Oct 23, 2015

Man gets $7,540 bill for poaching deer on North Fork

A former Cody resident who poached a deer just east of Yellowstone National Park this spring has been ordered to pay $7,540 in fines and restitution. He also lost hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for three years.

Erik Rautenberg, 29, recently pleaded guilty in Park County Circuit Court to taking a buck mule deer out of season.

Erik Rautenberg had to spend a night in jail after poaching the deer. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
Rautenberg reportedly shot the deer with his 9mm Glock pistol as it passed by his campsite near the Sam Berry Meadows, about three miles up the Pahaska Trail in the Shoshone National Forest.

He cooked a small piece of the buck’s backstrap, then left the rest to waste, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department investigation concluded.

“This was a case of a big game animal killed simply for the thrill of it and is the worst kind of wildlife violation we investigate,” Cody Region Game Warden Travis Crane said in a Wednesday statement from Game and Fish.

A former law enforcement officer and his wife happened to be passing by Rautenberg’s campsite at the time he killed the deer, hearing gunshots and seeing the man chase the buck up a hill on May 30. They contacted the Stop Poaching tip line.

Crane and Shoshone law enforcement officer Travis Hayworth confronted Rautenberg the following day, as he and his brother were heading back toward the trailhead.

Rautenberg initially denied shooting the deer, but admitted to it after Crane proceeded to the campsite and discovered the dead animal, according to charging documents.

Rautenberg described hitting the animal from about 50 yards away, then emptying his gun to try putting the deer down, Crane wrote in an affidavit used to support the charge.

“Erik (Rautenberg) advised that it was a dumb thing to do,” Crane recounted.

The warden arrested Rautenberg, who spent the night in jail before being released on his own recognizance the following day.

Game and Fish encourages anyone who witnesses a wildlife violation to call the Stop Poaching Hotline at 877-WGFD-TIP or report them at wgfd.wyo.gov. The more detailed the information is (such as the date, time and license plate number of any vehicles involved in the incident), the more helpful it is, according to Game and Fish.

Informants can remain anonymous and potentially can collect a cash reward of up to $5,000 if their information leads to a successful prosecution.

“The anonymous Stop Poaching tip from the public was instrumental in solving the case and sends a message that this type of violation will not be tolerated by the public,” Crane said in Wednesday’s statement.

Hayworth — the Shoshone officer — had also cited Rautenberg in Wyoming’s federal court for leaving a campfire that hadn’t been fully extinguished, failing to dispose of all garbage at the campsite and providing false information to a forest officer.

The three charges had carried a possible $1,750 in additional penalties, but after Rautenberg admitted to the poaching allegations in state court, Hayworth and the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to ask for the federal citations dismissed. A magistrate judge did so last week.

Hurry up and delist the grizzly bear, say Park County commissioners

Park County commissioners want the federal government to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the grizzly bear, ASAP.

On Tuesday, the commission unanimously passed a resolution urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “move forward with all due haste” in removing Greater Yellowstone Area grizzlies from the list of “threatened” species.

“The general public has bent over backwards to preserve the bear. And my own opinion is, from the people I’ve talked to, they are very rapidly losing their tolerance for grizzly bears,” said Commission Chairman Joe Tilden. “They truly are.”

A grizzly sow and her cub cross a road in Yellowstone National Park in this September 2014 photo. Photo courtesy Jim Peaco/National Park Service
Commissioners believe the region’s bear population — most recently estimated to be at least 750 bears strong — is no longer in danger and has recovered.

On Tuesday, they offered anecdotal accounts that there are more grizzly bears than ever around the county.

“It’s to the point of being ridiculous,” said Commissioner Tim French. “I mean, what are they going to wait for, a grizzly to wander down through Cody and nab a child, an adult? I mean, what are they waiting for? It's gotten bad.”

French said anyone who’s been around the area for a significant amount of time has noticed the increase, including bears that have reached the Heart Mountain area where he lives.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf mentioned grizzly tracks that were recently spotted at the county landfill south of Cody.

