May 28, 2015

Sharing this YouTube video cost a Casper man $1,500 and some hunting privileges

Flying just above a herd of elk with an ultralight aircraft and a video camera drew a Casper man tens of thousands of views on YouTube — and now a more than thousand dollar fine for harassing wildlife.

Last September, Kevin Christopherson, 53, shared footage of himself flying low over a large herd of elk as the animals ran away.

A screenshot of the video.
The roughly four-minute video has been watched more than 51,000 times on YouTube, but not everyone "liked" the clip: more than 30 people brought it to the attention of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, feeling he'd harassed the elk. The department learned the footage had been shot in Deer Creek Park in the Laramie Range southeast of Casper.

Christopherson was convicted of harassment of big game last week on May 20 in Natrona County Circuit Court. He must pay $1,500 to the court, lost his hunting privileges for a year and must serve a year of unsupervised probation (with a year of jail time hanging in suspension).

“While amazing to see wildlife up close, the amount of stress the elk endured was uncalled for,” said Glenrock Game Warden Gary Boyd said in a Thursday news release from the Game and Fish Department.  “People didn’t see the parts of the video where the elk were pushed through a barbed wire fence. That is why it is illegal to pursue or harass wildlife with any kind of motor vehicle.”

Harassment of big game is punishable by an up to $10,000 fine, a year in jail and six years of lost hunting privileges.

Warden Boyd said the department appreciates people coming forward with concerns.

“It is good to know how much people care about their wildlife,” the warden said.

Christopherson's still-active YouTube video has been monetized with advertisements and he's made it available for commercial licensing through Jukin Media, which licenses and distributes viral video clips.

The Game and Fish Department asks anyone with information on any wildlife crime to call the Stop Poaching hotline at 1-877-WGFD-TIP, fill out this online form or send a text message to 847411 with WGFD as the first word of the message. Rewards are possible and informants can remain anonymous.

May 25, 2015

Mud and rock slides close road through Wind River Canyon

Wet conditions have triggered a series of mud and rock slides in the Wind River Canyon and have closed the road.

Authorities made the decision to close U.S. Highway 20, which runs through the canyon, on Sunday night and it remained closed on Memorial Day. The highway is not expected to reopen until at least Tuesday, according to a post on the Thermopolis 911 Communications Center's Facebook page Monday afternoon.

The scene at the Wind River Canyon, shared Monday by WyDOT spokesman Cody Beers.
"Anyone intending to travel south from Park County should make plans to use alternate routes," the Park County Sheriff's Office advised in a Monday Facebook post.

On Monday morning, regional Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman Cody Beers tweeted a photo of one massive slide covering the highway, along with photos of several other smaller ones.

Beers said WyDOT crews were working to clear the road, which is a heavily-used for access to the Big Horn Basin.

May 22, 2015

Cody chamber director resigns to take job in Michigan, closer to family

The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce is looking for a new executive director after “regretfully” accepting the resignation of Scott Balyo.

Scott Balyo is leaving the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy photo
Balyo's departure was announced in a news release and the chamber's Friday newsletter. After four years at the helm of the chamber, he's taking a position as editorial director at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan. Balyo's last day at the Cody chamber is next Friday, May 29.

“It was just a good decision for him,” said Scott Wagner, the president of the chamber board and owner of the Buffalo Jump Winery in Cody.

He said Balyo’s father died several years ago, and Balyo needed to return to Michigan to help his mother.

“It was a family decision for him to move,” Wagner said in a Friday interview, adding that the opportunity at Michigan Tech “just came to him.”

“It’s going to be some big shoes to fill,” Wagner said.

Balyo was not available for comment beyond a prepared statement included in Thursday's announcement from the chamber.

“While I have a chance to return to my roots both personally and professionally, I will always remember my time in Cody fondly,” he said in the statement.

“He’s done a fantastic job,” Wagner said.

In 2013, when Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said the National Park Service would delay spring snow plowing by two weeks to meet federal budget cuts, Balyo helped raise $50,000 to pay the Wyoming Department of Transportation to plow part of the park, Wagner recalled. That played a role in Balyo being named the state's top chamber director for the year.

When Balyo took the chamber’s helm in 2011, there were no more than 400 chamber members. Now, membership is up to 600, Wagner said.

Balyo was named as Wyoming's Chamber Director of the Year in 2014. Courtesy photo
“It’s going to be some big shoes to fill,” Wagner said. But, he said the staff at the chamber are up for the challenge of a lively summer and, “we have no doubt they’re going to be able to carry the weight.”

“I can’t imagine a better group to work with,” Balyo said in his statement. “We have amazing members, a committed board of directors, and a staff who give their all for this community every day.”

The board plans to meet next Wednesday to decide whether to appoint an interim director. Wagner isn't certain, but he believes the board will do just that, as finding a new director will take time.

“To find the correct person is always kind of a long process,” he said.

“I have had nothing but support from our members and this community since the very first day, and I want to say ‘thank you’ for that,” Balyo said.

At the national level, directors at busy chambers generally last two years before seeking employment elsewhere or being “stolen” by chambers of commerce in other communities, Wagner said. He noted that Balyo was with the Cody chamber nearly four years.

“I like Scott,” Wagner said. “I’m going to miss him; from the work standpoint, we’re going to miss him.”

Despite that, Wagner said he sees finding a replacement as the means to hire a new director with fresh ideas.

“It’s actually really an exciting job with so many things going on,” he said.

In his statement, Balyo noted that when he started the job, he'd never managed a chamber.

“I have had nothing but support from our members and this community since the very first day, and I want to say ‘thank you’ for that,” he said.

May 21, 2015

Two sentenced for transporting meth through Yellowstone

A Mexican man and a Seattle woman have been convicted of federal crimes after being caught with perhaps $10,000 worth of methamphetamine in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park last year.

Baldomero Juarez Guevarra, 26, and Noemi Alvarez Avila, 24, were pulled over for speeding last September on U.S. Highway 191, which cuts through Yellowstone near its northwestern border.

U.S. Highway 191 on a Park Service map
Law enforcement officials ended up searching their Chevy Malibu and — hidden inside a PlayStation 3 stashed in the trunk of their Idaho rental car — they found around 120 grams of meth.

“(Avila) admitted she knew there was four ounces of methamphetamine in the Malibu and they were making a delivery to Billings, Montana,” wrote National Park Service Special Agent Dan Kirschner in a criminal complaint.

Guevarra, of Zacatecas, Mexico, pleaded guilty to possessing and to conspiring to possess 50 or more grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute it as well as a count of illegally re-entering the United States after having been deported.

