Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Feb. 25

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on the latest with Medicaid expansion, Western drought and local mountain goat culling.
Grand Teton National Park officials are conducting aerial hunting operations to attempt to rid the area of mountain goats, an invasive species straining the native bighorn sheep population in the park. (Nigel May/Shutterstock)

by | Feb 25, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

Jackson Mayor Gives State of the Town Address

Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson gave her second annual State of the Town address last week. Speaking in a pre-recorded video, she said the town council has made progress on several of its main priorities over the past year, from working on expanding child care options to housing solutions for local workers. But the mayor also said the town has seen exponential growth in demands for core services–and that it will need more revenue soon in order to keep up.

“Today, the town treats and supplies more water, manages more storm drains and water mains, maintains more public restrooms, parking lots, sidewalks and roads, and answers more calls for service for firefighters and police than ever before,” Morton Levinson said. “Our community has grown in population size and in sophistication in terms of the standards of service we consider necessary.”

The council debated asking voters to approve an additional penny of sales tax in this year’s elections but decided to hold off in favor of getting special taxes for specific capital projects approved. However, Morton Levinson said that request will be coming soon. The mayor’s full State of the Town address is available on YouTube.

Westerners Express Drought Concerns 

A new survey of Western voters is out with opinions from across eight states in the region, including Wyoming and Idaho, and the perceived seriousness of water problems is up significantly over the past few years. 

The “State of the Rockies” poll from Colorado College found that nine in 10 Westerners say inadequate water supply is a serious problem, a boost from past iterations of the same survey. Awareness of water issues is up across the region, as continued dry conditions strain the Colorado River basin. Voters in the area overwhelmingly support conserving water over diversions to cities. The survey also found nine in 10 people supported boosting federal funding for clean water access for rural and tribal communities–many of which have historically lacked water and sanitation infrastructure. 

Among Wyoming voters, the survey found that 84% are concerned about droughts and reduced snowpack. 76% are concerned about more frequent and severe wildfires. But just over half said there’s enough evidence of climate change that action should be taken. Across the region, nearly three-fourths of voters want to significantly curb oil and gas development on public lands. Black, Latino and Native American voters were also more concerned about climate change and pollution and more supportive of bold conservation actions than white voters.

Alex Hager from KUNC in Greeley, Colorado, contributed reporting for this story. 

Wyoming Legislative Session Update

Medicaid expansion was dealt another blow Wednesday in the Wyoming State Legislature. It was brought to the senate floor in the form of a budget amendment, supported by Cale Case (R-Lander). It’s estimated that 24,000 Cowboy State residents would gain coverage through expanding the federal program. 

“This expansion is pro-hospitals. It creates jobs. It supports those very people that we care about, the people that wait on your table, that clean your hotel room,” Case said. “These are working people. These aren’t unemployed people. These are working people, many of them are single moms with kids.” 

A poll from late last year showed that 66% of Wyomingites, including 58% of Republicans, support Medicaid expansion. But debate on the merits of the policy never actually reached the floor, as it was deemed unconstitutional by a legislative rules committee because it was brought to the floor as a budget amendment rather than a regular bill. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) explained. 

“Is Medicaid expansion, which by itself is a word, ‘expansion,’ is that an ordinary and everyday and normal expense of our government? And I represent to you clearly it is not,” he said. “It may be if you passed it, if it was in the budget in the future, we could mess with it. But at this point, Medicaid is not a normal expense. This expansion is clearly unconstitutional.” 

Case eventually withdrew his proposal, so it’s back to the drawing board for healthcare advocates. Other notable bills that advanced through the legislature this week include a ban on teaching critical race theory in schools, a rule that would prohibit transgender women and girls from participating in sports that match their gender identity, several abortion-restricting measures, and a ban on crossover voting.

Grand Teton National Park Targets Mountain Goats

Grand Teton National Park began another round of gunning down mountain goats from helicopters Wednesday. The goal is to entirely remove the non-native goat population, which is estimated at around 30 animals, in an effort to protect the small, isolated and native bighorn sheep herd in the area. Michael Whitfield is a wildlife biologist who’s studied bighorns in the Tetons for decades, and he said goats migrating in from Idaho are in effect an invasive species.

“The sheep really don’t have—they’re not very resilient population-wise,” he said. “They don’t have a reserve, whereas the goats can pump some more in there. So, we need to eliminate the goats both for potential competition, as well as particularly [for] the [risk of] disease transmission.” 

The aerial culling operations are safer and more effective than ground hunts, according to park officials. The northern area of Grand Teton National Park, from Cascade Canyon to Berry Creek, will be closed while the operation is underway. 

Bighorn sheep have inhabited the area for thousands of years, but now a just an estimated 125 animals live high in the range. Several local biologists have warned that the entire population is vulnerable to extinction.

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