The Pitch

The Pitch is WyoFile’s staff blog designed to serve as a community “water cooler” for behind-the-scenes chatter about what we’re up to. Our editors and contributors use The Pitch to toss out shorter, more timely offerings than what you might read in a regular WyoFile feature. It’s also a place for us to pitch story ideas to readers, and to share with you bits of additional information or insight that may have been pitched out of the published versions you’ve already read.

As always, your comments and feedback are wanted, so pitch in and let us hear from you.

Wilcox, Lucas, Pullen recipients of 2014 Governor’s Arts Awards

— December 16, 2014

(Press release) — The Wyoming Arts Council has announced that Governor Matthew H. Mead has selected Jim Wilcox of Jackson, Tom Lucas of Dubois and Zachary Pullen of Casper as the recipients of the 2014 Wyoming Governor’s Arts Awards. They will be honored at the annual Governor’s Arts Awards Gala on February 27, at Little America in Cheyenne.

“These three artists are truly outstanding. They are representative of the many wonderful artists we have in Wyoming, who contribute to a thriving arts economy,” Gov. Mead said. “Each does signature work, each does inspiring work, and I am pleased to recognize them. I look forward to the awards ceremony.”

Folk Artist Tom Lucas is best known for his rediscovery of the skills needed to make bows from wild sheep horns. Growing up, he lived near Native Americans and learned many of their arts, including arrow making, saddle making, and making implements from the horns of big horn sheep. He has preserved heritage that might otherwise be lost and enthusiastically shares what he has learned with others. Lucas has been featured in a fascinating, recent documentary. 

Zachary Pullen is a well-known, highly regarded illustrator. His illustrations appear in numerous books and national publications. He has shown his artwork statewide and nationally. He has designed original artwork to publicize The Equality State Book Festival and the Casper Museum Consortium. He also created unique artwork for a Wyoming Symphony Orchestra program. Pullen generously shares his talents with the community, including Wyoming students.

Jim Wilcox is a nationally known landscape painter, especially renowned for his paintings of northwest Wyoming. His book “Canvassing the West” chronicles his work and is a visual delight. He was the 2014 honored artist at the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale in Cody. He owns the Wilcox Gallery in Jackson and founded the Jackson Hole Art Academy. Wilcox holds art workshops and mentors others, invented an easel used for painting outdoors, and contributes much to the community.

The Governor’s Arts Awards were first made possible by an endowment from the Union Pacific Foundation in honor of Mrs. John U. Loomis, a life-long patron of the arts. Over the years, individuals and organizations from more than 20 Wyoming communities and statewide organizations have been honored for their dedication to the arts in Wyoming.

Posted by on December 16, 2014
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Fort Phil Kearny annual Fetterman Battlefield tour scheduled for Sunday Dec. 21

— December 15, 2014

(Press release) — A tour held in remembrance of the 148th Anniversary of the Fetterman Fight will be held at Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site beginning at 9:30 a.m., Dec. 21.

The tour will be guided, in costume, by Bob Wilson of Kearny’s Frontier Regulars and will include an introduction at the Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site Interpretive Center.

The tour will continue with a trek down the ridge at the Fetterman Battlefield Site, and returning to Fort Phil Kearny for a frontier-era weapons demonstration by living historians, as well as refreshments and a question and answer period. The program will conclude by 2 p.m.

The fight occurred on December 21, 1866, between the United States 18th Infantry 2nd Cavalry Regiments and members of the Lakota (Sioux), Northern Cheyenne, and Northern Arapahoe Native American Nations. At that time, the battle marked the largest defeat of U.S. Forces in the Northern-Plains Territories.

New this year, Kearny’s Frontier Regulars will give a public presentation, with an introduction by Fort Phil Kearny Superintendent, Misty Stoll in the Inner Circle at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library on Dec. 20, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The presentation will cover the skirmish between Native Americans and soldiers from Fort Phil Kearny on Dec. 6, 1866, that preceded the Fetterman Massacre on Dec. 21. All ages are welcome to the event and there will be costumed representations of frontier soldiers.

In conjunction with this presentation, Sheridan Fulmer Library will host the Wyoming State Museum’s traveling exhibit ‘Frontier Army Posts’ in the Inner Circle during the month of December.

The exhibit discusses the history of U.S. Army forts built in Wyoming during the 19th century. Thirty 16-inch by 20-inch panels of maps, text and historic photographs examine the sixty-plus years that the Army built posts in the West.

Visitors are reminded to dress appropriately for the weather and expect wind at the battlefield. Site fees have been waived for all visitors for the anniversary tour. Fort Phil Kearny State History Site is located at 528 Wagon Box Rd in Banner, Wyoming.  For more information call (307) 684-7629 or email the Superintendent at misty.stoll@wyo.gov.

Posted by on December 15, 2014
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Volunteers needed for midwinter bald eagle survey

— December 15, 2014

(Press release) — As part of a national survey effort, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Buffalo and Casper Field Offices are seeking volunteers to assist with the 2015 Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015.

