Out West Roundup: Motion-activated cameras capture animals being wild, weird

Author: Associated Press - January 26, 2018 - Updated: March 28, 2018

This 2013 photo from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service motion-activated camera shows a bighorn sheep at the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. Motion-detecting wildlife cameras are yielding serious science as well as amusing photos. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)This 2013 photo from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service motion-activated camera shows a bighorn sheep at the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. Motion-detecting wildlife cameras are yielding serious science as well as amusing photos. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)


Motion-activated cameras capture animals being wild, weird

CHEYENNE — How does a bighorn sheep say “cheese?”

Some charismatic critters caught by motion-detecting wildlife cameras seem to know how to strike a pose. But it’s not just show business. As these devices get ever smaller, cheaper and more reliable, scientists across the United States are using them to document elusive creatures like never before.

“There’s no doubt — it is an incredible tool to acquire data on wildlife,” said Grant Harris, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Harris cited images of javelinas, pig-like desert mammals, and coatimundi, members of the raccoon family, captured at higher latitudes in recent years. That could mean global warming is expanding their range northward, he said.

Scientists deploying remote cameras in their work include researchers with the Wyoming Migration Initiative, who use global positioning to map the movements of elk, mule deer and antelope in and around Yellowstone National Park. They only have so many collars to track animals, meaning there’s a limit to the GPS data they can gather, said Matthew Kauffman, a University of Wyoming associate professor and initiative director.

Sometimes smart-alecky humans turn up among the images. “I’ve seen people moon cameras, and that’s always funny,” he said.

Remote video can also reveal details about animal behavior, including the mewling sounds of migrating mule deer. And live-streaming cameras for everything from bison in Saskatchewan, Canada, to the underwater kelp forest off California’s Channel Islands are always popular.

As with all human intrusion into nature, remote cameras have downsides. Animals such as wolverines and bears have been known to attack them, though whether out of curiosity or aggression is hard to say.

Anyway, to answer the question: A bighorn sheep that looks like it’s smiling probably isn’t saying “cheese” but sniffing pheromones and other scents in what’s called a flehmen response, said Harris.

In other words … bleats us.

Utah man charged in Wyoming after applying for two moose tags in one year

CHEYENNE – A single charge was bound over to Laramie County District Court last week for a Utah man accused of tampering with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s computer system to successfully apply for two nonresident moose hunting tags in two months.

Byron Oldham was charged with an intellectual property crime of modifying data in a computer network. If convicted, he could face three years in prison.

“Moose are highly regulated, with limited quota licenses, and are coveted by hunters,” the probable cause affidavit states. “By Wyoming statute, applicants may only apply for one moose license per year.” The online system is designed to “time out” in 20 minutes. But authorities believe that Oldham was able to write a computer script that kept the application button active past its 20-minute window, thereby allowing him to apply for a second moose tag.

A search of Oldham by law enforcement revealed that he is the owner of two hunting businesses – GotMyTag LLC and HuntinTool LLC.

The Wyoming Game and Fish database also revealed that Oldham had an “extensive” license application history.


Salt Lake City says budget works out to host Olympics again

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City would be able to host the Winter Olympics again without losing money thanks to existing venues and the expertise of a team that put on the 2002 Winter Olympics in the city, an exploratory committee said this week.

The budget estimate unveiled at the committee’s third meeting puts Utah one step closer to pursuing a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics, while being open to the remote possibility of hosting the 2026 Olympic Games.

The committee’s budget team estimated it would cost $1.29 billion to host another Winter Olympics. Estimated revenues of about $1.35 billion would leave a surplus, the committee said.

“Every indication we have right now is positive,” said Fraser Bullock, co-chairman of the committee. “It’s just sorting the dynamics of the U.S. Olympic Committee relative to 2030 and 2026, that’s the issue.”

The USOC has until next March to pick a city for 2026, though chief executive Scott Blackmun said recently that officials believe the 2030 Winter Olympics are more realistic.

Denver and Reno, Nevada, have also expressed interest in the U.S.

Denver, which famously rejected an offer to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, has assembled a committee to take a tough-minded look at whether the city should pursue a bid for another Olympics.

Internationally, cities considering making a bid include Sion, Switzerland; Calgary, Canada; Stockholm, Sweden; and Sapporo, Japan.

Salt Lake City’s pitch would be centered on being able to host the Olympics for less money than other cities by using existing venues. Some venues need improvements and refurbishing, but officials say they wouldn’t have to build anything from scratch.

New Mexico

New Mexico considers pension forfeiture in corruption cases

SANTA FE — New Mexico state elected officials who are convicted or plead guilty to corruption-related charges would automatically forfeit certain pension benefits, under a proposal that responds to a string of high-profile scandals.

The bill from Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen of Santa Fe and Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque would erase certain retirement benefits when an elected official is convicted of corruption-related charges such as fraud, bribery, perjury or kickbacks.

Convicted officials would retain pension benefits accrued during any prior government service in unelected positions — but lose retirement credits linked to their elected posts.

Moores said many of his constituents are incensed by public officials retaining pension benefits after convictions related to wrongdoing in office.

“It absolutely reeks,” he said. “Someone who violates the public trust like that does not deserve to get a pension.”

McQueen said the proposal is inspired in part by the prosecution of Dianna Duran, who resigned as secretary of state in 2015 amid revelations that she used campaign funds to fuel a gambling addiction. That led to her conviction on felony counts of embezzlement and money laundering and a 30-day jail sentence — without additional pension deductions.


Former Montana lawmaker gets 18 years for drug trafficking

BILLINGS, Montana — A former leader of the Montana House of Representatives who once supported funding for an anti-drug campaign was sentenced to 18 years in prison last week for his central role in a methamphetamine trafficking ring.

Michael Lange, the Republican House majority leader during the 2007 Legislature, arranged deliveries of at least 20 and possibly up to 50 pounds of meth from a source in California over a seven-month period in 2016, prosecutors said. It was sold through a network of approximately 15 to 20 dealers in Montana and Wyoming, according to federal prosecutors and an FBI drug task-force officer.

Lange pleaded guilty in September to drug conspiracy and distribution charges. He apologized at his sentencing but drew a sharp rebuke from U.S. District Judge Susan Watters after Lange appeared to minimize his involvement in the trafficking ring and claimed the truth of what happened had never been revealed.

During his three two-year terms in the Legislature, Lange supported giving $4 million in state money to an anti-methamphetamine public relations campaign, the Montana Meth Project. He was ousted from his leadership position after being captured on video in a profane tirade against then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat.

He was indicted in February 2017 after an investigation that began when three alleged dealers identified him as their supplier following their apprehension in Wyoming.

The source of the drug in California — identified in court papers only as “Manny” — has not been indicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sullivan said Lange had become a “wrecking ball” within a community he once represented in the Legislature. The prosecutor blamed methamphetamine as the driving force behind violent crimes and a spate of child neglect cases in the Billings area.

“He held a very respectable position as a Montana politician,” Sullivan said. “For him to turn around and do this to a community in which he has lived for so long has a truly staggering effect.”

Associated Press

Associated Press