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State Briefs


April 9, 2020

Gas prices drop almost 10 cents statewide in a week

GILLETTE (WNE) - Wyoming gas prices have fallen 9.8 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $2.06 a gallon Monday.

Prices have fallen below $2 a gallon in two counties, Albany at $1.762 and Natrona at $1.812, according to GasBuddy.

Campbell County’s prices remain in the middle of the pack in the 23 counties at $2.072. But two stations — Exxon and Flying J — have dropped below the $2 mark to $1.99.

The highest prices were in Weston County with an average of $2.216 a gallon, and Laramie at $2.22.

Gas prices in Wyoming are 31.9 cents per gallon lower than a month ago and stand 42.3 cents a gallon lower than a year ago. According to GasBuddy, the cheapest station in Wyoming is priced at $1.49 a gallon while the most expensive is $3.15 a gallon, a difference of $1.66.

The reason for the slipping prices, as everything today, is COVID-19. People are driving less so there is less demand for fuel.

The national average price of gasoline has fallen 5.7 cents a gallon in the last week, averaging $1.91 a gallon today. The national average is down 48 cents a gallon from a month ago and stands 84.3 cents a gallon lower than a year ago.

Oil rallied almost $7 a barrel last week upon news of a potential meeting between major oil producers Russia and Saudi Arabia, but then Tuesday’s meeting was postponed.

Wyoming motorists are paying the lowest prices for gas in April since 2016, when the price averaged $1.95 a gallon. The highest price for gas in the last 10 years in Wyoming was in 2012 at $3.58 a gallon.

Wildlife guides in Jackson out of work amid pandemic

JACKSON (WNE) — Guiding businesses almost totally dependent on tourism are among the Jackson Hole industries being hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic and closures in its wake.

Taylor Phillips, who founded one of the valley’s largest wildlife viewing companies, Eco Tour Adventures, made the call to lay off all but one of his guides March 16, the day after Jackson Hole Mountain Resort announced it was shutting down for the season. One week later, Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks — where Eco Tour guides primarily go to find critters — followed suit and also closed down.

“We thought the prudent thing to do was be proactive,” Phillips said. “Our guides weren’t comfortable, knowing tourists were jumping off planes from New York and other hot spots.”

“I laid them off,” he said. “Most of them are collecting unemployment, but I am committing to them to cover 100% of their health insurance premiums until they’re guiding again.”

Covering the premiums for the 10 guides and office staff workers who found themselves out of a job is a “significant expense” — at least a few thousand dollars a month, he said.

To help underwrite those costs while his cash flow is next to nil, Phillips and a staffer he was able to keep on, Josh Metten, launched an online store last week. Future tours are for sale, but there are also limited-edition prints from wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, EcoTour-branded Stio apparel, Maven binoculars and other goods available, chiefly from Jackson Hole-based small businesses. All profits go toward health care costs for Eco Tour’s out-of-work wildlife guides.

Other wildlife safari businesses reached by the Jackson Hole Daily also reported having to slash staff down to next to nothing because of the coronavirus.

Saratoga man announces run for U.S. House seat

CHEYENNE – Over his 20-plus years of international teaching in countries like Germany and Thailand, Carl Beach noticed many policies that he thought could be brought back to his home state of Wyoming.

“I was a part of all these nations that are very different in terms of their political alliance or their cultures, but they all provided universal basic health care for their citizens,” Beach said.

Health care is one of the main issues driving Beach’s decision to run as a Democrat for Wyoming’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

In making his announcement this week, Beach became the first campaign opponent for U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who has held the seat since 2016.

The 44-year-old Wyoming native supports a single-payer, “Medicare for All”-style health care system. Beach argued many of the public’s fears about subpar services in a single-payer system are misplaced.

In his view, states’ recent struggles to obtain ventilators and other medical supplies further highlight the fragmented nature of the current U.S. health care system.

