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Deer smugglers and avocado thieves

We won't go into the Freudian implications of hunters who covet wall decorations fashioned from the enormous antlers of the deer or elk they "hunted" on a fenced game ranch, but in Texas, where everything is supposed to be bigger than life, the desire for giant racks has gotten entirely out of hand. Smugglers have been hauling in bucks with huge antlers to breed with the state's "delicate native deer," reports the Wall Street Journal. The result: deer with racks that can span four feet and are "often festooned with dozens of thick knobs and nubbins," reminiscent of Dr. Seuss' creations. Federal agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently nabbed one of the smugglers -- Billy Powell, 77, who was sentenced to up to six months of home confinement, $1.5 million in penalties and the forfeiture of 1,300 vials of frozen deer semen, said to be worth close to $1 million.

An avocado thief in Vista, Calif., with a history of violations, didn't get jail time, but the unemployed tow-truck driver received a rather unusual punishment. Capital Press reports that Barron Stein must avoid avocado groves without permission "and can't possess more than 10 at a time." More than 10 avocados, we assume, not actual groves.

Jessica Robinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting recently spent some time with two sheepherders from Peru, whose work in the 6,000-foot-high mountains above McCall, Idaho, could be summed up this way: Sheep are their entire lives, because the herders are "on call up to 24 hours per day, seven days per week, in all weather." Because they also bed down among the animals, Ruben Camayo Santiago and Nequar Pocomucha Huaroc deter almost all predators far more successfully than radio-activated alarms or noisy cracker shots fired from rifles. Not that it's easy: After one horrific night a while back, the herders have come up with a nickname for wolves; they call them "las terroristas" -- the terrorists. "They can kill 40, 50, 60 sheep, but not eat them, just kill, kill, kill. ... And after a wolf has killed, he runs away and howls. Like he wants to say, 'Ruben! I've now killed 40 sheep! Gracias!' I prefer the bears. The bears say, 'I'll just eat one, thanks.' " But a night like that one is now rare; the men say they're keeping their herd of 2,000 sheep safe through "caminas, caminas, caminas" -- always walking to new pastures.

From our friends

HCN in the outhouses of the West

From my Alaska trip: I flew into a small town that is not reachable by road, then hopped on a motorboat and drove across lakes and rivers for 2.5 hours to reach the scientists' camp way out in the boondocks -- out there they have a few rough cabins and a generator that makes electricity only in the evening and two outhouses -- and lo and behold, for reading material in the outhouses they have issues of the Economist magazines and HCN -- amazing to discover HCN readers way out there!

Ray Ring, HCN Senior Editor

Carol Neuhoff is hooked on HCN!

"My brother gave me a gift subscription to your outstanding magazine last Christmas. It's a proud, surprising, eloquent, and pertinent tribute ... every single issue. Thank you for emphasizing the passion for the West over the mere politics. I'm hooked!"

Carol Neuhoff