Feb 26, 2016

Park County government hit and disrupted by ‘ransomware’

A form of malicious software known as “ransomware” forced the Park County government to shut off all its computers for much of Tuesday. The shutdown disrupted the county’s business, but taking that precaution helped snuff out the virus before it could spread very far or deal any actual damage.

“Things like that happening, you just deal with them. That’s all you can do, because in today’s technology, it’s an everyday occurrence someplace,” Park County Chief Information Officer Mike Conners said Wednesday. “We’re just glad we were prepared for it.”

The ransomware apparently got onto a county computer sometime Monday night, likely through either an attachment to an email or through a visit to an infected website, Conners said.

It was discovered Tuesday morning, when a county staffer tried opening some files and was instead confronted with message saying the data had been encrypted. Pay a ransom, said the message, and the data would be made usable again.

Park County computers infected with the ransomware displayed this screen.
Conners and other IT staffers immediately went from office to office, asking them to shut down all their machines before it spread further.

“At first I didn’t know what was going on; I thought I was getting arrested,” quipped County Assessor Pat Meyer of the apparent urgency.

IT staff swept each computer before rebooting them all back up. The process lasted into the night and was generally finished up by Wednesday.

Dispatchers at the Park County Law Enforcement Center were given the highest priority, but even they had to go without their computers for about five hours on Tuesday, getting their computers back around 3:30 p.m.

“Our phones and radios never went out, so we simply went back to paper and pencil for dispatching services,” explained Park County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lance Mathess.

No emergency services were disrupted, Conners said, and “all in all, we actually turned out pretty well.”

His department’s investigation into the infection indicates it was a variant of the ransomware TeslaCrypt. The virus searches the computer it’s on — and any computers it can connect to — for files such as Word, Excel and PDF documents. It then locks them up with an effectively unbreakable layer of encryption.

This “really nasty” variant of TeslaCrypt has been created to avoid detection, Conners said.

“They even wrote the thing so it’s slow,” he said. “It doesn’t reach out and just start hammering away, they wrote it so it really slowly, methodically goes out and starts to encrypt files and it hides in all your other (computer) processes so you can’t even see (it).”

Despite being relatively slow, and only getting into a small fraction of the county’s network, the virus still managed to comb through around 67,000 different file folders and directories, Conners said. (The county’s security measures prevented the malware from actually affecting files in all of those folders.)

“It’s an intelligently written virus. And these guys are getting good at it because they’re making lots of money,” Conners said.

Criminals profit when the people or companies whose files have been encrypted pay the demanded ransom to have the files decrypted. (Authorities advise against paying up, so as not to encourage the developers.)

 “It’s an intelligently written virus. And these guys are getting good at it because they’re making lots of money,” Conners said.

While ransomware has been around for years, the FBI said in January that there’s been “a definite uptick lately in its use by cyber criminals.” The bureau has said a different version of ransomware, called CryptoWall, caused reported losses totaling more than $18 million between April 2014 and June 2015. Ransomware made national headlines earlier this month, when a Los Angeles-area hospital paid roughly $17,000 to restore access to their encrypted medical records.

Paying the demanded ransom was never a big concern for Park County, because it backs up its terabytes of data every night — and keeps back ups of the back ups, Conners said. Because the virus was caught fairly quickly, the county actually had to restore only a fairly small number of files and few files were lost, he said.

The main harm to the county was the lost time, both for IT staff and for those who had to temporarily go without their computers.

Treasurer Barb Poley said her office was put “at a standstill.”

When folks came in to renew their license plates or pay property taxes, clerks had to take their phone number and pledge to call as soon as the computers were up and running again, Poley said.

At times, “truthfully, we (were) staring at each other,” she said.

Departments generally tried to catch up on off-line projects during the lull.

County commissioners’ executive assistant, Shaunna Romero, took the opportunity to do some filing and reconsider how she does some things.

“It makes you re-think, because we are so electronic-device dependent,” she said.

Feb 25, 2016

East Newton Lake may become 'catch and release' only

The only prize East Newton Lake anglers may be taking home are bragging rights.

The only notable proposed modification to local 2017-18 Wyoming fishing regulations was revising East Newton Lake north of Cody catch and release only.

At this time, one fish can be kept per day at East Newton.

In 1999, some trout were close to 26 inches long, but the average was 20 inches, said Jason Burckhardt, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Cody region fisheries biologist. Burckhardt spoke at a public meeting Feb. 16, discussing new fishing regulations and fishing developments to a dozen members of the public.

By 2003, some trout were greater than 24 inches long in East Newton. In 2012, the average was 17 inches.

Game and Fish is not sure why the fish are smaller but, they are noting younger fish not surviving to age 7 or 8. In July and August, the water warms up, Burckhardt said. At 50 degrees, hook mortality is 5 to 10 percent.

The August water temperature never drops below 65 degrees, said Sam Hochhalter, Game and Fish Cody region fisheries supervisor.

Game and Fish is looking at the statewide July/August water warming trend and how to mitigate it, Burckhardt said.

Although it was an informal meeting with Game and Fish seeking only feedback, the group suggested closing East Newton to fishing in July and August to protect trout.

Each year, 500 Eagle Lake rainbows are stocked in East Newton. Then on every odd year, 500 brook trout are stocked in the lake and 250 browns on every even year, Burckhardt said.

East Newton is also a backup brood source for Eagle Lake rainbows, Burckhardt said.

In 2008, Game and Fish sacrificed 30 female and 30 male Eagle Lake rainbows to test for disease to prevent diseases from infecting hatcheries or waters where fish are stocked. Game and Fish always tests for disease when they collect eggs and milk for hatcheries.

The North Fork of the Shoshone River, west of Cody, offers 700 trout per mile or greater than 600 pounds of trout per mile, Burckhardt said.

The trout sample area is near Mummy Cave, running downstream to Elk Fork.

The above count makes the North Fork a blue ribbon trout stream. Downstream is a deeper blue.
The 2014 count was 2,500 trout per mile from the Buffalo Bill Dam downstream to Corbett Bridge.

There is a lot of geothermal activity beneath the Shoshone River. Hydrogen sulfide near the dam downstream past DeMaris Springs can be fatal to fish. From DeMaris downstream 2 miles there are no trout.

"Largely, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it,”  Burckhardt said.

In 2014, about 100 dead fish where found in the Shoshone River Canyon just west of Cody. Although it wasn’t verified it was assumed a hydrogen sulfide plume killed the fish, Burckhardt said.

Greater outflow from the dam dilutes the sulfide, Burckhardt said. A winter agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation who controls the dam’s output, allows up to 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) release during the winter, but that volume is dependent on how much of the states’ percentage of water is stored and the amount of water remaining in the reservoir following the water year (October to September).

This winter, the reservoir is releasing 200 cfs from the reservoir and the river is picking up another 50-60 cfs from springs along the canyon and downstream past DeMaris, Burckhardt said.

In 2006, the South Fork of the Shoshone River hosted more than 750 trout per mile. However, a 2007 thunderstorm dumped tons of mud into the South Fork of the Shoshone River and by the following year, that number was 130, Burckhardt said.

Now it is nearly 560 trout per mile. The fishing is good, but access is limited.

“This is certainly a quality fishery that is under-utilized,” Burckhardt said.

The Clarks Fork River Canyon trout population is a concern, Burckhardt said. “Clarks Fork doesn’t have a robust population.”

In 1998, there were around 600 fish or 260 pounds per mile. In 2015, it was around 420 fish or 320 pounds per mile, Burckhardt said.

White fish were abundant in the Clarks Fork, but he said he did not believe they effected trout biomass, Burckhardt said.

Luce Reservoir off Road 7RP south of Clark, is managed as a trophy fishery — catch and release only and with limited stocking. It is also backup brood stock for Fall rainbow, Burckhardt said. About 35 Fall rainbow are stocked per surface-acre annually.

Many trout don’t survive the winter in the 30-foot deep reservoir. Game and Fish is not exactly sure what is causing the loss, but they are trying to determine why. This year, the department plans to stock Firehole rainbows to see which rainbow species fare better, Burckhardt said.

