« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

A wolf in elk’s clothing?

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


“Something is genuinely different and something is genuinely fabulous!” crowed Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as she looked around the U.S. Senate on a morning in late January. She’d noticed that only women were in the chamber. From pages and parliamentarians to floor managers and the presiding officer, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, each had struggled to get to work on that snowy and traffic-snarled morning. Murkowski’s explanation of the phenomenon will seem perfectly understandable to women everywhere. “It speaks to the hardiness of women,” she told the Washington Post. “(You) put on your boots and put on your hat and get out and slog through the mess that’s out there.” That might go for the inside mess, as well.

It’s happened before, said Steve Robinson of Walterville, Oregon, in the Statesman Journal: Trucks just crash into his yard. The most recent accident, however, was a doozy. A truck hauling hatchery salmon smashed into a power pole and spilled 11,000 spring chinook smolt all over a state highway, close to Robinson’s yard. “The fish were obviously flopping all over the place — trees breaking, power poles breaking, dirt flying everywhere,” he said. Truck driver Ray Lewis, who works for a state fish hatchery, offered a novel defense, claiming he suffered from a rare medical condition called “auto-brewery syndrome,” which caused his blood-alcohol concentration to register three times the legal limit. Lewis also guessed that he might just be fired. According to the Oregon Register-Guard, Lewis was diagnosed with the rare syndrome, but that did not prevent him from being charged with a misdemeanor. Lewis is appealing his conviction; as of press time there is no word about his employment status.

It may be a losing battle, but state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, is outraged. So this February, he began waging a campaign to find out what Utah got for spending $640,000 on a legal long shot. The public money went to high-paid lawyers, lobbyists, a polling firm and a research group, all of whom were paid to analyze the chances of Utah successfully suing the federal government for ownership of public lands. Not surprisingly, they concluded that, yes, a suit should be pursued, and it got the go-ahead in December. But Dabakis, one of two Democrats on the seven-member Commission for the Stewardship of Public lands, says he has never seen a full report. He’d like to know, he told the Salt Lake Tribune, what the arguments were for not spending an estimated $14 million on what seems a hopeless effort. “I’m on the damn committee. I’m a senator,” said Dabakis. “Everyone who’s involved in this process is a Republican, and they all want this lawsuit. …To deny us the information the chairs have got doesn’t allow us to do our public responsibility.”  But until Dabakis and fellow Democratic Sen. Joel Briscoe receive “authorization” from the two chairmen of the stewardship commission, they will remain in the dark. George Wentz, an attorney for the New Orleans firm hired to do the legal analysis, said attorney-client privilege allows for non-disclosure to committee members. If the two Democrats ever do get to read the full document, one question they’ll most certainly ask is why attorneys on the team were paid as much as $500 an hour.

Is it possible to mistake a wolf for an elk? Apparently so, if you work for Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game. State wildlife managers recently dropped into the Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness by helicopter — resulting in several legal challenges for using helicopters in a designated wilderness — in order to trap and then collar elk. Once there, they successfully collared 30 elk and 30 calves, but also did the job on four wolves as well — “by mistake,” reports the Missoulian. “The error was due to a breakdown in internal communications,” explained Fish and Game spokesman Mike Demmick. George Nickas, director of the Missoula-based Wilderness Watch, found this explanation difficult to swallow: “The fact they were collaring elk alone is bad enough. It’s not a secret that this is really all about wolves.” State officials say their only purpose was to learn more about declining elk populations in the Frank Church, where gray wolves were reintroduced in 1995.

Coyotes brash enough to stare down the drivers of passing cars — unnerving them enough to make them slam on the brakes — then sniffing and snapping at the car’s tires before running off, are alarming residents of Stinson and Bolinas Beach, coastal towns near San Francisco, reports the International Business Times. The coyotes are not thought to be rabid, as the attacks have been happening for weeks, and some think their behavior might be spurred by drivers who previously fed the animals. A more bizarre explanation comes from the Pacific Sun weekly: Perhaps the aggressive coyotes are “tripping their tails off.” Maybe so. Poisonous red-capped, white-speckled mushrooms — think “magic mushrooms” — grow in the area, and Amanita muscaria has known hallucinogenic properties.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.