May 16, 2016

Park County a relatively healthy place, rankings say

When compared to the rest of Wyoming and the country, data suggests Park County residents are generally living longer and healthier lives.

The 2016 County Health Rankings — released in March by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute — are aimed at pointing out areas where counties could be doing better.

Overall, the rankings say the length and quality of life in Park County is sixth best among Wyoming’s 23 counties — down a spot from the 2015 rankings.

The 2016 County Health Rankings rank Park County 6th among the state's 23 counties for health outcomes. Graphic courtesy countyhealthrankings.org
Meanwhile, Park County’s “health factors,” a mix of nearly 30 measures of behavior, healthcare, the environment and social and economic well-being, ranked ninth in the state. That was down from a fourth-place ranking in 2015.


The annual County Health Rankings rely on a large pool of information from many different government agencies. The rankings draw upon the most recent data available, but many of those figures date back several years.

For example, to measure how long people in Park County are living, the 2016 County Health Rankings use mortality data collected by the National Vital Statistics System from 2011 to 2013.

That data was used to calculate “years of potential life lost” — a figure meant to show many people are dying in Park County “prematurely,” or before the age of 75.

“Measuring premature mortality, rather than overall mortality, reflects the County Health Rankings’ intent to focus attention on deaths that could have been prevented,” says a note on the rankings.

Their calculations concluded that premature deaths cause Park County to lose 63 years of potential life per 1,000 residents.

Park County was ranked 9th for its health factors. Graphic courtesy countyhealthrankings.org
As for Park County’s quality of life, the rankings rely in part on a 2014 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That survey found 88 percent of county residents reported being in “excellent,” “very good” or “good” health — a couple percentage points better than Wyoming as a whole and roughly 4 percent better than the national median.

The survey also found that the average Park County resident reported having been physically and/or mentally unhealthy for about three of the prior 30 days; around 9 percent of residents reported that at least half their days were unhealthy.

The “health outcomes” category of the rankings were also based on what percentage of local babies were born with a low weight. (Being underweight can mean a higher risk of death for the child and also be an indicator of the mother’s health, the rankings site says.)

Data from the National Vital Statistics System, collected between 2007 and 2013, show that around 8 percent of the babies born in Park County had a low weight at their birth. That was roughly in-line with the state and country as a whole.

Other data compiled on the County Health Rankings’ website say:

  • About a quarter of Park County’s population, or 25 percent, is obese
  • Around one in four residents (23 percent) say they get no physical activity in their free time
  • Some 17 percent of local residents report either binge or heavy drinking
  • 28 percent of county residents don’t get enough sleep, snoozing less than seven hours a night
  • Around 16 percent of adults currently smoke
  • About 17 percent of county residents do not have health insurance

Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton says his office continues to work on improving many of the figures featured in the rankings. For example, to combat low birth weight, one of the things public health will teach mothers is to not induce labor early just for the sake of convenience, Crampton said.

Other public health efforts include promoting physical activity, offering opportunities for adults — and particularly mothers and new parents — to stop smoking, working to prevent suicides and helping run programs to manage chronic diseases like diabetes, he said.

The data used in the county rankings “are why we focus on some of those, just because of this information and the fact that our population is getting older,” Crampton said.

To view the compiled or raw data — or learn more about the rankings — visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.

~By CJ Baker

BLM hosting another open house on its new land use plan

The Bureau of Land Management's Cody Field Office is hosting another open house on Thursday to discuss the implementation of its new land use plan.

The meeting will give people an opportunity to weigh in on which projects should take the highest priority as the BLM implements its new Resource Management Plan.

“We’re hosting another open house because we want to ensure we are hearing from people what they think our implementation priorities should be,” Cody Field Manager Delissa Minnick said in a statement. “There will be future opportunities for participation in the implementation process, but this is a critical first step.”

The roughly 600-page Cody Resource Management Plan was finalized last September after years of work by the agency, other local agencies and interested citizens. It was part of a process that revised the BLM's plans for managing the entire Big Horn Basin. "Robust public involvement" was key to finishing the document, the BLM says, and it will continue to keep the public involved as the new plan is implemented.

Thurdsay's open house will be held in the Grizzly Room at the Park County Public Library in Cody, 1500 Heart Mountain Street, from 5-7 p.m.

The BLM scheduled Thursday's event after an April open house at the Cody Club Room drew only a small crowd.

For more information about the approved Resource Management Plan and how to stay involved, visit the Cody Field Office's website or contact BLM Planning and Environmental Coordinator Bradley Johnson at 307-578-5928 or bbjohnson@blm.gov.

May 13, 2016

Commissioners wish they hadn’t put Yellowstone in Powell school district

The federal government might send fewer dollars to Park County this year. That has Park County commissioners wishing they could force the government to foot the bill for the education of students living in Yellowstone National Park.

At their May 3 meeting, commissioners set aside time on their agenda to express regret that they helped clear the way for the State of Wyoming to pay for Yellowstone children’s education.

