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Exploding hog farms and mysterious missing birds

ARIZONA
Perhaps it was the "intense public scrutiny," as Jeff Ruch, head of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, put it, or it may have been a sudden attack of common sense, but the director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, recently reversed himself and announced that Grand Canyon National Park can soon ban disposable water bottles less than one gallon in size. Coca-Cola, which sells bottled water, had complained about the proposed ban and delayed its execution for a year.

THE ODD WEST
Police hear so many bizarre things that it's no wonder some officers become jaundiced about human nature. In Carbondale, Colo., the Sopris Sun reports that a man called the police in the late afternoon to report that his bird was missing: "The last time he saw the bird it was 'rolling around on the floor.' " When asked if it had been left outside, the man replied, "It's entirely possible because one never knows." The man then told the officer "he was going to clean up a little and maybe he'd find his bird." Or maybe not; we stopped reading, though the "Cop Shop" conversation kept going. And in Ogden, Utah, a man called 911 late at night to complain that Walmart was closed "and that made him mad." Then he demanded a ride home and grew increasingly angry as he berated the police. The man did get a ride, reports ksl.com. "It just wasn't to the destination that he was preferring."

THE NATION
There's a mystery plaguing hog farms, and researchers at the University of Minnesota are trying hard to unravel it, reports KSTP Eyewitness News. They know what the problem is: Foam has begun forming on the surface of manure pits, sometimes reaching a height of four feet and even drifting onto the top of barns. Wherever it forms, the foam traps gases such as methane. If a spark ignites the foam, the barn can blow up, often killing thousands of the hogs trapped inside. Researchers say the mystery is what kind of bacteria are developing in manure pits; according to the Minnesota Daily, researchers suspect that "a new set of species has formed in these pits in the last few years." They hope to find out soon, because pork production is a billion-dollar industry in Minnesota.  n

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write betsym@hcn.org.

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