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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