Aug 8, 2015

Dead Yellowstone hiker had been attacked by grizzly bear, officials say

A Montana man found dead in Yellowstone National Park on Friday had been attacked by a grizzly bear, officials say.

"While the exact cause of death has not been determined, investigators have identified what appear to be defensive wounds on the victim’s forearms," Yellowstone officials said in a Saturday news release.

Park personnel set up traps in the area near the Elephant Back Mountain loop trail on Friday and "if bears are trapped and identified as having been involved in the attack, they will be euthanized," the release said.

“We may not be able to conclusively determine the circumstances of this bear attack, but we will not risk public safety,” Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said in a statement.

A view of Pelican Valley from the Elephant Back trail, including the Yellowstone River and Absaroka Range. 1997 photo courtesy Jim Peaco, National Park Service
The name of the deceased hiker has not yet been released because authorities are still notifying his family. Park officials said the man was a seasonal employee with Medcor, a company that operates the urgent care clinics in Yellowstone. He'd worked and lived in the park for five years and was an experienced hiker, the park said. Co-workers reported him missing on Friday when he didn't show up for work.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim as they work to cope with the loss of someone who loved Yellowstone so very much,” Wenk said in the release.

The victim’s body was found partially consumed and "cached" (that is, covered) in the vicinity of the Elephant Back Loop Trail near Lake Village on Friday afternoon. It was about a half-a-mile off the looped trail, in a popular area the man had been known to visit.

On Friday, park rangers and wildlife biologists gathered possible genetic material from the scene that they hope will help them identify the bear(s) involved in the man's death. Based on partial tracks at the scene, park officials said it appears an adult female grizzly and at least one cub-of-the-year were there.

“We may not be able to conclusively determine the circumstances of this bear attack, but we will not risk public safety,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk. 

The investigation was continuing on Saturday, though heavy rain was making some of the work more difficult.

The Elephant Back Loop Trail and immediate area is closed until further notice. Signs are posted and maps of the closure area are available at park visitor centers.

"Hikers are advised to stay on designated trails, travel in groups of three or more people, carry bear spray, be alert for bears, and make noise to help avoid surprise encounters," said Saturday's news release, noting that bears can roam any part of the park.

The last fatal grizzly bear-human encounters in Yellowstone took place in 2011, when bears killed two people in separate incidents.

The Elephant Back trail is just northeast of Lake Village. Graphic courtesy National Park Service

Aug 7, 2015

Hiker found dead in Yellowstone, with signs of grizzly bear nearby

A Montana man was found dead in Yellowstone National Park on Friday and authorities are investigating whether a grizzly bear might have been responsible.

“Although there were signs of grizzly bear activity in the area, a conclusive cause of death, which likely occurred on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, has yet to be determined,” Yellowstone officials said in a Friday evening news release.

Pelican Creek, Mary Bay and Yellowstone Lake can be seen from the overlook on the Elephant Back trail. 1997 photo courtesy Jim Peaco, National Park Service
Co-workers had reported the man missing on Friday morning. A park ranger found the hiker's body around noon in the vicinity of the Elephant Back Mountain loop trail, which is near the Lake Village area, the news release said.

Park officials did not release the man's name on Friday evening because his family members had not yet been notified.

“Hikers are advised to stay on designated trails, leave an itinerary with others, hike in groups of three or more people, be alert for bears, make noise, and carry bear spray,” the park said in its news release.

The Elephant Back Loop Trail and immediate area is closed to hikers while the investigation continues.

The 3.5 mile trail starts not far from Lake Village, heading roughly north from the Grand Loop Road and winding through a dense forest to reach a scenic overlook of Yellowstone Lake and the surrounding area.

The Elephant Back trail is shown on this map, just northeast of Lake Village. Graphic courtesy National Park Service

Is pig wrestling abusive? No way, say county commissioners

In some literal pork barrel politics, Park County commissioners are giving their endorsement to the county fair's annual pig wrestling competition.

In a letter to the Cody Enterprise published Tuesday, Cody resident Ronald Young said the commissioners, the fair board and staff “are guilty of animal torture” by allowing and promoting pig mud wrestling at the Park County Fair. Young said “humane humans” should boycott the fair until the practice is banned.

“Pig mud wrestling is a brutal remnant behavior of our more primitive selves,” Young wrote. “It is a sad commentary on our inhumanity that we are still entertained by and laugh at the terror felt by pigs who cannot escape from sources of that terror.”

