Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Aug. 5

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on a fatal lightning strike in the Teton Wilderness, updates from Jackson human services organizations and the legal fights over Wyoming and Idaho’s abortion bans.
Lightning strike
A lightning strike killed a 22-year-old participant in a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) educator course near Enos Lake in the Absaroka Mountains Tuesday evening. (Anton Pinchuk/Flickr [CC BY 2.0])

 

Jackson human services organizations see increased demand, struggle with staffing

Leaders of about a dozen Jackson human services organizations gave a quarterly update to town and county elected officials Monday during a joint information meeting. While many of the organizations reported that their programming is going well, staffing and housing issues remain a nearly universal challenge. Patti Boyd is executive director of the Children’s Learning Center, which provides childcare and early education services.

“We are dangerously low on staffing. We’re down about seven people. Just found out we’re about to lose two more because of housing,” Boyd said. “The ripple effect of that is right now, we’re able to maintain all of our classrooms. That may not be the case coming up.”

Meanwhile, two organizations that provide direct food and financial support said they’re seeing more demand from the community as inflation has spiked the cost of food, gas and housing. 

“This summer we’ve been seeing a lot of new faces [come] into the organization just not being able to make ends meet right now,” said Carey Stanley, director of programs at One22 Resource Center.

“There just seems to be a little bit more urgency behind this food access program,” said Hannah Cooley, executive director of Hole Food Rescue. “More people are standing in line waiting for the program to begin. We’ve had to decrease the amount of food people are able to take from as much as they want to one bag per family.”

At least two other organizations—the Community Safety Network of Jackson Hole, which provides services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and Voices JH, which supports local immigrants—also noted a troubling rise of individuals and families they’re working with who are experiencing homelessness.

22-year-old NOLS student killed by lightning strike in Teton Wilderness

A 22-year-old student participating in a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) educator course died Tuesday evening after getting struck by lightning in the Absaroka Mountains in the Teton Wilderness. While his name was not immediately released, the student was later identified as John “Jack” Murphy of Boston, Mass.

The NOLS group of 14 people was camping at Enos Lake, a 12-mile hike out from the Pacific Creek Trailhead. A second adult student was also injured by the lightning strike while in camp and remains hospitalized but in stable condition, according to a NOLS press release.

“It is rare for this to happen even though we are surrounded by thunderstorms every summer here in Teton County,” said Matt Hansen, communications director for the Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR) Foundation. “There have been instances in the past–the one that comes immediately to mind is the incident in 2010 when more than a dozen climbers were hit by a lightning storm climbing the Grand Teton, and there was a fatality on that incident as well.”

TCSAR team members responded to Tuesday’s lightning strike by helicopter. Two volunteers also spent the night out in the field to support the NOLS group, and a second helicopter response around midday Wednesday flew out two more backpackers who were not able to hike out on their own “due to acute emotional reaction and medical concerns exacerbated by the long hike out.”

“At least the search and rescue [team] knows that they were able to help provide closure to this incident, which is something that is good for the team and the community and the families,” Hansen said.

This was Wyoming’s first lightning fatality this year, according to the National Lightning Safety Council, and the ninth in the U.S. The National Weather Service recommends avoiding open areas and isolated tall objects like trees or towers if caught outside in a thunderstorm. Groups should also spread out in order to reduce the risk of multiple casualties.

Teton Conservation District reduces property tax mill levy request

The Teton Conservation District has announced that it will reduce the mill levy the district collects in property taxes for the upcoming fiscal year from 0.8 of a mill to 0.6. Property taxes are the main source of funding for the district, which is the only local government entity focused exclusively on natural resource conservation through local projects, partnerships and education. 

However, the district’s portion is only about 1/100th of the average local property tax bill–about a penny for every dollar paid. Executive Director Carlin Girard said the slight mill decrease will actually keep the district’s budget stable.

“As property values increase and the assessed value of your property increases, one mill of property tax also is an increasing value, so in order to keep our budget flat we are reducing the amount that we’re requesting,” he said.

Girard also reminds local voters that public funding for the conservation district is on the ballot again this fall. 

“The benefit of being on the ballot every four years is that it forces us to really do our best to remain pertinent and provide programs that are a benefit to the community, so it’s a check and balance in a way,” Girard said. “If the voters don’t feel that we’re providing a valued resource, then they have the opportunity to remove funding.”

The Teton Conservation District has received voter-approved tax funding since 1998. 

The district also announced last week that it’s in the final stages of transferring a portion of its area located within Yellowstone National Park to the Cody Conservation District. Moving forward, the district’s boundaries will match the county’s.

Alpine gets first permanent Game Warden since late 1990s

As of July 1, Alpine has a new Game Warden. Dillon Herman is the first permanent Game Warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department district between Jackson and Afton since the late 1990s, and his appointment reflects the demands of the growing population in the Alpine area. 

As warden, Herman will be responsible for law enforcement of hunting, fishing, trapping and watercraft regulations, wildlife management and more.

“You really have kind of a first-line, real kind of close view of what goes on in a community, in an area for wildlife management [as Game Warden],” Herman said.

Herman was previously the Game Warden in Lovell, which is located in a desert area of north-central Wyoming. He said his family is enjoying the change of scenery in Alpine.

“The mountain lifestyle, you know, the diversity of activities, just being in the mountains–that’s what I always wanted, kind of how I wanted to raise my kids–so, we’re loving it over here.”

U.S. Justice Department sues Idaho over abortion ban

The U.S. Department of Justice sued the State of Idaho Tuesday over a strict abortion law that’s set to go into effect later this month. The law bans all abortions except to save a pregnant person’s life. The DOJ is arguing that the “extremely narrow” exception will prevent emergency room doctors from performing necessary abortions for patients experiencing medical emergencies. 

The lawsuit is the first legal action taken by the federal government to try and protect abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in late June. In a statement, Idaho Gov. Brad Little called the lawsuit “federal meddling” and said he’s proud that Idaho has “led the country in protecting preborn lives.”

Both Idaho and Wyoming’s trigger bans on most abortions have been temporarily blocked by judges amid ongoing legal battles over the new laws. The next court hearing concerning Wyoming’s ban is scheduled for Aug. 9. Plaintiffs in the Wyoming lawsuit also filed a new motion Wednesday requesting a preliminary injunction that would continue to block enforcement of the law.

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About Kyle Mackie

Kyle is a multimedia journalist who joined KHOL as news director in January 2021. Prior to moving West, she reported on education, immigration, racial justice and more for WBFO, the NPR affiliate in Buffalo, NY. With a background in international reporting, Kyle has also worked in Israel and the Palestinian territories and the Western Balkans. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and geography from The George Washington University and master’s degree in journalism from the City University of New York. When not out reporting, Kyle can usually be found trail running, climbing, skiing or grooving to live music.

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