Participants are asked to count eagles along standard routes in order to identify population trends. The standard routes are distributed across the field offices with a focus on the Powder River Basin and will follow public roads.

Volunteers are encouraged to pre-register for survey routes. To pre-register, contact Charlotte Darling with the Buffalo Field Office (Johnson, Sheridan, Campbell counties) at (307) 684-1045 or George Soehn with the Casper Field Office (Natrona, Converse counties) at (307) 261-7531 by Friday, Jan. 2. Pre-registration is especially encouraged for routes in Sheridan and Johnson counties. Any routes that are not assigned during pre-registration will be available at the public meetings listed below.   

Public meetings will be held to discuss survey methodology, eagle identification and to distribute survey materials. Meetings will be held from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the following locations:

Sheridan, Jan. 6, 2015, Inner Circle, Sheridan County Library, 335 W Alger

Buffalo, Jan. 7, 2015, BLM Buffalo Field Office, 1425 Fort Street

Gillette, Jan. 8, 2015, Pioneer I Room, Campbell County Library, 2101 4-J Road

Casper, Jan. 8, 2015, BLM Casper Field Office, 2987 Prospector Drive

During last year’s survey, 62 volunteers counted 354 eagles throughout the Powder River Basin, including 239 bald eagles. A total of 2,396 eagles have been counted since surveys of the Basin began in 2006.

The national survey was established in 1979 by the National Wildlife Federation to develop a winter population index of bald eagles in the lower 48 states and to identify previously unrecognized winter habitats. Over the years the national survey has been coordinated by BLM, U.S. Geological Survey, and is currently coordinated by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wildlife professionals from BLM, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service coordinate local efforts across Wyoming. The Cody BLM has been coordinating surveys in the Bighorn Basin since the late 1980’s. Currently, survey results from 1979-2012 are being used to determine bald eagle and golden eagle population trends.

To volunteer, or for additional information, contact Charlotte Darling at (307) 684-1045 or George Soehn at (307) 261-7531. For more information on the national program visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Bird Initiative website.

Posted by on December 15, 2014
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Draft water quality report shows degradation

WyoFile staff report
— November 21, 2014

A draft water quality report shows new surface water degradation across Wyoming, as well as improvements, and officials want residents to comment on the findings.

The report is compiled to meet requirements of the federal Clean Water Act. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality wants residents to submit comments — but not by email — by 5 p.m. Dec. 29.

The report is available here.

The report lists eight new stream or river segments DEQ proposes be classified as impaired and requiring measurements to determine total maximum daily loads of pollutants. It also lists improvements on 23 waterways.

The last change in the list was two years ago.

Twin Creek and Little Popo Agie River in the Bighorn Basin don’t support aquatic life, other than fish, due to sedimentation and oil and grease.

The Roaring Fork in the Snake River Basin is degraded downstream from a tributary draining the Standard Mine, the report says.

In the North Platte River Basin, Bear and Rambler creeks are candidates for the list, along with the Little Medicine Bow River. Small segments of the creeks, each shorter than a mile, do not support aquatic life other than fish. Twenty-six miles of the river has a similar problem.

In the Snake River Basin, selenium pollutes Cow Creek from the Idaho boarder to the confluence with the Salt River, about a 7-mile reach. The creek doesn’t support aquatic life, other than cold-water fish, the report says.

The DEQ proposes to recognize 31 improvements or “de-listings” on 23 waterways. It also summarized the extent of the new problems and their causes.

“The majority of impaired stream miles are caused by E. coli/fecal coliform, selenium, sediment, flow alterations, habitat alterations and arsenic,” the draft report says. “Sources of pollutants are mostly unknown, natural sources, livestock grazing, irrigated agriculture and petroleum production.”

DEQ assessed 17,770 miles of waterways, slightly more than 6 percent of the state’s ephemeral, intermittent and perennial streams. Assessments place waterways in one of five categories, category 1 being the cleanest and 5 indicating serious pollution.

The draft report places the bulk — 89 percent of waterway miles — in category 2 that shows some impairment. Eight percent of the river miles are in category 5.

E. Coli and Fecal Coliform bacteria pollution accounts for 952 miles of impairment. The report lists selenium as a problem on 375 miles, sediment on 311 miles and flow alterations along 198 miles.

Unknown sources account for 40 percent of impairment, the draft says. It attributes 16 percent of impairment to natural sources, and 15 percent each to livestock grazing and irrigated agriculture.

Below is the notice DEQ issued regarding the report and comment period.

The Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ), Water Quality Division (WQD) regulates surface water quality and implements the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) in Wyoming. Section 305(b) of CWA requires that a report of the surface water quality condition of each state be provided to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) every two years by April 1st of even numbered years. In addition, Section 303(d) requires that a list of the impaired waters requiring Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) be submitted to EPA for approval. Wyoming’s Integrated 305(b) and 303(d) Report combines the requirements of both sections into a single document. Wyoming recently completed a draft of the 2014 Integrated 305(b) and 303(d) Report and is soliciting public comment. The draft document can be downloaded here. A 45-day public comment period, extending from November 14, 2014 to December 29, 2014, has been provided for the 2014 Draft Integrated 305(b) and 303(d) Report. Written comments should be submitted to Richard Thorp at WDEQ/WQD, Herschler Building 4-W, 122 West 25th Street, Cheyenne, WY 82002 or faxed to (307) 777-5973 by 5:00 PM December 29, 2014. E-mailed comments will not be accepted. Questions may be directed to Richard Thorp at (307) 777-3501 or richard.thorp@wyo.gov.

