Heard around the West

  Drenching rain, slip-sliding houses on the edge of eroding cliffs, not a glimpse of sun for weeks - blame the rotten weather on Al Nino. Drunks and the unruly frustrated do. But Nino, a retired Navy man in the Southern California county of San Luis Obispo, says he's getting a little tired of complaining phone calls.


"It's always something like, "Why are you doing this?" And I say, "Well, I really didn't have nothing else to do," "''''he told the San Jose Mercury News. At 2 a.m. recently, Nino did have something else to do, like sleep, when an angry caller woke him. "She was really mad," Nino says, and she blamed him for the foul weather in equally foul terms. Another Californian, Eliseo Niûo, says he's almost always asked when he's going to turn off the storms. He's happy to sound upbeat and authoritative: "Maybe the weekend."





The Forest Service in Tucson, Ariz., is holding firm, but politicians such as Idaho's Republican Rep. Helen Chenoweth are gunning for them. The issue is the agency's closure of a noisy and potentially dangerous gun club that sits on public land close to scenic Sabino Canyon, which is visited by more than a million people each year (HCN, 7/7/97). Nearby there's also an elementary school, a middle school and dozens of private homes, one of whose residents said there's so much gunfire it sounds "like it was Sarajevo," reports New Times. At a mid-February hearing of the House Committee on Forests and Forest Health, Chenoweth told the Forest Service its budget could be tied up if the Tucson Rod and Gun Club wasn't reopened: "You started the fight; we'll finish it," Chenoweth threatened.





"Backpedaling faster than a unicyclist on a steep slope," Republican Rep. George Nethercutt of Washington state has concluded that term limits are not such a good thing after all, reports The New York Times. "I meant it when I said six years is enough," but then he added, the issues are so complicated six years "is probably not enough." This may have surprised voters who recalled Nethercutt's promise never to become a Washington insider like the influential politico he defeated, House Speaker Thomas Foley.


Keeping Nethercutt company in the world of second thoughts is Republican Rep. Scott McInnis of Colorado. In 1992, he signed a pledge not to seek more than four terms - he seeks a fourth this year - but now says he underestimated the power of the seniority system in Congress. His pledge was "goofy," McInnis told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Both McInnis and Nethercutt have some explaining to do to a lobbying group called U.S. Term Limits. It keeps tabs on politicians who break their word to get in and get out of the capitol fast. Nethercutt received $300,000 from U.S. Term Limits in 1994 after he pledged to end his congressional career in just six years. Maybe he'll give the money back.





Why isn't the U.S. Congress friendlier toward national environmental groups? A survey by Fortune magazine found that greens fail to show up among the top 25 pressure groups because they have "neither the financial nor the grassroots clout they used to." The most influential organization, the Sierra Club, ranked 37th in influence, the League of Conservation Voters showed up next, in 79th place, followed by the Environmental Defense Fund, 86th, and National Wildlife Federation, 88th. Environment Writer newsletter says that the environmentalists' lack of clout could also be attributed to outworn techniques such as buying print, TV and radio ads to promote a cause. "Maybe when they get older, they'll get better," suggests editor Bud Ward. "The American Association of Retired Persons is No. 1 on the list."





Mary Dalton is a winner, though she no longer works at a place she'd grown to know and love, the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Concerned about timber cuts targeted for steep slopes, Dalton stepped out of her official role as forester to appeal a pending tree sale on Baranof Island in 1996. For her pains, she was suspended for 30 days and transferred to the Coronado National Forest in Arizona. But Dalton filed a grievance through the federal employee system. As part of her settlement, the 15-year veteran of the Forest Service will have the suspension wiped from her record. What's more, says Andy Stahl of the nonprofit Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, which sued the agency for violating Dalton's right to free speech, the Forest Service has pledged to remove its regulation prohibiting employees from appealing sales.





There's also good news for 6-year-old Seamus Morris, a first-grader in Colorado Springs, Colo. He made the incredible mistake of sharing lemon drops with kids on the playground. School officials believed he was distributing an "unknown substance" and kicked him out. Faced with public outrage, school officials say they'll "expunge" his record. Mom Shana Morris says she's still waiting for an apology.





Department of Energy employees in Washington, D.C., may want to go; they may even have to go, but going to the bathroom could pose a risk. Trapped air in plumbing lines in one of the agency's buildings has caused problems such as "exploding urinals," reports the Washington Post. After two people were injured, the agency issued a warning to be "extremely careful when flushing."





A reader who lives in a semi-rural area tells us she recently heard that a new neighbor called the county to request the removal of a "Deer Crossing" sign on their dirt road. The reason: Too many deer were being hit by cars and she no longer wanted them to cross there.


Another reader reports that his daughter went to a local Taco Bell and ordered a taco. She asked the person behind the counter for "minimal lettuce." The counter man said he was sorry, but they only had iceberg.


*Betsy Marston





Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or betsym@hcn.org.