Feb 26, 2015

Cody hospital leader wins national award

A registered nurse who chairs West Park Hospital’s board of trustees has received a national honor from a health-care magazine.

Melissa Fraser
Modern Healthcare recently named West Park board chair Melissa Fraser of Cody as the recipient of its Excellence in Governance Award for small providers. In an article, the publication described the successful direction that Fraser has provided for the hospital and her “diverse background” in health care.

“As a nurse and business office manager at a medical practice, Melissa (Fraser)’s medical and business acumen has been the perfect expertise necessary to lead our 25-bed Critical Access Hospital in the ever-changing health care industry,” said a West Park news release announcing the award.

Fraser works in both Cody and Powell in the Big Horn Ankle and Foot Clinic.

Modern Healthcare said Fraser’s focus at West Park has been on establishing partnerships to increase access to care, including helping raise money for the Spirit Mountain Hospice House and joining forces with Nashville, Tenn.-based Dialysis Clinic Inc. to open a bigger dialysis center that can serve locals and tourists who pass through the area.

The news release said Fraser also led partnerships with Billings Clinic for hospitalists, with St. Vincent’s Healthcare for a better cancer unit and with orthopedic surgeons on a medical arts complex. The release said those partnerships have brought in millions of dollars for West Park.

“Melissa’s strong community ties and networking have repeatedly benefited the hospital,” the release said.

It says Fraser was “instrumental” in negotiating a favorable deal with the neighboring Buffalo Bill Center of the West when parking became tight.

“Melissa’s strong community ties and networking have repeatedly benefited the hospital,” said a release from West Park.

Fraser hopes that both Powell Valley Healthcare and West Park can work more closely together for the good of all their patients.

“We share patients and we (both hospitals) want our patients to try to get the best care here in the Big Horn Basin,” Fraser said. “It is wonderful that we have two really great tertiary hospitals 90 miles north if we need to send our patients there. But, how much better for our patients if we can care for them here?

“Together I think we can survive the changes coming in healthcare, but it will take working together to make it happen,” she said.

Fraser, 62, has served on West Park’s board of trustees since 2004. In the past decade, the news release says, she has focused the board’s attention on the community’s health needs and also nurtured hospital employees.

“She takes time out of her hectic schedule to talk with employees and also community members about what they think is important for the hospital,” concluded the release. “Listening and active participation by Melissa Fraser is what has taken our hospital from a critical access hospital to being the health care choice for the Big Horn Basin!”

Fraser was nominated for the award by Graham Jackson, the director of the West Park Hospital Foundation. She previously served on the board with Fraser.

Farmers market to return to Park County Complex this summer

“This year’s going to be better than last,” says J.R. Megee, the director of the Big Horn Basin Farmers Market Association, of the market that's coming to Cody.

The association's Cody market, which operates on the southwest parking lot and grounds of the Park County Complex, won't start up until June, but improvements are already in the works.

Megee said they’ll be opening up the market to vendors within a 100-mile radius of Cody and allowing some non-local folks to participate. That’s intended to bring in some items that the market hasn’t had, he said, including more fruit.

Megee also said there are plan to begin accepting payments from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and from debit cards.

The market runs on Thursdays from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The first market is set for June 18, with the last one tentatively scheduled for Oct. 29.

Park County Commissioners agreed at their Feb. 17 meeting to let the non-profit association again use the complex’s parking lot and grounds for free.

“Hope you have a great summer,” Commission Chairman Joe Tilden told Megee.

Feb 24, 2015

After seizure of plane and $260,000, county prosecutors drop charges and feds keep investigating

Federal authorities say they should get to keep the plane and nearly $260,000 in cash seized from two Coloradans who flew into Cody a year ago — claiming the items were involved in trafficking drugs.
One of the men, meanwhile, says he and the property were not involved in illegal activity and that the items should be returned to him.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wyoming is seeking the forfeiture of the aircraft and cash in a civil case pending before a federal judge in Cheyenne and is trying to put together a criminal case as well. The federal prosecutors allege the Cessna TU206E was used to transport illegal drugs and the cash represents proceeds from drug sales.

“It’s basically a federal issue at this point,” said Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric.

However, the 26-year-old man who flew the plane into Cody, Scott M. Lewis of Englewood, Colo., has said in court filings that the aircraft and money came from legitimate, unspecified activities.
Cody police obtained a warrant to search the aircraft and Lewis’ room at the Holiday Inn on Feb. 28, 2014. That was after reports that Lewis and his traveling companion had acted suspiciously and after a Powell police drug dog alerted to the scent of narcotics on the plane.

Officers didn’t find any drugs, but they did find $258,520 inside a blue duffel bag, packaged in 12 vacuum-sealed bags and labeled “Deposit I” and “Deposit II.” Close to $1,467 more was found on top of a hotel dresser and in a jacket.

Police took the money and the plane, but no serious criminal charges were filed.

Lewis’ traveling companion, 37-year-old Gilbert Wiles Jr., was released without any charges, while Lewis was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors alleging he didn’t have a valid pilot's license and that the plane was improperly registered. Those charges were dismissed Feb. 11 at the request of the Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The "target letter" sent to Lewis.
“It’s basically a federal issue at this point,” Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric said Monday.

Court records show the federal government is mulling whether to file more serious federal charges.

On Nov. 7, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Heimann of Cheyenne sent a letter to Lewis that began, “I am writing to inform you that you are the subject of an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”

Heimann wrote that investigators are probing allegations that Lewis may have committed several federal crimes, including: conspiracy to distribute marijuana, money laundering, identity theft and operating an unregistered aircraft.

The document is what’s known as a “target letter.” Target letters are not public documents, but Lewis’ became public when his attorneys attached it to other court filings.

Lewis attorney Joe Bustos of Cheyenne said in one filing that, in his experience with the letters, “a federal indictment will almost always follow.”

Speaking in general terms about prosecutors’ procedures, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman John Powell similarly told the Tribune that “the bottom line is this: If you receive a target letter, you are most likely going to be indicted.” Powell declined to comment on the possibility of charges against Lewis and a Monday search of federal records showed no pending charges against him.

U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson put the federal government’s civil forfeiture case on hold on Dec. 4 because of the pending criminal investigation.

“If you receive a target letter, you are most likely going to be indicted,” said John Powell, a spokesman for federal prosecutors.

David M. Michael of San Francisco, another Lewis defense attorney, had argued that forcing Lewis to provide more information about his interest in the seized plane and cash would violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Lewis has denied any wrongdoing.

Attorney Michael, writing on Lewis’ behalf, said in a filing that police lacked probable cause to seize the property, that the federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the forfeiture case and that the government’s claim on the property is unconstitutional because it violates Lewis’ rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment, as well as his right to due process.

Further, Lewis’ response says the property “was not proceeds of, or used or intended to be used to facilitate, any violation of law, nor was it furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for any controlled substance or listed chemical, that would subject the property to forfeiture pursuant to any law.”
Scott M. Lewis, after his 2014 arrest

Wiles, meanwhile, has not filed a claim for the seized property and he has not received a target letter, his attorney, Dion Custis of Cheyenne, told the Tribune in January.

Federal prosecutors’ case for forfeiture focuses largely on how suspiciously Lewis and Wiles acted while in Cody.

Prosecutors say the two men: immediately covered their plane’s windows with sunshades after touching down and parking in a hangar on Feb. 27 (unlike most pilots, who use sunshades only when outside in the summer); paid for their fuel and other services with $100 bills; didn’t radio the airport prior to landing; didn’t identify the plane by its tail number (suggesting the pilot didn’t want a record of his identity, the feds say) and used a fake name.

Poor weather forced the men to stay the night in Cody.

