Like many Americans, Evelyn and Don Irvine enjoy camping out on public land. Evening after evening after evening, they sit by their small trailer on the banks of the Green River in Utah, watching the water and rafters flow by. Thus far, they've been camped on the Green for 20 years, ever since a doctor told Don to leave the rat race. Don is an independent man, but this is one piece of advice he took. He closed his garage in Green River, Utah, a town of 900, and he and Evelyn moved to the river. It's a spot so remote, the Salt Lake Tribune wrote on July 23, that "there isn't so much as a pop bottle on the side of the unpaved road" leading to their site. Remote, but not without amenities; they can catch a little TV when a plane flies over, reflecting signals down to them. Otherwise, they watch videos sent by their five kids.
The BLM has a name for people like Evelyn, 73, and Don, 76: "end of the roaders." Once the couple moves on, the agency will reclaim their six-acre farm. A BLMer said, "The dilemma is you kick this guy off the public lands and you put him in the state welfare system." Right now, the couple is almost self-sufficient. They raise their desert crops and goats with the help of water diverted - no permit, of course - out of the Green River.
Land-use planners in Clark County, Wash., have kept 20 acres in agriculture. The county had told the land's owner, builder Rich Jochim, that he could build only two homes on his 20 acres, rather than the 20 homes he intended. So Jochim now plans to raise hogs in the rural but suburbanizing area. He will start with 300 hogs, but if all goes well, he'll end up with 1,000 in phase three: a density of 50 hogs per acre. Jochim told the July 21 Oregonian that while he could also legally operate a cemetery or build a church on the land, he's a North Dakota boy, and hogs are what he knows.
Fortunately for Arizona Gov. Fife Symington, he has two sides to his mouth. Otherwise he might have had trouble asking the Congress for federal land: "Give us the chance to operate Montezuma Castle, or the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, or the San Pedro National Conservation Area ... Let us show what we can do," the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff reported.
Meanwhile, according to the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, Ariz., the state was showing what it could do over near Springville, where it was selling 15 acres of land to the highest bidder. The land is called Casa Malpais, and it has been designated a National Historic Landmark because it includes a 100-room pueblo. Symington's deputy commissioner of the Arizona Land Department, Dennis Wells, said, "We are not really in the business of managing archaeological sites, and this is one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the state."
Special alert to Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho and Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho. In another example of government inefficiency, the 7,500 federal land managers who carry guns while patroling 650 million acres of the public's forests, parks and rivers have fired their guns only 19 times from 1991 to the present.
Rural towns like to annoy urban people by playing with, riding on and - occasionally - even eating animals. Baker City, Ore., kept the 100,000-member Animal Protection Institute in Sacramento, Calif., in an uproar for years by holding an annual porcupine race. The fun ended in 1991, when it was discovered that Oregon law allows porcupines to be shot but not raced. Now the town hopes a replacement has been found. Debbie Wood of the town's Chamber of Commerce told the July 14 Oregonian: "It's brand new, and it's hopefully going to be a big event, to take the place of the porcupine races, which everyone misses." Unfortunately for lovers of Western culture, the town has replaced something unique with a cliché: greased pig wrestling.
Pity poor Texas, say two public officials, and pity the public-land states if they ever become like Texas. Ray Powell, New Mexico's public-lands commissioner, told a committee headed by Congressman Don Hansen of Utah, who wants to privatize the federal lands:
"We need only look to our neighbor state of Texas to see the result: Families look out of their windows at land they cannot enjoy without paying a price. Fewer and smaller areas are designated for general public access. The privilege of hunting the public game is much more expensive."
And Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas told a group of outdoor writers:
"I was a Texas boy. I hunted and fished and roamed around on private lands, begging access or sneaking in and out when I wanted. When I grew up, moved away, and discovered public lands, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Here, for me, for everyone, were beautiful wild lands with a bounty of uses managed for everyone, over time."
Tell us it isn't so. The toughest of the tough, the most individualistic of all individualists - rodeo cowboys - are thinking of forming a union, reports the Casper Star-Tribune.
Backpackers think they have it hard, carrying their lives on their backs. But listen to what Ed Rehberg, who travels in a bus converted into a luxurious home, told The New York Times about Yellowstone Park's narrow and potholed roads: It was so bad "we had to hold the television to keep it from falling. It was rough."
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 HCNVIRO@aol.com