Heard Around the West

 

Utah has been making financial news, though the news is dismal. According to a report from the American Bankruptcy Institute, a resident of Utah is more likely to go bankrupt than a resident of any other state. About one out of every 35 Utah households filed for bankruptcy last year, says The Associated Press, while the national average is one in every 69 households. Utah residents struggle with a per capita income that ranks 45th in the nation, a depressed job market, large families to support and a high cost of living.

Utah may also be trying to lead the West in dumb regulations. Though no one has ever become ill from eating chilies roasted in the open air, the state's Agriculture Department now mandates an indoor structure that could cost shops between $15,000 and $30,000. "It's probably a $1 million business in the state, and they shut it right down," a farmer told the AP. Buying chilies that range in spiciness from blistering hot to mild is a fall tradition for many Westerners, and the food is a staple in Hispanic communities. Chili roasters say complicated regulations are hardly necessary: "A small paper distributed with the chilies could warn buyers that the chilies need to be frozen within three hours of roasting." The AP found that California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona do not set regulations on how or where chilies are roasted; they leave that up to local health departments.

Editors at the Jackson Hole Guide in Wyoming have gotten a tad nervous about their newspaper: A New York Times story about the town's airport was so full of errors, Guide staffers wonder how many booboos they're failing to catch at the local weekly. First, the Times' headline said, "Resort outgrows its tiny airport." Well, some residents might think so, editors said. But others find the airport, which is on publicly owned land within Grand Teton National Park, already too big. Other glitches in the Times story: Those leaping critters on trails were probably grasshoppers and not crickets and, "Sandra Bullock's plane didn't overshoot the runway. Her pilot just plain missed the runway." The Guide also said a photo caption was unintentionally hilarious: It describes "a shipment of frozen elk arriving in Jackson Hole in the 1960s." "As if we didn't have enough already," the Guide says; that boxed-up elk was going the other way. The errors were comforting, however; Guide editors said they were proud to be in such august company.

Though some of us may not have noticed, Smokey Bear has revised his fire message. Still pointing sternly in "only you" mode, the Forest Service spokesbear now tells us we must prevent the "bad" blazes he calls wildfires, not forest fires in general. "Good" fires are the ones the government sets or lets burn to avoid bigger blazes. The nonprofit Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics says Smokey's message is, well, smoky, so it's come up with what it thinks is a clearer slogan, as well as a new spokesmammal to spread it: An androgynous squirrel dubbed Reddy, who sports workboots, hard hat and long eyelashes. The message from Reddy the girl squirrel: "No one can prevent forest fires." So where does that leave us? Reddy says homeowners who live uncomfortably close to or in forests need to better fireproof their homes. "Be ready!" says Reddy Squirrel. "Not even Smokey can prevent forest fires."

The Denver Post once called Boulder, Colo., "the little town nestled between the mountains and reality." The college town cares passionately about animal rights, and that includes protection for pets that live with "guardians" as well as protection for wildlife - even an aggressive and shrieking gang of non-native starlings. For the last 10 summers, a flock of 4,000 starlings has taken over the branches of trees above the city-owned Mapleton Mobile Home Park. Yet Boulder officials refuse to do anything about the birds or the droppings that rain on the 128 trailers below. The Los Angeles Times says bird-doo can accumulate on cars, sidewalks and gardens at the rate of an inch and a half a day. "This is ridiculous," says new resident Debbie Feustel. "The city talks about a bird sanctuary, but what about us having a sanctuary in our own homes?" "Shouts of Ôincoming!' invariably ring out," the Times says, as residents gird themselves for what they now call the "pooparazzi." The only safe place is in the middle of the street. "If I had an Uzi, I'd love it," says one fed-up resident. "I want to see blood and feathers." Responds a city official: "We are exploring options for encouraging the birds to move."

A survey of Forest Service workers in Oregon and Washington found that only 40 percent of those asked approved of the federal fee program, which charges some forest users $5 a day. Wild Wilderness, an Oregon group that opposes fees, printed a few of its favorite criticisms. Said one federal worker: "Next thing, we will have a fee to use the toilet, which is where this program should go."

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. She appreciates tips for the column, Heard around the West (betsym@hnc.org).