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  • This article by Betsy Marston originally appeared in the May 30, 2013 issue of High Country News.
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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Heard Around the West     Comments: 0

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Beavers battle oil and gas spills

News: May 30, 2013
by Betsy Marston

THE WEST

It takes a bold person to tinker with Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service icon who proclaims, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires." Messing with the paunchy blue-jeaned bear and his strong message might just earn you a cease and desist letter, plus a threat of jail time and fines. That happened to Lopi LaRoe, an artist and Occupy Wall Street activist, after her altered image of Smokey went viral on Facebook and the Web. LaRoe's "NO FRACKING" Smokey warns, "Only you can prevent FAUCET fires" -- referring to flaming water taps caused by nearby gas extraction. "This is Smokey waking up and saying, 'Oh, you didn't do that to my environment,' " LaRoe says. "Smokey wants to fight the corporations and protect the air and the water and the plants and the animals and the people." LaRoe plastered her vision of Smokey on everything from T-shirts to tote bags -- "great for Dumpster diving" -- and, as she notes with a grin, "It spread like wildfire." Legal counsel for the Forest Service, however, told LaRoe in no uncertain terms that Smokey is government-owned, and co-opting his image to sell a product can result in up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, reports the website readersupportednews.org. No word yet on whether LaRoe has severed her relationship with her controversial anti-fracking bear.

THE WEST

Who knew that six beavers could become environmental saviors? Unwittingly, of course, a dam they created was crucial in halting the spread of 27,000 gallons of gasoline from a leaky pipeline. Absent the beaver dam, the gas would have spread across a huge area from Salt Lake City through Idaho to Spokane, Wash., reports the Idaho Statesman. But the beavers paid dearly for their community service, "with petroleum burns that Utah officials treated with baths of Dawn dish soap and water at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah." Four of them recovered fully, but two younger animals needed more time to battle infections. Leaks along the Chevron pipeline, which supplies Boise with gas and diesel fuel, are nothing new: Two earlier pipeline breaks earned the company $400,000 in federal fines.

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