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R-E-S-P-E-C-T, City of Casper Seeks New Code of Ethics

in News
code of ethics
1880

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

The Casper City Council is looking at restoring its code of ethics and, along with it, adopting a new social media policy for how council members interact with members of the public and each other.

The code of ethics was repealed by the council last year and since then, the city has operated without one.

Council members are accepting input on both the code of ethics and social media policy through Aug. 30 and plan to get an initial look at both during a work session on Tuesday Aug 27.

City Manager Carter Napier said while the city had a social media policy in the past, it dealt largely only with employees of the city.

“The council … was hoping to get some direction, that would be oriented toward what they (employees) do, and how they interact with the public,” he said.

The issue came up because the council members tend to be very involved with social media, Napier said.

“Social media has been a major forum with regard to this particular council and there have been some conversations among them as to what’s appropriate, what’s not, who’s appropriate to speak on the part of the city with regards to the representations they make,” he said.

There have been concerns about the specific social media platforms covered under the new policy and how the policy applies to an employee’s person social media posts. 

“It (the policy) is mostly with regard to the appropriate use of city platforms,” Napier said. “It does not try to regulate what an employee or officer of the city does on their own personal page.”

The primary goal of the social media policy is informational and gives employees a set of guidelines to follow. 

“The proposed policy provides education/reminders on legal matters such as Public Records Act compliance and terms of service and privacy settings etc.” a summary of the policy said.

There are no penalties proposed for employees and council members who violate the social media policy.

“The policy as drafted does not contemplate any type of formal review or punitive process for alleged violations of the policy; it is a policy embraced by the council to set forth expectations of council for itself, upon which the public may rely, and failing which, the public will judge,” a draft of the policy said.

Included in the ordinance is the revised code of ethics, which seeks to clear up ambiguities in the previous code and reestablish rules for issues including receiving gifts, nepotism and misuse of office for personal gain.

Unlike the social media policy, consequences for infractions of the code of ethics may include termination for city employees and censure or removal from office for public officials and officials. 

You can comment and view the proposed ordinance here.

Bear Attacks Increasing Worldwide

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
1874

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

A French composer on a trip to Canada’s Northwest Territories to record the sounds of nature was attacked in his tent in the middle of the night and killed by a grizzly bear earlier this month. Such an unprovoked attack is rare, according to wildlife officials, although large carnivore attacks on humans are on the increase worldwide. Grizzly bear attacks on humans in Wyoming are part of that worldwide trend.

A new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports examines brown bear attacks on humans worldwide between 2000 and 2015. The report reinforces what we already suspected: attacks have increased significantly and are more frequent at high bear and low human population densities.

Researchers tallied 664 attacks on humans during the 15-year study period, including 183 in North America, 291 in Europe, and 190 in Russia, Iran and Turkey. There were more than 60 other attacks in Japan, Nepal, and southeastern Europe in which not enough information was available for their inclusion in the analysis.

The attack rate is about 40 attacks per year globally, with 11 attacks per year in North America, 18 per year in Europe, and 19 per year in the East (Russia, Iran and Turkey). About 14 percent of the attacks resulted in human fatalities, including 24 deaths in North America, 19 deaths in Europe, and 52 in the East (Russia, Iran, and Turkey). Of the brown bear attacks causing human injury in North America, 51 occurred in Alaska, 42 in British Columbia, 29 in Wyoming, 25 in Montana, and 18 in Alberta.

Globally, attack victims were almost exclusively adults, and most attacks occurred while the person was alone, during the summer, and in daylight hours. About half the attacks were categorized as encounters with females with cubs, while 20% were surprise or sudden encounters.

Bear awareness reminder against Palisades (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Interestingly, there were 15 attacks classified as “predatory” in which a predator attacks a human as prey: 9 in Russia, and 6 in North America. The bear attacks at the Soda Butte Campground just outside Yellowstone National Park in 2010 involved a sow grizzly killing a man camped alone in his tent, and injuring two other people in other campsites the same night, in what was deemed predatory attacks. The next summer, a female grizzly with cubs killed a man in Yellowstone National Park in what was then viewed as a defensive attack, but the same sow was linked to the death of a second man a month later in which the man’s body had been partially consumed.

