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Long awaited changes for sage grouse in Wyoming published to mixed reception

The Bureau of Land Management proposed reducing oil and gas restrictions in Wyoming sage grouse habitat Wednesday, less than a year after Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that federal management of the bird was up for review due to “western anger.”

The draft environmental impact statement is the most significant action on federal sage grouse management since last year’s announcement. Officials anticipate the final version will be ready by October.

The federal agency said its proposed changes, which include removing language prioritizing oil and gas drilling outside of important habitats and incorporating state boundaries for crucial sage grouse habitats, would not have a negative impact on the bird’s survival. The draft also proposes a process for de-escalating restrictions in areas where the bird isn’t doing well once the bird begins to improve.

In a statement, the agency said the bird’s protection and local economic activity would be better served by the changes.


It’s been a contentious year for sage grouse in Wyoming, home to the majority of the sage grouse population and the state most at risk if sage grouse numbers continue to decline. More sage grouse habitat overlaps with potential oil and gas drilling in Wyoming than any other state in the West, according to a study last year from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. An endangered species listing for the bird could greatly reduce oil and gas access in much of the state.

In late 2015, the Interior Department announced that the bird would not be listed as an endangered species thanks to federal and state management plans. The plans were modeled on Wyoming’s strategy of placing the strongest restrictions on the areas with the most birds. Outside of those areas, other uses of public land receive greater priority.

But lifting onerous regulations on energy development on public lands in the West is a key priority for Zinke.

The Interior Secretary’s announcement last summer that the plans had gone too far and stoked Western anger shook up the community of sage grouse experts and interested parties. Environmental groups said suggested changes would derail the sage grouse conservation strategy in favor of industry development. Leaders like Gov. Matt Mead acknowledged that the plans could use updates, but cautioned against wholesale changes that could risk an endangered listing again.

The governor, and to some degree Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, were the firmest voices in the West pleading moderation after some brash statements made by Zinke.

Tension dissipated as the process of changing the plans began. The Bureau of Land Management held public meetings in Wyoming and conducted behind closed doors meetings with local partners.


Mead expressed his appreciation to the BLM in a statement Wednesday, but did not comment directly on the contents of the draft.

“They have been available through many meetings and conversations to hear our concerns and work through the process,” he said. “I will look forward to an opportunity to review these documents and comment, as appropriate, after hearing from people and groups—including the Sage Grouse Implementation Team—on their views and thoughts.”

Sen. John Barrasso, who had also advised against some of the Zinke’s early notions like setting population targets instead of focusing on habitat protection, said he appreciated the Interior Department’s process.

“I will review this draft environmental impact statement and will continue to work with the agency, so a solution can be reached that is best for the people of Wyoming and the sage grouse,” he said in a statement.

However, some environmental groups responded to the Bureau of Land Management draft with disdain.

“It’s appalling that they want to remove restrictions on fossil-fuel development while claiming it’ll have no environmental impact,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These plans blindly follow the industry playbook and will hasten the sage grouse’s slide toward extinction.”

The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit over oil and gas leasing in sage grouse areas Monday along with Advocates for the West and Western Watersheds Project. Western Watersheds is responsible for the 2007 lawsuit that led to the bird’s most recent consideration for a listing.

Another lawsuit filed last week by groups including the Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Association argues that the Bureau of Land Management is already violating the sage grouse plans by offering leases for oil and gas drilling in protected habitat in Wyoming, Nevada and Montana.

Tracy Stone-Manning of the National Wildlife Federation said the group was still reviewing the draft, but that it appeared problematic.

“Some of the changes could undo all that hard work and put us on a path that no one wanted – the bird on the endangered species list and the use of our public lands restricted,” she said. “It’s a disappointing and dangerous mistake.”

