Is This a Good Omen or a Bad One for G.W. Bush?

The armadillo, Texas' best-known critter, migrates to Missouri

When someone calls into the number listed at the bottom of the page, the vague notion is that some bit of information is relayed that is worth repeating. Last week, such a call was made: A dutiful reader said he spotted two dead armadillos on Dougherty Ferry Road in Southwest St. Louis County. In Texas or Louisiana, such an event is tantamount to the sun rising in the east, but in Missouri, seeing such a funky varmint, even though it's splattered across the roadway, is news.

The "little armored one," the name the Spanish gave the nine-banded armadillo, has been heading north and east. The May issue of Missouri Conservationist had reports of armadillos "north of the Missouri River and as far east as Jefferson County." The two dead 'dillos on Dougherty Ferry means their migratory march continues.

Ken Drenon, the Missouri Conservation Department's ombudsman, says the limits of the armadillo will be determined by precipitation and freezing weather. If there is too little rain, or if the ground is frozen too long, the armadillo will starve because it depends on invertebrates dug up from the soil.

"Since that report in May, we have reports as far north as Linn and Buchanan counties, which is in the upper third of the state. I would not be at all surprised if they're in St. Louis County. We've had most of the counties south of the Missouri report sightings, as well as a number of counties north of the river."

The armadillos are far from an endangered species and are at worst a nuisance as they dig and forage for food, according to Drenon. In his "Ask the Ombudsman" column, one reader asked Drenon: "Is it legal to hunt armadillos?" The short answer is "yes," but don't expect it to compete with squirrel or raccoon hunting.

"I don't know what you would do with them," says Drenon. "I guess they would be edible if you could figure out how to dress them. Maybe they eat them somewhere." Like maybe Louisiana? "But if you have one causing you damage, there are provisions in the wildlife code where the owner can protect their property and eliminate that animal. I never shot one, but I don't think they have sufficient armor to turn away a bullet. It might be pretty challenging, though. I can only think of two times that I've ever seen them alive. All the other times I've ever seen one, it's been roadkill. They're primarily nocturnal, and that's primarily why we don't see them very often alive."

Maybe the Democrats could sponsor armadillo safaris, charge a fee and supply a miner's hat with a headlight so hunters could go and slay the creature most identified with the state of Texas. Well, at least the one most identified with Texas that isn't a Republican.

WHAT COMES AFTER A DIVISION TITLE? A NEW STADIUM: As the Cardinals scramble to find the missing pieces to fix the bullpen and prepare for the pennant race and possible playoffs without Mark McGwire, the stadium campaign lurches onward. During his periodic roundtable with local media, held on Monday, Mayor Clarence Harmon says he met with the Cardinals' owners two weeks ago and plans a meeting with interested government officials soon to discuss the baseball-team owners' desire for a new stadium. It sounds like a new stadium is a done deal; it's just the details that remain to be determined. But Hizzoner has a certain fog factor in his comments, as is evidenced by this response to a question about what he thinks will happen with his negotiations with the Cardinals' owners: "Ultimately, I think we will reach some kind of accommodation with them over a lot of the issues that are city issues, in terms of ownership and the rest of that, while at the same time addressing their issue to build a new stadium."

So, it sounds like some new version of the Missouri Compromise will occur before the next state legislative session in January. But wait: Does that mean the worst fears of the Cardinals' politburo will be avoided? Will there be a plebiscite so fans and, gulp, nonfans can vote on this idea of diverting their tax dollars, their bread, to fund the circuses? Harmon hedges his answer on that possibility.

"They have to come up with something to justify me going to the public and me saying to the public, 'Support that point of view.' They've not done that yet," says Harmon. "If you spend a sizable amount of public money, you need to have the public vote on it. That's my opinion. A lot of people call that a deal-killer. If I earnestly believe the citizens should tax themselves to support something, I'm going to stand up and say that -- and I'm going to have some damn good reasons for it."

On a perhaps more dangerous issue, Harmon tiptoed around the "third rail" of city politics. How does the city's shrinking population and the upcoming census results affect the city's August deliberative body, the Board of Aldermen?

"The question is going to be raised after the census results are in, why are there 29 of them?" says Harmon. "In order to capture the voting strength that each one currently maintains, they are going to have to draft wards that look like snakes." The mayor certainly was not suggesting there was anything reptilian about the city's aldermen or even suggesting that their number be reduced. It's just that with a projected dip in population, again, there will be a scramble for warm bodies. "This might not be the time to argue anything about board restructuring," the mayor admits. "You don't want to fight too many wars on too many fronts."

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