Romania

Some Greater Yellowstone bear advocates point to Romania as an example of bear-human coexistence, noting that Romania is roughly the same size as the Yellowstone region, but hosts a bear population 10 times more numerous. Not surprisingly then, when it comes to brown bear attacks on humans, that almost half of Europe’s total number of attacks happen in one country: Romania. It’s worth a quick history lesson.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu worked to rid the Romanian countryside of its human residents by “collectivizing” farms and razing entire villages, forcing residents into “state-controlled urban hives,” as David Quammen wrote in The Atlantic more than a decade ago.

Under Ceausescu’s leadership, brown bears thrived. For decades, Romanian gamekeepers tended to hundreds (if not thousands) of feeding stations for bears, keeping bears numerous and fat so that the dictator and his party elite could have trophies to shoot from the comfort of nearby blinds – all the while the few remaining rural residents were prohibited from having guns.

After Ceausescu was deposed and executed in 1989, hunting of brown bears was opened to rich foreigners willing to pay tens of thousands for a trophy, but that lasted only a few years. The hunting of any large carnivores in Romania was halted in 2016, with few exceptions. More than 40 bear attacks on humans were recorded in Romania in 2017, and three people have already died this year due to bear attacks. Half of the Romanian attacks in the 15-year study involved bears attacking adults who were working outside; shepherds tending flocks, drovers with their cattle, and farmers working the landscape.

Self-defense tools are rather limited since gun ownership is extremely restricted in Romania, and although it’s legal to carry bear spray, it is not a common practice. In many European countries, pepper spray is illegal or its use is tightly regulated.

The researchers found at a global scale, bear attacks are more frequent in regions where the human density is lower and bear densities higher, and that attacks are also more frequent where recreational activities in bear areas are more common. In Europe, that might be people hiking or gathering berries, but in Wyoming, it tends to be hunters seeking large game.

Legal protection has resulted in recovery and expansion of brown bear populations worldwide, with more than 200,000 brown bears now in existence. As grizzly populations continue to expand their range, it’s important for recreationalists in shared territory to be ever-mindful of grizzly presence.

Bear Attack Sign

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recommends that if you surprise a grizzly bear at close range, drop a nonfood item (like a hat or bandanna) on the ground and slowly back away. Speak softly, but avoid eye contact, and never run from a bear. If the bear charges, remain standing. Carry bear spray and be ready to use it. If a bear makes contact with you, drop to the ground and play dead.

That’s what we’ve been trained to do in grizzly country when it comes to surprise or defensive encounters.

But a predatory bear is a different beast, and requires the opposite tactic. If a grizzly bear approaches a human in a persistent manner, with head up and ears erect, behaving in a curious or predatory manner, you need to be aggressive and fight back.

Predatory bears do not give warning signals or use threat displays or bluff charges to attempt to scare you away, as a defensive bear will, according to the Wyoming Game & Fish Department. A predatory bear will demonstrate keen interest in a person, often quietly and intently approaching, eyes locked on its target. Predatory attacks end only when the bear is overpowered, scared away, injured, killed, or kills you. If a bear attacks a person at night in a tent, fight as hard and loudly as you possibly can. 

Remember the general rule: Play dead for a defensive attack, but fight for your life in a predatory attack. The fact that predatory attacks on humans are rare is of little comfort when confronted with a predatory animal.

For more in what to do in a bear encounter, read this from the Wyoming Game & Fish Department’s recommendations.

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.

State Fair endowment provides solid footing for years ahead

in News/Agriculture
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Don’t miss this report from the 2019 Wyoming State Fair highlighting what the opportunity to show in Douglas means to 4H kids and their parents. (Video by Mike McCrimmon)

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

DOUGLAS – This year’s Wyoming State Fair is over, but the next chapter of its story is just beginning as fair organizers begin to realize proceeds from the fair’s newly-established endowment fund.

