Heard Around the West
Writers on the Range
Don’t mess with a thirsty elk: Grand Canyon National Park reaped a lot of praise after it banned the sale of resource-wasteful plastic bottles a few years ago. Tourists enjoy refilling their water bottles at a dozen or so water stations, but elk appreciate the free water, too, especially at the South Kaibab Trail. The animals trip the spring-loaded levers with their noses for a drink, and sometimes “get a little aggressive about it,” said chief resource manager Martha Hahn. Competition at the spigot would probably not have emerged if the elk had learned proper pre-school behavior, such as taking turns and offering to share; instead, the elk intimidate visitors by making clicking sounds with their mouths, crowding people at the filling station, and taking “a firm stance, particularly when protecting calves or during fall rutting season,” reports The Associated Press. To end the uncomfortable standoffs, the stations will be “elk-proofed” by caging the waterspouts and altering the way the water turns on. The animals show little respect for the biologists who try to scatter herds as large as 20 by staring them down or shooting them with paintballs or water guns. “Sometimes,” said biologist Brandon Holton, “when you shoot them with water guns, they open their mouths.”
Another national park has a pesky wildlife problem, but this one, at Great Basin National Park, was created by the state Department of Wildlife, which allowed two private landowners near the Nevada park to import turkeys from Idaho. The idea was that the turkeys would attract hunters. But now, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal, turkeys have discovered and invaded the park, with dozens roosting in a tree right in front of the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, where they foul the sidewalk with their copious droppings. The handsome turkeys also out-compete native species. They’re hefty, too, some weighing close to 20 pounds, and none will star as dinner at somebody’s Thanksgiving celebration because the park bans hunting. Meanwhile, though no one knows the total population, the birds have formed a “gang” (the official collective noun for turkeys) of at least 200, while predators such as lions, coyotes and hawks have yet to make a dent in the hardy population: The birds have adapted to all areas of the park, including elevations above 10,000 feet. To shoo them away from the visitor center, park staffers first tried hazing with noisemakers as well as a giant laser — the kind airports employ to scare birds away from runways. “But it apparently works on everything except turkeys,” said wildlife biologist Bryan Hamilton. The most successful solution seems to be low-tech: a week or two of nightly visits from staff members, who do their best to scare off the birds. Exotic species aren’t new to Nevada: The state’s Division of Wildlife has introduced snowcocks from the Himalayas, mountain goats from Washington, and chukar partridges from Asia. According to state biologist Curt Baughman, however, “We don’t just go throwing different species around willy-nilly. We think we use a lot of discretion.”
A wildlife mystery has emerged near Pinedale, Wyoming: Cameras have recorded hundreds of sage grouse, a species close to listing as endangered, walking east through a highway underpass originally intended for mule deer and pronghorn. Why were they using the underpass, a place they’ve never been seen before? “It truly is a mystery,” admits Tom Christiansen, sage grouse coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The birds are known to walk a lot in the summer, but by fall they’re usually all flying for miles at a stretch. “If they were all marching the same direction,” adds Christiansen, “that would be amazing.”
Found, floating down the Colorado River, 70 miles northeast of Moab, a culvert so enormous you could easily drive a car through it. “By far, it’s the largest piece of river booty, or debris, ever recovered from this portion of the river,” said Jennifer Jones of the Bureau of Land Management, to the Moab Sun News.
Where did it come from? That’s another mystery. Nobody has claimed the 10-foot-wide, 30-foot-long culvert, which was jockeyed with some difficulty to shore four miles from the Utah-Colorado border, by rafting companies working together.
Go, bears! A photo in the Aspen Times of a bear and two cubs crossing a street in town included the caption: “Bear sightings and encounters are becoming more common as the animals prep for hibernation.”
No help here: In Hotchkiss, on the Western Slope, Judge Lynn French failed to persuade the father of two teenagers, each fined $100 for possessing cigarettes, to set a good example, reports the North Fork Merchant Herald.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to smoke?” French asked the father. “It is for me,” the man replied. “I’m over 21.”
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a column syndicate of High Country News (hcn.org).
Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared, email@example.com.
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