Weekly News Roundup: Friday, July 1

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on recent wildlife conflicts, Western water management and the Jackson Hole Airport reopening.
The Jackson Hole Airport reopened Tuesday following a 78-day closure. (Will Walkey/KHOL)

by | Jul 1, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

Multiple wildlife conflicts rock the region 

A number of high-profile conflicts between humans and wildlife made headlines in northwest Wyoming this week. A hiker was mauled by a grizzly bear near Meteetsee in the Shoshone National Forest Tuesday, and was life-flighted to Billings, Montana. The victim was carrying bear spray, according to The Casper Star-Tribune, but surprised the animal at close range and was unable to deploy it. In Yellowstone, a 34-year-old Colorado man was gored by a bison Monday on a boardwalk near Old Faithful. He survived but sustained an injury to his arm, and a second non-lethal goring occurred two days later. Teton Canyon has also now reopened to camping after wildlife officials killed what was considered an aggressive bear in the area, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reported Wednesday

Airport reopens with new runway, upgraded facilities 

The Jackson Hole airport welcomed back its first customers Tuesday following a 78-day closure for runway reconstruction. The new facilities boast improved security checkpoints, traveler holding areas and restaurants, and the entire project was on-time and on budget. Airport Executive Director Jim Elwood also touted the relationship between his organization and Grand Teton National Park throughout the renovation process. 

“Our focus is to is to really embrace the park values of conservation, of protecting the natural resources. And we work hand in hand with them on every single project we take on,” Elwood said. “We’re attempting to be the best in the world at that environmental consciousness and responsibility.”

The runway reuses old pavement and native soils and also features state-of-the-art lighting and water filtration. Elwood also thanked the staff at the Idaho Falls Airport especially for taking on extra passengers, and the Jackson Hole community for its patience. In other airport news, parking is now $17 a day for locals and $25 for out-of-towners in a slight increase, and no shuttles from town have yet been scheduled. 

Western water officials mull management options

Federal officials have kicked off a new round of negotiations for long-term management of the Colorado River, arguing it’s time to start thinking of how the Colorado River should be managed beyond the year 2026. That’s when the river’s existing management guidelines expire. 

The notice goes out to water leaders across the seven western states that draw on it for drinking water for more than 40 million people. And it comes soon after the federal government called for an unprecedented amount of water conservation by the end of summer. They say that’s the only way to keep its two largest reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, from dropping to critically low levels. The notice means state officials will have to manage a short-term water crisis while starting to think about long-term solutions. 

Luke Runyon from KUNC contributed this reporting. 

Abortion likely to become illegal in Wyoming 

As conservatives claim victory in the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. supreme court, resources are lining up for Wyoming Women who will soon have to leave the state for reproductive health care.

Justices ruled that the 50-year precedent of Roe should be overruled, setting off so-called “trigger laws” in 13 states, including Wyoming. Kim Clark is a senior attorney for reproductive rights, health and justice with the group Legal Voice. She said there will be out-of-state options for Wyoming women who can find the time and money to travel.

“Abortion funds across the country are ready to provide support to people who need to travel across state lines to access care, and I think there will be other informal networks of support,” Clark said.

A bill passed in the last session will go into effect five days after Governor Mark Gordon certifies the high court’s ruling to the secretary of state. House Bill 92 will make all abortions illegal in Wyoming with exceptions for rape, incest, risk of death or “substantial and irreversible physical impairments.” Gordon called the Supreme Court’s ruling “a decisive win for those who have fought for the rights of the unborn for the past 50 years.” 

Eric Galatas from the Wyoming News Service contributed this reporting. 

State lands leased for oil and gas development 

The Biden administration held its first online auctions Wednesday for onshore oil and gas drilling leases totaling about 140,000 acres of public lands across eight western states. That’s after a federal court blocked the administration’s attempt to stop such sales because of concerns about climate change. A coalition of 10 environmental groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday to stop the sales but no immediate ruling was expected.

FAA clears scenic helicopter operator

The Federal Aviation Administration has once again cleared the local scenic helicopter operator Wind River Air LLC of any wrongdoing. The latest investigation was sparked by multiple complaints filed with the FAA by private citizen and former journalist Joe Albright, whose data analysis with an aeronautical GIS professor appeared to show many instances of low-altitude flights over designated wilderness areas and Grand Teton National Park. 

The FAA recommends that pilots fly at least 2,000 feet above such noise-sensitive areas, but said in a letter to Albright last week that enforcement action is not applicable to occurrences when they don’t. Tony Chambers is the founder and pilot of Wind River Air, and said the FAA is the ultimate ruling authority over the whole airspace system. 

“Quite frankly, I feel like they do a good job of it and I feel like they do a very strict job of it,” he said. “However many complaints there’s been, a dozen or however many there’s been, every one of those gone before the FAA and [for] every one of them, the FAA has looked into an inquiry and decided that I’m doing everything by the book.”

Still, opponents of scenic helicopter flights, including the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, say they’ll keep advocating to end air tours in Jackson Hole, which would likely take congressional action to achieve.

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