Heard Around the West

Brief by Betsy Marston

Western Life – January 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Business Bad For Prisons

Not so long ago, comedians joked that by the year 2000, everyone in the United States would either be a prison guard or an inmate considering the astounding rate of jail construction. But what if you built a jail and no one came?

That’s the problem Santa Fé, N.M., faces after spending $27 million for an “adult correctional facility.” Private operators of the 648-bed facility have found few takers from other states for the hundreds of extra beds.

Some reasons: Crime rates are plummeting nationwide, competition from private and publicly run prisons has depressed room rent, and Texas, which had been deficient in prison beds, now has plenty. In fact, Texas imports prisoners from seven states, reports the Los Angeles Times.

American Jails magazine warns — perhaps too late for New Mexico — that if a state decides to build jails to generate jobs and revenue, it could be walking a path toward “correctional bankruptcy.”

Bear Facts

A California man riding his bicycle in Glacier National Park collided with a bear recently. The man, who suffered a broken collarbone, was taken by ambulance to a hospital, while the bear wandered off, apparently unhurt, reports The Treasure State Review in Montana.

In Aspen, Colo., when you ask a man a question on the street, you can expect an offbeat answer. To the scenario posed by the Aspen Times: “Once upon a time, there were a dozen bears in Aspen … How does the story end?” Dan Sheridan replied: “They could no longer afford to eat out in the fine restaurants, so now they’re eating my garbage.”

The timing couldn’t have been worse. A bear profiled by the Humane Society in a colorful book for children, Chocolate, A Glacier Grizzly, is the same bear that killed a man on May 18. The grizzly had been successfully relocated in 1983, and seemed a natural candidate for an upbeat children’s book about grizzlies.

But just a few months after the book’s debut, reports the Hungry Horse News, the “real-life star of the story mauled and killed Craig Dahl as he was hiking alone near Appistoki Falls.” Dahl, 26, a concessions employee at the park, apparently ran from Chocolate and her cubs, but was chased downhill across a snowfield. Chocolate and her two-year-old offspring were killed after it was determined that they had all eaten Dahl’s body.

Batty for Bats

Bats R Us is the name of Heidi Harris’ free service, just outside Salt Lake City, Utah. Got scores of bats flying around your high school, sending teenagers and teachers shrieking out the doors? She’ll remove bats without killing them, just as she has extricated hundreds of bats from apartment houses and businesses in the area.

Harris says her interest in bats began in adolescence, when she’d watch vampire movies on “Nightmare Theater,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Instead of fearing them, she became fascinated, and now that she has studied the warm-blooded creatures, she finds them not only magnificent but also remarkably similar to us: “Bats have one baby a year … and they breast-feed,” she says.

Loyal Guardian Murdered

Three cheers for a guard llama so dedicated it died on the job near Billings, Mont. The adult gelded male was trained to shepherd a flock of cashmere goats, AP reports, and when poachers tried to force it into a loading chute, the animal balked. The would-be thieves clubbed the animal to death.

“He did his job admirably,” said owner Dennis Rehberg, a former lieutenant governor of Montana. “He was a great llama. He was not a pet.” As well as foiling humans, the llama kept coyotes, mountain lions and dogs away from the goat herd. Rehberg said another llama will immediately take over guard duties.

Canine Clones

There is new hope for old dogs. A couple has given Texas A&M University $2.3 million to clone their mongrel Missy. The dog’s owners, who have requested anonymity, say on their Web site (http://www.missyplicity.com) that they adopted the stray, now 11, when she was 4 months old. Presently heading toward dotage, the lucky dog is the focus of something called the Missyplicity Project and can now look forward to “a double leash on life,” reports AP.

Defensive Tackle

How do you nab a driver who’s weaving all over the road, clipping off mile markers and almost smashing into a tractor-trailer? Call in the football team from Chadron State College in Nebraska. In DeBeque Canyon in western Colorado, the students turned from defensive drivers into citizen cops.

Their target was Christopher Gekas, 46, later arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. At one point Gekas left the road and barreled into a pasture, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, but then he “popped back” up on the interstate before turning off near the town of Parachute. That’s when the football players who had just beaten Mesa State College went into action, pulling Gekas out of the car and grabbing his keys. Lying on the ground, Gekas couldn’t believe he’d been collared.

“‘Hey, you guys are serious, aren’t you? You’re serious,” he said. “He wanted to leave,” recalls assistant coach Chris Stein. Just in case no one believes them, there’s a record of Gekas’ driving, thanks to another assistant coach. He grabbed the team’s video camera and taped Gekas’ truck as it bounced off a concrete median barrier.

Mr. Piggy Up For Adoption

In Salt Lake City, a fat pig must find a permanent home, says the Humane Society of Utah. The tusked animal is called Elvis, and like the singer at the end of his life, he has puffed up, weighing in at 175 pounds and still putting on the pork.

But the potbellied crossbreed is said to possess both brains and a sweet disposition, and he has become a favorite among volunteers. So if you want to adopt him, don’t suggest to Humane Society staff that his destiny is bacon and chops. Director Gene Baierschmidt told the Salt Lake Tribune that potential adopters are screened for intent: “The Humane Society is not a grocery store.”

Night Stalker

“Since both those animals are nocturnal, I didn’t think I had much to worry about until dark.” That statement about bears and lions turned out to be flat wrong. Bowhunter Ken Adams made his first misstep after downing “his” elk near Buena Vista.

He left the elk on the ground overnight, he told the Rocky Mountain News, because the air was cool. But that night, something came and gnawed at the elk. Despite signs that he had competition, Adams said he thought he could cut up the carcass and pack it out the next day. Until a bear charged.

“I just shot straight up the tree,” Adams said. The 250-pound bear climbed up after him four times, snapping her jaws and huffing. At one point she got close enough to sink her teeth into the heel of Adam’s boot. For two hours she held Adams hostage 25 feet up in the tree before finally succumbing to bullets. A state wildlife officer said he had to kill the animal because it showed no fear of humans.

Those Doggone Drivers

Praise dogs as much as you want, but most make indifferent drivers. In Jackson, Wyo., a Rottweiler and a golden retriever sat in the front seat of a pickup as it traveled backward more than three blocks along a busy street. Cody and Montana did fine on the straightaway, but failed to negotiate a turn and the pickup hurtled into the front door of an unoccupied house.

An attorney driving by says he’d been perplexed by the backwards-moving truck, telling his girlfriend, “That’s damn good driving. I couldn’t do that.” Bill Fix then noticed the two dogs “just looking out the windshield at me…” After the crash, however, the Rottweiler “didn’t like me reaching in there” to turn off the ignition, Fix told the Jackson Hole News.

The dogs’ owner, Stella Streppa, was thrilled that her truck and pooches hadn’t been stolen. But she wasn’t pleased with their joy ride, and has grounded them.

Betsy Marston is the editor of High Country News, a bi-weekly newspaper covering natural resource and community issues in the West (www.hcn.org). She can be reached at HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or betsym@hcn.org.