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

dsc_0168

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

dsc_0260

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

Weekly Review: January 4th

Federal Government Shutdown Impacts Wyoming Sites.

Several federal sites, parks and landmarks throughout Wyoming closed or have limited services. This is due to the partial federal government shutdown, which began on December 21, 2018.

National sites are seeing limited access, services, emergency personnel and ranger-led tours. While the shutdown is closing some national sites, Yellow Stone National Park and Grand Teton National Park remain open.

Yellowstone National Park:

Yellowstone remains open, but, all government-run operations and facilities closed. Entrance stations are not staffed. Park staff are providing emergency services and law enforcement. All park regulations, including those on snow travel, are in effect as normal.

The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana is open to wheeled vehicle travel. Visitors can access all the commercial services along this route. This includes commercial services in Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower.

Visitors can also access commercial services in the interior of the park via over snow travel. Concessioners are currently providing funding for road grooming so that over snow access to the interior is possible. If conditions become unsafe at any time, roads and/or developed areas in the park may close.

For the most current information on services offered by Yellowstone National Park Lodges, visit www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311.

 

Grand Teton National Park:

Entrance gates are open, but not staffed. Visitors can access the park with no visitor services available. Ranger-led snowshoe hikes are not available.

 

While you can still access the national parks in Wyoming, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. I haven’t heard about how the closures are affecting parks in Wyoming. I have heard, however, that toilets are overflowing at Joshua Tree and litter is gathering in Yosemite. Visitors are venturing off roads and trails, causing serious damage to delicate ecosystems in Death Valley.

If you do go camping in a national park during the shut, bring a trash bag and your own toilet paper. Do your part to help out in the absence of employees.

 

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area:

All park facilities (restrooms, visitor centers, etc.) are currently closed. Visitor access to recreation areas, trails and fishing on the area’s waterway remain open.

 

Devils Tower National Monument:

Access is unavailable.

 

Fossil Butte National Monument:

Facilities closed.

 

Fort Laramie National Historic Site:

All fenced facilities closed.

 

National Elk Refuge:

Sleigh ride tours on the National Elk Refuge through Double H Bar continue as scheduled. For more information on ticket sales and services, please call the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce at 307-733-3316.

Federal employees tell visitors to Wyoming’s national sites to practice caution. They should follow all safety protocol on national lands as the shutdown has limited emergency services.

 

Wyoming State Parks remain open and unaffected, with abundant recreation options.

 

The Government Shutdown in General

President Donald Trump announced a partial government shutdown 14 days ago on December 22nd. This was after Democrats rejected his demand for 5 billion dollars in wall funding. Democrats and Republicans have reached a stalemate with disputes on border security and wall funding.

Bipartisan congressional leaders headed to the White House this morning. They planned on talking on how to end the partial government shutdown. Lawmakers are looking to break a stalemate over Trump’s demand for five billion dollars to build his proposed border wall. The two major parties stand far from a deal on border security as many federal works face missed paychecks.

Democrats passed bills Thursday evening to reopen nine federal governments. This was one of their first acts in their new House majority. Their plan does not call for the money for Trump’s wall. Eight of those departments would get funding through September 30th. The Department of Homeland Security would reopen through February 8th. Because the measures don’t include money for Trump’s border wall, he has vowed not to sign the spending packages.

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi said, “We’re not doing a wall. Does anybody have any doubt about that? We’re not doing a wall. It’s an old way of thinking. It’s not cost effective.”

Trump has so far shown no willingness to cave. He said Wednesday that the shutdown would last “as long as it takes” to see his demands met.

As the shutdown drags one, political pressure on Republicans has increased. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner was the first Senate Republic to call for reopening the government, even without a border wall deal.

“I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open. The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today,” Gardner said.

Gardner wants to pass legislation with the 1.3 billion dollars Democratic leaders have proposed for border fencing.  From there he believes Congress should work to get more funding. Gardner said negotiations on Trump’s border wall can continue once Congress reopens federal agencies. He added Republicans can “let Democrats explain why they no longer support border security.”

As of noon on Friday January 4th, I hadn’t heard any further updates on the federal government closure.

 

My thoughts on the border wall

I’m going to be blunt and state it. I am 100 percent against the border wall. I’m not going to talk about the social aspects, because I don’t have enough knowledge to talk about that. My biggest concern is the environment and the wildlife that live along the border. Animals don’t understand borders and if the government builds a wall that could affect their migration corridors.

Along the border the US has National Parks, State Parks and wildlife areas containing miles of critical ecosystems.

Additionally, nature has already built a wall along part of the border. The Rio Grande Gorge acts as a huge trench between Mexico and Texas. A large canyon wall scales both sides of the river. A physical border wall would block several animals from the Rio Grande, which is their only reliable water source. The wall would also prohibit dispersal of wildlife, likely causing genetic isolation.

Once populations are genetically isolated, they can deviate through one of two mechanisms. These are natural selection or genetic drift. Let’s touch on natural selection first. Limited resources ensure that wildlife with certain genes leave behind more offspring than others. As a result, those genes become more common in the population over time. In genetic drift, a random event can wipe out individuals non-selectively so that some genes become more common while others are eliminated.

Why is this important? For many animals to thrive, their gene pools need to be as varied as possible. Isolated from each other, they’re in trouble. Genetic isolation puts wildlife at risk of extinction or genetic problems. There can be problems with inbreeding, which can pass on undesirable genes for the animals.

Ben Masters is working to develop a documentary that further details the ecological and wildlife impacts that the wall would present. Click the picture to see the trailer on this film.

 

49326595_529953110844266_2722427709912252416_n

 

The crew  traveled 1,200 miles along the U.S. and Mexico border to experience the vast landscapes. They journeyed from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico on horses, mountain bikes and canoes. They also came face-to-face with the human side of the immigration debate.

The River and the Wall is slated to be released this year. Masters and his crew traveled to Washington recently for a private screen of the film. Following the screening, Representative U.S. Representative Will Hurd(R-TX 23), Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX 16), and Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) joined Director Ben Masters, Producer Hillary Pierce, and Associate Producer Jay Kleberg for a panel discussion moderated by Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet.

 

I’m not against border security, but I don’t think the wall is the right answer. The government needs to do something else. It’s not an easy black and white answer.

 

Other news

Wyoming Game and Fish

Back in Wyoming, the Game and Fish Department made some changes to licenses for 2019.

Starting this year, when people buy a fishing, small game, game bird or furbearers license, it will be valid for 12 months from the sale date. In the past, these licenses would expire on the first of the New Year. Now, if a person buys their license on July 1st, 2019, the license will expire on July 1st, 2020.

Game and Fish personnel listened to public feedback. They found a year-long license was something many people were requesting, so they could get the full use of the license.

With these new changes, Game and Fish will print the expiration dates for licenses and conservation stamps. Hunters and anglers will be able to keep track of when they need to buy again. If people renew early, the start date for the new license will begin the day after the current one expires.

Game and Fish also implemented a 2.5 percent processing fee for credit card transactions. When people buy hunting applications or licenses with credit cards, Game and Fish used to pay the processing fee. This resulted in a 1.8 million dollar expense on the department’s behalf each year.

 

What I’m listening to:

 

The Future Perfect podcast: How to save a species (if you really want to)

This episode is a couple months old, but has good information about the black footed ferret. The US Fish and Wildlife Service thought the ferrets were extinct until a Wyoming rancher rediscovered it in 1981. The host of the podcast goes through the debate about whether agency should continue with efforts to continue saving the ferrets.