On the way to the Holiday Inn, Lewis and Wiles reportedly refused to let a shuttle driver touch one of their three duffel bags. Further, when the men later asked for hotel staff to bring an HDMI cable to their room, they opened the door only wide enough to slide the cable through.

All this was reported to police, who then took Zeke — a narcotics detection canine handled by Powell Police Officer Reece McLain — to the plane’s hangar. Zeke alerted to scent of a controlled substance at the plane’s two doors, police say.

That was enough for Cody police to get a search warrant for the plane and Lewis and Wiles’ hotel room. Police say they found evidence the men had been living on the airplane and, in the hotel room, they found the $259,717, two laptop computers, six electronic storage devices, 15 cellphones and three bogus Idaho driver’s licenses. Each license had a picture of Lewis, but each had a different name.

Lewis filed this claim for the seized cash with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (His personal address has been redacted.)
Lewis’ response to the government’s forfeiture request disputes that he and Wiles were acting suspiciously. For example, he says putting up sunshades is “standard procedure in cold weather” and he denies that the men refused to let the shuttle driver touch one of the duffel bags. As to the allegation that police found three fake driver’s licenses with his photo on them, Lewis says he “lacks sufficient information to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations.”

Federal prosecutors say Lewis and Wiles bought the plane for $130,000 in May of 2013, paying cash at a hotel in Austin, Texas.

The plane’s bill of sale showed it as being owned by Morris Point LLC, a New Mexico corporation with a mailing address in the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco; federal investigators believe Morris Point LLC was set up through businesses who advertise their ability to make people’s assets “invisible” to others.

Prosecutors say Lewis and Wiles bought the plane with cash, then used certain business services to obscure its ownership.

At his initial March 1, 2014, court appearance in Park County Circuit Court in Cody, Lewis had successfully applied for a court-appointed attorney. Lewis said he made only $200 to $500 as a part-time employee at a Denver hotel and he did not list the plane or the cash as assets.

In May, however, Lewis filed a claim with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for both the aircraft and cash, writing, “I have an ownership and possessory interest in all or part of the above named property.”

He valued the plane at $140,000.

Lewis eventually brought in Bustos, a private attorney, to represent him in the recently dismissed Park County case. Michael — whose website describes him as specializing “in medical cannabis cases as well as state and federal forfeiture litigation” — is representing Lewis in the forfeiture case.

To obtain the airplane and the money, the government must prove its case by a “preponderance of the evidence.” That’s the legal standard used in civil lawsuits, and it basically means the government must show it’s more likely than not that the plane and cash were used in trafficking drugs.

It’s a significantly lower standard of proof than “beyond a reasonable doubt” — the high threshold the government must meet if it tries to convict Lewis of a crime.

The forfeiture case is scheduled to resume in early March, though it could be delayed again.

~By CJ Baker

NWC will raise meal costs, but not housing rates

Housing rates at Northwest College will stay the same for the 2015-16 school year, but the cost of meals will increase by 3.5 percent.

Both actions were recommended by Sean Fox, vice president for student affairs. The NWC Board of Trustees voted unanimously to raise the meal rates, but trustees were divided about keeping the housing rates the same.

Voting in favor of keeping rates the same at residence halls and student apartments in Trapper Village and Trapper Village West were Trustees Jim Vogt and Carolyn Danko of Powell, and Paul Fees of Cody. Trustees Nada Larsen of Meeteetse, Dusty Spomer of Powell and Mark Westerhold of Cody voted against.

NWC Board President John Housel of Cody broke the tie by voting in favor of keeping housing rates the same.

Trustees who voted against the measure expressed concern that not raising rates this year could leave the college short of money for if emergency repairs or needed improvements in residence halls or student apartments.

They noted that student housing and the DeWitt Student Center are not eligible for major maintenance dollars from the state, so the college must pay for all repairs an improvements in those buildings.

“My priority is to keep the costs as reasonable as we can for students, but do projects we need to do,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Sean Fox.

Fox made the recommendation to keep housing rates the same.

“I feel very confident that, without a rate increase, we can do these (maintenance) projects as well as put a little bit more into the facility reserve account,” he said. “My priority is to keep the costs as reasonable as we can for students, but do projects we need to do.”

The cost of maintenance projects planned for this summer total $675,000. They are:

• Replace windows in Colter Hall: $225,000.

• Replace windows and doors at Trapper Village West: $120,000.

• Replace steps at Ashley Hall: $30,000

• Public area facelifts in Ashley and Cody halls: $300,000.

Fox told the board he made his recommendation after comparing student housing revenue and costs for the current school year.

Fox said Monday the auxiliary depreciation account — the account used for maintenance and upkeep of student housing and the DeWitt Student Center — now contains just over $2 million. Without increasing housing rates, that account is not expected to grow next year, he said.

“I do want to keep it (housing) as reasonable as possible for the students, but we need to put some money into that fund. We’re going to have to do some major work on that DeWitt Student Center,” said trustee Nada Larsen.

Information Fox presented at the meeting indicates Northwest’s housing rates are lower than some community colleges in the state, but higher than others.

“I think we can safely assume the other colleges wil go up; we will be a little bit better if we don’t go up,” he said.

When asked by board members, NWC President Stefani Hicswa said, “I am a bit concerned about no increase in housing. ... As we look revenue vs. expenses in housing, the Simpson Hall bond payment needs to come out of that revenue ... plus the depreciation fund.”

Larsen added, “I would be even more concerned than Stefani seems to be. ... I do want to keep it as reasonable as possible for the students, but we need to put some money into that fund. We’re going to have to do some major work on that DeWitt Student Center.”

As for the meal plan cost increase, Fox said the 3.5 percent increase was negotiated with Chartwells, the college’s contracted food service provider. It would be a pass-through increase, with none of the additional money going to the college.

Chartwells initially proposed a 4-percent increase, Fox said.

“The negotiated increase remains commensurate with the state of Wyoming’s most recent inflation rate increase for food (3.0 percent through the second quarter of 2014),” Fox wrote in a report to the board.

Traditional meal plans, for 19 meals per week, cost $1,410 for the current school year, or $4.68 per meal. Next year, that will increase to $1,459, or $4.84 per meal.

A weekly plan, for 10 meals per week, costs $1,105, or $6.97 per meal. That will increase to $1,144, or $721 per meal.

Fox said the weekly plan cost is higher per meal because those students tend to eat all 10 meals at the student cafeteria, while students with traditional meal plans tend to miss a few meals each week when they have other plans, such as going out to eat.

President Hicswa said students generally are happier with the food service provided by Chartwells.

A commuter meal plan, for five meals per week, costs $855, or $1078 per meal. That will increase to $885, or $11.16 per meal.

Board members asked why that plan’s per-meal cost is so much higher than the weekly plan. Fox said he will find out and bring that information back to the board.

Commuter meal plans represent only 5 percent of student meal plans, he said.

Hicswa said students generally are happier with the food service provided by Chartwells than they were under Aramark, the previous food service contractor. The increase is needed, she said.

She noted that the Chartwells contract is more expensive, and the college chose last year to absorb the additional cost to improve food service for students.

“We have a (capital) investment with Chartwells of $800,000 over the next four years,” and additional maintenance needs in the DeWitt Student Center are increasing, Hicswa said. “We want to make sure we don’t cut into the auxiliary fund.”

For 42 years, man has maintained Yellowstone’s Canyon Village year-round

CANYON VILLAGE — It’s a solitary existence, and that’s fine with Steve Fuller. He never feels alone.

Fuller has been the winter keeper at Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park for 42 years.
He was hired in 1973 and now works full-time at Canyon for Xanterra Parks and Resorts, Inc.

