Wyoming’s Public Lands Initiative

Throughout the past two years I followed the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative. The Wyoming County Commissioners Association started the initiative in 2016. Their goal was to address the status of 45 Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) in the state encompassing 700,000 acres.

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Encampment River Canyon Wilderness Study Area

A WSA is a designation that applies to lands that federal agencies manage to protect wilderness characteristics. Congress set these lands aside about 30 years ago. They intended to evaluate the undeveloped lands for significant wilderness characteristics. The evaluations would have allowed Congress to decide how to designate the land. This could range from wilderness areas to multiple uses. Of Wyoming’s 45 WSAs, the US Forest Service manages three. The Bureau of Land Management maintain the other 42.

In the entire nation, the BLM has 545 wilderness study areas with a total area of 12,790,291 acres. The US Forest Service manages 26 wilderness study areas.

When the initiative started, Carbon, Fremont, Johnson, Washakie, Teton, Park and Sublette Counties signed up to take part. After two years of work, Teton, Park and Sublette Counties couldn’t come to a consensus on how to designate their wilderness study areas.

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association is drafting the bill for the counties that completed the initiative.  Former executive director Pete Obermuller is heading up the project with a few others individuals. Once the counties approve the draft, it will be introduced to Congress.  Obermueller’s goal for having the recommendations to Congress is within the first quarter of 2019.

Obermueller commended the work of the counties who partook in the WPLI process.

“We knew that we wouldn’t solve every single acre,” Obermueller said, “And we knew we wouldn’t have 100 percent agreement in all places.”

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Bennett Mountain Wilderness Study Area as seen from Seminoe State Park

In Carbon County, Committee Chair John Espy contributed the success of the process to the other committee members. From the beginning, he said they agreed to not put their personal feelings at the forefront of their job. Instead they focused on the people who use the land, getting comments from recreationalists and local ranchers.

“We started out from the beginning with an open mind as a rule,” Espy said. “We learned to trust each other and work together. We didn’t let our personal biases cloud our thinking from the start.”

I also appreciated how every person on the Carbon County committee saw the importance of preserving the landscape of the areas they were talking about. While not everyone agreed on the best practice to preserve the land, their intentions were pure.

I also talked to Fremont County’s WPLI Chair Doug Thompson. He too contributed the success of his group to having open minds and considering public input.

“We had a lot of public input,” Thompson said. “We tried to consider it. It came down to a use or no use decision. We tried to find wording that would accommodate those who wanted to prevent the more destructive aspects of development but also allow for appropriate economic development in the continuation of activities taking place on the land.”

You can find the recommendations for the Wilderness Study Areas here. County led committees recommended four WSAs throughout the state for wilderness. These include the Encampment River Canyon and Prospect Mountain in Carbon County, Sweetwater Canyon in Fremont County and Bobcat in Washakie County.

While I didn’t witness it, I heard “horror stories” about the process in Teton County. As the committee started to fall apart, the members weren’t even talking to each other anymore. In October the Teton Board of County Commissioners decided to abandon any recommendations for the WSAs. The dirt bikers, snowmobilers, mountain bikes and heli-skiiers fought against everyone else. They created a group, the Advocates for Multi-Use of Public Lands, to fight against any new wilderness. In the end, the Teton County Commissioners dropped the committee because they couldn’t come to consensus.

I find it unfortunate that the Teton, Park and Sublette committees couldn’t come to a consensus, but I’m glad they tried working through the initiative. Hopefully someday the residents and interest groups can try again.

 

Lincoln, Bighorn and Sweetwater Counties didn’t take part in the initiative at all. This puts their public lands at jeopardy and takes the public involvement away. Instead, they decided to join a legislative bill proposed by Representative Liz Cheney. This bill is titled “Restoring Public Input (insert scoffing here) and Access to Public Lands Act of 2018.” It doesn’t take into account an in depth public review and would lift all protections on the Wilderness Study Areas on about 400,000 acres in those three counties. It also would restrict future designations of wilderness areas.

Cheney claims that the wilderness study designation “prevents access, locks up land and resources, restricts grazing rights and hinders good rangeland and resource management.”  She further noted in a September 27th statement that the bill she introduced will “provide citizens and local officials in Big Horn, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties more authority to determine how best to manage the federal land within their counties.” While that part sounds good, I don’t like that she didn’t ask all interest groups on the best way to address the landscape.

The bill passed the House Natural Resource Committee on November 15th. Nineteen republicans on the committee backed the bill while 11 democrats opposed it. This also annoyed me because public lands and conservation should NOT be a bipartisan issue. However, the bill will now move to the full U.S. House for possible consideration.

 

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Adobe Town Wilderness Study Area

Several people criticized the county commissioners who decided to team up with Cheney. They said this route didn’t allow the public to be part of the process on their lands. Cheney’s critics scoff at the bill, starting with its title’s nod to public input, which they called misleading.

The biggest concern was over a Wilderness Study Area in Sweetwater County. The Adobe Town WSA is a treasured place among those who have visited, myself included. Rare species, badland features, fossils, and surrounding vistas make Adobe Town a special haven.

