Weekly News Roundup: Friday, June 25

Miss the headlines this week? Learn more about property tax increases, fire danger and the delta variant of COVID-19.
A routine inspection prevented a boat with invasive quagga mussels from entering Yellowstone Lake. (NPS file)

Delta Variant of COVID-19 Now in Wyoming

The highly-contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 was identified in Wyoming this week. COVID-19 vaccines are believed to be effective at protecting fully vaccinated individuals from the variant. About 70% of Wyomingites remain unvaccinated, according to the state health department.

Town of Jackson Raises Property Taxes 

The Jackson Town Council voted Monday evening to raise property taxes to account for an increased need for services in this community. The rate will go up incrementally depending on the value of the property being taxed, and is expected to raise over $230,000 dollars. Vice Mayor Arne Jorgenson has been advocating for this increase for a long time, saying it’s a great tool for the town to diversify its revenue streams. 

I think this half a mill[ion] gives us more tools to work with addressing the needs of this community that we’ve said this in the past. And this is essentially allowing the town to utilize a similar tool to what the county uses to fund Fire/EMS.”

The council did elect to pick the smallest property tax increase, a less than 1% hike based on current rates. The final vote was 3-2, with Councilman Jim Rooks saying this was “the wrong tax at the wrong time,” and Jessica Sell Chambers saying the council didn’t raise rates high enough, especially considering the amount of wealth present in Jackson. 

We make it sound as though it is this financial beast that’s going to be unleashed on the community when that is not in any way, shape or form what we’re talking about here,” Sell Chambers said. “When it comes down to these numbers, they really, truly are not that significant.”

Fire Danger Elevated to ‘Very High’

The fire danger rating was elevated to very high for Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge on Wednesday. Officials say conditions in the area are drying rapidly and that fires could easily start and spread from unattended campfires or the illegal use of fireworks. KHOL spoke to Battalion Chief Fire Marshal Kathy Clay of Jackson Hole Fire/EMS last week about this year’s above-average fire risk. She says the time is now to come together to avoid human-started blazes.

“Folks in the backcountry just need to be real careful with fire. I encourage people now–I think we’re there. I think we need to stop making fires. If we can make a choice, we can prevent by just stopping making fires. We haven’t gone into restrictions yet but why would you take the chance?”

As a reminder, fires are only allowed in Grand Teton National Park at established campsites. Teton Interagency Fire personnel have extinguished 52 unattended or abandoned campfires so far in 2021 compared to 18 at this time last year. 

Yellowstone Inspectors Discover Invasive Quagga Mussels 

Inspectors in Yellowstone National Park discovered several invasive quagga mussels on a boat last week but were successfully able to handle the situation before the species made it into park waters. Quagga mussels can be catastrophic to ecosystems if they successfully infiltrate lakes, rivers or streams. And once they’re established in an area, it’s difficult, and costly, to remove them.

Last week’s discovery during a routine inspection was just the second time in Yellowstone’s history that quagga mussels made it into the park. Officials are reminding folks to clean, drain and dry their watercrafts before taking them into Wyoming waters. Boaters are also required to get a state permit and inspection prior to launching.

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