“I’ve lived at Canyon year-round every since,” Fuller said. “Seems like last week.”

Steve Fuller gazes out across Yellowstone's winter landscape. Photo by Gib Mathers

His nearest neighbors — 16 miles to the south at Yellowstone Lake — are National Park Service rangers and the only other winter keeper in the park keeping an eye on the facilities at Lake Village.

Originally, he was hired only to remove snow from roofs, but more duties came when he was named maintenance manager 30 years ago, such as summer project planning, preparing for contractors and hiring employees, Fuller said. Still, snow remains a chief component in his world, especially when it’s measured by the foot.

On Feb. 13, Canyon had 38 inches, according to the snotel site there, which automatically measures snow data. That’s an average year, although it has been a warm winter, Fuller said.

Left unattended, snow cornices can weigh tons and cause severe roof damage, particularly on the lee, or downwind, side where the windblown stuff accumulates, Fuller said.

He carries a big saw on his snowmobile, a two-man cross-cut like the ones used by lumberjacks of an earlier time.

Behind the main lodge, snow hugs the roof like an avalanche waiting to crash. More snow is piled high along exterior walls like a berm concealing a building partially underground.

Tons of snow accumulate on the buildings Fuller is tasked with protecting over the long winter at Canyon Village. He keeps the snow in check, but believes the cornices can be exquisite. ‘They’re beautiful things,’ Fuller said. Photo courtesy Steve Fuller
Years ago, he had a Willys Jeep tucked away for the winter in the back of the lodge. That spring, he had removed the snow from the roof and the parking lot had been cleared of snow except next to the lodge.

He had to dig a tunnel to get the vehicle out, Fuller said.

Family photojournalist

Fuller’s photography has been published and publicized. He has performed commercial contract photography on a number of occasions.

In 1978, he wrote and illustrated a story for National Geographic magazine portraying his life and that of his family living in Yellowstone year-round. Last fall, CBS aired a story featuring Fuller. “TV seems to discover this life every 10 years,” Fuller said.

Living in Yellowstone for years affords him the opportunity to know when wildlife and features will be the most photogenic, Fuller said. He took this shot of a lone bison in Hayden Valley.

He’s presented photo slideshows of his work for the British Museum, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, REI and National Geographic.

“It reminds me of the special opportunity I’ve had to live here, and it’s quite extraordinary,” Fuller said.

With the exception of management and administrators Mammoth Hot Springs or in Gardner, Mont., working in Yellowstone is a transient vocation for most people, summer or winter.

During winters, they are employed during a brief season at Mammoth or Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Few stay year-round within Yellowstone’s interior. Fewer still rear their children in the park. Still, it isn’t unprecedented. Jerry Bateson, former winter keeper at Lake, raised at least one son there, Fuller said.

“My kids grew up in Hayden Valley,” Fuller said.

Fuller and his ex-wife, Angela, raised Emma and Skye, now grown, at Canyon.

Emma was 18 months when she came to Yellowstone, and Skye was born there; well, darned close, anyway.

On Dec. 23, 1974, Skye Canyon was born in West Yellowstone, Mont. By Christmas Day the family was back at Canyon, Fuller said.

In the mid 1980s, Fuller’s children, Emma and Skye, were out for a little ice skating. ‘The freeze-up of Yellowstone Lake is one of the great events of the year,’ Fuller said. Photo courtesy Steve Fuller

The girls were home-schooled at Canyon. Fuller has a bachelor’s degree in history, and Angela has a master’s degree in education.

“I had taught in Africa,” said Fuller, who still spends April on safari there each year.

Emma finished high school in Gardner, Mont., and Skye in Jackson, Fuller said. Now, Skye lives in Reno, Nev., and Emma resides in Livingston, Mont.

Stew burglar

In November 1973, a grizzly bear tried to join the Fuller family for dinner.

While they were eating, the sow broke through the kitchen window. Although the opening was too small to allow her full access, she was able to snatch a pan of stew off the stove.

“The next morning I found the pot behind the house, licked shiny clean,” Fuller said in his National Geographic piece.

Two days later, the grizzly was back. “Didn’t get any stew that time,” Fuller said.

Later that fall, the 16-year-old sow was trapped in the Pebble Creek area after raiding cabins at Roosevelt Lodge.

The skinny old bear was euthanized. “Seeing her killed was a bummer,” Fuller said.

Now iron bars reinforce his windows to keep uninvited guests out.

Kruger keeps a close eye on a bison looking for a little grass. Photo courtesy Steve Fuller
Fuller’s house of 42 years is at least 100 years old. It may date back to the 19th century.

“Certainly 1910, no doubt about that,” he said. 

The place is a bit off the beaten path, a mile south of Canyon Village. From his front porch, the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River are little more than a stone’s throw away. From a picture window, snow-softened hills highlighted with pine seem to undulate to infinity.
The moon and sun backlight the falls’ vapor plume. Fuller can hear the Upper Falls.

“It’s like a megaphone pointed at my front step,” Fuller said.

Not sequestered

Fuller captured this shot near the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
During winters, he keeps busy with work, writing and photography, Fuller said.

Of course, he has a 2.2-million-acre playground. “I love to cross country ski,” Fuller said. 

Fuller was born in Cathedral City, Calif. He spent his childhood in Indiana and the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia.

He has lived in Boston; Washington, D.C.; New York City; San Francisco and London, but after spending three years in Africa — one year in Uganda and two in Kenya — he was “spoiled on the bush,” he said. “It changed my life, and that is what brought me here.”

He doesn’t want television, although he had a satellite dish. He tunes into Wyoming Public Radio, streams the BBC and reads The New York Times online. He also accesses the Library of Congress, providing him a wealth of reading material.

Fuller only leaves his Yellowstone home if he must. He has no reason to leave. He stocks up on groceries prior to winter storms, he said.

Fuller is not a cranky hermit spurning the world. Rather, he’s an articulate, friendly man who loves his home and the outdoors.

He’s never suffered cabin fever, and friends come by to visit, even in the winter.

“Never felt lonely — ever,” Fuller said.

Fugitive captured in Clark sentenced to 25 years in Florida

A Florida fugitive who tried faking his death before being captured in Clark has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

David Leon Lashley, 51, received the prison time on Jan. 8 in Alachua County, Fla., Circuit Court. He was convicted of four felony counts relating to an attempt to entice a parent to consent to a child’s participation in a sexual act, traveling to meet a minor for the purpose of engaging in a sex act, using a communications device to facilitate a felony and failing to appear for court.

David Leon Lashley, after his 2013 arrest in Clark
Lashley had been arrested in a 2012 Florida law enforcement sting called, “Operation Tail Feather.” It involved officers going on dating websites and posing as parents who were looking for someone to teach their children about sex.

Lashley responded to an officer pretending to be the mother of an 11-year-old girl with explicit messages saying what he wanted to do with the child, the Gainesville, Fla., Sun reported. He traveled from his home in Lake City, Fla., to Gainesville, expecting to meet the woman and her daughter, but he was instead arrested by police, the Sun reported.

Lashley later posted bond while awaiting trail. However, on the morning of Feb. 7, 2013 — the same morning he was due in court for a change of plea hearing — Lashley’s family reported he’d gone missing while boating in the Gulf of Mexico. A U.S. Coast Guard team of boats and an airplane spent 10 hours looking for Lashley, but found no sign of him.

Ultimately, federal authorities discovered Lashley had actually made his way to Clark and started working at a ranch under the alias of “Wesley Byrd.” A task force made up of U.S. Marshals, members of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Investigative Service and Park County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Lashley on May 20, 2013.

