NEWS BRIEFS for Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020

Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Gordon extends COVID-19 health orders, allows indoor contact sports

CHEYENNE (WNE) – Wyoming’s public health orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been extended through Sept. 30, with a restriction lifted to allow for indoor contact sports, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday.

The three orders, which have been in effect since mid-August following an easement of earlier restrictions, allow for outdoor gatherings of no more than 50% of a venue’s capacity, with a maximum of 1,000 people. Prior to Aug. 15, the orders limited most outdoor gatherings to 250 people.

The only change to the trio of orders was a revision allowing indoor close-contact sports to occur “in all settings,” according to a statement from the governor.

“Wyoming has really held its own – schools are open, and sports are being played on Fridays and Saturdays,” Gordon said. “We want to be careful to avoid going backward and losing the high ground we hold. Steady progress beats the alternative, which would be devastating to our businesses, our schools and our citizens.”

The extension of the three orders comes after Wyoming has seen a slight drop in its average number of new COVID-19 cases since early August. Over the past two weeks, the state has seen about 31 new positives cases per day, down from a two-week daily average of 41 reported early last month. Wyoming’s percentage of new positive tests over the past two weeks sat at 2.1% on Tuesday.

Under the orders, indoor gatherings in a confined space are still limited to 50 persons without restrictions, and 250 persons if social distancing and sanitization measures are followed.


2018 Roosevelt Fire sparks multi-million-dollar claims from homeowners, hunters

JACKSON (WNE) –  Thirty households and a pair of hunters have filed tort claims against the Bridger-Teton National Forest, alleging that mismanagement of the 2018 Roosevelt Fire caused them personal harm.

A Missoula, Montana, law firm is representing the claimants, who say the Bridger-Teton should have aggressively fought the fire from its onset and that an undocumented burnout operation inadvertently caused the blowup that devastated the rural Hoback Ranches subdivision.

“They decided to monitor the fire because it was their judgment that it was kind of scrolling around on rocks and wasn’t gonna be a big factor,” said Frank Carroll, a consultant working with the claimants.

Generally, the U.S. Forest Service fights human-caused fires and allows lightning-caused ones to burn, if they aren’t immediately threatening homes or critical infrastructure. The claimants, whose damage filings with the U.S. Department of Agriculture are likely to exceed $100 million, say the Bridger-Teton knew there were no lightning strikes in the area Sept. 15 of that year when the fire started and should have snuffed the blaze.

“There’s absolutely no doubt this is a human-caused fire,” Carroll said. “The point is they knew or they should have known because they have the same access to the NOAA severe weather data that all the rest of us have.”

The hunters are Steve and Dakota Knezovich, of Rock Springs, who were burned the day after the fire started. Their claim states that they tried to call the fire in, and though a Forest Service employee told them the area was being closed and they needed to leave, they were not told the fire was not being actively suppressed.


Knudsen enters plea agreement

TORRINGTON (WNE) — Former municipal judge and local attorney Greg Knudsen’s counsel has entered a Request For Hearing on Change of Plea and a Binding Plea Agreement with the District Court of the Eighth Judicial District. 

The plea agreement was signed by Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri, defense attorney P. Craig Silva and Knudsen. 

According to the agreement, Knudsen will plead no contest to two counts of third degree sexual assault and three counts of stalking. 

The agreement continues, “The State will dismiss (the) remaining counts …” 

The remaining counts to be dismissed are two counts of stalking, one count of unlawful contact, one count of third degree sexual assault and one count of burglary. 

Should the court accept the agreement, Knudsen could receive a suspended sentence of four years to six years for the felony counts. 

The plea agreement also requests that the sentence for each remaining misdemeanor be suspended for six months and the felony and misdemeanor sentences be served concurrently. 

As of publication, the court has not answered on the request for a hearing to change Knudsen’s plea.


Disaster loans follow drought

CASPER (WNE) — Farmers and ranchers in nearly half of the counties in Wyoming are eligible for disaster relief funding related to this summer’s drought after the U.S. Department of Agriculture named two additional counties as primary natural disaster areas this week. 

On Monday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue designated two Wyoming counties — Campbell and Converse — as primary natural disaster areas, allowing any producer who suffered losses of 30% or more caused by recent drought for emergency loans from the department’s Farm Service Agency. 

The loans — which max out at $500,000 — can be used to replace essential items such as equipment or livestock, support the reorganization of a farming operation, or to help refinance certain debts. 

With the announcement, Campbell and Converse counties join a list of nine other Wyoming counties already designated as primary natural disaster areas, including Albany, Carbon, Crook, Johnson, Natrona, Niobrara, Platte, Sheridan and Weston counties. 

While more severe than average, Wyoming’s current drought remains well below the worst period in state history seen this century. 

However, almost all of the state — 74.1% — is currently experiencing some level of drought, with just over one fifth of the state experiencing “extreme” drought conditions, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

These numbers also compound state-level impacts from a “megadrought” that has scorched the western United States for the past 20 years, which researchers have attributed to human-caused climate change. 

Though the U.S. has experienced numerous instances of extreme weather in 2020, the trend is not isolated to the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the northern hemisphere just completed its warmest summer ever, with last month clocking in as the nation’s second-hottest August ever.