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Know the West

Heard around the West


If you're dying to see 70,000 nonpoisonous snakes, then a town of 20 people in Manitoba province, Canada, is the place for you to go. Narcisse, though tiny, boasts four limestone pits that shelter the gray and black snakes from minus-40-degree winter weather. In spring, the snakes wake up, and that's when University of Oregon herpetologist Robert Mason arrives; for 18 years, he's been studying what he calls the world's largest collection of snakes. He's not the only one who finds snakes in motion compelling, reports Reuters News Service. In spring, Canadian schoolchildren flock to the pits to peer down at "mating balls;" some also try to pick up the wily reptiles. As the weather warms up, the snakes crawl up and out of their swampy havens, heading for the prairie to fatten up on mice and frogs. At the same time eagles, foxes and coyotes fatten up on the snakes. Yet there's a sticky problem. A highway blocks the serpents from their summer pasture, and every year cars flatten thousands of the creatures. Now, the Canadian government and locals plan to build snake-only underpasses.

Is there something worse than falling into a portable toilet? Perhaps deliberately climbing down into one. The Livingston Enterprise in Montana ran a story about a man in Huntingdon, Pa., who dropped his keys into a portable potty and then made the mistake of going in after them - feet first. Children playing nearby heard his cries for help, and "after emergency crews destroyed a significant part of the portable toilet," the man was freed. He had removed his pants and shoes for "the unpleasant task," which turned into a 45-minute battle to escape the potty's narrow vault. Doctors treated the man, who was not identified, for cuts and bruises and "also had to remove the toilet seat, which had become wedged around his torso."

With eight other tribes ahead of them in building gambling casinos on the Oregon coast, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw decided against adding a ninth casino. Instead, they'll create something old-fashioned and far less risky to the pocketbook - a bowling alley. The 675-person tribe plans a $4.4 million complex with child care, a bar and grill, pool tables, and 15 full-time jobs, reports the Eugene Register-Guard. The tribe may be onto something. In Wyoming, Jackson Bowl is booming as people rediscover the fun of team bowling in those strange-looking shoes, reports the Jackson Hole News.

Pity the wolves and grizzly bears: Radio-tracking devices for monitoring by wildlife officers can make their lives miserable when an amateur photographer gets hold of the equipment. Yellowstone National Park would like to restrict the right of private individuals to obtain the gear, reports the Billings Gazette. Earlier this year, biologists tracking radio-collared wolves bumped into a photographer following wolves the same way, says Doug Smith, who heads the park's wolf studies. Shutterbugs often call him to ask for the radio frequency on collared wildlife, Smith says, and he says no to the requests - even those filed under the Freedom of Information Act. Wildlife photographer Chuck Bartlebaugh says he's dismayed by the growing perception among photographers "that you can do whatever you can to get a great photo as quickly as you can." Serious photographers, he says, may take one or two years to get a great shot, and would never bug elk, deer or other wildlife for a "perfect" photo.

In Sequim (pronounced squim), Wash., elk even thinking about crossing busy Highway 101 can trigger flashing lights on roadside signs. As soon as an animal comes within a quarter mile of a sensor, chips in its collar trigger warning lights. Presumably, the lights convince drivers to slow down enough to let elk cross in front of them. The new approach comes from state and tribal biologists, reports the nonprofit Sequim Elk Habitat Committee, which is also trying to lure the elk away from highways by planting clover and grass. In the last six years, reports AP, more than a dozen cars have collided with elk.

Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]