Weekly News Roundup: Friday, April 22

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on local water quality advocacy, budget plans and bighorn sheep numbers.
A group of Jackson Hole High School seniors was one of the top 10 teams from across the country invited to compete in the final stages of the NASA Hunch Culinary Challenge at the Johnson Space Center in Houston last week. (Molly Matthaei)

by | Apr 22, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

Heli Operator Splits from JH Airport

The lone helicopter operator offering scenic tours of Jackson Hole from the Jackson Hole Airport will not seek to renew its permit with the airport when it expires at the end of this month. Airport Executive Director Jim Elwood made the announcement during an airport board meeting Wednesday, though he emphasized that Wind River Air can continue to fly from the airport as a transient operator. It just can’t advertise offering scenic flights from the airport in the way it does now.

“Just because they’re not looking for a license from this airport board doesn’t mean that they will cease to do scenic tours,” Elwood said. “What it means is some of the controls that are in that license agreement will no longer be in effect.” 

For example, the company will no longer have to carry a tracking device on board during tours, making gathering precise data about the altitude and flight paths more difficult. Both airport and Grand Teton National Park officials reiterated Wednesday that they and even the Federal Aviation Administration have limited authority to control airspace when it comes to scenic tours.

Local Draft Budgets Released

The Jackson Town Manager released his draft budget for the next fiscal year Monday. Although the exact items will be debated in the coming weeks, the key news is that local government is likely going to be able to spend more due to increasingly high projections for sales and lodging tax collections. However, Vice Mayor Arne Jorgenson warned local residents that inflation and the increasing costs of services does mean the town still needs to think long-term about where it gets its money from, as well as plan for any sudden changes in revenue. 

“I mean, at face value, it could come off as we’re just looking to increase the available resources we have to invest. And I just wanted to remind folks that it will likely undershoot the actual cost of providing the basic service were already doing,” Jorgenson said. “There’s two sides to this equation.”

The main priorities that the town has identified as needing investment include health and human services, housing, the environment, transportation and other core utilities. Budget discussions are also currently underway at the county level.

Northern South Park Plan Receives Further Public Engagement 

Teton County hosted two online public workshops Thursday to share the latest updates on the Northern South Park neighborhood plan. The county has now released a preferred plan for the project after three different development scenarios were reviewed by the public last summer. Ryan Hostetter is principal long-range planner for the county and Town of Jackson. She said folks generally liked the medium-density option, which envisioned about 1,300 mixed housing units across the 225 acres in question south of Smith’s and the high school.

“Another big part of the plan and a big piece of the feedback we received was clustering most of the density up closer to High School Road,” Hostetter said. “So, it’s kind of a feathering of the density down towards the south, where you’d see more of the suburban development.”

Hostetter said the county wants to see at least 70% of the units house local workers. But the project still has a long path forward, starting with more public hearings in May. More information about the plan and how to join the Zoom meetings today is available at jacksontetonplan.com.

Conservationists Advocate for “Trout-Friendly” Lawns

A group of advocates for clean water in Jackson Hole held a meeting Tuesday about trout-friendly lawns. Teton County’s water quality issues, especially in certain areas like Hoback, have been well-documented, and many of the largest perpetrators of local problems include nitrates like phosphorus and nitrogen. Water Resource Specialist for the Teton County Conservation District David Lee said our natural local geology is the number one source of these pollutants, but residential practices, like fertilizer runoff and septic systems, are in the top five. 

“Horses and cattle, [there are] also historic impacts from them. But on a per-acre basis, actually less nutrient inputs than some other residential practices, including skeptics and lawn fertilizer,” Lee said.

Lee and other conservationists are advocating that professional and amateur landscapers maintain a couple of best practices to become trout friendly. Those include limiting fertilizer use and not spraying it within 20 feet of streams, only running sprinkler systems sparingly and especially not when it’s raining, and using thicker, native plants as buffers next to waterways. 

Avian Flu Spreads to Teton County

Officials discovered Teton County’s first case of avian flu on Monday. A great-horned owl exhibited obvious symptoms of the highly pathogenic variant and was humanely euthanized by the Teton Raptor Center. Avian flu is transmissible to humans, but in very rare cases. Impacts on bird populations, however, can be detrimental. The disease spreads when birds congregate around bodies of water or bird feeders, sometimes causing mass deaths. The Raptor Center encourages the public to call and report any findings of abnormal bird behavior in the coming months.

Study Updates Bighorn Sheep Numbers

A new study using DNA shows that there may be more bighorn sheep surviving in the Tetons than was previously thought. A small, genetically distinct and isolated herd lives high in the range and is vulnerable to extinction, according to local biologists. However, population estimates have been updated from around 100 animals before this recent data set to around 178 as of today. That’s a huge increase and a “breath of good news” according to a Grand Teton National Park press release. But, it’s still just a snapshot in time, and biologists will continue to study the herd over the next couple of years.

Organization to Assist Local Ukrainians 

The nonprofit organization Immigrant Hope has committed to helping Ukrainians in the Jackson Hole and Teton Valley region if they want to apply for temporary protected status. Lura Matthews is Executive Director of Immigrant Hope, and she said, although she doesn’t expect a ton of people asking for assistance, it’s important for the community to know where resources are. 

“There might be Ukrainians that we’re just visiting family here, and then they would be able potentially able to apply for temporary protected status,” Matthews said. “People who are here on student visas or work visas that are expiring within those 18 months. They might potentially want to apply for temporary protected status.” 

Last month, Temporary Protected Status was granted to Ukrainian nationals who have been residing in the U.S. since before March 1. The designation means folks who are fleeing disastrous or dangerous situations can acquire for employment and residency for a year and a half provided they pass a security check, and Immigrant Hope is helping with that application process at little to no cost. 

Local Students Learn to Cook Space Food

What kind of meal would you prepare for an astronaut preparing to launch into space? That’s the challenge a group of six Jackson Hole High School seniors took on in the NASA HUNCH Culinary Challenge this year. Culinary arts teacher Molly Matthaei led the group in their endeavor, which she said was no easy task.

“You know, astronauts, when they’re in space and when they’re preparing to go to space, they need to eat high calorie, high fiber, nutrition-dense, vitamin and mineral-dense meals. And so, we also need to avoid, like, low, low sodium. They need to be low fat, low sugar. So, it’s kind of tricky–it’s easy to make food but it’s hard to make food that does all of those things and tastes good,” Matthaei said. 

The group created a chicken poke bowl with brown rice, edamame, nori–or seaweed–and pickled ginger. And it was enticing enough to get them invited to the Johnson Space Center in Houston last week to present the meal to a pretty intense panel.

“We’re talking astronauts and flight engineers and NASA food scientists. Professional chefs just from the restaurant industry,” Matthaei said.

The students ended up placing in the top 10 in the country for their meal. 

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