Adobe Town has garnered significant citizen support for Wilderness designation by Congress. It was part of the 2011 Citizen Wilderness Proposal for BLM Lands in Wyoming. This proposal had the support of thousands of Wyoming citizens and many conservation groups across the state.

But Adobe Town is rich in oil and gas resources, making the region one of the most threatened landscapes in Wyoming.

 

The Wyoming Wilderness Association has taken steps to try to protect Adobe Town. They plan to make a documentary film to bring national awareness to the landscape. The film will help educate the public about the extensive oil and gas leasing taking place near and near into the sacred corners of Adobe Town. It will also provide ways for the public to influence management decision, such as leasing, on areas that should be off limits to extraction. Finally, the film will be the first step toward including Greater Adobe Town and the Adobe Town WSA as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. You can donate to the cause here.

Encampment Bighorn Sheep Capture

0120_sheep capture (1)Two weekends ago I joined Wyoming Game and Fish as they captured five bighorn sheep near the Encampment River. The state agency partnered with Native Range Capture Services which originated in New Zealand. The company works with many agencies in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Another bighorn sheep capture took place last February. At that time Game and Fish collared five ewes. Over the weekend, the mugging crew caught the same sheep, so they could receive new collars.

Saratoga Game and Fish Biologist Teal Cufaude said the sheep needed new collars because the ones placed last year didn’t work well. The new collars have functional GPS systems that give Game and Fish the ability to see day to day movements. The old ones were only giving off high frequency signals.

“(The new collars) will send out a couple points per day as the sheep move throughout the landscape,” Teal said. “We’ll collect the collars in a couple years. Then we’ll be able to download even more points and fill in the gaps of where they’ve been moving day to day.”

0120_sheep capture (3)Once the muggers captured the sheep, Game and Fish personnel and local residents brought the sheep to tables. There some Encampment students and Game and Fish employees took samples and fitted the animals with new collars.

The samples included blood samples, swabs from the nose and tonsils, fecal samples and an ultrasound to see if the ewes were pregnant.

The samples that Game and Fish gathered from the sheep will go to the agency’s veterinary lab. This is part of a statewide effort to gauge the health of the Wyoming’s bighorn sheep populations.

Game and Fish Wildlife Disease Supervisor Hank Edwards said the state wildlife agency can determine the health of the bighorn sheep with the samples.

“We’ll be sampling for pathogens known to cause pneumonia,” Hank said. “Pnemonia is a big deal in bighorn sheep.”

Game and Fish will also be able to compare herds that are healthy with those are not. From there they can try to determine differences in environment and any needs for ecological management.

Locally, Teal said Game and Fish will track the movements the sheep make to develop useful habitat improvement plans in the future.

“We’ll be able to know where we can better spend our money and our time enhancing habitat if we know exactly what parts of the landscape they’re using,” Teal said.

The state wildlife agency has been receiving help on the initiative from Encampment students. Jordan Seitz’s sixth and eighth grade classes got involved last February when Game and Fish captured the first five sheep.

The students have participated in observing the sheep as well.. The Game and Fish Laramie Region Newsletter states that the students took a field trip where the learned about bighorn sheep habitat, diets and digestion. Then they explored that habitat and learned about radio telemetry. At the end of the day they got to observe several bighorn sheep feeding near Miners Creek. Jordan said he hopes the experience inspires his students.

 

It’s cool that Jordan takes his classes out to help Game and Fish with this project. It shows the students that they can have a successful and awesome career in this state and in their hometown. Many students could enjoy a similar experience that opens their eyes to a fuller extent of what they can do after they graduate.

dsc_0260It’s been fun to take part in this effort myself for the past two years. I’ve gotten to touch the bighorn sheep to help hold them down while game and fish personnel gather samples. My first year at the capture Will Schultz, who was the game biologist at the time, asked if I wanted to touch the sheep and get my picture taken. Of course! Anybody who knows me won’t be surprised that I took my gloves off when holding the ewes so I could feel their soft fur.

If I had liked science more while in school and college, I may have become a game biologist. At least I get to sometimes live vicariously as one while being a news reporter.

 

Further Bighorn Sheep News

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department in partnership with the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center, and the University of Wyoming’s Ruckleshaus Institute is announcing a public engagement process to explore management concerns, issues, and opportunities for the Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Sheep herd.

A situation assessment was recently completed and dates for a series of public workshops and a “Bighorn Sheep Summit” have been set. Game and Fish encourages all those interested in this herd to attend the Summit. People will meet with bighorn sheep specialists from around the country to chart a path forward for this iconic bighorn sheep herd.

This herd has struggled to recover from a catastrophic all-age die-off caused by pneumonia in 1991. The disease caused an estimated 30% decline in the number of sheep. The herd continues to stay below the desired population size. This is because lamb survival is very low, likely due to the persistence of lamb pneumonia. At one time, there were an estimated 2,500 sheep in this population; today there are about 750.

“The bottom-line is, we simply don’t have all the answers how to turn this important bighorn sheep population around,” says Daryl Lutz, Lander’s wildlife management coordinator. “There is much to be learned how to best address this decline and perhaps implement management strategies and projects to attempt to arrest and reverse this trend,” says Lutz. “To do this, it is clear we must consider a different approach.”

