Heard around the West

by Betsy Marston

MONTANA

Every year, as many as 700 deer collide with cars in Montana’s Ravalli County — so many that the roadsides reek to high heaven. It’s a big problem, made worse by the fact that growing populations of both deer and people have reduced the number of places where deer carcasses can be "discreetly dumped," according to the Ravalli Republic. It costs the county $135 every time it hauls dead deer to a landfill in Missoula. But there’s a surprisingly inexpensive solution available, and everybody involved is raving about it — composting. Doug Moeller, a maintenance chief for the state’s Department of Transportation, learned how to do the job at a workshop in Maine, and came back a true believer. Although Scott Reeseman, the local supervisor who has to maintain the compost pile, told himself at the beginning, "Oh, man, this is gonna be ugly," he says now, "It hasn’t been that bad." This is how the pilot project works: High-carbon materials — wood chips, for example — are heaped a foot high on an asphalt bed. The deer carcasses are piled on this, and then more chips, sawdust or chipped tree trimmings — all delivered free — are layered on top. This heats the pile up to 150 degrees; when the temperature drops, the carcasses must be turned over. The process takes three months, but when it’s over, there’s no more decomposing deer, just compost. So far, the county has composted 511 animals, and in a fitting gesture, plans to use the resulting black dirt along Montana roadsides.

WYOMING AND AFGHANISTAN

Sometimes, low-tech warfare is the way to go. In high-altitude Afghanistan, helicopters are being replaced in some areas by donkeys. That is where rural Wyoming comes in: Thirty-one soldiers in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division recently spent a week in a barn near Powell, learning the ways of donkeys. The soldiers got hands-on instruction — including some "buck-offs" — in packing and unpacking the animals, tying and untying knots, and other skills. Donkeys and mules are expected to be valuable in Afghanistan because they’re unobtrusive and can ferry people and equipment over 16,000-foot passes — 2,000 feet higher than an Army helicopter can fly, reports The Associated Press.

THE WEST

"Obsolete, offensive and obscure" bumper stickers are for sale by Earth First! Journal, at the bargain rate of 50 cents each or four for $1, while supplies last. Here’s a sampling: "Pregnancy: Another Deadly Sexually Transmitted Disease," "Hunters: Did a cow get your elk?" and, "I’ll Take My Beef Poached, Thanks." The magazine can be reached at P.O. Box 3023, Tucson, AZ 85702.

CALIFORNIA

Arthur Winston, a Los Angeles bus maintenance worker who made news by finally retiring on his 100th birthday, died just a few weeks later. He missed only one day of work, reports The New York Times, and that was in 1988, when his wife of 65 years died. Winston said he’d thought about retiring three decades ago, but kept working to support family members who wanted to go to college or otherwise needed money. Winston had hoped to use his free bus pass to explore the city and perhaps volunteer: "I’ll be on the move," he promised. "I’m not going to sit and mope in the house."

MONTANA

Butte, Mont., boasts a restored brothel, an Evel Knievel Days for motorcycle buffs, and now, a moneymaking tourist attraction: the 900-foot-deep Berkeley Pit. This is the pit that began filling with acid-mine drainage from copper mines in 1982, and now holds some 36 billion gallons of water "laden with arsenic, copper, cadmium, cobalt, iron and zinc," reports AP. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Chamber of Commerce has discovered a gold mine in this toxic stew. The chamber began charging tourists $1 last year to see the pit, and made almost $20,000 in only four months. This year, it raised the admission price to $2, and plans to make the Superfund site even more attractive to visitors. The azure-blue waters of the pit and its mining history might fascinate the paying customers, but the place can be deadly for the unwary. In 1995, 342 migrating snow geese made the mistake of touching down on the pit’s tainted waters. All died before they could fly away.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.

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