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

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.