Heard Around the West

 

Ten people now have what you might consider a mini-me ranch in Wyoming, thanks to eBay, the on-line auction house. They each bid $25 on July 15 to crowd onto one square foot of land on the Gauthier Ranch near Rawlins. The toehold on what the owner calls a "micro-acre" includes hunting privileges.

Thousands of smashed water-guzzling toilets have found a home in Chino, Calif., as part of the foundation for the new offices of a water and wastewater utility. "We're having a nonefficient toilet demolition derby," crowed John Anderson, president of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency board of directors. Anderson boasts that the new building will use reclaimed wastewater and solar energy and says it will be 60 percent more energy-efficient than required by California, reports the Los Angeles Times. Agency staffers hope that their headquarters' design gets named an environmental "platinum" project by the U.S. Green Building Council. Only two platinum buildings exist in the country now, both east of the Mississippi River.

Westword in Denver, Colo., tells of an Aspen man, Matthew Jay, who worked at a ski-rental shop and other odd jobs until he heard about caretaking a house for $25 an hour. The job sounded like a plum until the manager for the Dillard family's home mentioned an additional chore - the occasional sexual favor to cure his "hangup." Headlining its story, "This job sucks," the alternative weekly says the very angry young man filed a lawsuit against both the owners of the house and its manager.

Watch out when you're hiking the backcountry of Idaho; the "Russian Mafia" might be lurking in the neighborhood. The Idaho Mountain Express says two men near Sun Valley have been arrested for using a high-tech scanner to steal numbers from credit cards left inside cars parked at a trailhead. The Blaine County sheriff said that in the last two years, hikers' cars have been robbed of some $170,000 in credit cards and cash. Thanks to a phoned-in tip from hikers Sharon and Brian Kantor of Portland, Ore., who saw two men racing out of a trailhead parking lot in a rented SUV, police nabbed Nathaniel Rujoni, 31, of Seattle and Silviu Sorescue, 33, of Las Vegas. The men are being held on a variety of charges, including criminal conspiracy.

A county prosecutor in Quinault, Wash., is determined to nail methamphetamine addicts who chop down and sell 700-year-old trees to feed their habit. The rain forest's Western red cedar "are irreplaceable," says Jason Richards, deputy prosecutor for Gray Harbor County. Killing these old trees "sickens me," he adds. "It should sicken any decent person." Richards is frustrated by the light penalty for chopping down a tree born in the 1300s: The sentence for first-degree theft is typically one to three months in jail, reports the Daily World in Aberdeen, Wash. Still, some thieves are being tracked down and arrested, thanks to the persistent efforts of local law enforcement, the Olympic National Forest and the state Department of Natural Resources. "It used to be a guy with a chain saw would stop when he saw a cedar snag, cut it up, throw it in the back of the truck and hit the tavern," explains Kristine Fairbanks, a Forest Service enforcement officer. "But now, these people in the meth culture have taken it a step further, and they are cutting green trees. They are just way out of line."

You know this drought is serious when the once-optimistic Denver Water Board votes unanimously to spend $406,000 on cloud-seeding. Forty-one generators will be placed on privately owned land in the mountains, reports the Denver Post, where they will shoot silver iodide crystals into the air when a storm blows in from the West. If all goes according to crossed fingers, the clouds will dump more snow, building up the snowpack that melts to water in the spring. "It's not a hope and a prayer," says Denver Water Board boss Chips Barry. But he adds, "no one can prove (cloud seeding's) success definitively."

Drought, fires, dwindling water supplies- why, plague must be next. Around Steamboat Springs, Colo., that scourge emerged when legions of grasshoppers mowed down hay crops. As the Denver Post put it: "Grasshoppers spread over 10 acres, at 7 per square yard, can eat the same amount as a cow." In parts of Routt and Moffat counties, more than 20 grasshoppers crowded onto a square yard, causing a rancher to report that "it looked as if our road was moving." Unfortunately, the time to kill the pests is before they become adults. Once they've matured, says entomologist Scott Shell of the University of Wyoming, it's only "revenge killing."

Betsy Marston writes Heard around the West in Paonia, Colorado. She appreciates tips at betsym@hcn.org.