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Know the West

Support beehives; fecal time bombs; super-tough roundworms

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


WASHINGTON: I’d turn back if I were you.
Regina Johnson

Montana beekeepers are abuzz about a new law that requires them to register their hives and pay a fee by April 1, reports NBC. Some have denounced it as “government overreach,” though the state says the law is intended to protect local beekeepers from the threat of disease from imported bee colonies. Chuck Lewis, the founder of “Plan Bee,” which promotes therapeutic beekeeping for veterans, says he plans to defy the new law: “I probably will not register my site, and if I have to go to court, I will.” Lewis, who notes that the sound of bees working in a hive helps veterans feel calm, thinks there’s a good argument for promoting bees as “support” animals. As much as we love bees (and honey) ourselves, we hope that doesn’t lead to a wave of people bringing “support beehives” onto planes, joining the cats, dogs and chickens already skulking supportively underneath their owners’ seats.

Kirkland, a suburb east of Seattle, has declared war on dog poop, reports the Seattle Times. Doggy dung has become a serious problem, what with an estimated 20,000 pooches depositing about 6,000 pounds of waste per day, according to Aaron Hussman, the city’s environmental and outreach specialist. Hussman notes that this is “a lot of excess nutrients we don’t need,” and not, as some dog owners believe, fertilizer. Since September, the city has enlisted volunteers to monitor the accumulation of canine crap at two popular parks, flagging every discovery and planting yellow signs that explain why people should prevent their pups from pooping on the parks’ land and water. The city has also installed poop bags near trashcans so owners can’t say they “forgot” their own. So far, the campaign is working, Hussman says, with hundreds of owners signing pledges to pick up after their dogs. This has been, Hussman says happily, an exercise in “glorious work.”

We don’t want you to think that “number two” is our “number one” priority here, but the sad truth is that human visitors are pooping up Salt Lake County’s backcountry. In the Wasatch canyons, E. coli counts are rising and creek waters are becoming contaminated, says Evan Johnson of Save our Big Cottonwood Creek. The problem has become so dire, he told the Associated Press, that “a fecal time bomb” threatens the canyon. Unfortunately, as Johnson points out, “when visitors have to go, they’ll go, and there are no bathroom facilities.”

In 1882, in Bisbee, Arizona, the Copper Queen Library opened inside the mine’s company store with a tiny collection of books sent from back East. That little library, the state’s oldest, is still going strong, though it no longer features spittoons and tables for card playing. Recently, Library Journal honored it as the “best small library in America.” In 1976, mine owner Phelps Dodge turned the library over to the town of Bisbee, and since then it’s expanded to offer a seed library for gardeners, literacy programs and “unconventional items available for checkout such as sports equipment.” Library manager Jason Macoviak told the Arizona Daily Star that “roughly 3,000” of Bisbee’s 5,500 residents are the proud possessors of library cards.

Kyler Bourgeous, 30, used to visit Utah’s Antelope Island State Park, about an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, several times a week to run or bike its trails. He always kept his distance from the resident bison and other wildlife, says the Washington Post, but one day after hiking to the park’s highest point, he found two huge bison standing on the other side. That’s when he discovered, as he said later, that “you can’t outrun bison.” One bison rammed Bourgeous in the hip and armpit, tossed him into the air and then trampled him. It was waiting for him to move so it could finish him off, Hussman said, so he played possum while nearby hikers called a rescue helicopter. When Bourgeous finally returned a few months later, he brought a date, Kayleigh Davis, 22, who wanted to run the island’s trails. The date, to put it mildly, did not go well: A bison charged Davis, throwing her 15 feet into the air. Fortunately, as she said later, she remembered Bourgeous’ advice: Don’t move, “so it doesn’t come after you again.” Davis suffered a broken ankle and gored thigh, but despite everything, the two plan to “hang out again.” Bourgeous, however, doubts he’ll ever go back to the island: “I generally am not superstitious, but I have this weird feeling that the bison there really don’t like me.”

Mono Lake is an “otherworldly strain of beautiful,” reports Atlas Obscura, but that doesn’t mean you should drink its pearlescent water, which has a pH of 10, equivalent to detergent, and sky-high levels of arsenic, around six times what’s safe for humans. Yet one extremophile loves it: a super-tough species of roundworm that thrives on arsenic. “The newly discovered species of Auanema has a few other evolutionary tricks up its oral cavity,” scientists report. It has three sexes — female, male and hermaphrodite — enabling it to adapt to an unforgiving environment, and also tripling its chances for a date on Saturday night.

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