This year's pig wrestling drew many contestants and spectators at the Park County Fair. Cody News Co. photo by Matt Naber
Park County Events Coordinator Echo Renner brought the letter to the commissioners' attention at their Tuesday meeting, where the criticism was quickly dismissed.

“That's not abuse,” Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said, later adding that he enjoys watching the little children who participate in the annual event.

“I'm not going to say we won't have pig wrestling anymore. Come on,” said Commissioner Tim French. “They (those complaining) need to concentrate their efforts on something else.”

French questioned the impact of the wrestling versus “what happens when you kill them and eat them?” He called the event “pretty harmless" and offered that “pig wrestling's more abusive to the contestants.”

In his letter, Young wrote that, “For those disagreeing with this letter, who consider pig mud wrestling harmless fun – and I imagine that will be most who read this letter – I would ask that they really think hard about what the pig is going through during the wrestling.”

In the event, contestants are placed in a ring filled with slippery bentonite, along with a pig, and tasked with getting the swine picked up and into a barrel as fast as they can (and before time expires).

Renner said the contractor who supplies the pigs requires that each pig be washed clean of all the mud after the wrestling and staff ensure the animals are not abused.

Pig wrestling is a popular and long-standing Park County Fair event. Other Wyoming fairs also put on the competitions.

Aug 6, 2015

Human-caused fire west of Dayton grew Wednesday, but is now 10 percent contained

Warmer, drier weather Wednesday afternoon brought some growth to the Sheep Creek Fire west of Dayton, but crews now have the wildfire 10 percent contained.

The fire area, in the Tongue River Canyon, grew by 40 to 100 acres on Wednesday for a total size of approximately 1,050 acres.

“The firefighters are doing an amazing job out there, especially considering the rough terrain in which they are located,” Incident Commander Dick Terry said in a Thursday morning statement. “The incident team is doing an excellent job at keeping this fire relatively small while keeping costs low.” 

Firefighters worked to contain the Sheep Creek Fire on Wednesday. Courtesy photo

Fire crews next plan to reinforce and finalize a fireline, connecting it to natural features such as the canyon's rock outcroppings.

The fire started on Sunday as a result of some kind of human activity, officials have said.

Between 40 and 50 trailers and campers are parked not too far from the fire area to move them and Bighorn National Forest officials continue to ask for their owners to come move the vehicles. The trailers are along on Forest Roads 184 and 185, in the Sawmill Flats area, and in the Freeze Out Point area.

The Amsden Wildlife Habitat Management Area is closed to the public, as are Sheridan County roads 90 and 92 at their junction west of Dayton. Forest Service Trail 002 is also closed between the Bighorn National Forest boundary to the junction with Forest Service Trail 159.

A large group of cooperators are managing the fire.

Aug 5, 2015

Highland Manor Park to be renamed for former Cody Mayor Dorse Miller

Highland Manor Park is getting a new name to honor an old friend.

City of Cody officials plan to rename the Carter Avenue park in memory of former mayor Dorse Miller Jr. next week. The Thursday, Aug. 13, dedication ceremony will start at noon and also include a picnic.

Miller lived in Cody from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. He worked in the radio industry and was a part-owner of KODI-AM.

Highland Manor Park is being renamed for former Cody Mayor Dorse Miller Jr. Photo courtesy City of Cody
Miller served three straight terms as mayor, leaving office in 1992. In an editorial published in April, outgoing Cody Enterprise publisher Bruce McCormack called Miller “the most productive mayor to ever lead our city” and called on current city leaders to recognize him.

McCormack recited a list of Miller's accomplishments: not only did he oversee significant upgrades to city infrastructure, he also helped start Cody's senior center, Beck Lake Park and the Shoshone Municipal Pipeline, which now provides water to Cody, Powell, Lovell, Byron, Deaver, Frannie and Northwest Rural Water.

Miller died in 2011 at the age of 84.

“He’s not living any longer, but I’m sure he’ll be there that day,” Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said at Tuesday's city council meeting. Brown said Miller's family used to live near the park. 

The soon-to-be-renamed Highland Manor Park is located at 2500 Carter Avenue. It has a playground, basketball court, picnic area, restrooms and a tennis court.

Woman airlifted after falling from horse during Meeteetse area pack trip

A North Carolina woman was thrown from a horse and had to be airlifted from the Greybull River area outside of Meeteetse on Tuesday.

