Wyoming digest

Aug 11, 2013 McClatchy Newspapers

Campground closed due to bears

Concerns about bears are prompting federal officials to close the upper loop of the Prior Flat Campground in the Shirley Mountains, about 30 miles northwest of Medicine Bow.

The Bureau of Land Management said Friday that the closure comes after reports that a black bear has been getting into garbage cans in the campground.

The BLM says the closure is expected to last through this weekend, or until state wardens can capture and relocate the bear.

The upper loop closure affects four of the nine developed campsites in the Prior Flat Campground. The others will stay open.

State has third-best price growth

U.S. home prices surged 11.9 percent in June from a year earlier, reflecting stronger demand amid a tight supply of homes for sale.

Wyoming's rate of growth was third-fastest in the nation.

CoreLogic, a real estate data provider, said Tuesday that home prices climbed on annual basis in 48 states. They fell only in Mississippi and Delaware. And all but one of the 100 largest cities reported price gains.

Nevada led all states with an annual gain of 26.5 percent. That was followed by California (21.4 percent), Wyoming (16.7 percent), Arizona (16.2 percent) and Georgia (14.3 percent).

On a monthly basis, U.S. home prices rose 1.9 percent in June from May, the 16th straight month-over-month increase.

All told, U.S. home values increased 10 percent through the first six months of the year, the firm said.

"Trend in home price gains is moving at the fastest pace since 1977," said Mark Fleming, CoreLogic's chief economist.

Steady price increases are the latest sign of a recovery in housing. Stable job gains and still-low mortgage rates have encouraged more Americans to buy homes. Greater demand, along with few homes for sale, has helped push up prices.

One concern is that higher mortgage rates could slow home sales. But many economists say rates remain low by historical standards and would need to rise much faster to halt the momentum.

Previously occupied homes sold in June at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.08 million, according the National Association of Realtors reported last month. That's close to a 3 -year high reached in May and 15.2 percent above year-ago levels.

Despite the gains since last year, home prices are still about 19 percent below the peaks they reached in April 2006, CoreLogic said. That's a key reason the supply of homes for sale remains low. Many homeowners are waiting to recoup their losses before putting their houses on the market

Another factor in the recent price gains is that foreclosed homes, which often sell at a discount to other homes, are making up a smaller proportion of overall sales.

Completed foreclosures, when the lender repossesses a home, are on track this year to hit a half-million, or about a quarter below last year's total, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

Excluding "distressed" sales, which include foreclosures and short sales, no states posted home price declines last month, CoreLogic said. A short sale is when a home sells for less than what is owed on the mortgage.

Con man sentenced

BILLINGS, Mont. -- A Billings man who pleaded guilty to conning an elderly couple out of their life savings has been sentenced to 10 years with the Department of Corrections and ordered to pay just over $40,000 in restitution.

District Judge Susan Watters recommended that Lyle A. Sheets, 53, be placed at a Billings pre-release center so he can find work and start paying the money he owes 84-year-old Richard Ames and his wife.

Watters suspended five years of the 10-year sentence.

During Thursday's sentencing hearing, Ames described Sheets as a gifted musician and con man who took advantage of the couple's kindness.

Their granddaughter introduced them to Sheets, who was playing piano in a bar where she worked. He said he was moving to Billings to jump-start his music career and they allowed Sheets to live in their basement rent-free for a year. They also loaned him money and co-signed on a pickup loan -- neither of which he repaid. The pickup was repossessed, damaging the couple's credit.

Sheets apologized and said an addiction to prescription pain pills and illegal drugs had made him a "pretty dark individual. "I'm just a wreck," Sheets told the judge. I think I probably need to go to prison."

He was arrested in Nevada in early 2012, but was sent first to Wyoming to serve a prison sentence there for stealing about $1,400 from an elderly woman in Cody under the guise that he was repairing her antique piano. The work was never done.

Rig count down one for week

HOUSTON -- Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. decreased by four this week to 1,778.

The Houston-based company said in its weekly report Friday that 1,385 rigs were exploring for oil and 386 for gas. Seven were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,931 active rigs.

Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Colorado gained three rigs and Kansas and North Dakota each gained one.

California lost four rigs, New Mexico and Texas each lost two and Alaska and Wyoming each lost one. Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah and West Virginia were unchanged.

The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981 and bottomed at 488 in 1999.

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