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Wyoming Outdoors

Oh, Joy: Flooding Releases High Numbers Of Mosquitoes In Wyoming

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Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

The eggs can lay dormant for years, waiting for the right conditions. Once the adults emerge, the females seek out a blood meal, which will provide enough protein so they can lay their eggs, and the cycle starts all over again. 

This horror story plays out year after year around the world, with those blood-sucking, disease-carrying creatures preying on humans and animals alike. 

Mosquitoes. We’re talking about mosquitoes. And this year’s weather patterns have created the perfect breeding grounds for these miniature monsters to proliferate.

Flood Events Proliferate Hatching 

Scott Schell, entomologist at the University of Wyoming, told Cowboy State Daily that the majority of mosquitoes in Wyoming are called “floodwater mosquitoes,” as they have adapted to spending most of their life cycles as eggs waiting for flood events. 

“That will inundate them with enough water that they can complete their larval development and then emerge as an adult,” he said.  

But “flood events” aren’t limited to natural disasters, as was experienced near Yellowstone National Park in June. Schell said flood irrigation, which is widely practiced in Wyoming, can also create optimal conditions for mosquitoes. 

“(In) irrigated grass hay fields, and those types of habitats where you have standing water for long enough, they can complete their development,” he said. 

“All of that precipitation that we got early on in the year, there was so much habitat, and a lot of the eggs survived,” said Josh Shorb, supervisor of Park County Weed and Pest. “So you had more mosquitoes make it to adulthood earlier on in the summer, which just increases the breeding population.” 

Schell said that mosquito eggs hatched later than usual this year, possibly because the rainy season began later in the spring. 

“I had never seen it so green as this spring, after those rains,” he said. “So I suppose there was a lot of standing water – and floodwater mosquito eggs can last for years in the dirt, waiting for a flood event, and then hatch out.” 

Not All Eggs In One Basket 

Schell pointed out that a mosquito’s life cycle can extend for years. 

“Mother Nature, she doesn’t put all her eggs in one basket,” he said. “So those eggs, if you get a light flood event, some of them will hatch – but if the water doesn’t stay long enough, they’ll die when the water drops. And of course, in a year where you get exceptional rains, you will inundate places that had mosquito eggs that may have sat there for several years.” 

Those tiny eggs are sensitive to the environment, Schell said, and survive longer than one might think. 

“It’s like a chicken egg, where until you start to incubate it doesn’t really start development,” he said. “That egg, until it senses the conditions are correct, it’s inundated with water, it won’t hatch. And so that kind of explains sometimes the variation between years.” 

Watch Out For the Females 

Shorb added that it’s only the female mosquitoes that bite – they need the protein from human and animal blood to lay eggs. 

“The only mosquitoes that bite are the females,” he said. “The males feed on plants. But the females, they need a blood meal – they need all that protein and energy to be able to produce eggs. So once she has a blood meal, then she’s capable of mating and producing eggs and completing her life cycle.” 

So, in short, when you smack that mosquito that’s just bitten you? 

“It’s a female, and you prevented her from laying eggs,” Shorb said. 

Disease-Carrying Dangers 

Those annoying pests are more than just inconvenient – Shorb pointed out that under the right conditions, a mosquito bite can be as dangerous as being stuck with a dirty needle. 

“The females, they can bite more than one person, you know, and it’s kind of like using a dirty needle,” he said. “Sometimes if you get a dirty needle it’s fine, but sometimes you’re gonna get the disease that the other person that used it has. That’s how some of those diseases get transmitted.” 

And those diseases can be deadly. Worldwide, mosquito bites cause illnesses such as malaria, Zika virus, and dengue – but here in the U.S. the biggest threat is West Nile, which can cause a serious and sometimes fatal neurological disease.  

The Centers for Disease Control reports that most people infected with West Nile virus will not have any symptoms; about 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever and other symptoms; and about 1 in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis or meningitis. 


Shorb explained that in areas such as Laramie, the environment is perfect for mosquitoes to thrive. That’s why some communities choose to spray larvicide to kill the insects before they hatch. 

