Heard Around the West

 

If this is heresy, so be it: We've begun to pity bureaucrats in the West who take the brunt of the public's contradictions and righteousness. When some of these non-elected officials stick their necks out to protect a public resource, they often get them cut off. And because they're "public" servants, all of us get to see the rollaway.

Take the celebrated case of race-car champion Bobby Unser, who was saved from a blizzard by Forest Service staffers, but who fulminated with indignation when ticketed for snowmobiling in a designated wilderness, this one along the Colorado-New Mexico border. Unser's defense to a federal judge this month sounded like a whine: The feds were unnecessarily citing him, since he'd almost lost his life; he somehow didn't know where he was when the blizzard struck (although his snow machine was dug out well inside a wilderness he'd been familiar with since the mid-'60s), and many people "want this to be fought," he told the Denver Post. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said he will appeal his $75 fine.

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A similar tale featuring allegedly over-zealous bureaucrats against allegedly innocent recreationists erupted recently in Grand Junction, Colo., when the superintendent of the Colorado National Monument tried to keep out a foot race that would have closed the area for almost a day. Racers flexed their political muscles so hard the state's elected officials - particularly Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell - leaned on Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and, voilê, local manager Steve Hickman was told to close a road for the runners. Environmentalists, some of whom saw the issue as a special interest group commandeering a public treasure, protested. Squeaky wheels - or legs in this case - got the go-ahead. But, go figure: Two days later Secretary Babbitt canceled a closing of a Washington parkway for a bike race, saying he could not "see the logic in shutting down a major artery" for motorists. Twenty thousand bicyclists had hoped to enjoy a car-free parkway; 260 runners are expected to compete this November in their run through the Colorado National Monument, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

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For sheer outrage, though, nothing beats Nevada Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons. He called Bureau of Land Management agents "bureaucratic monsters' for setting up a sting operation in 1994 at a recreation area to crack down on an epidemic of car burglaries. Gibbons said that BLMers, wielding guns, shot out a car's tires and "stomped on the leg of a grandmother" in their zeal to make the bust. A federal prosecutor called this characterization overblown: "This poor BLM guy was trying to arrest a carful of rowdies," Rhonda Backinoff told Gannett News Service. "It wasn't pretty, but it wasn't a case of BLM brutality." Two of the family members arrested pleaded guilty to larceny; one admitted lying to a grand jury. Twice recently, Gibbons told his version of the bust to Congress, saying he wants the agency to butt out of law enforcement. Acting BLM director Sylvia Baca called Gibbons' accusations "reckless' and said they put her agency's law enforcement officers at risk.

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But what could be more daunting for a federal agency than the return of Tom Chapman? He's the western Colorado real estate developer whose specialty is buying public land in a wilderness or on its edge, then bulldozing or building on it until the government buys him out. It's a lucrative scam; some even call it blackmail (HCN, 9/7/92). Chapman made some $4 million in a West Elk Wilderness-Telluride public-land trade four years ago, reports the Denver Post. Now, he's back; it's mano a mano again as he threatens to develop mining claims in the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Study Area in southern Colorado. Will the Forest Service again show him our money?

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From a rural county south of Phoenix in Arizona comes a saga of officialdom not pleasing everyone. When Pinal County supervisors renamed a road the "John Wayne Parkway," two Indian communities protested. And they have clout since the road travels through or along their land. "John Wayne killed Indians in the movies," pointed out Leona Carlyle-Kakar of the Ak-Chin Tribal Council, in the Arizona Republic. As a compromise, supervisors were to vote June 18 on two names, which might need a very long sign at the turnoff: "American Indian Veterans Memorial Parkway" for the Gila River Indian community and "John Wayne Parkway" everywhere else.

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News flash from Glacier National Park in Montana: a fleet of Karelian bear dogs will harass black bears off the well-traveled Camas Road to save the bears from becoming too cozy with humans. Getting cozy ends in death for the bears - 12 in 1992. But on the also-popular Going-to-the-Sun Road, watch out for fiercer bears. Park naturalist Kevin Poe and four others recently bicycled straight toward a charging grizzly. She pulled up about 20 feet away, woofed during what the Hungry Horse News calls a bluff charge, then retreated to round up her cubs.

Farther south in Missoula, Mont., a man who calls himself a "bear fanatic" still found himself scared silly when he entered his garage, where he makes T-shirts, and discovered a six-foot-tall black bear. "We both backed up as soon as we saw each other," Dave Neptune told the Associated Press. Then the animal jumped atop a counter and tried to escape through a rear window. Finding the window closed, Neptune reports, the bear ambled out the front door "moving real slow like he knew what he was doing."


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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