He was returned to Florida and kept behind bars until a two-day trial in October, the Gainesville Sun reported. Lashley had claimed he was entrapped by the sting operation, but the jury disagreed, finding him guilty on all counts after an hour and 15 minutes of deliberations, the Sun reported.

The Florida Department of Corrections website lists Lashley's current release date as March 18, 2035.

Park rangers honored for service to state

Wyoming’s state park rangers recently received the 2014 Platinum Award of Excellence for their service to the state.

The award is presented by the Park Law Enforcement Association.

In choosing to honor Wyoming's park rangers, the association cited efforts to boost state rangers' professionalism and training, detecting and stopping crime like DWUIs and domestic violence, consistently choosing between education versus enforcement and serving as a trustworthy partner for other law enforcement agencies.

"Your efforts serve as a beacon to other park enforcement agencies nationwide and stresses the need to have a collaborative law enforcement presence in the parks with an understanding of the special needs and considerations in patrolling park patrons required to create a safe, welcoming and enjoyable park experience," wrote Hugo McPhee, the past president of the Park Law Enforcement Association and the chair of its awards committee, in a Feb. 20 letter.

Wyoming’s state park rangers have a track record of implementing innovative management strategies that increase effectiveness or efficiencies in the delivery of park safety or security protocols, said a release from the parks and cultural resources department.

“I greatly appreciate our staff, which uphold a high standard of service to the citizens of Wyoming and our visitors, and would like to thank (the Park Law Enforcement Association) for this national recognition,” said Domenic Bravo, Wyoming’s state park administrator.

Feb 19, 2015

Events coordinator to replace fair director; fair board members unhappy

The director of the Park County Fair could be out of a job by July, as county commissioners intend to eliminate her position to a create a new, bigger one.

Commissioners said Tuesday they want to replace the fair director with a proposed Park County events coordinator. The coordinator would oversee not only the fairgrounds, but all the large events held on county property throughout the year — such as gatherings on the grounds of the Park County Complex in Cody. In another change, the events coordinator ultimately would answer to commissioners instead of the Park County Fair Board, whose five volunteer members have historically been in charge of fair staff.

Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said in an interview that the fair board’s role in putting on the annual fair will remain the same.

“They’re still going to be charged with the production of the fair, they’ll just be coordinating it with an events coordinator instead of a fair manager,” Tilden said. He added later that, “Really, I think everybody’s blowing this whole thing out of proportion here because ... all we’re doing is creating a new job.”

But that’s not how some members of the fair board see the commission’s action.

“I think it’s really messed up that they’re doing that, because they put the fair board in place to manage the fair and the fairgrounds,” said Fair Board Chairman Mike Demoney in a Tuesday interview, saying it feels as though commissioners are taking over the fair.

Board members also expressed concern about losing Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz.

“I just want to know why we’re cutting someone (loose) that has done a tremendous job in the past few years ... and putting in someone else that doesn't necessarily have the experience or the training,” Fair Board Vice Chairman Linda Nielsen told commissioners on Tuesday. “We feel like our legs were kind of cut out from underneath of us on this, a little bit.”

Responded Commissioner Bucky Hall, “I’ve felt for a long time that this particular position — especially with the new building going up over there and all the events that are happening around the county, not just at the fairgrounds — that we needed to expand that position.

“And quite frankly,” Hall added, “The last two or three years, the communication between this board, the fair board and the director has been incredibly substandard.

“It’s not all our fault, but .... the only way I personally feel we can get a handle on it is (to) have that person be a department” head that answers to commissioners, he said.

County buildings and grounds staffers, who are overseen by commissioners, received greater control of the fair's upkeep after a series of electrical problems were discovered in 2010 — leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars of electrical improvements — and the roof of the large exhibit hall was found to be in danger of collapsing later that year.

“The board was not doing their job,” Tilden said. “They just weren’t.”

The subsequent demolition of that large exhibit hall and some nearby buildings created the need for the new $3.1 million multi-use facility now under construction.

“Quite frankly, the last two or three years, the communication between this board, the fair board and the director has been incredibly substandard,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall.

In September 2011, the fair board OK’d having buildings and grounds staff take over facility and grounds management, groundskeeping and custodial responsibilities, but conflict over who those staffers answer to — and what duties they should have — has persisted.

“When you have basically one person in charge, it should smooth everything out,” Tilden said of switching to an events coordinator.

Fair board members, however, questioned whether having an employee who reports to commissioners but works with the fair board will just continue the conflict. Further, board members believe commissioners may be underestimating the amount of work the fair director already has by seeking to enlarge the job.

Commissioners said they may end up having to hire more personnel to help out the events coordinator and they encouraged input from the fair board on what the current job entails.
Park County Fair director Jennifer Lohrenz gestures as she speak to representatives of the Wyoming Business Council (at left) while commissioners Joe Tilden (center) and Loren Grosskopf (at right) listen in this March 2014 file photo.

As noted Tuesday, communication between the fair and commission has been strained in recent years. For example, commissioners' have made no secret of their frustration with the board’s lack of progress on a $500,000 fundraising goal.

“The way it's always operated, if they had a question, all they had to do is call,” Demoney said of the Hall’s criticism on the communications. He faulted Commissioner Tim French, the commission’s liaison to the fair board, for missing numerous board meetings last year.

“You want communications? Then come to the meeting,” Demoney said.

French, however, said in a Wednesday interview that he stopped going to meetings because the board was “hostile” to him and conducted much of their meetings in closed-door, executive sessions.

“To this day, if they ever have a question, comment, anything they never call me,” French said, adding that some people on the fair board “are not good board members.”

French did attend last week’s board meeting, which followed commissioners’ announcement that they planned to create an events coordinator. However, French didn’t mention the commission’s pending plans for the fair staff during the public portion of the meeting, nor did fair board members ask about the plans.

“We feel like our legs were kind of cut out from underneath of us on this, a little bit,” said Fair Board Vice Chairman Linda Nielsen.

Lohrenz told the Tribune that, “no matter what the final outcome is, I sincerely hope that I am allowed to administer the 2015 fair in the very least,” saying a tremendous amount of work has gone into the event.

Demoney echoed that wish.

However, Tilden said he expects the fair director’s position to conclude at the end of June, with the events coordinator running the 2015 fair in July. He said he hopes Lohrenz will apply for the new job.

Commissioners plan to finalize a job description and salary range for the position at their March 3 meeting. Advertisements seeking applicants for the events coordinator position will begin running in local newspapers next week, advising them to check the county's website on March 4 for more information.

Northrup, Laursen support $12.5M in assistance for local governments

A pair of Powell legislators said they are confident a $12.5 million infusion of state dollars will be provided to counties, cities and towns this year.

State Reps. David Northrup, R-District 50, and Dan Laursen, R-25, both Republicans, said Gov. Matt Mead had pledged $25 million for local governments during his 2014 campaign for a second term. The Legislature has since cut that figure in half.

Some of the two dozen people who attended the one-hour meeting at Hansel & Gretel’s were concerned that the figure, once cut in half, may be eliminated entirely. The House will examine the request as budget amendment; work on that started Tuesday.

“Oh, it’ll go through,” Northrup said. “It’ll go through the House. I don’t know about the Senate.”

Mayor Don Hillman said local governments would welcome the assistance.

“Well, we appreciate anything we can get,” Hillman said. “There’s certainly a need for it.”

He said Park County governments cannot be as “progressive” as they once were, and instead try to keep things operating with the dollars that are available.

“We’re in survival mode, and we’re maintaining,” Hillman said.

Republican Representatives Dan Laursen (at right) and David Northrup of Powell talked about their work in the Legislature at meetings in Cody and Powell.
The legislators came home during a four-day break over the Presidents Day holiday weekend. It’s the middle of the session, as bills that passed in the House head to the Senate and vice versa.
In other topics from the town hall:

• Northrup and Larsen have different views and cast differing votes on House Bill 114, the Wyoming Repeal Gun Free Zones Act. It passed the House on a 42-17 vote on Feb. 2.