Posted by on November 21, 2014
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Wyo. Health Dept. promotes diabetes awareness as rate doubles

— November 19, 2014

[Press release] — In little more than a decade, the adult diabetes rate has almost doubled in Wyoming, leading to new Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) efforts to help limit the disease among Wyoming Medicaid clients and other state residents.

Wyoming’s diabetes rate among adults rose from 4.5 percent in 2001 to 8.6 percent in 2013.

Christine Revere, Chronic Disease Prevention Program manager with WDH, said the unfortunate trend is not surprising when considered along with several risk factors linked with type 2 diabetes. “Our data shows us that 65 percent of Wyoming adults are obese or overweight, 83 percent do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, 25 percent engage in no daily physical activity, and 21 percent smoke cigarettes.”

Revere said uncontrolled diabetes can result in medical difficulties such as blindness (retinopathy), kidney disease and nerve damage (neuropathy).  Diabetes is also an important risk factor for heart disease and stroke, as well as a leading cause of amputations due to the damage the disease sometimes causes in the feet and legs.

WDH is teaming up with WYhealth to offer Wyoming Medicaid clients with diabetes a new, year-long program called “Choice Rewards.”  Dr. James Bush, Wyoming Medicaid medical director with WDH, said, “With this effort, we are aiming to improve the lives of our clients with diabetes while working to avoid serious complications. This can mean better patient care along with avoiding costly hospital stays.”

The program offers diabetes-focused education, one-on-one support for living with diabetes, as well as tools to help clients learn how to self-manage the disease.  Adult Wyoming Medicaid clients are eligible and can receive a $25 incentive card for every three months of the program they complete.

Bush said WYhealth is also planning a release early next year of a new mobile app for Wyoming Medicaid clients designed to simplify the confusion of managing diabetes with a game-like design.  WYhealth provides a number of healthcare management services for Wyoming Medicaid, which is part of WDH.

Revere said, “While it’s true a family history of diabetes does lead to a greater risk for diabetes, there are simple steps people can take to reduce the likelihood they will develop the disease.”

Steps recommended to help prevent diabetes and its complications include:

  • Be aware of personal risk factors
  • Be physically active – aim for at least 30 minutes per day
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Eat more complex carbohydrates such as whole grain bread and pasta; and less refined grains like white/enriched bread and pasta
  • Work with your doctor on preventive measures
  • Manage blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Quit or don’t start using tobacco (quitwyo.org or 1-800-QUIT-NOW)
Posted by on November 19, 2014
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Sublette leak spilled 21,000 gallons of produced water

By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
— November 12, 2014

State environmental regulators are tracking a spill of 21,000 gallons of tainted water from an oil and gas operation pipeline on the Pinedale Mesa.

The Department of Environmental Quality has told QEP Resources, Inc. of its options to clean up the spill, which was discovered Oct. 26. QEP may be able to clean the area up voluntarily, according to a Nov. 6 letter to the operator.

DEQ could cite the company with a violation if the company does not clean up the spill. Several variables, including whether groundwater was polluted, factor into the cleanup, the DEQ letter said.

“We will look at what the impacts are,” DEQ spokesman Keith Guille said Wednesday. “It is important to us that those don’t happen and if they do they get reported to us.”

QEP shut down pumps, depressurized the system and stopped the flow within an hour and 15 minutes of learning of the incident, the company said in a report to DEQ emergency response coordinator Joe Hunter. The release occurred in the Tyler Draw area, according to a legal description the company provided to the DEQ. The pipeline runs underground.

Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling and pumping. It is piped to a processing facility.

The leak contained “a small percentage of natural gas condensate from the QEPFS Stewart Point gathering area,” the company said in its Nov. 4 report to the state (click for PDF). It estimated the discharge contained less than 10 percent condensate.

The 500 barrels flowed as far as 5,250 feet from the release site, the company’s report said. The Green River is the closest water body and is about 2 miles west of the end of the spill.

The company, after consulting with the BLM on whose land the spill occurred, took all manner of measures to clean up the effluent, it said. Those efforts are designed “to collect residual hydrocarbons, if any, so they do not travel downstream from the release location,” the company said.

Results of soil sampling are pending, the report said. QEP also is investigating the cause and is monitoring the area more frequently, it said.

The operations are part of the Pinedale Anticline, one of several oil and gas fields in Sublette County. Pinedale Online reported Monday that the leak occurred in a pipe fitting connecting two segments of buried pipeline. (Click this link to the story.) It quoted a spokesman saying the company was reclaiming the area.

