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Know the West

Heard Around the West



Remember that New Yorker cartoon, the one where a plump pussycat looks at its behind in a mirror and asks: “Does this collar make my butt look too big?” Well, humans are passing on their overeating habits to pets. Medical researchers warn we’re also bad influences on wildlife: Bears in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada are getting huge, thanks to the food people throw out. Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society told The New York Times that some bears no longer bother denning for the winter: They just keep Dumpster-diving. This leads to gigantic bears, weighing as much as 500 or 600 pounds. Bears do have the advantage over us, since for a bear, “weight is not unattractive, or unhealthy.” But it can be lethal. Bears that hang around garbage cans or raid kitchens end up being destroyed, or are killed by cars. A solution: Keep the bears in the woods by using only bear-proof trash containers in developed areas.


United Nations troops can now march into tiny La Verkin, pop. 3,392, or hold an international potluck there any time they want. Last month, residents voted 497-321 not to declare the town a “U.N.-free zone.” It had made itself invulnerable to United Nations intrusion, reports the Salt Lake Tribune, by passing a keep-out ordinance on July 4, 2001.


Under the headline: “News from Utah,” USA Today recently reported some doings in Boise, Idaho. That prompted the Salt Lake Tribune to ask USA Today: “Need a geography lesson?”


How do you warn urban dropouts about the perils of rural life — frigid winters that freeze car doors shut, odiferous winds that blow from old feedlots abutting new subdivisions? One Michigan county includes a “scratch and sniff” tab in brochures about what to expect in an agricultural county. But Larimer County commissioners in Colorado, who give out a frank “Code of the West” to newcomers, aren’t sure that one odor does the trick. The commissioners told resident Betty Mahoney there might have to be several patches, “because manure from different animals smells different.” They did not elaborate.


Thanks to an irate letter in Wyoming Wildlife magazine, we now know in no uncertain terms that a pronghorn is not an antelope, because saying that is as wrong as saying that a man is an ape. “Wow!” scolds Glynn Webb of Buffalo, Wyo., “You broke your own record for misidentifying the pronghorn as an antelope: 62 times in the long article and 12 times elsewhere. Except for this, it was a very good article.” For the record, the pronghorn belongs to the lonely family Antilocapridae, which boasts just one member — the non-antelope pronghorn. Webb’s final bit of advice for Wyoming: “Put a pronghorn on your license plate and get rid of that ridiculous rodeo rider.”


Three cheers for two clear-thinking teenagers in Monticello, who refused to get off a school bus. Their bus driver “snapped,” reports the San Juan Record, driving up to 80 miles an hour, zooming around corners at high speed and nearly hitting a passing pickup. Kyrie Walker and Ronnie Gobble pleaded with the driver to slow down, but he said he was taking 10 younger children to “a special place,” once the teenagers got off the bus. The teenagers refused to leave; then Gobble found a steel bar and threatened to hit the driver. This worked: He stopped the bus in front of a Mormon temple and ran to the gates of the church. The teenagers then hustled all the kids off the bus and ran with them to the elementary school. Police couldn’t praise Walker and Gobble enough for their decisive action. But as the Record put it, “It was the parents’ worst nightmare.”


There’s an upside to global warming — better wine. Researchers from three Western universities have found that as temperatures rose over the past 50 years, so did the quality of wine produced by some vineyards. “The effects were strongest in cool climate regions,” reports the Associated Press. Studies were done by researchers at the University of Colorado, Utah State University and Southern Oregon University.

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 the column, Heard around the West.