Jordan Giese

News Student Intern

Jordan Giese is a political science major currently working on his bachelor's degree. He has lived in Wyoming all his life but has a focus on both local issues and international stories. He moved to Laramie just last year rediscovering Wyoming and all it has to offer in landspaces, opportunities and people. He has listened to WPR for years and is thrilled to contribute to an important state service and NPR.

When he is not writing for WPR or his classes Jordan enjoys reading history, news from around the world and collecting typewriters. He hopes to remain in the state but also hopes to work for public radio in the future.

Senate Energy GOP

U.S. Senator John Barrasso will be chairing a congressional hearing on the Wind River Reservation at the end of March that will bring tribal officials and law enforcement together to testify on drugs use on the reservation and different methods to curb use.

The Wind River Reservation was one of four reservations chosen for a law enforcement surge pilot program in 2010 and 2012 to combat substance abuse and violent crime. Barrasso says the hearing was called to find out if it was the surge or some other factors that helped curb crime.

Smith’s Food and Drug Store in Jackson honored firefighters who helped save the store from a propane fire last November.

Jackson Hole Fire put out the blaze which started inside at propane store and was spreading towards an eleven-thousand gallon propane tanker.

More than fifty firefighters were on the scene. Smith’s Grocery Store is donating $5,000 of gift-cards to the Department and  hosted a dinner Thursday.

Kathy Clay is the Jackson Hole Fire Marshall and says the Grocery Store wasn’t the only business in harm’s way.

The number of people in Wyoming who have purchased health insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace has nearly doubled since last year. More than 21,000 consumers signed up for plans in 2015 as part of the Affordable Care Act. Last year, nearly 12,000 people signed up for a plan.

Monica Jennings is a Marketplace Navigator with Enroll Wyoming. She says despite many Wyomingites enrolling, there are still many in the state without health coverage who would have benefited from Medicaid expansion.

Jordan Giese

The Casper Housing Authority is wrapping up the first year of its Housing First Program. It was designed to give the chronically homeless places to live before tackling other issues like addiction and illness.

The program was started last March with 10 homes and 14 participants. Four of them have dropped out of the program, but nine people now have permanent housing and one has completely graduated from the program, and has moved into housing without assistance from the state.

The Jackson elk herd is not wintering in locations that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department say can support such high numbers. While the overall population of 11,000 is healthy, several locations have more elk than they can support.

The National Elk Refuge and the Snake River Corridor areas are both bursting at the seams with elk this winter. Game and Fish Spokesman Mark Gocke says two issues are to blame animals are migrating down from better range to the north and they have unusually high birth rates this year. He says hunting could help the problem.

Rebecca Martinez

The student population at the University of Wyoming has grown slightly over the past year. UW reports that 162 more students attend the University than did last spring.

The College of Engineering and Applied Science has seen most of the recent growth. Its student population is up 9% or about 150 students from last year.

New Engineering Dean Michael Pishko says despite the downturn in the oil industry, companies are still looking to hire new engineers.

University of Wyoming

Five new members will be joining the University of Wyoming’s Board of Trustees. They will take over for members whose terms have expired and the late Warren Lauer who died last year.

Mel Baldwin, John McKinley, Dick Scarlett, Michelle Sullivan and Mike Massie were appointed by the governor and approved by the senate. All will serve until 2021 except for Massie, who is serving Lauer’s term until 2017. The Next Board of Trustees meeting will be at the end of this month.

University President Dick McGinity says the new members will be key in moving the Board forward.

Star Valley Chamber of Commerce

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will break ground on its first Wyoming temple this April. The new Star Valley Mormon Temple will be built just south of Afton near the Idaho border.

Unlike other church buildings, temples perform special services for members of the Mormon faith, like marriage and baptism ceremonies.

Jerry Hansen is an LDS spokesman for the Afton area. He says the temple is highly anticipated by local members.

outdoorcentral.com

The invasive species Quagga  mussels have been discovered in Deer Creek Reservoir in Utah. That poses a special risk to Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is only 200 miles away.

Quagga mussels are an invasive aquatic species which have been spreading across the United States since 1989. They can clog power-plant intakes and starve  local species of food.