QEP officials were not available for immediate comment Wednesday afternoon.

— Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He began working at the Jackson Hole News in 1978, and was editor of the Jackson Hole News and Jackson Hole News&Guide before joining WyoFile. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307) 690-5586. Follow him @AngusThuermer.

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Posted by on November 12, 2014
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BLM posts federal mineral lease parcels for February sale

— November 6, 2014

(Press release) — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wyoming State Office has posted its proposed list of parcels for the quarterly competitive oil and gas lease sale scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, at the Holiday Inn in Cheyenne. Doors open at 7 a.m., and the auction begins at 8 a.m.

The posted list, which identifies 153 proposed parcels totaling 157,334.61 acres, initiates a 30-day public protest period.

The sale includes parcels located in Big Horn, Converse, Crook, Fremont, Goshen, Hot Springs, Johnson, Natrona, Niobrara, Park, Washakie and Weston counties in Wyoming.

Copies of the complete February 2015 competitive oil and gas lease sale notice will be available at the sale and may be purchased in advance for $5 from the State Office at 5353 Yellowstone Road in Cheyenne, or by writing: BLM, Attn: Copy Work, P.O. Box 1828, Cheyenne, Wyo. 82003. Copies are also available for purchase from each BLM field office in Wyoming.

The complete February 2015 competitive oil and gas lease sale notice may be viewed and/or downloaded free of charge at this website. Also available at this website are the oil and gas leasing environmental assessments, including public comments, for the February 2015 oil and gas lease sale.

November lease sale nets $8M

The BLM generated $8,950,305.50 for leasing rights on parcels offered at the BLM’s quarterly federal oil and gas lease auction held Nov. 4, in Cheyenne. Almost half of the bid and rental receipts go to the State of Wyoming.

Bids ranged from the federally mandated minimum of $2 per acre to a high bid of $1,030.00 per acre. Successful bidders also pay a $155 per parcel one-time administrative fee and a yearly rental of $1.50 per acre for the first five years of the lease and $2 per acre in years six through 10.

Posted by on November 6, 2014
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Panel for students with disabilities sets meeting for public comment

(Press release) — The Wyoming Advisory Panel for Students with Disabilities (WAPSD) will hold a public meeting November 20 and 21, 2014, in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

The event is scheduled to take place over two days. On November 20, the meeting will run from 1-5 p.m. and the proceedings for November 21st are scheduled from 8 a.m. until noon. The meetings will take place at the Sweetwater County School District #1 School Administration Office, which is located at 3550 Foothill Boulevard, in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

The WAPSD panel serves as a forum through which issues regarding current and potential services to individuals with disabilities are discussed. A specific agenda for the meeting will be available on the WDE’s Special Programs website.

Those wishing to provide public comments regarding the education of children with disabilities in Wyoming are encouraged to attend and make their comment anytime between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. on November 20.

Individuals may call into the meeting to listen or offer comment using the number 1-877-278-8686 with a Pass Code of 095102. Public comments may be verbal or written. Please note the limit for verbal comments is no more than five minutes; comments are to be factual and objective and will be taken under advisement by the panel.

The WAPSD meets most months either in-person at various venues around the state or virtually. To learn more about the WAPSD, its vision and mission, a list of current members and the work in which it has been involved, please go to this website.

For additional information regarding the Panel or information about how to provide public comment, please call the Panel’s Administrative Assistant, Barb Yates, at barb.yates@wyo.gov or (307) 857-9253.

For additional questions or information, please contact Travis Hoff, Public Information Officer, Wyoming Department of Education, at travis.hoff@wyo.gov or (307) 777-2053.

Posted by on November 4, 2014
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Fortification Creek gas development monitoring meeting scheduled

(Press release) — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Buffalo Field Office (BFO) will host a Fortification Creek Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) Monitoring meeting on Nov. 19.

The meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the BLM Buffalo Field Office, 1425 Fort Street, Buffalo, Wyoming.

As part of the Fortification Creek RMPA Decision Record the BFO committed to an annual public meeting to discuss development and monitoring of performance standards. This year’s meeting will focus on Anadarko’s reclamation efforts following their 2013 well drilling and the response of the elk herd and their habitat.

Four Plans of Development (POD) have been authorized to date, Anadarko Petroleum’s Camp John SMA Phase 1 Year 1 POD with 56 wells, Yates Petroleum Corporation’s Queen B POD with 15 wells, Yates’ Elsie POD with seven wells, and Anadarko’s Camp John SMA Phase 1 Year 2 POD with 25 wells.

An agenda for the meeting is available online here.

The Fortification Creek Planning Area is located in Campbell, Johnson, and Sheridan counties, Wyo. encompassing 100,655 acres. It is home to a resident elk herd, a Wilderness Study Area (WSA), and has large areas of steep slopes and sensitive soils. There is interest in developing the area for coal-bed methane and other forms of oil and gas. The Fortification Creek RMPA established seven performance standards for elk protection and a reclamation standard that operators must meet in order to develop.

For more information, contact Thomas Bills at (307) 684-1133.

Posted by on October 30, 2014
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State Parks and Cultural Resources revisits statewide plan

— October 13, 2014

(Press release) — The Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office is currently revising a statewide historic preservation plan, updating the previous document published in 2007.

The State Historic Preservation Office has the responsibility under the National Historic Preservation Act for developing and revising, as necessary, a Statewide Historic Preservation Plan. This plan helps to guide the work of the State Historic Preservation Office by providing a vision for historic preservation in the state.

The state’s current plan, “On the Road to Preservation” was published in 2007. The State has begun the process for updating the plan, and is interested in obtaining input from the citizens of Wyoming on what is important to them about Wyoming’s historic buildings, archaeological sites, and landscapes.

The public is invited to take the on-line survey (click here). The survey is open until January 15. The current Historic Preservation Plan can be viewed here.

Posted by on October 13, 2014
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Forums set on federal rules for home, community-based service

(Press release) — With new federal rules in effect, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) is planning public forums and other opportunities to help interested residents learn more about expected changes to home and community-based services funded through Wyoming Medicaid.

In March, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved new rules covering provider settings for home and community-based services through special programs known as waivers. WDH programs affected by the new rules are the Child Developmental Disability, Acquired Brain Injury, Comprehensive, Supports, Assisted Living Facility and Long Term Care waivers.

The new rules require adjustments to standards for community integration, informed choice, independence, service setting characteristics and locations, and further protection of client rights.

“We realize Wyoming’s waiver clients, families and those who work with them have faced a fair amount of change and uncertainty over the last few years,” said Chris Newman, WDH Behavioral Health Division senior administrator. “However, due to these new federal rules, more changes are needed. We are reaching out to those most impacted by the rules to get their input.”

“While meeting the new federal rule requirements may not be easy for everyone involved, the ultimate goal is really a system focused on what is best for the clients,” Newman said.

States must evaluate provider settings and help ensure needed changes are made. Forums will provide information on the state’s five-year transition plan:

· Laramie, October 16, 10:30-11:45 a.m. Mega Conference, Hilton Garden Inn, 2229 Grand Avenue

· Cheyenne, October 20, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Laramie County Library Cottonwood Room, 2200 Pioneer Avenue

· Jackson, October 22, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Teton County Library Auditorium, 125 Virginian Lane

· Evanston, October 23, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Recreation Center, 275 Saddle Ridge Road

· Sheridan, October 28, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Senior Center, 211 Smith Street

· Casper, October 29, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Casper College CS-160 Nichols Auditorium, 125 College Drive

More information and an online feedback survey can be found at health.wyo.gov/ddd; a video is also expected to be posted October 21. For those unable to attend a forum, conference calls are scheduled for October 27 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.; the number will be 1-877-278-8686 Code: 058448.

For more details about the state standards and transition plan, visit health.wyo.gov/ddd online, send an email to bhdmail@wyo.gov or call 307-777-6494.

WDH includes the Behavioral Health Division, which contains the Developmental Disabilities Section. This section supports Wyoming residents with developmental disabilities and their families, as well as those people, organizations and businesses providing services to these residents. Wyoming Medicaid, which is also part of the department, pays for the major developmental disability programs and also funds affected assisted living and long-term care efforts.

Wyoming Medicaid is a joint federal and state government program that pays for medical expenses and other care for some low-income and medically needy individuals and families.

Posted by on October 8, 2014
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Feds seek comments on exchange at Carbon County’s Wick Wildlife Habitat Management

(Press release) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a draft environmental assessment regarding the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s proposed land exchange on the Wick Wildlife Habitat Management Area in Carbon County.  Public comments will be accepted for a 15-day period, which started on Oct. 3, 2014 and ends Oct. 18, 2014.

The Service is reviewing a proposed grant for an exchange of an isolated parcel of the Wick WHMA containing 160 acres located outside the main boundary of the WHMA. This parcel provides no public access for recreational use and does not provide quality habitat needs for big game species.  In return, WGFD will receive a 160-acre private parcel of equal monetary value, located on the southern boundary of the WHMA. 

This parcel provides high-quality winter range for elk and deer; increases access to hunting, fishing, and recreational use of the wildlife resources; protects WGFD property rights; and allows for more cost-effective management of the WHMA. WGFD has determined that the proposed exchange parcel will provide increased benefits for wildlife and resource management efforts. 

The Draft EA was prepared by the Fish and Wildlife Service and WGFD, and it analyzes the environmental effects of the proposed land exchange. The service concluded that the proposed project will not negatively impact floodplains, wetlands, or historical or cultural resources. It also will not negatively impact threatened, endangered, or candidate species. The Draft EA determined that the proposed land exchange will benefit local fish, wildlife, and their habitats.

Copies of the Draft EA, which include details of the proposed action and the alternatives considered, are available online by clicking on the title of the document at this link.

Hard copies of the Draft EA may be obtained by calling the Services’ Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program at 303-236-8156.

