Living with wildlife in the West can be a lot like living with a spouse - annoying. Just when you think you've figured out how to make the relationship hum, new quirks appear. And since black bears and coyotes can't talk about it, we have to be canny enough to figure out what's going wrong between us. This summer, we knew bears weren't finding the berries and other food they needed because of drought, yet many of us failed to barricade our garbage. So bears got aggressive about finding food; and bears got killed. In Colorado this August alone, 1,500 people called state wildlife officers about problem bears when, usually, just 100 people make complaints or report seeing an animal.
These days, as wildlife officer Kirk Madariaga told the Delta County Independent, "A bear in a tree is not news." News is bears flinging open screen doors or prodding sleeping campers in tents. Colorado's Division of Wildlife adopted emergency rules in September, making it illegal to leave out trash, bird seed, pet food or anything that might tempt hungry bears. The fine, however, was a measly $68. Fortunately, hibernation season is coming closer for all bears, including those who have become what the Knight Ridder News Service calls "party animals."
A neighborhood in Albuquerque has figured out what to do with problem coyotes: welcome them with signs. Actually, the signs reading Coyotes Live in Corrales are meant for the human residents of Corrales Village, reports the West Side Journal. Members of the grassroots group Coexist With Coyotes say the signs "quickly, simply and inexpensively" tell people that coyotes are a longtime presence in the area. Thanks to a 3-1 vote of the village council on Sept. 26, residents will also get a brochure sharing ways to discourage too close a relationship with those natives.
You've got to love the police blotters in small-town papers. The Pinedale Roundup in Wyoming tsks-tsks about guys who watch the truck and SUV commercials on TV and then try to duplicate the excitement by racing their vehicles through boulder-strewn streams. "There were three vehicles that tried this antic, and guess what? All three got stuck." The first driver tried to cross a river to get to an island but didn't make it. Two other drivers then drove in to help. It took a winch truck from an oil field to bail out all three. Blame it all, concludes the blotter, on the gullible folks "that believe what they see on television."
In Telluride, Colo., the "Cop Shop" report features a recent liquor-store encounter that became heated so fast the headline is: "How wars get started." It began with pleasantries about - what else? - the weather. "The clerk said he was looking forward to snow soon, but the customer disagreed and the two got into an argument." The customer cursed the clerk. The clerk tagged him a "trust-funder." It got nastier. The customer, now referred to as "the suspect," later phoned the clerk twice to harass him.
Speaking of testy encounters, Idaho's Republican Rep. Butch Otter has launched an Internet site devoted to environmental groups he calls extremist. Green-Watch.com targets 10 groups in Idaho, including the Nature Conservancy and Idaho Rivers United. "If that's Butch's characterization of extremists, then I guess we're all in trouble," notes Mark Sprengel, forest-programs director for the Selkirk-Priest Basin Association. John McCarthy of the Idaho Conservation League says Otter is probably angry at any group or agency that seems remotely environmental. Otter recently had to pay $50,000 to the federal government for intentionally destroying wetlands, reports the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
For every cause there's a T-shirt - or perhaps an ersatz beer. In the Klamath Basin of California, farmers have produced a beer so dry the bottle is empty. The joke with "Sucker Beer" is that the government took water from farmers' irrigation ditches this summer to save sucker fish from extinction. The no-beer sold out its limited edition of 500 bottles, reports Capital Press, even though it was oddly priced: one bottle for $3, two for $5 and three for $10. "I hope," says farmer and no-brewer John Prosser, "this is the only year we have a bottling."
In time for the Olympics, Newsweek reports there's a new watery beer: Polygamy Porter, with just 3.2 percent alcohol. "Why just have one?" asks Wasatch Brewery. "Take one home for the wives."
Are duck hunters getting lazy? Washington state's Fish and Wildlife Commission thinks so. It recently banned "roboducks" because the battery-powered decoys have become so effective at luring birds into firing range. Real ducks flap their wings a certain way to signal ducks flying overhead that it's safe to land. Electronic ducks flap their wings, too, only they're telling lies for hunters. This is not "good fair chase," ruled Washington's wildlife commissioners. In their defense, hunters told Associated Press that by drawing birds in closer, they have a surer shot. And they still have to get up at 2:30 a.m.
For some reason, the casino and hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., called New York, New York never included the World Trade Center in its famous faux skyline. Its roller coaster flits through a crowded Manhattan world featuring a diminutive Empire State Building and "New York Slot Exchange." These days, the casino city's eerie new accuracy has attracted funeral cards, flowers, toys, candles and "a kitsch display of grief," reports the New York Times. "This is a fantasy city," said a visitor from Florida. "But what makes it beautiful is that people are coming here to show they care."
Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.