The Wyoming draft pertains to 18 million acres of Wyoming land and 40 million acres of federal minerals in the state. It is up for public comment until August. A final environmental impact statement is expected by October. The Bureau of Land Management is also publishing five other draft plans covering seven states.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune 

Representatives of Natrona County law enforcement agencies run along U.S. Highway 20/26 on Wednesday morning during the Casper leg of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Wyoming. Along with raising funds for the organization, runners will eventually deliver the Olympic torch to the May 17 opening ceremony in Laramie.

Throne leads fundraising in Wyoming governor’s race, though recent data is lacking

Democrat Mary Throne leads the field of candidates to be Wyoming’s next governor in total campaign contributions through the end of 2017, though it is unclear how much the most recent entrants to the race have raised.

Throne, a former state lawmaker from Cheyenne, raised $185,643 from August through December, according to campaign finance records. Throne was followed by Republican attorney Harriet Hageman, who had raised $112,215 by the end of last year. Another GOP candidate, Sheridan businessman Bill Dahlin, generated $60,770 between his initial announcement in spring of last year through December.

While Hageman had a faster rate of fundraising — pulling in more than $100,000 in less than two months — Throne had the most small donors out of the three candidates in 2017.

The average amount of contributions to Throne’s campaign was $323, compared to $1,900 for Hageman and $3,798 for Dahlin.

All three candidates loaned themselves significant amounts of money, dollars that are included in the fundraising total. Throne loaned her campaign $100,000 last year, first with a $25,000 contribution in August and a second loan made in December.

Dahlin loaned $50,000 to his campaign, while Hageman chipped in $25,000.

Notable donors to the race include Republican State Reps. Mark Jennings and Marti Halverson, who both contributed to Hageman’s campaign, and Democrats Rep. Jim Byrd and House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly, who donated to Throne’s.

Tatiana Maxwell, the woman whose accusation of sexual misconduct against then-Secretary of State Ed Murray played a role in Murray’s resignation and decision not to enter the governor’s race, donated to Throne’s campaign last year. Maxwell gave $500 to Throne several weeks before she posted on social media a detailed allegation of Murray violently assaulting her when the two worked at a Cheyenne law firm in the 1980s. Murray denied the claims, though did not address them in detail.

Throne’s campaign has said that the candidate does not know Maxwell, who now lives in Colorado and has donated thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates in the past.

No reports for several candidates

While speculation over who would enter the governor’s race picked up steam last fall, three major candidates did not officially start their campaigns until this spring.

State Treasurer Mark Gordon, Cheyenne businessman Sam Galeotos and Jackson financier and GOP megadonor Foster Friess, all Republicans, have not reported financial contributions of the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office because their campaigns did not begin until after the most recent filing period closed in December.

The current reporting period ends in August, shortly before the primary election, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

While Republican candidates Taylor Haynes and Rex Rammell announced their intentions to run for governor last fall, neither filed any fundraising documents with the Secretary of State’s office for the 2017 period.

Expensive race expected

Observers say this year’s race for the seat being vacated by Gov. Matt Mead is likely to be one of the most expensive ever, an expectation only fueled by Friess’s announcement two weeks ago that he would be throwing his hat in. Friess, who has an estimated net worth of more than $500 million, has lavished campaign contributions on favored Republican candidates across the country during past election cycles, though this is his first run for public office.

Wyoming governor’s race is Mark Gordon’s to lose, political watchers say

This year’s race for Wyoming governor was supposed to be different. Last spring, it looked as though three major candidates were gearing up to run in the GOP primary: Secretary of State Ed Murray, recently retired Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis and State Treasurer Mark Gordon. All had high name recognition, statewide popularity and deep enough pockets to fund what was expected to be a costly fight.

Throne reported spending just under $30,000 during 2017 — primarily on advertising and staff and consulting fees — and ended the year with $150,000. Throne paid $10,800 to former campaign manager Bri Jones, who has since left the campaign to attend law school, $3,000 to Aimee Van Cleave, former executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, and $2,300 to Jennie Blackton, a political communication consultant based in California.

