An oilman’s desire to breed the imperiled sage grouse at his northern Wyoming bird farm found preferential treatment with the Interior Department, an environmental group argued recently citing documents gathered from a recent public records request.
Western Values Project obtained a series of emails between federal officials and prospective sage grouse-farmer Diemer True regarding his captive breeding trial. It is a controversial approach to conserving the bird and would be the first of its kind in the West.
True’s correspondence with the Interior in July coincided with a review of the federal sage grouse management program. The following month, the Interior published a report mentioning support for captive breeding.
Western Values argues that the Interior’s stance shows preferential treatment for industry, even when it’s just one individual.
True is a member of an oil and gas dynasty in Wyoming. The family runs various companies involved in pipelines, exploration and production.
But the oilman said in an interview Friday that there was nothing inappropriate about his request for support from the Interior.
“I think just the opposite is true,” True said. “The barrier was there in the previous administration, where people with new ideas simply didn’t have access to any of the decision-makers.”
Multiple emails to the Interior Department on whether environmental groups also requested, or were offered, behind the scenes access to the Interior during the review were not returned by press time.
The recent report from the Interior Department was not the only time federal officials indicated support for captive breeding last year.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke mentioned captive breeding as a novel approach to preserving the species when he ordered the review in June. The comments surprised and angered some in the environmental community.
True is a key figure in the captive breeding debate. His farm, Diamond Wings Upland Game Birds, is the only farm to request permission to try captive breeding in Wyoming.
The state program was given the green light by Wyoming legislators last year after significant lobbying from True. Scientists in the West argue that captive breeding is an option when all other options have failed. The grouse still has a chance if the habitat is protected, they say.
True is adamant that the bird farm does not threaten this wider approach to saving the bird.
“This may not work,” True said. “We have to be honest about that. But if it does work, it’s one more arrow in the quiver.”
He brought this same argument to Interior officials in the emails obtained by Western Values.
A spokeswoman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America made introductions between True and communications officials from the Interior in June.
“He would like to see a reference to the merits of the program in the final report,” the spokeswoman wrote of True.
He would be available to visit Washington if that was preferable, she added.
In a later email exchange from True, the oilman reiterated the request for favorable mention of breeding the bird. He also included a brief on his breeding program that asked if the Interior would front half of the project’s $2 million estimated cost, both as an investment in sage grouse management and to spur private investors.
The Interior held a call with True, an official from IPAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that same month. The documents from Western Values did not include a transcript of the call.
True said Friday that he didn’t remember making the funding request, but said the bird farm has moved away from seeking public investment in the program.
For True, the sage grouse farm is an experiment that could buoy numbers for the bird and it requires endorsement and financial investment. He is not shy about asking for backers, federal or private.
“One of the things that I have learned is that if we don’t get broad-based support … this is probably not going to be successful getting across the finish line.”
The oil and gas group, IPAA and Denver-based Western Energy Alliance also spoke on behalf of three oil and gas companies whose operations in Wyoming could be held up by the federal plans, according to the emails obtained by Western Values.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Alliance has defended her association’s contact with the federal agency on more than one occasion since the review.
“Western Energy Alliance represents companies producing energy on federal lands. As such, of course we have meetings and other interactions with the agency that governs that development,” she said in an email Friday.
“We interacted regularly with the Obama Interior Department and will continue to do so with the Trump Interior Department, as can [Western Values Project] or any other group.”
Jayson O’Neill, of Western Values Project, said it’s true that all groups can file public comments or reach out to officials directly. But not all groups are getting their voices heard anymore, he said.
“It’s always a balance,” O’Neill said. “But, when someone can put their thumb on the scale because they are influential… that’s when it becomes troubling.”
Sage grouse conservation is a controversial issue in Wyoming, home to the majority of the bird’s population. Much of the sage grouse’s habitat overlaps with oil and gas activity, or oil and gas potential, in the state. Two and a half years ago, federal and state plans to protect the bird kept sage grouse from ending up on the endangered species list.
Most in Wyoming want to keep the bird off that list and are fiercely loyal to state management plans designed in Wyoming by a coalition of environmentalists, oil and gas companies, ranchers and government officials.
There is less agreement over federal plans.
Though similar to Wyoming’s approach, a number of differences between Wyoming’s strategy and the Bureau of Land Management’s plans have been criticized by industry and by the ranching community.
The debate became heated over the summer both during and after Zinke’s review.
Those in the environmental community view Zinke’s approach to sage grouse with suspicion given the secretary’s many comments about unleashing industry on public lands.