Hogan Reservoir, also off Road 7RP south of Clark, was treated in 2006 to kill the suckers and chub. Now, between 1,000 to 3,400 Yellowstone cutthroats are stocked annually, Burckhardt said.

“There are six-pound cutthroat trout in Hogan,” Hochhalter said.

Upper Sunshine Reservoir, south of Meeteetse, is stocked with an average of 60,000 Yellowstone cutthroats per year, Burckhardt said.

Lower Sunshine receives 11,000 splake (brook and lake trout cross), 10,000 tiger (brown and brook trout cross) and 30,000 Yellowstone cutthroats, Burckhardt said.

Game and Fish in partnership with Cody Wild River Fest is discussing a boat ramp on the North Fork with the U.S. Forest Service, but talks are in the preliminary stages at this point, Burckhardt said.

Feb 24, 2016

U.S. House candidate Cheney calls for fewer federal regulations

Wyoming’s only U.S. House seat is up for grabs and candidate Liz Cheney stopped by Park County last week for a meet and greet at the Irma Hotel in Cody on Thursday.

While in the area, Cheney spoke with local residents about their concerns.

“I’m dedicated to earning every vote and honored to be in this race and campaign and looking forward to seeing folks across the state,” Cheney said. “We need a representative in Wyoming willing to fight for our rights as a state and the Constitution and won’t back down. I would be honored to follow Cynthia (Lummis) in that task.”

Republican Congressional candidate Liz Cheney
Cheney traces her political career back to the late 1970s when she helped her father, Dick Cheney, with his campaigns across the state.

“A lot has changed, but the important things haven’t,” Cheney said. “We expect in Wyoming to take the measure of candidates personally and I am honored to campaign that way and talk to as many voters as possible.”

In her discussions, the top concern has been the economy and “the devastation of the last eight years” from federal policies impacting the agriculture and energy industries, she said. The Affordable Care Act and its impact was also a concern among the Wyomingites she’s encountered so far, she said.

“We want to get to a place where we can grow small businesses and get access to our resources,” Cheney said. “We have the ability in Wyoming to help the nation be energy independent without government regulations — we need a representative who will go to Washington (D.C.) to fight to reverse the course.”

Namely, she pointed to “ill-advised” policies from the Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management and the federal government taking on roles they should not be taking, she said.
She credited Wyoming’s financial woes to federal policies preventing the state from utilizing its resources.

“There is a market downturn, but you want the federal government to do everything to help the industry survive the downturn,” Cheney said, noting that the President Barack Obama’s administration is creating policies that hinder Wyoming’s industries.

She said there should be reduced regulations on mineral extraction on federal lands and the moratorium on coal leases needs to be reserved. The public also needs to be educated on fossil fuels, she said.

“I think it starts at a philosophical level to have a president who understands reliable electricity and the role oil and gas play in that, and then it is an issue of regulation,” Cheney said. “We are good stewards and shepherds of the land and need the ability to have access to those resources and should be able to do it without the expense and arbitrary rules that grew out of out of control bureaucracy.”

“We are good stewards and shepherds of the land and need the ability to have access to those resources and shouldbe able to do it without the expense and arbitrary rules that grew out of out of control bureaucracy,” Cheney said.
Federal overreach also extends into the education field, she said.

“I believe in the Constitutional separation of powers,” Cheney said, noting that it does not grant educational authority to the federal level. “Too often, authority is being taken from parents and teachers and local communities.”

She said Common Core was an example of this and needs to be repealed so that education can be looked at on a local level.

Cheney, her husband and their five children moved to Wyoming in 2012. Their children are enrolled in public schools in Wilson, which is just outside of Jackson. She recently published a book, “Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America” with her father. Their book focuses on what’s been happening in Washington, D.C. since President Barack Obama went into office. She has also recently worked as a Fox News contributor.

She said her focus is on “restoring Wyoming’s freedom and power and authority to the state” by reducing the role of the federal government in areas of agriculture and energy development.

“I can lead on these issues and represent Wyoming’s interests and make sure we turn the corner from the damage felt in the last eight years,” Cheney said. “My campaign is about the future and what we will face in January (2017). We need someone with a strong voice who can bring national attention to issues in Wyoming and to educate people about the EPA and the ability to restore our rights at a moment when our rights are under threat.”

 ~By Matt Naber

Feb 23, 2016

County may penalize electrical contractor for late fairgrounds work

Park County is mulling whether to penalize an electrical contractor for finishing a $112,000 project more than five months late.

The county could withhold some or all of the $12,260.80 it has not yet paid Action Electric for the work at the Park County Fairgrounds.

“It was a relatively small project and, to be honest with you, we’re really not happy with the way this played out,” Commission Chairman Tim French told Action Electric personnel at last week’s commission meeting.

Action Electric owner Max Griffin, of Billings, was apologetic.

“I think you have a legitimate complaint, and I think you’re absolutely right,” Griffin said.

Action Electric shuttered its Powell office after problems that included "some shoddy work" at the Park County Fairgrounds.
Under its contract with the county, the company was supposed to finish its work — which involved installing power to the new exhibit hall and bringing power to the west side of the grounds — by July 1.

However, the job still remained incomplete in November, and the county felt it was getting the run around from Action Electric’s workers in Powell. French told the fair board at that time that the county was “fed up” and considering imposing a $60,000 penalty.

The county then contacted Action Electric headquarters in Billings. Griffin said that was the first time he heard there was a real problem with the job, describing himself as “blindsided.” He said the company’s then-manager in Powell had assured him things were under control.

“This project is one of the reasons that shop (in Powell) is now closed,” Griffin said.

He said workers in the Billings office quickly traveled to the fairgrounds, found what he called “some shoddy work,” and set about fixing it.

“We didn’t take care of you. I mean, that’s the bottom line,” Griffin told commissioners. “But when we did find out about it in Billings, we tried to jump on it and make sure you had a good quality job.”

Action Electric employees substantially completed the work by mid-December, and the county agrees they ultimately did a quality job.

“You’ve done great work for us,” Commissioner Lee Livingston told Griffin.

However, the county must still decide whether to penalize the company for being so late.
Action Electric won the job in April with a last-minute low bid that edged the next-closet bidder by only about $2,800 (roughly 2.5 percent).

Commissioners wondered if other electrical shops would have submitted lower bids if not for the July 1 deadline — and the potential penalties for missing that deadline.

“When they find out that it really wasn’t done until February (when the final punchlist was completed) and we didn’t do anything about it, in theory, they’re going to say, ‘That’s not fair,’” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf. “And especially in a small community ... that’s what we’re struggling with.”

Commissioners asked Griffin to submit a proposal on what he thinks should be done with the $12,260 retainage and he agreed to do that.

Griffin said the company would love to get full payment — “We’ve taken a butt-kicking down here pretty good (financially),” he said of this and other projects — but acknowledged “we have a very weak case.”

Commissioners will likely make a decision in April.

Feb 22, 2016

Legislature rejects tax-free rodeo tickets

A Cody lawmaker’s proposal to make rodeo tickets tax-free recently failed in the state House.

House Bill 157, sponsored by Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, needed a two-thirds majority vote for be introduced this budget session. Instead, more than three-quarters of the state’s representatives voted to kill the measure on Feb. 12.

Krone said on the House floor that the Cody Stampede Board has had a difficult time getting other businesses to sell Cody Nite Rodeo tickets “because they have to set up a separate system dealing particularly with those rodeo tickets and those sales.”

Tyler Waltz of Martin, Tennessee, competes during the 2015 Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede rodeo. The Legislature rejected a Cody lawmaker's proposal to make rodeo tickets tax-free. Cody News Co. file photo by Matt Naber
If the tax was gone and it wasn’t so difficult, he said more vendors could sell more tickets.

“(I)t would be a small amount that would not be received by the state, but you would have more folks staying in towns, going to rodeos, spending the night, spending their money in the communities,” Krone argued.

