More of nature's fury

While we in the Northeast enjoy a pretty decent fall, the West has been visited by disaster. An autumn blizzard of record proportions hit the Mount Rushmore State with up to 4 feet of wind-driven snow, just a few days ago. Cows, still in slick summer coats, drifted before the howling wind and driving snow to gather and pile up in fence corners and under creek banks. There they suffocated or froze and died. One horrible, heart-wrenching photo taken south of Faith, S.D., shows dozens of cows, buried in mud, looking like stones in a stream. We have friends who spent the duration on horseback, saving their cows from the storm.

According to the Weather Channel, cattle were soaked by heavy rains ahead of the harsh weather, leaving them especially vulnerable to cold and snow. The Rapid City Journal quoted a rancher as saying that normally cattle are moved to sheltered pastures, with trees and windbreaks, during winter. However, because it is so early in the season they were still in open areas, and thus more vulnerable to weather.

Some ranchers lost at least half of their cattle. Sources are reporting tens or even hundreds of thousands of deaths in the storm, which also spawned killer tornadoes in Nebraska and blanketed Montana and Wyoming in unexpected snow.

I remember my one and only visit to the true West. It was the week Elvis died. I remember this because all the radio stations played his music, all the way to Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. And all the way back. We camped one mid-August night in the deserted Hebgen Lake campground. Besides being spooked by signs describing the nightmare that was the 1959 earthquake there, we were stunned and half-frozen by a small, but bitter snowstorm.

We were prepared about like you would expect eastern tenderfeet to be prepared for winter in August. It was just a little storm; the snow was gone and summer back just hours after we woke up in our camper and lit a shuck for warmer climes.

However, I shudder to think what things are like for our friends on the prairies, out there in the drifting snow, looking for cows they may never find, either because they are dead and buried in the snow, or have walked on top of it over the fences and drifted away in the wind.

If you want to know who the richest people in the U.S. are in terms of that most tangible of assets -- land -- you have but to access The Land Report. For the third year, Fay Ranches has sponsored this list of America's top 100 landowners. It is plumb interesting.

The top two property holders are, perhaps not surprisingly, media personalities. First is John Malone, former CEO of Telecommunications Inc. and current CEO of Discovery Holding Co. He owns 2.2 million acres in the U.S. Besides holdings all over our nation, he has a nice, big, castle in Ireland, for which he is reputed to have paid more than $9 million.

Next comes Ted Turner. You will remember, perhaps, when Mr. Turner suggested freeing endangered African large mammals in the western U.S., in order to preserve them. It didn't seem like a great idea to me at the time and still doesn't. Mr. T owns 2 million acres of what his website calls, "personal and ranch land."

Third on the list is the Emmerson family with 1.86 million acres. They own Sierra Pacific, which owns and manages forests for timber and various other wood products, including windows, doors, fencing and log homes.

Fourth is Brad Kelley of Calumet Farms, who owns 1.5 million acres. Fifth is the Irving family, another timber producer, with 1.25 million acres.

The next three on the list are ranchers, including the Singleton family, the King family heirs, and Stan Kroenke of the Broken O Ranch, with holdings in Montana.

We reach number nine on the largest landowner list before we hit the East Coast. That spot is held by Pingree heirs, another large timber company, located in Maine.

Ranches and timber companies weight the list for quite a while. Coming in at number 25, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, owns 290,000 acres in west Texas. Skipping ahead to 100, we find a four-way tie among ranchers and a lawyer, with each having holdings of 100,000 acres.

Most of the large aggregates of personally owned land are found in western states, such as Texas, Utah and New Mexico -- areas where it takes many acres to feed just one cow. There are a couple more large holdings in Maine, and one in Missouri, as well as a sprinkling in states such as Washington and California.

The list offers a fascinating history of large landowners, as well as a quick overview of their modern counterparts. You can find it yourself by searching for the Fay Ranches Land Report.

Animal rights vandals intentionally released 2,000 mink at Bonlander mink farm in Wisconsin last week. So far, 1,500 of the large members of the weasel family have been recaptured, but gathering them is a challenging task. A crew of 100, including many volunteers, is pursuing them at this time.

Frequently, mink released in such a manner are quickly killed by cars, die of stress, or are killed by dogs. They also do serious damage to caged birds, animals, pets and even endangered species, such as the water vole in the U.K. One there even wandered into a bedroom inside a home and attacked a pet dog.

An RSPCA spokesperson said in The New York Times, "At the same time, she said, released mink are far from being able to swagger unchallenged through the forest like tiny Tyrannosaurus rexes in expensive fur coats."

Having recently had a weasel, much smaller than a mink, sneak into the hen house, we can vouch for the havoc they can wreak. This, of course, does not matter to the sort of folks who let them go.

One can only hope they are found and arrested.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs