Wyoming News Update

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SAGE GROUSE-ENERGY LEASES

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Trump administration is finalizing plans to ease restrictions on oil and natural gas drilling and other industrial activities that were imposed to protect an imperiled bird species that ranges across the American West.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management Acting Director Brian Steed told The Associated Press the changes still protect greater sage grouse while addressing concerns that policies adopted by former President Barack Obama were too restrictive.

A formal announcement is expected Friday.

Critics say the changes will mean more disturbances to the bird's habitat, which includes portions of 11 states. Brian Rutledge with the Audubon Society says that will undermine efforts to shore up grouse populations.

The ground-dwelling birds, known for an elaborate mating ritual, have seen steep declines due to energy development, disease and other factors.

ROCKIES BLIZZARD-THE LATEST

DENVER (AP) — Three major roadways in Colorado that were shut down by a massive late-winter blizzard have reopened.

Colorado Department of Transportation officials say traffic on interstates 25, 76 and 70 was flowing Thursday, a day after the roadways were closed by whiteout conditions and drifting snow.

A spokeswoman for the Colorado National Guard says troops retrieved 75 people stranded in their cars during the storm, along with two dogs. About 50 soldiers and airmen were part of the National Guard response, which was focused on four counties southeast of Denver. National Guard teams searched nearly 150 vehicles.

Meanwhile, about 30,000 Xcel Energy customers, mostly in the Denver area, are expected to remain without power into Friday. Crews have restored power to about 435,000 customers who were affected by the storm.

HOSPITAL SHOOTING-ENTRY

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming man accused of firing several shots inside a medical center entered through a back security door while under the influence of LSD.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that a hearing for 20-year-old Mitchell Taylor on Thursday included police testimony about the March 4 shooting at Wyoming Medical Center in Casper.

Taylor is charged with two counts of aggravated assault, property damage and use of a firearm while committing a felony.

Police say Taylor fired several rounds from a 9 mm handgun at two employees around 1 a.m. before he was arrested in a tunnel beneath the hospital.

No one was injured.

Taylor's attorney told a judge that the shooting was "the result of a bad acid trip."

The judge refused a request to lower Taylor's $500,000 bond.

AP-US-WOLVES-US-PROTECTIONS-THE-LATEST

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A proposal to strip gray wolves of federal protections could curtail their rapid expansion across vast swaths of the U.S., yet the predators already are proving to be resilient in states where hunting and trapping occur.

The Interior Department on Thursday declared gray wolves recovered across the Lower 48 states. If finalized, the proposal would allow hunting in more areas.

The species has seen a remarkable turnaround — from near-extermination to more than 6,000 gray wolves spread across nine states.

Critics say hunts could kill thousands of the animals and prevent their further spread.

But in the Northern Rockies, where legal wolf harvests began a decade ago, the animal's numbers have held relatively steady and packs have expanded west into Oregon, Washington and California.

RARE JACKRABBIT SIGHTING

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. (AP) — Wildlife officials have spotted a winter-whitened, white-tailed jackrabbit, which is among the rarest native mammals in Jackson Hole.

The Jackson Hole News and Guide reports that National Elk Refuge staff have spotted the animal near the base of the Miller Butte mountain for much of the winter.

Elk Refuge spokeswoman Lori Iverson, who has spotted and photographed the animal, says it might be hanging near the Elk Refuge's autoshop at the base of Miller Butte's north face to take shelter from predators.

The area is off-limits to the general public.

White-tailed jackrabbits rarely frequent the Elk Refuge. There have only been three verified occurrences ever, the last being 56 years ago, in 1963, though there was an unconfirmed sighting scratched into Elk Refuge records in the winter of 1990-91.

GRAND TETON-CELL TOWERS

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A national park in Wyoming is moving ahead with plans for a network of cell towers amid questions about how the National Park Service balances public safety with the experience of wilderness.

Grand Teton National Park is taking public comment on plans for nine cell towers in already-developed areas of the park in northwestern Wyoming. The park currently has two cell towers.

Park officials say benefits would include the ability to call for help during medical emergencies and helping retain seasonal workers by keeping them in touch with friends and family.

Jeff Ruch with the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility says people enjoying nature shouldn't be disrupted by people selling stock or ordering pizza on their phones.

Ruch says the Park Service lacks a comprehensive policy for cell facilities.

SheridanWyoming.com

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