Just in: bison-related fake news

Thursday, September 6, 2018
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Heard Around the West


Douglas Scott, who frequently writes about public lands, was in Yellowstone National Park recently when he saw a woman venturing uncomfortably close to a group of bison, he wrote on Twitter. Hoping to do her a favor, he warned that “bison can run over 30 miles an hour.” The tourist responded by accusing him of spouting “fake news.” She was lucky that no bison knocked her over or gored her. Or, if it did, the story got buried in other bison-related fake news.


Ric Brewer works for a disaster-relief nonprofit in Seattle, but weekends he checks on livestock at his Little Gray Farms in the moist foothills of Olympic National Park. Admittedly, his herd requires very little animal husbandry, since it occupies just a half-acre of his five-acre property and survives on organic vegetables. But every year, it produces a yummy harvest — assuming you like snails. Brewer first tasted petit gris, the common garden snail, when he was a teenager in the early 1980s, he told Atlas Obscura. He immediately loved it, especially tossed in olive oil with oregano over pasta, and became “kind of transfixed with them not only as a dish but as an animal.” Snails are hermaphrodites that spend about eight hours in courtship and mating, twining around each other “to match up the holes in the sides of their heads where their sex organs are.” While some snail farmers “finish” their snails by feeding them malt barley, Brewer gets his ready for sale (at about $50 a pound or $2 each) by giving them a week of water to “clear out their little digestive systems.” He’d love to expand his microbusiness, but because garden snails are considered an agricultural pest by the federal government, “meeting all the rules” costs him $25,000 a year. If he lived in California, however — “otherwise known as garden-snail heaven” — he could forage all the snails he wanted from strawberry, citrus and organic farms eager to eliminate these voracious pests. Meanwhile, Brewer has created a Snail Raising Association of North America to offer advice and encouragement for fellow gastropod wranglers. It is, he says, still a tiny group.


The snowshoe hare has a serious “wardrobe malfunction,” reports The New York Times. Camouflage is critical to keeping it alive, but as the earth warms, snow melts earlier, exposing the animal’s white body in a rocky or green landscape. Every week that the hare is mismatched, it has a 7 percent higher chance of being killed by predators like the lynx, said L. Scott Mills, a professor of wildlife biology at the University of Montana. Right now, it’s only exposed for a week or two, but by 2050, the delay turning brown could expand up to eight weeks, Mills said, and then “the hare would start declining toward extinction.” Fortunately, he added, scientists think the hare might adapt quickly, “giving us an avenue of hope.”


A thirsty black bear near Globe, Arizona, dropped into a water storage tank and got trapped. The state Game and Fish Department reported on Facebook that an unidentified rescuer lowered a ladder into the tank. Because the water was shallow, it didn’t take long for the bear to climb up the ladder to freedom.


The North Fork Merchant Herald in Hotchkiss shared a Facebook comment regarding unwelcome encounters on a local trail: “While I understand that it’s probably liberating to mountain bike on Jumbo Mountain completely naked, riding up on a lone woman of lesser constitution than myself could possibly be a little threatening to her. Emphasis on ‘a little.’ Please wear pants. It’s courteous.”


An Idaho state senator who used to be on the state Fish and Game Commission apparently got distracted while fishing in Alaska this summer. The Idaho Statesman reports that Jeff Siddoway, 69, was so happy about nabbing a 30-pound salmon that he held the big fish up for a picture. That’s when people in the catchand-release area started yelling at him: “You can’t keep kings! You can’t even get them out of the water!” A chagrined Siddoway said he was sorry he “screwed up. There is no excuse. …”


Speaking of screwing up, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in western Colorado caused an uproar when it reported that public school administrators who had sworn to cut costs raised their own salaries by $1.2 million. In another insult to the work of educators, a “sheepskin oops” at the city’s Colorado Mesa University was called out by a graduating senior, who noticed that his degree — and everyone else’s — was issued by the “Coard of Trustees.” The “oops” had been repeated for six years. A reader of the Sentinel’s “You Said It” column had the last word: “Quite a week for education here in Happy Valley. First we learned that the school district can’t count. Then we learned that the college can’t spell.”

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write betsym@hcn.org or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.