“I wish I had a do-over,” said Commissioner Joe Tilden.

The state of Wyoming pays for the education of the children living in Yellowstone National Park's Mammoth Hot Springs. File photo courtesy Neal Herbert, National Park Service
Acting as the Park County District Boundary Board, commissioners, the county treasurer and the county assessor grudgingly agreed to add the northern half of Yellowstone to the Powell school district in 2014; Commissioner Lee Livingston voted no.

The decision allowed the state to start paying the roughly $450,000 that it costs for the few dozen children in Mammoth Hot Springs to be educated in Gardiner, Montana, each year.

The county board’s vote to expand the Powell district’s boundary into Yellowstone came at the repeated urging of other local and state officials; they included the Powell school board, Gov. Matt Mead and then-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill. Those officials all said that’s what the law required — noting Wyoming’s constitutional obligation to educate children in the state.

Funding comes from the state; school officials in Powell and Gardiner officials have said the new arrangement is working smoothly.

Last week’s discussion gave commissioners a chance to publicly rehash their belief that the federal government should be paying for the schooling, but it did little else.

“Once you created that, or allowed it to happen, it’s done,” Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric told the commission last week.

Reversing course and shrinking the boundary to exclude Yellowstone would require agreement from the Powell and Cody school districts — “and you’d have to argue it’s in the interest of educating children rather than over a fight for money,” Skoric said.

The National Park Service had paid for the Mammoth students’ education for decades, but Yellowstone officials announced in early 2014 that the payments would have to stop. Park officials had discovered that — because Park County receives federal funding known as “Payment in Lieu of (Property) Taxes” — they were legally barred from paying for any Yellowstone students’ educations.

Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden
Commission Chairman Tim French said a recent warning that the county’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes might be cut by 40 percent prompted last week’s discussion. The Wyoming County Commissioners Association has advised Park County to expect those payments and federal Secure Rural Schools funding to drop from a combined $2.73 million this fiscal year to $1.55 million next year.

“I don’t think the federal government is keeping their word on this,” Tilden said of the potential drop.

Skoric suggested going to state legislators and telling them that, “things have changed — the feds have changed their tune, so we should change our tune.”

However, things have not actually changed yet.

The commissioners association’s warning about reduced federal payments is not new — and it may be wrong. The association has encouraged commissions to plan on a 40 percent cut for years and, for years, Congress has provided more Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural School funding than the association’s projections. For example, Park County expected to receive a combined total of $1.13 million in the 2014-2015 fiscal year and actually got $2.23 million.

In addition, the issue for the federal government has never been about how much money Park County is receiving; Yellowstone officials have said the issue is that, under federal law, they can’t pay for the children’s education as long as the county is receiving any Payment in Lieu of Taxes.

All of the funding is dependent on Congress.

Northrup seeking re-election to Wyoming Legislature

Wyoming is in the midst of a bust that’s “hitting us pretty hard,” says state Rep. David Northrup. “I feel like I have the experience to be able to help navigate our way through it.”

That’s one of the reasons why Northrup has decided to ask voters to elect him to a third term in Wyoming’s House of Representatives.

In officially announcing his re-election bid on Wednesday, the Powell area Republican said his years of accumulated knowledge of the state and the local area are assets as Wyoming faces a drastic drop in revenue from decreased mineral production.

David Northrup
Northrup specifically cites his background in education. He served on the Powell school board for 12 years before joining the Legislature and has co-chaired the Legislature’s education committee since early 2015.

“I think I have an enormous amount of knowledge about how that works and where we can work the (education) system and try to make things better,” Northrup said.

By education, he means not only K-12 schools and the University of Wyoming, but also institutions like Northwest College.

Noting recent cuts at NWC, Northrup said Wyoming’s community colleges have “taken a pretty big beating” in recent years.

“We need to be sure to keep the community college system whole, not be cannibalizing it,” Northrup said. “It seems like at this time some of them are actually cannibalizing themselves to keep themselves running and ... that tends to be the end of a school when it gets severe.”

Funding for the state government — and education in particular — is largely dependent on natural resources and the production of oil, natural gas and coal have all slowed. Coal leases have funded the bulk of the recent construction of K-12 schools across Wyoming and many major coal companies are now in or on the verge of bankruptcy.

Northrup said he’s always been an advocate for low taxes and “we’re going to find out how well that’s going to work out in this next (Legislative) session, because at some point, we have to figure out how to fund schools.”

He said the budgetary impacts of this bust are going to be felt even more strongly in the coming years.

“This is going to be a downturn for everybody,” he said.

In a news release announcing his candidacy, Northrup says his work as a farmer and rancher has given him experience with complicated financial situations and he said his “conservative nature” will help the state.

He also said he enjoys the work and enjoys representing the people of Park County.

“It’s hitting us pretty hard and I feel like I have the experience to be able to help navigate our way through it,” Northrup said.

