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Letter to The Editor: Why I Support The Via Ferrata

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By John Brown, Lander

In 1970, the American peregrine falcon was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969. This was largely due to the widespread use of pesticides like DDT.

Did you know that in August 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the American peregrine falcon from the list of endangered and threatened species, marking one of the most dramatic successes of the Endangered Species Act? 

Post-delisting monitoring occurred in 2003 and was to have been carried out in 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2015. Results from 2003 showed the population continued to climb and was estimated at about 3,000 breeding pairs in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Did you also know that peregrine falcons have been highly successful in large urban areas with many tall buildings and LOTS of people around? There are NUMEROUS “falcon-cams” you can find all over the internet where people can witness their progress from eating , nest-building, breeding, and egg hatching.

I think it’s safe to say the American peregrine falcons will do just fine in whatever environment they find themselves in, even if people are close by.

The folks who oppose the Via Ferrata are not stupid, and they know the falcons will be just fine. So what is their REAL motivation for trying to stop it?

I’ve seen several yard signs around Lander saying “#sinks_wild” which suggests they want to preserve the wild nature of Sinks Canyon.

Well, the bus left that station probably a couple of decades ago (perhaps that power line that runs deep into the canyon to that campground next to the Popo Agie Falls trail is familiar to most of you?). For sure, it was no longer truly wild when Bam-Bam the ram died over eight years ago.

Some other folks suggest that there is a parking issue that will cause problems. Seriously? Parking? That seems like the smallest problem mentioned. Surely, parking can be increased without ruining the entire state park.

I’ll just say right up front that I don’t know for sure why folks want to stop it. I suspect many just don’t want to attract any more attention, tourists, residents, etc., to our town. That is shortsighted, however.

Many people have said, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

Perhaps these folks haven’t realized that if there’s NO growth, this town will eventually shrink and die.

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Wyoming Ranks Third For Most Dependent On Outdoor Economy

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Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Tourism:

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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

Wyoming is the third most dependent state on the outdoor recreation economy, according to a recent analysis.

The analysis was performed by Outdoorsy, a recreational vehicle renting platform, which used data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ most recent Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (2019).

Outdoorsy assigned Wyoming an outdoor recreation dependency index of 94.2 only behind Montana and Hawaii, which earned ratings of 94.8 and 100.0, respectively.

The ratings are based on three key metrics which the analysis looked at to determine dependency: gross domestic product (GDP), employment, and total compensation.

With 5.2% of Wyoming’s jobs based in outdoor recreation, employment garners the biggest impact from the outdoor economy, according to the analysis.

Wyoming’s tourism industry, under which outdoor recreation falls, is the state’s second biggest industry, according to Sy Gilliland, president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association.

Winter, summer and fall are the busiest times for Wyoming’s outdoor recreation industry, Gilliland said.

Outdoorsy’s analysis ranked snow activities – like skiing and snowmobiling – as having the biggest impact economically in Wyoming. 

Most of that activity is concentrated around Jackson Hole, according to Gilliland, but the rest of the state gets a sliver of the pie during the other seasons – especially fall.

“The fall is primarily made up of hunting and sportsmen coming from all over the world and all over the nation,” he told The Center Square in an interview. “They’ll start converging on Wyoming in late August and they’ll stay through November. And that benefits pretty much every community in Wyoming as our big game herds are scattered through the whole state.”

Hunting is an area where Gilliland thinks the state could expand.

“Licenses are issued on an allocation to residents versus non-residents based upon politics,” he said. “So if politics were to change and we were able to issue more of those licenses to non-residents you could see another jump in our tourism economy that way.”

Eco tourism, wildlife safaris and rock climbing are gaining a bigger share of the market, he noted as well.

“The Division of Tourism – I think they have their finger on the pulse of pretty much all aspects of our tourism industry, and I think they do a really good job of promoting Wyoming – and maybe even too good,” he said. “I mean, to see an increase of 19% over 2019 is pretty dang impressive.”

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Visitor Spending In Wyoming’s National Parks Down $65 Million Last Year

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By Robert Davis, The Center Square

Wyoming’s national park sites saw a $65 million decline in visitor spending last year, according to data released Thursday by the National Park Service (NPS).

