Luke Hammons

News Intern

Luke Hammons is currently interning for Wyoming Public Radio's news department.  Before moving to Laramie, Luke lived for two years in Brazil, where he worked as an ESL Instructor, trained in the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, and wrote various fiction and poetry pieces for publication. 

He graduated from Eastern Washington University's MFA Creative Writing Program in fiction in 2009.  During his time in graduate school, he also volunteered as a creative writing teacher in Airway Height's medium security prison.

When Luke isn't reporting for WPR, he is either editing his sci-fi/western novel, Shark's Game III, giving lessons in capoeira, or simply enjoying being back in his home state of Wyoming.

Luke Hammons

Richard and Claire Dunne grow sagebrush on Absaroka Farm in northcentral Wyoming. The seeds are sold for use in land reclamation. Where some people see a weed, others see a gold mine...  At least that’s the case in Richard and Claire Dunne’s Absaroka Farm in North Central, Wyoming.  A farm that, if you drove past it, you might think was just another stretch of the prairie.

Although sagebrush seed is in demand, growing it commercially is a niche marked… and some people think it’s crazy.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Luke Hammons filed this report.

May 31st, 2013

May 31, 2013

Wyoming missed out on last uranium boom, but planning for the future

Wyoming Public Radio has for years reported that the state is on the verge of a uranium boom. It turns out the state missed the peak of that boom, and is now betting on slower, more conservative growth. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports.

May 10th, 2013

May 10, 2013
Courtesy Linda Baker

Pollutants detected in water wells in Sublette County’s gas fields
Sublette County has been in the news a lot because of its air quality problems, which largely stem from natural gas production. But there’s another issue too: Pollutants have been showing up in water wells. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

A US senate committee has introduced an immigration reform plan that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants living illegally in the U.S. Opponents claim that such a path rewards people who have broken the law by giving them amnesty.

Under current law, many immigrants seeking residency have to leave the country. Sometimes for ten years or more.  But this deportation often has side-effects.

Wyoming Public Radio's Luke Hammons has more.

Recent snow storms have brought Wyoming’s level of precipitation back to normal for the month.  That’s compared with April of last year– preceding the largest drought in history–when Wyoming was at 66% of average.

The Belle Fourche River Basin has the highest level of precipitation in the state at 300% of average.  And the Sweetwater Basin has the statewide low at 81%.

Ken Von Buettner is a hydrologic technician for the Natural Resources Conservation Council. Von Buettner is optimistic about having a summer with normal levels of precipitation.

A new study conducted by the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University reports that as more EPA regulations go into effect, natural gas is likely to become even more attractive to utilities than coal.

Co-author of the study, Professor Lincoln Pratson, says that one reason coal will become less desired is the expensive emission controls the coal plants will have to install.

The only pollutant that natural gas plants produce that the EPA regulates are NOx emissions.  NOx stands for pollutants which contain NO and NO2, gases formed during combustion.

Several groups will lead a rally in Laramie this week to combat rape culture. The event called Take Back the Night will incorporate music, dance and poetry to raise awareness about sexual assault and support survivors.

Although Wyoming Game and Fish says that the state has a healthy population of wolves, some groups believe the numbers are still far below where they should be.

Spokesman for the Game and Fish, Eric Keszler says that the minimum number of wolves needed to maintain a healthy population is 150, and the minimum number of breeding pairs is 15.  At the end of December, there were about 21 breeding pairs in Wyoming.

Although Wyoming Game and Fish says that the state has a healthy population of wolves, some groups believe the numbers are still far below where they should be.

Spokesman for the Game and Fish, Eric Keszler says that the minimum number of wolves needed to maintain a healthy population is 150, and the minimum number of breeding pairs is 15.  At the end of December, there were about 21 breeding pairs in Wyoming.

This month nine low-income fathers will graduate with structural steel welding certificates with the help of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.  DADS Making a Difference is a program that gives job training and other services to fathers who need help supporting their children.

Drivers in and around Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole need to watch out for large animals. Right now the spring migration of elk is underway.  Bison, mule deer, and moose are also leaving their winter ranges and traveling into their summer range in the Park.

Park Spokeswoman, Jackie Skaggs says that colliding with such animals can be extremely dangerous.

“Hitting something that large can cause serious damage to your vehicle,” Skaggs says, “could cause serious injury to you or the occupants of your vehicle, and it will likely cause the death of an animal.”

A rash of robocalls asking people for debit and credit card information has hit Wyoming.  According to Clyde Hutchings of the state Attorney General’s office, the scam starts when someone receives a phone call with a voice recording, telling the person that there’s a problem with their debit or credit card. The recording then asks for personal financial information, such as the card number and pin.  Clyde Hutchins of the Attorney General’s Office says that if you receive one of these calls, hang up the phone.

Wallpaperslot.com

The National Park Service and the Game and Fish Department changed regulations for hunting elk in Grand Teton National Park. Part of the reason for these changes is to avoid contact between hunters and grizzly bears.

Last year a hunter participating in the annual elk reduction program shot and killed a grizzly in the park. In 2011, a grizzly mauled a hunter. Both encounters involved bears protecting animal carcasses.

The National Weather Service says spring temperatures and precipitation should be near normal in Wyoming.

But Forecaster Paul Skrbac says that trend might not continue for the rest of the year.

“As we get into summer it looks like the odds increase that it’ll be a little warmer than normal,” Skrbac says, “and potentially a little dryer than normal.”

Skrbac says there’s still a chance that temperatures and precipitation could be average this summer, but it doesn’t look likely.

The National Weather Service says spring temperatures and precipitation should be near normal in Wyoming.

