Endangered Mexican wolf population makes strides in US
ALBUQUERQUE — Endangered Mexican gray wolves are making more strides, as more breeding pairs and pups have been documented since reintroduction efforts began in the southwestern U.S. more than two decades ago, federal wildlife managers said on Feb. 28.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the results of its annual survey in New Mexico and Arizona, saying this is the first time the population has topped 200 since the first wolf release in 1998 and the seventh straight year that the numbers have trended upward.
In all, at least 241 of the predators were counted, marking a nearly 23% increase over the previous year and a doubling of the population since 2017.
The annual count started in November, with members of the interagency field team conducting ground and aerial surveys of a rugged forested area along the Arizona-New Mexico line. Aside from tracking radio-collared wolves, they used remote cameras and collected scat to estimate the population.
It’s estimated that thousands of Mexican wolves once roamed from central Mexico to New Mexico, southern Arizona and Texas. Predator eradication programs began in the late 1800s and within several decades, the wolves were all but eliminated from the wild.
The rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, Mexican wolves were listed as endangered in the 1970s and a U.S.-Mexico captive breeding program was started with the seven remaining wolves in existence.
Wolf-livestock conflicts have been a major challenge of the reintroduction program over the past two decades, with ranchers saying the killing of livestock by wolves remains a threat to their livelihood despite efforts by wildlife managers to scare the wolves away and reimburse some of the losses.
Voters reject legalizing recreational marijuana
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma voters on March 7 rejected the legalization of recreational marijuana, following a late blitz of opposition from faith leaders, law enforcement and prosecutors.
Oklahoma would have become the 22nd state to legalize adult use of cannabis and join conservative states like Montana and Missouri that have approved similar proposals in recent years. Many conservative states have also rejected the idea, including Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota last year.
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and many of the state’s GOP legislators led the “no” campaign.
Oklahoma voters already approved medical marijuana in 2018 by 14 percentage points and the state has one of the most liberal programs in the country, with more than 2,800 licensed dispensaries and roughly 10% of the state’s adult population having a medical license to buy and consume cannabis.
On the March 7 legalization question, the “no” side was outspent more than 20-to-1, with supporters of the initiative spending more than $4.9 million, compared to about $219,000 against, last-minute campaign finance reports show.
Michelle Tilley, campaign director for Yes on 820, said despite Tuesday’s result, full marijuana legalization was inevitable. She noted that almost 400,000 Oklahomans already use marijuana legally and “many thousands more” use it illegally.
GOP lawmakers join call for death penalty pause
OKLAHOMA CITY — Three Oklahoma Republican lawmakers joined a former corrections official on Feb. 22 to call for a moratorium on the death penalty amid growing concerns about the state’s brisk pace of lethal injections.
Rep. Kevin McDugle said he supports the death penalty but believes Oklahoma’s next death row inmate scheduled to die, Richard Glossip, is actually innocent.
Glossip, who has long maintained his innocence, is scheduled to be executed on May 18 in the murder-for-hire killing of his former boss, but Oklahoma’s new Attorney General Gentner Drummond has ordered an independent review of his conviction.
Oklahoma has executed more inmates per capita than any other state since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Since that time 10 death row inmates have walked free after being acquitted at a new trial or because prosecutors declined to refile charges that were dismissed by a court.
Public support and use of the death penalty in 2022 continued its more than two-decade decline in the U.S., but support remains high in Oklahoma. A state ballot question in 2016 on whether to enshrine the death penalty in the Oklahoma Constitution received more than 65% of the vote.
Still, McDugle cited a recent Oklahoma poll that suggests that support wanes considerably when respondents are offered sentencing options like life in prison with or without parole.
Oklahoma has carried out eight executions since resuming lethal injections in October 2021 following a six-year moratorium after problems with drug mix-ups and a botched lethal injection in 2014.
Bill would bring back execution by firing squad
BOISE — Idaho could bring back firing squads as a method of execution under legislation introduced by a panel of lawmakers on Feb. 22.
The state eliminated its never-used firing squad option in 2009, but has been unable to secure the drugs needed for lethal injection executions. Only Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma and South Carolina currently have laws allowing firing squads if other execution methods are unavailable, but a judge has put South Carolina’s law on hold until a lawsuit challenging the method is resolved.
In the bill sponsored by Idaho Rep. Bruce Skaug, a Republican from Nampa, firing squads would be used when lethal injection isn’t available. Skaug noted that the state canceled the planned execution of Gerald Pizzuto Jr. late last year after Idaho Department of Correction officials said they were unable to get the chemicals needed for lethal injection.
Pizzuto has spent more than three decades on death row for his role in the 1985 slayings of two gold prospectors.
Skaug acknowledged that death by firing squad can cause severe pain, but he said it was a better option than lethal injection.
The vast majority of states that allow executions use lethal injection as their primary method, though some states also allow other methods like electrocution. There have been only three firing squad executions in the United States since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Eight people, including Pizzuto, are on death row in Idaho, according to the Department of Correction.
Higher water use a possible side effect of frigid temps
Demand for water in Casper and other nearby communities was a bit higher in December and January than years past — possibly a side effect of a particularly cold and snowy winter.
In December, Casper produced 177 million gallons of water, according to minutes from a January board meeting. That’s about 9.2.% higher than its average December output for 2017 through 2022.
Bruce Martin, Casper’s public utilities manager, told board members that water demand usually only strays a couple million gallons from the average during winter months, the minutes say.
Martin said there was a notable increase in demand for water during the polar blast that swept through Wyoming in late December.
That could be because so many people were running their faucets to avoid frozen pipes, he told board members. At one point, a temperature gauge at Casper-Natrona County International Airport plunged to minus 42 degrees — the lowest ever reported in that location.
The system reported a similar increase in demand in January.
The surge in water use shouldn’t have any negative impact on the water system as a whole, though, since wintertime usage is much less than summertime.
Air Force expands cancer review of nuclear missile personnel
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