Approved by the state Legislature in 2018, the Wyoming State Fair Endowment was established to provide a permanent, stable and consistent source of funding to draw on in future years, rather than rely on appropriations from the state’s General Fund — its main banking account —  which is subject to swings based on the fortunes of the energy and tourism markets.

“It’s always been (dependent on) the General Fund, and when you have a downturn in the economy, that impacts your ability to use those funds,” said Doug Miyamoto, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “The state fair has always operated as an educational venue and a state championship for youth in agriculture. Over the past couple of years the philosophy’s changed, and I think the legislature is looking to transition to more of a pay-to-play type situation.”

Individual and business donors have raised $100,000 for the state endowment in its first year, which was matched dollar-for-dollar by the state treasurer’s office. That’s on top of the $100,000 the endowment started with from its initial legislation, and another $1.1 million added by the Legislature in this year’s supplementary budget bill.

But by far the biggest gift to the endowment to date was $2 million from the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission, which oversees the state’s live and off-track horse race wagering. 

“That shot in the arm from the Pari-Mutuel Commission is certainly one that’s appreciated,” Miyamoto said.

With $3.3 million to start with, Miyamoto said the fair will generate $150,000 a year in interest, with three-quarters of that to be reinvested into the endowment. As the corpus grows, Miyamoto said the 25 percent left over for operating revenue will trend upward too; but it won’t be the only new revenue source for the fair going forward.

“The endgame is to diversify the funding sources for the fair, so the endowment is one aspect of a larger strategic effort,” Miyamoto said. “We got a new state fair board who can reach out to businesses around the state and get some corporate sponsorship for the fair, try to use the facilities to generate revenue. We’re going to push as hard as we can to get sponsorships and contributions up.”

Crop insurance to cover losses after Goshen County irrigation canal failure

in News/Agriculture
USDA crop insurance approved
1859

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Crews continue repairs on an irrigation tunnel collapse as Goshen County residents prepare for a potential hit to their economy, which could be lessened by crop insurance payouts.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a news release its Risk Management Agency concluded the July 17 collapse of the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal tunnel was weather-related and as a result was an insurable cause of loss. 

“The (Risk Management Agency) will reinsure, in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement, production and prevented planting losses if the approved insurance providers pay the full amount of the claims to producers in accordance with the provisions of their 2019 crop policies,” the news release states.

The news release said the area received up to twice its normal rainfall in the 30 days leading up to the collapse.

Prior to the announcement, Torrington’s economic forecast looked dire.

“We’re used to tightening our belts — the people are resilient,” Adams said. “We’re hopeful, and we’re going to get through it.”

The mayor’s comments come on the heels of an economic analysis report produced jointly by the Nebraska Extension and University of Wyoming Extension. Created prior to the USDA’s decision, the report assumes a total loss of crops, no insurance payout and estimates the collapsed Gering-Fort Laramie Canal could cost both states about $90 million combined.

Economic analysis report co-author Brian Lee said Goshen’s share of the loss could be about $24.5 million with another $1 million in spillover losses between Goshen County and Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska.

“The model assumes a total loss if you were going to take corn all the way to grain,” Lee explained. 

Alternatively, some Goshen corn farmers, who mostly grow to feed livestock, could chop the corn early for silage, reducing losses, he said.

Alfalfa and corn raised for grain make up more than 60,000 acres of the more than 107,000 acres in the affected area. Whereas corn on the Nebraska side accounts for about 24,000 acres and alfalfa accounts for about 11,000, in Goshen County, the two are flipped with alfalfa consisting of about 25,000 acres and corn accounting for about 12,000 acres, the report states. Goshen County’s next largest crop in the affected area is “other hay” at about 8,000 acres, followed by edible beans at more than 4,000 acres.

Much of the farming data for 2019 is not yet available, so Lee said the team working on the report made several assumptions.

“The biggest challenge was tracking down what data we thought were correct,” Lee said. “We had to go back to previous years and assume previous cropping patterns were similar to what was planted this year.”