“Carving out exemptions to sales taxes is not a good thing,” countered Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper. “Let’s let them pay the 5 percent.”

(Park County’s current sales tax rate is actually 4 percent.)

Another opponent, Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, noted the state already has 11-and-a-half pages of exemptions. Madden said he suspected rodeo enthusiasts in Cody are “happy to watch the show and they’re happy to pay their fair share of the cost of running Wyoming when they’re here.”

Forty-six lawmakers cast nay votes on the proposal, with just 13 in favor.

Reps. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and David Northrup, R-Powell, joined Krone in voting aye. Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, and Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, were among those voting no.

Feb 19, 2016

Heart Mountain featured in Broadway show

A mural of Heart Mountain likely isn’t what you’d expect to see when attending a musical production on Broadway.

But that was one of the backdrops used in the theatrical production of “Allegiance,” attended by a group of 34 people from Northwest College in New York last month.

Based on the family history of George Takei — who played Mr. Sulu in the orignal “Star Trek” series — “Allegiance” is a story of a Japanese American family relocated to the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp during World War II. It is based on Takei’s family, though his family members actually were imprisoned in another camp.

Heart Mountain made it into the set of the Broadway production. Courtesy photo
For Ruth Pfaff, it was like seeing home away from home. Pfaff grew up on a homestead in the shadow of Heart Mountain, has written about the relocation camp and actually lived within the walls of the then-vacated camp for two and a half months while her father waited for barracks to be moved to his homestead after World War II.

“Go to New York and you see Heart Mountain? Wow. I was a bit emotional,” Pfaff said in a recent interview.

“Allegiance,” which ended its Broadway run on Sunday, is a musical based on the experiences of the Kimura family and set at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp during World War II, according to BroadwayWorld.com.

“Even younger Japanese-Americans don’t know about it, because those that experienced the internment — the pain, the suffering, the sense of loss and degradation and humiliation, didn’t want to inflict that pain on their children,” Takei told BroadwayWorld.com.

According to the playbill, “‘Allegiance’ was inspired by Takei, a moving story of love, war and heroism, set in a Japanese internment camp.”

In the musical, the Kimura family had to resettle at the Heart Mountain camp, Pfaff said.

“It’s about how they had to leave their homes with only what they could carry,” she said.

“An epic story told with great intimacy, ‘Allegiance’ explores the ties that bind us, the struggle to persevere, and the overwhelming power of forgiveness and, most especially, love,” the BroadwayWorld.com story concluded.

“It’s about how they had to leave their homes with only what they could carry,” said Pfaff, who took in the show with a group from NWC last month.

Takei was one of the actors in the show.

Pfaff said the show was great. But she enjoyed a back-stage visit the group had with with actor Telly Leung, who played Sammy Kimura, even more.

“He was a very dynamic speaker, and I enjoyed his talk,” Pfaff said.

Leung, of Chinese descent, told his story about becoming an actor, contrary to his parents’ wish that he become a doctor or lawyer.

“But that wasn’t his thing,” she said.

Members of the group told him they lived close to Heart Mountain, and he asked how close.

When they told him they lived just 15 miles from the mountain portrayed in the backdrop, he was surprised, she said. Although he knows its history, he’s never been anywhere near the mountain or the center.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to invite him to Heart Mountain?’” Pfaff said.

Warm and dry trend likely to linger through February

Temperate winter temperatures with trace precipitation may very well be the bellwether of spring.

Chuck Baker, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Riverton, said early spring is showing a dry, warm pattern.

“We could see a drought raising its ugly head as we go into spring,” Baker said.

Generally, there has been a high pressure ridge over the West pushing a major trough through the Midwest region. The result has been abnormally cold temperatures in the eastern United States and abnormally warm temperatures in western U.S., Baker said. Northwest winds from Alaska and the Yukon are funneling cold into the upper Midwest, northern Plains and Great Lakes. Downslope winds from the Alberta, Canada, and the Rocky Mountains are creating warm winds in northern Wyoming.

Sheep enjoy the warmer temperatures outside of Powell last week. Cody News Co. photo by Toby Bonner
“It’s typically called the February thaw,” Baker said.

January 2016 saw zilch precipitation over in Powell; the average is 0.22 inches.

No measurable precipitation has been reported thus far in February, but some areas have seen some small amounts of precipitation in the Big Horn Basin. The February average is 0.13 inches.

There is a chance of showers Thursday, but more than likely it will be confined to the Big Horn and Absaroka mountains, Baker said.

In the meantime, keep the sunblock handy while catching some rays.

“The mild temperatures look to be continuing until at least the end of the month,” Baker said.

A moderate El NiƱo could effect the winter/spring transition, making Wyoming warmer and drier on the east side of the Continental Divide, he said.

Still, he added that the area could very well experience a cold spell the end of this month and into March.

According to the Water Resources Data System from the University of Wyoming, Shoshone Basin’s snow water equivalent was 87 percent of average on Monday, with the Big Horn Basin at 70 percent.

Things are dry in the Big Horn Basin, although the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts spring inflow to Buffalo Bill Reservoir will be greater than its neighboring reservoirs to the north and south.

• April through July inflow for Buffalo Bill Reservoir from the Shoshone River is forecast at 570,000 acre-feet. That's 83 percent of the 30-year average of 686,300 acre-feet. As of Feb. 1, Buffalo Bill had 426,588 acre-feet of water in storage, making it 66 percent full.

• April through July inflow for Big Horn Lake from the Big Horn River was forecast at 596,200 acre-feet. That's a little more than half of the 30-year average of 1.11 million acre-feet. As of Feb. 1, Big Horn Lake had 870,379 acre-feet in storage, making it 85 percent full.
 • April through July inflow for Boysen Reservoir from the Wind River was forecast at 350,000 acre-feet, which is 64 percent of the 30-year average of 548,300 acre-feet. Boysen had 585,743 acre-feet of water at the start of the month, the Bureau of Reclamation says, making it 79 percent full.

‘Wild’ wind wreaks havoc with mats at landfill

High winds recently made
a mess of some reclamation work at the Powell landfill.

On Feb. 6, gusts of up to 50 miles per hour ripped up sheets of erosional matting from the ground and rolled them up into massive, tightly-wound tubes — some measuring around five feet high and hundreds of yards long.

“It’s wild the way it did it,” Park County Landfill Manager Tim Waddell said of the wind’s handiwork, adding later, “Once you see it and think about how heavy that crap had to be, you would think it would have just picked it up in big sheets and and blew it away.”

Recent high winds somehow pulled up and rolled up acres of erosional mats at the Powell landfill, leaving bare soil behind them. The roll was about five feet tall in some places. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

“The wind must have just caught it just perfectly right for it to happen the way it did,” added landfill office manger Sandie Morris. “Mother Nature is amazing.”

Landfill staffers working that Saturday did not see the mats getting rolled up, so “it either went extremely quickly or very slowly,” Morris theorized.

The matting was used to cover some reclaimed piles of old trash, a final touch on a $1.44 million reclamation project at the landfill east of Powell. The product is designed to hold in a seed mixture and moisture and — Waddell added with a rueful laugh — is supposed to keep wind from blowing away the soil it’s covering.

The matting — which was fastened to the ground with eight-inch metal staples — worked well in the reclamation of the Meeteetse landfill, Waddell said, and he thought it would work well in Powell, too.

“We probably haven’t had a 50-mile-an-hour wind event in three or four years, and, of course, as soon as you do, something like this (happens),” he said.

Replacing the erosional mats could cost upwards of $100,000, he said. The county is investigating what exactly went wrong and is submitting a claim to its insurer.

Waddell said that if insurance won’t pay for replacing the mats, the county may opt to go without them and simply re-seed the soil.

Feb 16, 2016

Cave outside Lovell holds remains of many extinct species

“Let’s jump into the cave,” said Gretchen Hurley, geologist with the Bureau of Land Management Cody field office.

Hurley received a hardy laugh from the packed house at Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Draper Museum of Natural History during the December Lunchtime Expedition.

“Not literally,” Hurley clarified.

