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Know the West

Heard Around the West



Lucky, an elk that was hand-raised by residents of Tillamook County, was by all accounts a cute calf. You could see the little elk along Highway 101, in a pasture where bull elk like to hang out with milk cows. He was comfortable with people and would jump into a pickup bed as easily as a dog, reports the Statesman Journal. But then Lucky got bigger and wasn't so cute anymore. He started getting pushy with the neighbors and jumping into the wrong pickups, says Herman Biederbeck, a state wildlife biologist. Lucky had to go. But once relocated to a remote part of the county, the elk still "found his way to a house and went inside." Lucky was picked up for a second attempt at relocation, but this time the elk who seemed to think he was a dog was trucked much farther away, to the Cascades. Oregon biologists say the saga of unlucky Lucky shows what can go wrong when young animals get taken from the wild. Although they hope Lucky makes it in the mountains, they're not very optimistic: The elk has no experience as a herd animal and has never had to find food or escape from predators. Their advice to humans: Never "rescue" a young wild animal, and always assume that its mother will return. 


State health officials gave away lunchboxes festooned with healthy slogans, hoping kids would follow their advice to "Be Active" and "Eat fruits and vegetables." Sadly, the attempt backfired: The colorful containers of green and blue canvas were made in China and possibly contaminated with lead, said the California Department of Health. It announced a recall of 300,000 of the lunchboxes, which had been distributed at health fairs and other venues since 2004, reports the Los Angeles Times. "It's unfortunate that an item we're using hopefully to promote healthy behavior is discovered itself to be a potential health hazard," said Mark Horton, director of the state's public health department. 


We can probably expect great things of 6-year-old Josh Barber of Broomfield, Colo. Waking up early and really hungry for some chicken nuggets, he took matters into his own hands while his dad was at work, his grandmother was asleep, and his mother recovered from surgery. The child found car keys, went outside, unlocked the car door, adjusted the seat so he could see over the steering wheel, and started on down the road toward those chicken nuggets. "I hit the gas," he told a Denver television station. Unfortunately, the car was parked in reverse, reports the Associated Press. Backing up 75 feet, Josh hit a pole and knocked out phone service and electricity to dozens of houses. "I crashed into these things, and then what happened is, I didn't know what to do," Josh explained. The boy promised that he wouldn't take the wheel again. Not for a few years, anyway. 


Three cheers for 90-year-old Harold Burgess, volunteer extraordinaire and particular advocate of trumpeter swans and black-bellied whistling ducks. After putting in 33 years as a national wildlife refuge manager and biologist, Burgess volunteered for the next 27 years at various refuges. Last July, when he turned 90, he "quit" his second career as a volunteer, reports Refuge Update, published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Asked which work he enjoyed more - paid or volunteer - Burgess said the latter. "I don't have any boss. I just go ahead and do it." 


Trust the Arizona Republic to get readers' blood boiling. All it took was a little story headlined "Way too hot, way too late in the year." For the 15th straight day, temperatures were far above normal, and on the day of the paper's story, Nov. 6, the temperature hit a steamy 91 degrees. What was worse, "the Valley's hot fall is merely a continuation of what has been a fairly miserable year." One unsurprised reader reacted with mockery: "We've got trouble ... right here in Desert City! We're oblivious to the need for shade or water conservation. We're in denial about the heat island effect." Another agreed, saying that moving out of Phoenix was only a question of when. Still, the nation's fifth-largest city had its avid supporters. More than one said the heat was just fine and that people fleeing would mainly mean "a few less people on the freeways." 


Bears burgling houses around Lake Tahoe are a familiar story. But the number of bears killed by cars - 75 - set a record this year, reports the Reno-Gazette Journal. Also new are efforts by some people to feed the animals in the forests, a move condemned by most wildlife specialists. One woman spent $10,000 on nuts and fruits, dropping off the goodies as she walked through the trees, and "pilots have also dropped food from their planes." Ann Bryant, leader of a local group, the Bear League, defends the practice: "It's a whole lot more natural if bears are foraging in backwoods and finding food than picking through someone's refrigerator." 

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.