At an April 21 hearing before Federal District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl, Guevarra received a seven-year prison sentence. If Guevarra was staying in the United States, his prison time would be followed by four years of supervised release, but he’ll likely be deported again when he gets out.

Guevarra’s criminal record — which included prior involvement in the drug trade and domestic violence — played a role in the sentence he received, said John Powell, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne.

“(Avila) admitted she knew there was four ounces of methamphetamine in the Malibu and they were making a delivery to Billings, Montana,” charging documents say. 

Avila, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to possessing and conspiring to possess 50 or more grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute it.

On Friday, Judge Skavdahl sentenced Avila to five years of supervised probation.

“She had no major prior criminal record and was determined not to be part of the plan to obtain the meth or in determining a course of action for its delivery,” Powell said. He added that cooperation is always viewed favorably by prosecutors.

Yellowstone Park Ranger Mark Wozniak had pulled over Avila after clocking her at 70 miles an hour on the 55-mile-an-hour highway, the criminal complaint says. Wozniak found Avila did not have a driver’s license with her, and neither did the vehicle’s other three occupants, two of whom were children. Guevarra, riding shotgun, initially denied having any identification, though he later produced information showing he was a citizen of Mexico.

While waiting to see if U.S. Customs and Immigration wanted to detain Guevarra, Wozniak found some irregularities in the occupants’ stories.

Guevarra and Avila couldn't get their stories straight with the Yellowstone ranger.

The complaint says Guevarra told the ranger he didn’t know who they were going to visit; Avila and Guevarra couldn’t explain how they knew each other; Avila couldn’t explain why they were making a long trip with a short stay, or why the car had been rented for her when she didn’t have her driver’s license.

Wozniak believed something illegal was going on and summoned Gallatin County Sheriff’s Deputy Doug Lieurance and his drug detection K-9, Hondo.

After learning that Hondo was going to sniff around the vehicle, Guevarra pulled a paper towel out of his pants pocket that held a small amount of marijuana.

Hondo alerted to the odor of a controlled substance in the car.

“Do whatever you have to do,” Avila reportedly told Wozniak.

Wozniak found a folded $1 bill with meth residue in Guevarra’s wallet. In the trunk, authorities found an apparent marijuana pipe in an art supply box, as well as a duffle bag containing a PlayStation 3 held together by wooden screws. Looking inside the console, police found the PlayStation’s electronics had been supplemented with two bags of meth, the complaint says.

Guevarra received a stiffer sentence because of prior involvement with the drug trade and other factors, according to a spokesman for federal prosecutors. 

Guevarra has been incarcerated since the Sept. 27 traffic stop. Avila has been free since an Oct. 2 court appearance.

He must pay $300, and she must pay $200 in court assessments.

May 20, 2015

Rockslide closes popular Yellowstone canyon trail

Heavy rain and snow recently triggered a rock and mud slide on a popular trail along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, closing it until further notice.

One of the toppled rocks — measuring 7 feet tall by 8 feet long — effectively blocked the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, said Yellowstone National Park officials.

This rock came crashing down in a recent slide and blocked the trail. Photo courtesy National Park Service
“We know this is a popular trail, and as soon as conditions dry out, we will work to clear the trail,” Canyon District Ranger Tim Townsend said in a news release. “Right now the entire slope above the trail is still wet and unstable making it unsafe for crews to work in the area.”

With the wet conditions, a trail crew is evaluating the area to determine whether more slides are likely and and the best way to reopen the trail.

Visitors may still hike the North Rim Trail, but rangers ask that people respect the closure on the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail.

As the busy Memorial Day weekend approaches, rangers are also reminding visitors that many areas are saturated by recent rain and snow and to be aware of their surroundings and footing.

Current trail condition reports are available at Yellowstone visitor’s centers or backcountry offices.

May 19, 2015

New patrol deputy announced for Cody area

Residents will see a new face out patrolling the Cody area.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward recently announced that Deputy
Deputy Patrick Geraghty. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
Patrick Geraghty has joined the department’s patrol division. Geraghty transferred from the Park County Detention Facility, where he'd served since 2012.

He'll begin his new duties immediately.

Before joining the sheriff's office, Geraghty worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and before that, he served in the United States Marine Corps. His military service included tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as deployments in southeast Asia.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Geraghty relocated to the Cody area in 2009. He lives with his wife, Kari, and their three children.

Patrol deputies are responsible for “providing public safety by maintaining order, responding to emergencies, protecting people and property, enforcing motor vehicle and criminal laws, and promoting good community relations,” Steward said in a news release, and the sheriff said he's confident Geraghty will serve the county's citizens well.

Geraghty replaces long-time Deputy Aaron Rose, who recently retired and took a job with Park County Public Works.

Murder suspect calls case against him ‘ludicrous;’ held without bail

A man charged with last year’s murder in Badger Basin says the case against him is “hearsay from a meth-head.”

John L. Marquez, 51, attacked the allegations against him — and specifically the credibility of co-defendant Pedro Garcia Jr. — during his first Park County court appearance on Friday morning in Cody.

John Marquez is led into the courthouse by Park County detention deputies. Photo by CJ Baker
Marquez is charged with first-degree murder and conspiring to commit first-degree murder in connection with the January 2014 killing of Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres. Marquez also is alleged to have decapitated and mutilated Guerra-Torres’ body after the killing.

The allegations against Marquez contained in court documents are based largely on Pedro Garcia, who told authorities that, acting on a request from his sister, Sandra Garcia, he hired Marquez to kill Guerra-Torres.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters ordered Marquez to be held without bail pending further proceedings, while Marquez questioned why Waters signed off on the charges against him.

“I don’t understand how a judge can sign a warrant from a hearsay statement from a drug addict, from a meth-head,” Marquez said during Friday’s hearing, referring to Pedro Garcia. “He’s a known meth-head and he got busted with meth, and now just because he says, ‘Oh, this guy was there and this guy did this,’ a judge signs a warrant.”

Marquez said he was doing well, working seven days a week and not bothering anyone when he was arrested on the charges in March in Bonham, Texas. He called it “ludicrous” and “crazy” that a judge approved the charges.

“He’s a known meth-head and he got busted with meth, and now just because he says, ‘Oh, this guy was there and this guy did this,’ a judge signs a warrant,” Marquez said.

When Judge Waters began explaining the warrant he signed, Marquez interrupted several times.

“The warrant was signed based upon affidavit of a ...,” Waters started.

“Of hearsay,” Marquez interjected.

“... of a police officer who investigated the offense — a deputy sheriff in this particular case,” Waters continued. “So it was actually the deputy sheriff who signed off on the affidavit of probable cause.”

“Probable cause from hearsay from a meth-head,” Marquez jumped in.