Because of fluctuating market prices, cropping patterns can vary year to year.

“Most of the crops grown in Goshen county along that canal are grown for use on the farm,” Lee said. “We were comfortable making the assumption that the cropping wouldn’t be very different from previous years.”

Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, however, has more non-feed crops, like dry beans and sugar beets. 

“Sugar beets are often on contract, so roughly, the same amount of acreage is going to be grown (each year) to meet those contract shares,” Lee explained. “We also assumed dry bean producers would have the same equipment this year and produce dry beans again.” 

Adams said the impact could be far greater than $90 million during the next few years.

“We know that revenue turns over about 7 times in a community … so it could be about $250 million spendable revenue in the county,” he said. “Down the road in two to three years, we’re going to have a sales tax impact in Torrington and all the little municipalities in Goshen County.”

It’s been a rough year for Torrington, Adams added. Western Sugar Co-op closed in March, removing about 90 part-time positions and 200 full-time jobs, he said. 

“The area’s main retail store, Shopko, closed a few months ago,” Adams said. “This community has taken some hits.”

The latest being the irrigation canal, which collapsed July 17 about one mile south of Fort Laramie. The canal facilitates the irrigation of about 52,000 acres of farmland in Wyoming and another 55,000 acres in Nebraska. Without water, nearly all the crops could be lost, according to a report by the University of Nebraska Lincoln Panhandle Research and Extension Center.

Laying out the potential weekly impact of lost irrigation, the report lists corn as a 100 percent loss, dry edible beans as a greater than 90 percent loss and sugar beets as a 50-60 percent loss after Aug. 13, the last predicted date provided.

Rainfall, however, could reduce the losses, the report states.

In Cheyenne, National Weather Service Meteorologist Rob Cox said the agency recorded 2.2 inches of rainfall during July in Goshen County, which is about one-half inch above normal. But August’s current rainfall is less than one-half inch, about one-half inch below normal, he said.At the canal breach, Goshen Irrigation District Manager Rob Posten said the tunnel crew was making progress.

“They are past the first cave-in, which was the small one,” Posten said. “They are into the second cave-in now, and I’ve not heard of any other cave-ins, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Excavation crews above the tunnel are nearly complete, but he said he does not have a timeline for potentially reopening the canal.

“I’m still hoping for this season,” Posten said. “But there’s so many unknowns in tunnels that it’s nearly impossible, I’m learning, to predict completion.”

Cody Stampede makes it to ProRodeo Hall of Fame

in News/Tourism
1851

Cody’s Stampede Rodeo, one of the premier events in professional rodeo, has been inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

The rodeo, now 100 years old, was named to the hall in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Aug. 3.

The induction proves how good the Stampede Rodeo is, said Mike Darby, co-president of the Stampede’s board of directors.

“We have a great, great rodeo,” he said. “We have the best contestants, the best stock, the best contractor. We’re deserving of it. Our town is behind us, our sponsors are behind us.”

One of the driving forces behind the creation of the Stampede Rodeo was Caroline Lockhart, who had a major hand in organizing the rodeo 100 years ago.

Lockhart was also the first woman to serve on the Stampede’s board. She was also the only woman to serve on the board until this year’s appointment of Jerri Gillett.

“We just work as a team,” Gillett said. “They don’t single me out like a trophy woman. They just treaty me as one of the guys.”

State auditor’s transparency website “jumping off point” for detailed records requests

in News/Transparency
Transparency
1852

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily 

Many Wyoming residents want state government to be more transparent, but few can agree the best way to go about it.

“When we talk about transparency, if you ask 10 people, you’ll get 10 definitions,” Wyoming State Auditor Kristi Racines said. “The one thing we’ve heard consistently is folks want to see the (state’s) checkbook online.”

Racines took office in January as a six-year legal battle between the state auditor’s office and transparency groups regarding access to the checkbook came to a close. After campaigning on the promise of transparency, Racines followed through by releasing six years of government-spending data almost immediately upon entering office. Fulfilling the request for years past, however, was just the start. Racines said she wanted the checkbook to be readily available for every Wyoming resident to easily peruse on a whim.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” Racines explained. “We wanted it to be on the internet, but we don’t have money in the state coffers to develop a big, expensive transparency platform.”

