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Cheyenne’s Darren Rudloff Wins ‘Big Wyo’ Tourism Award

in News/Tourism
Darren Rudloff
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

The former head of Cheyenne’s tourism agency was named the winner of the top award from the state’s tourism industry Tuesday.

Darren Rudloff, former chief executive officer for Visit Cheyenne, was named winner of the “Big Wyo” Award, given to a member of the private sector who has done an outstanding job of promoting and improving the state’s tourism industry.

The award, given to Rudloff on Tuesday during the Governor’s Hospitality and Tourism Conference in Cheyenne, has been handed out annually since 1977, when it went to Harry Smith, at the time the owner of Cheyenne’s Hitching Post Inn. Other winners include Paul Smith, also a former owner of the Hitching Post Inn and Pat Sweeney, former owner of the Parkway Plaza in Casper.

Rudloff called the past winners “giants in our industry.”

“To be considered among them is truly amazing,” he said. “I don’t know if I really deserve this honor, but I’ll appreciate it and revere it for the rest of my life.”

The annual Hospitality and Tourism Conference, hosted by the Wyoming Office of Tourism and the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, ended Tuesday.

Gordon Slams FTC Attempt To Block Joint Coal Venture

in Energy/News
Mark Gordon file photo
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An attempt by a federal agency to block a joint venture between two major coal companies was criticized by Gov. Mark Gordon on Wednesday as “wrongheaded.”

Gordon’s comments came in response to the Federal Trade Commission’s decision to file an administrative complaint challenging the joint venture between Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal.

“I believe this complaint by the Federal Trade Commission is a wrongheaded attempt to drive a nail into an industry which is struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace,” he said. “It could also result in significant impacts to the workforce of the North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder coal mines.”

The two companies announced last summer they would merge their assets in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and in Colorado. The move was seen as a way to allow both companies to better compete in the ailing coal industry.

The FTC, in its complaint, alleges the transaction will eliminate competition between the two companies and lead to higher coal prices for power utilities and ultimately, energy consumers.

But Gordon said the complaint does not take into account the competitive forces already at work in the energy sector.

“Today’s energy marketplace is broad and includes wind, solar, natural gas, hydroelectric and geothermal, all of which have become more competitive since 2018,” he said. “The FTC appears to have ignored this fact and seems intent on extending the uncertainty facing coal companies in the Powder River Basin. I don’t believe the broader energy marketplace will benefit from a challenge to this merger.”

Bob Geha: Construction Coalition Pushing for Trade Legislation

in News/politics
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges are contributing to the effort to get more young residents involved in the building trades, according to the head of the Wyoming Construction Coalition.

Heidi Peterson, whose organization hosted a lunch for legislators on Monday, praised the work done to prepare students for jobs in construction.

“The university started their construction program this year, we have 62 students in it for the first year,” she said. “Then … all of the junior colleges have different programs You can go to Torrington for welding, for example, for a skills trade.”

The coalition is watching three bills making their way through the Legislature that would make some changes in the way government entities hire and pay contractors and those providing professional services, such as architects.

Bob Geha: Daylight Saving Time Bill Awaits House Review

in News/politics
Cheyenne Depot
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A measure that would allow Wyoming to stay on daylight saving time year-round has won initial approval from the state House.

House Bill 44 was approved last week by the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee and was approved in its first full review in the House on Monday.

The bill would allow Wyoming to apply to the federal government to remain on daylight savings time throughout the year, but only if Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Montana approve the same change.

Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, said the bill would eliminate the need to change time twice a year, which he said poses a safety threat.

“It just affects you when you’re getting up in the morning at a different time,” he said. “It just really hurts you, I think.”

Laursen said 12 other states are looking at the same issue, as is Congress.

The bill must win initial approval on the House floor by Tuesday to be considered for further action.

Gov Gordon Applauds Halt to Mountain Goat Shoot

in News
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(Press Release) Governor Mark Gordon expressed his gratitude to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt after the Secretary intervened to call off a planned mountain goat culling through aerial gunning in Grand Teton National Park. The culling was scheduled to begin last Friday.

Bernhardt’s order to “stand down” came in a phone call to Gopaul Noojibail, acting Grand Teton Park superintendent late Friday. The call was made after Governor Gordon shared with Bernhardt a strongly-worded letter sent to Noojibail Friday afternoon. In the letter the Governor criticized the Park Service’s choice to “act unilaterally aerially executing mountain goats over the State of Wyoming’s objections.”

“I appreciate the excellent working relationship we have with Secretary Bernhardt and that he is willing to discuss this issue in more detail without the pressure of ongoing aerial hunting,” Governor Gordon said. “I look forward to a more fruitful conversation about better ways to address this issue in a more cooperative manner.”

The aerial gunning operation targeted a population of mountain goats that potentially pose a threat of spreading disease to the native bighorn sheep population and compete with the sheep for habitat. 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission passed a resolution last month condemning the use of aerial gunning to remove mountain goats from the Targhee herd and urged Grand Teton to use skilled volunteers as the removal method. In a letter dated Jan. 28, 2019, the Department formally recommended the Park use skilled volunteers for mountain goat removal. Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik also made a third request to stop the plan on Friday, citing public disapproval.

“We remain prepared to work with Grand Teton to meet their management objectives using methods that align with the value Wyoming people have for wildlife,” Nesvik said.

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.

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