NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, Jan. 13, 2020

From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Flu cases jump in Wyoming

CASPER (WNE) — Influenza cases in Wyoming have experienced a “significant jump” in recent weeks, according to the state Health Department, as federal officials say the dominant strain of the disease is more likely to affect younger people. 

To date, 32 children have died nationally from flu-related conditions and 4,800 people have died in total in the first three months of the 2019-20 flu season. The state Department of Health typically does not release figures mid-season, though exceptions — like pediatric deaths or particularly severe seasons — sometimes prompt officials to send additional warnings. 

Kim Deti, a Health Department spokeswoman, said the agency “would refrain from predicting whether we are near the peak yet or from making an overall prediction on the season.” She added that Wyoming’s dominant iteration of the flu is a B strain, “which is unusual for this stage in the season.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rated Wyoming’s flu activity as moderate, while a majority of the country is rated at the highest severity level. The agency added that nationally, hospitalizations and percent of deaths remain low. They attribute the mix of deaths with overall low hospitalizations to the dominance of the B strain, which is “more likely to affect children and younger adults than the elderly.” 


F.E. Warren not the source of mystery drones

CHEYENNE (WNE) — As the regional drone mystery continues, F.E. Warren Air Force Base can be crossed off the list of possible sources.

The base released a statement Friday clarifying that neither F.E. Warren nor the U.S. Air Force, in general, has anything to do with the mystery drones, which have been spotted in northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska in recent weeks.

“F.E. Warren AFB does conduct counter-unmanned aircraft system training within the confines of the installation,” the base stated in a release. “However, any drones spotted outside of the installation are not part of our fleet.”

The drones have been spotted several times in Phillips and Yuma counties in Colorado, as well as some counties in Nebraska.

The Federal Aviation Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Army Forces Command have said they do not have information about the aircraft.

The group of at least 17 drones have estimated wingspans of 6 feet and fly between 7 and 10 p.m., according to the Associated Press.

In their statement, officials from F.E. Warren said they had notified the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI and state authorities that the Air Force base is not involved with the drones. Officials also said the drones have not posed a threat to any of the base’s facilities or operations.

Meanwhile, Wyoming Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Beck said the patrol has had no reported sightings of the mystery drones.


UW requests $12 million for law school


LARAMIE (WNE) — University of Wyoming officials visited the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee to make a last-minute request for $12 million to fund a $22 million renovation and expansion of the university’s College of Law on the eve of college’s 100th anniversary.

The project had not made it into UW’s formal budget request in mid-2019 which was vetted by the State Construction Department and Gov. Mark Gordon’s office before going to the Legislature in December.

“We were designing the facility and didn’t know the cost of the facility over the summer,” College of Law Dean Klint Alexander told JAC on Friday afternoon. “We did not want to come before you when we didn’t know what the cost was going to be, and that process played out between May and August 2019.”

The board of trustees approved the project’s exterior design in September after private fundraising began in November 2018. Since that time, Alexander said that $5 million has been pledged and that another $1 million is likely to be raised by a planned construction date of October 2020.

The project would add about 19,000 square feet and renovate about 23,000 square feet of existing space.

If the Legislature approves the request during the upcoming 2021-2022 budget session, which begins Feb. 10, UW Trustee John McKinley said his board is likely to approve funding for the rest of the project.


Fremont anti-shoplifting laws put to test

RIVERTON (WNE) — Due to the county’s strong anti-shoplifting systems, a Lander woman could spend 10 years in prison if convicted of stealing $25 worth of hygiene products from Safeway. 

Now charged with burglary and trespassing, 34-year-old Danielle Marie Dighton had been cited for shoplifting prior to her arrest at Safeway in Lander on Dec. 10. 

Dighton was under a no-trespassing order to stay out of the Safeway store.

When an individual takes items from a place from which he or she has been banned, or “trespassed,” the action fits the legal description of burglary, which carries far harsher penalties than shoplifting. People can be banned from one store even if they have been cited for shoplifting elsewhere. 

“If you know somebody to be a thief or to have committed theft, even if it wasn’t your business, you can tell them not to be there,” said Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun. “And then if they come into your store without authority and take an item, that can be charged as burglary.” 

The effort to curb shoplifting began last spring and has involved Riverton, Lander, the Fremont County Attorney’s Office and the Riverton and Lander police departments. 

Riverton City Councilman Mike Bailey called shoplifting a “rampant” issue in the community, and encouraged business owners to trespass offenders from their stores, saying “it gives law enforcement the tools they need to get those people off the street.” 

Trespassing may result in an arrest, Bailey explained during the 2019 meeting, while people caught shoplifting only receive citations. 


WWCC board agrees to pursue bachelor program

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) – Applause filled the boardroom Thursday night after the Western Wyoming Community College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to seek authorization to offer a bachelor of applied science in business degree program and become a baccalaureate-granting institution.

During the 2019 legislative session, a law passed that granted Wyoming community colleges the ability to offer applied baccalaureate degrees. Since then, WWCC and other Wyoming colleges have been developing programs and looking at what it takes to meet higher standards.

Dr. Kim Dale reviewed the timeline of the process. She noted that last fall the board gave the college permission to present a bachelor of applied science in business degree program to the Wyoming Community College Commission. After WWCC representatives went before the college commission, she said they next needed board approval to submit the program to the Higher Learning Commission, which will make the final determination.

Dale called the decision an exciting moment and a historic vote for WWCC.

WWCC Dean of Academics Cliff Wittstruck noted that the process is more than just adding a degree. He called it a “game changer” that takes the college to the next level.

Board President Regina Clark said the trustees support the efforts of the college, and added the college is ready for the next step, as is the public.

“This is going to be great for our community,” Clark said. “I think there are a lot of people ready to jump in and get their feet wet.”


Forest Service buys last private parcel in Medicine Bow Forest


LARAMIE (WNE) — With the purchase of a 79.5-acre parcel in the Huston Park Wilderness last month, the U.S. Forest has consolidated the last wilderness inholding on the Medicine Bow and Routt National Forests.

The parcel is located in the Sierra Madre Range in the Little Snake River drainage, west of Standard Park and just north of the Roaring Fork Trail.

Brush Creek/Hayden District Ranger Jason Armbruster said the parcel was part of a mining claim that dates back to the early 1900s. There was some exploration and mining activity on the property, but nothing in recent years.

Meanwhile, the 30,589-acre Huston Park Wilderness was established by Congress in 1984. Wilderness areas are federally designated pieces of public lands that are set aside to preserve their natural, wild character. They’re chosen for their outstanding ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic or historic value.

Motorized and mechanized travel, including mountain bikes, are prohibited in wilderness areas.

“Unlike other areas of the forest that are managed for multiple uses — timber harvest, recreation, wildlife, a host of other uses — wilderness areas are managed for that natural state,” Armbruster said.

Since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, which allowed for the creation of wilderness areas, the U.S. Forest Service has been working to consolidate lands within wilderness boundaries.

Armbruster said consolidation is a management goal because private parcels within wilderness areas can potentially support development that’s inconsistent with the character of the surrounding wilderness.