“Laramie has a bad problem,” he said. “On the high plains there’s little random pots of water, and little mini ponds all over the place, and those mosquitoes just thrive in that stuff. That’s why they fly larvicide down there in airplanes and they fog the town.” 

Shorb explained that larvicide is a chemical put in the water that only kills the mosquito larva –  the lifecycle when they’re in the water, but it doesn’t harm fish.   

Lee Ann Stephenson owns the Lazy Acres campground in Riverside. She said that mitigation efforts there have dramatically cut down the number of mosquitoes. 

“The town of Riverside contracts with the town of Encampment to be fogged three times a week,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “And it’s kept them gone. Plus we work really hard not to have standing water or tall grass – you know, all of the normal things they tell you to keep the mosquitoes down.” 

Stephenson said that previous attempts at mitigation, such as aerial spraying, were unsuccessful. But the application of larvicide has worked well. 

“We just use the combination of fogging with the larvicide in the standing water, and the regular mitigation,” she said, “like not to have old tires with water and not to have standing pools, and to keep the grass cut short.” 

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Boston Family “Rocked By Grief” With Loss Of Son In Teton Wilderness Lightning Strike

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Authorities have identified the man who was killed in a fatal lightning strike in Bridger Teton National Forest on Tuesday.

Jack Murphy, 22, of Boston was killed when lighting struck a National Outdoor Leadership Schools (NOLS) expedition camp of 14 adults near Enos Lake in the Teton Wilderness.

Murphy’s family released a statement on Sunday thanking personnel with NOLS for trying to save his life after the strike.

“The Murphy family wishes to thank the NOLS guides and fellow students who tried bravely to save him,” the family said. “We are rocked by grief at having lost our dear Jack.”

“Jack loved the outdoors and found peace in the physical exertion it takes to climb to a remote place like Enos Lake, so far from the city home he grew up in. We know in his last moments he was with others who shared his passion for the wilderness and helping others. And he was doing what he loved best – being outdoors, in awe of the beauty of nature,” they said.

Another man was injured by the strike and was flown first to St. John’s Health clinic in Moran, Wyoming and then Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

Shana Tater, spokesperson for NOLS, told Cowboy State Daily that the injured man was treated and released from the hospital and rejoined the group in Lander.  Many of the group were preparing to return to their homes, she said. 

According to CBS News in Boston, Murphy was a 2018 Boston College High School graduate and attended college at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

He leaves behind his parents and two sisters.

A trust fund has been set up in Murphy’s honor to support others who have a “passion to live, teach, and serve in the great outdoors.” For more information on the “Jack Murphy Wilderness Education Fund,” contact jackmurphyfund@gmail.com.

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Survivors Of Fatal Lightning Strike In Teton Wilderness Return To Lander

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter

The survivors of a lightning strike that killed one man and injured another Tuesday at a remote campsite in the Absaroka Mountains were back in Lander Thursday. 

“Our focus is just making sure we are providing all the support we can to the students, the faculty and the families,” Shana Tater, spokesperson for the Lander-based National Outdoors Leadership School (NOLS), told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. 

One man, 22, was killed. Another man – whose age and identity were unavailable as of Thursday – was injured when lightning struck a NOLS expedition camp of 14 adults near Enos Lake in the Teton Wilderness, according to a press release issued Wednesday by Teton County Search And Rescue (TCSAR).  NOLS was withholding the deceased man’s name out of respect for his family, Tater said. 

The National Lightning Safety Council, an organization unrelated to NOLS, had on its website listed “John D. Murphy,” 22, as the victim of a fatal lightning strike Tuesday in Teton County. The name was part of a listing of “2022 lightning fatalities.” No hometown for Murphy was listed, and the site said Murphy was struck “in tent” as the location and while “camping” as the activity. 

After being flow out by helicopter on Tuesday, the injured man was taken first by ambulance to St. John’s Health clinic in Moran, and later flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, according to search and rescue. 

He had been treated and released from the hospital Wednesday evening and rejoined the rest of the group in Lander, Tater said. Many of the group were preparing to return to their homes, she said. 

Lightning safety training is a standard part of NOLS wilderness expedition preparations, Tater said, adding that details were still unclear regarding the circumstances of the lightning strike on Tuesday. 