Northrup of Powell and Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, whose district contains areas in rural Powell, voted against it, while Laursen and Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, supported it.

Northrup said he based his vote on beliefs he forged while serving on the Park County School District No. 1 board.

Laursen said he voted for it because of his interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Northrup’s wife, Astrid Northrup, said she had a different take on the bill and the Second Amendment.

She said the constitutional amendment is designed to protect gun owners from intrusion by the federal government and this bill focuses on state and personal issues.

Astrid Northrup works at Northwest College, and she it has an “integrated safety plan” that is effective on weapons. NWC President Stefani Hicswa, who has lobbied Big Horn Basin legislators to oppose the law, was at the meeting.

Laursen listened to what his colleague’s wife had to say but he shook his head and said he still disagrees with her on it.

• Mike Specht, who owns Dragon Fighters, a Clark firefighting firm, said state money budgeted for firefighting should be spent on Wyoming firms.

Instead, $54 million that was budgeted for firefighting efforts in 2013 was almost exclusively spent on reimbursing federal agencies or hiring firms from other states and from Israel, Specht said. Wyoming used to have five private firefighting companies, he said; now it has three.

Specht said talk of supporting small businesses is not backed up by action.

“If they think that about my business, what do they think about your business?” he asked the crowd.

Northrup said he has broached the subject with the state forestry office but they are “very reluctant” to change their hiring practices. Specht said there is a lot of “fraud and abuse” in how fires are managed and fought.

Northrup said the process is to use the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service to fight fires. But he said Specht should have been allowed to stamp out a fire that erupted by his house in Clark

“And that’s what’s wrong,” Northrup said. “If you’re the closest to the fire, get it out, is the way I feel.”

• The state tax on beer, which was 2 cents per gallon, was proposed to be raised to 17 cents. It had not been hiked in more than 80 years.

Instead, Northrup said, the Legislature decided to repeal the tax. It brought in less than $300,000 last year, he said, and caused paperwork headaches for businesses.

“It was more hassle than it was worth,” he said.

• Northrup said four bills that proposed tax increases were introduced, and all are dead.
Three died in committee and one on the House floor.

• A bill to set aside $100,000 to study converting federal land in Wyoming to state control is a waste of money, Northrup said.
Senate File 56 passed by a resounding 26-4 vote in the Senate and has moved over to the House. Northrup said he has concerns about “billionaires buying up land” from the state, so he opposes it.

• Northrup introduced an amendment to the budget bill to change a bill proposing a four-year adjunct to the University of Wyoming studying business and environmental science. The original bill called for locating the facility in Jackson; he changed that to Powell, but his amendment failed Tuesday.

• Money for University of Wyoming projects is moving through the Legislature easily, the lawmakers said.

Phil Nicholas, the president of the Senate, and Kermit Brown, the speaker of the House, are both from Laramie, they noted. A proposal for a new facility to enhance UW athletics, including a special dining room, will pass, Northrup said.

“The University of Wyoming is getting everything they want this year,” he said.

• Several people wanted to discuss the federal government’s spending habits with the state officials.
Both representatives said they supported a bill to mandate that the federal government, which is operating with an $18 trillion debt, balance its budget. It passed the House and is now headed for the Senate.

Northrup and Laursen said they support calling for a convention of the states to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution ordering Congress to balance the budget. To be called, 34 states, or two-thirds, would have to support the concept; then 38 states, or three-quarters of them, would have to approve the amendment to add it to the Constitution.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a run for president in 2016, spoke on the subject in Cheyenne last month.

While there is some concern that a constitutional convention could become a runaway engine altering the American government, Laursen and Northrup said delegates sent to a convention of states — not a constitutional convention — would be legally prevented from that happening.

They would be guilty of a felony for going off-topic, they said, and would face a $7,500 fine and up to 10 years in prison. If they attempt to consider another issue, they are recalled and cannot take part in the convention.

• The House provided funding for the state Department of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow, to study science standards.

A footnote in a bill last year defunded research on science standards over concerns about imposing Common Core Standards. This money, if approved by the Senate, will allow them to “do their job,” Northrup said.

• Northrup co-authored a bill with Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, to allow farmers to operate most farm equipment without having to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The bill also loosens restrictions on firefighters, the military and people operating recreational vehicle.

The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee first looked at the issue, which would return the CDL policy to the way it was years ago, but then the Senate “substituted” the bill Northrup and Sommers wrote.

The Senate passed it as a committee bill. It is now coming to the House, and it has an excellent chance of passage there, Northrup said.

• Hansel & Gretel’s owner Brock Ninker asked if more gambling could be allowed in bars.

He said if he could offer poker and blackjack, he would make more money and could give his employees raises. Right now, the bar allows private games to be played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with occasional tournaments.

The legislators said they had not heard of efforts to expand gaming.

Questions about the Wyoming Lottery, which was launched last year, were asked, and Northrup and Laursen deferred to former Rep. Dave Bonner, the Powell Tribune publisher and a member of the WyoLotto board.

Bonner said the board decided to pay back the $2.6 million it borrowed to begin operations — it receives no state funding — before paying money to schools and local governments.

But he said revenues were on track.

“It’s going great,” Bonner said.

• Hicswa said she appreciates the efforts of the legislators and their willingness to “listen to the Big Horn Basin.”

Laursen and Northrup headed for Cody for a second town hall in the morning. Eight people showed up and many of the same topics were explored, Northrup said.

Feb 18, 2015

Warm weather makes Big Horn Lake ice unsafe

Due to recent temperature increases and warm winds, plus the raise in water level, Big Horn Lake's ice has become unsafe.

Bob Croft, Friends of Big Horn Lake Board of Directors secretary, made the announcement.

Temperatures have topped 60 across the region in recent days, making ice precarious in several spots.

Croft said Barry’s Landing is open and boats can be launched. There are no docks, however. Boaters will encounter ice as they travel south toward Horseshoe Bend.

The lake elevation is slightly more than 3,629 feet. Full is 3,640 feet.

Feb 17, 2015

Sorority and crafters donate to new fair building

One of the Park County Fairgrounds’ longest-standing users has stepped up to help furnish the fairgrounds’ new building.

Members of Laureate Rho — the Powell chapter of the sorority Beta Sigma Phi — presented the fair board with a pair of checks totaling $1,700 on Tuesday night.

Park County Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz beckons fair board members into the frame to pose for a photo with members of Laureate Rho, the Powell chapter of sorority Beta Sigma Phi. Shown (from left) are fair board members Robby Newkirk, Steve Martin and Mike Demoney, Laureate Rho members Gladys Schwab and Mary Wenzel and fair board members Kimberly Barhaug and Linda Nielsen (obscured).
The sorority has used the fairgrounds for decades to host its annual Kappa Kraft Fair. In recognition of the facilities’ importance to the group and the community, Laureate Rho collected donations at November’s craft fair for the multi-use building now under construction.

Outside of the fair itself, the Kappa Kraft Fair is the largest public event held on the grounds each year. It brings in vendors from around the region and somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 attendees.

At November’s fair, craft vendors and customers chipped in $600 and Laureate Rho itself added another $1,100; sorority members expressed appreciation for all the help provided by fairgrounds staff over some 35 years.

Laureate Rho’s Ardyce Busboom said the group hopes the money will provide a good start toward new tables, chairs and display cases.

“We look forward to the completion of this new building,” Busboom told the board, adding that, “Hopefully there are other organizations that will jump right in and get some of the needed amenities for this facility.”

County commissioners had hoped the fair board would raise $500,000 in private funding for the $3.1 million building, but progress has been slow.

At Tuesday’s fair meeting, board members discussed a couple fundraising ideas, such as running a pool tournament and raffling off a dinner with a knight from the “Knights of Valour” jousting troupe when they perform at the 2015 Fair. Board members also have talked about sending out letters to potential donors.

The new multi-use facility is scheduled to be completed this summer.

One year later, sheriff is ‘confident’ Badger Basin homicide will be solved

If you’d have asked Park County Sheriff Scott Steward a year ago whether authorities would solve the murder of the man whose mutilated body was found in Badger Basin — and if Steward was completely candid — he might have told you, “There’s just no way.”

But now, some 13 months into the investigation, “I’m getting a lot more confident that we will solve it,” Steward said in a recent interview.

Sheriff Scott Steward
The body was discovered Jan. 9, 2014, along a remote dirt road informally known as Little Sand Coulee Road, about a mile and a half west of Wyo. Highway 294. The body was missing a head and left arm, among other damage.

Since that time, authorities working the case — chiefly the sheriff’s office and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation — have determined the man was shot to death, identified him as 30-year-old Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres and come up with a couple “persons of interest” in connection with the murder.

Further, authorities now feel comfortable in saying that — despite rampant public speculation to the contrary — Guerra-Torres’ murder doesn’t appear to have been at the hands of a foreign drug cartel.

“I think we can safely safely say that it’s not going to (turn out to) be cartel-type action, like you hear of on the borders,” Steward said. “It’s more a of personal deal ... a personal argument.”

Guerra-Torres was a Mexican national, believed to have been illegally in the United States. He had lived in both the Clark community and Tulare County, Calif., south of Fresno.

“I think we can safely safely say that it’s not going to (turn out to) be cartel-type action, like you hear of on the borders,” said Sheriff Scott Steward.

People who knew Guerra-Torres have said he lived with a significant other, had five children and worked manual labor jobs in the Clark area.

The sheriff’s investigator works on the murder case when he has time or new information, and sheriff’s personnel meet with their counterparts at DCI whenever they’ve got a lead or a sustained lull in the investigation, Steward said.

Juan Guerra-Torres
“Obviously, we’re not like a major metro P.D. or something that has a cold case unit that that’s all they do,” the sheriff said. “Unfortunately, we’ve got one investigator, and we’ve got DCI helping, and it’s just a matter (of), you can’t work it full-time.”

He said it’s been a frustrating case.

“We feel that we’re close, but we just can’t seem to nail the coffin,” Steward said, adding later that, “Every time you think you’re making progress, it’s like ... you take that two steps forward thinking, ‘Here we go,’ and then you fall five steps back; something just doesn’t pan out or (it’s) bad information.”

That said, Steward also believes there will come a point where the investigation begins picking up momentum and “once that snowball goes, you’ve got to kick it downhill fast and get moving, because you lose so much and people obviously can talk and get stories straight,” he said.

The sheriff said tips have been scarce in recent months. However, “when somebody else (in the country) has a headless homicide, boy, all of a sudden we get these calls, ‘Hey, could it be connected?’” Steward said.

He called a connection to other such killings “highly unlikely.”

Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact the Park County Sheriff’s Office at 307-527-8700 or Wyoming DCI at 307-777-7545.

Highway cracks being sealing across Big Horn Basin

A $2.3 million highway crack sealing project is under way on Big Horn Basin highways with possible delays of up to 20 minutes, according to a Wyoming Department of Transportation news release.

The project began in Big Horn County.

When completed, highway cracks will be sealed in Big Horn, Park, Hot Springs, Washakie and Fremont counties, and a small piece of western Natrona County between Shoshoni and Casper.

Crews with prime contractor Highway Improvement, Inc., of Sioux Falls, S.D., are scheduled for three weeks of work in Big Horn County, two and a half weeks in Park County and one and a half weeks in both Hot Springs and Washakie counties.

Work in Fremont and Natrona counties is scheduled to take about six weeks to complete.

"These work time estimates are based on one crew working, but the contractor expects to have two crews working by mid-February," said Ben Steed, Wyoming Department of Transportation resident engineer in Basin. "Workers will return to Park County later in the spring to complete work between Cody and Yellowstone National Park on U.S. (Highway) 14-16-20."

Steed said commuters should expect stop delays of up to 20 minutes with single-lane traffic. Vehicles will be led through the work zones by pilot vehicles.

"We apologize for the inconvenience of this work, but crack sealing is an important part of maintaining our highways in Wyoming," Steed said. "Thank you for your patience."

Contract completion is scheduled for May 31.

Show of Harry Jackson artwork opens in Clearmont

An art show in Clearmont, a small town near Buffalo, is featuring a broad survey of abstract expressionist work by Harry Jackson.

Jackson (1924-2011) was a painter, sculptor and sketch artist from Cody who mastered a diverse range of styles and is widely considered one of the most important and acclaimed artists of the 20th century.

The show is now open at the Ucross Foundation gallery in Clearmont and will run through April 10. The gallery is at 30 Big Red Lane.

This show constitutes the first major new look at Jackson's abstract art since it received broad critical acclaim in the 1950s. It will include works from 1995-2006.

The show will also feature new commentary and analysis from artist and former Yellowstone Art Museum senior curator Gordon McConnell examining the importance of Jackson's body of abstract work.

State record perch caught in Boysen Reservoir

Wyoming has a new state record yellow perch.

Casper angler Troy Schnepper who reeled in a 2.28 pound yellow perch the first week of January was jigging through the ice at Boysen Reservoir.

Schnepper’s fish was 15.25 inches long and had a girth of 12.5 inches. It bested the previous state record, which had stood since 1991, by a little more than an ounce.

Casper angler Troy Schnepper poses with his record-setting perch. Courtesy photo

Schnepper has the distinction of being the only person in Wyoming now holding two state fish records. He is the current black crappie record holder for a fish he caught two years ago, also out of Boysen Reservoir.

Schnepper, who fishes Boysen often, said he was fishing primarily for crappie, jigging a small spoon tipped with a minnow head when the perch struck. He said the fishing had been good and he had earlier caught three 15-inch crappies, each weighing around two pounds. When the perch took his lure, he thought it was a walleye and on landing the fish thought it might be a new state record. His fish was confirmed as the new record later that day after being weighed on a certified scale, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said.

Perch are found in a number of waters in Wyoming.

The world record caught in New Jersey in 1865, weighing four pounds, three ounces, has been the longest standing fish record in North America.

A complete listing of Wyoming state record fish is on the Game and Fish website at wgfd.wyo.gov.

New winter travel regulations to have limited effect in Big Horns

The U.S. Forest Service’s recently released rule governing winter travel in national forests will have little effect in Bighorn National Forest, forest managers say.

The rule, released in late January, said national forests must designate routes and areas where over-snow vehicle use is allowed. Bighorn Forest Supervisor Bill Bass said he expects the Big Horn’s current designations to be in compliance with the rule.

Bighorn National Forest offers 391 miles of snowmobile trails including 342 miles of groomed and 49 miles of un-groomed trails. With a few exceptions, most of Bighorn National Forest is open to snowmobiles, as long as there’s enough snow to prevent damage to the land.

Snowmobile use is restricted seasonally or year-round in the Cloud Peak Wilderness, downhill and cross-country ski areas, research natural areas, the Rock Creek area, wildlife winter range, recommended wild and scenic river corridors and the area around the Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark.    

Most, if not all, Bighorn’s designations were made in the revised forest plan approved in 2005. Bass doesn’t anticipate changes in areas that are open now, but managers will know more after the evaluation.

“We’ll evaluate the areas open to snowmobiles to determine if we’re in compliance with the rule,” he said in a statement.

For more information about winter travel in the Bighorns, contact the ranger district office in Lovell at 307-548-6541.

Young artists sought for Arbor Day poster contest

The 2015 Wyoming Arbor Day youth Poster Contest is underway.

In celebration of Wyoming’s 127th Arbor Day, the contest theme is “Celebrating Wyoming’s TREE-mendous Future.”
Myzek McArthur was a fifth-grader at Lovell Elementary School when he took first place in last year's Wyoming Arbor Day youth Poster Contest. Myzek’s parents are Mel and Jen McArthur of Lovell. Courtesy photo

The contest deadline is March 27.

The annual contest educates children about the importance of trees and the benefits they provide us in our daily lives.

All Wyoming fourth- and fifth-grade students and home-schooled students are invited to participate. Posters are not judged by grade level.

The student who wins the state contest will receive $100, a plaque and a framed copy of their winning poster while their teacher will receive $100 to buy classroom materials. The second place artist will get $50 and a framed copy of their poster.

The contest is sponsored by Wyoming State Forestry Division and Wyoming Project Learning Tree.

For full contest rules, visit the Wyoming Project Learning Tree website.

You now can text to turn in poachers

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has launched a new method for the public to report poaching incidents: by text or an Android app.

“Many of our biggest poaching cases come from tips received during the months wildlife is on their winter range and even during the summer,” said Aaron Kerr, law enforcement coordinator, in a statement.

Anyone with a cell phone can now report critical poaching information to the Game and Fish by sending a text message to 847411 (TIP411). Make WGFD the first word of your message, followed by the poaching information you'd like to report. Critical information includes descriptions of the suspect and their vehicle, the exact location of the violation and what they observed. The Internet-based service, Tip411, enables anonymously texted tips.

“The information people provide is critical to allow game wardens to follow up on a case,” said Kerr. “This new tool is going to be invaluable, as it will give the public a way to report wildlife violations in a timely manner, which in turn will give wardens the needed information to investigate and solve poaching cases.”

In addition to texting, Android users can download the WGFD Tips app to report wildlife violations.

Last year, 451 tips were submitted through the Game and Fish Department’s Stop Poaching Hotline. The resulting cases involved 53 people and accounted for fines totaling over $353,000. The Wyoming Wildlife Protectors Association rewarded $15,300 to people who provided poaching tip information to the Game and Fish.

Anonymous tips can also be submitted directly on the Game and Fish website or by calling 1-877-WGFD-TIP (1-877-943-3847).

Feb 12, 2015

Former Powell man fined, jailed for wildlife violations

After three separate court appearances last November, a former Powell resident received approximately $2,500 in fines, lost eight years of hunting, fishing and trapping privileges and served 12 days in jail for multiple misdemeanor wildlife violations.

Powell Game Warden Chris Queen’s investigation began in November with an anonymous tip that Jacob Adkins, 19, had illegally shot a deer.

Deer are shown in rural Cody in this file photo.
Queen found that Adkins had actually illegally harvested three animals: one deer in the McCullough Peaks and two more in Big Horn County.

At a Nov. 24 appearance in Big Horn County Circuit Court in Lovell, Adkins pleaded guilty to taking two deer during a closed season. The following day at Park County Circuit Court in Powell, he pleaded guilty to taking a deer in the closed McCullough Peaks area and not tagging the animal.

For those violations, Adkins was fined $1,500 and lost his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for five years.

That would have ended the story, but just three hours after the Nov. 25 court appearance in Powell, wildlife officers caught Adkins trying to buy bobcat and coyote furs in Lovell without a fur dealer’s license.

“Despite a suspension of privileges, a warning, and multiple court appearances, this young man chose to continually ignore wildlife regulations,” Queen said.

Adkins was arrested, and the following day he appeared in Big Horn County Circuit Court in Basin to plead guilty to buying furs without a fur dealer’s license. He received $1,040 in additional fines and assessments and lost three more years of hunting, fishing and trapping privileges. Adkins ended up serving 12 days in jail, with another 168 days suspended.

Queen said he’d specifically warned Adkins about the need to get a fur dealer’s license, having learned during the investigation that Adkins had bought several muskrat furs without a license and acquired a snowshoe hare without a small game license.

“Despite a suspension of privileges, a warning, and multiple court appearances, this young man chose to continually ignore wildlife regulations,” Queen said in a Jan. 16 statement released by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Adkins currently is serving a six-month term of unsupervised probation, court records say, and he has moved to Kentucky.

Burlington man bags world record crossbow elk

Albert Henderson of Burlington took a large elk last fall. So large, in fact, it set a record.

Albert Henderson (right) of Burlington, bagged this, the largest elk ever taken with a crossbow, last fall. At left is long time friend and hunting partner Larry Michaels. Courtesy photo

Henderson began his annual archery hunt near Dubois last fall with no idea he'd be encountering a bull for the ages. But by the end of the hunt, Henderson’s efforts would be rewarded with what the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has verified as the largest elk ever taken with a crossbow.

Henderson’s elk was scored at 426 1/8 points on the Safari Club International (SCI) scoring system. SCI maintains records for trophies taken with various weapons including rifle, handgun, muzzleloader, bow and crossbow.

Under the more familiar Boone and Crockett scoring system, Henderson’s elk measured 408 points, easily placing it in the top 5 percent of elk ever entered in the record books. The minimum score to qualify for the Boone and Crockett record book is 375 points. Very few harvested elk make the 375 minimum each year and only a handful of elk exceed 400 points.

“This is an incredible hunting story and we tip our hats to Mr. Henderson,” said Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott.

What makes Henderson’s trophy especially noteworthy is that it was taken on public land on a general license in the Shoshone National Forest.

Henderson was into the fifth day of his hunt and was working to get closer to another good bull when he saw his record book animal with a cow elk. Unable to get the elk to come nearer, he stalked to close the distance to 53 yards and the elk presented a perfect broadside shot.

“This is an incredible hunting story and we tip our hats to Mr. Henderson,” Talbott said.

The elk only traveled a little over 100 yards where he found it dead. Henderson said he has hunted in the area several times and had seen bulls in the 350 class, but nothing that approached the size of his record animal.

He had taken his only other crossbow elk in 2013 after more than 10 years of hunting. Over the years, several of his family members have also bagged elk with a crossbow.

“Wyoming is home to some of the most impressive wildlife in the world, but not everyone gets to see these animals, let alone hunt them,” said the Game and Fish's Talbott. “Now is a great time to start planning to make your own memories in 2015.”

‘Isn’t it beautiful’ — Yellowstone in the winter

Yellowstone National Park looks a lot different with a mantle of snow juxtaposing nicely with steaming hot springs and grazing bison.

At the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Karin Jones, a Xanterra Parks and Resorts, Inc. snow coach driver/guide, loads her passengers aboard a van with tracks. Today’s trip will traverse the park’s winter wonderland from Mammoth to Canyon Village, and, Hayden Valley, if the weather cooperates, she said.

If they listened closely, those Karin Jones’ Feb. 5 tour could just discern the roar of fumaroles on Roaring Mountain north of Norris Geyser Basin. Photo by Gib Mathers

If there is such a thing as a Yellowstone type, Jones fits the profile. Blond hair tumbles from beneath her cap, complementing a ruddy complexion and ready smile. She’s been in the park for many years, and it’s become such a major part of her life that one of her 3-year-old’s first words was “geyser,” Jones said.

Bouncing along like an old pickup truck on a washboard road, Jones’ van rumbles up the hill until it reaches the snow. Then the van swishes through the powder like a skier descending a bunny slope. Within a few minutes, the van has climbed 1,000 feet above Mammoth, reaching the hoodoos near Terrace Mountain.