BLM geologist Lisa Marks holds a replica of a short-faced bear skull. Short-faced bears roamed the state 1.8 million to 11,000 years ago and dwarfed today's biggest grizzlies, weighing up to 3,500 pounds. Cody News Co. photos by Gib Mathers
She was referring to the Natural Trap Cave in the Big Horn Mountains northeast of Lovell. There, wildlife as far back as 100,000 years ago unwittingly fell to their death, thereby creating a record of the types of Ice Age creatures — some, long extinct — that lived and died in Wyoming.

(For reference, many scientists believe the first people arrived on this continent around 11,000 years ago.)

The cave, with a 15-foot wide opening is 90 feet deep with a 90-foot wide chamber. It formed about 12.5 million years ago and continues to grow as water slowly decays the cave’s ceiling.

“It’s a perfect natural trap,” Hurley said.

Why would the animals fall into the cave to their certain death?

It is possible that a prey animal, such as a pronghorn being chased by an American cheetah (remains of both have been found in the cave) would not see the cave entrance while sprinting over the landscape until it was too late, Hurley said.

Other animals, such as wolves, might have been drawn to the scent of carcasses in the cave, sniffed around the opening and accidentally slipped and fell in.

Assorted varieties of horses have been found in the cave sediments, as well as mammoth, bighorn sheep, the American pronghorn, extinct bison and dire and gray wolves, Hurley said.

No saber tooth tigers have been found, but they were native to ancient Wyoming, Hurley said. Two other species missing are elk and deer.

Additionally, no human remains have been discovered in the cave thus far. However, a pack rat's stash did reveal part of an atlatl shaft, Hurley said. (An atlatl allowed a spear bearer to throw with greater accuracy and velocity.) No date has been provided, but the shaft is probably less than 1,000 years old.

Lawrence Loendorf was the first to officially explore the cave and its long-deceased occupants from 1970-76. From 1974-85, the universities of Missouri and of Kansas conducted paleontological excavations in the cave. Between 1970-1985, about 40,000 bones were collected by the two universities, Hurley said. “And then the cave was quiet about 30 years.”

Gretchen Hurley
Exploration of the cave was renewed in 2014. Dr. Julie Meachen, Des Moines University, Des Moines, Iowa, and Dr. Alan Cooper, Australian Center for Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, are now leading the project, Hurley said.

During the 2014-15 seasons, species of now-extinct horses were found in the sediments of the soft cave floor, which require little more than a trowel and brush to unearth, Hurley said. Most of an American cheetah's skull was also found last year.

Bighorn sheep, camels, dire and gray wolves and a short-faced bear’s remains have been unearthed. These bears, about twice the size of a grizzly bear, had longer legs and were taller and faster than today’s grizzly bear, Hurley said. An illustration shows the short-face bear as tall as a man while on all fours.

A dire wolf skull replica on the stage made a nearby coyote skull look like the skull of a squirrel by comparison.

Bones of an American lion have also been found. It was similar to lions in present day Africa, Hurley said. It came from Beringia, across the now submerged Bering land bridge, which was intact during the Pleistocene epoch (from 1.64 million to about 10,000 years ago).

It is believed by many scientists that America’s first humans crossed the miles-wide bridge, along with animal and plant species.

Portions of a Columbian mammoth — extinct 11,000 years — were discovered in the 1980s.

Sediments in the cave may be as old as 600,000 years, which corresponds to the last time the Yellowstone volcanic center erupted, Hurley said. 

The scientists will begin publishing papers about their findings in 2016.

Replicas of ancient animal skulls
“This is an international project taking place on your public lands,” Hurley said. “It’s world class.”

Scientists are examining isotopes and DNA from the cave’s fossils in an effort to determine what caused species’ extinctions about 11,000 years ago, Hurley said.

They are also sampling pollen, which allows scientists to determine the vegetation types in the area during the Pleistocene epoch, Hurley said.

The Natural Trap Cave formed in beds of compressed limestone that were squeezed structurally in a monocline (a bend in rock strata), Hurley said. Water dissolves limestone, forming carbonic acid, which further dissolves the limestone, forming caverns.

The bones in cave have been very well preserved, in “a natural refrigerator for all these years,” Hurley said.

Perhaps the spirits of the wildlife that came to a sudden and violent end still haunt the ancient sepulcher.

“You go down there and it feels like you stepped back into the Pleistocene (epoch),” Hurley said. “This kind of project comes along a once in a lifetime, and it’s a real privilege to work on this.”

Fee or free? County revising its ‘subjective’ rental rates at fairgrounds

County commissioners are trying to figure out who can use the Park County Fairgrounds for free and who has to pay.

Over two recent meetings, commissioners waived $2,830 worth of rental fees for nine upcoming events at the fairgrounds’ new exhibit hall.

There wasn’t a consistent pattern to the commissioners’ decisions: they waived all the fees for a nonprofit group of off-road vehicle enthusiasts, but required a $160 payment from another nonprofit that takes local youth camping, hiking, shooting and hunting; they also gave a discount to a farm equipment supplier to host a clinic on new products while declining to give one to a Home and Garden Expo put on by a Powell resident.

The Powell Medical Foundation's 2016 Mardi Gras fundraiser was one of the events for which commissioners waived the rental fees. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson
As commissioners worked through nine recent requests, Commissioner Joe Tilden said the county needs to create a uniform policy on who qualifies for discounts, saying the process has been “subjective and not objective.”

“This is all new to us and we will get a set policy,” Commission Chairman Tim French pledged at the Feb. 2 meeting.

The county revised and generally raised its rental rates in September. That set the fee for the new exhibit hall and kitchen at $415 a day for a personal or non-profit event ($500 for commercial uses). Fees go up or down if more or less of the building is used.

When the daily rates were established, Events Coordinator Echo Renner said they were intended to help the county break even on its costs.

Commissioners granted several fee waivers since setting the rates — including blood drives, Powell school testing, the community Thanksgiving dinner, a clogging recital and a dance for people with disabilities — and gave a significant discount for the Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels roller derby team’s practices.

But the increased number of requests over the past month gave them pause.

For one thing, “are we going to charge a minimum fee, period, or not?” French asked at the commission’s Jan. 19 meeting, noting the county has fixed costs, like utilities.

“The community’s argument is, ‘our tax dollars paid for it’ — which is a good point,” he added.

A summary of the discounts given by commissioners.
Commissioner Loren Grosskopf wondered if perhaps some buildings, such as the nearby Bicentennial Hall, should be available to nonprofits for free, while other buildings have a charge.

“If it’s a community function like the Easter egg hunt (put on by Powell Elks), waive the fee. If it’s something where they can pass that on to the consumer ... like the price of their banquet ticket, then I say don’t waive the fee,” Tilden suggested, adding later that “the whole thing’s very difficult.”

The Powell Medical Foundation’s annual Mardi Gras fundraising banquet was one of four nonprofit events for which commissioners Tilden, Grosskopf and Lee Livingston voted to waive fees on Jan. 19. The others were a remote controlled car race being put on by the nonprofit Wyoming Sagebrush Hoppers, the Northwest Wyoming Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance’s annual meeting/fundraiser and the Elks Club’s annual community Easter egg hunt.

Tilden had offered to recuse himself on the Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance’s meeting since he (along with Grosskopf) are members, but French said abstaining was unnecessary since “you told everybody you’re a member of it.”

Commissioner Bucky Hall voted no on all four waivers the board considered last month. He had suggested a 50 percent discount.

“(O)ur goal is to get a policy that you (Renner) make the call on them unless it’s out of the norm ... so we aren’t going through this exercise,” said Commission Chairman Tim French.

At the Feb. 2 meeting, commissioners waived the fees for another race being put on by the Sagebrush Hoppers and gave them a discount for their annual meeting and gear swap (only charging the $160 fee for the kitchen); commissioners similarly voted to charge only for the kitchen on a fundraising banquet being put on by Polestar Outdoors, a group that takes youth into the outdoors.

The commission also gave a 50 percent ($300) discount to Heart Mountain Farm Supply. The business is putting on an educational clinic about (and selling) new precision farming tools that can improve producers’ efficiency.