“Whether or not that’s true or not, I can’t tell you,” the judge said.

“It’s not true,” said Marquez.

“But that’s a question that’s more appropriately forwarded to your attorney. So I’ll let you discuss that with your attorney,” Waters finished.

Marquez will be represented by a court-appointed public defender.

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Blatt recommended that Marquez be held without bail.

Blatt said there’s an eyewitness to the allegations (Pedro Garcia) and that Marquez has faced past criminal allegations “in Wyoming, in Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Idaho.”

Marquez didn’t object to being held without bail.

The prosecution recommended that Marquez be held without bail and he didn't object.

Sandra Garcia, charged with conspiring to commit first-degree murder and aiding and abetting first-degree murder, has also been denied bail.

Pedro Garcia, facing the same charges as his sister, must post $1 million in cash if he wants to be released while the case is pending.

According to an affidavit from Park County Sheriff’s Investigator Joe Torczon, Pedro Garcia told authorities in March that Sandra Garcia asked him to find someone to “take out” Guerra-Torres because he’d become deeply indebted to “dangerous people in Mexico.” Sandra Garcia was in a long-term relationship with Guerra-Torres at the time — having had four children with him — and said the people from Mexico were going to kill their whole family, Pedro Garcia reportedly recounted to Torczon.

Pedro Garcia said Marquez agreed to do the deed while the two smoked meth in his Powell garage, Torczon wrote.

Sandra Garcia allegedly asked Pedro Garcia to find someone to 'take out' Guerra-Torres. Pedro Garcia allegedly got John Marquez to agree to kill the man. 

Pedro Garcia said he initially paid Marquez $700 and three grams of meth for killing Guerra-Torres, then later wired him $400 in three separate transactions. Authorities had watched Pedro Garcia wire $100 to Marquez a week after Guerra-Torres’ mutilated body was found along a remote Badger Basin road, Torczon wrote.

Pedro and Sandra Garcia each are scheduled for preliminary hearings on June 3. That’s when a judge will weigh whether there’s enough evidence for their charges to proceed toward a trial.

A preliminary hearing for Marquez was tentatively scheduled for Friday, but it will likely be pushed back.

May 15, 2015

Cody man imprisoned for gun threat

A Cody man will spend the next three to five years in prison for threatening another man at gunpoint in February.

“The only reason I'm not going to shoot you,” Richard J. Wilson, 31, reportedly told another man outside a Cody bar, “is because I have a kid on the way.”

Wilson pleaded guilty to a felony count of aggravated assault and received the prison time from District Court Judge Steven Cranfill in March, with the judge's formal order issued last month.

Cranfill recommended that Wilson, reported to have been intoxicated when he made the threats, be placed in the prison’s intensive treatment unit. He also must pay $245 under the negotiated sentence.

Cody police
were called to the Silver Dollar Bar shortly before 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 20 for a report of an altercation. A bouncer said Wilson had been the agressor in the disturbance, but had left.

Police didn’t find Wilson, but about 20 minutes later, another man called 911 to report he’d just been threatened at gunpoint in the 1000 block of 13th Street.

The man said he’d been helping an intoxicated friend into his truck when a car pulled up behind him, Officer Rick Tillery recounted in an affidavit used to support the charge. The armed, apparently drunk driver — later identified as Wilson — began asking if the man and his friend were the ones who had “jumped” him in the earlier altercation at the Silver Dollar.

“During the questions, Wilson demanded to see (the man’s) face or he advised something bad would happen,” Officer Tillery wrote.

The man tried to assure Wilson that he and his friend had not been in any altercation, but Wilson eventually raised his handgun, pointed it at the man and explained the only reason he wasn’t going to shoot was because he was expecting a child.

“Wilson demanded to see (the man’s) face or he advised something bad would happen,” charging documents say.

When police confronted Wilson at his home on Bleistein Avenue, he denied having pointed a gun at anyone and said he didn’t even own one.

However, Wilson matched the physical description given by the man who’d been assaulted and confirmed he and his wife were expecting a child.

Police arrested Wilson and, after he was treated at West Park Hospital for head injuries from the earlier altercation, took him to jail.

Detective Sgt. Beau Egger later learned that Wilson actually had returned to his apartment after the first altercation and got a handgun. The affidavit says Egger found the gun wrapped in underwear and hidden under a bag of mulch in the yard behind Wilson’s apartment.

Wyoming Game and Fish rediscovers its connection to Mark Wahlberg film

When the script called for Mark Wahlberg's character in “Shooter” to hole up in the Wind River Range, the film’s producers opted to have British Columbia stand in for western Wyoming.

However, an authentic, recently rediscovered piece of the state did make a brief appearance in the 2007 film.

In the supposed Wyoming cabin that Wahlberg’s character calls home, there sits on a coffee table a copy of “Wyoming Wildlife” magazine.

Mark Wahlberg's signature adorns this recently rediscovered issue of "Wyoming Wildlife." Photo courtesy Renny MacKay
It’s not exactly obvious.

“You probably have to look pretty close,” said Renny MacKay, a spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which produces the monthly wildlife magazine.

“Shooter” filmmakers requested an edition of Wyoming Wildlife for a prop and “we sent them a few copies,” MacKay explained.

He said magazine staffers were able to spot their publication on a cabin table when they watched the film years ago.

It takes trained eye to spot the Wyoming Game and Fish magazine in the movie.

Depending on who you ask at the department, Wahlberg might have planned to read the magazine to get more familiar with Wyoming and its wildlife, though others think it was strictly a prop, MacKay said.

What’s more clear is what Wahlberg did with the September 2005 magazine after the shoot: he signed it, along with a couple photographs of himself, and sent them to the folks at “Wyoming Wildlife.”

The autographed magazine was recently rediscovered in a former editor’s filing cabinet, prompting MacKay to share a photo on Twitter.

A different Wyoming prop — a state license plate — is actually featured more prominently in the movie.

The plate made it into the storyline, as Wahlberg’s character covertly photographs it so he can research its ownership. However, what made the front license plate more notable is that filmmakers goofed up: when the vehicle it adorns is first shown, the plate isn’t there.

The producers apparently struggled to realistically depict Wyoming license plates throughout their filming; an “goofs” page points out that in one of the movie’s news clips, supposedly broadcast from Wyoming, all of the cars are missing the state’s mandatory front plates.

May 14, 2015

Yellowstone fees to go up in June

Starting next month, visits to Yellowstone National Park will be a little more expensive.

The price of a week-long long park pass will rise from $25 to $30 per vehicle on June 1. An annual pass to the park, meanwhile, will rise from $50 to $60.