Jennifer Cox, 53, of Wake Forest, North Carolina, was on a backcountry pack trip with a local outfitter when her horse stumbled and she was thrown off, the Park County Sheriff's Office said in a Wednesday news release. The sheriff's office said Cox may have broken her ribs.

The accident took place about three miles southwest of the Jack Creek Campground. File photo courtesy Shoshone National Forest
The accident happened along the Greybull River near its intersection with Anderson Creek, which is about three miles southwest of the Jack Creek Campground.

The call came into the Park County Communications Center at 4:25 p.m.  Park County Search and Rescue immediately responded to the area. Because of the distance involved and the remoteness of the area, a medical helicopter was summoned from Classic Air Medical out of Riverton. 

Cox was airlifted from the scene at 7:15 p.m. and flown to West Park Hospital.

The woman fell near the intersection of the Greybull River and Anderson Creek.

Aug 4, 2015

Bighorn National Forest asks for owners to move some RVs as fire west of Dayton spreads

The Sheep Creek Fire, burning in the Tongue River Canyon west of Dayton, grew to a little less than 1,000 acres on Tuesday.

Firefighters are trying to suppress the wildfire, but it's burning in rugged terrain.

The Sheep Creek Fire, as seen from the air on Monday morning. Courtesy photo
Because the fire and firefighting effort could spread, Bighorn National Forest officials are asking people to move their trailers from along Forest Roads 184 and 185, in the Sawmill Flats area and around Freeze Out Point. Somewhere between 40 and 50 trailers were parked in those spots on Tuesday, forest officials estimated.

The fire started Sunday. Though the Sheridan County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Forest Service are still investigating exactly what started the blaze, they've confirmed it was human-caused, authorities said on Tuesday.

A state-level, type 3 team, lead by incident commander Dick Terry of the Wyoming State Forestry Division, took over over management of the fire Tuesday morning. A command post has been set up at the Tongue River High School in Dayton.

Two helicopters, air tankers, smokejumpers, three hand crews, and Sheridan County engines and bulldozers were among the resources working the fire by Monday night.

Firefighters initially estimated the fire had grown to 1,100 acres on Tuesday, but more accurate aerial mapping later concluded it had yet to reach 1,000 acres. This article has been updated to reflect that.

As a result of the fire, the Amsden Wildlife Habitat Management Area is closed to the public, as are Sheridan County roads 90 and 92 at their junction west of Dayton. Forest Service Trail 002 is also closed between the Bighorn National Forest boundary to the junction with Forest Service Trail 159.

Yellowstone search efforts scaled back after turning up no sign of missing 21-year-old

After nine days of unsuccessful searching, Yellowstone National Park officials scaled back their search for a 21-year-old man who was swept away by the Yellowstone River.

At the time of the July 23 incident, Feiyang “Isaac” Xiang had been swimming with a couple friends near the Yellowstone River's confluence with Hellroaring Creek. Xiang, a seasonal concessionaire employee from China, was last seen struggling to stay afloat in the swiftly flowing river.

Park officials immediately launched a search effort that included close to 100 people searching on foot, with dogs and by air. However, having still found no sign of Xiang, park officials decided to scale back the operation on Saturday.

“The park is continuing limited, periodic searches of the river corridor downstream from where Xiang disappeared,” Yellowstone officials said in a Tuesday news release, saying the searches will be incorporated into routine backcountry patrols, research operations and wildlife monitoring flights.

Flyers have been posted on trailheads and other access points, asking anglers and hikers in the area to look for any signs of the missing man. Raft companies, fishing guides, and other recreational river users outside Yellowstone have also been given information about Xiang.

Xiang and two friends had been swimming in the river when he was pulled from shore, park officials said. His friends couldn't pull him back and he disappeared in a long stretch of rapids.

Xiang is described as 5 feet, 6 inches tall, 140 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information regarding his whereabouts is asked to call Yellowstone National Park at 307-344-2643.

The confluence of Hellroaring Creek and the Yellowstone River, near where a 21-year-old man went missing.

Northwest College Board of Trustees to meet in Meeteetse next week

The Northwest College Board of Trustees will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, Aug. 10, in the Meeteetse School Cafeteria. The meeting begins at 4 p.m.

The college trustees to Meeteetse once a year to get better acquainted with the southern end of the college district and to give area residents a chance to talk to trustees about Meeteetse-related issues.

