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Legislature authorizes griz hunt

Leaders of the state House and Senate signed a bill Tuesday flouting a federal judge’s order to block Wyoming from OK’ing a grizzly hunt.

Senate File 93, which passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support, would authorize the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to conduct a hunt in defiance of U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen’s ruling that restored the species’ “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act.

The bill needs only Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature to go into effect.

Grizzlies were delisted in 2017 after decades of protection, and in September wildlife officials scheduled the first hunt for generations in the Rockies. They planned to issue licenses for 23 of the 700 or so bears estimated to live in the region.

But Christensen revoked the state’s jurisdiction over grizzlies in the Yellowstone area, saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in delisting the species in the first place.

Legislators realize the implications of disregarding Christensen’s order. Senate File 93 contains a few crucial “mays,” as opposed to “shalls,” making the hunt a possibility rather than a command.

“The reason we don’t say ‘shall’ is because we can’t ask our Game and Fish people to be convicted felons,” Sen. Eli Bebout, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide last month. “That’s what it would do if we did that.”

Fed land takeover bill progresses

After passing in the Senate, a bill that would allow Wyoming to take over operation of national parks and other federal facilities during a federal government shutdown was referred Tuesday to a House committee.

Senate File 148 would permit the state to temporarily “seize” lands and facilities normally managed by the U.S. government, besides military installations, if the governor deems that the best way to keep them running as usual.

After making it through the first chamber on a 17-12 vote, SF 148 will go to the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee today.

Under the bill the governor could direct state agencies to create a contingency plan for a scenario in which the federal government cannot effectively manage federal facilities, and allocates $500,000 to a special account to fund the implementation of that plan.

The legislation arose during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. The lapse in federal funding led to the weekslong furlough of many employees in Grand Teton National Park, the National Elk Refuge and Bridger-Teton National Forest, the major land managers in Jackson Hole. Other employees of those agencies went without a check for two pay cycles.

The deal that ended the shutdown gave Congress until Feb. 15 to reach an agreement on immigration policy and a border wall. If it fails, the government may close again.

Eye care bill dies

An effort by Wyoming optometrists to broaden the list of procedures they are allowed to perform died in committee Tuesday.

The crux of the issue is the subtle and often confusing difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists. In brief, the latter are generally more qualified to perform delicate eye surgery, and they argued their optometrist peers should not be allowed to take the scalpel into their own hands.

Supporters of Senate File 55 said it would expand eye care in rural communities, where a qualified surgeon is often miles away. There are 166 licensed optometrists in the state, but just 54 ophthalmologists, and optometrists argued the procedures they’re bidding for are relatively simple.

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911, town@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGtown.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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