Heard around the West

 

Stolid and solid at 1,500 pounds each, beef cows keep getting a bad rap. Fear of mad cow disease is chasing away burger eaters, and doctors have long warned that juicy steaks clog arteries. Now come two researchers who tell us in Conservation Biology magazine that cows cause fires. Joy Belsky and Dana Blumenthal connect the fires that sweep through the West with cattle gobbling up the grasses that usually grow beneath ponderosa pines. Without grasses to keep wildfires moving fast and cool on the forest floor, the trees themselves burn in hot, intense fires. And when they do grow back, they're as crowded as toothpicks in a shot glass.

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a A different kind of bovine offense recently occurred in Montana, though some of the animals involved became victims themselves. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle recounts the mayhem that followed when a cattle truck rolled over, killing 18 cows and immediately causing the wrecks of a fire truck and bus. Each vehicle crashed into a cow. "We had cows strung out for five miles," said a state policeman. It probably did not help that the time was 4:30 a.m. and the road was pitch dark. What's more, all 53 cows hoofing it down the road toward Big Sky, four miles away, were black. To further complicate matters, two cow elk, perhaps curious at the commotion, crossed the road through Gallatin Canyon right after the cow-car collisions. When a Montana Highway Patrol cruiser rounded a curve it ran right into the elk, killing the animals and smashing the car's front windshield. Some 50 people from Big Sky spent the pre-dawn hours working to corral the stealth cows, but no one was seriously injured in the wrecks.

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Bovines even get blamed for Western kitsch items featuring black-and-white dairy cows with big eyes. They have not been accused of causing lung cancer - yet. That dubious honor goes to cigarette manufacturers, who may have much to fear in Arizona. An anti-smoking campaign aimed at teens uses the tagline: "Tobacco: tumor-causing, teeth-staining, smelly, puking habit." If your reaction is "gross' that's cool, say state officials, because that means kids might just listen, reports the Wall Street Journal. State voters approved a 40 cents a pack tobacco tax in 1994 to fund the campaign, which includes a visit to schools by the "Ash Kicker," a vehicle that sports a simulated cancerous lung. One television ad featured a cannibal spitting out a mouthful and shouting: "I said I wanted smoked tourist, not a tourist who smoked!"

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If cigarette companies suspect there's a conspiracy against them, they have much in common with the John Birch Society, which for decades has said that government agencies are in cahoots to steal our freedom. The group recently announced it had high hopes for recruiting new members in Wyoming, reports the Casper Star Tribune. Colorado columnist Ellen Miller calls the group's conspiracy argument a leap of faith, since it assumes that the government is capable of acting efficiently. Sadly, she concludes, the evidence points in the other direction. How, she wonders, could the U.S. Air Force have misplaced an A-10 attack jet for 18 days, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains? "It's embarassing for the zoomies to lose an airplane like this," she says.

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Spring Break came and went in Utah, and the red rock country survived the onslaught of boom boxes, mountain bikes and an annual Jeep Safari. It helped that police from federal agencies and counties were geared up, says the Salt Lake Tribune. In years past, revelers "held law enforcement at bay." One observer said she thought the four-wheelers and bikers "seemed to actually be enjoying watching each other on the trails."

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Maybe the young lead charmed lives or maybe they're just plain ingenious. Just outside of Moab, Utah, an 8-year-old boy in Arches National Park got himself stuck in a narrow "pothole" about 8 feet deep. How to signal his dilemma? The boy set off "flares' by filling his socks and shoes with red sand and firing them into the air. Rangers from the National Park Service spotted the signal and hauled him out.

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Animals are definitely noticing spring. Four runaway emus in Twin Falls, Idaho, broke out of their pen and chased sheriff's deputies and a police dog sent to round them up, reports Associated Press. And in the Phoenix, Ariz., area, suburbanites have begun frantically calling 911 as the warm weather draws awakening rattlers to backyards and in some cases, inside houses. "Finding a snake in the house is bad, but finding one in the house - and then losing it - is worse," reports the Arizona Republic. A Brooklyn, N.Y., transplant says she's amazed to find so many snakes and not at all surprised that "all my neighbors talk about is snakes." But for depressed llamas and alpacas near Corvallis, Ore., spring is about the best thing that can happen. Researchers at Oregon State University have found that the high-altitude animals get rickets as well as SAD, seasonal affective disorder, when skies are grey too long.

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Reader Tom Weis in Washington, D.C., sent us one of those quintessential Western photos that reveals how we celebrate the natural just after we've destroyed it. The picture shows a bulldozed road to a mountain subdivision near Telluride, Colo.; the street sign reads: "Habitat Drive."



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 [email protected]

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