Hageman spent $11,700 in 2017, finishing the year with $98,000. She spent much of that sum on facility fees for campaign events, and more than $4,000 in payments to Lewis Media Consulting, run by Hageman spokeswoman Trinity Lewis.

Dahlin finished 2017 with almost $50,000 after spending slightly less than $11,000 on his campaign last year. The bulk of his expenditures were on campaign merchandise, including signs, buttons and shirts.

Trump hires Clinton impeachment lawyer

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday hired a veteran attorney who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment process as the White House shifted to a more aggressive approach to a special counsel investigation that has reached a critical stage.

The White House announced the hiring of lawyer Emmet Flood after disclosing the retirement of Ty Cobb, who for months has been the administration's point person dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller.

It's the latest shakeup for a legal team grappling with unresolved questions on how to protect the president from legal and political jeopardy in Mueller's Russia probe, which is nearing the one-year mark.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Cobb had been discussing the decision for weeks and would retire at the end of May and that Flood would be joining the White House staff to "represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt."

"I'm deeply grateful to the president and the chief of staff for this opportunity to serve my country," Cobb told The Associated Press on Wednesday night. "It's been a privilege, and I'm confident that the matter will be in good hands with Emmet Flood."

The replacement of Cobb with Flood may usher in a more adversarial stance toward the Mueller team as Trump's lawyers debate whether to make the president available for an interview with the special counsel and brace for the prospect of a grand jury subpoena if they refuse.

Although Cobb does not personally represent the president, he has functioned as a critical point person for Mueller's document and interview requests, coordinated dealings with prosecutors and worked closely with Trump's personal lawyers. He has repeatedly urged cooperation with the investigation in hopes of bringing it to a quick end, and he has viewed his role as largely finished now that interviews with current and former White House officials have been completed.

Yet Flood, who was embroiled in the bitterly partisan Clinton impeachment fight 20 years ago, may well advocate a more confrontational approach. His law firm, Williams & Connolly, is one of Washington's most prominent, with a reputation for aggressive advocacy for its clients and a history of tangling with the government. It has also represented senior White House officials, including presidents.

Flood, a former law clerk to the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, has defended former Vice President Dick Cheney in a lawsuit brought by former CIA official Valerie Plame and represented President George W. Bush in executive-privilege disputes with Congress - suggesting he is well-versed in the powers of the presidency and may invoke those authorities as the Mueller investigation moves forward.

Flood was always the top choice of White House counsel Don McGahn for the job Cobb was given last summer, according to a person familiar with the hiring decision who described Flood as a "fighter." The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Cobb and McGahn hold different views on how cooperative the White House should be with the special counsel investigation.

Cobb's retirement, though not a surprise, was nonetheless the latest evolution for a legal team marked by turnover.

Trump's lead personal lawyer, John Dowd, left in March. Another attorney whom Trump tried to bring on ultimately passed because of conflicts, and the president two weeks ago added former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a pair of former prosecutors, Martin and Jane Raskin, to work alongside mainstay lawyer Jay Sekulow.

Critical decisions lie ahead. The president's legal team has not committed him to an interview with Mueller, who has dozens of questions on a broad array of topics he'd like to ask. Trump initially said he was eager for an interview, but he hasn't said so recently. His view of Mueller soured further after raids last month that targeted one of his personal lawyers, Michael Cohen, in a separate investigation.

Those interview negotiations are hugely consequential, especially after Dowd confirmed to The Associated Press this week that Mueller's team in March raised the prospect of issuing a grand jury subpoena for Trump, an extraordinary move that would seek to force a sitting president to testify under oath.

It was not immediately clear in what context the possibility of a subpoena was raised or how serious Mueller's prosecutors were about such a move.

If Mueller's team decides to subpoena Trump, the president could still fight it in court or refuse to answer questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination.

Trump lashed out against the investigation in familiar fashion Wednesday, tweeting: "There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap)."

