said the justification was based on students themselves making just one trip per day — school and back home.

With that interpretation, mileage traveled by parents after dropping children off or before picking them up was not being reimbursed.

However, members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee agreed last fall that the law, in their view, was intended to provide for reimbursement for two round trips each day, and the committee requested that the WDE review the law and address the rules for isolation/maintenance reimbursements.

Shanor said WDE concurred with the legislative committee after reviewing state law and its policy, and since Nov. 18, parents making two round trips a day are being reimbursed.

“These parents are helping with the education of their children, especially in these rural areas,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

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