Starting June 1, getting into Yellowstone -- such as through the East Entrance shown above -- will cost at least $5 more. Photo courtesy Jay Elhard, National Park Service
In addition to the price increase, the annual and week-long passes won’t get you as far: Yellowstone passes will no longer be recognized in Grand Teton National Park. Instead, visitors wanting to travel through both parks will need to either buy a week-long $50 joint park pass or an $80 annual pass that’s good for all the national parks across the U.S.

Yellowstone administrators announced the fee changes on Monday, saying in a news release that they were doing so “in order to fund important resource protection and visitor facility projects within the park.”

“We use our entrance fees to complete critical projects that benefit park visitors and our natural resources,” Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said in a news release. “Eighty percent of the revenue we collect stays right here in Yellowstone and funds projects including road repairs, campground upgrades, rehabilitation of park structures, accessibility improvements for people with disabilities, radio and utility systems improvements, native fish restoration and aquatic invasive species mitigation.”

Yellowstone officials first proposed the changes in November as part of a National Park Service effort to raise fees at many locations.

The Park Service estimates the fee changes will bring in an extra $3 million a year, with annual collections totaling around $11 million.

In a proposal that would have been unique to Yellowstone, park brass initially intended to replace the week-long passes with ones good for just three days. It would have allowed the park to collect additional fees from the roughly 30 percent of visitors who spend more than three days in Yellowstone. However, park officials announced Monday that they’d scrapped the three-day idea after hearing public criticism that it would be too confusing.

Park spokeswoman Traci Weaver said abandoning the recommendation meant passing up roughly $1 million a year.

The Park Service estimates the other changes will still bring in an extra $3 million a year, with annual collections totaling around $11 million.

It didn’t take a particularly large outcry for Yellowstone administrators to back off the three-day passes. Weaver said that during the 46-day public comment period, the park received 18 comments criticizing the idea. One came from City of Cody leaders.

“Many comments referred to the fact that adding more options would just confuse people and make the lines at the entrance stations longer,” Weaver said in an email. “Other comments included statements such as, ‘you can’t see the park in 1-3 days.’”

The Park Service abandoned the idea of trimming passes from the standard week to three days after the change was panned as being too confusing.

The park service received a total of 217 comments.

Ninety-seven commenters (45 percent) opposed the entire proposal, 35 of them (16 percent) wanted a more limited increase or opposed certain parts (like the separation of Grand Teton and Yellowstone fees), while 85 people (39 perecent) supported park managers’ plans, Weaver said.

The vast majority of the comments — 189 of them, or 87 percent — were submitted online.
Acting Yellowstone Superintendent Steve Iobst initially planned to exclude online comments. A park spokesman explained at the time that letting people mail in or hand deliver their thoughts “offered adequate opportunities for public comment.”

But records showed it was the first time in more than eight years that the park had sought public input without giving an opportunity to comment online or via email. Further, other national parks who were proposing fee increases, including Grand Teton officials, accepted online comments.

Yellowstone brass initially weren't going to allow comments to be submitted online, but they later changed its mind.
After criticism from citizens and media outlets, Iobst ultimately reversed course, extended the public comment period and allowed the online comments.

The last rate hike took place in 2006, when the per-vehicle fee rose from $20 to $25.

“Previous fee increases have had no effect on visitation levels,” the Park Service said in its news release.

County orders Ralston man to move shop, then backs off

Move it or lose it — or maybe never mind.

After directing a Ralston man to either move his shop 15 feet or face legal action, Park County commissioners now may change the regulation he’s violating.

County commissioners ruled last month that Tom McCauley’s 40-by-60-foot shop was built too close to the alley that runs between Bridger Avenue and Lane 11 in Ralston. County regulations require structures to be at least 20 feet from county roads — which includes alleyways — and McCauley’s building is only around five feet back.
This Ralston shop is too close to the alley under current Park County regulations. Photo by CJ Baker

“The structure must be moved within 30 days,” explained Commissioner Loren Grosskopf after a unanimous April 21 vote.

“Or it will be referred to the county attorney,” finished Commission Chairman Joe Tilden.

However, earlier this month, the county extended McCauley’s deadline by 60 days because officials are considering changing the regulations to require only five-foot setbacks from rural alleys.
If that happens, “he’ll still have to come to us to ask us for a variance, but I’ll certainly give it to him,” Tilden said Friday.

It’s a significant change in tone from last month’s meeting, which appeared to be the final word on the violation that was noticed years ago by planning and zoning staff.

County Planning Director Linda Gillett issued a formal notice of violation in March and McCauley appealed to commissioners, arguing in part that the county’s 20-foot setback requirements are unreasonable for small lots.

“It’s like, if we’re going to have regs, are we going to enforce them or not?”
said Commissioner Tim French.

At the hearing, Commissioner Tim French said the county might need to reconsider whether a 20-foot setback is too much for an alleyway. (For comparison, detached structures must be set back five feet from alleys in the City of Cody and 15 feet in Powell.)

“But what’s happened here is there’s individuals that wanted to build right close to the alley and we told them no, there’s a setback,” French said, adding, “A lot of people are like, ‘That’s baloney he can do that’ and ‘I played by the rules and he didn’t.’”

He said the issue has created “a lot of heartburn” among different people.

“It’s like, if we’re going to have regs, are we going to enforce them or not?” French asked rhetorically.

McCauley, however, noted there are several other structures well within 20 feet of the alley — some even closer than his.

“I don’t understand (why) it’s OK for everybody else to build stuff two feet off of the land, but it’s not OK for me,” McCauley said.

The county allowed one property owner to build just 10 feet off the alley because of a lack of room, but Gillett said most of the other offending outbuildings appear to have been constructed before the zoning regulations took effect in 2000.

“I can’t say this never happened,” she said. “It has been happening in Ralston.”

Ralston was originally laid out as a town, but has never become one — explaining why it has generally undeveloped alleyways.

“I don’t understand (why) it’s OK for everybody else to build stuff two feet off of the land, but it’s not OK for me,” McCauley said.

McCauley’s appeal was undercut in commissioners’ minds by the fact he signed off on a building permit specifically showing that the shop would be built 20 feet off the alley.

“I didn’t realize I had to abide by every inch of that, I guess,” McCauley explained. He said he provided the permit to his contractor and it seemed logical when they built the new structure in the same spot as an old garage that had preceded it.

“It’s my fault that it got built there. I don’t know what else to say,” McCauley said.

Tilden said at the hearing that part of what bothered him is that McCauley has had years of trouble with the county’s zoning regulations in connection with a trucking business he runs on the property.

“So now here we are after letter, after letter, after letter, and listened to complaint after complaint,” Tilden said. Commissioners’ resolution on the subject, signed later, said the record showed a series of complaints and violations dating back to spring 2010 which was “evidence of disregard for the regulations.”

