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This Hour: Latest Wyoming news, sports, business and entertainment

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SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT

Legislative committee releases final Hill report

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The special legislative committee investigating Wyoming schools Superintendent Cindy Hill has released a final report sharply criticizing her performance.

The report released Wednesday concludes Hill failed to follow legislative budget directives and intentionally violated the law by requiring permanent Education Department employees to certify she could fire them at any time.

Lawmakers passed a bill removing Hill as head of the state Education Department last year but the Wyoming Supreme Court reinstated her early this year.

Hill, who's seeking the Republican nomination for governor in next month's GOP primary, said Wednesday she regards the legislative report as a smear campaign.

Hill says the fact the Legislature is merely rebuking her, and not trying to impeach her, means lawmakers can't prove she did anything wrong.

WESTERN WILDFIRES

Fire season in West expected to get more intense

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - Despite widespread drought in the West, wildfires have burned less than half the 10-year average area so far this summer.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said Wednesday that largely has been a matter of luck, with the hot, windy weather known as "red flag" days not lining up with the lighting strikes that start fires, particularly in California.

But he says that is changing. Eighteen large fires are burning in the Northwest with intensities not normally seen until August.

Firefighters on Wednesday were chasing 25 new fires ignited by thunderstorms moving across Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report warning climate change is contributing to bigger and longer fire seasons, and new homes in forests are driving up firefighting costs.

DISTANCE EDUCATION

State grant helps distance education in Wyoming

(Information in the following story is from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com)

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - A state grant worth about $250,000 is aimed at helping two community colleges and four school districts improve virtual distance education programs throughout Wyoming.

The Wyoming Department of Education says the $248,086 in grant money will help the districts and colleges develop online courses, increase professional development and maintain their distance education systems.

Edward Olson with the education department says "in the past Wyoming students have been limited by geography, distance, and teacher availability in terms of the classes they can take." But technology is helping students overcome those limitations.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports the districts receiving the funds are in Natrona, Campbell, Fremont and Niobrara counties. Northwest Community College in Sheridan and Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne will also receive money.

SAGE GROUSE-WEST NILE

Wyomingites asked to report dead sage grouse

(Information in the following story is from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com)

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Wildlife officials are asking Wyomingites to report dead sage grouse so the birds can be tested for West Nile virus.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports the grouse have a low resistance to the disease, which is usually fatal, and the tests by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department are aimed at monitoring the effect of the disease across the state.

Officials say the carcasses should be reported or placed in two tied plastic bags and delivered to a Game and Fish office. Obvious road kills should not be reported.

The Wyoming Department of Health says the only evidence of West Nile virus in the state was from one sample of mosquitoes collected in Goshen County.

ANCIENT ANIMAL DIG

Wyoming cave with fossil secrets to be excavated

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - For the first time in more than 30 years, paleontologists are preparing excavate a sinkhole-type cave in northern Wyoming that contains the ancient remains of tens of thousands of animals.

Those animals include American cheetahs, mammoths and short-faced bears - species now extinct that were common more than 20,000 years ago.

Natural Trap Cave is a 15-foot-wide hole in the ground that opens up into an 85-foot-deep cavern. Over many years, tens of thousands of animals accidentally fell into the pit and died.

Starting Monday, scientists plan to resume digging in Natural Trap Cave for the first time since the early 1980s. One goal is to retrieve DNA from the animal bones.

They say the cave holds valuable clues to life in the last glacial period.

EXPLODING TARGETS-BAN

Forest Service expands ban on exploding targets

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in southern Idaho, southwestern Wyoming, Nevada, Utah and a small portion of eastern California because of wildfire and public safety concerns.

Intermountain Region Forester Nora Rasure issued the ban that started Wednesday and runs through July 22, 2015, on national forest lands.

Some target shooters use exploding targets because they contain chemicals that mix when struck by a bullet and create a loud bang and big puff of smoke.

But the Forest Service says exploding targets the past two years have started at least 16 wildfires in Western states that cost $33 million to fight.

The Forest Service in May imposed a similar ban in northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and portions of South Dakota, and last year in Oregon and Washington.

SEXUAL ABUSE

Casper man pleads guilty to abusing boy

(Information in the following story is from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com)

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - A Casper man has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a boy.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that a lawyer for 31-year-old Derek Alexander McCollum pleaded guilty Tuesday morning in Natrona County District Court.

Prosecutors say the abuse occurred in 2007 and 2008 with a boy who was 5 and 6 years old at the time.

McCollum faces up to 30 years in prison when he's sentenced following completion of a pre-sentence report. His sentence will run together with a 10-year sentence he's currently serving in Missouri for theft and sexual exploitation of a minor.

NEWBORN BABY KILLED

Ethete woman competent for trial in son's death

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - A federal judge has determined an Ethete woman accused of murder in the death of her newborn son is competent to stand trial.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper on Tuesday ordered Ardis Sierra Enos to stand trial Sept. 15.

The 20-year-old Enos has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of first-degree murder in the boy's March 26 death. Prosecutors allege she killed him minutes after she gave birth to him on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

An FBI agent's complaint says Enos had kept her pregnancy secret. Doctors at Lander Regional Hospital called the FBI after Enos sought medical treatment the day after giving birth. Searchers later found the baby's body in a ditch.

Skavdahl ordered Enos released to the custody of her mother pending trial.

BURNS KILLING

Prosecutors say man told deputies he shot wife

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Authorities say a Burns man told deputies he shot and killed his wife because she was yelling at their grandchildren.

Prosecutors allege 61-year-old Ronald Thomas Zimmerman shot and killed 51-year-old Teresa Zimmerman on Sunday at the family home in Burns, a small community about 30 miles east of Cheyenne.

The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reports that Zimmerman appeared in Laramie County Circuit Court on Tuesday on a charge of second-degree murder.

Circuit Court Judge Denise Nau set Zimmerman's bond at $100,000 and scheduled a preliminary hearing for July 31 to decide if there's enough evidence for him to face charges in district court.

Prosecutors say Zimmerman told an officer of the Laramie County Sheriff's Office that he shot his wife in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun.

THUNDERBIRDS-FRONTIER DAYS

Thunderbirds return for Cheyenne Frontier Days

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are back for Cheyenne Frontier Days after missing last year's event because of budget cuts.

They're putting on their legendary air show Wednesday morning over Laramie Community College.

Maj. Blaine Jones told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that flying over Cheyenne is a bit like flying over water because there aren't many land markers.

He is the lead solo pilot in the No. 5 jet which often flies in the opposite direction of the rest of the team doing high-speed tricks close to the ground.

On Sunday, Denver Bronco Wes Welker flew as a backseat passenger with another Thunderbird pilot in Cheyenne.

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