“We are trying to specifically understand what happened,” she said.  “Everybody’s been able to return to Lander and has been able to communicate with friends and family.” 

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Lightning Strike In Wyoming’s Absaroka Mountains Kills One, Injures Another

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter

A 22-year-old man was killed and another man suffered severe injuries in a lightning strike Tuesday evening in the Absaroka Mountains, according to Teton County Search And Rescue.

The men’s names and hometowns had not been released as of Wednesday evening. They were part of a wilderness education expedition into the Teton Wilderness through the Lander-Based National Outdoors Leadership School (NOLS), according to Teton County Search And Rescue (TSCAR).

A brief statement on the NOLS website described the deceased man as a”22-year-old student.”

TSCAR was withholding the man’s identity as of Wednesday evening out of respect for his family, according to a release.

The injured man’s name had also not yet been released, and no further information was available about his condition, TSCAR Foundation spokesman Matt Hanson told Cowboy State Daily.

The men were part of a group of 14 adults camped near Enos Lake in the Teton Wilderness. Hanson described the terrain there as “rolling hills, not sheer drop-offs like much of the Tetons.”

“It’s prime grizzly and wolf habitat, very rugged and extremely remote,” Hanson said.

The campsite was about 12 miles from the Pacific Creek Trailhead.

Rescuers were helicoptered into the site Tuesday after being alerted to the incident at 6:25 p.m.

“TCSAR mobilized a response by issuing a request for the interagency helicopter from Teton Helitack. The request was approved and the helicopter flew three SAR volunteers to the site on Tuesday evening. CPR had been in progress for more than an hour when the ship landed with the SAR team members. TCSAR members took over but the patient could not be revived,” the release said.

The helicopter flew in and out twice, first with the injured man, and then to transport the body of the man who died to the Teton County Coroner at the Jackson Hole Airport. The injured man was taken first by ambulance to St. John’s Health in Moran, and later flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

Two members of TSCAR remained with the campers overnight, and reported that two other people were suffering from “acute emotional reaction and medical concerns exacerbated by the long hike out,” the release said. However, weather made any further flights impossible until about 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Hansen said that to the best of his knowledge, the man who died and the one who was severely injured were the only ones directly struck by the lightning. This was the first fatal lightning strike so far this year in Wyoming, he said.

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Nightmares: Wyo Angler Reminds Public That Rattlesnakes Swim In Lakes, Reservoirs

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

When a rattlesnake glided across the lake Sunday to visit a Wyoming fisherman, the fisherman wasn’t flattered.  

Patrick Edwards, avid fisherman and voice of Radcast Outdoors, recorded a video Sunday evening of a rattlesnake slithering toward him across the surface of Boysen Reservoir. He’d been fishing for Walleye with two of his four children – an 8-year-old and 12-year-old – and with his father and his wife’s grandfather.  

“This is not what you want to see when you go fishing,” said Edwards in the video. “That is a big’n… and he’s wanting to come hang out while I am fishing. Not very cool.”  

Edwards posted the video to one of his Facebook pages and was surprised when it was linked by photography profile Wyoming Through the Lens – and went viral.  

About half the people responding to the post were shocked that rattlesnakes would swim across the lake, said Edwards. But he’s been seeing it all his life.  

“They actually cross Boysen all the time. I’ve seen it probably 20 times at least on Boysen, I’ve seen it on the Seminoe Reservoir down by Sinclair, the Glendo Reservoir… Flaming Gorge,” he said. “They’re not afraid to get in the water.” 

About 20 years ago, a rattler tried slithering into the boat while Edwards and his dad fished. 

Edwards said the rattlers often will cross the lake when the water is warmest in the early evening, but even then they need a moment to recover their body heat when they hit the bank.  

When Edwards’ video reached the sand 10 yards away from him, he thought the snake would relax for a few minutes. But the snake recovered quickly.  

“He sat there for a minute and he started to slither toward me,” said Edwards, recounting what happened after he stopped recording. “I thought ‘Oh crap – I don’t want you over here.’” 

Edwards threw a few rocks toward the snake and it meandered the other direction.  

Second Rattler 

But that was only the first rattler of the evening.  

