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Out West Roundup: They’re big, white and majestic. And you might be able to spot one in Kansas

Author: Associated Press - January 5, 2018 - Updated: January 19, 2018

AP-Snowy-Owl.jpg
In this Dec. 11, 2017, photo, Norman Smith, director of Mass Audubon's Blue Hills Trailside Museum, sizes a metal band to the fibula of a snowy owl, which was trapped at Boston's Logan Airport, at the museum in Milton, Massachusetts. The owl is one of 14 trapped so far this winter at the airport and moved to a beach on Cape Cod Bay. The large white raptors from the Arctic have descended on the northern U.S. in huge numbers, giving researchers opportunities to study them. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)In this Dec. 11, 2017, photo, Norman Smith, director of Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum, sizes a metal band to the fibula of a snowy owl, which was trapped at Boston’s Logan Airport, at the museum in Milton, Massachusetts. The owl is one of 14 trapped so far this winter at the airport and moved to a beach on Cape Cod Bay. The large white raptors from the Arctic have descended on the northern U.S. in huge numbers, giving researchers opportunities to study them. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Kansas

They’re big, white and majestic. And you might be able to spot one in Kansas

It’s somewhat rare to see a snowy owl in Kansas.

But you may have a better chance this year than most to catch a glimpse of one. They are popping up at various locations around the state.

Snowy owls have been seen at Cheyenne Bottoms, by the Jeffrey Energy Center, near Lindsborg and north of Newton. This week more were reported near Parsons, Fort Riley and Lakin.

“It was on the west side of Pool 1, right beside the road,” said Pam Martin, education specialist at the Kansas Wetland Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms. “It was super cool. We drove right by it because I was looking out in the field. It was maybe 20 yards from us. They are the epitome of wildness, fierce and a thing of beauty.”

Snowy owls are among the largest birds in North America, measuring 2 feet from head to tail. The only other bird to rival its size is the bald eagle. They have gained recognition in wake of the Harry Potter books and movies, which featured Harry’s snowy owl, Hedwig.

The birds feed on lemmings and voles, small rodents. Lemmings were reported to have been in abundance in the Arctic this summer, allowing the snowy owls to raise more young. When fall arrived, the younger birds were forced to leave while the older ones claimed their territory.

Longtime birders suggest using some bird etiquette. Don’t try to walk up on the birds just to get a better photo. The birds who have made it to Kansas are often starving and exhausted.

“The danger is a lot of these owls are coming out of the Arctic and don’t understand cars or people,” Martin said.

Arizona

Dry winter could stress Arizona’s ponderosa pines

FLAGSTAFF — Northern Arizona missed out on a white Christmas, and if the lack of snowfall continues, scientists say there will likely be more far-reaching effects on the region’s pine trees.

Without enough winter moisture, scientists tell the Arizona Daily Sun, the trees will be more susceptible to bark beetles and disease, all of which lead to tree mortality.

“This is super dry for us, so if it continues there’s going to be a lot of concerns I’m sure,” said John Anhold, a forest entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

The latest drought maps show drought and abnormally dry conditions have taken hold of significant portions of the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. With the exception of Colorado, the other states are worse off now than they were at this same time last year.

For Flagstaff, the below-normal precipitation expected for this winter will also affect the city’s water sources and supply balance going into next year.

Drought causes damage to trees’ water transport systems. Warm, dry air increases evaporation from leaves and needles while dry soils make it more difficult for the plant to pull up water through its roots.

Without enough moisture, ponderosas also struggle to produce pitch, or resin, that works as their main defense. Without that barrier, insects are free to crawl into a tree and reproduce with little resistance.

Utah

Federal prosecutors move to cash in on $8.5 million in seized bitcoin

SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. attorneys in Utah prosecuting a multimillion-dollar opioid drug-ring are moving quickly to sell seized bitcoin that’s exploded in value to about $8.5 million since the alleged ringleader’s arrest a year ago.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah cites the digital currency’s volatility in court documents pressing for the sale. The bitcoin cache was worth less than $500,000 when Aaron Shamo was arrested on drug charges, but the value of the digital currency has skyrocketed since then.