The agency’s annual report found that NPS-managed lands in Wyoming welcomed over 7 million visitors who spent $859 million on things like lodging and recreational activities.

Visitors spent $924 million in 2019, according to NPS data.

Lodging accounted for nearly 37% of tourism spending while restaurants and retail accounted for 18% and 10%, respectively.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks were the most visited parks, attracting over $1 billion in visitor spending. Both parks straddle Wyoming’s borders with Montana and Idaho, so those states also benefit economically from the parks.

Devil’s Tower National Monument attracted $27.9 million in visitor spending and generated $35.7 million in economic output.

Even with the significant decline in visitation, Wyoming moved up two spots in the state-by-state rankings based on revenue. The state ranked fifth, just ahead of Arizona and Tennessee, but just $20 million behind Utah.

Nationwide, NPS said park visits reached a 40-year low as visits dipped by 28%. The nation’s 389 locations generated an economic impact of over $28.6 billion in 2020, and supported 234,000 jobs, $9.7 billion in labor income, and $16.7 billion in value added to the nation’s economy.

In 2019, NPS brought in over $41 billion in economic impact and grew its presence in the U.S. economy by over $1.6 billion when compared to 2018.

“The decrease is attributed largely to temporary park closures and restrictions implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” the report said.

State Board Considers Name Change For The ‘Squaw Teats’

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Although Park County commissioners want a pair of local buttes to continue to be known as “Squaw Teats,” a state board may not.

At a May 19 meeting, the Wyoming Board on Geographic Names did not formally take a position on a proposed renaming of the buttes. However, the board’s leaders did pledge to support a broader effort to remove the name “squaw” from not just the Park County formation, but from all of the locations in the state that include the word.

“This name is being changed across the country,” said Shelley Messer, the Wyoming Board on Geographic Names’ executive director.

Montana, South Dakota, Idaho and other states have already erased the word ‘squaw’ from their maps, and state Rep. Andi Clifford, an Ethete Democrat and a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, told the board she’s drafted legislation that would do the same in Wyoming.

“It may be a two, three, five-year effort with this renaming,” Clifford said, “but we’re not going to give up, because it is offensive.”

She said the conversation was kickstarted in June 2020, when Powell resident Tyler Kerr called for renaming the Squaw Teats. The formation is located about 15 miles east of Meeteetse in Park County’s southeastern corner, on Bureau of Land Management property.

The area was originally referred to as “Squaw Buttes” in a 1906 U.S. Geological Survey publication, according to research by the federal government, but “Squaw Teats” became more common starting around 1938.

Kerr says the moniker “is derogatory, both to women and to Native Americans.” In a formal proposal to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names last year, he suggested renaming the peaks as “Crow Woman Buttes.”

That began a lengthy review process, in which the national naming board — which will have the final say on the name — seeks input from a variety of stakeholders.

Park County commissioners were the first to weigh in, unanimously voting to support “Squaw Teats” in August. Commissioners said “the history and heritage of Park County is important and must remain the same today and tomorrow.”

Director Messer called the opposition surprising, but noted the commission also opposed a proposal to rename Yellowstone National Park’s Hayden Valley and Mount Doane.

Speaking to the state board, Crystal C’Bearing of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office suggested the issue could be commissioners “just don’t have the information or the history of why these names are offensive.” C’Bearing said that’s what she’s found as she’s worked to change the names of Squaw Mountain and Mount Evans in Colorado.

“I think we just need to do our part,” added Clifford, who is C’Bearing’s sister. The state representative said she plans to reach out to her fellow lawmakers in the Park County area to start a conversation and hopefully build support for her bill.

One member of the state board felt it would be helpful for Park County commissioners to have information about the origin and historical use of the word squaw, while member Dan White offered that “this is not a new topic, anywhere.”

“I mean, I’m sorry, the county commissioners should be up on it a little bit more than that,” White said. “I don’t think they need that much education.”

Messer agreed, saying other states had eliminated the word from place names decades ago.

While “squaw” has increasingly been seen as derogatory in recent years, there remains debate over its origins, according to multiple scholars and sources; some believe it was from an Algonquian word for woman while others say it came from a Mohawk word for vagina. C’Bearing told the board “it was originally created to offend native women.”

