Heard Around the West: Montanans brace for car-jacking deer | AspenTimes.com

Heard Around the West: Montanans brace for car-jacking deer

MONTANA

It sounds far-fetched, but some deer are so habituated to people that they have been seen jumping over children on the playground at Missoula, Montana's Rattlesnake Elementary School. Still, a recent encounter shocked school employee Jenn Jencso: A deer crashed through the passenger-side window of her car, breaking the glass and landing inside the vehicle, hooves flailing.

A 5-year-old eyewitness described what happened next: "The lady … jumped out, and when she turned around, the deer was driving her car away. It hit a mailbox … so she got back in and she told the deer, 'Get out now.' It got out and ran away."

That account is slightly dramatized, but Jencso said she did have to "push the deer back over" in order to halt her moving car. Finally, it "fell out of the car and ran away." Jencso told the Missoulian that she likes deer, but they're getting out of hand.

"It's so dangerous how many deer we have. They're like feral cats."

Though even feral cats don't go in for carjacking.

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THE WEST

If a river could speak, what would it say? Perhaps that it's horrified by the industrial and household waste dumped into it every day, and that it wishes it could demolish the dams that keep it from flowing freely to the ocean? Jason Flores-Williams, a Denver lawyer and advocate for the homeless, believes rivers need to speak out, and that if a corporation can be found to have the same rights as a person, then so can an ancient waterway. This September, he filed suit in federal district court on behalf of the Colorado River ecosystem, charging that the state of Colorado and Gov. John Hickenlooper, D, violate the river's right "to exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored and naturally evolve." Because "the river cannot appear in court," as The New York Times observed, an environmental group called Deep Green Resistance is filing the suit "as an ally, or so-called next friend, of the waterway." Though Reed Benson, chairman of the environmental law program at the University of New Mexico, said the lawsuit may be a "long shot in more ways than one," he added, "I don't think it's laughable."

UTAH

"Sweetheart, this doesn't sound right," said Helena Byler, 78, as her husband, Gerald, kept driving their rental sedan down an increasingly rocky dirt road. The Texas couple, who were visiting Kanab, Utah, had gone out Sept. 26 just for a day trip to Lake Powell. Her husband pooh-poohed her worries: "No, it's OK," he reassured his wife; he was following the directions from a GPS-mapping app. But it was far from OK, reports the Denver Post: The road deteriorated and eventually a tire popped, leaving the couple stranded. They attempted to walk out, but Gerald's leg hurt too much, and so Helena went on alone. A rancher spotted her six days later, lying on the road, and search-and-rescue found her husband. Both were dehydrated and in need of hospitalization; they'd gone almost entirely without food, and the only water they drank came from muddy puddles.

"It's an amazing story," Kane County Chief Deputy Allan Alldredge said.

But Helena Byler had the last word: "See, us women know better."

THE WEST

Consider the praying mantis, the helpful insect that eats harmful bugs. It also is the only insect that can stare back at us, swiveling its triangular, alien-looking head to scrutinize us with unnerving awareness. Its 3-D vision helps the mantis focus and also "to jump as unerringly as a cat," reports The New York Times. But the insects display a chilling predilection: They kill birds. James V. Remsen of the Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University and his colleagues have documented 147 cases of mantises killing birds in 13 countries — warblers, sunbirds, honeyeaters, flycatchers, vireos and European robins. Hummingbirds are their favorite, though, and they regard our outdoor sugar-water feeders as self-service restaurants. Tom Vaughan, a photographer living in southern Colorado's Mancos Valley, couldn't believe his eyes when he spotted a black-chinned hummingbird at his feeder, being dangled upside-down by a 3-inch-long praying mantis:

"The mantis was clinging with its back legs to the rim of the feeder, holding its feathered catch in its powerful, seemingly reverent front legs, and methodically chewing through the hummingbird's skull to get at the nutritious brain tissue within."

All the while it fed, Vaughan added, the mantis "was staring at me." Bird-eating mantises are almost always females, and the most voracious like to multi-task: feasting on a hummer while copulating with a male. These dinner dates can last several hours and sometimes conclude with the male becoming dessert. That the insects have learned to hang out near hummingbird feeders signifies "another step in cognition," Remsen said. "We're lucky praying mantises aren't our size."

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range the opinion service of High Country News (hcn.org). Photos and tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared, betsym@hcn.org.