All collaborative workshops will be held in Dubois at the Headwaters Arts and Conference Center (20 Stalnaker Street) from 6:00 pm- 9:00 pm each of the following evenings:

February 11 – Public workshop to summarize the situation assessment and exploration of issues.

March 14 – Bighorn Sheep Summit – discussion with “outside” experts about technical and scientific information regarding disease, predation, habitat and other aspects of this bighorn sheep herd.

April 3 – Public workshop to craft solutions to improve herd conditions.

June 5 – Public workshop to present draft strategy for public input, discussion, and refinement.

Weekly Review: January 25th

Wildlife habitat conserved in Wyoming

A family in southeast Wyoming teamed up with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to protect 133 acres of important elk habitat.

Fred and Stephanie Lindzey cherish the wildlife values of their land, which their family has owned for more than three decades.

The property is about 20 miles west of Laramie and east of the Snowy Range Mountains on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. It features high quality wildlife and riparian habitat along the Little Laramie River and is part of the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. It also provides critical linkage between several nearby completed and developing conservation projects. These are all located within the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Sheep Mountain Mule Deer Initiative Area.

The Lindzey’s Home Ranch Conservation Easement protects winter and year-round range for elk. It also provides a home for moose, mule deer and antelope. The property also serves as historic range for a wide array of nongame fish, bird and animal species, including golden eagles. The landowners cooperate with wildlife agencies and nonprofit organizations on habitat research. They also host a bird banding site for the Audubon Society on the property.

Funding partners for the project included the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation. The Lindzey family also made a generous donation.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation works with willing landowners to establish conservation easements. These protect crucial elk winter and summer ranges, migration corridors and calving grounds.

Since 1986, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners protected or enhanced 1,131,711 acres of habitat in Wyoming. They’ve protected more than 7.4 million acres nationwide.

 

Major reservoir in Colorado heating up at fast pace

The surface temperature at a major reservoir in Colorado has risen 5 degrees over a 35 year period. That’s according to a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Lake Dillon is a significant source for Denver’s water supply. So researchers at CU Boulder took on the task in the early 80s to study the water quality. William Lewis is a professor at CU Boulder and lead author on the study.

He said the fact that the lake is warming is not surprising, but the rate of warming is.

Lewis said despite the changing temperatures, there weren’t any signs of ecological damage to the reservoir. The researchers think there’s a reason for that. The lake sits at an altitude of about 9,000 feet so the water is very cold, to begin with.

 

Volunteer to help habitat

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Photo from Wyoming Game and Fish

On Saturday, February 9, Wyoming Game and Fish invites volunteers to help improve fish habitat in Ocean Lake, near Pavillion, WY. The project provides an opportunity to recycle Christmas trees while improving the structure of the lake. Fresh Christmas trees are being accepted for free at the Lander and Dubois Landfill and Riverton Transfer Station through Wed, Jan. 30.

At Ocean Lake, volunteers and staff will wire the trees together and attach concrete blocks to weigh them down. When the ice melts in the spring, the weighted trees will sink and provide structure for fish. The resulting formation creates the inland version of an artificial reef.

Volunteers have taken part in this project for several years to help increase fish habitat at Ocean Lake.”

Volunteers should meet at the boat landing on Long Point of Ocean Lake at 9 am, and bring pliers or wire cutters, work gloves and warm clothes. Volunteers are welcome to show up for any part of the time. Game and Fish plans to complete the project early in the afternoon.

Partners who donated supplies, put forward effort, and gave of their time include Fremont County Solid Waste Disposal District, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, North Platte Walleyes Unlimited, Wyoming Demolition, Drake’s Landscaping, Geotec, Brian Woodard of Rocky Mountain Discount Sports in Casper, and the volunteers who attend each year.

 

Popo Agie Gold Art and Science Project.

At Lander Arts and Sciences has a new project entitled Popo Agie Gold. This project seeks to raise awareness of water use in and around the Popo Agie River and to celebrate the Lander area watershed. The organization planned many discrete events over the next year to engage the community.

One event at the Lander Library on January 31 at 7:00 pm is the Story Deluge: Whiskey is for Drinking and Water for Fighting Over.  The event will highlight the humorous, poignant and personal stories of Rob Hellyer, Jason Baldes, Del McOmie, Lynn McRanns, Mike Dabich, George Hunker and others. Limited seating is available. Tickets are $12. Proceeds benefit the local Healthy Rivers Initiative water conservation projects.

A second upcoming event is a Photographic Exhibit: For the Love of Water: A History of Our Use. I’m going to try to make it to this one. The event opens on Feb 16 from 4:00 – 6:00 pm at the Lander Pioneer Museum. The exhibit features historic photos and artifacts that show how people use the water in Fremont County from the late 1800’s to present day.  It will explore the agricultural, recreational and industrial use of water in the area.

 

Game and Fish Commission supports sage grouse populations through translocation

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission held its January meeting in Cheyenne this week. The volunteer board voted on several topics and had other discussions related to Wyoming’s fish and wildlife.

