Big cat cruelty in Utah and the first recorded California condor in New Mexico

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.

  • IDAHO Flying cars looked so much cooler in the old Jetsons cartoons...

    Carlen Donovan

A California condor with a yen for new places apparently got tired of southern Colorado. “N8” — identified by the number on the GPS transponder on his wing — left Cortez and took off for New Mexico, a state that had never, in all its recorded history, had a confirmed condor sighting. The appearance of the 2-year-old male in Los Alamos was an unexpected treat for Joe Fitzgibbon, an Audubon Society stalwart who was amazed to find the big bird in his backyard. Fitzgibbon told the Santa Fe New Mexican that he’d recently spent more than a day driving to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim in hopes of glimpsing one of the 71 condors that have been released there, but had no luck. So having a condor loiter in his backyard for a whole half hour left him “flabbergasted.” Condors can easily fly up to 200 miles in a day, said Eddie Feltes, field manager for the California Condor Recovery Project. He added that N8 appears to be flying solo, but is probably hanging out with fellow carrion eaters — agreeing with turkey vultures and ravens that the dinner menu matters much less than the fact that the entrées are truly dead.

There will be “no legal freebies” for San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, chortled a writer for Redrock Wilderness, the newsletter of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. After he led “a motorized column of cultic anti-governmental lawbreakers” into Recapture Canyon to protest a road closure mandated by the Bureau of Land Management, Lyman, who was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, two misdemeanors, insisted he needed a public defender. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, however, Lyman was anything but needy: He earned $50,000 a year in commissioner’s salary and owned property assessed at $650,000, plus an investment firm that manages $2.3 million in assets. From now on, said SUWA, Lyman “will not only have to pay his own legal freight … but must reimburse taxpayers for work his federal defender had already done.”

One of the nastiest interstate poaching and animal-cruelty cases came to trial this March after a three-year investigation, reports Colorado Outdoors, the magazine of the state’s Division of Wildlife. Mack, Colorado, outfitters Christopher Loncarich and Marvin Ellis did things to mountain lions and bobcats that are difficult to read about without wincing. The men confessed to systemically trapping, wounding and confining hundreds of big cats so that they would be easy prey for paying customers. Days before a hunter would arrive in Utah, the outfitters would spot lions by plane, then trap the animals and cage them, “shooting the cats in the paws, stomach or legs, or attaching leghold traps on them.” In one case, a client from Connecticut was instructed to shoot a lion from a distance of more than 100 yards so that he would not notice that it was pinned down by a leghold trap. These “hunts,” if you care to call them that, weren’t cheap, costing as much as $7,500 for lions and $1,500 for bobcats, and the judge concluded that the outfitters and their accomplices were motivated by greed. But Loncarich, the “brains” of the business, didn’t relish his work, according to one of his two daughters, who both worked with him. “He would get upset because (the clients) were too out of shape to hike and track animals, and they just wanted to shoot animals without having to hunt them.” The Utah Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which cooperated in the arrest, consider the case an anomaly in the annals of hunting.

Perhaps because of its eye for the telling detail, a simply written obituary in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel caught our eye. Betty Lou Hawkins, 80, of Molina, in western Colorado, the youngest of eight children, ran a ranch with her eldest son, Daniel, for 47 years. Described by her family as “a very hard worker” — an understatement if there ever was one — “she managed up to 50 head of cattle nearly alone. She cooked at the Plateau Valley School and Job Corps over 40 years. She cleaned condos and houses everywhere. When things went wrong, she would simply say, ‘We just need to work harder.’ She made hundreds of quilts, sent thousands of cards to people for every occasion, and never forgot a face or a name.” Hats off to Betty Lou Hawkins, a true Western heroine.

When the 60-year-old Riviera hotel-casino closed, the Las Vegas Review-Journal dripped with nostalgia: “No longer can you stay in the penthouse where Sinatra once lived,” it reported. The real loss may be this, however: “No longer can you see the Sin City Roller Girls kick butt in the ballroom.”

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