Fabulous flab; reefer madness; unsportmanslike conduct

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


NEVADA: The intersection of mares and Mustang.
Harold Roy Miller

Visitors to Alaska’s Katmai National Park love watching burly brown bears gorge themselves on sockeye salmon. The grizzlies that hang out at Brooks Falls are huge and wet, and every week they grow visibly bigger, some adding up to 90 pounds in a day. That’s so they can snooze without eating through five months of hibernation, during which they lose about one-third of their body weight. The annual feeding frenzy is an ideal opportunity to educate people about bears, so staffers at the park decided four years ago to host an annual “Fat Bear” contest, in which the public votes for the grizzly that appears to have gained the most humongous girth. Starting in June, 12 bears were photographed regularly, and by late fall two of the most corpulent — each weighing something over 1,000 pounds — were left vying for the “year’s most fabulous flab.” Now, the winner in this year’s great fatness face-off has been announced: Bear 409, a “gigantic gal with a marvelous muffin top.” Though runner-up Bear 747 was a strong competitor (described as “blimpy,” with a belly that “barely has clearance to the ground”), Bear 409 won the public’s heart, pulling in 7,000 likes on social media, compared with her rival’s 3,000. Bear 409 also boasted formidable feminist credentials, being “a single mom trying to make it in the wild,” as one woman commented on Facebook. “She deserves it … has had four multiple-birth litters and raised her cubs to maturity. About time a female bear won!” Another fan swore: “I would die for Bear 409.” The park is home to some 2,200 brown bears — the most in the world, officials say — and given its many millions of migrating fish, said park ranger Andrew LaValle, “If you’re gonna be a bear, Katmai National Park is a good place to be one.” Another advantage: It has “Bear Cams,” so that, as writer Ruben Kimmelman of Northwest Public Broadcasting says, diehard bear aficionados can tune in to see the animals living off the fat of the land.

Meanwhile, in northern Montana, a 900-pound male grizzly became a problem after he wandered into an open garage in a Hutterite community and refused to leave. “He fell asleep right in the corner,” reports the Billings Gazette. No amount of yelling, mace or honking could persuade him to decamp. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks was called in, and staffers decided to tranquilize the bear. That turned out to be the easy part; the hard part was moving it. Six people had to be enlisted to push a tarp underneath the snoring grizzly and then hoist him into a cage. When he awoke, the bear was released near East Glacier. 

Jim Dabakis is a rarity in Utah, a Democratic state senator. He leaves office Dec. 31, but before he packed up, as an example to his fellow legislators, he decided to publicly try marijuana for the first time. That’s because legalizing medical marijuana is on the Utah ballot this November, and state lawmakers have already announced plans for enacting restrictions if it passes. So Dabakis travelled to Nevada, where recreational pot is legal, and bought a gummy bear infused with edible marijuana. He filmed the entire taste test, and you can watch Dabakis gnaw the forbidden fruit on Esquire magazine’s website. His conclusion: “I think the reefer madness crowd — you guys you need to try it. It’s not that big a deal.” 

Nebraska’s last tourism slogan — “Visit Nebraska, Visit Nice” — just didn’t do it, reports the Washington Post. For the last four years, the state has come in dead last on a list of states that tourists seek out. So its latest slogan, created for $450,000 by a Colorado firm, is aimed at people who enjoy the outdoors but want a stress-free and somewhat quirky vacation. “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone” is the new slogan, and this self-deprecating approach might just make it a winner. National Public Radio’s Scott Simon was so taken he said, “I’ve already packed my bag.” One Nebraskan thought his own suggestion packed even more punch: “Nebraska: We don’t want to be here, either.”

Big game hunter Blake Fischer is no longer a member of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission; he resigned after bragging on email to 125 friends that he’d happily slaughtered dozens of animals in Namibia. The emails, which became public, included a picture of Fischer stepping on the neck of the giraffe he’d just killed, while another focused on the bloody remains of an entire family of baboons, reports the Idaho Statesman. Public condemnation came quickly, and Fischer’s response — “I didn’t do anything illegal” — failed to satisfy. In his resignation letter to the governor, Fischer said his hunting photos failed to “display an important level of sportsmanship and respect for animals I harvested.”


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

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