Tristan Ahtone

Reporter

Phone: 307-766-5064
Email: tahtone@uwyo.edu 

Tristan Ahtone is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. He’s also German and English and a few other dashes of Euro-mix (just to make things more interesting). Before becoming a reporter, Tristan held a number of exciting jobs, such as door-to-door salesman, delivery driver, telemarketer, air-conditioning repairman, secretary, janitor, busboy, and office clerk to name a few.

In 2006, Tristan graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. In 2008, he received a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from the Columbia School of Journalism. After graduating with a masters in journalism Tristan worked with The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, National Native News, Frontline and NPR. Then the recession came and he moved to Hong Kong to teach English for a year, returned to New Mexico to teach a journalism course, and finally arrived at Wyoming Public Radio in August of 2010.

In his spare time, Tristan enjoys watching films, exotic travel, good food and strong drink - but dislikes going to bed, getting up, or being left alone, as he tends to get in trouble.

A steady decline in rain and snow may put farmers and ranchers in a bad spot this year. That’s ccording to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.Last year at this time, many places in the state had snow pack between 150- and 200-percent of average, but this year, it's 39 percetn of average.

After threatening the closure of over 40 post offices around the state, the U.S. Postal Service has pulled back and put a new proposal on the table: post offices will stay open, retail hours will be cut, and postmasters will be offered early retirement.

The USPS estimates that the move could save more than 500-milllion dollars a year while saving rural post offices, and Wyoming Postal spokesman David Rupert says offices will still be manned by postal employees.

On Friday, the Bureau of Land Management released new proposals to regulate hydraulic fracturing on public and tribal lands.

Proponents have seen the rules as base-line protection for residents in all states, opponents see them as redundant and bad for business.

Governor Mead says he’s troubled by the rules because Wyoming’s Fracking standards are already more stringent than what the federal government is proposing.

Tribal officials on the Wind River Reservation continue to seek answers after the Department of Energy announced that uranium was found in some residents' tap water.
DOE officials announced last week that data collected in the fall indicated that four households near a former uranium waste site had levels of uranium nearly twice the legal limit.

The Bureau of Land Management has released a proposal to regulate hydraulic fracturing on public and tribal lands. Under the proposed rules, companies that use fracking would need to disclose chemicals used in the process after the job was finished, and would have to address issues related to waste water and drill holes.

Kathleen Sgamma is a spokesperson for Western Energy Alliance. She says the proposed regulations would be bad for business, which she says already faces excessive bureaucratic hurdles.

Tribal officials on the Wind River Reservation continue to seek answers after the Department of Energy announced that uranium was found in some residents' tap water.

DOE officials announced Wednesday evening that data collected last fall indicated that four households near a former uranium waste site had levels of uranium nearly twice the legal limit.

Dean Goggles is executive Director for the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission.

Tristan Ahtone

The Department of Energy says elevated levels of uranium have been found in drinking water on the Wind River Reservation. At a public meeting in Riverton, the DOE confirmed that four households on Wind River showed levels of uranium up to twice the legal limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Officials are warning that despite current wet weather, the risk of statewide fire danger will be high in the coming months.

Bill Crapser is Wyoming’s State Forester. He says, so far, this spring has seen a large amount of fires due to drier weather… and despite recent spates of rain and snow and a temporary reduction in fires, Crapser says he expects more in the near future.

Bob Beck

 

Douglas residents react to Chesapeake Energy gas leak
This week, there was an explosion at an oil rig near Douglas. Natural gas spewed from the well, and about 50 people were evacuated from their homes. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden visited Douglas shortly after the accident and put together this montage of residents’ reactions.

DAN CEPEDA

A Tuesday oil rig accident northeast of Douglas continues to spew gas into the atmosphere.

At last count, 50 of 67 residents volunteered to evacuate the surrounding area of the leak, staying in hotels paid for by the site’s natural gas operator Chesapeake Energy.

No injuries have been reported.

Oil and gas commissioner Tom Doll says it’s unclear how much gas has been lost.

A natural gas leak 10 miles northeast of Douglas has caused dozens of residents to evacuate their homes.

The natural gas site, operated by Cheasapeake Energy, began leaking gas around 4pm yesterday, and by last night, Chesapeake official John Dill says area residents were notified that they should evacuate.

"We contacted approximately 67 residents in homes in about a 2.5 mile radius of this location, and asked them to consider a voluntary evacuation to area hotels, which is going to be paid for by the company," says Dill.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, unintentional deaths of children under the age of 19 declined by 29-percent nationally between 2000 and 2009.

However, Kelly Weidenbach, an epidemiologist with the Wyoming Department of Health, says there has not been a similar drop in Wyoming.

 

Increase in coal exports on the horizon
There are more new ports designed for coal export being proposed in the U.S. and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal producers are training their eye on the developments. With some of the most efficient economies of scale in the world, a larger percentage of PRB coal could be making its way across the ocean soon. What would that mean for Wyoming and the global community? Irina Zhorov reports. 

Wyoming has been home to the jackalope since it was “accidently” invented by a taxidermist in Douglas. But over the last two years, jackalopes have been on the decline… at least according to some taxidermists around the state. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tristan Ahtone volunteered to investigate.

New numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show that birth rates for U.S. teenagers have dropped significantly.

According to Brady Hamilton, a co-author of the CDC report, teen birth rates have dropped to historic lows.

“There was a 9-percent decline in the teen birth rate between 2009 and 2010, which is unbelievable,” says Hamilton. “And across states, declines were seen in all but three states, and Wyoming declined 22-percent in its rate between 2007 and 2010.”

Teton County is the most expensive county in the Wyoming to live in, compared to the statewide average. That’s according to the State Economic Analysis Division.

Amy Bittner is a senior economist with the Economic Analysis Division. The statewide average index number is 100, and Bittner says in Teton County, the index number for consumer goods reached 133 in the fourth quarter of last year.

Wyoming workers are making more money than they did a year ago. According to most recent numbers, the state ranks sixth in the nation for per capita personal income with earnings just over $47,000 per person in 2011. That’s well above the national average of approximately $42,000. 

Senior Economist for the state’s Economic Division, Jim Robinson, says one of the primary drivers for personal income growth was energy.

Wyoming’s largest health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield says they’re unsure what effects will be felt in the state should the Supreme Court strike down the Affordable Care Act.

Wendy Curran is with Blue Cross Blue Shield. She says the insurance giant has been working hard to get up-to-date with provisions laid out by the ACA. However, should the act be struck down, she says many of the acts provisions would likely remain. But all eyes are on one key provision:

According to statistics over 50-percent of high school students drank in 1995. In 2011 the number had dropped to 34-percent.

For binge drinking, in the mid-90’s nearly 40-percent of high school students participated. Last year under 25-percent reported taking part in binge drinking.

Rodney Wambean is a research scientist with the University of Wyoming. He says based on figures from the mid 90’s had there been no prevention efforts, use among teenagers today would be around 53-percent.

Wyoming’s Northern Arapaho Tribe is being allowed to capture and kill two bald eagles for religious purposes. The permit comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which has issued similar permits for golden eagles in the past, but never before for bald eagles. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tristan Ahtone reports.

In recent years, the number of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in American rose more among Native Americans than any other ethnic population .

Native Americans make up one percent of the caseloads nationally, but in Wyoming, they make up four times the national average.

Robert Foley is President of the National Native American Aids Prevention Center. He worries that dealing with the epidemic in states like Wyoming where the general population is small, could be a huge obstacle in the future.

Last year an anonymous whistle-blower alerted officials to concerns over sterilization procedures at Sheridan Memorial Hospital.

The Wyoming Department of Health investigated the complaint and issued the hospital a citation regarding the sterilization of a piece of equipment placed in patients throats undergoing surgery to provide air.

Officials at Sheridan Memorial Hospital say they are being upfront and transparent with the Wyoming Department of Health and patients in regards to equipment that may not have been properly sterilized.

According to the Department of Health, Sheridan Memorial failed to fully sterilize a piece of surgical equipment known as a laryngeal  mask airway between May and November of last year.

Mike McCafferty is CEO of Sheridan Memorial. He says the hospital is looking into how the situation occurred.

The health and safety advocate group Public Citizen says Sheridan Memorial Hospital failed to fully sterilize some surgical equipment and may have exposed patients to viral and bacterial infections.

That allegation comes after the Wyoming Department of Health found that he hospital did not adequately sterilize a piece of equipment known as a laryngeal mask airway, which is placed in the throats of patients undergoing surgery to provide air.

A recent report from the Center for Public Integrity ranks Wyoming 48th in the nation when it comes to accountability in state politics. According to the report, Wyoming and a number of other western states seemed to operate with a live-and-let-live attitude when it came to government,  stressing a strong preference for informal societal controls as opposed to legislative actions that regulated oversight.

Gordon Witkin is with the Center for Public Integrity. He says Wyoming is too relaxed when it comes to oversight and auditing processes.

Most Americans have little difficulty practicing their religion. But for Native Americans, performing traditional religious ceremonies isn't always so simple. Many rites often involve heavy regulation by federal authorities — especially when it comes to using sacred items like eagle feathers.

The U.S. government, the European Union, Japan have filed a complaint to the World Trade Organization, alleging that China is illegally limiting exports of rare earth minerals.

Rare earth minerals are necessary components in high-tech and green energy industries, to make things like television sets, cell phones and wind turbines. China currently controls about 97-percent of the world’s supply.

After two years of review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has issued members of the Northern Arapaho tribe permits to capture two live bald eagles for religious purposes.

Last year, the Northern Arapaho sued Fish and Wildlife Service, charging the agency with violating tribal members rights to religious freedom.

Matt Hogan is with the Fish and Wildlife Service. He says while the application may sound strange to non-natives, the use of eagle parts is very important to tribes.

Conservation groups from 35 states have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency in favor of regulating lead hunting ammunition.
 The organizations assert that lead rounds used by hunters pose a threat to public health and can poison eagles and other wildlife.

 Bryan Bedrosian is the avian program director for Craighead Beringia – a non-profit wildlife research organization in Wyoming. He says his group’s studies show that a high proportion of ravens and eagles have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

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