Heard Around the West

  • BIG GULPS: Super-sized advertising along Interstate 70

    DIRK HOBMAN
 

NEVADA

The satirical newspaper The Onion spoofed the Burning Man celebration in the Black Rock Desert, reporting that everybody was too spaced out to bother going. But in fact, some 30,000 people turned out in late August to “burn the man” — a 77 foot-high neon-colored effigy made of wood. Flames shot 150 feet in the air while revelers in elaborate costumes hooted and danced and drove bizarre homemade vehicles. But this year, there was “trouble in counterculture utopia,” as the New York Times put it. Since 2001, Burning Man organizers have stashed debris, fuel tanks, and metal and woodworking equipment on “the ranch” — 200 acres they bought for $70,000, a half-hour away from the festival’s instant city. But some Washoe County locals say the ranch is a garbage dump, an eyesore and a fire hazard, and they want it cleaned up. For now, it’s a standoff, with Burning Man organizers suing the county for as much as $40 million for denying special-use permits for the ranch. They might even Burn the Man someplace else: The Paiute tribe at Pyramid Lake, Nev., is reportedly courting the event.

IDAHO

County fairs are getting health-conscious. At the North Idaho Fair in Coeur d’Alene, men were invited to get their prostates examined, courtesy of the local hospital. That led reporter Kevin Taylor to speculate that fair-goers might have heard moos “that weren’t all coming from the cows.”

THE WEST

Usually when you hear about an “exotic” choking out native plants in the West, the explanation goes like this: Invading weeds have no natural enemies, so they easily out-compete the locals, using resources faster and better in their adopted environment. Now we know there’s a darker side to this story, thanks to researchers at Colorado State University, the University of Montana and Penn State. They found that spotted knapweed, an aggressive invader in 35 states, kills off its competition by forcing native plants to self-destruct. The research team told Science magazine that the roots of spotted knapweed release catechin, a natural herbicide. Catechin sparks a genetic response in native plants, and within minutes, the plant’s cells begin to die.

WASHINGTON

After the Animal Liberation Front — which the FBI calls a terrorist organization — “freed” 10,000 mink from a farm near Sultan, the saboteurs didn’t hang around to see what happened next. About 9,000 of the coddled predators starved to death, were hit by cars or recaptured, while some 1,000 hungry survivors are now going after chickens, ducks, cats, geese and any other small animals they can get their claws on, according to the Seattle Times. A mink industry group, Fur Commission USA, says farm-raised mink can’t survive in the wild; the animal-rights group disagrees. A similar mink-liberation in England almost caused the extinction of a rare water vole in 1998.

ALASKA

Humans aren’t dominant in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and that’s a rare and wonderful thing, writes columnist Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times. Kristof has been exploring the remote area to find out whether the land and its abundant wildlife can coexist with oil exploration. He’s also learned about the proper use of pepper spray from bush pilot Walt Audi, who says, “If a bear attacks you, just spray yourself in the face, and you won’t see it.”

MONTANA

Put a lot of pigs together and things can get explosive. Some 2,000 hogs produced so much manure at the Big Sky Hutterite Colony near Cut Bank that the resulting methane gas blew up a large building. The building was ventilated, reports The Associated Press, but colony president Dan Wipf said a spark from a heater somehow ignited the blast. No one was injured, if you don’t count the hogs.

NEW WEST

Here’s a tip for Western county commissioners: Michigan officials have published a “scratch and sniff” brochure for city folk thinking of moving to the country. “When scratched, the leaflet emits a pungent odor of manure,” reports the new magazine, The Week. That reminds us of a story about the John Deere Company, which is said to guarantee all its farm implements, except one: “They do not stand behind their manure spreaders,” says Albert Bartlett, of Boulder, Colo.

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 “Heard Around the West.”

High Country News Classifieds
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000
  • WESTERN REGIONAL MANAGER
    The American Forest Foundation seeks a smart and highly motivated candidate to join our Western conservation team. The Regional Manager supports the Regional Director to...
  • TRANSPORTATION PLANNER
    Exciting opportunity to lead the charge on meeting the future transportation demands of our community! This position will develop, coordinate, and implement the Integrated Transportation...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING INSTITUTE (EWI)
    with Robert Michael Pyle September 26-30, 2018, in Missoula MT.
  • REPORTING FELLOW - BOISE, ID
    Boise State Public Radio is hiring a Reporting Fellow as part of a new nationwide collaborative, Guns & America. Based in the state capitol, Boise...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Rifle, CO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF RIVERSEDGE WEST (FORMERLY TAMARISK COALITION)
    RiversEdge West is seeking an entrepreneurial leader with solid nonprofit management skills to lead our high functioning team and help us make an impact on...
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR WITH WRA
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a talented, organized person with great people skills, who is passionate about protection of the natural environment to work...
  • DIRECTOR OF REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY
    The Wilderness Society is recruiting for an experienced Communicator for our Northwest Region. This position is located in Seattle, WA. For more information please visit...
  • SALMON RIVER IDAHO WILDERNESS RETREAT HOME
    Here is an opportunity to have a piece of self-sufficient paradise on Idaho's Main Salmon River adjacent to the largest Forest Service wilderness area in...
  • RAMMED EARTH SOLAR COTTAGE
    in 5-home conservation community & botanical sanctuary on 20 acres.
  • MEMBERSHIP AND ENGAGEMENT COORDINATOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation is looking for an enthusiastic and innovative Membership and Engagement Coordinator to help grow and maintain our grassroots voice for wildife,...
  • SR ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER
    The City of Fort Collins is excited to announce a Sr Environmental Planner position within the Natural Areas Department. This position will be housed within...
  • HISTORICAL VACATION CABIN
    on beautiful Snow Angel Ranch located within San Juan National Forest near Pagosa Springs, CO. Lakes, fly-fishing, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, horse trails, horse accommodations...
  • FIVE-ACRE VIEW LOT WITH WELL
    5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.