Tilden said he’s seen more bear activity on the South Fork than ever before; he told of a lower South Fork resident who had to keep her children in the house for three days because of a nearby bear.

While some people have said the bears have simply spread out, “I haven’t seen a reduction in the backcountry,” said commissioner and outfitter Lee Livingston.

One of the primary objections to delisting the bear now is that Yellowstone area’s grizzlies suffer from a lack of genetic diversity, being cut off from other bear populations. However, commissioners say the Yellowstone region is a big area. If inbreeding is the concern, Livingston said he’s seen a lot of bears and “they all ... seem to be working just fine.”

Commissioner Bucky Hall said he’s suggested to environmental groups that they could provide money to transport problem bears from one isolated area to another to boost genetic diversity, but they haven’t backed the idea. Hall suggested it was an instance of “we like the problem; we don’t want to solve the problem.”

Commissioners acknowledged their two-page resolution is largely symbolic, but they plan on sending it to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe and even President Barack Obama anyway. One reason the document may be symbolic is that Ashe has already agreed that grizzlies should be delisted.

Director Ashe, appearing before a Senate committee last month. Screen capture taken from YouTube
“We delisted the bear in 2007 and we, unfortunately, lost in a lawsuit,” Ashe told a Congressional panel last month. “But we have worked again with our state partners to come back, and we are literally on the precipice of another proposal to delist the species. I think we’ll be successful.”

When the federal government delisted the grizzly bear eight years ago, a U.S. District Court judge in Montana sided with environmentalists’ concerns and voided the decision. A three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruled in 2011 that the government was wrong to delist for one single reason: it hadn’t done enough research into the decline of the whitebark pine tree population (a food source for bears) and how that would impact the region’s grizzlies.

Part of the commissioners’ dismay is that a new delisting proposal could mean starting the entire process all over again: going out for public input, incorporating feedback and then potentially going through lawsuits and relitigating every single issue.

“In my opinion, all the scientific documentation is in, all the questions that the court asked, they’ve been answered by the scientists,” Tilden said.

~By CJ Baker

Oct 22, 2015

West Park seeks state help for heating upgrades

West Park Hospital officials are seeking the state’s help to overhaul the facility’s heating system.

Leaders at the Cody hospital intend to ask for about $950,000 from the State Loan and Investment Board — half of a roughly $1.9 million project that will replace the facility’s boilers. The equipment dates back to the hospital’s construction in 1972 and is now about seven years past its expected 35-year lifespan.

“These are very old boilers, very inefficient. They need to be replaced,” said Tim Waldner, West Park’s director of operations.

Not only have the steam boilers required more maintenance in recent years, Waldner said they operate at only about 60 percent efficiency; a modern hot water boiler plant should operate at 90 percent efficiency or better, which will save money on utilities.

The plan is to install two new boiler plants: one for the long term care center and one for the hospital. Upgrades will also need to be made to some of the hospital’s air handlers as part of the switch from steam to hot water.

Park County commissioners agreed to sign a letter of support for West Park’s request at their Oct. 6 meeting.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf wished the hospital luck, saying it may be a tough year to get state funding.

“We don’t expect it to be easy,” said West Park CEO Doug McMillan.

South Fork ranch allowed to build in flood zone

The owners of a South Fork ranch have gotten to OK to build a new home near the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

Before an unanimous Oct. 6 vote to allow the construction in what’s now designated as a flood zone, Park County Commissioner Tim French asked if the county would have any liability if a flood ended up hitting the Ishawooa Mesa Ranch’s new residence.

An aerial view of the site, taken in 2014. The South Fork of the Shoshone River can be seen at the bottom right. Photo courtesy Park County
Park County Planning Director Linda Gillett explained it’s up to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ultimately sign off on the house. One condition of county approval was that it appear “reasonably safe from flooding.”

“I would say that it’s reasonably safe from flooding,” Gillett said. “It is in a risky spot there, I think, but according to the FEMA regs, it meets their standards.”