The commission voted to continue the translocation study of Wyoming greater sage grouse to North Dakota. The study has been underway for two years. It helps develop a range-wide protocol for translocating sage grouse. It will also help maintain the interconnected populations throughout the region. Wyoming is a stronghold for sage grouse and a source to help bolster populations. The translocation study will be evaluated on an annual basis dependent on impacts to the source population. In return, North Dakota will provide Wyoming with 200 pheasants.

 

Wyoming Governor appointments that deal with lands and conservation

Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources

Darin Westby has been the director of the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources since August 2016. Westby has over 24 years of experience in the environmental, architectural, engineering, construction and management fields. This includes twenty years in State employment and seventeen years with the agency. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wyoming. He also has a Civil Professional Engineering license, and a certificate in public management.

 

Wyoming State Geological Survey

Erin Campbell has served as the State Geologist and director of the State Geological Survey since appointed to the position in 2017. She has also worked at WSGS as the Manager of Energy and Minerals Resources. She is the first woman named Wyoming State Geologist. Campbell has a B.A. in Geology from Occidental College in Los Angeles and a Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Wyoming. She also has experience working for Chevron and as a lecturer at UW.

 

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

Todd Parfitt has served as the DEQ director since 2012. He has over 30 years of experience in the environmental field, including 25 years with the DEQ. Before becoming the director, Parfitt spent seven years as the DEQ Deputy Director and as the Administrator of DEQ’s Industrial Siting Division. Parfitt has a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources, Fisheries Management. He additionally has a master’s degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Environmental Policy. Both degrees are from The Ohio State University. He is a 2008 graduate of Leadership Wyoming and was the President of the Environmental Council of the States in 2017-2018.

 

Wyoming Department of Agriculture

Doug Miyamoto has served as director of the Department of Agriculture since 2015. He was recently elected President of the Western United States Agriculture Trade Association. Before becoming director, Miyamoto served as the Executive Director and deputy director of the Wyoming Livestock Board. Miyamoto earned a Master’s Degree in Rangeland Ecology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Range Management. The degrees are both from the University of Wyoming. He has served as chairman of the Natural Resource and Environment Committee of the National Association of Conservation Districts of Agriculture since 2016.

 

My upcoming adventures:

I have friends from college visiting this weekend. We’re going to the Snowy Range Ski Lodge to see if we can remember how to ski down mountains. We might have to resort to snowshoes instead!

Getting lost in the forest

June 16, 2018. A day forever engraved in my mind; the day I got lost in the Medicine Bow National Forest. My feet traveled more trails in the forest than the average person. I spent the previous summer hiking the quiet, less-trodden paths. But I never hiked the backside of Medicine Bow Peak. From pictures it looked less crowded than the main trail and on June 16th my soul needed an adventure.

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Mistake #1: My weekends filled up with part-time work at the Chamber of Commerce office serving tourists. I answered their questions on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I got off work on June 16th at 3 p.m. I’ve been in the mountains in the late afternoon in the past. Many times I cut my trips short or peeled a soaking wet sweater off afterward. I headed to the mountains anyway.

When I got to the Lake Marie parking lot several people headed back to their cars after a day of recreating. I spotted others around the lake as they continued fishing.

I grabbed my trekking poles, threw my sweater and some snack bars into my pack and started up the trail head.

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Mistake #2: Not far into my hike, snow covered the trail. I post holed through the first section of snow, but once I got through no path alpine grasses and mud sat underneath my feet. I looked across the horizon line, found a cairn and hiked my way to it. A burst of confidence surged through me once back on the trail and in good in hands. I continued up along the backside of the Snowy Range and again found snow covering the trail. I scoped out the next cairn and walked around the snow. I did this one more time until I looked upon my destination. A light gray cloud hid Medicine Bow Peak.

 

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Mistake #3: I’ve hiked in the rain before, so I continued. Until I saw lightening. It flashed like lightning, but I didn’t actually see a bolt. Not ready to die, I turned around. Except the path no longer existed. Snow blinded me. Not a single cairn emerged from the drifts. My footprints couldn’t be seen because I had stayed on top of the snow most of the way up. I came from the west, so I headed back in that direction.

 

And that’s where the real adventure began. I scrambled down and around jagged rocks hoping to see the Lake Marie Parking lot and my car. My knees rammed into the wet slabs of granite as I slipped and fell many times.

Finally I saw a pair of lakes. But it didn’t look like Lake Marie, Mirror Lake or Lookout Lake. I slid to the bottom of the hillside and walked around the bank of the lakes. The landscape didn’t offer anything familiar.

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After looking up how far I was from my car two days prior to posting this, I discovered I was 9,374 feet from where I parked my car.

I saw footprints around the bank of the lake even though drifts of snow at least two feet deep bordered the water. I made my way around the bank in the direction the footprints appeared to be heading. Halfway to the other side of the lake the footprints disappeared until I came to a dirt road. The footprints returned and I followed them down the road.

What sun remained sunk behind the mountains as storm clouds continued to roll in. I left the house at 9 in the morning. I sat in my car parked at the gas station at about 3 p.m. when I sent the last text of the day to my boyfriend detailing my plans. He might be wondering why my four hour hike lasted much longer.

My phone bounced from one to two bars as I searched my contacts for my boyfriend’s name. He answered.