Particularly amid a nationwide effort to combat the disproportionately high number of Indigenous women who are murdered or go missing, “it seems only right to change those [squaw] names,” C’Bearing said, “because that gives the stereotype that native women are not respected.”

Board chairman Herb Stoughton of Cheyenne said, over the years, the panel has heard proposals on a number of controversial names, including some that contained the N-word.

“This is just a continuation that’s been going on since before 2000,” Stoughton said. “We’re just now getting into the Native American names that are considered not sensitive.”

The chairman told Clifford he thought the board would support her proposal to change squaw-related place names “in any way we can.” Messer said she’d help however she could, too.

Clifford told the panel she hopes to get the Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations to sponsor the bill.

“I already know the pushback we’re going to get when we talk about, on the national level, the critical race theory and all of that going on,” she said.

As for Squaw Teats and Kerr’s proposal to rename them as Crow Woman Buttes, the Wyoming Board on Geographic Names tabled the discussion until its next meeting in November. One reason for a delay is that tribal governments and the Bureau of Land Management have yet to offer their opinions; Messer said the U.S. board will likely want to wait until hearing from the BLM before making a decision.

How long it might take the agency to weigh in is unclear. For example, in 2017, a group of Native American tribes proposed renaming Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley and Mount Doane as Buffalo Nations Valley and First People’s Mountain, respectively. The National Park Service has yet to weigh in.

However, Messer suggested things may move forward more quickly under the Biden administration. From talking to people on other boards, “federal agencies are feeling more free to make a voice on those things under the current administration than they were over the last four years,” she said.

There is no flood of proposed name changes in Wyoming, as Squaw Teats is the only proposal pending before the state board.

“It’s been a very slow year,” Messer said.

The board’s next meeting is set for Nov. 17.

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Plans For Wild Horse Gather In SW Wyoming Move Forward With Governor’s Approval

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By The Center Square, Cowboy State Daily

 The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has the governor of Wyoming’s support to go forward with a wild horse gather in the southwestern part of the state.

Wyoming’s southwestern gather will manage herds across Carbon, Fremont, Lincoln, Sublette, and Sweetwater counties, according to a press release from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office. The federal agency, which manages resources on 18 million acres in Wyoming, has determined “that there are excess wild horses within the Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek, Great Divide Basin, White Mountain and Little Colorado [Habitat Management Areas].”

“We must explore solutions that balance multiple uses, including forage for livestock and habitat for wildlife, all the while sustaining healthy wild horse herds and rangelands,” Gordon said in a press release. “This must also be done while conforming to the rights of private landowners throughout southwestern Wyoming’s private and public checkerboard lands.”

Public comments on the bureau’s environmental assessment of the gather, removal and fertility control program closed at the end of April. BLM will address the public comments garnered and potentially change aspects of the gather plan depending on feedback.

The earliest the gathering will happen is in the fall of this year, according to Brad Purdy, public affairs specialist for BLM’s Wyoming office.

“We don’t want to gather horses in the middle of summer because of the heat,” he told The Center Square.

The bureau seeks a balance between healthy wild horse herds and healthy rangelands, Purdy said.

“They’ll overgraze, then there won’t be enough food, then we’ll see deteriorating body conditions on the horses, God forbid, we might even see some horse fatalities,” Purdy said. “We’re usually able to get in there before that happens, and that’s always our goal. Again, always keeping that balance between the amount of animals we have in the herd management area and making sure that the range conditions are to a point where that herd can be healthy, have enough to eat, have enough to drink.”

Gathers are executed a couple of different ways, according to Purdy. Sometimes feed traps are set to attract wild horses into an enclosure. More often, however, horses are rounded up by a helicopter whose contractor pilot is skilled at manipulating herds into chutes.

Some mares will be given a birth control agent known as PVP and released back into the wild along with a few stallions, while the others will be taken to facilities where they will be offered for adoption in person and online to people all over the country.

Horses from the southwest gather are likely to end up at a large, brand new wild horse facility in Wheatland which hasn’t opened yet, Purdy said. A grand opening is planned for some time in early June followed by an adoption.

Wild horse gathers are the second preferred method for population management, according to Purdy.