As for legislative accomplishments, Northrup points to a bill he helped pass in 2015 that allows people to drive some agricultural equipment without a commercial driver’s license.

Northrup said people didn’t want to go through the whole licensing process and its bookkeeping requirements just to drive a beet truck for a month during the harvest. Relaxing the licensing requirements has made it easier for farmers to find drivers and it “really has helped the ag world a whole bunch,” he said.

Northrup is wrapping up his fourth year in the state House.

Mike Specht, a Clark Democrat and the owner of a firefighting business, has announced he’s also running for the seat.

The district is made up of the eastern part of the city of Cody, Clark, Ralston, Heart Mountain, the Sunlight and Crandall areas and the Willwood area, where Northrup lives.

“It has been challenging at times to be everywhere at once,” Northrup said. “Sometimes I feel like I want a Star Trek transporter so that I can be in one place and then just materialize in another one almost instantly.”

His past public service also includes stints in the leadership of the Park County Republican Party (he’s currently vice-chairman) and time on the boards of both the Willwood Irrigation District and the Willwood Light and Power Co-op.

Northrup graduated from both Powell High School and Northwest College before completing his education at Montana Tech. He and his wife — Northwest College Associate Professor of Engineering and Mathematics Astrid Northrup — have three grown sons and two grandsons.

May 12, 2016

Lake Yellowstone Hotel turning 125 years old

As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial, the stately Lake Yellowstone Hotel is celebrating its 125th anniversary and recent designation as a National Historic Landmark.

The hotel — which first opened in 1891 — will celebrate the dual milestones on Friday with a series of free public events that run from 9:15 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“This milestone is especially significant when you remember that for its first quarter-century of the hotel’s operation, the National Park Service did not exist,” said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks & Resorts/Yellowstone National Park Lodges.

“The hotel has withstood the perils of wars, the Great Depression, extremely harsh natural conditions, but many people through time were committed to the successful preservation of this elegant old hotel, and as a company we are proud to have played a significant role in that mission,” Hoeninghausen said in a news release.

The National Park Service and Xanterra Parks & Resorts will celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel on Friday. Photo courtesy Xanterra/Yellowstone National Park Lodges

Friday's events will include a procession of historic vehicles like the park’s famous Yellow Buses, interpretive walking tours of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and short narrated driving tours of the area in historic buses.

A special ceremony begins at 10 a.m. with remarks and an unveiling of the plaque for the hotel’s April 2015 designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Lake Yellowstone Hotel opened its doors 19 years after Yellowstone became the world’s first national park. The hotel took two years to build at a cost of $46,000. It was originally a simple three-story clapboard structure with 80 guest rooms.

In 1903 and 1904, famed architect Robert Reamer oversaw a $60,000 renovation and expansion project that increased the hotel’s room count to 210 and added dormer windows on the roof, false balconies to windows and decorative oval windows.

Known for its Colonial Revival architectural features, such as its large extended gables supported by 50-foot Ionic columns, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel received a two-year, $28-million renovation in 2014. The renovation placed an emphasis on sustainability, Hoeninghausen said. The hotel earned Green Seal certification while also retaining the historic character of the hotel, he said.

The renovation included major structural enhancements and updated areas like the lobby, sun room, dining room, rooms and suites, delicatessen and registration area. The project also added a concierge desk, business center and bar.

In becoming a National Historic Landmark, Lake Yellowstone Hotel has joined some 2,500 other sites across the country that have been deemed to possess the highest level of historic significance. Although there are some 90,000 locations on the National Register of Historic Places, less than 3 percent are designated landmarks.

Bison named America's national mammal

Wyoming has long held the bison in high esteem — featuring the animal on the Cowboy State’s flag and making it the official state mammal in 1985. Now, the rest of the country is following suit.

On Monday, President Barack Obama signed legislation designating the bison as America’s official national mammal.

Lawmakers who spearheaded the effort said the animal — once nearly extinct — deserves an elevated stature because of its cultural and economic significance in the United States’ history, The Associated Press reported.

A bison herd roams Yellowstone's Lamar Valley in 2015. Photo courtesy Neal Herbert, National Park Service

Today, an estimated 30,000 wild buffalo live in America, with the largest population in Yellowstone National Park, according to the AP.


“Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times,” the National Park Service says.

Before the mid-1800s, more than 30 million bison roamed around North America, with most living on the Great Plains, according to the Park Service.

Advocates of the legislation believe the new recognition of the bison will elevate the stature of bison to that of the bald eagle — America’s national emblem — in hopes of bringing greater attention to ongoing recovery efforts, the AP reported.

“I hope that in my lifetime, thanks to a broad coalition of ranchers, wildlife advocates and tribal nations, we will see bison return to the prominent place they once occupied in our nation's shortgrass prairies,” said Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who worked with Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota to pass the Senate version of the legislation.

