Mountains

New laws in the name of freedom

COLORADO AND THE WEST

The western Colorado town of Nucla only has about 730 residents, but its council is eager to tell them how to live — only in the name of freedom, of course, and to protect the Second Amendment. Recently, that meant telling residents that they must own a gun. There were loopholes: Heads of households who didn’t want to buy a gun or who couldn’t legally own one could opt out, which seemed to remove the ammo from the ordinance. And short of going door to door, how would the town dads know if their gun law was being obeyed? As one commenter put it in the Denver Post, “Enough with the governments’ intrusions in our lives!”

It’s hard to deny that guns occasionally cause unfortunate accidents, even when nobody else is around. In Colorado Springs recently, a man who was having a drink or two — while also cleaning his gun — shot his own left index finger, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

And in Missoula, Mont., a custodian at the University of Montana was “examining one of his weapons when it fired and the bullet hit him in the foot,” reports the Missoulian. He had two other guns and a knife stored in his janitor’s closet in case he wanted to examine them as well.

WYOMING

Sometimes, it’s better to be wrong than to be right.

In Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, rancher Steve Adami warned a decade ago that the bonding the state required for industry to drill coalbed methane wells was clearly inadequate and that reclamation costs for used-up wells would mount to many millions of dollars.

The response from the state and the industry, he told WyoFile, was: “Leave us alone, you whiny snots.”

Sadly, Adami has been proved right.

After a decade of drilling some 2,200 wells annually, the gas industry has been shutting them down, and the number of orphaned wells is now estimated at 1,200 or more. This means that “landowners have to wait for 10 to 12 years to get a mess on your property cleaned up,” complained Republican state Sen. John Hines of Gillette.

Also troubling is the gas industry’s failure to put much of the pumped-up groundwater to beneficial use.

Now that the horse has left the proverbial barn, Wyoming’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has decided to get tough, forcing one California-based company to increase its bonding level for nearly 150 coal-bed methane gas wells at risk of being orphaned.

“When the commission revoked USA Exploration’s bonds earlier this year for failure to meet testing and reclamation requirements,” reports Dustin Bleizeffer, “it collected a total of $154,000.” There’s just one problem: “The total cost to plug and reclaim the properties could cost an estimated $1.4 million.”

THE WEST

It’s a safe bet that landowners with orphaned and polluting coalbed-methane wells on their property did not cheer for a horse named “Frac Daddy” running in the Kentucky Derby. In any case, cheers would not have helped the 3-year-old colt, which is owned by two Billings, Mont., men. Frac Daddy finished a distant 16th out of 19.

THE WEST

Red-winged blackbirds are nothing if not feisty.

Photographer Eric Dugan can testify to that after a fascinating encounter with the birds at the Napa-Sonoma Marsh Wildlife Area in Northern California, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Hearing the shriek of a red-tailed hawk, Dugan spotted a group of enraged blackbirds jumping on and off the hawk’s back and head as it perched on top of a telephone pole, apparently uncomfortably close to a blackbird nest. The hawk angered one blackbird so much that it pursued the retreating raptor, actually landing on its back more than once, where it “enjoyed a free ride into the wild blue yonder.”

In other avian news, two bald eagles became so engrossed in a mid-air battle that they locked talons, fell into a tailspin and crash-landed onto the tarmac of the Duluth International Airport.

Both birds lived, Minnesota conservation officer Randy Hanzal told GrindTV, though their spat, and the resulting splat, were definitely unusual: “They had the talons so deeply embedded in each other they may have been unable to let go.”

When Hanzal found both eagles alive, he loaded them into his truck bed, covered them with blankets and was halfway to a rehabilitation center when one of the eagles disengaged and flew off.

The other bald eagle didn’t feel quite so spry; it got shot full of antibiotics and painkillers at the “rehabber.”

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, an op ed syndicate of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared at betsym@hcn.org.

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