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Published: Saturday, July 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Is gin the answer to juniper problem?

A recent column on the fast-growing and dominating juniper trees and their impact on water in arid lands east of the Cascades brought in readers' comments and questions, best exemplified by those of James Deal.
Junipers leave very little water around them for other uses, such as refilling springs that provide water to cattle, or for sagebrush that provides shelter to other species.
"There are too many junipers because cattle have overgrazed the grass, and without grass there is less fire to control the number of junipers," Deal wrote.
"Is this the fault of the junipers or the cattle? Should arid land be open to grazing? Seems to me that the cow is the pest," Deal said.
"Juniper berries sell for $15 (or as little as $8 on the Internet) per pound. Would there be more profit in harvesting juniper berries than raising a cow every five acres?"
Juniper berries provide the key ingredient for transforming vodka into gin. While the exact mix of berries, coriander seed and other additions is each company's trade secret, browsing the Internet brings the consensus of 2 to 4 tablespoons of berries to a 750ml bottle of vodka.
Note: There are side effects to consuming juniper berries. If you intend to eat the berries, learn the possible negative reactions and choose wisely. Pick a recipe from a trustworthy site.
Tim Deboodt, Oregon State University extension agent, offered his take on the economics:
"While a great use (gin-making) for the berries, we aren't making enough gin to make the economics of harvesting/processing a viable economic alternative for a large group of landowners," Deboodt said.
"It wouldn't take long to flood the market. We now have over 6 million acres in Eastern Oregon alone."
Even if there were a source for 10 times the current use of juniper berries, we're still left with millions of western juniper-dominated acres that continue to expand. The cattle and fire-suppressing methods are still in place.
Options for eradicating junipers seem to be prohibitively labor-intensive and expensive. But the result of junipers taking over millions of additional acres, changing the environment and drinking scarce water may take an even more expensive toll.
To the rescue: Steve Ekstrand wrote that he "loved the story about rescuing the two hummingbirds," then suggested reading a rescue story in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
It's an interesting story about a woman who has helped about three dozen hummingbirds recover from injury or abandonment. It's also a lesson in the commitment and skill needed to pull it off, including buying worms, mashing them and adding the mash to sugar water.
Go to www.lvrj.com and do a search for "rescuing hummingbirds."
Bear talk: Go to the Internet and search for the words "Toyota" and "grizzly." Fred Hutchins sent in the story and photographs to me and I'm passing them on to you. Visualize a grizzly bear locked in an SUV …
Verdict: True. Here's a story that has circulated on the Web for years. While it sounds like an urban legend, www.snopes.com (known for verifying or debunking tales circulating on the Web), has given its blessing.
The site www.urbanlegends.about.com has a slightly different version. Thanks to Art Wait for the tip.
The short version: The owner of a car wash installed coin machines but found that he was losing significant amounts of quarters (or found quarters strewn around the machine, take your pick) from one of them.
On the Urban Legends site, verified with the owner and through a newspaper article, he noticed a few weeds and straw in the machine. Armed with a camera, the owner took pictures of the burglars.
Yes, burglars. He captured several starlings, on film, including one with a quarter in its beak. A bird would go down into the cup and back up inside until it reached the coins, then pull one down.
The theory is that a female starling viewed the coin chute as a place to squeeze in and create a nest, thus protecting her future offspring. The coins were just in the way.
The owner finally stuffed a cloth into the coin chute, and the thwarted birds moved on.
The irony, of course, is that two sites that "verify" stories have different versions. Check out Snopes for photographs.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.
Story tags » Wildlife Watching

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