Coyote diets; anaerobic digesters; poachers caught on camera

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


COLORADO: There’s a community for everyone.
Courtesy of Michael John Jurynec

The headline in The New York Times didn’t pull any punches: “Sorry, Instagrammers, you are ruining Wyoming.” Tourists who post “geotagging photographs” on social media are drawing crowds of people to beautiful places that used to be remote, said Brian Modena, a member of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board. “We want people to have a real connection to nature,” he said, “not just a page with a pin on it.” The board suggests that visitors cease their bragging and use a generic location tag: “Tag Responsibly, Keep Jackson Hole Wild.” 

The relationship between Southern California’s humans and their coyote neighbors has been “more than a little strained” over the past few years, reports Atlas Obscura, largely owing to the coyotes’ diet. Sometimes the menu consists of food from garbage cans, but now and then somebody’s pet goes missing. To pin down exactly what coyotes eat, National Park Service ecologist Justin Brown trained volunteers to act as “poop scouts.” Searchers were taught to look at the ground for “links about the size of their thumbs, with tapered ends.” Back in the lab, researchers put the coyote scat into panty hose, washed it, and then baked it to kill parasites before analyzing what was left behind. Atlas Obscura says more than 3,200 samples have now been studied, revealing that LA’s coyotes definitely enjoy feasting on domestic cats, as well as fruit from ornamental trees like figs, rabbits, gophers and insects and human food leftovers. Coyotes are not dainty eaters; they gulp their food whole, Brown said, and unlikely aperitifs like work gloves, a condom, shoelaces and “plenty of packaging” turned up in some scat. Residents are naturally unhappy when coyotes bite them or devour their pets, but as the researchers noted, “Coyotes are living pretty much everywhere, and a lot of them aren’t causing conflicts.” Where they do get into trouble, say researchers, it’s important to “control their food sources.” 

If you’re ever in Grand Junction, Colorado — at some 60,000 people, the biggest city on the Western Slope — check out its garbage trucks, street sweepers, dump trucks and buses, because every vehicle is run on human poop. Anaerobic digestion starts breaking down the organic matter at the Persigo Wastewater Plant. Then the raw biogas the plant produces is collected and turned into renewable natural gas, or biomethane, which can then be used for electricity, heat or fuel for vehicles. The result, as the Guardian reported back in 2016, is “like finding a diamond in the sludge,” especially compared to the old method of “simply flaring off the raw gas into the atmosphere” or burning diesel or gasoline. Don Tonello, who recently retired as wastewater services manager for the city, said the Persigo plant may be the only one in the nation that powers its vehicles with biomethane. The biomethane is produced during the night, and vehicles fill up their tanks for the next morning. In less than a decade, the project, worth $2.8 million, is expected to pay for itself.

It’s a different story in Weld County, in the northeastern part of Colorado. Though its Heartland Biogas plant, a $115 million anaerobic digester, does an efficient job of turning cattle manure and food waste into renewable biogas, some rural residents say the operation stinks — literally. In fact, the county shut down the plant, reports the Coloradoan, after some 600 complaints about dizziness, headaches and the nasty smell of “scorched manure.” The company says it’s working to solve the odor problem, but in its defense claims that “about 10 people made most of the (complaints).” Heartland Biogas has been in operation since 2015 and has contracts with Sacramento, California, as well as Weld County.

“They’ll never be able to link it to us,” crowed poacher Andrew Renner, 41, to his son Owen, 18, of Wasilla, Alaska. They’d gone out to Esther Island in Prince William Sound to kill a hibernating black bear, confidently assuming no one would ever discover their crime. Unfortunately for them, a government stop-motion camera caught their every move. The poachers shot a mother bear in her den and after her two panicked cubs began bawling, the men slaughtered them as well. The video shows the two men in front of the den, high-fiving their bloody hands, reports the Washington Post, while one can be heard boasting: “We go where we want to kill shit.” The Post notes: “Had it not been for the camera, the duo’s illegal hunting — and efforts to cover up what they had done — would not have led to criminal charges last year.” Faced with the video evidence gathered by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service, the men pleaded guilty to unlawful killing of the bears. Andrew Renner was sentenced to three months in jail, fined $9,000, and his hunting license was revoked for 10 years. His son’s license was suspended for two years, and he was required to do community service. An Alaskan assistant attorney general called the case “the most egregious bear cub poaching case his office has ever seen.” 

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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