Heard around the West

  The fun of fast and fearless driving is fizzling out in Montana. On May 28, the state's dubious distinction as the only state in the nation without a daytime speed limit will come to an end.


Montana Gov. Marc Racicot signed legislation making the daytime limit 75 mph on interstate highways and 70 mph on other roads. Since the state banned official limits in 1995, more than a few ticketed drivers complained that they weren't sure how to drive in a "reasonable and prudent manner," the state's substitute for a posted limit. The governor recently joked to AP that while natives knew what that meant, visitors couldn't always get it right.





Camouflage is becoming chic. Cabela's, the popular outfitter for hunters, now offers camouflage-covered furniture. Camo patterns don't come in just one style; there's mossy oak and wetlands, among others. And if you buy matching clothing, says The New York Times, you have the option of disappearing in your own living room.





Call them eco-freaks, but many conservationists in the Northwest believe fish belong in a free-flowing river. Now, some scientists agree. Forcing salmon to run a gantlet of dams, they say, may leave the vanishing species too pooped to procreate. "The fish, some approaching 40 pounds, must climb dams, slog through warm reservoirs, and press on for hundreds of miles; worse, once they leave the ocean on their month-long journey, they never stop for food," said Richard Williams, who wrote the report for the Northwest Power Planning Council. Scientist Phillip Mundy said he's concluded that fish-counting at dams may give a "falsely optimistic picture of salmon in the Columbia Basin," AP reports. Fish sucked back by turbines or spillways may have to climb fish ladders more than once. In any case, he pointed out, "There is a huge disconnect between the number of fish that are passing the dams and what's happening in the spawning grounds."





A coyote crossing ranch land to get to the Salmon River in Idaho's Sawtooth Valley never made it. Snowmobilers veered off a groomed trail to chase the animal down and run it over, reports the Idaho Mountain Express. Tracks in a pasture tell the story: The snowmobilers kept running the animal over until it died. Killing a coyote is legal anytime in Idaho; what made this act illegal was that it took place on private land, says Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer Lee Frost. The snowmobilers have not been identified.





Prairie dogs are nothing if not perky, popping up from their burrows to check for owls or other predators, chattering all the while. Now comes word that the rodents are all the rage in Japan; last year, people there imported 5,000 prairie dogs for pets. "The Japanese are crazy about small animals," says Pat Storer, author of Prairie Dog Pets. "They are good luck to them." Prairie dogs have their fans among pet owners in America as well, AP reports. Deborah Gaskins of Greenville, N.C., brags that "No matter where you are in the house their eyes are on you all the time. It's like she can't live without me." But while their indoor relatives may be thriving, wild prairie dogs are finding it harder to survive. The federal government has begun a nine-month review to determine if the black-tailed prairie dog teeters on the edge of extinction.





Syndicated columnist Dave Barry can be so mean. Writing about the indignities of airplane travel for The Denver Post, he offered a little tip for Colorado: "The Denver airport is nice," he said, "but it should be moved to the same state as Denver."





In its long-running fight against southern Utah counties, the federal government claims that bumps and steep grades are what tourists crave. A Park Service official recently told a federal judge that when the county bulldozed some "improvements' inside Capitol Reef National Park, it "damaged one of the nation's jewels' - the curvy and potholed Burr Trail. County workers, defended in court by the state of Utah, said safety concerns drove them to take out two hillsides and cut a 4-foot-deep trench inside the park - all without the park's permission.





If you join The Mountaineers in Seattle, Wash., you'll find others who do everything from alpine scrambling to sea kayaking. Judging from a recent exchange of letters in the monthly magazine, The Mountaineer, you might add debating to the list. It all started with the humble bivy sack, a not-so-cheap item bought to enclose you and your sleeping bag for extra protection on the ground. In the February issue, an outraged woman warned that when she completely closed her Advanced Bivy, she began hyperventilating. Then she spotted a too-small warning tag: To avoid suffocation, it said, never zip up completely. The following month a Mountaineer member jumped on the bivy owner's case: "The concept of zipping yourself up tight inside anything, much less anything supposedly waterproof, without realizing there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea, is in my own humble opinion, an oversight of Darwinian proportions." What's more, he warned his fellow mountaineers, this kind of victim mentality leads to "the downfall of modern America."





The advertising pitch that bigger is better has moved to firearms. The star of an annual trade show for hunters in Atlanta, Ga., was a gigantic pistol dubbed Raging Bull. It weighs in at almost 4 pounds and sports a 8 3/4-inch barrel. Montana's Hungry Horse News says the "hand cannon" drew awed oglers, including some buyers who might want to shoot big game with a handgun.


*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 bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or betsym@hcn.org.