Heard around the West

  • A chair with a view

    Greg Woodall


What makes Mormon crickets run? More than just the lust for protein and salt. The insects hustle because they’re afraid they’ll be gobbled up by the cannibalistic cousins trotting behind them, reports the Reno Gazette-Journal. Researchers from the United States, England and Australia who studied cricket migration in southern Idaho found that the insects act as though they’re on a forced march. "You can imagine that if you are at the back of one million marching crickets, there is little food left and the cricket in front of you starts to look mighty tasty," said biologist Patrick Lorch of Kent State University. A wounded cricket is a likely target, and once set upon, it gets chewed up fast. "If you imagine eating your own body weight in an hour, that’s pretty impressive," Lorch said. Now that it’s spring, crickets have begun hatching across the West, including huge areas of Utah and Idaho. Last year, Nevada was hit hard: Swarms of Mormon crickets there devoured vegetation on some 12 million acres.


Forty volunteers from the booming Tucson area recently showed up at dawn for their 141st mission. Though the day would be hot, their arms and legs were covered, and they wore welders’ gloves and came equipped with both shovels and tweezers. Their mission: Digging up baby saguaros and other cactuses before bulldozers rumbled in to blaze the desert flat. Arizona is second only to Nevada in population growth, reports The New York Times, and championship golf courses and "active adult master-planned" communities are fast wiping away the Sonoran Desert. In the six years since it was founded, the Cactus Rescue Crew has saved for transplanting over 27,000 cactuses and other native plants. Since it "takes 60 or 80 years for a saguaro to grow an arm," said volunteer Carl Pergam, a radiologist, "I’ve saved a life, in essence." The group has spurred similar efforts in Phoenix and Lake Havasu City, and also helped to promote xeriscape design, which features drought-tolerant native plants. Landscape architecture professor Margaret Livingstone said that the volunteers play an important role in Tucson: "Much like Frederick Law Olmsted formed an emerald necklace of parks," she said, "the rescuers are creating an arid cactus necklace around the city."


A wealthy homeowner in Lake Tahoe, Calif., got ticked off at tall pines blocking the view from his $2.4 million house, so he poisoned the trees and then pretended they’d died a natural death. But government officials spotted the murder when they found the holes at the base of the trees where he’d applied the herbicide Roundup. The homeowner apologized profusely, reports the Tahoe Daily Tribune, calling what he did "selfish, impulsive and completely without justification." Initially, however, he balked at paying a fine any larger than $34,000. But officials, wanting to make the crime a warning to others, insisted on $50,000, and, according to the Las Vegas Sun, the business executive has agreed to pay up.


Some hunters have no sense of humor. A western Colorado man was shot in the head recently after another hunter some 23 yards behind took him for a turkey, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Barry Nofsinger was using a lure that imitates the sound of gobbling birds when a pellet banged into the back of his head. Nofsinger, who didn’t know his assailant, wasn’t seriously injured. Later, he tried without success to make a joke of it: "I asked him — ‘Are you related to Dick Cheney?’ He didn’t like that."


Five states can boast more licensed gun dealers than gas stations, and all are in the West — Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Wyoming and Alaska, reports The Associated Press. Overall, however, the number of gun dealers across the nation is in sharp decline, thanks to more costly insurance and tightened federal restrictions. Idaho, for example, has 682 federally licensed gun dealers today; in 1994, there were 2,300. The nonprofit Violence Policy Center, in Washington, D.C., says that the dealers shut down were "kitchen table" types who operated out of their homes or offices. But people still seem to be buying lots of weapons. Said gun dealer Ed Santos in Post Falls, Idaho, "We’re seeing very good sales. They’re either holding their own or rising."


A Scrabble tournament in Hankinson, N.D., had an ulterior purpose: preventing the Dakota Sioux language from going the way of the dodo. Kids from reservation schools in North Dakota, South Dakota and Manitoba competed by putting down words in their native language, now spoken fluently by just a few elders. One survey predicted that the last speaker would die in 2025, reports AP. "With these efforts, we’ll try to prolong that," said a teacher. One team of middle-schoolers began by choosing the letters for sa, pronounced "shah," the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota word for red; the next team built on it to form sapa, which means "dirty."

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