Heard Around the West

  • Gas pump patriotism in Big Sky Country

    Ray Vinkey


It had to happen: Orange County is running out of rural land for gigantic housing developments. “We don’t have any dirt left,” a real estate analyst told the Los Angeles Times. There are still plans for up to 42,000 homes and condos on about 54 square miles. But the easy paving-over is over, and the land that’s left is “both tough to build on and beloved by area residents.” The paper predicts fierce battles in California’s bastion of build-out.


“Cage cattle, not people,” says Kent Knudson, who’s started a national crusade against cows legally roaming at will. Knudson, who lives near Snowflake in east-central Arizona, was bringing his mother home from the hospital when he found a couple of dozen cows filling his yard. He later told Canada’s Western Producer newspaper: “The cattle were in the process of attacking me,” so he took a .22 rifle and killed one of the cows. Knudson was charged with a felony and could get a two-year sentence and a fine of up to $150,000. But his campaign against open-range laws has won support from neighbors such as Gene Bull, who told the Arizona Republic that “the law now gives cows the right to eat up the entire township, and I have to put up a $6,000 fence just for protection.”


“Hug a logger, not a tree” is the rallying cry of a Montana organization called the League of Rural Voters. Its president, Bruce Vincent, told The Wall Street Journal how frustrated he’d become trying to teach kids about the importance of work using natural resources: “If they (children) were told that logging would hurt Alfred the Wolf, they’d forget everything I said.” So Vincent created a program that he hopes will compete with what he calls the green agenda and its clever use of charismatic megafauna such as wolves and grizzlies. Debuting in 125 middle school classrooms this fall, his Provider Pals program brings in for “adoption” a logger, fisherman, miner, farmer or rancher. Each visits a classroom several times a year. Vincent, the son of a logger, has big bucks behind him: Ford Motor Co. is giving his effort $1.5 million over three years.


Where is Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” when we need it? Karl Breheim, who lives near Spokane, Wash., says a timber sale near Galice, Ore., must be stopped because it threatens an endangered species: Bigfoot. Breheim says he was in the sale area seven years ago and found a huge footprint, 50 small trees broken off some 8 to 9 feet above the ground, and an apparent bite mark on a toolbox he’d left on the ground. Now, he wants the indentation tested for possible DNA evidence of the legendary ape-man. “You talk about Bigfoot, people think you’re crazy,” he told the Daily Courier. But Breheim said his aim is to save the old-growth forest where Bigfoot makes his home.


DNA testing rode to the rescue of rancher Mike McKinley in southern Spokane County, after someone stole seven of his unbranded calves. McKinley had a suspect, he told the Spokesman Review, a man “who had seven calves suddenly turn up at his place.” But how to prove it? McKinley got permission to pluck some hairs from the calves, and then sent them for testing to the University of California, Berkeley. The results: Five calves in his neighbor’s pen belonged to McKinley’s cows, and the evidence convinced the rustler to plead guilty. His sentence, however, was only 30 days in jail. The rancher noted — perhaps in jest — that a century ago, “I could have taken a rope and hung him on that tree over there ... .”


Prairie dog colonies that stand in the way of development always seem to provoke passion. In Grand Junction, a reader of the Daily Sentinel took the side of the “unusual and adorable critters,” saying, “I, too, am willing to join the cause to eliminate developers to save prairie dogs.” But another reader rejoined: “I will gladly bring them (150 white-tailed prairie dogs) to you free of charge and they can live with you and your family. What’s your address?”

Betsy Marston is new media editor of High Country News in Paonia, Colo. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in this column.