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Hollywood turns wolves into man-killers

Once again, Hollywood has chosen mythmaking over reality in its portrayal of predators, in this case, Alaskan wolves, in a new movie called The Grey. According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the "man-versus-beast thriller" pits stranded oilfield roughnecks against extreme cold, hunger and a pack of starving wolves; when carnage erupts, "the wolves are usually the winners." This greatly annoys Gary Wiles, a wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, whose first reaction on hearing the plot was, "Oh, no!" As far-fetched as the movie is, he says, it deftly plays on the fear that wolves routinely target and attack humans. But in 60 years, only two human deaths have been attributed to wolves in North America -- home to 60,000 wolves. And not a single person has been harmed by wolves in the Northern Rockies since they were restored to the area in 1995. That suggests that if Hollywood were to shoot a real movie about wolf packs, which prefer to avoid people, the plot might prove excruciatingly boring. It could be spiced up, however, by showing somebody like Angelina Jolie walking an unleashed dog in the vicinity of a wolf pack. Wiles advises hikers to keep Fido leashed because wolves have killed at least 144 dogs in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming since 1987. Nearly all of the pets were running loose when attacked. Film director Joe Carnahan insists he never meant to demonize wolves as vicious killers; he told the Los Angeles Times that the animals were merely defending their turf from human intruders. But Wiles, who helped write Washington's recently adopted wolf management plan, which calls for a minimum of 15 breeding pairs in the state, plans to skip the flick: "Anything that makes wildlife look far worse than they really are, I avoid."

Watch out for Las Vegas cabbies, warns a headline in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: "Competition has Vegas cabbies taking prisoners for tips." The story is more nuanced, however, since only a handful of drivers seem to have locked their doors and given passengers ultimatums about payment. It is true that many drivers complain about too many cabs on the street vying for too few fares, and some say they can't make a minimum wage even over a 12-hour shift. In any case, driver representatives insist that hostage-taking is never condoned.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write

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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