~Tessa Schweigert contributed reporting

May 11, 2016

County insurance plan beating trends; commissioners sticking with it

National health care costs have risen by upwards of 10 percent over the past four years; in contrast, the Park County government is actually spending about 8 percent less than it was in mid-2012.

Those striking figures are one of the reasons that Park County commissioners have decided to stick with the county’s self-funded insurance plan instead of switching to a larger pool that — at least for the coming fiscal year — was offering a cheaper rate.

Whether it’s county employees’ hard work, luck or the county “doing the right things,” the self-insured plan is doing well and “we can’t find a compelling reason to make a change for a short-term potential savings,” insurance consultant Eric Deeg told commissioners last week.

The county made sweeping changes to its health insurance plan in 2010, after costs grew out of control. That included raising deductibles and putting a greater emphasis on prevention and wellness efforts.

“We can’t find a compelling reason to make a change for a short-term potential savings,” said consultant Eric Deeg.

While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason, “we’re just seeing fewer and fewer large claims,” Deeg said. The county used to have three to six employees suffer a severe and costly health problem each year and is now seeing one or two, he said.

Opting to stick with the self-insured plan is kind of like betting on the health of the county’s roughly 200 employees.

Park County set aside about $2.59 million for the insurance coverage this year, but that’s just a guess. Being self-insured means the county pays the actual costs of its employees’ covered health care claims.

If employees generally have a year of good health, the county can end up spending less than expected. For example, the county spent $260,000 less than it had budgeted over the first eight months of this fiscal year.

That continued success made it easier for commissioners to turn down two quotes they received for fully-funded insurance coverage.

Deeg warned that a switch to either of the two trusts that offered coverage “might have first-year savings that evaporate very quickly.”

The county's insurance consultant, Eric Deeg, compiled this analysis of options offered to the county.

Joining the Joint Powers Trust, for example, would have cost $2.21 million in the coming fiscal year — potentially saving the county more than $400,000. But Deeg said rate increases in coming years could wipe out those savings; he noted the Joint Powers Trust has raised rates by an average of nearly 8.3 percent a year over the past five years.

On the other hand, the downside and risk in being self-insured is that you can have a year that’s worse than expected.

While the county has stop-loss insurance (or reinsurance) that covers any extremely large claims, an unhealthier year still could cost the county much more than the $2.59 million budgeted.

One of the appeals of switching to a trust is that its larger pool of insured people would buffer the impact of a horrible year of claims.

“We’re going to do our best to make sure you don’t have any horrible years, but again, it’s a little bit of luck, too,” Deeg told commissioners.

Steve Penwell — an information technology staffer for the county and a member of the committee that oversees the health insurance plan — said a couple castrophic health problems could “take us out pretty quick.”

The committee “felt it was best to stay where we’re at” for the time being, but it’s aware of the security a trust could offer in the future, Penwell said.

“We’re doing really good and as long as things stay there, probably we’re alright for a couple years,” he said.

The two trusts that offered to insure Park County's employees have had generally higher increases to their rates each year, compared to the county's current, self-funded plan.

He and commissioners said more insurance options could be coming; for example, state legislators have discussed the possibility of opening up the state of Wyoming’s insurance pool to county governments.

Beyond the financial considerations, commissioners say they also like the control they have over the self-insured plan.

May 10, 2016

Park County jail administrator leaving, will manage Alaskan city

Park County is searching for someone new to oversee its jail, as the current administrator is becoming the city manager for a remote Alaskan town.

“I’ve just always wanted to go to Alaska,” said the departing jail administrator, Lt. Tod Larson.

Tod Larson
Larson — who ran for Park County Clerk two years ago — had served in the post since July of 2010. He’ll now help administer the affairs of Seldovia, Alaska, a city of about 255 people that must be reached by boat or plane.

Larson said Seldovia is beautiful, relying on fishing and tourism while being a popular place to retire.

The Cody High School graduate picked it over another offer to manage the city of Adak, Alaska — a similar-sized but even more remote community on the western end of the Aleutian Islands. Larson said he found Adak to be “pretty cool,” but “I just figured it’d be a little easier to get around” in Seldovia.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward told county commissioners he hopes to replace Larson with someone within the department and that he wants them to be a certified peace officer.

Larson was not certified. That meant a lower salary and savings for the county, but Steward said it also meant the administrator generally couldn’t fill-in for detention deputies if a need arose in the jail.

“That kind of burned us a little bit,” the sheriff told commissioners last week.

If Steward finds a candidate who’s certified, that will up the county’s costs for the administrator position. However, he said that increase in salary would be more than offset by the fact that he has not replaced Lt. Dave Patterson, a Powell-based patrol supervisor who retired last year.

“My theory is we can squeak by for now without that” supervisor, Steward said, noting the county’s tight budget.

He said not having the patrol lieutenant should save around $95,000 a year in salary and benefits, though he added, “I’m going to need that position back eventually.”

May 5, 2016

Study: Visitors spent $890 million around Wyoming's national parks in 2015

Tourists contributed millions of dollars to local economies while exploring Wyoming’s national parks last year, the National Park Service says.