So she put her IT team to task: build a website that can be easily navigated, simple and an effective doorway for future information requests. 

“This is certainly an extra ask on their plate,” Racines said. “We have a five-member IT team, and they started building the website in January in addition to their full-time duties.”

Wyopen.gov went live July 17. 

“They really came to the table with an awesome product,” Racines said. “And we did it at essentially no extra cost to the taxpayer.”

By following the link, visitors are greeted with a simple white screen, minimal text, a “search transactions” button and links to overall expenditures for 2016, 2017 and 2018. The website’s face is uncluttered with gratuitous design elements, unnecessary images or the lengthy mission statements so commonly found littered across “dot gov” sites these days. As for usability, the search function has several fields to narrow down the user’s results, but only two fields need to be filled in for the engine to work.

Searchable fields include:

  • Start and end dates: Format sensitive;
  • Agency: Multiple choice;
  • Expenditure category: Multiple choice;
  • Description: Multiple choice;
  • Vendor name: Partial names are searchable, and;
  • Location: City, state or zip code.

“We talked to different user groups and tried to anticipate how citizens would think when they want to see data,” Racines said. “When we query data on the back end, it’s based on parameters they don’t necessarily know, like the (category) codes.”

After entering a search request, the user is presented with a spreadsheet containing basic data related to their search, which includes:

  • Date of payment;
  • Agency: The government agency making the payment;
  • Vendor name: The recipient of the payment;
  • Expenditure category: What account the check was billed to;
  • Description: Basic reason for the payment;
  • State: The state the check was sent to, and; 
  • Payment amount: The check total.

The information presented is only the bare bones of a checkbook, and in some cases, it may seem confusing. For instance, one expenditure category may be “In-State Bd/Comm Travel Reimbursements,” (In-state Board/Committee Travel Reimbursements) and its description could be “In-State Bd/Cm M&IE,” which can read like techno-babble for the casual user.

“This website will not fulfill every public records request, and we’re totally aware of that,” Racines said. “Our hope is when future requests get to us, the website will help them be a lot more dialed in.”

One of a government’s primary investments in fulfilling an information request is searching for the data requested, she explained. Broad requests require more time to fill, so providing the requestor tools to narrow the request could help the auditor’s office reduce fulfillment times.

“This is a really good jumping off point for our heavy-duty users,” Racines said. “We could drown this website in information, but I feel like that would be a disservice to the public.”

Website visitors interested in obtaining more information for any line item are encouraged to contact the auditor’s office. A dropdown menu on the top right side of the website lists two phone numbers and two emails for such requests.

While the website does contain a large chunk of the checkbook, it is not a complete ledger of every dollar spent by state government.

“There are some line items we are not allowed to release by state statute,” Racines explained. “Private citizen information, direct assistance payments to beneficiaries, some law enforcement agency expenses and victim payments are a few examples.”

With three years in the backlog, she said the auditor’s office is working to keep the information as up to date as possible.

“Initially we had planned to upload info quarterly, but now we’re looking at doing it monthly,” Racines said. “It’s not live, but it will be very timely.”

Because the website is not mandated by statute, Racines said she can’t speculate whether her successors will continue to update it, but she wasn’t aware of any reason they wouldn’t.

“We haven’t received any push back at all,” she added.

In the future, the website could include aggregated data, but for now, Racines said her team is content keeping the ship afloat.

“The beauty of it being a homegrown system is the cost is very low,” she said. “But, it’s not a luxury Cadillac.”

Quebec 1 open as state historic site

in News/Tourism/military
1848

A nuclear missile silo in operation through the Cold War is now officially owned by Wyoming.

Quebec 1, a missile silo that over the years housed three different kinds of nuclear missiles, opened Aug. 17 as a part of the state Department of Parks and Cultural Resources.

