Maskless in Montana; stuck in a rut; hot pronghorn

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Phillip Dupaul, 60, cleans the homes of elderly people in Great Falls, Montana, but never wears a face mask, telling the Missoulian that “it hampers his ability to breathe.” That’s also what he told Judge John Larson, when he reported mask-free for jury duty in late August. In response, Larson gave him two options: Wear a face shield instead, or be held in contempt of court and spend 24 hours in jail. When Dupaul rejected both options, making the novel argument that the judge lacked authority to enforce the statewide mask mandate, Larson promptly made Dupaul’s choice for him — jail. Unfortunately, right about the time Dupaul was being booked, the Cascade County Jail learned that it was facing a major outbreak of COVID-19 —with 55 cases so far, including 53 inmates and two staffers. Neither man was aware of that, nor did Larson know that jail officials would put Dupaul in with the general inmate population, rather than isolating him. Dupaul said that when he told his fellow inmates — none of whom wore masks — what he was in for, they erupted in loud laughter: “They had all been exposed to one inmate who had the virus.” Dupaul’s ordeal didn’t end there; after his release, he faced two weeks of self-quarantine. Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter has been outspoken about not wanting to jail people over mask use, calling the mask mandate “highly contentious and debatable.” When the story came out, he blamed the judge: “What I failed to anticipate was that an out-of-town judge from Missoula would not respect my concerns for the values of people in Cascade County.” Three county judges, however, politely disagreed, issuing a statement saying that the policy of the Montana State Court was clear: Wear a mask in court or be subject to jail.

Sienna Gonzales/High Country News

In Estes Park, Colorado, rutting bull elk are a hot draw for tourists, reports the Denver Post. Mayor Wendy Koenig says some visitors think “we just let them out of pens” to wander around town, where they look testy and ill-tempered. There appears to be some biological confusion, too, as more than one curious out-of-towner has asked: “When did the deer turn into elk?” Unfortunately, elk in urgent need of love get cranky if people get in the way; a bull that’s eyeing a bevy of cows will tend to get jumpy about competition from rivals. As the mayor put it: “The bull, if he decides to do something — which they can do this time of year — people can get hurt.” Nobody wants to get stuck in a rut, especially if pointy antlers are involved.

Staffers at Death Valley National Park sometimes brag about how hot and suffocating the air feels on summer days when the temperature soars to extremes — this August even reaching a record-breaking 130 degrees. Death Valley is the hottest, lowest and driest place in the country, getting maybe 1 or 2 inches of rain a year. Still, reports Sierra Magazine, if there’s just enough rain at the right time, a “super-bloom” of tasty color will flow across the valley floor. This spring, all that beauty drew some surprising visitors: After an absence of more than a century, a half-dozen pronghorn wandered into Furnace Creek, “a busy area of Death Valley National Park,” reports National Parks, the National Parks Conservation Association’s magazine.

The pronghorn apparently strolled down from Nevada, a 30-mile trek that’s a piece of cake for animals that will migrate “up to 150 miles for prime forage.” The pronghorn are helped these days by having a newly linked landscape, thanks to President Barack Obama’s designation of three California national monuments: Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains and Sand to Snow. But they face other threats, from a pipeline and huge proposed solar farms, not to mention major highways that cross the desert. Still, as writer Ben Goldfarb points out: “An animal that survived the Pleistocene can never be counted out.” Reminiscent of deer yet most closely related to camels, pronghorn have evolved enormous eyes with a 300-degree field of vision, oversized lungs and cushioned toes. And, as some competitive car drivers in Wyoming and Nevada can attest, a pronghorn can reach 55 miles per hour, making it “the fastest land critter in North America.” Bill Sloan, a National Park Service biologist, found it fitting that a creature that embodies superlatives could return to such an extreme environment: “It’s incredible that we can have the fastest, most keen-eyed mammal in the lowest, hottest, driest place in North America.”   

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