Heard around the West




Sometimes you can be too vigilant. Someone who spotted a black bag on the side of a road in eastern California reported that it had a suspiciously “foul odor.” A sheriff’s deputy investigated, says the Grass Valley-Nevada City Union. Inside the bag, wrapped in a blue towel, was a dead fish.



For the U.S. Navy, you can never be vigilant enough. Officials say they need to move 30 dolphins and sea lions from San Diego to Seattle, to defend submarines and ships from “terrorist swimmers,” reports The Associated Press. Patrolling dolphins will drop a beacon if they detect a person in the water, while sea lions, carrying special cuffs in their mouths, get up close and personal: “If the animal finds a rogue swimmer, it can clamp the cuff around the person’s leg.” A rope attached to the cuff then lets the Navy reel in the potential perpetrator for questioning. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thinks all this is a terrible idea. The animals are kept in small enclosures and sent out to work in much cooler water than they’re used to. What’s more, said PETA biologist Stephanie Boyles, we can’t depend on them to protect us; they don’t understand the importance of their mission. Someday, said a Navy spokesman, machines will take over underwater security, but for now, dolphins make good soldiers. They’ve searched for mines in Umm Qasr, an Iraqi harbor, and in 1996, they patrolled San Diego Bay during a Republican convention. No waterborne attackers were apprehended.



A big bad wolf killed more than 120 sheep in eastern Montana last year, but don’t blame one of Yellowstone’s wild wolves, says the Billings Gazette. The culprit was a domestic animal, the product of “human-manipulated breeding” combining genes from wolves in the Great Lakes region, Alaska and the Lower 48 states. “You just don’t see that Heinz 57 hodgepodge in wild wolves,” said Carolyn Sime, head of Montana’s wolf program. No one has a clue about where the voracious sheep-eater came from, she added, since the domestic wolf business is a “closeted industry.” Meanwhile, in Juneau, Alaska, a lone black wolf dubbed “Romeo” by locals loves to romp with dogs on frozen Mendenhall Lake; he’s even allowed people to touch him. The Juneau Empire newspaper ran pictures of Romeo loping off with a pet pug in his mouth, as if the dog were a rabbit. The wolf finally dropped the pug — apparently unharmed — on its back. Because animals that lose their fear of humans often end up shot, state biologists may pepper the friendly wolf with beanbags or rubber bullets to teach it to back off.



Right message, wrong illustration: The Boulder, Colo., Daily Camera recently featured a front-page picture of a solar panel array to illustrate its story on the benefits of alternative energy. But as Jane and Russ Monson point out in a letter to the editor, the photo actually revealed an extravagant waste of resources. The solar panels heat a new 1,528 square-foot garage complementing a new 7,150 square-foot house. What that picture really shows, said the Monsons, who live behind the property, is the “hypocrisy that has infiltrated much of our concern toward the future of our planet.”



You might have felt déjà vu all over again while reading the Casper Star-Tribune’s account of a House oversight hearing on the Interior Department: Inspector General Earl Devaney said its culture is “replete with a lack of accountability.” When staffers — usually political appointees — get caught awarding contracts to their friends, for example, they might be scolded or counseled to take ethics classes, but often an offense is ignored. This comes as no surprise to Robin Nazarro of the Government Accountability Office. Fifteen years ago, she told the House Natural Resources Committee, GAO officials testified about the “same persistent management problems.”



“The ski bum is dead in Sun Valley,” I.M. Chauncey told the Idaho Mountain Express. “All I have to do is turn out the lights when I leave.” For 11 years, Chauncey has lived poor in order to go telemark skiing, but now, he says, that kind of dedication is gone. Not quite, says Jeff Smull, who manages to sell real estate while putting in 100 days a season on the slopes. He figures the breed has evolved: “We’re not professional ski bums,” he says. “I think the new ski bum has a retirement package.”



As the Salt Lake Tribune put it, “Not everything done in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The Utah-based online genealogy service Ancestry.com recently posted marriage and divorce records for Las Vegas from 1956 through 2005, so celebrity groupies can now look up the unions and disunions of everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Elvis Presley.

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