The silo was built in 1962 and served through the height of the Cold War, housing the Minuteman I, Minuteman III and Peacekeeper missiles, along with their launch controls and crews of U.S. Air Force personnel who were in control of the weapons.

The site was decommissioned in 2005 and since 2015, Wyoming officials have worked to get the silo in state hands for use as a historic site.

One of the state officials involved in the effort was Milward Simpson, former director of the Department of Parks and Cultural Resources.

“I couldn’t be more respectful of and pleased the the military had the vision to see the this was a way to tell a story that really needs to be told,” he said.

Simpson was on hand for the facility’s grand opening, as was Vilma Ortiz Vergne, a “missileer” who was part of the missile crews that controlled various silos.

Vergne said she spent most of her time at the Tango missile silo near Torrington, but did spend some time at Quebec 1. She was on duty at the Tango site when the United States was attacked by Islamic terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 and she said she and her fellow crew members relied on their training to stay calm during the incident.

“The way the missileers are trained is that as you react, you follow your training to the letter, without exception,” she said. “There cannot be any error, there cannot be any deviations. Your lives and the lives of so many people are in your hands.”

Quebec 1, found about 30 miles north of Cheyenne just off of Interstate 25, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

A salute to aviation at Wyoming’s only Spaceport

in Travel/Transportation/Tourism
Wyoming Spaceport celebration
Three boys check out the interior of one of the planes that flew to the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport during the 2018 Spaceport Days festival. (Photo courtesy of the City of Green River)
1839

A celebration of air travel at a Wyoming airport named with an eye to the future is in the cards this weekend.

Green River’s annual Spaceport Days, staged at the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport, will be held Friday and Saturday and will feature a magic performance, outdoor screening of a “Star Wars” movie and a demonstration of the Aviat “Husky” airplane, made in Afton.

The Intergalactic Spaceport is a public use airstrip about five miles south of Green River that was renamed a spaceport in 1994.

According to published reports, the rural airport was renamed by Green River City Council members to convey “an offer of sanctuary to the possible residents of the planet of Jupiter” threatened at the time by pieces of a comet headed for the planet.

The airport is used by local pilots and pilots of small planes, said Amanda Cavaz, Green River’s communications administrator.

“We have people who come in and land, then they come in to explore,” she said. “We’ve had some people who land there to make sure everything is OK on their aircraft. It’s a great airport for anybody who is coming in to do recreation here in Green River.”

Green River Spaceport Days
Crowds check out the helicopters and airplanes on display at the 2018 Spaceport Days at the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport. (Photo courtesy of the City of Green River)

Spaceport Days was organized as a way to celebrate aviation and local aviators, Cavaz said.

“And it’s to invite aviators from our region to come in and see our operation and share a breakfast,” she said.

Activities begin at 7 p.m. Friday with a performance by a magician, followed at 9 p.m. by the showing of a “Star Wars” movie and Star Wars costume contest.

Fire pits can be found throughout the area, allowing attendees to light campfires while watching the movie.

Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport
A young attendee at the 2018 Spaceport Days festival takes a look around the inside of a helicopter during the event held at the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport. (Photo courtesy of the City of Green River)

“It’s really a fun, family-friendly type event,” Cavaz said. “People bring trucks and camp chairs and set up their camp chairs and watch a movie outdoors.”

On Saturday, a pancake breakfast will start the day at 8 a.m. The cost is $7 per person, but pilots who fly into the area will eat for free, Cavaz said.

“Most pilots like to fly early in colder air, so they land, taxi off the runway, park the aircraft and have breakfast on us,” she said. “Members of the public then have a chance to come in and look at all the different types of planes.”

In past years, pilots have flown to Green River from areas of Wyoming including Laramie, Afton and Pinedale, she said.

After breakfast, a UH-60 “Blackhawk” helicopter and an “Airmed” rescue helicopter will be on display, while the “Husky” airplane created by Afton’s Aviat will put on an aerobatics demonstration.

For more information on Spaceport Days, visit there website here or go to the Spaceport Days and Fly-In page on Facebook.