McCauley said some of the complaints about his business are “B.S.” and that he would have spoken with commissioners at any time.

The county will consider changes to its regulations in July.

The alterations to the county’s setback regulations, along with other proposed changes, are scheduled to be considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission on July 14. Commissioners are tentatively scheduled to consider the revised regulations on July 21.

May 12, 2015

Badger Basin murder suspect Sandra Garcia denied bail

A former Clark resident charged in connection with the 2014 murder of her then-boyfriend was denied bail at a Friday appearance in Park County’s Circuit Court.

Sandra Garcia, 27, will continue to be held in the Park County Detention Center pending further proceedings in the case.

Garcia did not object to getting no bail versus what would have likely been an extremely high dollar amount.

Sandra Garcia
“I can’t bail out anyway, so if you guys are going to hold me without bail, that’s fine,” she said.

It was the first local court appearance for Garcia, who’s one of three people facing charges for the January 2014 murder of 30-year-old Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres.

Garcia allegedly called for Guerra-Torres’ killing. Authorities say she told her brother that, if Guerra-Torres wasn’t taken care of, “dangerous people” in Mexico would come kill her family over a substantial debt that Guerra-Torres owed.

Charging documents allege Garcia’s brother — 28-year-old Pedro Garcia Jr. — then hired John L. Marquez to kill Guerra-Torres, with Marquez later shooting him dead and then mutilating his body in Badger Basin.

The charges are based largely on a confession that Pedro Garcia reportedly gave to personnel from the Park County Sheriff’s Office and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation in March.

“I can’t bail out anyway, so if you guys are going to hold me without bail, that’s fine,” Sandra Garcia said.

Sandra Garcia was arrested in Rincon, Georgia, in March, but it took authorities more than a month to get her back to Park County. She, like her brother, is facing felony charges of conspiring to commit first-degree murder and aiding and abetting first-degree murder. Marquez is charged with first-degree murder and conspiring to commit first-degree murder.

Wyoming law says someone charged with a crime punishable by death — that is, first-degree murder — can be denied bail if “the proof is evident or the presumption great in the case.”

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Blatt argued Friday that the case against Sandra Garcia meets that criteria.

Blatt said the charges were based on an eyewitness’ account (Pedro Garcia), that Sandra Garcia had “fled to the state of Georgia,” was “dishonest with law enforcement in the early stages of the investigation” and has ties to Mexico.

“... the deceased’s body was mutilated, obviously for the purposes of trying
to avoid the identity of the victim and the prosecution of this matter,” said prosecutor Tim Blatt.

“More importantly, your honor, the deceased’s body was mutilated, obviously for the purposes of trying to avoid the identity of the victim and the prosecution of this matter as well,” Blatt said.

Circuit Court Magistrate Matthew Winslow agreed there was enough evidence to deny bond.
Winslow said Pedro Garcia's statements — as quoted in an affidavit from Park County Sheriff's Investigator Joe Torczon   — were contrary to his own interests and therefore have more veracity.

“I also find that the affidavit supports the conclusion — at least for the purposes of this hearing — that the defendant was dishonest and evasive, further supporting the veracity of these allegations,” Winslow said.

Investigator Torczon’s affidavit says Sandra Garcia initially told law enforcement she had dropped Guerra-Torres off to meet an associate of a man he owed money and never saw him again. However, Garcia told her mother that Guerra-Torres had been arrested and told her father that she'd put Guerra-Torres on a bus to Mexico, Torczon wrote.

She never reported Guerra-Torres as missing.

Sandra Garcia, who’d been working as a Walmart stocker in Georgia, will be represented by a court-appointed attorney. She said in court that she had hired a private lawyer, “but he didn't show up.”

During the hearing, Garcia also pleaded guilty to three unrelated, misdemeanor traffic violations that she committed last May and June.

Winslow ordered her to pay several hundred dollars in court fines and assessments for driving without auto insurance, a seat belt and without a child properly buckled in, but said she doesn't have to start making payments until she's out of jail.

Guerra-Torres had been Sandra Garcia's significant other, but she never reported him as missing.

If convicted of the counts relating to first-degree murder, Garcia, her brother and Marquez would each face a minimum sentence of life in prison.

Pedro Garcia remains jailed in the Park County Detention Center, with bail set at $1 million cash pending a preliminary hearing.

U.S. Marshals are in the process of bringing Marquez back from Bonham, Texas, where he was arrested in March. Park County Sheriff Scott Steward has said he expects Marquez to be here by the end of the week.

Small label error, big cost for Cody Labs

A minor labeling mix-up at a Cody drug manufacturer is expected to cost its parent company around $2.4 million.

A small number of bottles of an anesthetic produced at Cody Laboratories were recently mislabeled as holding 10 milliliters of the drug when they actually held only four milliliters.

 The product's label as of 2010, taken from the U.S. National Library of Medicine
Lannett Company CEO Arthur Bedrosian announced the error on a Wednesday conference call with analysts and Lannett investors in which he discussed the business’ most recent quarter. The publicly traded company, which owns Cody Labs, voluntarily recalled the mislabeled lot after discovering the mistake, Bedrosian said.

“We believe this is a minor issue, as use of the (mislabeled) product is not considered to present a health risk, and product quality was not affected,” he said.

Bedrosian said Cody Labs has ordered new equipment designed to prevent the problem from happening again and has implemented additional quality controls in the meantime.

Lannett CFO Martin Galvan said the mistake would cost $2.4 million.

The product in question is called C-Topical, a local anesthetic made of cocaine hydrochloride. It's primarily intended for use by ear, nose and throats doctors during surgical procedures, according to label information and Lannett statements.

“While there’s been a little set back with regards to the recall — and it was a minor one, nevertheless it was a costly one — we do think that the product’s upward trend is still there,” said Lannett CEO Arthur Bedrosian.

C-Topical is the first branded product offered by Lannett Company, which otherwise manufactures and sells generic medications. The company currently has the topical solution in a clinical trial and has a group of salesmen actively marketing the product.

“We do see an increase in revenue coming from this product, and we do see a success in this product's potential outlook for us,” Bedrosian said on the call, which was transcribed by the website Seeking Alpha. “So while there’s been a little set back with regards to the recall — and it was a minor one, nevertheless it was a costly one — we do think that the product’s upward trend is still there.”

Lannett is based in and has manufacturing plants in Philadelphia, but the Cody Labs facility is where the company develops and manufactures active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Lannett officials have set a goal of increasing their focus on painkillers and have discussed expanding Cody Labs to help with that effort.

