Mistaken identity; bizarre trees; chocolate grizlars

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


IDAHO: Better take the road more traveled.
Mark Brunson

“I don’t target practice — but if I see something that looks like Bigfoot, I just shoot at it.” That’s what an unidentified man in a national forest outside Helena, Montana, told a 27-year-old hunter, explaining why he shot twice at him, reports the Idaho Statesman. The hunter in question told Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton that he had been setting up targets for a practice when suddenly a bullet hit three feet to his left and another one whizzed by him on the right. But when he confronted the shooter, who was in a black Ford F-150 truck, instead of an apology he received an ultimatum: Wear orange or get “confused for Bigfoot.” The shooter apparently has been seeing, and shooting at, Bigfoots — or is it Bigfeet? We are unsure of the correct plural here — all over Montana. Initially, “there was some question about the veracity of the incident,” but after the story got around, “another woman came forward,” saying that she, too, had been shot at by a man in a black F-150. “We’re working to find this person,” Dutton said. “It is of great concern that this individual might think it’s OK to shoot at anything he thinks is Bigfoot.”

Curious citizens wanting to know how to tell the difference between a Bigfoot and a regular-footed biped might be interested in the International Bigfoot Conference, usually held in Kennewick, Washington. Unfortunately, however, this year’s gathering has been postponed, according to the event’s Facebook page, “due to a scheduling conflict with a film production.” That means we’ll all just have to wait for the movie.

Aspen are truly one of the West’s more bizarre trees. When you look at a thick grove of these white-barked trees with their trembling leaves, you need to remind yourself that you are really looking at a forest of only one: Every tree has sprung from a single root system. It’s not well advertised, but near Richfield, Utah, there’s a 106-acre treasure of some 47,000 aspen clones. All are genetically male, and according to Atlas Obscura, the 13 million-pound clone is “almost certainly the most massive organism on earth.” But there’s sad news about its likely future. Called “Pando,” which is Latin for “I spread,” the Utah forest has begun to shrink in size. The keystone species, which has hundreds of dependents, has come under assault from human encroachment, including the development of campgrounds and cabins, as well as hungry cows and mule deer fleeing from hunters. Paul Rogers, a Utah State University ecologist who has analyzed 72 years’ worth of aerial photographs along with recent ground surveys, said that though the aspen forest had thrived for thousands of years, “it’s coming apart on our watch.” 

Under the “we love dogs, too, but come on, people” department, we were shocked to learn of the way two German shepherds outranked two children during a road trip from Arizona to Wyoming, as reported by the Associated Press. Michael J. Fee, 63, and Amber L. Freudenstein, 31, made two children aged 6 and 10 ride in the trunk while the two dogs lolled in the back seats. In court, Fee offered this rationalization: “There was not enough room for everyone, so the children were relegated to the trunk.” The couple pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment but received what seems like an astonishingly mild sentence of 30 days in jail. We can’t help wondering if maybe 30 days in a car trunk would be more educational. 

Three species of bear — the black bear, polar bear and grizzly bear — have been observed for the first time hanging out at the same time in the same habitat in Canada’s Wapusk National Park. EcoWatch reports that the 366 visits from polar bears and 25 from black bears were not that unusual, since both species live in the region, but the number of grizzly visits — 20 — came as a big surprise.

“How they interact is a really big question,” Doug Clark of the University of Saskatchewan Clark told the Canadian Press. “There’s all kinds of things that could go on.” Yes, indeed. Our biggest question: What to call the progeny, if any? EcoWatch notes that “so-called ‘pizzly’ or ‘grolar’ bears — or grizzly-polar hybrids — are the result of grizzly bears in Alaska and Canada expanding north due to the warming environment,” but adding a third species makes the nomenclature even more complicated. Say hello to “chocolate grizlars,” or maybe “black plizbears”? 

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

High Country News Classifieds