NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, Aug. 17, 2020

Teacher-focused “Wyoming WebEd Radio” will host Gordon, Balow

CHEYENNE (WNE) – Wyoming teachers will have a chance to ask Gov. Mark Gordon and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow a few questions next week about schools reopening.

On Tuesday, both Balow and Gordon are scheduled to appear on the new teacher-focused podcast called Wyoming WebEd Radio, where they will answer a selection of questions submitted by teachers from all over the state.

“As the summer has rolled on with COVID-19, lots of voices have been heard, but teachers’ voices haven’t been heard, so we reached out to the governor and the state superintendent to say ‘Hey, can we interview you’ and ask questions teachers have?’” James Kapptie said.

He’s a social studies teacher at Johnson Junior High School in Cheyenne, and he cofounded the podcast with two University of Wyoming professors earlier this summer after the COVID-19 pandemic upended traditional instruction last spring.

Both Balow and Gordon agreed to make an appearance on the podcast. Although the window to submit questions has already closed, anyone will be able to listen to Tuesday’s episode and gather insight on schools reopening from the state’s top brass.

“We set out to interview teachers and people from Wyoming about things that they’re doing during the COVID-19 situation to provide some quick professional development for teachers,” said Kapptie. 

All of the podcast’s episodes are archived on WDE’s YouTube channel.

After next week’s big episode, which will open dialogue between teachers and the state officials making some of the decisions about what learning will look like this year, the show will record one more episode before concluding its first season.

Williams said she’s already anticipating season two, which will start sometime later this fall.


Forest restoration project approved

CASPER (WNE) — The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday approved a controversial forest restoration project in southeastern Wyoming aimed at addressing mountain pine beetle infestation, the severity of wildfires and other shifting forest vegetation conditions. 

The Medicine Bow Landscape Vegetation Analysis project, known as LaVA, grants the Forest Service the authority to remove and sell beetle-killed timber, with the goal of reducing the risk of wildfires and improving overall forest conditions. 

The plan’s approval also allows several types of forest management treatments to occur across 288,000 acres throughout the next 15 years, including prescribed burns and tree thinning in the Snowy and Sierra Madre mountain ranges. 

Thursday’s record of decision marks the completion of the environmental review required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Accomplishing the condition-based review affords agencies the flexibility to execute smaller management projects over the next 15 years, without triggering another full federal environmental review. 

“The LaVA project decision will provide us an amazing opportunity to increase the pace and scale of landscape restoration on the Snowy and Sierra Madre mountain ranges,” Forest Supervisor Russ Bacon said.

Part of the impetus to develop the long-term forest management plan came in response to the uptick in frequency and severity of wildfires in the region. 

“LaVA will give us a long-term foundation to implement fuels reduction projects that reduce the risk of catastrophic fire,” Bacon continued. “There will be real benefits to reducing threats to public and firefighter safety, damage to property, as well as natural and cultural resources.” 


State eyes funding for Lake Hattie as mediation continues

LARAMIE (WNE) — Amid a legal spat over the water level of Lake Hattie, the Wyoming Water Development Office plans to support efforts for legislative funding in 2021 for engineering work on the reservoir, Director Brandon Gebhart told legislators this week.

Despite the irrigation district’s history of raising Hattie’s water level during spring runoff in a way that floods surrounding properties, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December that the irrigation district has no right to have the reservoir expand beyond its formal geographic boundary as drawn on a map of the reservoir that was approved by the Department of Interior more than a century ago.

Because of erosion since then, keeping Lake Hattie within that perimeter means the Pioneer Canal-Lake Hattie Irrigation District would not be allowed to fill to its capacity 94,960 acre-feet.

The 10th Circuit decision came after surrounding landowners sued the irrigation district because of chronic flooding of their property.

Parties to the lawsuit are currently in mediation to determine what level of flooding the landowners will allow, and how much, if any, with the irrigation district pay them.

Gebhart told legislators this week that irrigation district representatives were “going into what they thought would be a final mediation meeting (Aug. 7).”

“It sounds like that fell apart and they still do not have an agreement in place,” he said, “so they will be going to another round of mediation.”

Gebhart said the result of mediation will help determine the scope of work that needs to happen at the reservoir.

If funding for the district is going to be written into 2021 legislation, Gebhart said he’ll want to know what to ask for by the end of this year.


Green River woman found guilty of abusing father

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) — Thera Leanne Siler, 41, of Green River has been convicted of a felony charge of abuse of a vulnerable adult for an incident involving her father.

A jury returned with a guilty verdict during a trial in Sweetwater County District Court on Monday and Tuesday. Siler was not convicted on a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery. She remains in custody at the Sweetwater Detention Center awaiting sentencing.

The Green River Police Department responded to a report of domestic violence on Sept. 14, 2019, at the home where Clyde Siler lived with his daughter Thera Siler.

Marlene Siler reported that her sister Thera Siler had choked Clyde Siler during a physical altercation. Clyde Siler told police that Thera Siler restrained him in his chair by holding the sleeve of his shirt and also placed her forearm against his throat, causing him to black out. He said that although he wasn’t exactly sure what Thera Siler was angry about, she had been upset that he had not purchased a rifle for her for completing a hunter safety course.

Court documents state that Clyde Siler, who would turn 79 on his next birthday, has physical difficulties including not being able to navigate the stairs in his home without assistance.

Responding GRPD officer Brad Halter reported that there was a history between Clyde and Thera Siler including several calls involving disturbances and domestic violence. Prior to the incident on Sept. 14, however, Clyde Siler had not been willing to discuss events or file a complaint. That incident was the first time Halter recalled that Clyde Siler was willing to make a statement regarding his fear of Thera Siler, according to court documents.


Motorcycle crash kills Casper man in county

RIVERTON (WNE) — A Casper man died and his wife was injured Thursday in a single-vehicle motorcycle crash near Jeffrey City, officials said. 

Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen said Anthony Muckley, 45, of Casper, died in the crash, which was reported at about 1:25 p.m. Thursday in the 3900 block of Wyoming Highway 789 in rural country near Jeffrey City. 

Muckley’s wife was airlifted from the scene and was reported to be in stable condition, Stratmoen said. 

The Wyoming Highway Patrol investigated the crash, which Stratmoen said was witnessed. 

There will be no autopsy, Stratmoen said. The preliminary cause of death is internal trauma. 

Stratmoen said he is waiting for required toxicology test results, but “at this point in time there is no suspicion of alcohol or drug involvement.”