Tilden opposed giving most of those breaks.

Later, Hall and Livingston agreed with him and rejected a discount for the 12th annual Home and Garden Expo.

“Someone is making money off this and I don’t think it’s right for the taxpayers of this county to subsidize a money-making event,” Tilden said.

Grosskopf — who dissented from the decision to charge full price — questioned how the expo was different from Heart Mountain Farm Supply’s clinic.

“Well, it’s not,” Tilden said. “That’s why I voted against that one, too.”

Park County Fair Board members used to decide when fees would be waived, but commissioners took over that responsibility when they reshuffled the fairgrounds’ management last year.

French said the commissioners now want to come with a policy and leave the decisions up to Renner, the events coordinator.

“There’s always going to be an exception at some point, but our goal is to get a policy that you (Renner) make the call on them unless it’s out of the norm ... so we aren’t going through this exercise,” French said.

Feb 15, 2016

Man charged with animal cruelty re-arrested in Oregon

A Clark man facing 16 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty was re-arrested in Oregon last week. He now awaits extradition back to Park County.

Michael A. Wood, 39, was arrested by police in Oregon City, Oregon, on Feb. 9. Wood stands accused of failing to properly feed and care for 16 animals at his property on Crossfire Trail. The charges allege Wood's neglect led to the death of seven of his horses and three of his dogs, while six other horses became too thin.

Michael A. Wood
Wood was initially arrested on 13 counts relating to the horses. He pleaded not guilty at a Jan. 18 appearance in Park County's Circuit Court and was released from jail the next day, when his mother posted $7,500 bail.

However, after further investigation, authorities chose to file three more cruelty charges relating to the dead dogs. A warrant was issued for Wood’s arrest on Jan. 22.

The Park County Sheriff’s Office later got information that Wood was in Oregon City, Oregon, and informed police there.

On the morning of Feb. 9, “our patrol went out and they contacted him,” said Oregon City Police Sgt. Matt Paschall. “He was cooperative. He was arrested for his warrant and lodged in the (Clackamas County, Oregon) jail.”

Clackamas County jail records show Wood has agreed to be brought back to Wyoming. The Park County Sheriff’s Office said in a Wednesday night Facebook post that it was making arrangements to go get him.

Wood’s bond conditions allowed him to travel freely, so he was not breaking any court rules by being in Oregon.

Ice climber injured in Sunday fall

An Arizona man fell and was injured while ice climbing in the South Fork area Sunday afternoon.

Fifty-six-year-old Gary Weber of Phoenix had been climbing with a guide during the annual Cody Ice Climbing Festival, the Park County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

At the time of accident, Weber and the guide were reportedly descending from the summit of an ice flow.

“The guide was lowering Weber down the flow when, due to his inattention, he ran out of rope causing Weber to fall,” sheriff’s spokesman Lance Mathess wrote in Monday's release.

Weber reportedly fell about 30 feet before catching himself with his ice axe; the Sheriff’s Office said that stopped him from falling another 50 feet.

Authorities were contacted at 1:30 p.m.

Fellow climbers were able to reach Weber and lower him down the rest of the way.

His companions stabilized Weber — who complained of injuries to his lower left leg — and helped him to a waiting ambulance from West Park Hospital, the release said.

Cody Ice Climbing Festival Organizer Don Foote Jr. said Weber broke his ankle and was released from the hospital after a "short 22 hour stay."

"He is in good spirits, talking about his new boots he won from Garmont and making plans to return" to the ice climbing festival next year, Foote wrote in a Facebook post.

Foote also took to a mountaineering forum to dispute that Weber had been with a guide.

"Two friends, one giving instructional advice, NOT a guide, these two have climbed together in past and yes a human error was made by not tying the safety knot on the end of the rope. A mistake made by many unfortunately," Foote wrote on Mountain Project.

The ice flow in question is on the east side of the Shoshone River, near the Majo Ranch and southeast of the Cabin Creek Trailhead parking area at the end of the South Fork Road.

Editor's note: This version removes a reference to the accident location being the "High on Boulder" ice flow, as identified by the Sheriff's Office. Foote told the Cody Enterprise the incident actually took place on "Moonrise WI5."

Feb 12, 2016

Two dozen grizzly bears were captured in Park County last year

Of the 45 grizzly bears captured and relocated in Northwest Wyoming last year, most were in Park County.

Twenty-four grizzlies were caught in Park County, 16 in Sublette County, seven in Fremont County and two in Teton County, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s 2015 report, “Grizzly Bear Management, Capture, Relocations, and Removals in Northwest Wyoming.”

Brian DeBolt, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore conflict coordinator in Lander, performs a BIA (bio impedance analysis or body fat composition) on a bear. Photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish
The majority of captures were lone grizzlies of all ages, but two family groups also were caught. That included a sow and two cubs that were caught snacking at the Cody landfill.

Of the two dozen grizzlies captured in Park County last year, 12 were relocated to Teton County while Park County received one bruin from Teton County, the report says.

Out of 242 documented conflicts last year, Game and Fish captured 28 black bears and relocated 18, said Brian DeBolt, Game and Fish large carnivore conflict coordinator in Lander. Ten were lethally removed.

Across the state, 17 grizzlies were put down in 2015. While the data he cited covers the entire state, the grizzly conflicts are concentrated in Northwest Wyoming, DeBolt said.

“In 2014, out of 164 documented grizzly bear conflicts, we captured 22 grizzly bears in 23 capture events and 14 were relocated,” DeBolt said. Eight were lethally removed.

Game and Fish relocates and removes black and grizzly bears as part of routine management operations. Capturing and relocating bears where conflicts occur is common throughout the world, according to Game and Fish.

“Many bears find a ‘niche’ somewhere and stay out of trouble. Relocation is an effective, non-lethal tool to prevent/mitigate conflicts with both black and grizzly bears,” DeBolt said.

Relocation of grizzlies reduces the chance of property damage, lessens the potential for bears to become food conditioned, allows bears to forage on natural foods, remain wary of people and provides a non-lethal option when and where it is appropriate, said Brian Nesvik, Game and Fish chief of the Wildlife Division.

Game and Fish staff prepare the report and submit it to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee.

In 2005, the Wyoming Legislature enacted House Bill 203, which created a grizzly bear relocation statute requiring the department to provide notification to the county sheriff of the county to which the grizzly bear is relocated within five days and shall issue a press release to the media and sheriff in the county where each grizzly bear is relocated, according to the report.

The full report is available at http://tinyurl.com/j88vorw.


All relocated independent grizzlies more than 2 years old were fitted with radio-tracking collars to monitor their movements after release, according to the report. Attempts to obtain locations on marked grizzly bears through aerial telemetry were made approximately every 10-14 days.

There are roughly 62 grizzly bears with active radio-collars in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) now, so it is difficult to document the number of problem bears returning to the scene of their problems, DeBolt said. Some bears return quickly to their capture location, exhibiting conflict behavior, and are captured again.

“Many bears find a ‘niche’ somewhere and stay out of trouble. Relocation is an effective, non-lethal tool to prevent/mitigate conflicts with both black and grizzly bears,” DeBolt said.

Grizzly bears are relocated in accordance with state and federal laws, regulations and policy. More information about how the Game and Fish manages grizzly bears is available at http://tinyurl.com/jjkhbp6.

Long-term trends in the number of conflicts is likely a result of grizzly bears increasing in numbers and expanding into areas used by humans, on public and private property, including land used for livestock production, Debolt said.

As the ecosystem's grizzly population continues to grow and expand in distribution, bears encounter food sources such as livestock and livestock feed, garbage and pet food, resulting in increased property damage and threats to human safety.

Conflict prevention measures, such as attractant storage, deterrence and education are the highest priority for the Game and Fish Department. Through the Bear Wise program, Game and Fish employees continue to educate the public about how to proactively live and recreate in bear country to avoid conflicts. More information is available at http://tinyurl.com/zylqfzz.

