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Heard around the West

Betsy Marston

Yes, at first mention it seems bizarre, but it really makes perfect sense: CPR for wild salmon. Fish resuscitation is now a federal- and state-required skill for anglers who cast “tangle nets” on the Columbia River in spring. Chinook salmon can exhaust themselves to the point of death fighting the nets, and if tossed overboard tend to die. So fishermen dunk the 20-pounders in a “revival box” filled with river water. “A small Honda pump starts up,” reports Associated Press, “and oxygen-rich river water is circulated over the salmon’s gills and mouth.” Voila: Gills begin to open and close, the salmon moves, and as 73-year-old fisherman Ab Ihander puts it: “We’ve actually seen fish jump out of the box.” It would be nice if anglers could tell beforehand whether they’ve netted a hatchery fish – which they can keep – or an endangered salmon, but only finding a clipped adipose fin on the hatchery fish confirms which is which.

Santa Fe, N.M., residents are working hard to find a bright spot in all the bad news about reservoirs dropping below 23 percent of normal. It’s not easy. Water cutbacks mean getting nothing or at best a dab of moisture for lawns and trees, and new phone lines have been installed so that residents can rat to the police about water-stealing neighbors. But here’s some happy news, reports the New York Times. Gardeners have begun spray-painting their artificial flowers red as well as decorating with freeze-dried evergreens. “A little red paint will make any flower a geranium,” chirps interior designer Kay Hendricks. Gardener Mary Branham, who switched from real blooms to silk and plastic bouquets, agrees: “It seemed irresponsible even when we can water once a week.” So this summer she’s dusting her fake flowers twice a week.

Forest fires, dwindling water supplies, why, pestilence must be next! Around Steamboat Springs that scourge emerged when legions of grasshoppers mowed down hay crops. As the Denver Post put it: “Grasshoppers spread over 10 acres, at seven per square yard, can eat the same amount as a cow.” In parts of Routt and Moffat counties, more than 20 grasshoppers crowded into a square yard, causing one rancher to report that “It looked as if our road was moving.” Unfortunately, the time to kill the pests is before they become adults. Once they’ve matured, says entomologist Scott Shell of the University of Wyoming, it’s only “revenge killing.”

Buffalo fever is what must have come over a Texas couple in Grand Teton National Park. Spying a herd of grazing bison, George Denny gunned his BMW sedan off the paved road, reports the Jackson Hole Guide. Park visitors saw him chase the animals across the meadow and drive right into the middle of the herd. The fines 72-year-old Denny might incur are lightweight: $100 for driving off-road in a national park and $50 for harassing wildlife.

Glenn Dick of Boise, Idaho, wasn’t looking to make a buck; he just wanted a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich from the drive-through window of a Fanci Freez. What he got was a bag full of money: $1,500, packed in four packages just like hamburgers. Left behind was his lunch and two frantic employees agonizing over how to repay the money, says the Idaho Statesman. A half-hour later, Dick returned with the cash. Dick, a real estate appraiser, thought his honesty was no big deal, though “it kind of made for an interesting lunchtime.”

Surely someone has said: Nature bats last. In Washington state, Nature or bad luck struck a Washington State University plant breeder who’d spent five years developing an extremely disease-resistant wheat she named Zak. Farmers across eastern Washington planted Zak wheat, but last June made a chilling discovery. As Gretchen Borck of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers sums it up, “We made a bigger, better wheat, and you know what? Mother Nature came back with a better strain of stripe rust.” According to the Spokane Spokesman Review, rust reduces yields up to 60 percent, and it may cost farmers up to $20 an acre to get rid of it.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, an essay and opinion service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (betsym@hcn.org). She appreciates timely tips about piquant Western doings.


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