Also Wednesday, Trump echoed the concerns of a small group of House conservatives who have been criticizing the Justice Department for not turning over certain investigation documents.

"What are they afraid of?" Trump tweeted. "At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!"

It was unclear what Trump meant by "get involved."

Associated Press 

This Jan. 20 photo shows a bison near Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. An Idaho woman was injured by a bison on Tuesday near Old Faithful.

Possessing alcohol as a juvenile could soon be a jailable offense in Casper

Municipal Court judges in Casper could soon be given the power to send minors convicted of some alcohol-related crimes to jail.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Casper City Council voted in favor of an ordinance that would increase the penalty for minors convicted of public intoxication or possession of alcohol to include the option for a jail sentence of up to six months. The measure will need to pass two more rounds of voting to take effect.

After acknowledging that it might seem like the City Council is being harsh on the youth, Councilman Chris Walsh explained that the court can only impose probation and order an offender to seek treatment if the offense carries a possible jail sentence.

“Lets face it, some kids have drinking problems,” he said, explaining that some minors need to receive professional help for alcoholism.

Vice Mayor Charlie Powell said he also supported giving judges additional sentencing options because he doubted a fine would help a troubled adolescent turn their life around.

“[It’s] an opportunity, not a punishment,” he said.

Most of the Council supported the proposed ordinance, but Councilmen Dallas Laird and Shawn Johnson firmly objected.

Johnson said the majority of minors convicted of possession are between the ages of 18-20 and that he doesn’t believe it should be illegal to drink at those ages.

If an 18-year old can be sent to fight in a war, then they should be able to order a beer, he argued.

Laird was concerned that imposing probation on minors will tarnish their records and limit their future job prospects. He was also worried about the financial ramifications.

“It’s going to cost us a lot of money,” he said, explaining that offenders facing the possibility of incarceration have the right to demand legal representation.

But Councilmen Jesse Morgan and Michael Huber, a retired judge, both doubted the majority of minors would want to drag the matter out by asking for an attorney and trial.

The proposed ordinance also set mandatory fines but council members amended the draft to do away with minimum requirements.

The Council has discussed the issue at multiple work sessions since last September.

For years, the Casper Municipal Court routinely sentenced minors charged with possession to probation. The practice was halted in July after the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled it was illegal because city ordinance limited the sentencing to a fine.

Laird, an attorney, was the lawyer who first challenged the city court’s practice when his teenage client received probation after being charged with possession of alcohol in 2015.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Municipal Court asked the Council in January to establish a law allowing for other punishments.

The Municipal Court handles about 55 minor in possession cases per year, according to a document sent from Judge Nichole Collier to the City Council. The current guidelines impose a $150 fine for a first offense, $350 for a second offense and $600 for a third offense.

“We would like the ability for the City Attorney to request and the Court to order probation, however, we cannot order probation unless such violation is a jailable offense,” states the document.

City leaders have been grappling with other alcohol-related issues in recent months.

In February, Police Chief Keith McPheeters asked the Council to recognize that the over-service of alcohol is creating serious challenges for the city. Bar patrons who become too intoxicated eventually leave the establishment and can then create problems for other citizens and the police.

Fifty-nine percent of people in Casper who are booked into jail are intoxicated and almost half of all drivers arrested for DUIs are more than the twice the legal limit, according to the chief.

McPheeters advised city leaders to establish a stricter demerit system for the city’s liquor license holders.

Currently, the Council does not begin to take disciplinary action until a liquor license holder has reached 125 points within a one-year time frame. Disciplinary action can include anything from a brief liquor license suspension to revoking a license completely. Many violations are 25 points, including serving alcohol to minors, selling alcohol outside of the established hours or failing to maintain exits and emergency escapes.

Vice Mayor Charlie Powell previously told the Star-Tribune that the Council appreciated the chief’s suggestions and will be re-examining the demerit system this year.