Record temps; hot dam; roadkill for dinner

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Driving up western Colorado’s gorgeous McClure Pass, we spotted a banner in front of a ranch house, proudly proclaiming: “BEEF AND JESUS.” Apparently Hindus have the right idea after all. In any case, it’s nice to see ecumenicism thriving in the rural West.

The long-running disaster movie we used to call “Summertime” began with a series of unsettling events. In Northern California, record-high temperatures — over 110 degrees Fahrenheit — caused more than 100 young Cooper’s hawks, none yet ready to fly, to leap out of their nests, reports The Washington Post. Many were injured or died in what Portland Audubon staffers dubbed a “hawkpocalypse.”

In Pendleton, Oregon, where temperatures hit 117 degrees, up to 20% of the birds brought to the Blue Mountain Wildlife rehabilitation facility died. Unable to bear their hot nests, some took to the air in desperation, falling from as high as 60 feet to the ground. “This was definitely happening across the entire state,” said Sally Compton, director of the nonprofit Think Wild.

In Alaska, reports Inside Climate News, the permafrost has proved less than permanent, getting so warm in places that steel supports for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline slumped or started sliding. Workers were forced to install “chillers” to keep the ground around pipeline supports frozen.

What climate scientists are calling a “megadrought” meant that Grand Junction, Colorado’s 58,000 people had to dip into the rapidly shrinking Colorado River for drinking water, reports the Colorado Sun, for the first time in more than 50 years.

Snake River sockeye salmon already struggle to reach their spawning grounds, 900 miles from the sea. This summer they braved more than a blockade of eight dams; extreme heat made the last 300 miles of their uphill swim impossible. The fish need rivers 70 degrees or cooler to survive, but at Lower Granite Dam in southwest Washington, the water temperature was already into the 90s. The solution? “To bypass the heat, sockeye take the highway,” reported the Los Angeles Times. Some 400 salmon had already passed the dams’ fish ladders during the previous weeks, but on this particular July day, only eight were captured. All were placed in a tank of ice-cooled water in a pickup driven by state biologist John Powell, who served as salmonid chauffeur. Powell faced a long drive to reach an Idaho hatchery by nightfall, punctuated by emergency stops to buy chlorine-free ice to keep the fish tank’s water below 70 degrees. His trip was just one of several planned for this summer. Over the decades, $18 billion has been spent to save the increasingly endangered fish. Though retired biologist Steve Pettit acknowledges that the salmon’s situation is dire, he continues to believe the rescue effort is worth it: “The sockeye still coming back to Idaho are in my opinion museum pieces.” And reporter Richard Read’s fast-paced story ended hopefully: Turns out that one of the eight chauffeured salmon, No. 3DD.003D45155, is “ready to become a father.”

There is a sensible solution, and Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson appalled many of his fellow Republicans by proposing it: His $33.5 billion plan would tear down the four lower Snake River dams, replace hydropower with other energy sources and compensate businesses, among other measures. He hopes to give the economically valuable fish, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, a fighting chance. Simpson put it simply: “I think you need to preserve those species that God has given us.”

Like so many places in the West (and the nation), the resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado, is short on both workers and housing to put them in. Town finance director Rob Zillioux bluntly told the town council that even “staff members are losing hope to have a life here. … The economy is broken when you can’t live and work in the same place.” Meanwhile, he added, the town’s funky vibe was disappearing, losing the classic “dirty hippie element” that was “a big reason many of us came here.” The town is now considering an “empty-house tax” on second homes to raise money for affordable housing.

You won’t go hungry in Wyoming now that roadkill is back on the menu, reports The Associated Press. Since April, deer, elk, moose and pronghorn found dead on the road have been fair game for cooks as Wyoming follows the lead of some 30 states, including Idaho. Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals applauded the new law, saying roadkill is healthier than meat “laden with antibiotics.” Wyoming averages an estimated 3,000 wildlife collisions a year, so roadside dining has never been easier.   

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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