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Bridger-Teton National Forest In Western Wyoming Implements Fire Restrictions

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Bridger-Teton National Forest in western Wyoming has implemented new fire restrictions beginning Thursday.

According to a news release, stage one fire restrictions are being implemented on all National Forest System lands within the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The restrictions allow fires only in designated and installed fire rings or grills at designated campgrounds or picnic areas.

The moisture content of various fuel types, current and expected weather conditions and available fire-fighting resources, as well as the occurrence of human-caused fires, are factors in the determination to implement fire restrictions on public lands, the release said.  

Under the restrictions, fires are allowed in the Teton and Gros Ventre Wilderness areas, but not the Bridger Wilderness. Smoking is also restricted to certain locations.

The restrictions include:

  • Lighting, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, barbecue or grill is allowed only at designated recreation sites such as established campgrounds or picnic areas. Use of portable stoves and lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel, or use of a fully-enclosed sheepherder type stove with a spark arrester screen is permitted.
  • Smoking is allowed only in an enclosed vehicle, building (unless otherwise prohibited), developed recreation site, or while in an area at least 3 ft. in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials (i.e. parking lots, developed campsites, or locations surrounded by water).

Campfires in Grand Teton National Park are limited to designated and installed fire rings and/or grills. Campfires aren’t allowed on the National Elk Refuge.

Teton Interagency Fire managers are reminding the public that unattended or abandoned campfires can quickly escalate into wildfires. The fire danger for the area is high, and forecasts call for warm and dry conditions to persist for the remainder of August and beyond.

All campfires and warming fires should be attended to. So far, Teton Interagency Fire personnel have extinguished 168 unattended or abandoned campfires this summer.

During times of elevated fire danger, building campfires is discouraged. Visitors could be held liable for suppression costs if their campfire becomes a wildfire.

All campfires must be completely extinguished before leaving a site. Campers and day users should have a shovel on hand and a water bucket ready for use. A campfire should be “dead out” and cold to the touch before departing.

Violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization and/or by imprisonment for more than six months.

The public is encouraged to report illegal campfires, as well as smoke reports, to the Teton Interagency Fire Dispatch at 307-739-3630.  

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Grand Teton Mountain Goat Hunts To Resume in September; Gordon Supports

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon expressed his support Thursday for Grand Teton National Park’s plan to manage mountain goats within park boundaries using volunteers to kill a limited number of the animals.

The updated plan came after the governor called for a halt to the aerial gunning of non-native mountain goats to reduce their numbers. The new plan will allow qualified volunteers to harvest the animals, according to a news release from Gordon’s office.

“I am delighted that Grand Teton National Park officials have chosen to take a different, more sensible approach to addressing this important wildlife management issue,” Gordon said in the news release. “From the very beginning we have expressed our desire to partner with the Park to find a solution that achieves management objectives for this population and respects Wyoming values.”

Mountain goats in the park compete with bighorn sheep for limited, high-elevation habitat and may spread disease to the native sheep herd.

In February, Gordon was vocal in his opposition to a plan that relied on shooting the mountain goats from helicopters as a way to control the population.

In communications to both acting Grand Teton Park Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Gordon criticized the National Park Service’s choice to “act unilaterally aerially executing mountain goats over Wyoming’s objections.”

Gordon’s position was supported by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which adamantly recommended volunteers play a role in the operation.

The commission passed a resolution in January that condemned the use of aerial gunning to manage goats and urged the park to use skilled volunteers as the removal method. In a letter that same month, Brian Nesvik,Wyoming Game and Fish Department director, made the same recommendation.

“The use of qualified volunteers underscores how public participation is a key tenant of how wildlife is managed in Wyoming. The opportunity for the public to aid in the reduction of mountain goats — a wildlife management action — is essential to our state and reflective of the high-value we place on the wildlife resource,” Nesvik said in the release.

Grand Teton will manage the qualified volunteer program, and the methods and approach were developed in collaboration with Game and Fish.

Mountain goat meat harvested by qualified volunteers will be used to the greatest extent possible by the qualified volunteers who take the mountain goats or by donating the meat to organizations that work to address hunger.

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Two Fires Kick Off Yellowstone Fire Season

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park’s wildfire season recently began with not one, but two bangs.

Two lightning-ignited wildfires were started in the park earlier this week, according to a news release from the National Park Service.

The Sour Fire, located near the Mirror Plateau, was spotted by the park’s Mount Washburn Lookout on the afternoon of Aug. 1. Precipitation fell on the fire shortly after detection, and it hasn’t been seen since.

The Soda Fire, located several hundred yards south of the Soda Butte formation in Lamar Valley, was reported by a visitor on the evening of Aug. 3. Fire staff suppressed the fire due to its location.

