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Know the West

Memorial Rock; osprey survivor; fooling fish

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


If you’ve been blaming natural gas emissions for contributing to climate disruption, well, you need to rethink your attitude and be more gung-ho and patriotic. That’s what the Trump administration is doing, bragging that our export of liquefied natural gas to Europe ranks right up there with American troops helping to defeat the Nazis during World War II. Thus the new term “freedom gas” — instead of natural gas — coined by Energy Secretary Rick Perry. In a press release, Steven Weinberg, an assistant Energy Department secretary for fossil energy, waxed poetic in a semi-scientific fashion, praising the government for selling “molecules of U.S. freedom” to the benighted world. Jason Bordoff, an energy policy expert at Columbia University, called this phrasing “bizarre” and mocked it on Twitter: “Personally, I don’t think this goes far enough, and would like to request that its data metric be changed from mcf (million cubic feet) to musf (molecules of US freedom),” reports EcoWatch. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is running for president on a platform of combating climate change, said that the term “freedom gas” reminded him of Republican attempts to re-label French fries as “freedom fries” during the run-up to our invasion of Iraq. “Freedom is generally good,” acknowledged Inslee, “but freedom from glaciers, freedom from clean air, freedom from healthy forests that aren’t on fire, and freedom from the world we know and cherish is not what we seek.” The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was also altering “the methodology” of government climate reports to paint a happier picture of the consequences of burning fossil fuels. 

COLORADO: Can’t miss this tourist trap.
Colorado Department of Transportation

Landslides caused by heavy rains have closed some roads for weeks at a time in western Colorado, but when a gigantic boulder weighing 4,250 tons smashed onto a state highway near the small town of Dolores, the state highway department faced a daunting problem: How could it possibly remove the behemoth when no bulldozer was big enough to do the job? The solution was to let sleeping boulders lie, diverting the road around either side of what will now be known as “Memorial Rock,” since it fell on Memorial Day weekend. Or maybe not. A Denver Post poll of nearly 900 readers found they want the governor to name it “Rocky McRocker Face,” with “Rocky Road” their second choice. “Tourist Trap” came in a distant third.

The osprey nest was precariously perched about 25 feet up on a telephone pole, reports the Missoulian, when something began making it wobble and rattle. Thanks to a live camera feed recorded by Explore.org, you can see the cause of the commotion: An intrepid black bear, whose snout pokes up on the lower left of the screen. Then the raider’s whole head pops up near the nest’s three eggs, while an agitated osprey continually swoops past, trying to protect its nest. Finally, the bear climbs back down and ambles off. Denver Holt, who set up the camera at his Owl Research Institute near the town of Charlo, Montana, said he’d never before seen a bear try to climb the telephone pole. Live cameras have shown him other amazing sights, though. Once, a great horned owl flew to the osprey nest in the dark, Holt said, and whacked the male osprey, whom Holt calls Charlie, “right off his perch three nights in a row. The attacks are unbelievable. You wonder how he survives.” Holt’s cameras also revealed that great gray owls are more active at night, and that they sometimes fight with great horned owls: “The cameras expose some really cool behavioral stuff.”

After working for 37 years for the Bureau of Land Management in several Western states, Jim Cagney is now retired and sounding off. His deft columns for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel are always a treat, because when it comes to the outback, he knows what he’s talking about. Recently, one of his targets included the newspaper itself, after a headline in its lifestyle section cheered the “glory of going off-road.” That “glory,” wrote Cagney, might better be described as destructive driving behavior. Cagney also slammed a TV commercial that was widely shown this spring, in which a vehicle rips up a wet cow pasture. “Who likes to chase calves with their car?” Cagney asks. “How could a video that disgusting generate car sales?” People should think before they start their engines, Cagney advises: Motorized travel on lawful routes through backcountry public lands is OK, but “off-road travel is heinous.”

Is it cruel to fool a fish? In a way, that’s what catch-and-release anglers do when they hook a fish, hold it up to admire and maybe photograph it, then remove the hook before letting the fish swim away. But some conservationists say that catch-and-release stresses fish and impedes their chances of survival by exposing them to air, perhaps several times during the season. According to six studies by the University of Idaho and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, however, the fish don’t seem all that bothered by being handled. Once a fish is hooked, reeling it in takes little time, and the fish isn’t held out of the water for more than several seconds, reports the Lewiston Tribune. How the fish feel about the practice of catch-and-eat was not studied. 

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