“You could easily spend your whole life learning things here,” said Jones.

At Golden Gate, Jones eases the van along the narrow road hacked from the side of a mountain. Originally a tunnel was carved through the rock, but it collapsed, she said. The road is all that remains.

Along Swan Lake Flats, the Gallatin Mountains rise through a low ceiling of clouds.

Buffalo graze in the snow beside the road, their heads swaying back and forth like powerful shovels heaving the deep snow aside to find grass. Bison bulls, weighing 2,000 to 2,500 pounds, are solitary while cow bison, weighing around 1,000 pounds, remain in groups, Jones said. Forage is scarce in the winter. Bison lose 15 to 25 percent of their body weight in winter, Jones said.

The Gardner River cuts a narrow channel through the snow soft as baby powder. Vapor rises from the stream gently, invitingly, like steam from a tea kettle.

“Isn’t it beautiful, how it doesn’t freeze?” Jones said to her passengers.

Two coyotes occupy a meadow, presumably after burrowing prey. One coyote digs in the snow like a dog excavating a soup bone.

Trumpeter swans and a few geese and ducks enhance the waters of the Yellowstone River a few miles southeast of Canyon Village. Photo by Gib Mathers
Near Sheepeater Cliff, stone walls flanking the road are veined with obsidian a glass-like volcanic substance like tiny rivers of black captured in a freeze frame. Native Americans in Yellowstone date back at least 9,000 years and the Sheepeaters, a subgroup of the Shoshone tribe, occupied the park year-round. By using hot water, the natives straightened bighorn sheep horns to make incredibly strong bows, Jones said.

South of Roaring Mountain, trees stripped bare by the fires of 1988 still stand stubbornly like bean poles overlooking newer growth. More than 730,000 acres burned in Yellowstone that summer.

“In the end, what put out the fires was one-half inch of snow,” Jones said.

From Mammoth, it is 21 miles to Norris Junction and another 14 miles from Norris to Canyon Junction/Village.

Wagons carried visitors in the early days before automobiles. Each junction was the distance a wagon and horses could cover in one day, Jones said.

Lodging was, and still is, available at Canyon in the summer.

Winter still had a hold on Yellowstone National Park Feb. 5; Canyon Village had 34 inches of snow. Photo by Gib Mathers
The first Norris Hotel was built in 1886-87 by the Yellowstone Park Association, according to Geyser Bob’s Yellowstone Historical Service. It opened in the spring of 1887, although construction was apparently incomplete. A workman started a fire in an unfinished chimney, setting the hotel on fire July 14 that year. It was reported that there were many guests in the hotel, but all were saved.

“A bit of furniture was rescued, but all else was lost,” according to Geyser Bob. “Afterwards, tents were set up for guest use.”

The U.S. Army originally was assigned to oversee the park. In the early days, a fort was located at Norris so the army could watch for poachers, Jones said.

In 1904, the year the historic Old Faithful Inn was completed, it cost $49.50 for a five-and-one-half day package tour and lodging in Yellowstone, Jones said. (Today, one five-day winter package trip that includes transportation, meals and lodging is $1,149 to $1,449 per person, according to Xanterra’s website.)

Jones is a font of facts, much to the interest of her passengers. She invests considerable time conducting Yellowstone research.

“You could easily spend your whole life learning things here,” Jones said.

Grizzly emerges from den in warm winter weather

The mild winter has people doing things they usually don’t in February. At least one grizzly bear is also more active than normal.

Yellowstone National Park employees observed a grizzly out and about on Tuesday. The bruin was seen scavenging on a bison carcass in the central portion of the park late in the afternoon, according to a park news release.

Still, a few bears spotted in February do not necessarily signal scores of bears departing their winter dens.

A grizzly bear is pictured near Canyon in Yellowstone National Park in November. At least one is out and about in Yellowstone now. Photo courtesy Neal Herbert, National Park Service

“There's usually a few bears that may poke out their heads, and the warm weather has everyone expecting a mass exodus,” Dan Thompson, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore section supervisor, said Wednesday.

“Typically, male bears emerge from their dens in mid-March and early April, while females and young-of-the-year cubs emerge in late April and early May,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Large Carnivore Conflict Coordinator Brian DeBolt said last year.

Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens. They are attracted to elk and bison that have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important food source, and bears sometimes will react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.

Yellowstone also implements seasonal bear management area closures to reduce encounters between bears and humans in areas where elk and bison carcasses are in high density. A listing of these closures can be found online.

Yellowstone regulations require visitors to stay 100 yards from black and grizzly bears at all times.

With bears emerging from hibernation, hikers, skiers and snowshoers are advised to travel in groups of three of more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray. Bear spray has proven to be a good last line of defense, if kept handy and used according to directions when a bear is approaching within 30 to 60 feet. The same advice applies for those taking guided snowmobile trips in Yellowstone.

“There's usually a few bears that may poke out their heads, and the warm weather has everyone expecting a mass exodus,” said the Game and Fish's Dan Thompson.

While guns are allowed in the park, the discharge of a firearm is a violation of park regulations.

The park’s law enforcement rangers who carry firearms on duty rely on bear spray, rather than their weapons, as the most effective means to deal with a bear encounter.

Visitors are also reminded to keep food, garbage, barbecue grills and other attractants stored in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes. This helps keep bears from becoming conditioned to human foods and keeps park visitors and their property safe.

Updated bear safety information is available on the Park Service website and in the park newspaper distributed at park entrances.

Yellowstone bear sightings should be reported to the nearest visitor center or ranger station as soon as possible.

Outside the park, Game and Fish continues to monitor any reports of bear sightings. When bears wearing radio collars begin moving, it's a primary indicator that bears are really coming out, the department says.

Detention deputies provide CPR to inmate, save his life

Two Park County Sheriff’s detention deputies recently performed life-saving cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on an inmate at the Park County Detention Facility.

Sgt. Rob Cooke and Deputy Joe Colegrove
On Jan. 17, around 10 p.m., Sgt. Joe Colegrove and Deputy Rob Cooke were alerted by inmates in a communal area of the jail that a fellow inmate was having a seizure. Colegrove and Cooke found Roy Epperle, 51, slumped over in a chair and being propped up by fellow inmates.

The two deputies immediately placed Epperle on the floor and propped his head with a blanket. They checked for a pulse several times, but couldn't find one.

The Missoula, Mont., man was unresponsive; his face was turning purple and his breathing was labored.  Eventually, Epperle let out a long breath and then stopped breathing entirely.

Cooke immediately summoned an ambulance from West Park Hospital while Sgt. Colegrove began CPR on the victim. After 30 chest compressions, Epperle began to breath and regained consciousness. After several minutes, he became coherent enough to respond to deputies’ questions.

Deputies also began supplemental first aid measures which included monitoring Epperle’s pulse, oxygen levels and blood pressure.

He was eventually transported to West Park Hospital and then to St. Vincent Hospital in Billings, where he underwent surgery to have a pacemaker implanted.

Sheriff Scott Steward praised the immediate actions of his staff.

“Detention deputies take great pride in their responsibilities which include the care and well-being of the inmates,” Steward said. “I can’t say enough about their response in this situation. Their quick thinking and immediate actions no doubt saved the life of an inmate under their care.”

Multiple members of Epperle's family took to the sheriff's Facebook page to express thanks.

"Contrary to what is currently in the news you are the 'Good Guys,'" wrote the man's brother.

Epperle was able to appear in District Court on Jan. 26, where he received 18 to 24 months of prison time on two felony counts of delivering a controlled substance (the painkiller oxycodone).

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