Fire danger is currently at a high level in the park. However, no fire restrictions are currently in place.

Campfires are only permitted in fire rings at campgrounds and some backcountry campsites. Due to the pandemic, only four campgrounds are open.

The Park Service reminded Yellowstone visitors to take precautions against fire through steps such as making sure all campfires are dead. All campfires must be cold to the touch before abandoning. Soak the fire with water, stir the embers and repeat until the embers are cold.

Wyoming is experiencing an above-average fire season, and humans are the main cause of wildfires.

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Wyoming Experiencing Above Average Fire Season

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In the midst of plague, bear attacks and other catastrophes, Wyoming is also experiencing an above average fire season, according to the state’s Forestry Division.

As of Wednesday, 12 of Wyoming’s 23 counties were under a partial fire restriction, including Laramie, Natrona and Goshen counties. According to state Fire Management Officer Anthony Schultz, Wyoming is on track to see more than its average number of fires this season.

“Over the course of an average fire season, the Forestry Division sees about 800 to 900 fires, with around 180,000 acres being burned,” Schultz said. “We usually spend around $5 million from our fire suppression fund to fight these fires. But from the models we’re seeing, it’s looking like we’re going to go above our average this season.”

Dry conditions across the state through the end of July contributed to the high fire potential, and Schultz said that August and September are usually the fire management office’s busiest months anyway.

The fire restrictions in place are partial, meaning residents in the 12 counties can’t light a wood fire any place outside of an established fire ring, use fireworks, throw lit items (such as cigarettes or matches) into combustible materials or smoke in a developed recreation site that has flammable material within 3 ft.

Schultz recommended that Wyomingites research fire restrictions in their areas and be cautious while recreating and using any fire sources.

He added that humans are the number one cause of wildfires, which the National Park Service confirmed, saying humans cause 85% of wildfires in the country, either directly on indirectly.

“For example, a campfire needs to be completely extinguished when you leave your site,” Schultz said. “You might have to stir it up or even pour water on it. Because if you leave it and there’s a spark that causes a wildfire, there could be an investigation and you could be held liable for that fire.”

A teenager who started a wildfire in Oregon in 2017 was ordered to pay $36.6 million in restitution for the 47,000 acres that were burned.

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Dry Conditions, High Fire Danger Lead To Fire Restrictions Across Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Fire restrictions are being implemented in multiple Wyoming counties Friday due to dry conditions and high fire danger across the state.

The restrictions will apply to public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management in Fremont, Hot Springs, Natrona, Washakie, Big Horn and Park counties.

Washakie and Hot Springs counties are currently experiencing a wildfire, known as the Neiber Fire, which is estimated to cover 17,606 acres and is 30% contained. The fire started south of Worland on Wednesday and was caused by humans.

Fire managers base decisions about fire restrictions on current and projected weather conditions, the amount of dry vegetation and other risk factors.

“These fire restrictions are a result of our continued coordinated relationships with our fellow wildfire cooperators,” Fire Management Officer Rich Zimmerlee said in a news release.

Hot, dry conditions and high fire danger have prompted the prohibition of the following activities:

  • Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire except within agency-provided fire grates at developed recreation sites, within fully enclosed stoves with a ¼-inch spark arrester type screen, within fully enclosed grills or in stoves using pressurized liquid or gas;
  • Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials;
  • Operating a chainsaw without a U.S. Department of Agriculture or Society of Automotive Engineers approved spark arrester properly installed and working, a chemical fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity by weight and one round point shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches;
  • Using a welder, either arc or gas, or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame, except in cleared areas of at least 10 feet in diameter with a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity.

These fire restrictions are in addition to the year-round wildfire prevention restrictions on BLM-administered lands throughout Wyoming, which include:

  • Discharging or using any fireworks.
  • Discharging a firearm using incendiary or tracer ammunition.
  • Burning, igniting or causing to burn any tire, wire, magnesium or any other hazardous or explosive material.
  • Operating any off-road vehicle on public lands unless the vehicle is equipped with a properly installed spark arrester pursuant to 43 CFR 8343.1 (c).
  • Use/discharge of explosives of any kind, incendiary devices, pyrotechnic devices, or exploding targets.

Failure to comply with fire restrictions on federal lands is punishable by law. Those found responsible for starting wildfires will also face restitution costs for suppressing the fire.

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Black Bear Spotted in Curt Gowdy State Park

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We always love a good bear story and 2020 has some good ones already.

Anyone who follows the Facebook page Wyoming Through the Lens has been able to watch the adventures of the grizzly bear called “399” and her four cubs.

