This is a selection of stories printed in the News&Guide’s sister publication, the Jackson Hole Daily. Find the rest of the story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.
Commission OKs mask order
The Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 Thursday to extend Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell’s mask mandate through the end of 2021.
The move followed an identical, unanimous Monday vote from the Jackson Town Council, so all of Teton County is now subject to the same masking requirements.
The seals of approval, necessitated by recent changes to state law, generally mean mask wearing is required in Jackson Hole through Dec. 31, with some exceptions, or until the valley’s COVID-19 risk level drops to “low” or “moderate.”
Board Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker and Commissioners Mark Newcomb and Luther Propst voted for the mandate as a tool to combat rising COVID-19 levels in Jackson Hole. Commissioners Mark Barron and Greg Epstein voted against it.
“I hear our health professionals asking to deploy a tool that is not the single cure-all, but is part of the tools in the toolbox,” Macker said. “I support giving them that tool and giving the community that tool and hope that we see our numbers go down.”
Barron countered that people could make decisions about mask wearing without government involvement.
“I believe in masks, I wear masks,” Barron said. “Before the most recent mandate, I started wearing masks in most public settings and observed that most of the public was doing the same thing. I trust the public will make the right decisions and choices for themselves and others. And I trust that the public thinks beyond their own viewshed — they think of other people.”
While asking questions about the “risks of wearing masks” — health officials said evidence doesn’t support those concerns — Epstein fretted about the order’s length and inclusion of schools, as well as the Teton County Health Department’s decision to change how it measures COVID-19 risk.
Director of Health Jodie Pond said switching from the county’s methodology to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s was done to better highlight the risk of transmission in Teton County. And, to Epstein’s questions about masking “risks,” Pond and Paul Beaupre, St. John’s Health’s COVID-19 czar, said the available evidence doesn’t raise alarms.
“I don’t think there is data to support that masking is detrimental to your health,” Pond said, but added that she’d review studies people send the department.
Lightning likely culprit in fire Lightning is thought to have caused two fires in the area around Munger Mountain on Thursday.
Both blazes were just northeast of the Munger Mountain trailhead and under control by Thursday evening, said Lily Sullivan, training captain with Jackson Hole Fire/EMS.
Sullivan responded to the fires along with 10 or 15 others from Fire/EMS and a U.S. Forest Service engine and helitack helicopter crew.
Both fires were estimated to be less than a tenth of an acre and did not spread significantly.
“Both fires were essentially trees,” she said. “They appeared to have been struck from above, and both fires were limited to the trees themselves and just a bit of brush around those trees.”
Caribou advances big burn
A proposal to use prescribed fire on hundreds of thousands of acres of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest has emerged from a withdrawn plan’s ashes and is now being assessed on the forest’s southern Caribou portion.
Originally, managers of the 2.6-million-acre forest — which includes portions of both Teton Counties (Wyoming and Idaho) — sought to have the latitude to burn virtually anywhere outside of wilderness and a few other designations of land.
That plan, however, drew flak with opponents criticizing the forest over the “blank check” approach, impacts to threatened species and purported violations of the National Environmental Policy Act. Caribou-Targhee officials withdrew those plans in April.
Then, last week, a more-targeted plan emerged limited to the Caribou portion of the forest.
A significant change is that the plan is being studied in more depth. During the first go around, the forest announced plans to use only a “categorical exclusion” to NEPA, which is the minimum level of analysis.
But in late August the forest posted and began taking comments on a 52-page “environmental assessment,” which studies 22 “burn blocks,” averaging 12,000 acres. The forest is shooting for about 6,000 acres per year, split roughly 50-50 between wooded maple, juniper and mountain mahogany habitats and unforested mountain shrub plant communities. Comments are due by Oct. 1.
Singing the blues: No hoot
The Hootenanny, a musical Monday mainstay during the summer, did not happen this past Monday.
And, while there will be a performance Sept. 13, it will not be at Dornan’s.
Hank Phibbs, a Jackson Hole musician who helps organize the weekly gathering, said the reason for this week’s cancellation is a COVID-19 exposure at the Hoot held last Monday.
Dornan’s, the restaurant and bar in Grand Teton National Park that hosts the weekly musical menagerie where musicians are generally only allowed to perform covers if the original song is more than 25 years old, recently was called by the Teton County Health Department, which said an Aug. 30 Hoot attendee tested positive for COVID-19, Phibbs said.
“Dornan’s has been really good and really responsible, and they responded immediately and said we should not do some Hoots for a little while,” Phibbs said.
He recommended that people who attended last week’s event get tested for COVID-19.
Algae blooms on Togwotee
A handful of lakes in the high country just to the east of Jackson Hole have again been documented with potentially dangerous concentrations of blue-green algae.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Health announced Wednesday advisories for the following waters: Brooks Lake, Pelham Lake, Rainbow Lake and Upper Jade Lake. All are located on the Shoshone National Forest, and they’re accessible lakes popular with hikers and anglers.