Heard around the West

  • Gas guzzlers

    Kurt Angersbach


A deliciously funny film called The Lost People of Mountain Village wowed audiences at Telluride’s Mountainfilm festival and other venues around western Colorado. In deadpan style, the 15-minute pseudo-documentary explores what happened to the overlords who once lived above high-altitude Telluride. The joke for locals: The "town" of Mountain Village always feels abandoned by its absentee owners. Filmmakers Carol Black and Neal Martens spotlight some monumental estates: A stone chalet sports 19 bathrooms, and one log mansion features a gargantuan chandelier festooned with cowboy boots. This inspires thoughtful-looking experts to pose the really big questions: Were the inhabitants so wealthy they believed themselves deities? Did the fur-coated denizens die out because harsh winters prevented commuting servants from attending them? Or — with no gas station to fuel their Humvees or grocery store to buy provisions — did these hapless folk become cannibals? A promotional blurb from the Colorado Board of Real Estate Professionals adds to the joke. It warns: "This film is not funny." For more information about The Lost People of Mountain Village, contact the Sheep Mountain Alliance, P.O. Box 389, Telluride, CO 81435, 970-728-3729. Suggested price is $15 per DVD, plus $2 for shipping.


An Iowa congressman is fed up with big-game hunters who have cooked up an elaborate scheme to get reimbursed for their kills. Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley has found that hunters book safaris, bag a trophy animal, and then contribute the stuffed mount to a museum, getting in return a nice tax break. The Wyobraska Wildlife Museum in Gering, Neb., for example, has accepted hundreds of donated trophy mounts, reports the Washington Post, but most of them gather dust in trailers behind the museum before they’re sold at taxidermy auctions. Grassley calls this practice "trophy abuse," and compares it to someone buying a sweater in Paris, donating it to Goodwill, and then taking a tax deduction for the trip to France. "The tax code should encourage legitimate donations," Grassley says, "but only legitimate donations." The senator’s loophole-closing provision earned praise from the Humane Society, which has tried to alert people to the problem of hunting parks — many of them in Texas — where hunters pay to kill exotic animals raised on the premises.


If you don’t like a land-use decision by local government, just bring in the pigs. That’s what Rathdrum developer Steve Nagel threatened to do after county commissioners turned down his request for a zoning change so he could put up a professional building on the edge of town. Nagel, who insists that his Makin’ Bacon Ranch is no bluff, says that now, "When I go to negotiate with these people, I’ll get a little better response," reports the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Maybe not. Rathdrum Mayor Brian Steele told The Associated Press: "That’s the first thing (thwarted developers) say: ‘I’m going to put a pig farm on it.’ I think it’s a common statement."


State agricultural officials have come a long way since the days of aerial spraying to combat the dreaded medfly, whose larva destroys fruits and vegetables. In 1981, says the San Francisco Chronicle, a state official "drank a glass of diluted malathion to prove it wouldn’t hurt people." These days, a biological control program that began in 1996 works better than poison. Here’s California’s successful strategy: Millions of sterile male medflies are released in a 10-mile or so radius where the bugs have been detected. Then, a bacterial bait called Naturalyte, which kills medflies but doesn’t harm people, is distributed, so the bugs either fail to reproduce or die from the poison. So far, the medfly females haven’t figured out they’re being tricked. The state reacts fast to any report of Mediterranean fruit flies. The latest one-two punch took place near San Jose after just two medflies were trapped.


Canadian grizzly bears must really hate highways: They will not cross the country’s major east-west road through the Rocky Mountains and two other ranges, reports New Scientist magazine. That’s bad news for the 470 bears studied, since a team of Canadian biologists found that genetically distinct grizzlies now live on opposite sides of Canada’s Highway 3. If a rare bear does cross the road, it’s almost always a male. Yellowstone bear expert Chris Servheen says female grizzlies are the key to a population’s growth rate, and when they can’t cross freely from one side of the highway to the other, the isolated bear populations are more likely to die out.

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.

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