Then there’s the story of the furthest south documented grizzly sighting in 50-plus years who was spotted near Kemmerer a couple weeks ago.

Now there’s a confirmed sighting of a black bear near Curt Gowdy State Park in southern Wyoming.

This isn’t that momentous as black bears have a big range in the U.S., from Alaska to Florida, and they are listed as a “least-concern species” due to their widespread distribution and large population.. 

The reason the state park is calling attention to the bear is more cautionary in nature. 

“The bear is reported to have cubs with her, which can lead to a potentially dangerous encounter,” the park wrote on its Facebook page.

What to do if you encounter this bear or any bear?

Don’t attempt to feed it beets or strike up a conversation about Battlestar Galactica. It works on a sitcom, but not in real life.

Instead the U.S. Forest Service offers this advice:

  • Remain calm.
  • Group together and pick up small children.
  • Continue to face the bear and back away slowly, talking calmly to identify yourself as a human.
  • If the bear continues to approach, try to scare it away by making yourself as large and imposing as possible by stretching your arms overhead and making loud noises.
  • Carry and know how to use bear spray, which is available at many outdoor retailers and can be used to deter a charging bear.

And if worst comes to worst, just remember this old joke: You don’t have to outrun a bear. You just have to outrun your friend.

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Firefighters Predict Containment Of Shoshone Fire In Two Weeks

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Firefighters in the Shoshone National Forest are now predicting containment of a wildfire burning west of Cody within two weeks.

More than 110 firefighters are battling the 591-acre Lost Creek Fire about halfway between Cody and Yellowstone National Park.

The fire was first reported on Saturday and officials say growth in the blaze has been slow since Sunday. 

On “InciWeb,” a website that features up-to-date information about wildfires on public land, officials estimated the fire would be contained by June 27.

Marvin Mathison, the operations section chief for the Lost Creek Fire, said crews are feeling positive about firefighting efforts despite the rugged terrain that resulted in the injury of one firefighter.

“One of the Craig Hotshots had a rock come down and it hit him in the leg,” he explained. “It took his legs out from underneath him, he fell backwards and hit his head on a rock. We did get him out, we took a ground ambulance and transported him to Cody.”

The Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew is a 20-22 person team based in Craig, Colorado, that battles wildfires on federal land around the region.

The fire spurred the temporary evacuation of two dude ranches, including the Bill Cody Ranch, where observers first spotted the fire.

Park County Emergency Management Director Jack Tatum praised local residents, many of whom offered help to anyone who needed to remove livestock from the fire area.

“I’ve seen on Facebook just the tremendous outpouring of support from local citizens,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘Hey, if you’ve got horses, hey, if you’ve got whatever, I’ve got room for ‘em.’”

One of the biggest complications in battling the Lost Creek Fire is the measures that have to be taken to keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic, Sue Eichoff, a district ranger for the Shoshone National Forest, said at Sunday’s meeting.

“Smaller groups are spread out, we’re using the ‘module of one’ concept for housing,” she explained. “We’re doing social distancing if we have meetings, and doing our sanitizing, we’ve got a lot of personal protective equipment that the crews and the people that are working here have.” 

Eichoff expressed her appreciation for the effort to keep the public safe, as well as employees and firefighters. 

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Wildfire Closes Highway Between Cody And Yellowstone

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A wildfire burning west of Cody forced the temporary closure of the highway between Cody and Yellowstone National Park over the weekend.

The Lost Creek Fire, first reported Saturday afternoon about midway between Cody and Yellowstone, reduced visibility on U.S. Highway 14 to the point it had to be closed, said Kristie Salzmann, the fire’s public information officer.

“As the smoke was really impeding traffic,” she explains, “Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Highway Patrol just thought that would be the smartest thing to do to allow for safe firefighting access.”

The response by fire officials was swift – by Sunday morning, 89 people were already assigned to the incident.

“That includes two of our type 1 hand crews, also known as Hot Shot crews,” Salzmann details. “We have multiple fire engines from local units, as well as Forest Service, BLM and county. We have two heavy air tankers, three single engine air tankers, and then we also have two of our larger type one helicopters and then a smaller type three helicopter.”

Salzmann points out that the fire settled down some Saturday night after growing to about 591 acres, but conditions were expected to be a bit more favorable for battling the flames on Sunday.

InciWeb, a website that tracks wildfires around the nation, said minimal fire activity was seen Sunday.

“We know that the forecasted winds are less than yesterday and the forecasted temperature is less than yesterday, so while we do expect there to be some growth, we’re just uncertain how much that will be today.”

According to officials, at this time, no structures are threatened, although evacuations did take place at two nearby dude ranches on Saturday.  Fire managers are continuing to keep the public informed of any major developments. 

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