Those dangerous deer-crossing signs

NORTH DAKOTA

A woman named Donna recently called Fargo, N.D., radio station Y94 to air a problem so bizarre, the station's hosts were almost speechless. Her complaint? Deer-crossing signs placed along busy highways were "irresponsible" because they simply encouraged the animals to cross there, and that was why she'd smacked her car into deer not once, not twice, but three times. "You'd think they'd put deer-crossing signs at school crossings where it would be safer," she said indignantly. "Why place the signs on busy interstates?" When told the signs were warnings to motorists to drive carefully, Donna just couldn't accept it. The government could move signs wherever it wanted, she insisted, and it should stop erecting signs at dangerous places on roads where they "attracted" deer. It took several minutes before Donna - reluctantly - saw the light, though she never admitted that she believed deer could read.

THE NATION

Forget denouncing wind turbines as bird Cuisinarts; lovable pussycats rank as the true killing machines. Housecats wipe out some 4 billion animals every year, including at least 500 million birds, reports Wyoming Wildlife. The magazine cites a novel new study by two groups, the National Geographic Society and the University of Georgia, that determined just how fierce cats' hunting instincts are by employing the animals themselves as reporters. The cats were outfitted with "crittercams" - special video cameras around their necks. When the animals went outdoors to prowl, the camera recorded each gory encounter. The cats averaged about 2.1 kills per week, but they brought home less than one of every four of their victims for their owners to see and/or throw out. Cats preyed on just about anything close to the ground that moved, including lizards, voles, chipmunks, birds, frogs and small snakes.

The crittercam study did not include feral cats, which have their own support systems these days - advocates who persuade their communities that trapping, sterilizing and then releasing the cats is a good idea. In theory, writes Kiera Butler in Mother Jones, it sounds like a terrific way to reduce the population of starving stray cats. In practice, it costs roughly $100 per kitty and "to put a dent in the total number of cats, at least 71 percent of them must be fixed, and they are notoriously hard to catch." Butler thinks a better strategy is for owners to keep their pets indoors and that soft-hearted animal-lovers need to just "quit feeding the ferals." Yet at least 10 major cities, including San Francisco, have adopted the approach, even though the effort is not only arduous but might also turn out to be never-ending - unless owners start neutering their own cats, or somebody invents a cat food laced with a failsafe contraceptive.

COLORADO

How embarrassing for rural Delta County in western Colorado: A file containing the names of a couple of dozen "sovereign citizens" - residents declaring themselves free of pesky taxes, laws or regulations by governmental authorities - was labeled "Wingnuts" by one staffer. That title became public when a reporter for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel wrote a front-page story about the annoying anti-government folks, headlined "Watchdogs or Wingnuts?" A week later, red-faced county commissioners apologized.

MONTANA

The Rev. Rick Page, pastor of the First Christian Church in Lewistown, Mont., is convinced he's found a sure-fire way to lure men to Thursday night services during hunting season: Offer churchgoers the chance to enter a raffle to win a rifle or a crossbow. "I don't think there's too many places around the country where you could do something like this," he told the Missoulian. But it works, he says, pointing to Libby, Mont., which attracted 800 people last year with a similar emphasis on hunting. To help hunters feel at home in his church, Page says the auditorium and fellowship hall will be festooned with mounts, including deer heads, a full-sized bear, two mountain lions, bull elk, moose and some pheasants. Page also intends to hit a hunting theme hard in his sermons. He started with the Apostle Paul, he says, because "before his conversion, he hunted down Christians until God hunted him down."

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated at betsym@hcn.org.