The Ishawooa Mesa Ranch’s ownership is currently in the process of having FEMA remove the site from the “special flood hazard area,” so it won’t be in a flood zone any longer.

The new house will replace one that was built in 1932 and demolished about six years ago.

Cody engineer Paul Blough of Holm, Blough and Co., representing the ranch, said the new home will be about three feet higher than the one it’s replacing.

Blough said he looked at what would happen in a once-in-500-year flood and found the waters wouldn’t rise much more than they would in more typical years.

The ranch’s owners also built up the river bank in 2011 after high water cut across the property, just south of the new home site.

~By CJ Baker

New accounting standards mean new fees for Park County

Some new accounting standards are going to cost Park County an extra $2,500 this year.

The county’s auditors from CliftonLarsonAllen plan to charge $39,632 to review the county’s financials for the past fiscal year — $2,500 more than expected.

CliftonLarsonAllen’s extra charge is to meet new accounting standards that require more detailed reports about the retirement plans the county uses.

In the past, auditors had been able to simply say a government entity (like the county) was a part of a pension fund (like Wyoming Retirement System), then refer readers to the pension fund for more details. However, under new requirements from the national Governmental Accounting Standards Board, auditors must now calculate a government entity’s share of their retirement system’s unfunded liabilities and put them in the audit.

It’s the second straight year of extra costs. CliftonLarsonAllen charged the county an additional $5,000 last year to complete some extra bookkeeping work; the county plans to do that work in-house this year.

As for how the audit of the July 2014-June 2015 fiscal year is progressing, “We’re a lot further ahead (than last year), so it sounds like it should go pretty smooth,” Park County Treasurer Barb Poley said at the commission’s Oct. 6 meeting.

This is the last year of CliftonLarsonAllen’s three-year auditing contract with the county, meaning the county will need to go back through the bidding process to choose an auditor next year.

“Yahoo,” said a sarcastic Park County Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

Oct 21, 2015

Astronaut shares photo of Yellowstone from space

A NASA astronaut offered a better-than-birds-eye view of Yellowstone National Park this week, sharing a snapshot of the park from the International Space Station.

"Hello @YellowstoneNPS!" astronaut Kjell Lindgren tweeted on Monday, adding, "Our national parks are national treasures."

He also threw in a hashtag for the National Park Service/National Park Foundation's "Find Your Park" promotional campaign.

Yellowstone National Park, as seen from space on Oct. 16. Photo courtesy NASA/Kjell Lindgren
Lindgren snapped the photo on Friday (Oct. 16), using a Nikon D4 camera equipped with a 50 to 500mm lens, according to the image's metadata.

It was likely a pretty quick sightseeing tour, as the space station travels at roughly 17,100 miles an hour.

Oct 20, 2015

Simpson: Ryan should seek speaker's chair or risk damaging presidential aspirations

The U.S House of Representatives currently resembles “a circus ring” or “a clown gathering” and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., should be the one to set it straight, said former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson.

“That’s what the House looks like right now: just a great gathering of clowns, all with the Republican tag behind them,” Simpson said last week on KODI-AM's “Speak Your Piece.” However, the Republican politician from Cody said the House “could go to a good place” if Ryan seeks the speaker’s chair.

Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson
Current Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced he’ll resign from his post after losing the support of the party’s more conservative wing. Boehner’s presumed successor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., withdrew his candidacy after similarly facing opposition from the right wing.

Leading the rebellion has been a group of roughly 40 lawmakers — including Wyoming's representative, Cynthia Lummis — who make up the House Freedom Caucus.

After Boehner’s announced his resignation last month, Lummis said she'd be working with a group to find a candidate “who will restore regular order, who will allow committees to do their work, and to report legislation to the floor that has come through the committee process.”

“We’ll also be looking for a speaker who will elevate and restore Congress’s rightful role as a co-equal branch of our government,” Lummis said in a September statement.

