A recovered sum; a bear with a job; a loss of goofy trees

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.



“Wealth can breed carelessness,” F. Scott Fitzgerald observes in The Great Gatsby. A telling example of this appeared in a recent Jackson Hole News&Guide story. Apparently, an unnamed Jackson resident moved away to the East Coast in 2018, before picking up the 16,000 shares of software-company stock he’d just bought. Then he somehow forgot about the whole thing, even though the shares were worth $6.72 million. (It’s just so easy to let the small change slip through one’s fingers.) It took a three-year search by Jeff Robertson, the state’s Unclaimed Property Division communications director, to finally locate the stock owner; the money, he said, amounted to Wyoming’s “largest (recovered sum) ever.” Was the owner giddy with joy about the windfall? Not really. Robertson said the reaction was simply, “Yeah, this is definitely something that we need to take care of right away.” As Fitzgerald famously put it, “You know, the rich are different from you and me,” to which Ernest Hemingway even more famously replied, “Yes, they have more money.” That’s particularly true if losing track of almost $7 million is not that big a deal.


In the fall, bears enter a period of binge-eating called “hyperphagia,” when they consume up to 20,000 calories a day to fatten up for winter hibernation.  One particularly hyperphagically inclined black bear near Estes Park, Colorado, developed a useful knack for opening unlocked cars, entering eight vehicles in a row and successfully “scoring some food,” leaving behind nothing but a few muddy paw prints. Unfortunately, this kind of breaking-and-entering, if encouraged, amounts to “unnatural and unsustainable behavior,” a Colorado Parks and Wildlife staffer told the Denver Post, and it does not bode well for the bear if it’s found. Elsewhere, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, another bear broke into a resort four nights in a row. But “he just disappeared, as soon as they came and set a trap for him,” said Sandy Garcia, co-owner of the Della Terra Mountain Chateau. A smart criminal always knows when the jig is up.


A grizzly near West Yellowstone became notorious for behaving badly last summer — ripping open tourists’ food containers and tents. At one point it even slept “on the hood of a truck while a family took shelter inside.” But this time, the bear’s brazen behavior was rewarded: The bear, known as Bo, got a job. Bo now works at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, where he helps test-drive, or test-destroy, the latest “bear-resistant containers,” to figure out how well they work. Whether it’s a cooler or a dumpster, “it’s Bo’s job to crack them,” reports KBZK-Bozeman. Center naturalist Tut Fuentevilla said landing a gig like this was perfect for 450-pound Bo, whose future in the wild was precarious: “We knew the outcome was likely to not be good.” When he’s not finagling his way into bear-proof containers, Bo enjoys playing with some of the younger bears, Fuentevilla said, and he’s always enthusiastic about exploring what the center calls the “enrichment” in his habitat.


After emergency crews in Yakima, Washington, dragged a submerged blue Suburban from the Yakima River, the owner offered a bizarre explanation for how his car ended up there, KIMA reports. Its thermostat was broken, the driver said, so when he realized he needed to fill the radiator with water, he decided it was easier to just put the car in the water than to put water in the car.


If you’re a naturalist working in the Southwest, life can be painful. Desert ecologist Jim Cornett, author of 40 books, told the Los Angeles Times that Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California is steadily losing its namesake Dr. Seussian “goofy” trees to heat and drought. Asked if climate change was the cause, Cornett said, “We’ve run out of other explanations. … We are watching life on Earth struggle to adapt.” The retired Northern Arizona University professor found one species, thorny creosote, that’s still flourishing, “but he couldn’t imagine people would … get out their cameras for a tour of Creosote Bush National Park.” However, there’s a healthy stand of Joshua trees, some more than 30 feet tall, in a rather unlikely place — Death Valley National Park. Cornett said this “spectacular forest” established itself at Death Valley’s Lee Flat, at a relatively cool 5,300 feet. For three decades, he’s seen young trees growing there, and he thinks Death Valley might become “the best place in California to see Joshua trees.” Cornett’s parting thought was hopeful: “In this one corner of a changing planet, for now, the trees are OK.”

Tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected], or submit a letter to the editor

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