Items on the agenda include an update on the college's budget, a proposed child protection policy and proposed facility naming.

In addition, trustees will discuss the system of colleges’ legislative agenda, revised Higher Learning Commission faculty qualifications, a Big Horn Basin high school report, adjunct faculty costs and Wyoming Community College Commission residency requirements.

Members of the public will have the opportunity to share their thoughts during an open forum at 5 p.m.

In addition to Nada Larsen of Meeteetse, NWC board members are Paul Fees, John Housel and Mark Westerhold of Cody; and Carolyn Danko, Dustin Spomer and Jim Vogt of Powell.

No Montana inmates allowed at county jail, attorney general says

A Park County plan to house a few Montana inmates and earn some extra money has been nixed by the Wyoming Attorney General.

Carbon County, Montana, doesn't have a jail and, after the jail in Billings raised its rates, has been looking for a more affordable place to house its inmates. Park County Sheriff Scott Steward thought he could offer Carbon County a good deal and bring in some additional revenue for Park County.

The Park County Law Enforcement Center in Cody holds the county jail. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
The two counties had been discussing the idea since August 2014, but Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael recently determined that state law doesn’t give counties the legal authority to take out-of-state inmates.

“There’s nothing (in the law) that prohibits it, but there’s nothing that says, ‘You can do it,’” Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric explained last week.

Skoric had asked for the attorney general’s opinion. There’s a section of state law that says correctional facilities can accept out-of-state inmates if at least three of the state’s five elected officials agree, but Michael said that law doesn’t apply to a county-owned jail.

“We wanted to proceed with caution — particularly when you’re dealing with housing inmates — and I think we did that,” Skoric said. “And we have our answer and it is what it is.”

The inmates would have been people serving jail sentences on misdemeanor charges or awaiting trial on alleged criminal activity in Red Lodge, Bridger, Joliet and other parts of Carbon County, Montana.

Sheriff Steward said the Park County Detention Center clearly had the room: It has more than 100 beds and had an average population of 46 in 2014. Steward had estimated that housing perhaps an extra half-dozen inmates on a given day might bring in as much as $100,000 in extra annual revenue, with little-to-no extra cost.

“It would have been nice income for the county,” the sheriff said in a Thursday interview. “But, you know, I guess I don’t have any real major feelings one way or the other.”

Steward said one Park County commissioner has mentioned the possibility of asking the Wyoming Legislature to consider changing the law sometime in the future.

The Carbon County, Montana, Commission learned that Park County was out of the running in late June. According to minutes of their June 25 meeting, the Carbon County commissioners plan to continue looking at other jails and at the possibility of building their own 72-hour holding facility.

Aug 3, 2015

Wildfire burning west of Dayton could be 'a long, drawn-out incident'

Firefighters are trying to snuff out a wildfire west of Dayton, but it's tough-to-access location may allow it to keep burning for some time, fire officials say.

“There is potential for a long, drawn-out incident,” Bighorn National Forest Fire Management Officer Jon Warder said in a Monday news release.

The Sheep Creek Fire in Tongue River Canyon was spotted around 4 p.m. Sunday and was estimated to have grown from a half-acre to more than 100 acres by Monday afternoon.

The Sheep Creek Fire burned through rugged terrain on Sunday. Photo courtesy Bighorn National Forest
Firefighters are trying to suppress the fire and keep it from spreading, but it's burning between rocky cliffs, making a direct attack unsafe, the news release said.

Firefighters used a single-engine air tanker, a helicopter, an air attack plane, and approximately 10 Bighorn National Forest personnel on Sunday and monitored the fire throughout the night.

They ordered a type 1 helicopter for Monday “and our plan is to use it to keep the fire in check until predicted precipitation and cooler temperatures arrive tomorrow (Tuesday),” Warder said in a statement.

“If our initial attempts today and tomorrow, along with the expected weather, do not control this fire, the fire will be established on enough steep, canyon-wall, terrain that this may become a longer lasting incident,” he added.

More resources, including two 20-person handcrews and smokejumpers, were also believed to be on their way to the scene on Monday.

The Sheep Creek Fire fire is primarily on the Amsden Creek Wildlife Habitat Management Area, managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. It's on, or near, Wyoming State land and the Bighorn National Forest. Numerous agencies and several private landowners and community members are helping with the suppression effort.

The fire started along the Tongue River Canyon Trail, approximately one mile up canyon from the trailhead. The cause remains under investigation.

