Heard around the West

 

Here's some good news: So many people turned out to work for free at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City that the Games will turn a profit. That's a rare event, reports the Wall Street Journal, and it's all due to the "kindness and good cheer" of 20,000 volunteers. They took on jobs as traffic cops, ticket-takers, bag-searchers and even referees on both the downhill and cross-country ski slopes. A check for $100 million in promised reimbursements has already gone to the state of Utah, and "an actual profit" is expected to emerge soon. Wayne Klein, an assistant Utah attorney general who took off three weeks to drive VIPs around, says the Olympics gave Mormons like him a chance to "eliminate a lot of paranoia." Adds Finn Hansen, a Mormon who helped organize volunteers, "I'd just like America to stop treating us like we're a stepchild. How many polygamists do you see here?"

The sun can power a railroad-crossing gate, heat a house, and, it turns out, pay the printing bill for President Bush's 170-page national energy plan. But nobody knew this until a court order - won by national environmental groups - forced the Energy Department to open its files and come clean. The files reveal that the Bush administration removed $135,615 from the agency's solar and energy conservation budget last May. Then it used the money to produce 10,000 copies of the White House plan ballyhooing oil and gas. "At the same time the White House tapped the renewable budget for funds to print the energy plan," reports Reuters, "the administration was urging Congress to cut the renewable and energy efficiency research budgets by more than 50 percent." The president's men did a tiny bit of borrowing from the Energy Department's fossil-fuels program. They dipped into that fund to repay a staffer $100.92 for a hotel room. It was needed when the staffer picked up extra copies of the president's energy plan from the Government Printing Office.

Residents of western Colorado might want to know more about an Army jet that roared into Aspen recently, parking for just one night. Since no military installation exists in the Aspen area, reports the Aspen Times, what were Army Secretary Thomas E. White and his wife, Susan, up to? A clue might be real estate. During their drop-in, the couple completed the sale of a vacation home in Aspen, accepting $6.5 million for a house they paid $7.8 million for two years ago. The sale-at-a-loss might have been spurred by a liquidity problem. White worked for Enron Corp. from 1990-2001, and is set to testify before a Senate committee about failing to divest all of his financial interests in now-bankrupt Enron, reports the New York Times. General Larry Gottardi, the Army secretary's spokesman, says the Aspen jaunt was on the up-and-up: "All legs of the trip and the means of transport he used between each, was reviewed and deemed appropriate É It was official business." Official or perhaps not, for taxpayers it wasn't cheap. The Army's Gulfstream jet costs up to $6,000 an hour to fly.

Coyotes have been turning up on the streets of downtown Denver, inside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and even riding public transportation in Portland, Ore. A bushy-tailed coyote was first chased off the tarmac at Portland International Airport, reports the Idaho Statesman. Then the critter ran onto a light-rail train just arriving from downtown Portland. A lasso wielded by a wildlife officer captured the animal, which was "really sweet," said a Port of Portland spokeswoman. "It didn't growl or anything."

Then there's ornery moose. In Anchorage, Alaska, a 400-pound cow moose recently took a stroll onto the roof of a plant nursery, getting stuck eight feet above the floor. A backhoe rescued the animal after a tranquilizer dart calmed it down.

But in Boulder, Wyo., and St. Maries, Idaho, moose grown testy by winter's end have gone on the warpath. Rancher Sue Wells of Boulder said she'd been driving her car around a big haystack every day to halt hungry moose from feeding. But one moose suddenly refused to leave, even when Wells "began laying on the horn," reports the Pinedale Roundup. The noise apparently irritated the animal - this one a 1,500-pounder - which jumped onto the front bumper of the car. After removing one of its legs from the broken windshield, the moose retreated only to begin another charge. "Sue, her heart in her mouth, turned the vehicle toward the house." The moose moved toward her. It was a Buick-moose standoff for a few minutes until the animal turned and trotted off.

The St. Maries encounter ended less happily for Jim Kirkland, who now has eight stitches on the inside and 18 stitches on the outside of his face. A cow moose and her two-year-old calf had been living in his backyard for weeks, he said, though just a wave of an arm from him or his wife, Penny, could send the animals trotting into a wooded area. Then one day, the 750-pound cow charged, her hair on end "like a mad dog," he told the Idaho Statesman. Kirkland blamed the animal's bad disposition on the 100 inches of snow the area received this winter. "I think animals just have bad days," he added.

It's no longer uncommon in the West to see llamas, emus, ostriches and even yaks roaming the range. But alligators? Jay Young in Alamosa, Colo., told the Denver Post he didn't start Colorado Gators to sell meat or pricey alligator leather. He's in it for the wrestling, convinced that some people are dying to test their derring-do against the five-foot reptiles. Participants, however, "aren't guaranteed that they will leave with all their limbs intact." Humans will have the advantage. They'll face a 'gator in three feet of water, making it hard for the animals to employ their primary fighting technique, which is to grab a victim and drown it.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (betsym@hcn.org). She welcomes tidbits of strange Western doings - the definition remains loose.