In 2015, park visitors spent an estimated $890.2 million in gateway communities while visiting Wyoming’s national parks. According to last week’s report from the U.S. Geological Survey and Park Service, that supported a total of 12,800 jobs.

The largest chunk of that economic impact came from Yellowstone National Park, the most popular destination.

In 2015, visitors to Yellowstone spent an estimated $493.6 million in communities, up from $421 million the year before. The report says visitors' spending supported 7,737 jobs in 2015.

These visitors to Yellowstone National Park's Fishing Bridge were among the millions who spent an estimated $493 million in communities around the park last year.

In 2015, there were more than 4 million visits to Yellowstone, according to Park Service statistics.

The Park Service counts vehicles that enter the park, so if a family is staying in West Yellowstone or Gardiner, Montana, they would be counted each time they enter the park, said Amy Bartlett, Yellowstone Public Affairs.

For example, a family of four taking a week-long vacation to Yellowstone National Park and staying at a lodge outside of the park would be counted as 28 visits (four individuals who enter the park on seven different days), the report explains.

Officials calculate the number of daily visitors by taking the number of vehicles and multiplying that by the average number of people per vehicle (it's typically somewhere around 2.5 people per vehicle).

“National park tourism is a significant driver in our national and local economy, returning over $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service,” said Teton Superintendent David Vela. “While we are primarily responsible for the preservation and visitor enjoyment of park resources, we also value the health and sustainability of our local economy and our partnerships with the communities that help serve travelers from across the country and around the world.”

More visitors to Yellowstone destinations like Fishing Bridge means more dollars for local economies, the Park Service says.

In 2015, Grand Teton National Park visitors spent an estimated $560.4 million in local communities, up from $532 million. The report says the 2015 spending supported 8,900 jobs -- a result of Grand Teton logging nearly 3.2 million visits.

“We are proud to share the story of this place with those visitors and introduce them to this part of the country,” Vela said.

In 2015, an estimated 245,173 visitors to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area spent an estimated $10.4 million in local communities. That was up from $9.3 million of estimated spending the previous year. The Park Service says visitors' spending in 2015 supported 162 jobs.

Bighorn Canyon definitely brings revenue to local communities like Lovell, said Bighorn Canyon Ranger Ben Goodlad. A lot of the canyon’s traffic are area residents, and a majority engage in boating-related recreation. But, folks shouldn’t overlook other activities such as the hiking and wild horse viewing.

According to the 2015 report, national park visitors' spending broke down like this:

• More than 31 percent for lodging
• More than 20 percent for food and beverages
• Nearly 12 percent for gas and oil
• More than 10 percent for admissions and fees
• Nearly 10 percent for souvenirs and other expenses


The full report is available at go.nps.gov/vse.

May 4, 2016

Man's role in Walmart shoplifting spree nets year in jail

After looking over the Lovell man’s criminal record and his repeated convictions for driving with a suspended license, District Court Judge Steven Cranfill had a question.

“Why,” Cranfill asked, “did you just keep doing it time after time after time?”

Although apologetic, Brian Rodriguez was unable to give an explanation.

The judge ultimately agreed with prosecutors and sentenced Rodriguez to 360 days in jail for the more recent offenses that brought him before the court last week: misdemeanor counts of shoplifting and of disposing of stolen property.

Rodriguez’s charges stemmed from walking out of the Cody Walmart with two TVs and a vacuum cleaner last summer.

The 32-year-old and his girlfriend — who allegedly helped steal a third TV — were confronted by Walmart staff as they tried taking a fourth TV and other items, Cody police say. The couple later resold some of the items, according to police.
This Walmart surveillance camera footage reportedly shows Brian Rodriguez stealing two TVs and a vacuum.

Rodriguez’s court-appointed defense attorney, Scott Kath of Powell, argued for a sentence of supervised probation, though he acknowledged his client had “a long criminal history.” Prosecutors said Rodriguez had 24 prior misdemeanor convictions.

“What’s going to stop that continued type of criminal behavior?” Kath asked his client.

Rodriguez noted many of the past convictions involved his suspended driver’s license and said he’s working to get it reinstated.

“This isn’t a recurring thing anymore; I haven’t had any trouble for a couple years, I do believe now, and I hope to keep it that way,” Rodriguez said.

“With the exception of these charges, right?” clarified Kath.

“Yes,” said Rodriguez.

However, Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Blatt noted that, after stealing the items from Walmart last August, Rodriguez committed another theft in Minnesota in October.

The prosecutor cited Rodriguez’s record in arguing for jail time.

“He’s been placed on probation or fined 24 times and it hasn’t made a difference,” Blatt said.

He also noted Rodriguez was in the middle of taking a third shopping cart out of the Cody Walmart when he was confronted by staff.

“We don’t know how much stuff might have been planned to have been taken from Walmart,” Blatt said.