“What this administration continues to repeat is that ‘We are going to build trust. We are going to work with local folks on the ground.’” said O’Neill, of Western Values. “Then, they do the exact opposite of what they’ve preached.”
Food trucks continue to receive parking permits from Casper while city officials work to develop a new policy on mobile vendors, but that could be changing after a local business owner asked the Casper City Council to halt this process at last Tuesday’s meeting.
Jacquie Anderson, the owner of Jacquie’s Bistro, told the council that its decision to continue issuing permits prior to the completion of the new policy has allowed “chaos” to continue downtown.
“We have a lot of people who aren’t talking to each other,” she said.
Food trucks became a divisive issue last summer when they started routinely parking in the city’s center on Fridays and Saturdays. Some brick-and-mortar establishments are upset because the permits are free and the trucks take away parking spaces from potential customers; others think they offer a fun dining option and bring more people downtown.
This has especially created tension between some downtown merchants and the owners of Frontier Brewing Company, as one of the business’s owners has invited and encouraged the trucks to park in front of the brewery on East Second Street.
Shawn Houck, Frontier’s co-owner, told the Star-Tribune last month that he doesn’t understand why this is controversial.
“We have a parking garage half a block away,” he said, adding that he thinks the trucks are beneficial for everyone because they draw people to the area.
But Anderson told the council Tuesday that stricter guidelines are needed because the mobile vendors are parking too close to brick-and-mortar businesses and taking away needed customers.
“We don’t have the population to support all these wonderful choices that everybody loves,” she said.
Councilman Shawn Johnson said he agreed the permit process should be suspended because he felt the situation was getting worse.
“I’m tired of the issue,” said Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay, after she supported suspending the process.
But the rest of the Council ultimately decided to continue discussing the issue at its Tuesday work session.
City Manager Carter Napier previously told the Star-Tribune that banning mobile vendors from downtown seems unlikely at this point, but said the city is considering charging a fee for their parking permits and requiring more advanced notice.
Staff expects to have a formal recommendation prepared for the council by this spring.
WASHINGTON — Reeling from the downfall of a senior aide, the White House was on the defensive Sunday, attempting to soften President Donald Trump’s comments about the mistreatment of women while rallying around the embattled chief of staff.
Several senior aides fanned out on the morning talk shows to explain how the White House handled the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter, a rising West Wing star who exited after two ex-wives came forward with allegations of spousal abuse. And they tried to clarify the reaction from Trump, who has yet to offer a sympathetic word to the women who said they had been abused.
“The president believes, as he said the other day, you have to consider all sides,” senior counselor Kellyanne Conway said. “He has said this in the past about incidents that relate to him as well. At the same time, you have to look at the results. The result is that Rob Porter is no longer the staff secretary.”
On Saturday, Trump tweeted that “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false.” And the day before, he pointed to Porter’s assertions of innocence and wished him a great future.
Conway also delivered what she said was a vote of confidence from Trump for chief of staff John Kelly, who has come under fire for his handling of the Porter matter. Kelly initially defended his right-hand man before later offering a version of the week’s events that puzzled aides said did not line up with the White House’s earlier timeline.
Budget director Mick Mulvaney, among those mentioned as a possible Kelly successor if Trump were to make a change, also downplayed the speculation about Kelly’s standing, suggesting those stories “are mostly being fed by people who are unhappy that they have lost access to the president.” He said talk of Kelly’s departure is “much ado about nothing.”
But Trump has grown frustrated with Kelly, who was once commended for bringing discipline to the West Wing but recently has been at the center of his own controversies.
Trump has begun floating possible names for a future chief of staff in conversations with outside advisers, according to three people with knowledge of the conversations but not authorized to discuss them. In addition to Mulvaney, the others are House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Mark Meadows and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Mulvaney said no one has talked to him about replacing Kelly and “I don’t want that job.”
There was no sign that a move was imminent, according to the people with knowledge of the conversations. Trump is known to frequently poll his advisers about the performance of senior staff and is often reluctant to actually fire aides.
Kelly has indicated he would step aside if he lost the faith of the president. But he has not offered to resign, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A number of West Wing aides were shaken by Kelly’s handling of the Porter accusations. At a senior staff meeting on Friday, Kelly tried to push his own timeline concerning Porter. Some aides in that meeting privately questioned Kelly’s account, thinking his version of events was self-serving, according to one official with knowledge of the meeting.
