Heard around the West

  • Cartoon of "smart" prairie dog

    Diane Sylvain
 

The Aspen Daily News isn't shy about its willingness to dish the dirt. Its motto? "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen." Bren Simon, the wife of shopping-mall developer and Indiana Pacers owner Melvin Simon, may have recollected those words once the free paper began printing juicy stories about the couple's illegal swimming pool on high-priced Red Mountain.

This is the pool that partially slopped onto public land and also lacked county permits. Community reaction to the revelations was fast and furious, with "blow it up" one of the kinder, gentler solutions offered. That's exactly what the couple plans to do, says Bren Simon, who told the daily she thinks she understands why locals were so quick to criticize what was widely construed as misappropriation of public land and private arrogance. "The beauty of the place starts to dwindle because the reality of life sets in," she explained, adding that commuting and crowding lead to anger and resentment toward the wealthy. Simon also said, "With enough money you can buy your way out of just about anything in Pitkin County." But she added, "I'm not willing to do that." She blamed the couple's difficulties on "a series of bad communications." Besides demolishing their pool, the couple has agreed to dismantle a poolside cabana - also built without a permit - and try to gain a "retroactive" county permit for a basketball court.

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Another millionaire, or more accurately, billionaire, has run afoul of a governmental agency. In this case it is oil and railroad baron Philip Anschutz, who added six holes to his private golf course by building on a federally protected wetland near Greeley, Colo. The Denver Business Journal reports that Anschutz could face as much as $30 million in fines if the EPA decides to get tough and impose the maximum levy of $25,000 a day. But the Environmental Protection Agency rarely goes for the jugular, financially speaking. As in Aspen, the situation began as a misunderstanding "as to what could have been done without a permit," said Lynn Wood, an attorney for the Anschutz Corp.

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Prairie dogs chirp warnings at the sight of people, hawks, coyotes and domesticated dogs. We think we've heard that before. Now, an animal behaviorist at Northern Arizona University, Con Slobodchikoff, believes the two-pound critters not only signal, they speak. The researcher told the Tucson Weekly that dialects vary by colonies, but that prairie dogs from different neigborhoods can understand one another - sort of like Brooklynites deciphering the utterances of east Texans. Having developed grammar and vocabularies of hundreds of words, the animals are anything but "simplistic vermin," he insists. In fact, "I think prairie dogs have a lot to teach us."

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At a trial in rural Newport, Wash., the subject was 240 dogs of the pet variety, most found in grisly shape at the Mountain Top Kennel. Owners Jeanette and Swen Bergman were charged with animal cruelty, and during a recent nine-day trial their two lawyers worked manfully to justify the couple's right to treat the animals as they saw fit. Their defense? The Bible's gift to humans of dominion over all the earth and the fearful zealousness of animal-rights advocates. Novelist George Orwell even emerged as a character witness against uppity four-leggeds when one attorney quoted from his novel, Animal Farm: "Soon or late the day is coming,/Tyrant Man shall be o'erthrown/And the fruitful fields of England/Shall be trod by beasts alone." Good try, but no dog bone, reported the Spokesman-Review. The judge found the couple guilty and gave Jeanette Bergman the more serious sentence of nine months in jail.

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A different kind of loss took place in the "Tree City" of Eugene, Ore., last month, and tree-lovers are still smarting over it. City officials lopped 43 older oaks, maples and sweet gums, starting quietly, at 6 a.m. on a Sunday, so an electronics company could gain a parking lot. When the chain-sawing became known, protesters climbed trees and hung on, trying without success to halt the cutting. Police in flak jackets used pepper spray to pull down the tree huggers as a crowd gathered, some yelling "shame!" One 25-year resident of Eugene, Jack Bates, said turning shade trees into concrete "ripped my vote off." City staffer Phil Weiler had a different reaction; he said the logging shouldn't have surprised anyone, since more parking in the area had been part of Eugene's planning for years.

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Did Steve Mealey, the head of Idaho's Department of Fish and Game, moon the shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille from a pleasure boat after two days of business meetings? Or did he "feign" mooning, as an Associated Press story delicately put it? Yes and no is the answer and "the fallout is still falling out," says Jack True- blood, information officer for the state agency. Mealey insists he didn't expose any skin when he bent over. Others on the boat say they were offended by his actual, not virtual, mooning. Mealey has been suspended for two weeks without pay.

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Meanwhile, a nude sunbathing spot near Salt Lake City, dubbed "Bare Bum Beach," has raised the ire of tourists. Police raided this watering hole on the southern shore of Utah's Great Salt Lake after tourists complained their children were exposed to naked and cavorting people. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that an "undercover operation" netted 31 men and three women who were charged with lewdness.


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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