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Wyoming's top news

Jan 4, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Try this top-10 list on for size

For years the Associated Press (of which The Ranger was the very first Wyoming member newspaper in 1953) produced an annual Wyoming top 10 news list at the end of each year. The list was compiled with the cooperation of Wyoming newspaper editors.

The AP opted not to do it for 2012, so we'll take a crack at it ourselves. Here are Wyoming's top 10 news stories of 2012:

1. Casper College killings -- In November a 25-year-old former Casper resident, Chris Krumm, came back to town with murder on his mind. On a Friday morning in November, he killed his father's live-in girlfriend, Heidi Arnold, at their home in Casper, then went to the Casper College campus, where his father, James Krumm, 56, was teaching a class. The younger Krumm entered the classroom armed with a powerful hunting bow and shot his father as students watched in shock. After the two struggled while students fled, son stabbed father with a hunting knife, inflicting a mortal wound. Chris Krumm then committed suicide with the same knife.

2. Wolves delisted -- Years of legal battles and public relations wrangling finally ended in 2012 when the federal government, which had ordered gray wolves to be reintroduced in the state as an endangered species, at last agreed to remove the wolf from the endangered species list. Wyoming's plan for managing wolves included a trophy hunting season in which 52 wolves could be killed. By the time the season ended last week, hunters had taken 48.

More courtroom skirmishes are promised, however, as three new lawsuits were filed late in the year by groups demanding that the animals be given endangered status again.

3. Wildfires -- More than a half-million acres of forest and wildland burned in the state during a long, destructive fire season that started in June, earlier than usual, and lasted into the fall. Big fires threatened both Casper and Jackson, providing unforgettable images for weeks. Fremont County had one of the whoppers, the Alpine Lake Fire, which topped 50,000 acres. After two unusually wet years across the state, grass and underbrush had grown dense, providing ready fuel for the flames. Analysts rated it the worst fire season on record for the state, with a $100 million pricetag.

4. Election -- There was no race for governor in 2012, but both U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis faced voters again, as did all members of the Wyoming House and many state senators. Voters also rendered decisions on three amendments to the Wyoming Constitution.

Turnout was solid, in part because of the U.S. presidential election. Wyoming gave the second-highest percentage in the nation to Republican Mitt Romney in his unsuccessful challenge of President Obama. Barrasso collected the biggest margin of victory of any U.S. Senate victor, and Lummis also carried a landslide vote.

Already owning an overwhelming majority in the Wyoming Legislature, Republicans increased their margin still further.

5. Spending cuts -- Wyoming's huge and enviable budget surpluses of the past decade were threatened in 2012 by decreasing tax revenue from natural gas production after prices for gas fell. Anticipating a crisis, Gov. Matt Mead instructed most state departments and agencies to prepare new fiscal year budgets 8 percent slimmer for 2013 than 2012. The preliminary results were dramatic, and many were relieved when state revenue estimates were raised from their earlier low levels, but the governor asked the state entities to stick with the lower budget figures. When the Legislature convenes next week, the 8 percent cuts will be the starting point.

6. Joe Meyer's death -- Wyoming State Treasurer Joe Meyer died in October after battling cancer for years. He was 71. Meyer also had served as Wyoming Attorney General and Secretary of State.

His death created a rare mid-term vacancy in one of Wyoming's "big five" elected offices. Mark Gordon was appointed by Gov. Matt Mead to replace Meyer.

7. Coal's doldrums -- One of Wyoming's mighty industries was rocked by trouble in 2012. The state remained the top coal producer in the nation by far, but the market eroded dramatically as natural gas prices decreased and provided market competition. Federal regulations limiting emissions from coal-fired power plants also played a big role as power plants converted to gas, and plans for new plants were put on hold or scrapped. Production decreased by millions of tons, and several mines announced layoffs affecting hundreds of workers in an industry that employs about 6,000 statewide.

8. Obamacare -- Gov. Mead decided against enrolling Wyoming in the recommended, federally funded expansion of Medicaid services as provided under the Affordable Care Act, commonly called "Obamacare." The state had no provision of its own in place to compensate, but the governor said he didn't trust the federal government to deliver as promised.

Nor did the state have its own health insurance "exchange" in place as the suggested federal deadline passed. Wyoming had been touted as a good candidate for opting out of Obamacare and creating its own issuance program because of its wealth and small population, but 2012 ended with no such program in place.

9. Drought returns -- 2012 brought a stark change from the previous two years. Above-average moisture at lower elevations echoing record-setting snowpack in the mountains above many drainages had triggered two summers of flooding. That changed completely in 2012. The winter set records for warmth, and what little runoff there was came early. Irrigators statewide sweated out a season as reservoir levels dropped and streamflows dwindled. Moderate summer temperatures were a saving grace, but the year ended with real anxiety about the 2013 water picture.

10. Cody girl's abduction -- Statewide attention was riveted for days when an 11-year-old girl from Cody was kidnapped by a stranger and whisked out of town. The child was assaulted sexually then abandoned.

Jesse Speer, a 39-year-old professional photographer from Manhattan, Mont., was arrested Oct. 13 and extradited to Wyoming, where legal proceedings have begun.

Our state has a small population, but its news is big. The top stories of 2013 are about to emerge. Keep reading.

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