Hometown boy makes good: Wyoming native wins world’s longest horse race

in News/Community
Mongol Derby Robert Long on Day 7
Cheyenne native Robert Long gives a thumbs up on Day 7 of the Mongol Derby. (photo courtesy of Mongol Derby)
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Nicole Blanchard, special to Cowboy State Daily

It’s only fitting that a man dubbed “the most badass cowboy you will ever meet” hails from the Cowboy State.

Robert Long, a native of Cheyenne, Wyoming, earned the title after winning the Mongol Derby, a 620-mile race across the Mongolian Steppe, earlier this week. At 70 years old, Long is not only the oldest person to win the race but the oldest person to even finish the grueling trek, designed to replicate the route of Genghis Khan’s 13th century postal system.

“I’ve never in my life seen anybody as intense, as skilled, as intelligent, as driven as Bob,”said Gary Schaeffer, former Cheyenne mayor and one of Long’s closest friends. Both men now live in Boise, Idaho.

Long crossed the finish line on Wednesday, Aug. 14, the eighth day of the race. He and 41 other competitors had ridden upwards of 12 hours a day on “semi-wild” Mongolian horses, switching out mounts at checkpoints to ensure the horses didn’t become fatigued. 

“Those horses aren’t ridden every day like ours,” said Cheyenne rancher Doug Samuelson, who has spent time hunting in Mongolia. “They’re not our highly trained quarter horses.”

By the end of the race, Long had ridden 28 different horses.

Schaeffer, who first met Long in 1968, said his friend’s upbringing in Cheyenne no doubt came in handy in the race.

“He was born and raised on horses, used to break them, train them for people,” Schaeffer said. “Besides being a confident horseman and cowboy, he always takes care of his animals, and that shows in the race.”

Samuelson, who doesn’t know Long, joked that Long must be something of a horse whisperer.

“I’d love to shake his hand,” Samuelson said. “Maybe it’ll rub off on me.”

At each checkpoint, veterinarians inspected the small, hardy Mongolian horses to see that they hadn’t been overworked. 

“They’re small horses, but they’re tough,” Samuelson said. “They’re incredibly agile and surefooted.”

Riders received penalties if their horses weren’t in top condition, but by the end of the derby, Long earned a perfect record from the race vets.

“At one point they said he veered off-course to go get his horse water,” Schaeffer added. “I’m sure it cost him some time, but he was more worried about taking care of his horse. And he’s always been that way.”

Schaeffer said Long was matter-of-fact when he first shared his plans to ride in the Mongol Derby, which holds the Guinness World Record for longest horse race.

“He came over to the house and told us ‘I’ve entered the Mongol Derby,’” Schaeffer said. “We said, ‘What? Why?'”

“He said, ‘Because people told me I couldn’t. It’s there, it’s a challenge. I don’t like people to say because of my age I won’t be able to make it. It’s the toughest, most grueling thing a horseman can do, and I want to prove I can do it,’” Schaeffer recalled.

From day one, Schaeffer said, Long’s loved ones had no doubt he could complete the race, in part thanks to his impeccable research, planning and preparation.

Because Mongolian horses tend to be under 14 hands, there’s a weight limit for riders and gear to keep the horses safe. Long lost 30 pounds and practiced packing and repacking his bag to be sure he could make weight. He consulted with previous Mongol Derby riders and spent months building his riding endurance.

“He had this planned down to the inch,” Schaeffer said.

And while Long already had impeccable navigation skills (Schaeffer recalled how Long could always find his way back to the horse trailer during hunting trips in the Snowy Mountains), he honed those skills even more to prepare for the unmarked Mongol Derby route.

“He would try to get himself lost and work with the GPS to get himself back on course,” Schaeffer said. “Though I doubt if he ever got lost. He just doesn’t do that.”

According to a Mongol Derby news release, the riders faced arctic winds and downpours at the start of the race. They also had to watch out for rodent holes and marshy areas as they trekked across the steppe. 

“(The terrain there) is a lot like Wyoming,” Samuelson said. “You’ll see really flat plains areas and kind of high mountains on the side. The grasses are also similar.”

