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About 40 people gathered by the Montana Noxious Weed Trust Fund recently and spent a morning literally beating the bushes on the far western edge of the 18,000-acre range for Mecinus janthiniformis, which loves to eat and lay eggs in Dalmatian toadflax. It may be the only thing that appreciates toadflax.

"This way the range staff can get a bunch of biocontrol done in one day," Melissa Maggio-Kassner told the volunteers at the start of the effort. "We should be able to collect about 20,000 bugs," which will be deployed against other toadflax infestations on the refuge.

Dalmatian toadflax and its cousin, yellow toadflax, came to the United States from southern Europe and Asia hundreds of years ago. While they have pretty yellow flowers, they also grow and spread uncontrollably. They outcompete native plants for water and soil nutrients, and produce scads of seeds that can lie dormant for 10 years (most native seeds only remain viable for two years). Bison don’t graze on it, while elk and antelope only nibble the tops off without slowing it down.

"We feel that the toadflax just laughs and thumbs its nose at us," Revais Creek resident Sally Baskett said of her efforts to stop the weed from invading all of her property near the Bison Range. "We’ve even tried hard blasts of herbicide. It’s very expensive and time-consuming. And this is a banner year."

And the problem may get worse. Dalmatian and yellow toadflax can cross-pollenate, creating a hybrid that’s both hardier and harder to control. Colorado State University plant geneticist Sarah Ward explained that while the Dalmatian variety was common in Eastern Europe, the yellow species grew mainly in Great Britain.

To control invasive toadflax without chemicals, you need an exotic bug that targets it while ignoring more popular or valuable plants. Montana State University Professor Robert Nowierski brought the first Mecinus weevils from Switzerland. We’ve since discovered that while Mecinus janthiniformis likes Dalmatian toadflax, we need Mecinus janthinus weevils to fight yellow toadflax. And no one’s sure which weevil might take on the hybrid toadflax.

Fortunately, the hybrids haven’t made an impact on the Bison Range yet. Wednesday’s biggest challenge was keeping the captured weevils from blowing out of the tubs in the breezy morning. The volunteers fanned out on hillsides, gently whipping toadflax stems and knocking the weevils into their tubs. A couple hundred weevils would fill a whisky shot glass.

While Klamath County sent many of its young men and women off to war, the effort at home was dedicated as well. Timber mills and factories churned out wood products for the war effort at a frantic pace, and the rail lines steadily shipped materials to the front. Families grew victory gardens, bought war bonds, and kids collected scrap metal.

In 1942, Johnson saw a peer with an aircraft model and bought it from him for a quarter. He soon found out that Wes Withrow, owner of a woodshop in the Mills Addition, had made it, and, along with other students, an after-school model-making club soon formed.

Using pieces from orange crates and wood tailings blocks, Johnson would slowly shape remarkably detailed airplanes true to the real thing. Popsicle sticks were used for propellers, nails and pens added for guns. Plastic packaging of everyday products were shaped for cockpit canopies.

A local bicycle shop downtown provided other parts necessary to create miniaturized versions of the now iconic warbirds, though due to shortages from the warm Johnson and his friends had to often use their imagination to find the right piece to complete the model.

While many of Johnson’s peers eventually grew out of the hobby, he stuck with it through the war. By war’s end he had built 40 different war planes from single blocks of wood, from small single-engine aircraft to massive four-engine bombers like the Boeing B-17.

As the war progressed and Johnson got into high school, he joined the war effort through the trades and industries program, allowing half his school day to be spent as a machinist apprentice. He earned $0.37 an hour for his labor at the Great Northern Railroad Depot, though, after two years, he received a massive boost in pay to a whopping $1.92 an hour.

It was 45 years later that Johnson’s childhood crafts were rediscovered, buried in the attic of his recently deceased mother’s home, still intact from his model-making days during World War II. They had suffered inevitable damage from curious dogs and excited children, but were still mostly intact.

Recently the Klamath County Museum established an exhibit highlighting the Battle of Midway, and Hassen, having returned to Klamath County, reached out to Johnson to see if the World War II-era models were still intact. They were, in fact, all hanging from the ceiling of the guest bedroom in Johnson’s home, recreating an epic aerial battle from the war.

More than just a representation of warbirds of yesteryear, the aircraft models are a physical relic showing how citizens on the homefront connected with the war effort, did their part for victory, and found ways to cope through shortages and rationing.

RENO, Nev. (AP) — With Western American art long dismissed as unworthy of the fine art world, few collectors would have even cared 25 years ago if an early 20th century oil painting of cowboys or Indians on the frontier was authentic or not.

Now, the owner of galleries in New Mexico and New York City is suing one of the world’s largest Western American art auctions, a Nevada gallery and others for defamation, accusing them of falsely claiming a $1 million painting he sold is a fake.

Gerald P. Peters of Santa Fe seeks unspecified damages from Peter Stremmel Galleries of Reno, the Coeur D’Alene Art Auction of Nevada and auction partner Mark Overby of Hayden, Idaho. The defendants’ lawyers say the claims have no legal basis. They filed motions in federal court in Reno last week to dismiss the suit.

"It wasn’t really until the late 1980s or mid- to early-1990s that a lot of art historians and museums began to start taking Western American art seriously," said Amy Scott, chief curator of the Autry Museum of Western Art founded in Los Angeles in 1988.

The lawsuit centers on "The Rain and the Sun," which Peters says is the work of Iowa-born Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939), a one-time illustrator for Field and Stream magazine who became famous for his oil paintings of nighttime frontier scenes.

Peters should know. He was at the center of an unrelated forgery caper 30 years ago and ended up refunding $5 million to a Kansas City, Missouri, museum after a series of watercolors that were purported to be the work of Georgia O’Keefe turned out to be fakes.

Less famous than Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, Johnson is of special interest because he worked with Hollywood studios to create backdrops after he moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s when the Western movie genre was being invented, said Scott, of the Autry Museum.

Colette Loll, founder of the Washington-based consulting firm Art Fraud Insights, said lawsuits over forgeries are rare. But in criminal cases, prosecutors carry a "very heavy burden" to prove a work is fake, and judges and juries often have difficulty sorting out the claims, Loll said.

"You can have experts on each side, and one says it’s real and one says it’s not," said Loll, who has trained U.S. Homeland Security agents in forgery investigations. "A lot of experts are afraid to even testify at such a trial because they’re afraid they could face their own litigation."