Comments should be sent to:
Chief, Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 25486
Denver, CO 80225

Posted by on October 8, 2014
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Public comment extended for National Elk Refuge management plan

(Press release) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended the comment period for a draft comprehensive conservation plan and environmental assessment for the National Elk Refuge in Teton. These draft documents describe how the service intends to manage the refuge for the next 15 years. The original comment period was set to expire on Oct. 9, but with the extension, the public now has until Oct. 24, 2014 to comment.

“We understand the National Elk Refuge is a special place for many people, and we value the public’s input,” said Refuge Manager, Steve Kallin. “We have been asked by the public for more time to review and provide comment on the draft CCP/EA, so we are honoring that request.”

The draft CCP and EA are companion documents to the National Elk Refuge Bison and Elk Management Plan and its contents, including supplemental feeding, are not part of this comment period.

Comments may be submitted in two ways:
•  Email: refuge_ccps@fws.gov  (Include “National Elk Refuge CCP” in the subject line of the message.)
•  U.S. Mail: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Attn: Toni Griffin, Planning Team Leader
134 Union Boulevard, Suite 300
Lakewood, CO 80228

Copies of the draft CCP/EA may be obtained in three ways:
• Writing to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Refuge Planning, 134 Union Boulevard, Suite 300, Lakewood, CO 80228
• Picking up at: National Elk Refuge Administrative Office, 675 E. Broadway, Jackson.
Click to download

Posted by on October 8, 2014
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Public invited to chart greater Yellowstone direction

(Press release) — Federal land managers within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are asking the public to help them assess the ecosystem issues and build stronger relationships.

Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee managers are inviting the public to join them in a conversation in late October in Bozeman, Montana. Rather than hold a discussion about individual agency issues, managers are asking for input on cross-jurisdictional, ecosystem scale issues the GYCC can address.

Specifically, the GYCC wishes to explore questions related to:

— Cross-agency land and resource management issues and opportunities;

— The GYCC’s GYE-level priorities;

— Communication and collaboration with the public and stakeholder groups.

This conversation is set for 1-5 p.m. Oct. 28, 2014, at the Best Western GranTree Inn in Bozeman, Montana. The emphasis of the session will be on interaction and communication between all attendees, with participants discussing issues in small groups with agency leaders.

Interested participants are also welcome to attend a more in-depth GYCC orientation from 9:00 a.m. to noon at the same location.

A similar meeting will be held in Cody in spring 2015. Information gathered during these sessions will help the GYCC develop and strengthen its working relationships with the public and stakeholders as they collaborate to address joint challenges managing these shared landscapes.

All are welcome. To help plan meeting logistics, those who plan to attend are encouraged to RSVP by Oct. 22 to gycc-October28@fs.fed.us.

The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee is a group of 11 federal land managers who work together to manage more than 15 million acres of public land in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Posted by on October 1, 2014
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University of Wyoming researchers contribute to paper on high ozone events

— October 1, 2014

(UW press release) — Three University of Wyoming researchers participated in a study about high winter ozone levels near an oil and gas field in Utah, an analysis that could help inform future monitoring and mitigation strategies for air quality impacts from oil and gas extraction — and provide broader insight into the response of winter ozone to primary pollutants.

Shane Murphy, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Atmospheric Science, and Robert Field and Jeff Soltis, both associate research scientists in the department, contributed to a research paper, titled “High Winter Ozone Generated by Carbonyl Photolysis in a Shale Gas and Oil Producing Region,”  published in the Oct. 1 issue of Nature. Nature is an international weekly journal of science that publishes peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology.

Researchers learned that wintertime ozone production in the Uintah Basin occurs at lower concentrations of nitrogen oxides (NO) and much larger volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations compared to summertime zone production in most urban areas. Data for the study were gathered from the basin in northeastern Utah during January and February of 2012, 2013 and 2014.

“In 2013, if you were living near Vernal, Utah, you were actually exposed to more ozone than Riverside, Calif.,” Murphy says.

The chart he pointed to showed Riverside, in traditionally smog-laden Southern California, had 28 days in which maximum air quality standard ozone levels were exceeded. Vernal, Utah, by comparison, had 49 days when air quality standard ozone levels were exceeded. High ozone levels can cause or exacerbate health problems, especially with breathing, Murphy says.

Vernal is a city that sits on the edge of the Uintah Basin, an area of intensive oil and gas development with approximately 11,000 gas wells.

Ground-level ozone is a major component of smog and is created by chemical reactions between NO and VOCs. In a meteorological occurrence called inversion, these pollutants are trapped in a thin layer of air near the ground.

The phenomenon of wintertime ozone near oil and gas operations was first reported in scientific literature in 2009 based on observation from Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin near Pinedale by Russ Schnell, deputy director of the Global Monitoring Division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ) and a 1974 UW graduate.

Unhealthy ozone levels typically are associated with hot, sunny days in urban environments. But the paper’s findings reveal the phenomenon has occurred in the Uintah Basin during the winter on sunny days when snow is on the ground and temperatures are near or below freezing, Murphy says.