“If we could PVP the horses, that would be the preferred method, because it’s more cost-effective, less stressful on the animal, just better all around, but sometimes depending on the nature of the herd, the nature of the herd management area, that’s not always a possibility,” he said.

Not all people interested in adopting a wild horse have the knowledge or time to do the requisite training, Purdy said. To meet that need, BLM partners with Wyoming Corrections to create a program where inmates work with the wild horses to gentle them. Those horses are then sold at auction.

Purdy points out wild horses not adopted after gathers are sent to ranches who contract with BLM to give the animals a space to live out their days well cared for. 

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Walk Along A Cliff In Wyoming Mountains? Ambitions For A Via Ferrata Are Underway

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By Sam Lightner Jr.

The facts on the Via Ferrata?

I’m embarrassed to say the idea actually came from a Greenie: “Why don’t you guys have a via ferrata? You have the perfect terrain for it in Sinks Canyon.” We Wyomingites hate being outsmarted by Coloradans, but when you are right, you are right.

The concept fit perfectly with a discussion a few friends and I had been having for years. We know hundreds of thousands of tourists  pass through Lander each summer in route to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Most don’t even bother to pause for the stop-lights, so getting them to drop anchor for a night and have dinner, a room, and maybe a movie, is hard to do. We needed something cool that made them want to stop in Lander, and the via ferrata was perfect for it.

For those that don’t know, a via ferrata is a set of rungs and cables anchored in a mountain wall that allow a non-climber to get some of the thrill that trained mountaineers get when climbing. If you are in decent shape and use a few specifically designed  pieces of safety equipment, it’s a safe way to experience mountain climbing. The sport has grown dramatically in Europe in the last decade with over 1,500 via ferratas attracting visitors to various locations.

An independent study conducted on the establishment of a via ferrata in Ouray, Colorado, concluded the city could expect a million dollars in added revenue due to the increased visitation. In their first year the study expected around 1,500 visitors to come to Ouray, with more in subsequent years as word spread.

To their delighted surprise, in the first year Ouray had over 10,000 visitors specifically coming for the new recreation. Clearly, with via ferratas in Estes Park, Ogden, Utah, Slade, Kentucky, and Lake Tahoe, they are growing in popularity.

The first order of business was to see if Sinks Canyon State Park was ok with the concept, and that meant making sure the Wyoming Game and Fish were good with it. The Game and Fish department actually owns most of what is Sinks Canyon State Park and regulates it as a recreational area, which is quite different from a wilderness area.

This makes sense as Sinks Canyon has always been heavily accessed by the people of Lander. In the past it was the main source of lumber for building the town in the late 19th century. It has since been home to a ski area, the original hydroelectric dam that gave Lander its electricity, a university field office, and the NOLS headquarters. It’s bisected by a state highway and is home to the state park office, four campgrounds, and hundreds of rock climbs that attract climbers from all over the planet. “Recreation” is its middle name.

The Game and Fish had two concerns over the proposed via ferrata: would it affect nesting raptors or be detrimental to wildlife migration. The biologists at the G&F knew of no existing nests where we proposed the facility, so a few of us went up there and surveyed the wall. It was perfect for the via ferrata and we found no historic nests anywhere nearby. There were a couple of pigeons roughly 75 feet down canyon, but nothing else.

Over the course of the Covid spring and summer, the biologists came to a firm conclusion that was the case, and we got the green light to proceed. As per migration, if it were found in the future that the hiking trail to the via ferrata  caused problems during migration, use could be curbed to accommodate the animals. With that, the Park agreed that it was a good idea, and we began fundraising.

Through 2020 we found we had a lot of allies in creating this. Governor Gordon, a climber at heart, thought it was a brilliant way to bring more dollars to the central Wyoming economy. The Lander Chamber of Commerce and Lander Economic Development Association also loved it,  as well as a number of nonprofits, including the LOR Foundation, who contributed to the fund that would purchase the equipment.

All the labor in its construction would be contributed by expert local climbers  who have worked with these anchors systems for years. It would be constructed to the international specifications the European Union has created for via ferratas (the US does not have its own specs on most mountain climbing equipment). By the end of 2020 we had raised over $30,000, so enough to make it happen.