“As the company continues to invest in, and focus, on process and manufacturing optimization, Cody Labs will continue to be an important part of our future growth plan,” Lannett said in last week’s earnings report.

“Cody Labs will continue to be an important part of our future growth plan,” Lannett says.

Eying the jobs that would come with an expansion, Wyoming lawmakers made money available last year to help finance such a project, but Lannett and Cody Labs have not yet decided if they’ll seek a state loan.

Between January and March, Lannett reported net sales of $99.4 million, with a gross profit of $75.6 million, or 76 percent.

May 8, 2015

Buffalo to roam Cody this summer

A herd of 30 sculpted bison will roam the county this summer to help drum up support for West Park Hospital in Cody.

Before being dispersed around Cody the buffalo were gathered for a May 7 artist's reception.
The West Park Hospital Foundation commissioned the buffalo artwork as part of a fundraising effort called, “Where the Buffalo Roam,” that’s aimed at building new conference rooms in the hospital’s basement.

The 76-inch-wide and 60-inch high bison, crafted by Cody sculptor Jeff Rudolph, are being decorated and enhanced by other local artists. The collaborative pieces of art will be officially revealed and put on display May 16, along with a number of smaller versions.

“We’re going to have buffalo, hopefully, all over town,” said West Park Hospital Foundation Director Graham Jackson.

The fundraiser, which coincides with West Park’s 75th anniversary, will culminate in an Aug. 28 auction of the decorated sculptures.

The hospital foundation began the fundraising effort for the conference room project after Drs. Lenox and Frances Baker donated $500,000 and challenged the non-profit organization to come up with the rest of the estimated $1 million cost.

Each of the bison has a unique look.
The Baker Community Education Center will include three new conference rooms and new restrooms to compliment the hospital's existing facilities. Jackson said the center will give the hospital the flexibility to accommodate events ranging from board meetings to community, presentations and hosting gatherings from as few as five people to as many as 200.

West Park is the county's largest employer, with more than 600 staffers.

“We don’t really have meeting rooms to really get our team together, so this will really help us,” Jackson told county commissioners in March. “And we also really wanted to open it up to the community.”

West Park officials have been planning to display the buffaloes in Cody and Meeteetse, which lie within the hospital's district, through the summer.

Jackson went before commissioners to specifically ask permission to stage several of the large bison on the grounds of the Park County Courthouse and the Park County Complex in Cody during the summer.

“I think it’d be great,” said Commissioner Tim French, to unanimous agreement.

Commissioners Joe Tilden and Loren Grosskopf each wondered if Cody hospital officials wanted to also place buffaloes in Powell, suggesting the Park County Fairgrounds or the Park County Annex.

“Wherever you all think is best, we'd like to support that as well,” Jackson said.

Commissioners left the exact locations to be chosen by West Park and the county's buildings and grounds staff.

All of the gathered bison made for a prime photo opportunity.

The Park County Library Foundation did a similar fundraiser in 2008, using grizzly bears sculpted by Rudolph to support youth and children's library services across the county. Jackson said the bears were a big draw for tourists and locals and has similar hopes for the bison.

“We think it’s good thing for our downtown, a good thing for Cody, a good thing for Park County,” she said.

May 7, 2015

Second suspect in Badger Basin murder back in Park County

A woman accused of helping murder her boyfriend last year has been brought back to Park County to face charges of conspiring to commit first-degree murder and aiding and abetting first-degree murder.

Sandra Garcia, 27, was booked into the Park County Detention Center on Tuesday afternoon, a little more than a month after her arrest in Rincon, Georgia.

Garcia is expected to make her first appearance in Park County Circuit Court in Cody on Friday morning, where bond will be set.

Sandra Garcia
She is one of three people facing murder charges in connection with the January 2014 killing of her then-boyfriend, 30-year-old Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres.

Guerra-Torres’ mutilated body — missing its head and other parts — was discovered along a remote Badger Basin road off of Wyo. Highway 294 on Jan. 9, 2014.

Charging documents allege Sandra Garcia asked her brother — Pedro Garcia, 28 — to find someone to kill Guerra-Torres. Sandra allegedly told her brother that Guerra-Torres had become indebted to dangerous “people in Mexico” who were going to kill her whole family.

Authorities allege Pedro Garcia then hired John Marquez, 51, to kill Guerra-Torres. The charges allege Marquez later shot Guerra-Torres, then dismembered his body.

The allegations contained in court records are based almost entirely on a confession Pedro Garcia gave to investigators in late March. That’s when the three co-defendants were arrested: the Garcias in Georgia and Marquez in Texas.

“Basically they came down here just trying to follow up some leads and do some interviews, and ended up breaking it wide open,” said a Georgia investigator who assisted Park County law enforcement.

Few details have been made public about the 14-month investigation that led to the arrests, but the big break came after personnel from the Park County Sheriff’s Office and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation decided to go after Pedro Garcia on an otherwise unrelated drug crime.

“Basically they came down here just trying to follow up some leads and do some interviews, and ended up breaking it wide open,” Effingham County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office Chief Investigator Sgt. Don White told the Effingham Herald.

“They interviewed him (Pedro Garcia) extensively and eventually he broke,” White told the Rincon-based newspaper. “And then that’s when we had enough to go pick up Sandra Garcia.”

Wyoming investigators took Pedro Garcia back to Park County with them (he’s being held in jail with bond set at $1 million), but Sandra Garcia was left in Georgia to be brought back by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Marquez was picked up in Bonham, Texas, and marshals still are in the process of bringing him back to Cody.

“We’re going gangbusters getting people into here ... and that’s just eating us alive,” Sheriff Scott Steward said of recent extraditions to Park County.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward indicated Marquez would be here by the end of next week.

“Everything’s moving. They’re getting close,” Steward told Park County commissioners on Tuesday.

He also told commissioners he’s gone well over his $11,000 budget for inmate transportation this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“We’re going gangbusters getting people into here ... and that’s just eating us alive,” Steward said. He hopes it won’t be an ongoing problem.

“The Marshals Service is raising their price to where I don’t know how long we’ll keep using them,” he added.

While their service is the most efficient, “Some of these (suspects), I think we’re going to have to go get them on our own,” the sheriff said.

May 5, 2015

Casper woman wants Rep. Lummis impeached, because she hasn't tried to impeach President Obama

A Casper woman is asking a federal judge to force U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., to answer her questions or be impeached from office for not trying to impeach President Barack Obama.

Jacqueline S. Judd, who’s spent years calling for Obama’s removal from office, initially filed the paperwork in March in Natrona County’s District Court, but the matter was transferred to Wyoming’s federal District Court last week.