“Recent observations in oil and gas-producing basins in the western United States have identified ozone mixing ratios well in excess of current air quality standards, but only during the winter season,” the paper states. “Our understanding of winter ozone production in these regions is scientifically challenging, as it occurs during cold, snow-covered periods when meteorological inversions concentrate air pollutants from oil and gas activities. But (its) when solar irradiance and absolute humidity, both required to initiate conventional photochemistry essential for ozone production, are at a minimum.”

“The paper explains the chemistry that forms ozone around oil and gas fields in the winter,” Murphy says. “It’s affected Utah. It’s affecting Wyoming and probably other places we don’t know about. So, why understand the chemistry? Why does it matter? It helps us to figure out how to fix the problem.”

The United States is experiencing the most rapid expansion in oil and gas production in four decades due, in large part, to the use of new extraction technology, such as horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing. Environmental impacts of this development — from water quality to the climate influence of increased methane leakage — have been a matter of intense debate, according to the paper.

“The big picture matters. There’s no sign we’ll reduce oil and gas expansion,” Murphy says. “I think both people and the industry want to reduce this ozone problem.”

To reduce VOCs, oil and gas companies would have to reduce or eliminate leakage from their operations, Murphy says.

“We have a mobile lab we drive around and can measure the amount of methane and VOC coming from individual oil and gas wells,” Murphy says of the research vehicle that contains numerous instruments to measure the levels of different compounds. “We can ask, ‘Where are the leaks coming from? How big are the leaks?’”

The Nature paper has 35 co-writers. Other agencies and universities involved in the study include: NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory; Air Quality Research Division, Environment Canada in Toronto; the University of Houston; the University of Colorado-Boulder; UCLA; University of York in the UK; University of Innsbruck in Innsbruck, Austria; and Memorial University of Newfoundland.

For more on ozone issues in Wyoming, read these stories:
— “UW air quality research goes global,” July 2013
— “Emission questions loom large over oil and gas industry,” March 2013
— “Pristine to Polluted,” May 2011

Posted by on October 1, 2014
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Bridger-Teton National Forest supervisor to leave post

By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
— September 19, 2014

Clint Kyhl, who accepted the post of supervisor on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in 2013, will resign this month due to health. (Photo courtesy Forest Service)

Clint Kyhl, who accepted the post of supervisor on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in 2013, will resign this month due to health. (Photo courtesy Forest Service)

Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor Clint Kyhl will leave his post by the end of this month because of a medical condition, a forest spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

Kyhl, who came to the Bridger-Teton in 2013, had told his staff about his malady and decision to leave, several forest employees told WyoFile. Bridger-Teton spokeswoman Mary Cernicek on Friday confirmed Kyhl’s pending departure.

“He’s stepping down for medical reasons,” Cernicek said. “He’s moving back to Washington (state) where the climate’s more forgiving.”

The federal agency has launched a search for a replacement to lead management of the 3.4-million-acre forest.

“We are in the process of looking,” Cernicek said. Deputy supervisor Jose Castro will take charge until the U.S. Forest Service finds a temporary replacement.

“We expect to have some sort of acting super in place by the first week in October,” Cernicek said. Kyhl is expected to leave by Sept. 26.

Kyhl had been the district ranger for the Laramie Ranger District on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest before serving from 2007 to 2009 as leader of the Bark Beetle Incident Management Team in southeastern Wyoming and northern Colorado. He served as the deputy forest supervisor of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington before moving back to Wyoming.

WyoFile Peaks to Plains blogger Kelsey Dayton interviewed Kyhl in 2013 and her report can be found here.

This story was changed to correct a spelling error — Ed.

If you would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.

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Posted by on September 19, 2014
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Court stays EPA haze plan for Wyo.

By Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter
— September 10, 2014

(Contact E&E for republication permissions.)

Steam rises from smokestacks at the Wyodak power complex outside Gillette, Wyoming. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Steam rises from smokestacks at the Wyodak power complex outside Gillette, Wyoming. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

A federal court has halted U.S. EPA’s plan to curb haze-causing pollution in Wyoming until legal challenges by the state and industry are resolved.

Wyoming had proposed less stringent and cheaper pollution control technologies at five coal-fired power units in a plan to reduce nitrogen oxides linked to regional haze. In its lawsuit, the state argues that EPA acted arbitrarily when the agency earlier this year rejected the 2011 plan for those five units because of technical errors and replaced it with a more expensive federal plan (Greenwire, Sept. 5).

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday granted the state’s request to stay the federal plan over opposition by environmental groups.

The court said it based its decision on the likelihood that the challenges to EPA’s plan will be successful and that the parties in the lawsuit would be harmed absent a stay. The court also granted requests by Basin Electric Power Cooperative and PacifiCorp to extend the deadline for compliance at four of the units for the duration of the stay.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) applauded the court’s decision in a statement yesterday.

“Wyoming has a solid and effective plan. The rejection of Wyoming’s plan by the EPA was wrong,” Mead said. “This decision sends a message to the federal government and affirms Wyoming’s leadership in these important areas.”