Bitcoin was created as a digital alternative to the traditional banking system, and is prone to swings in value based on what people believe it’s worth.

For federal prosecutors in Utah, sales of seized assets like cars are routine, but bitcoin is new territory, spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said.

Shamo is accused of selling pills containing the powerful opioid fentanyl on the dark web — an area of the internet often used for illegal activity — to thousands of people all over the U.S., at one point raking in $2.8 million in less than a year. He has pleaded not guilty to a dozen charges.

The proceeds of the bitcoin sale will be held until the case is resolved, and then decisions will be made about where the money goes, Rydalch said. Seized asset sale proceeds usually goes to the agency that investigated, like the Drug Enforcement Administration.

New Mexico

With easy ballot access in New Mexico, Libertarian Party seeks candidates

SANTA FE — A new political avenue toward statewide elected office and Congress may be opening in New Mexico as the Libertarian Party achieves major party status, giving its candidates ready access to the ballot in 2018.

Failed presidential candidate Gary Johnson in 2016 won a historic consolation prize for the Libertarian Party by surpassing 5 percent of the popular vote in his home state of New Mexico, thereby lowering daunting signature requirements for Libertarian candidates.

Strong showings at 2016 elections in Iowa, Kentucky and Massachusetts also are making it easier for the Libertarians to get on this year’s ballot.

New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, elected in 2014 as a Republican, is giving “heavy consideration” to a run for governor under the Libertarian Party, his son and campaign adviser Blair Dunn said.

State Libertarian Party Chairwoman Elizabeth Hanes says at least five people have expressed interest in the Libertarian nomination for governor, though she declined to name them.

A year ahead of the general election, the Libertarian Party in New Mexico has about 7,100 registered voters and just one declared candidate in a major race — who has yet to file a nominating petition. The filing deadline for federal and statewide candidates is Feb. 6.

Grady Owens, a 32-year-old undergraduate astrophysics student in the tiny crossroads community of Mayhill, has begun collecting signatures for what he acknowledges as a longshot campaign to win New Mexico’s southern congressional district. He has high hopes for the party that espouses minimal government and maximum personal freedom, but also said it has not been easy to track down signatures from registered Libertarians.

Independent candidates have to gather about 15,000 signatures to run for governor in New Mexico, and about 6,800 for the state’s southern Congressional district. Minor-party candidates have to gather one-third of that amount.

Under major-party status, Libertarian candidates would need just 230 signatures to enter the primary for governor, and as few as 77 for congress. They also need approval at a pre-primary Libertarian convention that Hanes describes as open-minded.

Wyoming

Cheyenne airport looks to state for help attracting new airline

CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne Airport Board voted unanimously in December to apply for $580,000 in state money to help draw a new airline to the community.

Cheyenne Regional Airport Director Tim Barth said that he and other airport officials are currently in negotiations with airlines to bring them to Cheyenne and added that possible destinations under discussion include Las Vegas, Dallas and Phoenix.

Laramie County Commissioner Amber Ash said that options had been narrowed to two airlines.

If approved for the grant, which is administered by the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission, Cheyenne airport officials said they hoped to combine it with $200,000 in federal money and additional money from the city of Cheyenne and Laramie County to create a $1.5 million revenue guarantee for a prospective airline.

Ash said she hoped her fellow commissioners would be enthusiastic about a chance to secure flights to cities other than Denver.

“I would think that the commission would support something like that,” she said. “But until votes happen, you never know.”

In general, the agreements known as “minimum revenue guarantees” help an airline avoid losing too much money when it takes a chance on a new market by using outside money to cover losses.

If an airline breaks even or makes a profit on its own, the money is not used.

Associated Press

Associated Press