Feb 11, 2016

Cody school employee alleged to have had sex with student

A 24-year-old Powell man is alleged to have had a months-long sexual relationship with a 16-year-old he reportedly met during his then-job with the Cody school district.

Ryan C. Swanson, who’s been jailed since his Dec. 17 arrest, stands charged with five felony counts of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor.

Cody police say both Swanson and the girl acknowledged the sexual relationship in December

Ryan Swanson
The charges allege Swanson took “immodest, immoral or indecent liberties” with someone under the age of 17 while being four or more years older. Each count relates to a different location where Swanson allegedly had intercourse with the girl. That includes an alleged encounter at a school facility, when school was not in session.

Swanson worked for the Cody district for about a year as a part-time sound and light technician. The district terminated Swanson from his position after his arrest, said Park County School District No. 6 Superintendent Ray Schulte.

At a Jan. 20 preliminary hearing, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters allowed Swanson’s case to proceed toward a trial in District Court while lowering his bail from $50,000 to $20,000 cash.

“He’s compassionate, caring and a helpful person,” Swanson’s defense attorney, Tom Sutherland of Casper, said in arguing for a lower bond. Sutherland submitted a packet of letters attesting to Swanson’s good character, written by family members, people he’s worked for and one of his former professors at Northwest College.

The defense attorney said an order for Swanson to stay away from the alleged victim would be enough of a safeguard for the community.

“There’s only one allegation by one student he was around — and he was around hundreds of students at this job at the high school,” Sutherland said, asking for a $25,000 surety bond.

Judge Waters said that, after listening to Cody Police Detective Ron Parduba’s recounting of the case at the preliminary hearing, he was “a little less concerned about some of the issues.”

However, he also warned Swanson that, in addition to the age difference, it’s generally illegal for someone to have sex with a person if they’re in a “position of authority” over them.

“This kind of situation, one is playing with fire, big time, as you’ve discovered,” Waters told Swanson. “And that does cause the court concern about that public safety element. I understand it’s just one student, but it was a student at the high school over which you weren’t necessarily a teacher, but certainly (a student) you were in a position to be around and be working with.”

Law enforcement isn’t exactly sure when the alleged sexual encounters occurred, but believes they took place sometime between early July and mid-December 2015.

“This kind of situation, one is playing with fire, big time, as you’ve discovered,” Judge Bruce Waters told Swanson.

The girl’s relationship with Swanson apparently drew her pastor’s concern in July, according to an affidavit from Parduba submitted in the case. The affidavit says the pastor made the girl tell her parents and she told them she would stop talking to Swanson. The pastor also contacted superintendent Schulte, who, in turn, contacted police.

While expressing concern that the relationship was inappropriate, the pastor apparently didn’t express any knowledge that it was sexual; he also would not divulge the girl’s name to authorities, Parduba wrote.

Schulte told the Tribune he later followed up with Cody police about their investigation, “at which point the investigator told me he didn’t find anything.”

Schulte says he told Parduba the school district planned to speak with Swanson before the start of the school year, and Parduba asked if he could sit in on that interview.

“I said, ‘Well, you did your investigation. I don’t know why you’d need to sit in on our meeting,’” Schulte recounted to the Tribune.

Detective Parduba recalls it differently. He wrote in his affidavit and testified in court that he’d asked Schulte to notify him when the school interviewed Swanson — so that he could attend — and that Schulte never let him know.

Whichever the case, Schulte and Cody High School Activities Director Tony Hult ended up confronting Swanson without Parduba.

“Swanson said he was just being friendly; texting with the kids,” Parduba wrote of Hult’s later recollection of the conversation. “Swanson told them it might have been inappropriate in talking to the girl too much and that he would stop.”

The girl later told authorities she and Swanson did start as just friends, but things apparently became sexual sometime over the summer break, the affidavit says.

In early December, the girl reportedly told a teacher’s assistant she was sleeping with Swanson and the assistant notified his supervisor. Schulte again notified Cody police, who conducted a series of interviews.

One of the girl’s friends provided Parduba with a text Swanson reportedly sent to the girl, “describing a number of sexual acts he would like to do to her,” the affidavit says.

When Parduba searched the girl’s phone, “the one message that I got was Ryan (Swanson) telling her to delete all her messages and her texts between the two of them,” the detective testified at last month’s hearing.

The teacher’s assistant said the girl told him Swanson had been abusive, but the girl later told Parduba that Swanson had never mistreated her and always was very nice, the affidavit says.

Authorities arrested Swanson at Cody High School on Dec. 17.

In an interview with Cody Sgt. Jon Beck after his arrest, “Mr. Swanson told Sgt. Beck ... that he did in fact have a sexual relationship with the victim,” Parduba testified. Differing from the girl’s account, Swanson apparently did not recall an encounter on school property, Parduba indicated.

Swanson is set to enter a plea to the five charges at a Feb. 24 arraignment.

~ By CJ Baker

Congressional candidate Rex Rammell lays out goals, discusses his past

Voters in the Big Horn Basin may be unfamiliar with Republican congressional candidate Rex Rammell and a quick Google search paints what he considers to be a misleading picture of his character — allegations of poaching, jury tampering and defying authority.

“That is the only thing I am worried about, if people do that, they will get one side of the story and it is not the friendly side,” Rammell said. “Anybody that puts up a fight against government these days, you can expect hell if you put up any kind of a fight at all. Our society is such a police state any more — they don’t like resistance.”

Rex Rammell
Rammell ran an elk operation in Idaho and an order was issued to kill his elk that had escaped his property. One was killed in front of him, he said.

“I sat on the elk and I told (Idaho) Fish and Game they couldn’t have her,” Rammell said, adding that he was acquitted six months later.

The only ding on his Rammell’s record is for hunting in the wrong zone (a misdemeanor), he said.

“I had a license and a tag, my tag wasn’t valid in that area — that is hardly poaching,” Rammell said. “Where I come from, if you don’t have a violation, you haven’t been in the woods. They have the dumbest rules.”

Rammell hails from Tetonia, Idaho, on the Idaho/Wyoming border. While in Idaho, he ran for U.S. Senate in 2008, governor in 2010 and the Idaho House of Representatives in 2012. He was defeated in all three elections and moved to Wyoming to work as a veterinarian.

“I have never done anything in Idaho that I am ashamed of, or in Wyoming,” Rammell said, noting he was arrested twice — once for the elk incident and another for handing out informational papers on to a jury outside of the courthouse during his Idaho Fish and Game trial. The papers provided details on how juries can ignore the judge’s orders, he said.

“The judge wasn’t going to let me present a defense,” Rammell said, noting the defense he had lined up was an Idaho law that you can’t be charged with a crime when there was no criminal intent. “I was trying to get them to do a jury nullification on my trial so I could have a defense and I got arrested for it.”

Rammell’s charges were reduced from jury tampering to contempt of court and he paid a fine so it’s not on his record, he said.

“Most people go to (Washington) D.C. and become criminals and I already have that behind me — all those things were in some form of protest,” Rammell said.

This image appears on Rex Rammell's campaign website.
He attributes the negativity surrounding his online presence and his failed campaigns in the past to fighting government authority.

“I have always supported killing wolves and I still do,” Rammell said. “I think they were dropped on us illegally and if I had authority I would have every one of them killed.”

His stance on wolves spurred an unexpected headline claiming he wanted to hunt for President Barack Obama, he said.

During a speech about wolf hunting, he said he asked the crowd if they were ready to hunt for wolves and a member of the crowd said she would like a tag for Obama.

“It took me by surprise and I said I would buy one of those and the next thing I knew the headlines were ‘Rammell wants a hunting season on Obama’ and I had to explain what happened there — I got more votes from that because people thought it was funny,” Rammell said. “The FBI called me up and asked if I was serious and I said it was a joke. I don’t like the guy, but I don’t want him assassinated. It is really easy to make the headlines unintentionally ... they will distort the meaning of what you do or did that is just politics.”

“Most people go to (Washington) D.C. and become criminals and I already have that behind me,” Rammell quipped. “All those things were in some form of protest.”