Although nitrogen oxides contribute less to haze pollution than sulfur dioxide and particulate matter in Wyoming, they are ingredients in the formation of haze at Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Environmental groups have argued that EPA’s plan is too weak and have asked the court to compel the agency to write a plan requiring more stringent emissions controls.

“Under the final rule, Wyoming will not make reasonable progress toward eliminating its contribution to human-caused haze pollution,” said the Powder River Basin Resource Council, National Parks Conservation Association and Sierra Club in an August court filing.

Posted by on September 10, 2014
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Game and Fish relocates grizzly bear

— September 10, 2014

(Press release) — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department trapped and relocated an adult male grizzly bear September 7, 2014.

The bear was captured for killing livestock on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment north of Pinedale, Wyo. In cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Shoshone National Forest, the bear was relocated to the Five Mile Creek drainage approximately five miles from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park within the North Fork of the Shoshone River drainage west of Cody. The release site is located in currently occupied grizzly bear habitat.

Grizzly bear relocation is a management tool afforded bear management personnel to minimize conflicts between humans and grizzlies. The decision to relocate and the selection of a relocation site is made taking into consideration the age, sex, and type of conflict the bear was involved in. Since grizzly bears are listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the appropriate land management agency is also made to minimize the chance of future conflicts and maximize the survival potential of the relocated grizzlies. Bears are relocated in accordance with federal law and regulation. When selecting a relocation site, the department makes every consideration to minimize potential conflicts with livestock and people.

Bears can create conflicts after they have obtained food rewards. The department continues to stress the importance of keeping all attractants (food items, horse feeds, bird seed, and others) unavailable to bears. Reducing attractants reduces human-bear conflicts.

— For more information about grizzly bear management, read the WyoFile feature “Feds OK more female grizzly killing in cattle conflict zone,” by Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Posted by on September 10, 2014
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Lecture series kicks off with Sweetwater Gold Mining District

— September 2, 2014

(Press release) — The Sweetwater Gold Mining District will be the focus of September’s Wyoming State Museum Lecture Series presentation, at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 11.

In celebration of Wyoming Archaeology Awareness Month, the Museum will kick off the Fall 2014 Thursday Night Lecture Series with a presentation exploring the history and significance of the Sweetwater Gold Mining District.

“Sweetwater district represents an important part of Wyoming’s cultural legacy,” said Jon Lane, Curator of Public Programs at South Pass City State Historic Site, who will share his research about this fascinating part of Wyoming.

The Wyoming State Museum’s Thursday Night Lecture Series is held the second Thursday of each month, September through May, at 7 p.m. The Lecture Series is free and open to the public. The Wyoming State Museum is located in the Barrett Building, 2301 Central Avenue in Cheyenne.

For more information, contact Nathan Doerr, Curator of Education, at (307) 777-7021.

Posted by on September 2, 2014
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37-year lawsuit over water, tribal rights on Wind-Big Horn examined in UW event

By WyoFile staff
— September 1, 2014

One of the longest-running lawsuits over water in the history of Wyoming may finally be coming to a close — and the University of Wyoming is putting on a two-day symposium in Riverton Sept. 10-12 to consider what it has all meant.Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 1.07.43 PM

The “general stream adjudication” of the Wind-Big Horn River will be officially wrapped up at the lower court level on Friday, Sept. 5. District Judge Robert E. Skar of the 5th Judicial District is expected to sign his final adjudication decree on that day in Worland. His final ruling, of course, may well be appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court — which has already ruled seven times, from 1988-2004, on various aspects of the case.

The big water rights adjudication began 37 years ago. In 1977, the Wyoming Legislature initiated the case in order to challenge the assertion made by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes that they had rights in the Wind River. In order to have the water rights decided by state courts in Wyoming, rather than the federal courts, federal law required that the state call for examination of the water rights of not only the two tribes but every water right claimant in the Wind-Big Horn Basin — over 20,000 people or entities. Millions of dollars and untold number of hours have been spent by the many parties who have been pulled into the lawsuit.

In its rulings on the case, the Wyoming Supreme Court confirmed the tribes’ rights to a majority of the water flowing in the Wind River, but as a practical matter put strict limits on its use. As the case has progressed, the water claims and actual water use of people and entities all over the Wind-Big Horn Basin have been examined to arrive at a final determination of their rights. The basin constitutes one of four water divisions in Wyoming. None of the other three divisions have ever undergone a general stream adjudication, and state water officials do not expect such an effort to be undertaken elsewhere.

UW’s College of Law, joined by 13 other UW departments, programs and schools, plans a free symposium on the adjudication. The event will feature local and national experts on water law and tribal rights who will compare and contrast the Big Horn litigation and results with efforts elsewhere to settle often-difficult water rights disputes between Indian and non-Indian people in the American West.

The symposium is open to the public for no charge, and will begin with a welcoming reception on Wednesday evening, Sept. 10. The event will take place at the Wind River Hotel and Casino in Riverton, Wyoming. Advance registration is requested, at the website, which includes a detailed agenda.

Posted by on September 1, 2014
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