Brian Rodriguez
Kath argued that Rodriguez’s past offenses were generally “really minor” and noted that the Wyoming Department of Probation and Parole recommended putting him on probation. Kath also noted Rodriguez has a job and helps care for his elderly father.

“Pulling all that from under him at this point of time and (from) his family, given the recommendations of probation and parole, would not be appropriate,” Kath said.

Rodriguez asked for probation so he could still be a productive member of society, pay his court fees and help his father.

“I know I messed up and I’m here accepting responsibility for what I’ve done,” he said.

Cranfill said it was obvious that Rodriguez’s father, who was in the courtroom, needs assistance.

“I’m sorry for that — and I think you need to apologize to your father as well for what’s happened here,” the judge told Rodriguez.

In imposing jail time, Cranfill cited Rodriguez’s “extraordinary amount” of misdemeanor convictions and noted he’d failed to complete a substance abuse assessment before sentencing.

“I just don’t understand that,” Cranfill said.

Rodriguez and his girlfriend, 27-year-old Shanna Rae Jolley, were identified as suspects in the Aug. 4 thefts from Walmart through surveillance camera images that Cody police posted to Facebook.

In Aug. 17 interviews with Cody Police Detective Jason Stafford, Jolley and Rodriguez allegedly admitted to taking the more than $1,600 worth of items. The couple reportedly told Stafford they needed money.

They allegedly sold one of the stolen TVs to Lovell’s mayor, who contacted police after learning of the thefts on Facebook.

“I know I messed up and I’m here accepting responsibility for what I’ve done,” Rodriguez said at his recent court appearance.

Rodriguez pleaded guilty as part of a deal that involved the Park County Attorney’s Office reducing the shoplifting charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. Cranfill called that “a great gift.”

As part of his sentence, Rodriguez must also pay $340 in routine court fees and $456 in restitution to Walmart for the stolen merchandise that couldn’t be restocked.

Jolley, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty to a felony count of shoplifting and a misdemeanor count of disposing of stolen property. A trial is tentatively set for August.

Court records indicate Jolley is currently receiving substance abuse treatment at a facility in Sheridan.

~By CJ Baker

Game and Fish tagging and studying unwanted local walleye

Only a light breeze ruffles the surface of the water, but falling snow accentuates a soggy night for the two boat crews doing very wet work.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department employees are catching, tagging and returning hundreds of walleye in Buffalo Bill Reservoir to help determine if suppressing the unwanted fish is feasible.

On a recent Wednesday night, the employees were working west of Buffalo Bill Dam.

Jacob Scoville (at left) and Riley Gallagher, Wyoming Game and Fish Department fisheries technicians, net some squirming walleye. Cody News Co. photos by Gib Mathers

A portable generator provides electricity for the electrical arrays on booms they lower into the shallow water where the walleye spawn. The arrays send a jolt of electricity to stun the fish, the men net the dazed walleye near the surface and deposit them in a live well.

If they haven’t been tagged before, each fish receives two tags that resemble short, wire antennas jutting from their sides. Five hundred of the tags will offer either a $10 or $100 reward if they're brought back to Game and Fish.

“Here’s one of the bigger females,” said Game and Fish Department fisheries biologist Jason Burckhardt, showing off a walleye that would tickle any angler. It weighed 2.58 pounds.

Next, Burckhardt notes a tagged male of smaller proportions, but worth its weight in gold with a tag that's worth $100.

Sean Cooley, fisheries technician for the department, determines each walleye’s sex and size and then inserts the tags before returning them to the lake.

“Looks like seven recaps,” Cooley said.

“Recaps,” or recaptures, are walleye previously caught and tagged.

The higher the recapture rate, the less variance in the abundance estimate, said Daniel Kaus, a Montana State University-Bozeman graduate student. Kaus is working on the project so he can build a walleye population model.

The guys on the boat wear protective gear to avoid being shocked. They tag at night because the walleye are easier to catch where they are spawning, Burckhardt said. The crew launches at dark, sometimes remaining on the lake until 3 a.m.

Jason Burckhardt, Game and Fish Department fisheries biologist, examines a previously captured and tagged walleye female while Riley Gallagher (at left) mans the net.

Game and Fish workers have caught females drained of eggs, so they know the fish are spawning.

As of April 26, the department had tagged about 350 walleye. The plan is to keep going until 700 of the fish are tagged or the spawn or the spawn ends.

The potential $10 or $100 walleye bounty on the tags is meant to encourage fishermen to report the tagged walleye they catch. The more anglers reporting their marked walleye, the more accurate the department's mortality estimate will be, Burckhardt said. The study is aimed at measuring both angler-caused mortality and Game and Fish-caused mortality.

The estimating technique works like this: a portion of the population is captured, marked and released. Later, crews go back out, capture more fish and count the number of tagged walleye.

The number of marked walleye within that later sample should be proportional to the number of marked walleye in the whole population, so you can come up with an estimate of the total population by dividing the number of marked walleye by the proportion of marked walleye in the second sample.