The family discovered a second snake by accident while ambling toward their truck in the half-dark of evening, about 9:30.  

Edwards came within five feet of the rattlesnake, and it let him know.  

“He started rattling really loud.”  

The family avoided the snake as they got into their truck and left. That incident concerned Edwards because unlike the earlier snake encounter, it was a complete surprise.  

“I’ve always been terrified of snakes, so that was not helpful.”  

‘The Ones You Can’t See’ 

Edwards said his children handled the shock fine, since they’d seen other rattlesnakes on the family farm earlier this year.  

“It’s the ones you can’t see that you’ve got to worry about,” he said, adding that many people have approached him since he made the viral post, and have told him they paddleboard and play in the lake water.  

Edwards tells those people to pay close attention to what’s in the water, watch for graceful serpentine movement. And paddle away.  

“I always worry about people who are waterskiing,” Edwards said. “You can run over a rattlesnake.” 

Non-venomous bull snakes and many other breeds also swim in lakes, but the rattlesnake has a flatter, broader head and can be identified by its rattles as well.  

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Human Poop Becoming A Big Problem In Wyoming Outdoors

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Yes, bears shit in the woods, but you shouldn’t – probably. 

The coronavirus pandemic gets a bad rap, a virus that caused more than 6 million deaths will do that, but when people got tired of twiddling their thumbs during quarantine, they returned to the great outdoors en masse. 

And they brought their crap with them. 

“People have done their business in the woods since the beginning of time,” said Aaron Voos, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson. “So, there are certain things that have never changed.” 

What has changed, however, is where people are stacking their Lincoln Logs. 

Voos, who serves as a public affairs officer for the Medicine Bow and Routt national forests as well as the Thunder Basin Wilderness Area, said the forest service temporarily closed many of its established campgrounds during the last few years. 

In some cases, the closures were a pandemic safety precaution, while in others, the closures allowed for maintenance and renovations. 

But without public access to the campsites and their toilets, Voos said Forest Service staff have reported an increase of little, white paper squares dotting the landscape, especially in certain areas where dispersed camping became popular for groups. 

With about 175 vault toilets on nearly 3 million acres of national forest and wilderness, campsites aren’t the only dumping grounds. Voos said his staff noted a marked increase in stink bombs on the trails as well. 

With more than 2,500 miles of hiking, biking and ATV trails in Medicine Bow, Routt and Thunder Basin, there’s a lot of terrain to cover with a pooper scooper. 

“When you’re talking about feces on the trail, we’re seeing a lot more pets and pet waste on the trails,” Voos said, “that’s a huge issue with deal with.”

You Dropped Something

Nature poops, too, so what’s the big deal?

The first and most obvious problem is few people want to plant their campsite in a field of steamers or dip and dodge doggy doo landmines every few feet up the mountain trail. 

Near the Grand Tetons, hiking guide Cathy Shill said the problem exists on Wyoming’s trails, but it’s not as common as it might be in other states with higher traffic counts. 

“We don’t run into it a lot, but more than we used to,” Shill said.

Owner and founder of The Hole Hiking Experience, based in Jackson, Shill has specialized in guided day hikes for more than 30 years. 

With national interest trending again toward the outdoors, some downsides are bound to occur, she said.

“It’s not just poop and trash, trail cutting is more common now, too,” Shill explained. “The more people making their own trails and shortcuts, the larger the impacts of hiking the land.”

To decrease some of those impacts, The Hole Hiking Experience provides its clients with bags for packing out their scat, but Shill said they don’t see a lot of use, because most of her hikes are completed in four hours or less. 

While the occasional trail turd is an inconvenience, Voos said the situation, if left unchecked, could hit the fan. 

“High quantities of feces near water sources can have some serious ramifications,” he explained. “Thankfully, we don’t have a whole lot of examples of how this could play out.” 

Recently, the Rainbow Family of Living Light announced plans to camp out in the Routt National Forest in celebration of its 50th anniversary. The event could draw thousands of people to the forest during weeks surrounding Independence Day.

“What’s going to happen with all the human waste at those sites is a big concern for some people,” Voos said. “It’s not like we have poop police following people around on the trail.” 