Bighorn National Forest Tongue River District Ranger Amy Ormseth said firefighters from the Dayton Volunteer Fire Department and the forest responded quickly on Sunday and “made every effort to catch this fire,” but she said they were thwarted by the steep canyon hillsides.

“We value our firefighters and while we fight fire aggressively, bringing people home at the end of the day, firefighters and the public, remains our number one priority,” Ormseth said.

Trails and roads in the Tongue River Canyon area are being temporarily closed because of the fire.

The Sheep Creek Fire started along the Tongue River Canyon Trail. Photo courtesy Bighorn National Forest

Aug 2, 2015

Montana teen drowns after river floating accident in the Crandall area

A Montana teen drowned Saturday evening while floating on the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River in the Crandall area.

Jonah Anspach, a 13-year-old from Jefferson City, Montana, had been riding a small, inflatable pool ring as part of a group of family and friends, the Park County Sheriff's Office said in a Sunday news release. Near a section of rapids, Anspach's ring overturned; he disappeared beneath the surface of the Clark's Fork and wasn't seen again, the release said.

The floating accident occurred about a mile up river from the Hunter Peak Campground. File photo courtesy Shoshone National Forest
Anspach's brother was also riding an inflatable ring and also flipped over in the rapids, but he was able to make it to shore, the sheriff's office said.

The two brothers, who were not wearing life jackets, had been in an area approximately one mile upriver from the Hunter Peak Campground and just below the junction of Muddy Creek. They were in a section of the river known to local kayakers as “Day Stretch” and overturned near rapids known as “The Jet,” the sheriff's office said. Their family had been vacationing in the Crandall area.

A passerby on Wyo. Highway 296 called 911 shortly before 7 p.m.

Members of the Park County Search and Rescue Unit immediately responded, searching the area until darkness fell. Members of the team stayed at the river through the night, stationed at various points. The search resumed Sunday morning with the aid of several local kayakers who know the area.

They found Anspach's body in the river mid-Sunday morning and recovered it a couple hours later.

In the release from the sheriff's office, members of the Search and Rescue team praised the kayakers who aided the search, saying their knowledge of the area proved invaluable in recovering the victim.

It was a hectic day for Park County's Search and Rescue team. Just 40 minutes after the floating accident was called in, a woman called 911 to report she'd become stuck on a ledge on the South Fork. Around 4 a.m., they were able to help her to safety.

In overnight operation, Seattle woman rescued from South Fork area ledge

A Washington woman hiking in the South Fork area had to be rescued by members of the Park County Search and Rescue Unit late Saturday night/early Sunday morning after she became stuck on a ledge.

Jennifer R. Henneman, 31, of Seattle, had been hiking alone off of the Bobcat-Houlihan Trail, the Park County Sheriff's Office said in a Sunday news release. About 1.75 miles northwest of the trail head, Hennerman ventured onto a ledge approximately 2,000 feet above the Houlihan Creek drainage and got “rimrocked” that is, unable to climb up or down due to the steepness of the terrain.

The Bobcat-Houliahn Trailhead. Photo courtesy BLM
Henneman, who'd been hiking alone, had cell service and was able to call 911 at 7:40 p.m., the sheriff's office said.

Because of her location, the Search and Rescue Unit had to plot a route around the creek drainage that would allow them to parallel the ridge.

Search and Rescue members spotted Henneman at midnight, but at that point, they were still a half-a-mile away and across a steep ravine. To reach the woman, the rescuers ultimately had to hike up from the east side of the ravine and then move west, the sheriff's office said.

They finally reached Henneman at 1:15 a.m. and brought her back to the trail head at 4 a.m. She was uninjured.

Park County Search and Rescue Unit head Mart Knapp said that, with the exception of hiking alone, Henneman did everything right.

“When she realized there was no safe way for her to get herself down, she called for assistance and stayed where she was until help arrived,” Knapp said in a statement released by the sheriff's office.  “It’s a good lesson for everyone who ventures into the backcountry.”

The Bobcat-Houlihan Trail runs north from the TE Ranch, at the end of County Road 6EH. The road runs north from the South Fork Road at milepost 28.

It was a hectic day for Park County's Search and Rescue team. Just 40 minutes before Henneman's call, the team had been summoned to the Crandall area to search for a 13-year-old boy who'd gone into the water while floating the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River. Search and rescue team members spent the night at that scene as well, ultimately finding the boy's body on Sunday morning.

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