Wyoming faced numerous natural resource challenges in 2015 as state leaders sought to reconcile residents’ relationship with the natural world. WyoFile covered the issues, from greater sage grouse to grizzly bears, often giving its readers exclusive stories about the state’s wildlife and human involvement with it. Below is a summary of 10 of the top stories of 2015, with links to the original pieces.
Field worker worried about grizzlies
Ten days before a bear killed him in the Teton Wilderness in 2014, field researcher Adam Stewart told his boss he was worried about working alone in remote places when bears wanted to “fatten up.” WyoFile was the only news organization to report on Adam Stewart’s fears.
In a follow-up, also reported only by WyoFile, Stewart’s father said Wyoming OSHA’s $13,120 fine against the company involved in his son’s death was “a joke.” Dogged pursuit of public records revealed the fine against the Idaho company Nature’s Capital.
Critic: Starving federal agencies fuels land-transfer push
Wyoming hasn’t joined other Western states in demanding that the federal government turn over ownership of much of its public land holdings. But that doesn’t mean the land-transfer movement isn’t a threat, a leading conservationist said. Decades of budget cutting sowed dissatisfaction of federal western land management at the grassroots level, said Whit Fosburgh, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. In a related follow-up, WyoFile reported how the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s budget has been cut 28 percent to $17.3 million since 2009.
Water hearing to be held under protest
In an ongoing tussle with the federal EPA, Wyoming agreed to hold a public hearing on its effort to reclassify 76 percent of the state’s water to allow more E. coli bacteria. The reclassification focused the ire of outdoor groups who decried the lack of public involvement. While the state publically welcomed new comment, WyoFile discovered Wyoming had argued vehemently with federal officials that it was not required to reach out for more input.
Green River could boost industrial complex dream
Legislators and industrialists hoping to build an energy complex in southwest Wyoming could more easily divert and use Green River water under a bill U.S. Sen. John Barrasso advanced. Barrasso heard no objections to finish armoring the upstream face of Fontenelle Dam on the Green River. If successful, the project would allow Wyoming to use the bulk of its remaining allocation under the Colorado River Compact, diverting another 149,600 acre-feet from the Green River annually.
Chronic Wasting Disease vaccine fails elk test
After pinning hopes on a vaccine to prevent the spread of invariably fatal Chronic Wasting Disease among elk, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission learned that a drug trial appears to have failed. Preliminary results suggested the vaccine did not prevent the disease and may have accelerated it, the state wildlife veterinarian said. “I don’t have the greatest news to give you today,” Dr. Mary Wood told the commission Nov. 6.
Counties: Move on wilderness study areas
WyoFile was first to report that the Wyoming County Commissioners Association would launch an effort to resolve the fate of federal wilderness study areas. Some 577,504 acres of Bureau of Land Management property and another 180,540 acres of national forest land are currently protected for all American citizens because of their wilderness qualities. The initiative would give counties an opportunity to recommend whether those protections would remain, or whether the lands should be developed. Congress would have to agree.
States, feds agree to at least 600 Yellowstone-area grizzlies
After keeping secret for months an agreement it forged with three states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent a letter to state officials outlining a framework for managing grizzlies once federal Endangered Species Act protections are removed. USFWS director Dan Ashe agreed with state game managers in a letter first published by WyoFile that the Yellowstone-area grizzly population is ready for delisting. Among the framework delisting principles was that “discretionary mortality,” a term that includes hunting, would cease if the population dipped below 600 bears.
Planned gas field risks 2,000 Wyoming sage grouse
WyoFile readers heard the blow-by-blow debate as the state sought to protect greater sage grouse in advance of a federal decision whether to protect the imperiled bird under the Endangered Species Act. A series of in-depth reports began when a local working group refused to grant core-area protection in Sublette County where a gas field is planned. WyoFile published more than 15 reports on greater sage grouse this year.
Study: Chronic Wasting Disease kills 19% of deer herd annually
Pundits, officials and wags have opined widely about the effects of Chronic Wasting Disease on wildlife, but now they have scientific figures. University of Wyoming PhD candidate Melia DeVivo spent five years arriving at the conclusion that CWD kills 19 percent of a central Wyoming mule deer herd annually, a rate that could render the population virtually extinct in 41 years.
Avalanche kills Yellowstone wolf
In one of the most widely shared natural resource stories of the year, WyoFile reported about the death of a wolf in Yellowstone National Park that was killed in an avalanche. The rare occurrence appears to have been the only one documented since wolves were restored to the world’s first national park in 1995.