While Lummis hasn’t announced her preferred candidate, the Freedom Caucus has officially endorsed Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., a lawmaker who Simpson says “makes a right-winger look like Hubert Humphrey.” (“If they get Dan Webster, the real Dan Webster of historical fame will be rolling like a pinwheel in his grave,” Simpson joked during his KODI interview.)

Despite the endorsement of Rep. Webster, Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has also said the group would “look favorably” on Ryan if he runs for speaker.

Ryan intially said he’s uninterested in the position. However, Simpson said on KODI on Oct. 13 that Ryan — the Republican party’s nominee for vice president in 2012 — has been “rethinking his no” and needs to take the opportunity to unify “the no caucus” and the rest of the House Republicans.

Simpson described recently leaving Ryan a voicemail that warned choosing not seeking the position of speaker could hurt his chances of one day becoming president.

Simpson recalled his message to Ryan as: “You’re going to run for president again some time ... and at that time, they’re going to say, ‘Wait a minute, you were in the House of Representatives when it was the most dysfunctional this party has ever been, and you could have been the leader to lead us out of that, and you didn’t, and now you want to lead the United States? Forget it.’”

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
One complication is that history suggests becoming speaker might be plenty damaging to Ryan's presidential aspirations. “Speak Your Piece” caller Dewey Vanderhoff noted that only one Speaker of the House has become president: James K. Polk in 1845.

Simpson conceded that similarly, no Speaker of the House in the Wyoming Legislature has gone on to become the state’s governor.

“Because you have irritated too many people,” Simpson explained on KODI, adding that, “when you’re a leader, you take flack.”

While Ryan advancing from speaker to president would face long historical odds, Simpson suggested that if the Wisconsin lawmaker was able to pull the Freedom Caucus and the rest of the “extraordinarily diverse group” of Republicans in the House together, “that would be just as historical.”

~By CJ Baker

In wake of recent thefts, sheriff reminds residents to secure their guns

Roughly a dozen guns were reported as stolen over the past month in rural Park County — and Sheriff Scott Steward is reminding residents to secure and record their firearms.

While investigating several recent burglaries, the Sheriff’s Office says it has found that some victims not only failed to secure their firearms — making them easy targets for thieves — but also failed to record their weapons, making them difficult to identify.

Sheriff Scott Steward
“I think securing firearms is more common sense,” Steward said in a Friday statement. “However, it is just as important to record the identity of weapons so that they can be positively identified in the future.”

A total of 13 guns were reported stolen in the Powell, Cody and Meeteetse areas between Sept. 10 and Oct. 9, according to Sheriff’s Office records.

In perhaps the most notable incident, three guns were taken from two unlocked vehicles parked on Meeteetse’s South Street on Sept. 28. That was part of a spree of burglaries and a break-in. The following day, another gun owner on Meeteetse’s Franklin Street reported discovering that a shotgun was missing from her residence, according to Sheriff’s Office logs.

While the reports were all made in recent days, it’s not clear that all of the thefts were recent.

For example, a citizen reported on Sept. 10 that four guns and accessories had been stolen from his Lane 8 home in rural Powell, but he didn’t know when they had gone missing.

As another example, one resident in rural Cody — who reported a gun as stolen on Oct. 9 — apparently discovered his weapon was missing only after his home caught on fire and an insurance inspection didn’t locate the firearm.

A number of the recently reported thefts were not traditional burglaries, either, with several possibly involving family members stealing from family members. For example, a citizen in rural Cody reported on Oct. 2 that his son-in-law had stolen a gun and sold it to a Powell pawn shop.

In Friday’s statement, Sheriff Steward recommended locking your house when you’re gone and storing weapons in a secure location, preferably a safe. He also advised against leaving weapons in unlocked vehicles.

(In addition to the thefts in Meeteetse, someone reportedly stole a gun from a 4-wheeler while it was parked at a trailhead in the Clark area on Aug. 4.)

“Often we become complacent in these security measures, but thieves are out there and there’s no need for us to make their job any easier,” Steward said in the statement.

He urged gun owners to take the time to record the type, make, model and — most importantly — the serial number of all of their guns. He also suggested taking photographs of them.

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