Wyoming news briefs for September 30
Cheyenne censured lawyer appointed part-time judge
CHEYENNE — A Cheyenne prosecutor was appointed as a part-time hearing judge to the Cheyenne Municipal Court on Monday, after being recently censured by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
David Singleton has been an attorney in Cheyenne for almost a decade, and previously served as Laramie County assistant district attorney.
He was censured this summer after failing to correct false testimony in a dismissed 2020 marijuana case. Based on his conduct, Singleton could have been suspended from practicing law in the state, but was instead ordered to pay an administrative fee of $800.
The fine and public censure were the only reprimands, due to the fact he had no prior record, was cooperative during censure proceedings and was not proven to intentionally deceive the court.
He has continued to serve as president of the Laramie County Bar Association, and is a consistent guest lecturer at the University of Wyoming College of Law.
City officials moved forward with the appointment because they said he has learned from his mistakes and was the best candidate.
Singleton was approved for judgeship by the Cheyenne City Council, with an esteemed recommendation from Mayor Patrick Collins. Collins is responsible for city appointments and said he would never make a decision if there was a sliver of doubt in his mind.
“I think he’s handled himself with grace and humility,” Collins said. “And I think it’s probably made him a better lawyer, because it made him stop to think about what he’s doing.”
Collins said he was impressed not only with Singleton’s experience as a prosecutor, but also his work in the court system for the past year.
Ferrets released at Meeteetse ranch
CODY — A total of 20 black-footed ferrets were introduced into the wild last week after a life spent in captivity. The ferrets were released on private land in Meeteetse, where Wyoming Game and Fish has been attempting to nurture a historic ferret recovery site for the last five years with mixed success.
“When we first introduced them, it immediately seemed to be doing well,” Zack Walker, G&F non-game supervisor said. “Then we had the plague and the population went down.”
Since 2016, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and G&F have been releasing the endangered species in Meeteetse, the same location where the believed-to-be extinct animal was discovered 40 years ago. The mammal is one of the most endangered in North America, with only 1,200 existing in 2013. G&F and U.S. Fish and Wildlife have partnerships with the Lazy BV and Pitchfork ranches to release the prairie-dog hunters on their land.
The ferrets were raised at the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Carr, Colo. In order to graduate from the facility into the wild, each ferret has to prove it can kill a prairie dog.
The 10 female and 10 male ferrets will have to overcome some tough odds on their road to reproduction and success during their short, 4-5 year lives. Walker said bubonic plague has decimated the ferret population in Meeteetse, with only one ferret still remaining in 2020 despite 19 being released there the year before. Typically, there are 4-6 ferrets living in this community, much lower than the 35 ferret baseline determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
“We’re working on better techniques and getting the plague under control,” Walker said.
Barrasso: Keep national parks open in a shutdown
POWELL — If Congress fails to reach a budget deal and the federal government shuts down, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., says national parks like Yellowstone should remain open.
On Tuesday, Barrasso asked Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to keep national parks and public lands accessible to the public in the event of a shutdown.
“The safety, security, and public access to America’s national parks should be a priority regardless of the political environment,” Barrasso wrote in a letter.
He said closing the parks “would have devastating impacts.”
Along with battling over a measure that would raise the federal debt limit — something Treasury officials say must be done by mid-October to avert a default — as of Wednesday afternoon, Senate Republicans and Democrats had yet to approve a budget for the new fiscal year that begins Friday. They were expected to reach a deal, but if they don’t pass some kind of funding measure, the majority of federal offices will
temporarily close and most workers will be furloughed.
In his letter to Haaland, Barrasso said a shutdown of the National Park System would impact tourists planning a trip to a national park, gateway communities that rely on park-related tourism and National Park Service employees who rely on a regular paycheck.
(In the past, federal workers have been forced to go without pay until Congress restores funding.) A shutdown in October 2013 led to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area being shuttered for 16 days. The number of visits to Yellowstone that month sank 73 percent from the prior year, with officials logging 129,500 fewer visits. The closures of the public properties also drew public backlash.
Devils Tower sees record-breaking visitation
SUNDANCE — Full campsites, busy roads and record visitation at some of Wyoming’s most popular spectacles, including Yellowstone – it’s been quite the summer for tourism.
The latest figures from the National Park Service show that Devils Tower National Monument is following the trend with record-breaking numbers in August and an overall increase of 41.35 percent over last year’s visitation.
By the end of August, the national park had welcomed a total of 440,839 people to enjoy the unique geological spectacle – an increase from 311,869 at the same time in 2020.
In no other year since the National Park Service’s records began in 1994 has the Tower seen more visitors by the end of August. The closest was 2017 at 411,330 people.
The year of 2020 was, of course, the beginning of the increase in outdoor recreation across America, thanks to the social distancing rules of the pandemic. While annual visitation had declined by August by 14.77 percent due to lockdowns and travel restrictions across the nation and world, the month of August saw an increase of 13.27 percent, with 113,898 visitors in total.