Wes Gordon is an Aquatic Invasive Species specialist with the Wyoming’s  Game and Fish Department, and says while Wyoming is currently mussel free, the risk of infestation is growing.

The National Elk Refuge in Jackson has completed their annual classification count. For the second year in a row more than 8,000 wintering elk were counted, well over the refuge’s 5,000 elk goal.

That goal comes from the refuge’s 15 year management plan which began in 2007. The plan outlines sustainable elk and bison populations for habitat conservation and disease management in the Jackson area. The refuge has been trying to reduce the animal’s reliance on winter feeding at the refuge.

Wyoming Department of Corrections

Casper’s District Attorney will be allowed again to seek the death penalty in the case of a Wyoming inmate convicted of killing a Montana woman. That’s after District Judge Alan Johnson denied a request from Dale Wayne Eaton’s defense team to let him serve life in prison without parole. 

Eaton was convicted of killing Lisa Marie Kimmell in 2004, but his death sentence was overturned last year after Judge Johnson ruled he did not receive a proper defense. The judge said Eaton’s history as a victim of abuse should have been discussed.

114,000 new acres of bark beetle kill has been detected in an aerial survey done by the State Forestry Division for 2014. Most of that is in Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests. 

Les Koch is the division’s Forest Health Specialist and says while warmer weather didn’t help in deterring the Pine, Spruce, and Douglas-Fir beetles, they have already killed many of their suitable host trees. While 2014 did see an increase in acres affected, over the last few years the overall trend has been downward.  

On the verge of closing down, the technical school WyoTech has been bought and will now become a non-profit college.  Last week, Zenith Education Group acquired the school and 50 others. The move comes after scandals at WyoTech’s previous owner, Corinthian Colleges forced the company to sell off many of its campuses. . 

County10.com

Saint Thomas’ Episcopalian Church is holding a special charity event for victims of last year’s fire in Dubois. That fire destroyed or damaged over half a dozen downtown businesses.

“Give Your Heart to Dubois” will be held on February 14th; Valentine’s day and will feature dinner, live music and auctions for art and homemade pies. Dubois resident Cathy Traenor is on Mayor’s committee for the event, and says the charity will help some of those business owners with other expenses.

saferoads.org

Wyoming ranks among the worst states for auto safety laws. That’s according to a new report from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Eight other states were rated as red in the report, which means they have less than half of the organization’s recommended laws like mandatory seatbelt enforcement and required helmet use for all motorcyclists.

Bunky Loucks is a Representative from Casper and says he sees no need for state laws to change.

USPS

The U.S. Postal Service is shutting down nearly 40% of its processing centers around the country this year. A center in Rock Springs is scheduled to be closed, leaving just two of these facilities in Wyoming.

Post Service spokesman for Wyoming, David Rupert says the U.S.P.S. is ceasing overnight local letter delivery as well. But Rupert says most postal customers won’t notice these changes.

WyoLotto

The Wyoming Lottery has unveiled a new in-state game. Cowboy Draw will be the first lottery game exclusively for Wyoming.

Since its launch in August, the lottery had only sold tickets for the two big multi-state games, Powerball and Mega millions. WyoLotto C.E.O. Jon Clontz says Cowboy Draw is just the first of several expansions.

Wallpaperslot.com

2014 was a record year for Grand Teton National Park visitations.

The national park had about 2.8 million recreational visits last year. The previous record holder, 1998 was beaten out by 34 thousand visits. Public Affairs Officer Jackie Skaggs says some of the factors that made the park so popular in 1990’s are surfacing again.

A bill drafted for the upcoming Wyoming legislative session would attempt to lower penalties for possession of small amounts of Marijuana. Representative Jim Byrd of Cheyenne is sponsoring the bill which would make possession of less than an ounce of Marijuana a civil fine instead of a felony.

House Bill 29 would only fine citizens up to $100 for one ounce of the drug.  A third possession offense could carry jail time and probation, but that punishment would not be mandatory and would be left up to the judge.

Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has assigned natural disaster status to Big Horn and Park Counties. An early freeze in September last year significantly damaged farms in the area.

Freezing temperatures hit crops early causing bean, corn and sunflower losses. Park County lost over $7,000,000 of crops while Big Horn County saw more than $3,000,000 of damage.