The first words out of my mouth, “Okay don’t be mad or scared, but I’m lost.”

We did the best we could over a phone with hardly any signal to determine my location. I describe the road I stood on though I couldn’t tell him its name or where it started or ended. I promised I’d follow it down to the highway. His plan consisted of driving up and down the highway until he found me. Then my phone died.

As I continued the road became impassable with water gushing through a cut in the dirt path and roaring down into the dark abyss.

Throughout my hike I stayed on higher ground west of the highway. I decided to follow the fast-flowing stream downhill.

I tripped and fell over tree branches and rocks as I meandered around the water and down the hill. Once it got too dark for me to see the water from a safe distance from the bank. I quit walking. I found a fallen log and dug underneath it with my hands and pocket knife until I made a hole big enough for me to fit.

My sweater clung to my body but didn’t offer any warmth, so I took it off and draped it over the log. I pulled a long sleeve shirt out of my backpack to replace the sweater. I ate half of a bar and pulled my sweater back around myself as my teeth chattered.

I wondered if my boyfriend called the county sheriff’s office. I heard the beating a helicopter rotor. A spotlight scanned the forest. Each time I heard the helicopter it sounded like it would hover away before coming back. Later I learned that search and rescue didn’t come out during the night. They followed direction to wait until the sun came up the next day, so I didn’t actually hear or see anything.

 

I slept for some period of time even though I shivered all night. When the sun came up I felt wide awake. I scrambled out from underneath the log I lived under until morning. I continued following the water down the hill. In the distance I saw a culvert. Water goes through culverts to avoid washing out a ROAD! I’ve never been happier in my life to see a culvert.

I hopped onto the road and started walking one way. Then I second guessed myself and headed the other direction. When I came to a “No Trespassing” sign I turned around and followed my first instinct.

I turned around and headed back the way I started. I passed a vacant truck and then came upon a second where I saw a couple packing up.

“Excuse me sir,” I said to the man loading something into the back. When he looked up I asked, “Do you know how far I am from the highway?”

“Not too far if you keep going the way you’re headed,” He replied. “Are you lost?”

Not anymore. While I didn’t know my exact location I could find my way to the highway and follow it to my car. I explained I got lost while hiking.

“How long have you been lost?” his wife asked with concern.

“Since last night.”

Getting ready to leave their campsite, the couple said they would drive me to my car after they finished packing up their gear. My car looked inviting, sitting and waiting for me at the Lake Marie parking area. The parking lot, filled with vehicles the afternoon before, sat empty with only one truck with my car.

Once I got inside my car I took off my sweater, now dirty, cold and wet. I plugged my phone into the car charger and pulled on my winter coat. I thanked myself for leaving the jacket in the backseat even though the weather at home didn’t call for it anymore.

As I drove down the highway off the mountain toward home, I saw search and rescue vehicles headed up.

“Damn, that’s for me.” I mumbled. Tears welled in my eyes with mixed emotions. People out there care about me. If my brother never bothered to teach me survival skills, the service these guys provided would become essential to my life.

I drove to where the highway turns off and parked off to the side. I turned my phone on and saw a text from a woman who works dispatch for the county sheriff’s office asking me to call. I obeyed and told her my location. She told me a deputy would meet with me to make sure I didn’t need medical attention and to take a statement.

The search and rescue crew came first. They all checked in on me asking if I planned to report on my incident for the radio newscast on Monday. Famous in a small town. Soon the deputy arrived. He asked me if I needed care, if I ate and drank enough food and water while lost and if I could drive home. After assuring him a warm house and a nap would cure me, the deputy sent me home.

I got home and hugged my boyfriend. After I recounted the brief version of the story, I took a hot shower and slept for a few hours.

 

Press release from the Sheriff’s Office:

my press release

Were you scared? I heard this question many times for the next month. I can honestly say no. I didn’t allow myself to get scared. My anxiety tried to take hold of me a few times, but I reminded myself that being scared wouldn’t help my situation. I needed to use my head to get through.

Each time anxiety tried to creep in, I took a moment to pray. A calmness washed over me and I trusted myself to move forward.

 

I hope somebody can learn something from my “adventure.” You can know the right steps to take in any situation and still make mistakes. Sometimes you let your desires and your confidence overtake your common sense. The tools to make the right decisions were in my brain, but I let my wish to hike the backside of Medicine Bow Peak intervene and take control.

There are a few items I wish I would have had with me now that I’ve experienced being lost in the forest. Most of the items are things I can easily store in my backpack and will become some of my essential items. One of those items is a space blanket to help me stay warm. I also keep my winter coat in my pack these days. I additionally have a backpacking stove and matches that I intend to keep in my pack for my adventures.

Most importantly, I always bring a GPS with me now. I have an app on my phone called Avenza Maps that works great! (Not sponsored) I’m obsessed with it and will have a blog post later about how great it is. It’s a free map app with a library of almost any map you could think of. Sometimes the maps cost money, but I haven’t seen any that are over $5. And you safety is worth more than that. Today I have three maps that cover the area where I was misplaced.

 

My last message for you is to donate to your local search and rescue! I’m truly grateful for the team we have here in Carbon County. Also thanks to the couple who brought me back to my car!