But Forecaster Paul Skrbac says that trend might not continue for the rest of the year.

“As we get into summer it looks like the odds increase that it’ll be a little warmer than normal,” Skrbac says, “and potentially a little dryer than normal.”

Skrbac says there’s still a chance that temperatures and precipitation could be average this summer, but it doesn’t look likely.

The National Weather Service says spring temperatures and precipitation should be near normal in Wyoming.

But Forecaster Paul Skrbac says that trend might not continue for the rest of the year.

“As we get into summer it looks like the odds increase that it’ll be a little warmer than normal,” Skrbac says, “and potentially a little dryer than normal.”

Skrbac says there’s still a chance that temperatures and precipitation could be average this summer, but it doesn’t look likely.

The Antelope Butte ski area in the Bighorn Mountains has been closed since 2004. Now, the Antelope Butte Foundation is raising money to reopen the ski-resort… this time as a nonprofit. The Foundation has applied for a Wyoming Business Council Grant to refurbish the resort. But the owner of the nearby Meadowlark Ski Lodge is worried that the competition could kill his business. Wyoming Public Radio’s Luke Hammons reports.

UW Economist Anne Alexander discusses the potential effects of the federal sequester on Wyoming
One thing everyone is trying to get a grip on is how the federal sequester will impact Wyoming.  Anne Alexander is an economist at the University of Wyoming.  She joined Bob Beck in the studio to discuss this.

Cheyenne Regional Airport could lose its air tower as a result of the federal sequester. The Federal Aviation Administration is losing funding for 100 towers nationwide, each of which serve airports with a limited number of flights.

David Haring is director of aviation at the airport. He says the airport will continue to operate… but losing the air tower is a big deal, because it’s an important safety tool.

March 1st a series of automatic cuts to federal spending—called the sequester—went into effect. Education is one of the areas Wyoming will feel the cuts most acutely. A White House report says the state will lose millions of dollars in school funding.

Jim Rose, interim director of the Wyoming Department of Education, says a 5% cut to the federal education budget would mean special needs students would get less funding.

This summer, the State of Wyoming and the City of Casper will sponsor a four-day adventure race, in which participants will hike, bike, and paddle more than 300 miles across the state. At the Governor’s Tourism Conference this week, Governor Matt Mead said the event will draw visitors from across North America and show off the state’s tourist attractions.Rev 3 Adventure, an event and race production company, will organize the Cowboy Tough Adventure Weekend.Company spokesman Michael Spiller described the race as a giant scavenger hunt, inspired by Wyoming attractions and history.

mywindpowersystem.com

A group of University of Wyoming researchers received $508,000 from NASA to study aerodynamics and wind resistance at Wyoming’s Supercomputing Center.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that Wyoming has one of the highest capacities for wind power production in the country. But University of Wyoming Mathematics Professor Stefan Heinz says most wind farms aren’t arranged as efficiently as they could be. He says the wake of one turbine often disrupts the turbines around it, reducing efficiency.

Yellowstone National Park is now generating one third of its electricity from a hydroelectric facility.  Located near the Mammoth Hot Springs Headquarters, the plant’s engineers estimate that it will save the Park about $70,000 a year.   

Park spokesman, Dan Hottle, says that the hydroelectric plant will also be good for the environment.  

“This is one example,” Hottle says, “of a project where we were able to cut our greenhouse emissions by almost 800 metric tons every year.”

Various ecological groups in the Rocky Mountain region have joined together to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to list the boreal toad as endangered.

Once populating much of the coniferous forests of the Western United States, the boreal toad’s numbers have plummeted in the last two decades. Currently, the amphibian is only found in 1% of its original breeding area in the Southern Rockies.

A new report released by the State Tourism Office shows that tourism in Wyoming generated $128 million in tax revenues in 2012. That’s a 7.6% increase over taxes generated by tourism in 2011.

The number of visitors to the state also grew by 4% from 8.34 million in 2011 to 8.67 million in 2012.

Diane Shober, Director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, says that this higher tax revenue might be coming from more focused marketing techniques and increased cooperation between state, local, and private tourism groups.

Billings Gazette

Bacteria connected with pneumonia that can be fatal to bighorn sheep has been found in the herd living near Jackson. This month, 10 of 14 bighorn sheep tested positive for mycoplasma ovipneumonia.

In the early 2000s, this same bighorn sheep herd was cut in half by an outbreak of pneumonia.  After this outbreak, the lamb birth-rate did not return to normal levels for about four years. 

Game and Fish biologist Doug Brimeyer says that there is not enough evidence to say whether or not these kinds of outbreaks are cyclical. 

Although Wyoming's unemployment rate dropped from November to December by 0.2 percent, the state labor force has also decreased by about 2,500 people in the last year, signaling that the economy might be worsening. 

Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Senior Economist David Bullard says the low unemployment rate doesn't tell the whole story about the state of Wyoming's economy.

The Wyoming Film Office is taking submissions for the annual Wyoming Short Film Contest.  To be eligible, films must be under fifteen minutes, shot in Wyoming, set in Wyoming, or include Wyoming as a character.  The winner will receive a $25,000 prize, for use on their next film shot in Wyoming.      

Kevin Miller / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

A new American Veterinary Medical Association survey shows that Wyoming ranks tenth in pet ownership.  More than 60-percent of Wyoming households own a pet.  But the report says the pets might not be getting the care they need.   Survey data focused mainly on dogs and cats as pets, but the association acknowledged any animal an owner considers a pet. AVMA President Douglas Aspros says pet ownership tends to be higher in rural states, but he says people are not taking their pets to the veterinarian often enough.