Jacqueline Judd accuses Rep. Cynthia Lummis of “aiding and abetting” President Obama, who she calls a “domestic terrorist.”

Judd’s six-page petition says Lummis should be “held accountable and charged for aiding and abetting and by not filing the necessary impeachment process ... on a domestic terrorist, namely President of the United States of America Barack Hussein Obama.”

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.
The petition (embedded below) appears to be on shaky legal footing. For example, Judd suggests that Lummis be subject to impeachment under a section of the Wyoming Constitution that governs state — not U.S. — representatives.

One of Lummis’ attorneys, from the Office of General Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives, has said in court filings that Judd’s petition has “numerous defects” and noted the U.S. Constitution generally gives members of Congress immunity to lawsuits relating to their actions as lawmakers.

A spokesman for Lummis said Monday that the House lawyers have advised her office not to comment on the petition because it’s an ongoing legal matter.

In her petition, Judd compiled a long list of complaints with Obama’s actions as president, ranging from “plunging the American people into a communist country” to enacting “illegal and unconstitutional immigration laws” to providing “false information about the act of terrorism committed in Benghazi, Libya.”

In perhaps the most eyebrow-raising claim, Judd accuses Obama of “having the (Federal Communications Commission) institute a plan to place agents in newsrooms of radio and television stations as well as print media to monitor whether they are providing the ‘proper’ news content to the public, a direct violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Judd claims the Obama administration has placed federal agents inside the newsrooms of newspapers and radio and TV station stations to monitor whether the media is providing “proper” news content.
Though Lummis has frequently criticized many of Obama’s actions as president — including some referred to in the petition — Judd says the representative “condones and supports” Obama’s actions and accuses her of having advocated for “the overthrow of our constitutional form of government.”

Judd had a Laramie County sheriff’s deputy serve a member of Lummis’ staff in Cheyenne with a summons on April 9. It directed Lummis to respond within 20 days. But just four days later, on April 13, Judd asked Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey to find Lummis in contempt in court, saying she “intentionally disobeyed” an order to appear in court.

The judge denied the “confusing” motion, noting he hadn’t actually ordered Lummis to appear in court or scheduled any hearings. In response to Judd’s additional request that he order Lummis “to appear in court before the people to answer the people’s questions and charges,” Judge Forgey said he didn’t know what legal basis he would have to do so, noting the allegation is that Lummis violated the U.S. Constitution — not a court order.

A Casper judge said he found one of Judd's filings “confusing” and lacking a legal basis.

One of the House attorneys representing Lummis, Isaac B. Rosenberg, wrote in a court filing that Judd’s petition has “several incurable jurisdictional deficiencies, which will take substantial time to catalog and address fully” and allegations he’ll need to talk over with Lummis inorder to properly respond.

In a Friday order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin gave Lummis’ attorneys until June 8 to file a response.

Mammoth students included in Powell school district, state pays $400K

For the first time in its 107-year existence, the Powell school district sent a payment to Montana for the education of students living in Yellowstone National Park.

Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell shows how the district's boundaries will change in this 2014 photo. Photo by Tessa Schweigert
In April, Park County School District No. 1 paid $438,274.03 to Gardiner Public Schools in Montana to cover the education of nearly three dozen students who live in Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone and attend public school in Gardiner, Montana.

The Powell district has already been reimbursed for the payment by the Wyoming Department of Education, said Mary Jo Lewis, coordinator of business services, on Thursday.

Wyoming was forced to cover the costs of Mammoth students’ education in Gardiner after the federal government abruptly announced last year that it could no longer foot the bill for the Yellowstone students, as it had for decades.

While Wyoming has a constitutional obligation to educate the state’s children, Mammoth and the northern part of Yellowstone were not included in a school district.

“They were in their own little world out there,” said Kevin Mitchell, superintendent of Park County School District No. 1.

Powell school officials were willing to take on the students and the Cody school board supported them.

“It certainly was a more lengthy process than I anticipated from day one, but the end result is the same — Wyoming kids get funded by Wyoming money,” said Mitchell, the Powell superintendent.

After months of deliberations, county officials reluctantly agreed last fall, and the State Board of Education concurred, to expand Park No. 1’s boundaries to include the northern part of Yellowstone and pave the way for the state to begin paying for the Mammoth students’ education.

The Gardiner and Powell school districts entered into a memorandum of understanding for the students’ education this spring.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Mitchell said. “It certainly was a more lengthy process than I anticipated from day one, but the end result is the same — Wyoming kids get funded by Wyoming money.”

Gardiner Superintendent JT Stroder
Gardiner Public Schools Superintendent JT Stroder said he thought the arrangement with the Powell school district went well.

“I think it went great,” Stroder said Monday. “There were a lot of moving parts to get that lined out. And once we got all of the government tape out of the way, it seemed like it went really smoothly.”

About 35 Mammoth students, ranging from kindergarteners through high schoolers, attend school in Gardiner. Stroder said that Yellowstone employees often move in and out of the park, so the number of students from Mammoth fluctuates throughout the school year.

It initially appeared as though the Powell school district would have to wait until the next fiscal year to be reimbursed by the state for the Mammoth students’ education, and it would have taken up to 10 months to receive all the money, Lewis said. That’s how the process had worked historically for other Wyoming school districts who have students attending school outside the state.

“The issue for us was that our bill is a lot bigger than everyone else’s,” Mitchell said.

Powell school officials didn’t want to wait for those reimbursement payments in monthly installments over the course of a year, Mitchell said.

“What I had been saying all along is, we’re willing to work through this as long as it doesn’t cost Powell kids any money,” Mitchell said. “Taking a half-a-million dollars out of our reserves, and losing the income on that, is losing money for Powell kids. That was strongly heard by state officials.”

The Wyoming Legislature funded the Mammoth students’ education for the 2014-15 school year with a budget footnote during this year’s session, enabling Powell to be repaid much more quickly.

A footnote in this year's state budget will ensure Powell is quickly reimbursed for the cost of the Mammoth students' education, but it's only a temporary fix.

The footnote covered Powell’s costs, as well as every other Wyoming school district with students educated out of state, Mitchell said.

“It’s a temporary fix,” Mitchell said of the footnote.

He is talking with legislators about changing the state statute so that school districts receive direct payment for out-of-state education costs instead of waiting to be reimbursed, as happens now.

“We’re going to have to work on it in the interim to see how they’re going to fix that,” Mitchell said, adding that he plans to discuss it with the Joint Education Committee.

Mitchell described the relationship between Powell and Gardiner as “very positive.”

“There has not been one hiccup between us and Gardiner and Mammoth,” Mitchell said.

Stroder said the Gardiner district is grateful for Park County School District No. 1.