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Picture from before I got lost

Weekly Review: January 18th

Update on the federal government shutdown’s impacts on Wyoming.

Yellowstone National Park

Park officials say federal employees have started providing some basic services again, despite the ongoing partial government shutdown. Last weekend staff resumed collecting trash, cleaning bathroom and manning park entrances to provide safety information. Staff are removing snow at overlooks along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Recreation fee revenue is paying for the service. This money is from entrance, camping, parking and other fees previously collect from park visitors. Many of the services, such as trash collection, have been done by tour guides that operate in the park and community groups. Staff won’t collect fees during the shutdown and visitor centers will remain closed.

I also have to give kudos to the volunteers who’ve cleaned restrooms and have taken out trash in Yellowstone. Volunteers have used windshield scrapers to remove frozen human waste from the sides of toilets. Others have cleaned up rest stops and remove garbage.

Additional kudos goes to K-Bar Pizza of Gardiner, Montana who has given pizza to those volunteers. Another to Conoco who donated gas cards to volunteers and Yellowstone Forever who donated garbage bags. Many volunteers also paid for supplies out of pocket.

 

Devils Tower remains open

Devils Tower is accessible during the federal shutdown, but no National Parks Service staff members are on site. The buildings and bathrooms are closed. The National Parks Service website and social media are not being updated, meaning access to Devils Tower and other federal sits could change without notice.

Visitors should use caution and follow all safety protocols when entering federal sites because emergency services are limited during the partial government shutdown.

 

National Historic Trails Interpretive Center remains closed

The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper has been closed since December 21st due to the partial government shutdown. Six full-time federal employees aren’t able to go to work.

The 11,000 square foot center offers visitors a variety of exhibits and programs designed to educate visitors about the Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express trails. The trails all passed through central Wyoming.

On December 31st, center officials posted an apology on the museum’s Facebook page for being closed.

 

Wyoming energy projects on federal lands

Four of the Bureau of Land Management’s field offices will begin working through applications for permits to drill on Monday. The Buffalo, Casper, Pinedale and Rawlins field offices will focus on critical paperwork for the industry. This includes processing drilling permit applications that were near approval, right of ways that are tied to applications for drilling permits and alterations on approved permits.

What the BLM cannot do is process applications that need wildlife or archaeological evaluations. Those staff have not received exemptions to the shutdown.

 

Nationwide

Outside Magazine states that eight hundred of the 2,300 BLM staff remain on duty during the shutdown to serve the oil and gas industries.

They are also pushing forward with plans to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Alaska Public Media discovered that one BLM employee sent emails to schedule meetings related to the drilling environmental review process on January 3rd. This is problematic because the review process is supposed to be transparent and facilitate public input. However, BLM staff are not available to answer the public’s questions.

 

The River and the Wall has a premiere date

On January 4th I shared the trailer for the River and the Wall, a documentary that talks about the impacts a border wall would have on the people who live near there, wildlife and the Rio Grande River.

Ben Masters, who created the project, announced on Instagram on Wednesday that the premiere date has been set. The film will be released at the SXSW 2019 Film Festival, which is March 8-17.

Masters said the crew locked picture Monday evening and will have the finished film by late February. They are currently working out plans for a nationwide release.

According to Masters, you’ll never look at the border the same after you watch his film. “It’s so much more than a black line on the map and it gives voice to landowners, border patrol, Republican policymakers, Democrat policymakers, the wildlife there, immigrants and others.”

To get a sneak peak of what will be in the film, go to the River and the Wall Instagram page and take a look at the saved stories.

 

CWD found in a new elk hunt area near Sheridan

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department confirmed a cow elk has tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Elk Hunt Area 37. The elk was harvested by a hunter in late December. CWD has been previously documented in deer in overlaying Deer Hunt Area 24 but this is the first time an elk has tested positive.

To ensure that hunters are informed, Game and Fish announces when CWD is found in a new hunt area. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that hunters not consume any animal that is obviously ill or tests positive for CWD.

A map of CWD endemic areas is available on the Game and Fish website.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is concerned about CWD and how it may affect the future of Wyoming’s deer. The disease is fatal to deer, elk and moose. Recent research in Wyoming and Colorado shows that it may pose a threat to deer populations in areas with a high prevalence of the disease.

In 2018, Game and Fish personnel tested 5,280 CWD samples during this year’s hunting seasons, a significant increase from past years and continues to evaluate new recommendations for trying to manage the disease.

My upcoming adventures

Ice Fishing Derby

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I’ll be volunteering at the Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby this weekend. It’s a fun event with many cash prizes. The top trout of every hour gets a prize. There’s additionally three tagged fish that are worth big bucks!

Last year the Saratoga Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce, with the Silver Spur Ranch, also introduced the sucker skirmish. People got prizes for catching the biggest sucker. The suckers are an invasive species in Saratoga Lake, so this new objective had two benefits. The person who caught it could win a cash prize, and the lake was losing some of the suckers. This year, the Chamber and Silver Spur are taking it a step further. The person who catches the most suckers on Saturday will win $150. The most on Sunday will win $100.

You can still register for the event here! The event is on Saturday from 7 am to 5 pm and Sunday 7 am to 2 pm. The entry for adults is $35 and $10 for children.