“I see a single-payer system, or a universal basic health care system providing the unity and uniform funding that we would need to really tackle this better,” Beach said of the current coronavirus outbreak. “There’s always going to still be tough choices to make ... but I think there would be more equity in the distribution of both funding and supplies.”

Pandemic delays Jackson man’s federal drug case

JACKSON (WNE) - The Jackson man facing federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges probably won’t go before a jury until 2021.

According to documents filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming, Bryan Jones, who originally was to have gone on trial last month, is now scheduled to be tried Jan. 19, more than a year after his arrest.

According to court files: “The court finds an ends-of-justice continuance is warranted in this case for two reasons: (1) the relative complexity of the matter requires more time for counsel to effectively prepare, and (2) the current coronavirus pandemic warrants a continuance because the court currently cannot safely assemble the participants for a jury trial.”

A grand jury indicted Jones and three co-defendants in January for conspiracy to distribute and manufacture a metric ton of marijuana, and conspiracy to launder money.

Jones was arrested by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration near his Teton County home in December after a five-year investigation into what federal officials called a large drug trafficking organization.

In the order, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl said a continuance is justified.

“There is an extensive amount of discovery here because the government has been investigating the matter for several years,” Skavdahl wrote. 

“Requiring the defendants to proceed to trial without adequate time to investigate the case and prepare the defense would result in a miscarriage of justice,” the order states.

Skavdahl said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic the court’s top priority “in this time of emergency is protecting the health and safety of the litigants, the public and the practicing bar.”

Rabid skunks are the first in Campbell County since 2010

GILLETTE (WNE) — The first case of rabies in Campbell County in 10 years should prompt people to make sure their pets are vaccinated against the disease.

Two skunks that were part of routine trapping done by the Campbell County Predator Board tested positive for rabies earlier this week. They were found in southern Campbell County, according to veterinarians at the Animal Medical Center, who received lab confirmation of the rabid animals.

No humans were exposed, but it is a good reminder that rabies exists and is a serious issue, said Dr. Darren Lynde, a veterinarian and senior partner at Animal Medical Center.

Rabies tends to cycle from year to year, but the early spring cases here this year indicate that there might be more to follow, Lynde said.

Skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats represent most of the rabies cases in Campbell County, Lynde said, but any warm-blooded animal can get rabies.

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, people are postponing non-essential trips, such as getting their pets groomed. Instead, they’re only going to the vet if their pet has a serious problem.

If a pet is not up to date on its shots, or if it has an infection, Lynde recommends that its owner take it to the vet as soon as possible.

“We don’t want those animals to have to wait until this clears up, we want them to get that attended to now,” he said. “Protecting an animal against diseases that could kill them, vaccinating them, is very important.”

In addition to making sure to vaccinate their pets, people are encouraged to keep their distance from wildlife and stray animals and to be careful in approaching unfamiliar dogs and cats.

UW provost to resign

LARAMIE (WNE) — The University of Wyoming’s provost Kate Miller, will “step down” from her position on June 30, the university announced in a Monday press release.

Miller became the university’s top academic officer in August 2016.

“We express our appreciation to Dr. Miller for her service to the university and the state,” Acting President Neil Theobald said in the press release.

Incoming President Ed Seidel is expected to work with university stakeholders to select an interim provost before a national search begins in September.

When the university organized its COVID-19 task force in March, it was Vice Provost Tami Benham-Deal, not Miller, who named as the top representative for the Office of Academic Affairs.

This winter, Miller was one of five finalists for the provost position at the University of Texas at El Paso.

However, UTEP announced last week that the job would go to John Wiebe, who had already been serving in that position on an interim basis.

Miller was hired as UW’s provost in 2016 at a salary of $300,000. In May 2019, the board of trustees increased her pay to $325,000.

Miller’s departure coincides with the position change for Anne Alexander, the associate vice provost for undergraduate education, who’s leaving that role to serve as an associate dean in the College of Business.


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