As the weather cleared up later in the race, Long took a lead that he maintained until the end.

Schaeffer wasn’t surprised when Long galloped across the finish line in a live video broadcast on Facebook by the Mongol Derby –but he was emotional.

“I was crying, tears were streaming down my face. We knew he could do it,” Schaeffer said.

“I’ve never seen anything he can’t do,” he added. “If he says he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it.”

Long, on the other hand, was cracking jokes the moment he dismounted.

“My horse just won the Mongol Derby,” he said. “It’s nothing, you just ride 650 miles on a death march. There’s nothing to it.”

Find out more about the Mongol Derby here. And for a great read on the Mongols and Genghis Khan’s 13th century postal system check out Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford.

Now a Ban on Natural Gas? Berkeley, California Fires “First Shot” in Potential Energy War

in Energy/News
Berkeley bans natural gas
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Californians are moving away from natural gas, which could complicate Wyoming’s energy-reliant economy in the future, but experts say it’s too soon to predict an actual impact. In Berkeley, California, city officials banned natural gas connections to new homes to fuel furnaces and appliances starting in 2020 as part of an initiative to reduce the city’s carbon emissions.

Wyoming Petroleum Association President Pete Obermueller said the move could be troubling if it gains momentum, but it’s not alarming at this point.

“Obviously, if it is large scale and mandated and very widespread that would be detrimental,” Obermueller said. “I’m a little bit skeptical anything like that will happen quickly or on a large scale.”

At the University of Wyoming, Charles Mason, a professor of Petroleum and Natural Gas Economics who was raised in Berkeley, said the city’s decision was more symbolic than impactful.

“You could kind of think of it as the first shot in a war,” Mason added.

If the rest of California were to fall in line with Berkeley, Wyoming’s gas industry might not feel a pinch immediately, but could see reduced demands for gas in the future, said Severin Borenstein, faculty director for the Energy Institute at the University of California-Berkley’s Haas School of Business.

“This is not going to happen overnight,” Borenstein said. “Even the Berkeley law, which is way ahead of California, is only on new houses.”

While gas burns cleaner than coal, it still generates greenhouse gasses. 

“Presumably, reducing emissions is the thing that is top of mind (in Berkeley),” Mason said. “Gas is cleaner, but it’s not zero.”

The majority of California’s in-state electricity is generated by natural gas, although it’s closely followed by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, the California Energy Commission reports.

Gas burned in homes for appliances and heating creates more emissions than all the state’s power plants, California Energy Commission Chairman David Hochschild told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“It’s not that (homes) are more polluting,” Borenstein said. “But, there’s a lot of it. Most buildings in California are heated with the on-site combustion of natural gas.”

In 2018, the city of Berkeley reported 27 percent of its total greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 were generated by the ignition of natural gas within city buildings.

For Mason, the potential reduction of gas-fueled heating sources is notable.

“Heating is a lot bigger deal,” he said. “You could possibly see a measurable impact if this takes root and they convince a big chunk of California to follow suit.”

The gas wells currently operating in Wyoming “are pretty price insensitive” and unlikely to be affected by Berkeley’s decision, Mason said. However, if California or other states start requiring buildings to use non-gas heating sources, he said potentially reduced gas prices could affect Wyoming.

“Where a change in prices will matter is a reduction in new drills,” he explained.

Fewer drills could mean fewer jobs for Wyomingites. The oil and gas industry accounted for 12,600 Wyoming jobs in June, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.

If those jobs were to disappear, Mason said Wyoming workers would need to adapt.

“It’s not radically different than the situation facing coal miners,” he explained. “They may just have to find something new to do — maybe building wind turbines or working at Walmart.”

While some believe a move away from gas is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Obermueller said the U.S. relies heavily on the industry for electricity generation, and that’s not likely to change.

“Natural gas is the primary source in America of large scale electricity production,” he said. “The demand for energy is growing by leaps and bounds. There’s no doubt that (natural gas’) share of electricity is rising rapidly.”

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