A biker starts a fire and tourists still underestimate bison.

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.

  • ALASKA Gulled-eagle sandwich.

    David Canales/U.S. Department of the Interior
 

IDAHO
“I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go,” BLM spokeswoman Carrie Bilbao told KTVB. She was talking about the mountain biker who started a 73-acre wildfire in the Boise foothills by burning his toilet paper in a dry ravine. The biker, who was not identified, came forward to tell the Bureau of Land Management what happened; apparently, he tried to burn and bury his waste to avoid littering, “but an ember spread to nearby dry grass,” reports The Associated Press. Occasionally, environmentally minded recreationists try to dispose of their waste in this fashion, said Bilbao, but burning anything in a fire-prone area is never a smart idea — and that’s the latest poop.

MONTANA
Then there’s starting fires by deliberately pouring gasoline down gopher holes and tossing matches in afterward. That’s what a landowner did south of Billings, Montana, but his scorched-burrows War on Gophers quickly became a grass fire that burned 21 acres. “No one was injured,” reports kpax.com — except, of course, for the gophers, who lost their homes in the blaze.

WYOMING
Is the Interior Department much too forbearing when it comes to policing oil and gas companies? A recent Associated Press story would appear to answer “yes.” For several years, High Plains Gas never bothered to report how much gas it was extracting from the Powder River Basin, until finally, the Interior Department fined it $4.2 million. More recently, Interior fined the company an additional $6.9 million for not even keeping track of its gas production, a civil penalty that’s said to rank among the most severe ever assessed by the department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue. But it’s doubtful that the company will ever pay up: High Plains Gas has been out of existence for more than a year. It has no working phone, and this April, its CEO, Ed Presley, told the Casper Star-Tribune that “the company didn’t even have the money to file for bankruptcy.” Left holding the bag, the state has taken possession of 2,300 of the company’s coal-bed methane wells, and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission plans to “plug the derelict gas wells.”

YELLOWSTONE
Yellowstone National Park bison, those formidable animals that can weigh 2,000 pounds, appear to value their privacy. In particular, they seem to detest having tourists take selfies and post them on Facebook without their permission. Wielding their massive shaggy heads like battering rams, bison recently tossed three too-intrusive visitors into the air. Each encounter occurred as a tourist tried to pose for a picture with a nearby bison. Two other people were attacked for moving too close, including a teenager from Taiwan who was gored near Old Faithful. The Park Service has posted signs that warn tourists about charging bison, but somehow, people remain convinced that the huge animals are tranquil and slow-moving. Park officials warn that annoyed bison can suddenly erupt, sprinting “three times faster than humans can run and are unpredictable and dangerous.” The best idea is to stay at least 25 yards away from a bison, and until 75-foot-long selfie sticks are invented, just keep yourself out of the picture.

COLORADO
Crested Butte in western Colorado is being loved to death. According to an impassioned editorial in the Crested Butte News, a flood of visitors to the beautiful backcountry around the mountain town is causing “chaos” and “disaster.” As the head of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory put it, “We’re losing meadows to illegal roads, illegal parking and illegal camping. It’s not good for anybody — visitors, scientists or ranchers.” The agency in charge of the increasingly trashed public land near town is the Forest Service, and sadly, it hasn’t done much because it is “overwhelmed.” Editorial writer Mark Reaman compared the high-elevation overcrowding to a spreading rash, and worried that Crested Butte might find itself in “an abusive relationship” with its visitors. The values that make the wild so wonderful are disappearing, he warned, especially respect for the backcountry. He wants the Forest Service to post signs telling tourists how to behave and to consider adding buses to cut down the number of cars on dirt roads.

CALIFORNIA AND NEVADA
It’s always been assumed that Lake Tahoe’s intense cobalt-blue color was linked to the lake’s clarity — the bluer the lake, the cleaner the water — but now, scientists from the University of California, Davis, have found that the lake’s blue color is caused by the presence of algae. Environment & Energy Daily reports that researchers also found a surprising benefit from the ongoing drought: Reduced snowmelt and precipitation meant that fewer sediments flowed into the lake, increasing its clarity to a depth of 77.8 feet last year, 7.6 feet more than 2013’s levels. The iconic lake is the country’s second deepest, at 1,645 feet.

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