All was going great, but then a couple of individuals with a very specific agenda began campaigning against it. Their stated concern was about the potential raptors. The fact that the Game and Fish had studied it and found there to be no problem was not acceptable to them. These folks persisted, and even recently managed to get a newspaper article printed with their gross exaggerations of problems.

They said, for instance, that there were two nesting peregrine falcons across the canyon and that the sense that people were climbing might scare them. More, if the falcons wanted to move to the north facing wall, this would inhibit them. They went as far as to tell the reporter that the via ferrata would “basically remove 50% of their habitat.” At best, these statements are misleading exaggerations, and at worse, well…

Here is the real deal. There was a peregrine nest on the north facing wall in the past, but the birds moved to the south facing wall about 10 years ago and have not returned. What’s more, the nest was not where the via ferrata is to be built. As far as “scaring” them, this facility will be half a mile away and across a highway, the park headquarters, and a powerline. The via ferrata is a few hundred feet from an existing campground and 400 yards from the park headquarters.

Also, if those birds are afraid of climbers in the canyon, they should have shown it by now. Sinks Canyon has been a climbing destination since the 1960’s, and it sees thousands of climbers every year on the hundreds of already established rock climbs.

In fact, rock climbing was never what caused the past problems with peregrine populations (the animals were once, but are no longer, on the Endangered Species List). The use of pesticides, specifically DDT in the 1960’s, caused them to lay eggs with thin shells. The eggs broke and bird numbers declined dramatically, but they have come back to nest not only on mountain walls, but also buildings and bridges.

Finally, the statement that the via ferrata would take away 50% of the peregrine habitat is just not true. It will pass over about 10% of one north facing limestone wall, meaning there is 90% of that wall, plus the entire other side of the canyon (where they seem to want to live), dolomite walls, Madison limestone walls, and granite walls, and that’s just in Sinks Canyon. There are another dozen canyons on the east slope of the Wind River Range, including Sawmill Canyon just around the corner, that sees no climber-traffic.

The fact is, these figures were given to the article to create alarm, and the Game and Fish and State Park have done their due diligence. They are even going so far as to complete a NEPA study (National Environmental Policy Act) to make sure all concerns are met.

Right now the state of Wyoming is in a serious economic recession, if not a depression. Coal mines and oil fields are shrinking, and we need to come up with new ways of expanding our economy. There is not going to be a singular fix to our economic woes; it will take a cornucopia of new ideas.

The Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata will likely make a few Yellowstone bound tourists stop to try out what we in Fremont County already know –  Lander is a wonderful place with lots of recreation. Perhaps they will take in the family-friendly via ferrata, then have dinner in town, stay in a hotel, have breakfast, shop, etc. They may even find out that we are a growing center for mountain biking, or that partaking of the via ferrata is a good first step in learning to climb, which they can do in Lander. This will be done using a natural resource we have and in a way that does not harm the wildlife.

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Online Events Highlight Indigenous And Emigrant History Of The Red Desert

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The public is invited to two online events exploring the rich history of Wyoming’s Red Desert. 

At noon Wednesday, April 7, Central Wyoming College professor Todd Guenther will discuss the emigrant history of the Red Desert and the significance of the Great Migration.

Between 1830 and 1912, an estimated 500,000 people traversed South Pass on their migration westward, using the network of the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails.

The worn ruts of these trails still mark the northern edge of the desert. Guenther brings a passion for anthropology and the Red Desert, and has previously worked for the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist, South Pass City State Historic site and the Lander Pioneer Museum.  

And at noon Wednesday, May 5, experts from the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes will share the Native American history of this same landscape.

Since time immemorial, the Red Desert has been an important home, hunting area, and spiritual epicenter for Indigenous people.

Panel members will include Wes Martel, a former longtime member of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council; Jason Baldes, the tribal buffalo coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation; and Yufna Soldier Wolf, the Wind River Reservation organizer for the Wyoming Outdoor Council and former tribal historic preservation officer for the Northern Arapaho Tribe. 

Both events are free and will be held over Zoom. These are casual conversations with plenty of time for discussion, so bring any questions you may have! 

To register, visit the Citizens for the Red Desert page on Facebook:

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