For example, if Game and Fish tag and release 100 walleye and 50 tagged fish are caught by anglers, they can assume that is half the population and further deduct that the population totals 200 walleye, Burckhardt said.

Sean Cooley, Game and Fish fisheries technician, measures a captive walleye.

Walleye were illegally introduced into the reservoir, likely occurred from 2002 through 2004.

They prey on the trout that inhabit the wild, unstocked fishery in Buffalo Bill. Previous studies have shown walleye eat a lot of juvenile trout, Burckhardt said. Game and Fish wants to maintain the wild fishery in Buffalo Bill to in turn support trout on the North Fork of the Shoshone River.

A walleye female bears 20,000 to 200,000 eggs, Kaus said. Although the walleye hatchling survival rate is relatively low, the sheer number of offspring one female can produce makes a big difference.

If Kraus can obtain the vital rates (survival and death), then he can run a simulation model to determine population growth each year. From there, he can calculate the rate of mortality needed to suppress the walleye population, he said.

If enough effort is exerted, walleye can be suppressed in Buffalo Bill, but the question remains: How much would that effort cost? Game and Fish wants to know the degree of suppression needed and the price tag, Kaus said.

If tagged walleyes are caught, anglers are asked to call the Cody Game and Fish office at 307-527-7125 or the phone number provided on the tag.

May 3, 2016

Cody man charged with illegal outfitting in 2013

A Cody man stands accused of illegally guiding hunters while working for a Meeteetse area ranch in the fall of 2013.

Jim Pehringer, 47, pleaded not guilty to eight misdemeanor charges of outfitting without a license during an arraignment in Park County’s Circuit Court last week. He was released on his own recognizance pending a trial.

The charges filed by the Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office allege that Pehringer served as a guide for eight different hunters on the Antlers Ranch between early September and late October of 2013.

Jim Pehringer faces eight misdemeanor counts of outfitting without a license.
Affidavits by a criminal investigator for Wyoming State Board of Outfitter and Guides say Pehringer collected thousands of dollars from the eight hunters in exchange for his assistance. The investigator, Dan Hodge, wrote that Pehringer had been put in charge of managing the hunting on the ranch and all the arrangements went through him.

At that time, Pehringer was also working as the local supervisor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services — a program that manages conflicts between wildlife and people. Pehringer resigned from his Wildlife Services post in late February 2015, said a staffer at the program’s main office in Casper.

The state of Wyoming generally requires people to get an outfitting license if they’re being compensated for helping big or trophy game hunters.

Ranch owners and other landowners are allowed to guide hunters on their own property without a license. However, a 2005 opinion from the Wyoming Attorney General clarified that landowners’ employees still need a license before doing any guiding.

When Hodge explained the ruling to Pehringer in an April 2014 interview, Pehringer said he hadn’t known that and “guessed he’d been in violation of this for the past 19 years,” Hodge recounted in a later application for a search warrant. (The opinion does not appear on the Attorney General's website.)

However, Hodge also said that — about six months earlier — he’d told Pehringer that Antlers Ranch employees could not legally provide hunters with “any outfitting or guiding services including animal recovery services.”

Within days of that initial conversation, in late September 2013, Pehringer allegedly accompanied four hunters from Texas and Louisiana while they harvested four antelope on the Antlers Ranch; he also helped two of the men haul their animals back to where they were staying on the ranch, Hodge wrote in the affidavit accompanying the charges.

The four men each paid Pehringer $1,400, and bank records show Pehringer put the $5,600 into his account, Hodge wrote.

In 2013, the Antlers Ranch’s website listed Pehringer as its “head guide” and said he had “guided hunters for trophy elk, deer, antelope, bear, mountain lion, deer and big horn sheep for over 20 years.”

A couple days later, on Oct. 1, 2013, two hunters bagged bull elk on the Antlers Ranch and Pehringer helped bring the meat back to their cabin; one of the hunters paid Pehringer $2,000, Hodge wrote.

Pehringer is also alleged to have accompanied two other men on deer hunts on the ranch sometime that fall.

The Antlers Ranch’s website listed Pehringer as its “head guide” at the time, saying he had “guided hunters for trophy elk, deer, antelope, bear, mountain lion, deer and big horn sheep for over 20 years,” Hodge wrote in the search warrant affidavit.

Records from the Wyoming State Board of Outfitters and Professional Guides say Pehringer did not have an outfitting license in 2013 or the years leading up to it. He applied for a license in 2014, but “the process was not completed and he was not issued a license,” said Amanda McKee, the board’s administrator.

Outfitters must pay a $1,600 application fee, pay $600 annually and meet various other state requirements to get and keep a license.

The Park County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed its criminal charges on April 8, with Pehringer arraigned on April 26.

Each of the eight counts of outfitting without a license carries a possible fine of up to $5,000 and the potential loss of hunting, fishing, trapping or outfitting privileges for up to five years.