“We’re extremely appreciative to Powell for being willing to step up and do that,” he said. “We certainly couldn’t have done it without the district there.”

Mitchell worked with Gardiner officials to make sure the schools meet all the curriculum requirements for Wyoming’s Hathaway Scholarship Program.

“There has not been one hiccup between us and Gardiner and Mammoth,” said Mitchell, the Powell superintendent.

Mammoth students will qualify for the Hathaway scholarship if they decide to purse it.

“They are Wyoming kids,” Mitchell said. “In the law, it says if they’re residents of Wyoming being educated out of state, they have the right to the Hathaway.”

Though the Mammoth students are a part of the Powell school district, they aren’t using any of Powell’s facilities or programs.

With the communities of Powell, Clark, Garland, Ralston and the northern portion of Yellowstone National Park, the Powell school district now encompasses a geographical area of 3,197 square miles, Mitchell said Friday.

Previously, it was about 1,400 square miles, meaning the Yellowstone expansion more than doubled the size of the school district.

Public divided about grizzly delisting

Although removing grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the Endangered Species List was not stated specifically on the agenda for last week’s meeting of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee, it was on the minds of many.

The Yellowstone Ecosystem (YES) subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee met Thursday and Friday in Cody.

The public packed the meeting room and provided comments while representatives of federal and state agencies involved in bear recovery provided population updates.

“I think we are close to the (Fish and Wildlife) Service making that decision as to whether they’re going to file a (delisting) rule or not,” said Brian Nesvik, a Wyoming Game and Fish official.

Grizzly bears were delisted in 2007, then re-listed in 2009 by a U.S. District Court judge who cited the scarcity of whitebark pine that produces nutritious seeds popular among grizzly bears.

A 2013 food synthesis report should be the last document needed to satisfy court concerns that diminishing whitebark will not limit population growth, said Brian Nesvik, Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife division chief and subcommittee chairman.

“I think we are close to the (Fish and Wildlife) Service making that decision as to whether they’re going to file a (delisting) rule or not,” Nesvik said.

Park County Commissioner and committee member Loren Grosskopf favors delisting. He asked if Dan Ashe, Fish and Wildlife director, is going to move forward.

“We’ve done everything the courts asked,” Grosskopf said.

Chuck Neal of Cody asked what was being done to link Greater Yellowstone grizzlies to other populations. Photo by Gib Mathers
Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzlies are an island population, meaning they can’t rendezvous with bears in Canada or northwest Montana for genetic exchange, said Chuck Neal of Cody, author of Grizzlies in the Mist.

Dewey Vanderhoff of Cody said grizzly habitat should not be restricted to lines drawn on maps designating the recovery area, but Vanderhoff said he heard no discussion at the meeting about expanding suitable habitat outside the GYE.

“What is being done to open linkage to other populations?” Neal asked.

As per ESA recovery requirements, the grizzly population must be self-sustaining. Isolated GYE grizzlies need to connect with other populations to find food and mates, said Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club.

There are an estimated 757 grizzlies in the GYE. “Same as last year,” said Dan Thompson, Game and Fish statewide supervisor of the large carnivore management section in Lander.

The population was growing by 4 to 6 percent from the 1980s and 1990s. By the 2000s, it slowed to zero to 2 percent, said Frank van Manen, Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team team leader in Bozeman, Montana.

The younger population declined slightly, with some hypothesizing that a decline in whitebark pine decreased population density is responsible, van Manen said. However, the 2013 food synthesis report for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team said there was no decline in body mass or reproduction due to less whitebark.

“We’re packing more sardines in the same can,” said Frank van Manen, the leader of the grizzly bear study team.

Grizzlies have filled the grizzly recovery zone for the most part, said Dan Bjornlie, Game and Fish trophy game biologist from Lander.

Grizzlies are expanding northwest to southeast. “Heart Mountain has grizzly bear occupancy fairly regularly now,” Bjornlie said.

There has been no documented expansion in the Big Horn Mountains, Bjornlie said. 

“The big growth was in the 1990s, and the 2000s was when we saw the big increase in distribution,” Bjornlie said.

Because of higher population density, cub survival has been lower since the early 2000s. Males will kill cubs, and mothers sometimes die trying to protect their offspring. Wolves prey on cubs too, but they have only four verified instances of cubs killed by wolves, van Manen said.

Grizzly home range is decreasing. “We’re packing more sardines in the same can,” van Manen said.

Tribes oppose delisting

James Walks Along, a Northern Cheyenne from Lame Deer, Montana, took a stab at speaking between bear expert talks. In a confusing mixup, he was able to secure the microphone for a minute
or two, but its volume was turned off. Within a couple minutes he was lead from the podium. Public comments were allowed at the end of each day, but limited to three minutes per speaker.

“We (Northern Cheyenne) have a long history with this animal,” Walks Along said during his authorized talk time.

James Walks Along, a Northern Cheyenne from Lame Deer, Montana, briefly got control of the microphone and made an impromptu speech opposing delisting. Photo by Gib Mathers
All Northern Plains tribes should be included in any decision-making process. “We’d like to have a say in this,” Walks Along said.

“Our tribe, we expect consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service or Forest Service, whoever,” said Norman Willow, a Northern Arapaho committee member. “We don’t want no delisting of the grizzly bear.”

“We don’t want no delisting of the grizzly bear,” said Norman Willow, a Northern Arapaho committee member.

The federal government has a responsibility to consult with the tribes if a decision will impact them, said Pat Hnilicka, assistant project leader for Fish and Wildlife in Lander. “So they do have as much say as any American in the process.”

Hnilicka works with the tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

“(Tribes) are part of the process,” Thompson said. “In the end, it’s just like everything else; it’s a public comment.”

Ranchers call for delisting

Buster Tolman, Bennet Creek Ranch owner in Clark, wants the bears delisted. “By all means, I’m for that.”

It’s mostly grizzlies that are taking his calves, Tolman said. He has lost as many as 20 head per year. He said his calves in the Beartooth Mountains weigh 20 to 30 pounds less than his other stock because bears frighten them.

Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston said the bear should be delisted. Photo by Gib Mathers
Tolman said he is reimbursed for cattle lost to predation, but they must they must have the carcass to prove it was killed. Grizzlies take carcasses to cache. About 80 percent of the time, they have a remains so they can prove a bear killed it, he said.

“It’s time for the grizzly bear to be delisted,” said Curt Bales, who ranches on the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

“I’m going to speak as a native from Cody,” said Lee Livingston, a Park County Commissioner and Cody outfitter.

Livingston said he has observed the bear’s recovery for many years. “It’s been a success story,” he said.

He said grizzlies should be managed as a recovered species.

“It time for them to be delisted.”

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