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UFOs in the daily Press:

Fairy rings, USA, February 2003:

This article was published in the daily newspaper The Bellingham Herald, Washington, USA, by Ericka Pizzillo, on February 1, 2003.

DAMAGED FIELD: Agriculture experts say rings could be result of fungus. Two local farmers are speculating that otherworldly visitors may be responsible for the various-sized rings of dead grass in a Whatcom County pasture.

But some Washington State University researchers say that the only thing that may be among us is fungus.

There are a number of fungi that could have caused the rings on farmer Gary Gansler's leased grass pasture south of Lynden, said Tim Miller, a weed specialist with the Washington Cooperative Extension Service in Mount Vernon.

One is a disease commonly known as a "fairy ring." Fairy rings produce mushrooms in a circular pattern on highly fertilized areas, but the mushrooms can die back quickly. The rings spread out in circles in search of more food and sometimes leave behind circles of dead grass, although healthy grass is left in the middle of the circle, creating a doughnut shape.

The bigger the circle, the longer the fungus has been on the ground, Miller said. Some fairy rings are more than a hundred years old and 100 feet in diameter.

Gansler said he finds Miller's explanation hard to believe. His rings didn't sprout the telltale mushrooms that signal a turf disease.

Appeared in November

Gansler first noticed his rings in November. The rings, one at least 40 feet across and others between 5 and 9 feet across, were covered in black soot.

In the weeks afterward, the rain washed away the soot, leaving behind dead grass and bare ground to create the rings' doughnut shape.

Miller said one type of fungus called "inky cap" produces mushroom that disintegrate into a black goo, although it's not typically known to produce circular shapes.

The black soot could have also been the decomposing grass after it died, said Steve Fransen, a forage specialist at the WSU Cooperative Extension Service in Prosser.

Friend has UFO info

Gansler grows hay and grass for silage that he sells to other farmers and to feed his herd of a dozen beef cattle. He fertilizes the ground with chicken manure he gets from friend Russell Simonson, who was excited to hear about Gansler's rings.

Simonson, a member of the Bellingham UFO group called Contact, said he's seen stories about crop circles which are intricate patterns pressed into crop fields, but where no damage is done to the plants, unlike the circles on Gansler's land.

Several years ago two men in England demonstrated how they hoaxed local citizens by creating crop circles with a rope and a board. But belief in crop circles still exists among some who believe in alien visitation to Earth. And Simonson said he's see documentation about burned circles in farmland that could be alien-related.

Burnt by hand?

Simonson's son-in-law suggested that someone might have burned the grass in circular shapes, but Simonson brought out a propane torch to show that isn't possible in a short period of time.

"It would take maybe six months to produce these," Simonson said as he burned a spot of grass.

Gansler said he's still skeptical about the existence of aliens, but said he saw an unidentified object with purple lights and an orange glow, lift up off a Van Dyk Road farm several years ago.

Gansler didn't talk about the sighting for years.

"I thought people would think I was crazier than a loon," Gansler said.

Simonson said he's had several sightings, including the first in 1978 when he was featured in a Herald article about his experience.

Whatcom County-based cooperative extension agent Craig MacConnell said the university lab can do soil tests on samples of the rings to really figure out what caused the rings, which he also said were likely fungal.

But MacConnell said he wouldn't diagnose the problem without seeing it first hand.

"This is the kind of stuff we see regularly," MacConnell said.

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This page was last updated on February 11, 2003.