A bench trial has tentatively been scheduled for July 28 in Cody.

While the case is pending, Pehringer is prohibited from hunting and from accompanying anyone who is hunting.

May 2, 2016

Funds sought for new robot to explore Yellowstone Lake

Life-saving discoveries can trace their roots back to Yellowstone’s underwater thermal activity and a team of researchers are hoping to make discoveries with the help of a new robot. All the team needs is a kick start.

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration — led by a part-time Montana resident who’s probed the lake’s depths for decades — is trying to raise $100,000 for the new robot on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration founder and president Dave Lovalvo says the new machine would be a “second-to-none” resource for documenting Yellowstone Lake. Lovalvo said it can also help people understand the importance of the lake’s unique ecosystem.

“It is our obligation to understand it,” Lovalvo says of Yellowstone, in a video accompanying the Kickstarter campaign. “Because the only way to protect it is to understand it.”

Artist Michelle Anderst created this visualization of the new robot sampling a thermal feature in Yellowstone Lake.

Lovalvo first set eyes on the park in 1985 and found many new thermal features below the lake’s surface.

“Knowing what we know about life in extreme environments, the microscopic organsims that thrive in temperatures that exceed body-temperature, it was a fascinating place to do research because you never know what you will find there,” Lovalvo said in an interview.

A robot was what first brought Lovalvo to the park, hired by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to deploy and pilot his machine in Yellowstone Lake. He fell in love with the lake right away. Even with the 1985 robot’s low-resolution cameras, “the images were just stunning,” Lovalvo says in the video.

He went on to spend some 28 years exploring, filming and mapping the lake and spends part of his time in southwestern Montana.

Lovalvo said he and his team have been limited on the amount of time they have on the lake each year since underwater studies began three decades ago.

“You can’t possibly see every place that you know there is probably interesting activity,” Lovalvo said.

The deeper spots of the lake were harder to reach because the crew was using an old Park Service boat and had to anchor off the bow and stern while looking for thermal features and sampling the hot water.

The new robot will capture much higher-definition images of the lake's bottom than the ones like this from the old machine. Courtesy photo
“If the wind came, it would drag you away,” Lovalvo said. “But this time we are building a new boat that will be brought into the lake in early June and that is specially designed to handle the robot.”

The new 40-foot boat has dynamic positioning, similar to what vessels use in very deep ocean exploration. The thruster system is tied to the boat’s GPS so all the crew will have to do is enter coordinates and the boat will remain in place.

“It is like autopilot on a plane,” Lovalvo said.

The as-of-yet-to-be constructed robot will also be far more advanced, with high definition recording equipment. The foundation is naming it “Yogi,” in honor of the famed cartoon bear from the fictional Jellystone National Park.

Public fundraising is only one part of the effort to make Yogi a reality. Yellowstone National Park, the Yellowstone Association and Montana State University are among the entities lending help. Other institutions have chipped in parts and schematics and all the dollars raised on Kickstarter will be matched by a private contributor.

As with all Kickstarter projects, donors can receive various rewards, depending on how much money they give. That ranges from getting a digital poster of the robot for $25 to joining the research team and robot on Yellowstone Lake for $10,000.

“We are just trying to offset some of the costs because this is extremely expensive,” Lovalvo said. “We want people to understand the value of what we do and help out if interested.”

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration’s Kickstarter pitch suggests the microbial life at the bottom of the lake could hold information about the origin of life or new advancements in medicine or biology.


Bacteria credited with sparking the ability for mankind to map the entire human genome was discovered in Lower Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park — bringing historically unprecedented discoveries about who we are as a species, and potentially curing diseases as well.
“Because it grew in a very hot environment, it allowed us to do things you normally couldn’t do,” Lovalvo said of Thermus aquaticus. The discoveries made thanks to this one Yellowstone microbe are currently used in hospitals around the world, he said.

“It is an exciting place and the lake bottom is fascinating — you never know what you will see and that is the beauty of it,” Lovalvo said.

The foundation's pitch says it's estimated “that less than 1 percent of Yellowstone’s microbes have been identified so far and it’s hard to predict what might be learned from those that have yet to be discovered.”

In addition to microscopic life, sponges and crustaceans also dwell in the depths of the lake.

“(T)he lake bottom is fascinating — you never know what you will see and that is the beauty of it,” Lovalvo said.

Although being just one of only a few projects to be featured on Kickstarter’s front page and weekly email, just a bit more 2/3rds of the $100,000 goal had been raised as of Monday.

This is the foundation’s first time using a crowd-funding source and Lovalvo said things weren’t looking good for the endeavor since with Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing for the fundraiser.

“They are well known for people selling things, but we went a completely different direction and based it on philanthropy — you have to want to help for a reason other than getting something in return,” Lovalvo said. “We have way too much in it and too many responsibilities to not be doing it, but Kickstarter would take some of the pain off.”

The foundation faces a self-imposed deadline of 10 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4.

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