Bighorn Sheep Capture

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I’ll be joining Wyoming Game and Fish for their capturing of Bighorn Sheep near the Encampment River. I took part in the activities last winter and have been invited again this year. It’s a great experience to see them capture the Bighorn ewes, collect samples and put collars on them. They’ll watch their movements to see where they go to forage throughout all seasons of the year. Game and Fish will also compare the data of this herd with others in Wyoming.

 

What I’m watching

Here’s a video on another capture, this one for mule deer.

mule deer capture

Hiking with strangers (who later become friends)

Disclaimer: This post is in no way sponsored or affiliated with Mountain Chicks or Women Who Hike. All views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

 

Meeting up with people you’ve never met before may sound intimidating. I’d be lying if I said the first time I did it, I wasn’t nervous. But I was also super excited.
 
I started meeting up with strangers to go hiking about a year after moving to Wyoming. My first summer I spent a lot of time hiking with my boyfriend. However, he’s more into fishing than hitting the trails and is often busy on weekends. I have a few friends I like to hike with as well, but they’re not always available when I am. I needed to find others with the same interest to join me when I didn’t want to go alone.
 
My first meet up
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The first time I met up with a stranger, it was through the Mountain Chicks Wyoming chapter. The ambassador at the time, Gretchen, was hosting a group hike at Medicine Bow Peak. She and I were the only ones who showed up for the hike. We met at the pay station at the Sugarloaf access. As I was paying she rolled down her window and asked if I was Emma. Sure enough, I was!
 
We drove to the trailhead, parked and waited a couple minutes to see if anybody else was going to show up. Nobody did and we started our hike.
 
It was fun to meet somebody else who was passionate about the outdoors and looking to explore Wyoming. We were both Midwest transplants who had been in the state for about a year and a half. Not only did I learn a lot about Gretchen, but I learned some valuable skills.
 
One is be prepared. (I learn this one through many experiences.) Somehow I forgot to bring snacks for the hike. Luckily, Gretchen had enough snacks to save the day.
 
The second thing I learned is to know when to speak up for your well-being. We started hiking at a brisk pace. As we got higher up the mountain, I couldn’t keep up the speed. At first I thought I needed to keep up. When I mentioned I was getting winded, Gretchen was more than willing to slow the pace to one that was more comfortable for both of us.
 
Cirque of the Towers
The next time I met up with strangers to go hiking, I drove about four hours to go backpacking with 13 other women. This was through Women Who Hike Wyoming. I hadn’t met any of the women besides having Facebook communication with Ambassador Ali.
 
cirque of the towers
After introductions and reminders on the Leave No Trace principles, we began the hike. I enjoyed getting to know the other women as we trekked the 12 miles to our campsite. Again I learned how important it is for me to prepare for the type of trip I’m taking. I wasn’t wearing the right shoes. I also didn’t have the right tools to heat my meals well.
 
The most important thing I learned about was community. Other women on the trip noted that I was having issues heating up my meal and offered their Jetboils.
 
Community was also found on the trail. A group of us had to hold up as one woman was fighting her blood sugar and other was getting used to the elevation. The rest of us needed to catch our breaths. The women who were doing fine checked to make sure we could continue on the trail, so that no one fell behind.
 
The communal experience at the campfire was also great. We shared stories while passing around the whiskey, gin and whatever else was on hand.
 
That strong community followed the next day when we hiked to the Cirque of the Towers. Some moments of the hike were grueling, but with the support of each other and a sharing of groans, we made it to the beautiful view.
 
Curt Gowdy State Park
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Women Who Hike brought me to my next hike with strangers, as well. On the Wyoming Facebook group, one of the women asked for people familiar with the Medicine Bow National Forest area. With my great love for the forest I chimed in. Four of us (plus one dog) made a plan to hike at Curt Gowdy State Park, which isn’t exactly in the forest but borders it.
 
I enjoyed that hike as well and made three more new friends. While we haven’t pinned anything down yet, we agreed we’d like to hike together again soon.
 
Spearfish Canyon
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Photo credit: Elisabeth Brentano
My last meet-up was with the South Dakota Women Who Hike group. I drove five hours to Spearfish Canyon for this experience. I met the South Dakota ambassador, Stephanie and Women Who Hike Founder Nicole Brown.
 
I met several other awesome women who took part in the hike. There were 40+ of us!
 
We hiked two miles in on the Iron Creek trail into the Spearfish Canyon’s winter wonderland. When we returned we hike another half miles to Spearfish Falls.
 
A Merrell representative was also there. She provided boots for people to try out on the trail. Everyone also got a free mug at the end of the event and two people won a free pair of boots.
 
I will do more of these meet-up hikes in the future. It’s my goal to get to Texas and hang out with Ambassador Mallory on one of her ventures.
If you want to meet up with strangers to go hiking, get involved in a group. It’s a safe way to make new friends and bust out the hiking boots. I also recommend meeting up with more than one other person. With another set of eyes it’s harder for anybody to try to do anything fishy.
I also like to check out the person I’m going to be hiking with on Facebook. You can usually tell from a brief review of their profile how serious they are about hiking and their skill level. It also makes the meet-up less awkward because you can bring up something you saw on their profile and start a conversation.