Leave No Trace

Instead, the Forest Service relies on recreaters to enjoy the public resource responsibly, he explained. Partnering with organizations and educators, the Forest Service’s primary strategy for combating derelict dung is information campaigns. 

Through initiatives such as Leave No Trace, www.lnt.org, and Recreate Responsibly, www.recreateresponsibly.org, Voos said the Forest Service places faith in the users to preserve the resource for future generations.   

Depending on the area, Voos said burying fecal matter is still one of the preferred methods of disposal. 

According to Leave No Trace, “cat holes” are a widely accepted method of waste disposal. About 70 paces from a campsite, trail or water source, dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches around. Once used, the cat hole should be covered with nearby materials, so as to blend in with its surroundings. 

When digging is prohibited by the land management agency, a poop bag might be necessary. As is common for pets in public spaces, pick up waste with a bag or box and transport it to the nearest trash receptacle. 

In both instances, Leave No Trace advises recreaters to pack out their used toilet paper, tampons and wet wipes.  

With enough education, Shill believes Wyoming could flush out poor trail behaviors. 

“I think a lot of it is a lack of awareness,” she said. “We can’t assume that people know how to go to the bathroom outside. I think people do appreciate the outdoors, but sometimes they don’t know how best to take care of it.” 

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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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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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Buffalo Residents Fined, Lose Hunting Privileges In 2019 Poaching Case

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Two Buffalo residents have been fined and will lose their hunting privileges for the foreseeable future in connection to a 2019 case where a bull elk was killed illegally, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) said Tuesday.

Christopher Morales and Keisha Filbert have both been convicted of wildlife violations stemming from an anonymous report to the WGFD that claimed Morales killed a bull elk in September 2019, using a hunting license issued to Filbert.

The WGFD charged Morales in 2020 with illegally taking wildlife and Filbert for illegally transferring ownership of a hunting license following an investigation that spanned several months.

Upon receiving the anonymous report, wildlife investigators reportedly conducted an online investigation, which revealed photos of Morales and Filbert posing in camouflage clothing with two bull elk in 2019.

Morales claimed to have taken his own elk with a crossbow Sept. 6, adding that Filbert killed hers likewise Sept. 12, per the WGFD.

He denied shooting the second elk, stating that he had only tagged along during the second hunt, a story reportedly backed up by Filbert.

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The anonymous report, however, stated that Morales was observed leaving the area alone on Sept. 13 with elk antlers on his vehicle, the morning after Filbert’s elk was reportedly killed, according to the WGFD.

Search warrants yielded a video of Morales’ hunt Sept. 6 and cell phone data that did not match the story, the WGFD stated, adding that Filbert’s phone signal did not place her in the area the day of the second hunt.

During her interview, Filbert was reportedly unable to answer questions regarding her hunt. Instead, she described details from a video recording taken by Morales during his hunt on Sept. 6, per the WGFD.

Wildlife investigators reportedly tracked the path taken by Morales the day the second elk was taken using his cell phone data, locating two elk skeletal remains that matched the geographic location of the elk depicted in Morales’ and Filbert’s pictures.

When she was interviewed a second time in August 2020, Filbert allegedly admitted that she did not take the elk and was not with Morales when it was killed.

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The case recently concluded with the approval of plea agreements between the offenders and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office, approved by Circuit Court Judge Shelley Cundiff.

Per the plea agreements, Morales has been ordered to pay $5,000 in fines, $2,000 in restitution, and has forfeited his hunting privileges for three years for taking wildlife without a license.

Filbert lost her hunting privileges for two years and was ordered to pay a $400 fine for illegally transferring a hunting license.

The case displayed a great deal of effort to deceive game wardens during the investigation, Buffalo Game Warden Jim Seeman remarked, noting how Filbert dressed up in camouflage clothing to pose with the elk as if she had been the hunter.

“Thank you to the concerned sportspersons that started this investigation,” he added. “Many wildlife crimes are never detected because people do not pass information to the (WGFD). Honest sportspersons can make a big difference in protecting Wyoming’s wonderful wildlife resource by reporting violations to the Stop Poaching hotline.”

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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: www.facebook.com/CitizensForTheRedDesert

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