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for people who care about the West

Saguaro thieves; Cats in precarious spots; Trump highway

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


It’s not the bees’ fault if they’re falling down on the job of pollinating an estimated 1,000 species of plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices and medicines. Any blame for a drop in performance should be heaped on the variety of insults the fuzzy critters face, including colony collapse disorder, which caused mass die-offs; infestations like mites; poisonous chemicals sprayed on fields; and our compulsive paving of their habitat, reports USA Today. But now, Walmart says it has a technological fix. The corporation believes that — just as human workers are being replaced more and more by automation — the routine jobs that bees do can be turned over to “unmanned aerial vehicles,” otherwise known as drones. In its application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Walmart claimed that drones would be even more versatile than bees: Besides pollinating plants, they could fly over fields to check for pest damage, spray specific plants with pesticides, and in a truly novel exercise, “simply shoo off birds, acting as a next-generation of ‘scarecrows or shiny devices.’ ” Plus, the motorized bees would “use sensors to verify” that pollen was being successfully transmitted from one plant to another. According to Ecowatch, Walmart’s application for six patents noted that drone technology was another way “to get food from farms to store shelves faster and more cheaply to compete with Amazon.com Inc. …” This is not the first time anyone’s tried to automate bee behavior; last year, Japanese researchers successfully demonstrated how a tiny, remote-controlled drone could pollinate flowers. 

When a black-and-white cat climbed a 30-foot pole and then remained there for a couple of days — too scared to come down — “people in Phoenix lost their minds,” reported Phoenix New Times. A half-million people breathlessly watched the cat’s predicament in real time, as ABC15 live-streamed the show in dramatic style: “Occasionally, (the cat) let a paw dangle off the edge while testing its weight on the wire (and) viewer reactions ran the whole gamut … panic, fury, annoyance, desperation.” So many people called 911 to report the imperiled cat that the fire department was overwhelmed. One viewer on Facebook described “literally having an anxiety attack over this,” while 911 dispatchers fielded at least 100 calls demanding a rescue unit, including frantic callers from New Jersey, Florida and Ohio. Finally, the cat, named Gypsy, was rescued by a neighbor with a kind heart, a ladder and a lot of chutzpah. Owners Jenny Hardin and Ash Morgan, sounding slightly blasé, said they hadn’t realized their pet was stuck on the pole that long, though, given the contrary nature of cats, it was possible: “She comes and goes.” Just two days later, a different Phoenix feline, Princess Poppy, got herself rescued from a different pole. Apparently, all the kitties now want their 15 minutes of fame. 

Regulators can be excruciatingly slow when it comes to protecting California’s most essential but fragile asset — its water. After a 20-month investigation, the state determined that each year, for 71 years now, the water-bottling company Nestlé Waters North America has been getting away with illegally pumping 62 million gallons of water from the San Bernardino National Forest. Forest News, the publication of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, reports that the state water board’s investigation found that the company “may only have a right to extract about 8.5 million gallons each year.” Nestlé, which was ordered to immediately cease its “unauthorized diversions,” has been given 60 days to come up with a compliance plan.

Southern Utah News, which covers the surprisingly diverse southern Utah town of Kanab, recently ran one of its livelier “Letters to the Editor” pages. Four of the eight writers fulminated against Rebublican state Rep. Mike Noel’s ill-fated proposal to name a national parks highway after President Donald Trump. One writer noted that the Kanab city council was considering a name change for the road to the local landfill, so he recommended calling it “the Donald J. Trump Memorial Landfill Parkway.” Another resident’s suggestion: the “Trump Dump Non-Scenic Road.”

Rangers patrolling the perimeter of Saguaro National Park in Arizona occasionally come across a big hole in the ground, signifying that, once again, a thief has excavated and carted off a giant saguaro. Vandalism is such a serious problem that park staffers recently spent $3,000 implanting microchips in 1,000 specimens of the iconic, long-lived cacti along the most accessible edges of the park. Sadly, the chips lack tracking devices and don’t broadcast a signal, so the only way to find out if a particular saguaro was nicked from the park is to scan it using a specialized reader, reports Cronkite News. Still, said chief ranger Ray O’Neil, “it’s a deterrent.” It would be definitely embarrassing if a park ranger stopped by your front yard, scanned your saguaro and loudly announced: “Gotcha! Get a backhoe, this saguaro is moving back home!”