Gregor Goertz is the Wyoming Farm Service Agency’s Executive Director and says some farmers were hit harder than others.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is asking Fremont County residents to keep their dogs away from deer, moose and other large game. The county has seen an increase in dog and wildlife conflicts in recent weeks, and several deer were found dead.

Rene Schell is the Department’s Lander Information Specialist and says with big game on the move, it’s important not to interfere with their migration. Schell also says cities like Lander have had to ban wildlife feeding, because that’s led to additional problems.  

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

A hire made three years ago by the Albany County Sheriff’s department is now coming under increased scrutiny. Deputy Derek Colling was fired by the Las Vegas Police three years ago for beating an unarmed man.

The victim was videotaping Colling during the incident. He was later awarded 100-thousand dollars in a settlement with the Las Vegas Police. Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley says that did not affect his decision to hire Colling.

Wyoming received a D-minus for its new teacher preparation in a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The state ranked 49th in the nation for its education of teachers to make sure students are prepared for higher education.

Sandi Jacobs is the Council’s Vice President and Director for State Policy and says Wyoming is making some progress, but still lags behind much of the nation.

The Western Governor’s Association, including Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, passed a resolution this weekend saying the energy industry needs to reduce methane leakage. Methane is the main component of natural gas. The resolution says methane leaks are a serious financial and environmental problem.

Jon Goldstein is the Environmental Defense Fund’s Senior Policy Manager. He says leaks should be a concern not only for people worried about the environment, but also companies looking at the bottom line.

Bob Beck / WPM

Governor Matt Mead has proposed a new athletic training center for the University of Wyoming. The facility would cost forty million dollars and would be funded equally by the legislature and private donors.

Tom Burman is the Director of Athletics at U-W and says the facility would serve athletes from all U-W sports-teams. He also says it could attract business from Olympic-level athletes.

Robert Verzo via Flickr

Governor Matt Mead is proposing adding passing lanes to some of the state’s highways including Highway 59 between Douglas and Gillette. Mead’s budget proposal would use 21 million dollars in state funds for the upgrades.

Jim Willox is the Chairman of the Converse County Commissioners and says the proposed lanes would ease the surge in energy traffic on the 170 mile highway.

Money Blog News via Flickr

Next Monday is the biggest online shopping day of the year, and that makes it ripe for scams and identity theft. Credit card information, bank accounts and other personal information is more accessible to scammers through insecure websites.

Wyoming Senior Assistant Attorney General Melissa Theriault says keeping a close eye on bank accounts can help prevent thefts.

Wyoming Highway Patrol Association

Deaths on Wyoming highways have risen sharply this year. While there were 87 fatalities in 2013, there have been 136 in 2014. 61 percent of the people who died on Wyoming highways this year were not wearing seatbelts.

Sergeant David Wagener with the Wyoming Highway Patrol says that while seatbelts are mandatory in the state, seatbelt laws are only enforceable after a driver has been pulled over for another offense like speeding. He also says people still choose to break that law.

Associated Press

Wyoming’s only death row inmate had his death sentence overturned in Federal Court Thursday. Dale Wayne Eaton was convicted of kidnap, assault and murder Lisa Marie Kimmel of Billings in 1988. 

Federal Judge Alan Johnson overturned Eaton’s death penalty due to lack of proper representation during Eaton’s trial. Eaton will remain in prison, but it is unclear if Wyoming’s attorney general will appeal the ruling.  

Michael Blonigen is the Natrona County District Attorney and the person who originally prosecuted Eaton. He says the victim’s family is distraught over the ruling.

Wyoming Department of Health

Diabetes in Wyoming has spiked in recent years. The Wyoming Department of Health says almost 9% of adults in Wyoming now have the disease, up from 4.5% in 2001.

Joe Grandpre is an epidemiologist with the Department of Health and says while that rate is already high, some areas of the population have been affected even more.

“So we have about 7.9 percent in white non-Hispanics in Wyoming," says Grandpre. "But in our American Indian population it’s 19.5, so almost one on five of our American Indian adults has been told they have diabetes. And with Hispanics it’s 13.7.”

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