Visitation at the Tower has been higher than usual since late summer and early fall of last year. In September and October of 2020, it was reported to have been at its highest levels ever for those months of the year, which was attributed to the lack of social events elsewhere during lockdown. October’s numbers in 2020 were nearly double those of the year before. It remains to be seen whether the rest of 2021 turns out to be another record-breaker for Crook County’s national monument.
Johnson County enjoyed best tourist season ever
BUFFALO — With health experts recommending outdoor activities and social distancing during the pandemic, Wyoming with its vast, open spaces and two national parks has been a natural destination. And local retailers, hoteliers and restaurateurs say the summer travel season was a very good one.
"It was a stupendous summer," said Margo Brown, owner of Margo's Pottery. "It felt like people just wanted to spend money. I would think most stores did well this summer."
Lodging tax collections are up this year, which seems to support the anecdotal evidence.
Johnson County Lodging Tax Board President Jillian Smith said that lodging tax collections are remitted to the board in arrears — so money the board received in August could have been collected over several months. But the $58,015 the board received in August was the largest check the board has ever received. In July, the board received $39,530.
“July is also quite impressive as it shows that travelers were visiting our area earlier in the summer than in previous years,” Smith said. "Typically we see our highest checks in August, September and October.”
Last year, the board received $34,905 in August and $11,763 in July.
Buffalo is frequently a stopping-over spot for visitors traveling between the Black Hills of South Dakota and Yellowstone and Teton national parks. Yellowstone National Park set a record for visits in August with 921,844 recreation visits, the National Park Service said in a news release last week.
Occidental Hotel owner David Stewart said that while the hotel hosted the usual visitors traveling through, it also accommodated more guests than usual who were making Buffalo their home base.
Crater Ridge Fire mostly dormant in past week
GREYBULL — After spreading 500 acres last week, the Crater Ridge fire calmed this week, only spreading 46 acres since September 19.
The Big Horn Mountain fire, located 30 miles northeast of Lovell, is currently recorded at 7,383 acres.
The fire has remained at 70 percent contained for that duration.
Active hot spots remain at Lodge Grass Creek, Cub Creek and Boyd Ridge and are being actively monitored, Sarah Evans Kirol, public affairs officer for the Forest Service, said.
The Wyoming Hot Shots, a wildland suppression crew of about 20 crew members hosted by the Bighorn National Forest completed a burn on the west perimeter of the Crater Ridge Fire on Monday.
Kirol said the burn eliminated fuel sources the wildfire could use to spread.
“That was very successful,” Kirol said. “We were able to reinforce that containment line. There’s not a lot of worry about the fire moving west.”
A red flag warning, signaling greater fire risk, was active on Tuesday, but crews are hopeful as colder weather quickly approaches.
“Personnel expect a change in the weather with snow and rain predicted tonight and tomorrow,” Tuesday’s update said.
Aviation continues to be used to mitigate the spread of the blaze in areas that are inaccessible, Kirol said.
Stage 1 fire restrictions were lifted September 21 from the Bighorn National Forest but the Crater Ridge Area Closure remains in effect.
“With cooler days and longer cold nights, the weather is more in our favor to better prevent wildfires,” said Bighorn National Forest Supervisor Andrew Johnson. “Please continue to be careful with your campfire to ensure it does not escape.”
Lovell hospital approves $15 minimum wage
LOVELL — The North Big Horn Hospital Board of Trustees approved a $15 an hour minimum wage for all of its workers on Tuesday, Sept. 21.
The change will impact 77 employees within the dietary, housekeeping, EMS, activities, business office, clinic, lab, care center, cardiac and rehab departments of the hospital. The lowest wage earned before the change was $11.70 an hour.
Hospital CEO Eric Connell presented the change, stating that an $11.70 starting wage was quickly becoming uncompetitive in a fast-changing market.
“In a historical context, we said we may not be able to pay the most, but this is a good place to work,” Connell said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It may have been effective, but does the moment we are in right now support that?”
Connell offered an anecdote to the board where the Maverik attempted to draw one of their employees away with a $13.50 an hour offer.
Many businesses in the area now offer more than $11.70, Connell reported.
According to numbers presented to the board, the change would cost the district $128,291 per year.
“It’s not just a single-year investment,” Connell said. “It’s a multimillion investment in our people over the years.”
Connell also warned the board that raising the wage of its lowest paid staff would likely result in wage increases for higher paid employees in time.
“If you are making $15.50 and you’ve been working here for 15 years and suddenly everybody gets $15, that may feel a little unfair,” Connell said. “It’s something that needs awareness, and it’s also an acknowledgment that we’re going to need
to address that somewhere in the future.”
Most of the board spoke in support of the proposal.