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Know the West

Deer dinner; tree dates; boulder dimensions

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.



Did you know that coyotes and badgers sometimes buddy up to hunt ground squirrels? It’s not uncommon, writes Matt Dolkas for California’s Peninsula Open Space Trust, yet no one had ever recorded the partnership in action in the San Francisco Bay area until one of the group’s 50 remote-sensor cameras did so. In the short video, a coyote stands in front of the entrance to a culvert, obviously impatient — jumping up and down and stamping its feet as if to urge whoever it’s waiting for to just get moving already. When a badger finally trundles up, the coyote flicks its tail and leads the way through the culvert — the ungainly badger waddling behind him. Dolkas said the Trust placed cameras across the Santa Cruz Mountains to better understand how wildlife moves around. But seeing the teamwork in action was surprising, he said; it’s the first time it’s been documented in that region. “It’s a real treat when we get videos like this,” Dolkas said, “ones that show some personality and remind us of the relationships between these wild animals, and how playful they can be.” (See here.)

Every winter, it seems, Colorado Parks and Wildlife needs to remind people that deer are wild animals and should not be invited home for dinner. It’s illegal to offer wildlife hors d’oeuvres, including carrots, apples and sliced bananas. But that’s what a woman in Evergreen liked to do, setting a table with platters of goodies and then opening sliding glass doors “for wildlife entry,” as the Denver Post put it. The woman, who named each deer, also liked to chitchat with them; we can only imagine what the dinner conversation was like. In another egregious example of Coloradans treating wildlife as pets, a homeowner in Bailey trained deer to hurry to his backyard for food whenever he went outside. “It’s selfish and unethical to feed big game,” said wildlife manager Mark Lamb. “If what you want is a pet or to connect with an animal, choose a domestic breed that has evolved to live with people.” Both homeowners were charged, but penalties seem mild: a $100 fine for each time deer were lured in and fed.

Joshua Tree National Park, in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California, features some wonderfully goofy-looking trees that sport clusters of leaves shaped like needles and shaggy bark reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss drawing. The explorer John Charles Frémont clearly disdained them, describing them in 1844 as “the most repulsive … in the animal kingdom.” But ecologist Juniper Harrower, who recently finished her Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Cruz, finds Joshua trees to be fascinating individuals with distinct personalities, reports Atlas Obscura. Tourism to the park has skyrocketed during the last few years, yet Harrower noticed that some visitors, like people everywhere,  simply wandered around, heads down, glued to their cellphones. That gave her an idea: Meet people where they were by creating “HeyJTree,” a “dating site” that will introduce you to 16 particularly quirky and easily accessible Joshua trees — trees like Shorty, Jerome and Eleanor. “I thought: This is a way I can engage with phone culture,” Harrower said. “All this stuff is really heavy, so here’s a way that we can be playful with it but still have some important conversations.”

These days, conversations about Joshua trees aren’t very happy. The trees are pollinated only by yucca moths, but the climate crisis is affecting both the trees and the moths they co-evolved with. “It’s getting too hot and too dry. The trees are often flanked by grasses that can go up in flames during wildfires, and the trees struggle to successfully spring back after burns.” In some areas, Harrower added, trees are starting to lose their limbs and collapse. Through her ersatz dating sites, Harrower hopes that visitors will begin to appreciate the trees’ struggle in a warming world while also getting a sense of the science the park does. And she really hopes that people can learn about “the value in our natural world outside of just, ‘Extract all the resources you can get from it and then make as much money to buy a bunch a stuff that’s going to destroy the environment and us.’ ”

A Twitter account for the San Miguel Sheriff’s Office in western Colorado posted a puzzling alert about a roadblock: “Large boulder the size of a small boulder is completely blocking east-found lane Highway 145 …” Time reported that the sheriff’s office admitted later, “We (wish) we had deliberately used humor … but it was a mistake.” 

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