He said he moved to Wyoming to ignore politics and work as a veterinarian.

“Liz Cheney is being pounded for being a carpet bagger and people ask how I am different, but the difference is I never left the West,” Rammell said.

Then in December, he heard Cynthia Lummis was not seeking re-election and decided he would give politics another shot, he said.

“The honest truth is we need someone willing to fight and take a risk. Thomas Jefferson said ‘when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty’ and that has been my mantra all my life actually. I think a congressman willing to fight would be a nice change,” Rammell said. 

Now he’s trying to finish what he started trying to do in Idaho — turn over federal lands to the state.

“Returning public lands to the state would be the greatest thing to ever happen in the West,” Rammell said, adding that it would impact marriage, abortion and gun rights as well as education and industrial sectors. “I am a one-issue candidate, but it rolls over into many issues.”

Rammell said he believes Wyoming would not be in its current financial situation if the state controlled the land.

“Wyoming is going to go broke without the mineral industry,” Rammell said. “I am from Gillette and people are freaking out there, losing their jobs and worried there’s not enough money to run the county. If we owned the ground, then confidence would come back in the coal industry and we could determine our own future on that and oil and gas — it is a big issue that impacts a lot of people and industry.”

Commissioners put freeze on all Park County hires

Park County commissioners have implemented a hiring freeze, requiring that no one be hired — even to fill existing positions — without their approval.

“No additional employees, period, end of story, and if you need to replace somebody that’s currently hired, you’ve got to come before us,” Commission Chairman Tim French summarized of last week's decision.

The freeze is an attempt to be proactive as the county government braces for a drop in funding for the next budget year, starting in July. Commissioners fear they’ll have to trim spending by 15 percent or more. Those cuts, which follow smaller cuts in recent years, would be harder to make if the county intends to keep all of its current employees; their wages and benefits make up around 43 percent of the county’s $26.6 million budget this year.

“I think every department should be looking at ways to tighten things up, because we’re headed into some pretty tight times,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston.

Commissioners said they’d much rather lower their personnel costs through attrition — that is, by not replacing employees who leave the county — than by letting people go. They urged the county’s other elected officials and department heads to think hard about what full-time, part-time and temporary positions are really needed before filling those jobs.

“Business as usual is no longer here in Park County and we have to make significant, detrimental changes,” Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said before the Feb. 2 vote. “We don’t have any choice.”

If the county’s departments are unable to come up with enough cuts and reductions on their own, commissioners could face tougher-than-usual decisions.

“Is it making the public wait a little bit longer in the treasurer’s office, or does that mean the sheriff doesn’t have anybody to run detention?” Grosskopf asked rhetorically. “I mean at some point, this could be a real slippery slope to determine what’s a critical need.”

French voiced similar concerns.

“It’s going to be, ‘well, is the sheriff’s guy (or) gal more important than your nurse? Is the nurse more important your assessor out there in the field?’ How far do we want to go?” he asked.

“I think that’s what we’ve been asked to do by the people of the county,” Commissioner Lee Livingston responded. “It isn’t going to be easy.”

Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Cramptom received the commission's blessing to fill a vacant position. Cody News Co. photo
The first hire to be considered under the freeze — replacing a nurse who left the public health department — received commissioners’ approval after some questioning on Feb. 2.

Park County Assessor Pat Meyer said the county’s property tax base (and, in turn, property tax collections) will likely sink to 2006 levels. Meyer described it as something that can be worked out and noted the county has had big drops in revenue before.

“The hiring freeze is fine,” he said. “I just don’t want us to jump the gun too much.”

Livingston saw the freeze as simply the way a business should be run. If you have a need and the money to fill a position, you do it; if not, you don’t, he said.

“I think every department should be looking at ways to tighten things up, because we’re headed into some pretty tight times,” Livingston said.

Feb 10, 2016

Cody's Ms. Wyoming USA Universal promotes Big Brothers Big Sisters

A little time can make a big difference in a kid’s life, so Ms. Wyoming USA Universal 2016, Robyn Beadles of Cody, is centering her platform around Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“I may be one person, but I can be the one person that can make a difference in someone’s life,” Beadles said. “That is my goal through this whole thing is trying to change someone’s life; because once that cycle is broken in her life, she can blossom and do that to someone else.”

Ms. Wyoming USA Universal 2016 — Robyn Beadles of Cody — recently began volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Cody News Co. photo by Matt Naber
The organization pairs up “Bigs” and “Littles” based on their interests and matches are only made it they have a good fit, said Nikki Schleich, program director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Wyoming. This branch of the national organization covers Park, Big Horn, Fremont, Hot Springs and Washakie counties.

It took about a month to make the match, and Beadles was paired up with a little girl with behavioral issues at the beginning of the year. Since then Beadles’ “Little” has improved academically, socially and increased her self confidence.

These big changes spurred from the little things — having lunch together, going ice skating or swimming, making jewelry and visiting museums.

“I try to expose her to the community as much as I can,” Beadles said. “The deal is if she does well in school and is passing and listening, then it is a reward to hang out with Ms. Robyn.”

Beadles also helps her Little with her social skills by having her interact with her kids, she said.

“I told them, ‘you come from a great home, but some kids don’t get a home like you get, so we need to make them feel special,’” Beadles said.

Beadles recently threw her Little her first birthday party ever and it was the happiest anyone had seen her before.

“She has never been a happy and content child, we want to see her be a happy and content child,” Schleich said.

Her Little loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian, so Beadles plans on taking her to Yellowstone and they will be volunteering at an animal shelter and taking a trip to the animal refuge in Red Lodge, Montana, she said.

“I want her to follow her dreams,” Beadles said. “It just makes me feel good to make a difference in her life.”

Big need in Big Horn Basin
Park County has 39 matches and 15 children on a waiting list — 13 of which are boys ranging from 6-13 years old.

“It is harder to recruit mentors than it is to recruit mentees,” Schleich said, adding that inquiry calls come in daily about possible kids who could benefit from the program.

“They are all different,” Schleich said. “Some are super active and into sports, others like video games and science experiments — we’ve got something for everyone.”

Mentors need to be 18 years old or older, able to make a one-year commitment to spend time with their Little, pass a background check and just have an interest in being a friend to a kid who needs something to look forward to every week.

“With men, I feel they are worried they will take on a fathership role and we don’t want that — just there to be a buddy, like a little brother who needs a positive influence,” Schleich said. “The majority of our kids come from troubled backgrounds.”

The reservation most have is it is such a time commitment, Schleich said.

“We have found that short amount of time makes a huge impact on a child’s life,” Schleich said.

Typically, Bigs spend an hour a week or two hours every two weeks with their Little, but Beadles ups the ante and spends about 15 hours a week with her Little.

According to Big Brothers Big Sisters, after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, the Littles were:

• 52 percent less likely to skip school
• 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs
• 37 percent less likely to skip a class
• 33 percent less likely to hit someone
• 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol

It’s not just the Little who benefits from the program, Beadles said.

“She changed my life and I changed hers,” Beadles said. “I have never been around children like that and it opened my eyes that there are troubled children out there and people turn a blind eye to that.”

With Big Brothers Big Sisters as her platform, Beadles intends to draw attention to the organization’s events such as Bowl for Kids Sake which is set for April 15 for high school and college students at Classic Lanes and then the adult tournament on April 16 in Cody.

“We are always planting for little seeds to bloom,” Beadles said. 

For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Wyoming, visit facebook.com/bbbsnwwy.

Feb 8, 2016

Robbery reported at Cody car wash

A woman was reportedly attacked and robbed of money and prescription pills during a Wednesday morning incident at a Cody car wash.

Cody police are investigating the crime, which reportedly occurred around 3 a.m. Wednesday. It was reported to authorities Thursday morning.

The woman told police she was attacked from behind as she vacuumed her car at Yankee Carwash on Big Horn Avenue.

According to a Monday news release from Cody police, the woman said a white male — wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and black pants — grabbed her and demanded the money in her purse. After giving him the cash, she said the male hit her multiple times and ripped away her purse.