Weekly Review: January 11th

Wyoming Counties and Forest Service worry about overuse in the Bighorns

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Four counties surrounding the Bighorn Mountains, will be assembling a group of citizens. They will provide feedback on overuse in specific areas of the Bighorns.
 
The four counties are Sheridan, Johnson, Big Horn, and Washakie. They have been collaborating to solve issues in the Bighorn Mountains for years. They each send representatives to the Bighorn Mountain Coalition, which communicates with the U.S. Forest Service. They give and receive feedback about issues in the mountains.
 
Recently, the Forest Service has focused on the issues associated with heavy groups of campers in specific areas. These campers often dole heavy use on popular sections of the forest. Dispersed camping only alleviates the issue when the campers are visiting less-travelled sections of the forest.
 
Heavy concentrations of campers impacts roads and vegetation. The forest service is also experiencing issues with garbage and sanitation. The problems have been on the Forest Service’s radar for years.
 
The popularity of the Bighorns isn’t helping the issue any. The Sheridan visitor’s center receives more than 100,000 guests per year. Sheridan Travel and Tourism has also directed its efforts to encourage dispersed camping.
 
On their website, Sheridan Travel and Tourism lists several of the campgrounds available in the Bighorns. The list for backpacking areas is far more extensive. With more than 1.1 million acres and 1,200 miles of trails, the site states that the Bighorn National Forest offers limitless camping opportunities.
 
Shawn Parker, the director of travel and tourism, says that his department tailors marketing to whatever the Forest Service needs. He reaches out to the Forest Service to discuss what their recreation numbers look like. He uses that information to target marketing efforts into areas where the agency can handle it.
 
The citizen new group is expected to have 16 members, four from each county. Applications to be a member of the group closed on Jan. 4. After members are notified of their selection, they will begin holding meetings to come up with solutions to this problem.
 
For my community, if you have plans to visit the Bighorns this summer, call the Sheridan Travel and Tourism office at (307) 673-7121. The director can tell you can some places that don’t see as much traffic.
 

Avalanche Safety

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Wyoming saw its first avalanche of the winter on December 22nd. A Rock Springs man dies after an avalanche buried his snowmobile in the Wyoming Range near Jackson Hole. It was also the first fatality of the season within the US affording to Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey.
 
The snowmobiler was riding uphill on a small convex slope when a wind slab fractured on a buried layer of faceted snow. The 100-foot-wide avalanche has a 22-inch crown and ran roughly 100 feet. It broke above the man, carrying him about 50 feet and flipping his snowmobile on top of him.
 
You can usually avoid avalanches with proper training. Take advantage of a course this winter if you plan to go snowmobiling or alpine skiing outside of a resort this season.
 
Several classes are available through the Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.
 
Many local search and rescue teams offer brief courses as well, some of which are free or have a small cost. I took a brief course through the Carbon County Search and Rescue. They talked about the different types of snow and how to know when you or other activity could trigger an avalanche. The crew also showed the gear one should have on hand in case they get stuck in an avalanche. The number one item is a beacon. It’s a device that alerts rescue teams of your location.
I also recommend taking a class once a year to refresh your knowledge.
 

Lunar Eclipse January 20th

 
Wyoming will be one of the best places to view a total lunar eclipse on January 20th. While the lunar eclipse doesn’t have quite the wonder of the solar eclipse, which took place two summers ago, it is still stunning.
 
This event is called the January Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse and it will reach its totality right about 10:20 p.m.
 

Some National Parks close

 
Joshua Tree National Park has closed as a result of visitors damaging trees during the ongoing government shutdown. Besides damaging the trees, tourists have overflowed trash cans and restrooms. Motorist have created new roads, which is not allowed.
 
The park closed yesterday because officials lack the resources to clean and protect the destination. Employees can’t return to work as the partial government shutdown drags into its third week.
 
Instead of completely closing like in past government shutdowns, the Trump Administration has forced the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, to operate with a limited workforce. This has resulted in trash cans and toilets on federally managed lands not getting serviced and acres of habitat unprotected.
 
While some bad apples have been ruining the national parks, members of the public have been volunteering to help clean and care for parks. They’ve been unclogging toilets, picking up trash and putting up sign reminding visitors that they are on their own.
 
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are also closed. Yosemite National Park limited access to some areas of the park. Park officials closed Hetch Hetchy and Mariposa Grove due to lack of restrooms and resulting impacts from human waste. Employees who are working will cite people entering closed areas.
 
Lack of staffing to plow snowy roads or to keep watch over areas for safety is also forcing park officials to limit access to the public. Arches National Park shut down because the park’s inability to plow the roads after snowfall made conditions unsafe for visitors.
To see how Wyoming’s National Parks are affected by the government shutdown, check out last week’s review
 

My upcoming adventures

 
I’m headed to South Dakota this weekend for a Women Who Hike event. I can’t tell you exactly where right now, but when I return I’ll be posting a vlog. I’ll also have a new blog post about meeting up with strangers to take hikes. If you have any questions about meet-ups feel free to leave me a DM on Instagram or ask on my twitter post.