Kelly has said he found out only Tuesday night that the accusations against Porter were true, but that same evening the White House released a statement of support for Porter from Kelly. The chief of staff, who has said he only learned of irregularities with Porter’s background check in November, insisted that the decision for the staff secretary was made before photos of one of his ex-wives with a black eye were published.
Mulvaney, however, said Porter was “not entirely forthcoming” when asked about the allegations and, once the photos came out, “we dismissed that person immediately.”
The week also cast a harsh spotlight on Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, who was dating Porter. She helped craft the White House’s initial supportive response and has clashed with Kelly. But several aides, including Conway, delivered ringing support for Hicks and said the president still valued her.
As the aftershocks of the accusations against Porter reverberated for a sixth day, Trump stayed out of sight on a rainy Sunday in Washington. Showing little regard for the #MeToo movement, he has followed a pattern of giving the benefit of the doubt to powerful men and insisting upon his own innocence in the face of allegations of sexual misconduct from more than a dozen women.
“I think the president’s shaped by a lot of false accusations against him in the past,” said legislative director Marc Short, who added that Trump was “very disappointed” by the charges against Porter. “And I think that he believes that the resignation was appropriate.”
Conway spoke on ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s State of the Union,” Mulvaney on “Fox News Sunday” and CBS’s “Face the Nation,” and Short on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The University of Wyoming’s chief diversity officer has been busy since she was appointed in May.
Two months after Emily Monago joined UW from Bowling Green State University, the school’s board of directors approved a five-year strategic plan that included diversity goals. She took the reigns with the mandate to craft her own blueprint to hit those specific targets by pulling comments from the campus, from the community and from a diversity council that she’s also developing.
“We’re actually down the homestretch,” she said of the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion plan. “There are a lot of components that went into it. We looked at historical documents that we have at the University of Wyoming.”
Those documents included the university’s 2007 diversity statement, which committed to advising and assisting “in the creation of an environment free of discrimination, further enhance the university’s appreciation for the contributions of diversity to teaching and learning, and secure a climate of acceptance and mutual respect for different opinions, cultures, experiences, and lifestyles.”
“There were some campus-wide meetings that happened before my position,” Monago continued, referring to other things she’s examined.
One of those meetings — in November 2015 — ended with an abrupt mass walkout of students and staff. A member of organizing group BreakthrUWYO told the officials holding the forum — including then-UW President Dick McGinity — that “it is not the responsibility of marginalized students to educate you.”
The UW walkout occurred as discussions and protests roiled college campuses across the country. The University of Missouri garnered national attention when a student went on a hunger strike and its football team refused to play over diversity issues on campus. High-level officials at the university eventually resigned.
“I think as a campus community, these are things that we need to be talking about,” Monago said recently. “These are very difficult conversations. What happens in society at large, we’re going to see them happening on our college campus.”
Wyoming has not been immune to alleged acts of bigotry. At UW, Holocaust-denial fliers were left around campus in November. At Sheridan College, at least three Native American students were the targets of racist threats.
Monago praised Sheridan College’s response by holding campus conversations and instituting quick changes.
“It helps raise awareness to campus communities at large,” she said. “As an institution, we definitely need to provide support that our students need to be successful.”
Currently, UW’s student population is 6.39 percent Hispanic, 1.14 percent Asian, 0.52 percent American Indian or Native Alaskan, 1.03 percent black, and 0.15 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. More than 3.5 percent of students are two or more races.
Monago said the university hopes to grow its enrollment by about 4 percent per year. Its overall goal by 2022 is 13,500 students. The hope, Monago said, is minority student growth will mirror that 4 percent jump. She said she has the support from the (also recently appointed) associate vice provost for enrollment, Kyle Moore.
The university’s strategic plan calls for the number of “underrepresented students” to increase from its current level of 13 percent of campus to 17 percent. UW hired its first Native American program adviser late last year.
“We have our own working plan to provide some of the detail that will help us move forward,” Monago said. “It’s still in draft so I’m not ready to go into a lot of detail without getting the OK to go public.”
She did say that she hopes to have demonstrable indicators to give officials an idea of how their diversity efforts are progressing. She said she’s had conversations with a number of organizations, students and staff. One hundred and twenty-five people responded to an online survey.
The university will also host diversity workshops next week for students, faculty and staff. They’ll be available be available to “UW faculty, staff and students” via a live-streaming service, Monago said.
“It’s really to look at ways that we can create more inclusive classroom environments,” Monago said of the workshops. “Getting some of our faculty support. When classroom conversations go into topics such as homophobia, racism, sexism, just difficult conversations, helping them have some tools to facilitate those conversations.”