“During the struggle, a bottle of prescription medication fell from the victim’s purse and spilled onto the ground,” Cody police spokesman John Harris said of the woman’s account. “The male grabbed some of the pills off of the ground then fled in an unknown direction.”

The woman described the male as approximately 5’10” tall and 165 pounds.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Cody Police Officer Eric Wright at 307-527-8700 or to make an anonymous online report at http://tinyurl.com/CodyPDtips.

Dog shot in Wapiti; sheriff's office investigating

Authorities want to know who shot a dog in a Wapiti subdivision Friday morning.

The Park County Sheriff’s Office says someone driving along Green Creek Road apparently shot a black Lab/Corgi mix that was near the road. The dog was not behind a fence and was about 75 yards from its owner’s home, the Sheriff’s Office says.

The incident occurred around 11 a.m. Friday.

One of the home’s residents told a deputy he heard a gunshot and then the dog yelping, the Sheriff’s Office recounted in a Monday news release. The resident then saw the animal running toward him, yelping in pain and bleeding from a bullet hole in its rear right leg, the release said; the man — who spoke to the deputy Friday afternoon — didn’t see the vehicle or person who’d fired the shot.

The dog was taken to a local veterinary clinic for treatment and later released, the Sheriff’s Office said; the bullet reportedly passed through the animal’s leg without causing major damage.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 307-527-8700.

Feb 5, 2016

No local services expected to be lost when Susan G. Komen leaves Wyoming

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation plans to pull out of the state of Wyoming at the end of the year and take its grant funding with it.

The foundation, with its slogan “Ending breast cancer forever,” was created in honor of a breast cancer victim. It aims to promote breast health and raises money for research and prevention through its annual “Race for the Cure” events.

According to Charity Navigator, 80.3 percent of the $228.4 million the Susan G. Komen Foundation raised nationwide in 2014 was spent on the programs and services it delivers.

The impact of the foundation’s withdrawal will be felt in organizations around the state, such as Northwest Family Planning in Cody.

Michelle Gutierrez, director of Northwest Family Planning, said that organization still has grant money from the Komen foundation available through April.

“We can still help women in the community get breast health services,” she said.

In addition, Northwest Family Planning raised $2,000 last fall through its Lights of Hope program. That money will be used to provide breast health services as well, she said.

“We hope to be able to do that again this year,” she added.

Thanks to local fundraising efforts, Gutierrez said she doesn’t expect any changes in services as a result of the loss of the Komen Foundation grant, though that loss was not something she expected.

“It is unfortunate that Susan Komen is pulling out of our area, but if we do our own things, it will be OK,” she said. “We’re fortunate in this area that so many people support breast health.”

Northwest Family Planning also refers women with breast health concerns to other organizations, such as the Wyoming Cervical Cancer and Breast Health Program and the Avon Foundation, she said.

“There are other options out there; it’s just that the funding isn’t streamed through us,” she said.

Northwest Family Planning assumed the local Women’s Health role last year after the former Migrant Health Service office closed in Powell.

“We felt there was a need to keep it up, so we took on the Komen grant after that,” Gutierrez said.

Migrant health services will return to Powell this year through Ag Worker and Health Services, under the management of Montana Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Council Inc.

Hula hoops raise awareness, funds for Cody mentoring

A hula-hoop competition last week brought lots of smiles and laughter as youngsters and college students tried to keep their hoops looping around their waists while performing other tasks.

More importantly, the event raised awareness and money for the Bright Futures Mentoring Program in Cody.

Northwest College women’s soccer players (from front) Caddie Lewis of Idaho Falls, Idaho, Taylor Gregory of Gillette and Katie Hoff of Billings navigate an obstacle course while hula hooping on Jan. 28 at the Cody Auditorium. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson
Bright Futures Mentoring is a home-grown concept consisting of six different mentoring programs benefitting youth in Cody. The program’s main goal is to match school-age children in need of supportive mentoring to caring role models appropriate to their needs.

Executive director Michelle Tidball said the one-on-one mentoring program was created 16 years ago through Park County Mental Health, which later became Yellowstone Behavioral Health. Two years later, Bright Futures went out on its own as a nonprofit organization.

Today, Bright Futures Mentoring works with about 270 youth each month, Tidball said.

“We’re always growing, depending on the needs of our community,” she said. “We are not federally funded; all support (is) local.”

Since its inception, the program has expanded to include adult mentors in schools, high school students mentoring elementary students in schools and older high school students mentoring new high school students.

Tori Lewis of Meeteetse, a member of the NWC rodeo team, throws a loop at a dummy while trying (unsuccessfully) to keep a hula hoop in motion — something the whole team found difficult. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson
In addition, a self-esteem program helps students focus on good friendships and stay away from bad influences, develop good grooming habits and living by the Code of the West, she said.

Tidball said she invites Northwest College rodeo team to do a presentation each year about the Code of the West, including being true to your word. Their presentation always is inspirational and interesting for the kids in the program, she said.

The NWC rodeo team also participates in the annual hula-hoop competition. This year, the NWC soccer team joined in the fun.

Last week’s third annual competition was timed to coincide with National Mentoring Month in January. Its primary goal was to raise awareness, but it also served to raise money for Bright Futures Mentoring through sponsorships and donations.

“One of our kids raised $600,” Tidball said.

Feb 3, 2016

Selling tens of thouands of dollars of stolen silverware results in jail sentence

Selling $23,000 worth of silverware for $250 recently landed a local man in jail for more than half-a-year.

Jesse L. Gonzalez’s crime wasn’t getting a bad price for the Tiffany and Co.-crafted utensils, but rather that he was selling stolen property.

Gonzalez, 29, recently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of receiving, concealing or disposing of stolen property for selling the silverware and a stolen leaf blower to a Cody pawn store in 2010.

At a Jan. 8 hearing in Park County District Court, he was credited for the roughly six and a half months he spent in jail over the past year and ordered to pay $545 in court fines and fees and another $959.46 in restitution. That includes having to pay back the $250 that Palmer’s Outpost’s owner paid for the silverware and the $40 she paid for the STIHL blower.

Those items were found to be missing from the Two Dot Ranch — located north of Cody — in late August 2010.

A ranch representative told the Park County Sheriff’s Office that the Tiffany silverware had been out in November 2009, when the Two Dot’s owners were in town.

However, when the silverware was taken out for cleaning in August 2010, numerous pieces were found to be missing, Sheriff’s Sgt. Chad McKinney wrote in an affidavit included in court records. The missing pieces were valued at just under $22,930, McKinney was told.

In addition, a leaf blower had also gone missing a couple weeks earlier.

Gonzalez was named as a possible suspect as he’d performed work on the Two Dot Ranch with a lawn company, McKinney wrote.

Cody police combed through pawn slips to find the missing Tiffany and Co. silverware and ultimately learned Gonzalez had sold it and a leaf blower to Palmer’s Outpost, the affidavit says.

The pawn store’s owner had actually kept the silverware for herself and was able to turn it over to law enforcement, McKinney wrote.

“We found that everything was accounted for along with some pieces that had not been reported as stolen,” the deputy wrote.

Gonzalez initially told McKinney his grandmother had left him the silverware after her death, but later changed his story and claimed he’d gotten the pieces from two different people in exchange for marijuana and prescription drugs, the affidavit says. The leaf blower, he claimed, came from a yard sale.

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Sam Krone said the four-year gap between Gonzalez’s September 2010 interview with McKinney and the filing of the criminal case in October 2014 stemmed from law enforcement not knowing where Gonzalez was.

Gonzalez was initially charged with a felony count of receiving, concealing or disposing of stolen property (alleging the stolen items were valued at $1,000 or more), but prosecutors lowered it to a misdemeanor (technically alleging the stolen items’ value was less than $1,000) as part of a plea deal.

Gonzalez was the only person charged in connection with the Two Dot Ranch’s stolen items.

The sprawling ranch is owned by Houston billionaire Fayez Sarofim, according to past reporting by the Wall Street Journal and public records.

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