Heard around the West


If your product is ostrich and emu and you call your Missoula, Mont., business the Alternative Meat Market, it just makes sense to try to send some un-beef steaks directly to the White House, right?

Right, though marketer Kim Mecca first found herself trapped in switchboard limbo. Finally she connected with White House chief usher Gary Wright, who confessed it was a "bad time because they were in the middle of a reception," reports the Helena Independent-Record. Then he added, "The good thing is the president's right here." The surprised marketer held the phone while a muffled conversation took place. Then the usher came back on the line to report that Clinton asked: "This is from remote Montana, right?" That far-off Western flavor clinched the deal. The usher told Mecca, "The president's really interested, so go ahead and send it up." So on its way to Washington, D.C., are 10 pounds of frozen "alternative" meat, as well as a recipe booklet for the White House kitchen, some ostrich summer sausage, hand lotion made from both emu and ostrich, and ostrich feather jewelry. There's no telling whether Clinton will ever indulge in the Montana fare; the usher said menus are up to the chef.

Llamas, those other alternative animals in the West, are undergoing an image make-over, reports the Los Angeles Times. Spitting is a big public-relations problem, though llamas seldom target people unless bedeviled at a children's petting zoo; llamas usually slime other llamas. Some owners of the soft-footed alternative to the pack horse or mule say the spitting canard almost became a stigma. This is not a healthy development for owners. Since the llama boom busted in the early 1990s, prices have plummeted from a six-figure high. Maryan Barker, head of a Southern California llama association, says, "They're cute, and I love "em, but it's nice to have something profitable off them." Ideas include "llamamanure," "llamabilia" such as stuffed toys, more emphasis on llama treks for hikers, and what seems the most promising industry of all, fiber. The wool is soft and durable, and rarity gives it the cachet of cashmere. The shearing is cool with the llamas - the mountain-evolved animals are vulnerable to heat stroke.

Should bears hire a public-relations agent? The bruins' bad-boy behavior is giving rise to dozens of stories from all over the West. From the bears' point of view, they're doing what comes naturally; from ours, it reads like rock stars with a bad attitude. Blame it on their caloric homestretch, says the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The animals are gobbling down everything available to put on the thick layer of fat they need to hibernate. Some calories recently came from inside more than 20 homes along Colorado's Front Range, where newcomers "have built dream homes in the midst of prime wildlife habitat."

Near Glacier National Park in Montana, bears even found caloric value in the backseat of a Ford Explorer. Owner Gael Bissell said the bears smashed a window to crawl into the vehicle and chow down on the upholstery. She was philosophical. "I'd guess it was just one of those hit-and-run things bears do sometimes," she said in the Missoulian. Her insurance agent didn't flinch when she told him about the devoured seats. "They cover acts of God, and I guess they cover acts of bears, too," she said.

Other bear tidbits: A bear barreled into a biker on Going-to-the Sun Road inside Glacier National Park. The collision was a hit and run: As rider Joel Rosenberg flew off his bike, his collarbone broken, the non-signaling bear never stopped, reports the Park Service.

In Yellowstone National Park, a grizzly sitting alone on the grass hardly noticed when first one wolf, then two, then a pack surrounded it, reports the Cody Enterprise. But when one of the wolves got a bit too aggressive, the grizzly - almost lazily - bared its teeth and the wolves decided to move on.

And in Spokane's Riverfront Park, a homeless man and his son woke up at 6 a.m. to find they'd spent the night close to a 2-year-old black bear. They called police, who found the bear unmoved by a crowd of onlookers, reports the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Lest you believe bears are innocuous, there's this from Glacier National Park. At 4 a.m. at St. Mary Campground, Sam Martin awoke to the sounds of an animal sniffing and brushing against his tent. Then he felt something "clamp down" on his arm. He jerked his arm away, yelled to chase off the big-toothed aggressor, and ripped open the side of his tent in his hurry to escape. The tent was totalled but the Floridian escaped with a scratch.

If a bear could read, it might learn that a person's tent is a castle - at least on private land in Colorado. Delivering a recent opinion of the Colorado Supreme Court, Justice Greg Hobbs said that when someone camps on unimproved and apparently unused land, there exists "a reasonable expectation of privacy in a tent used for shelter and personal effects therein." That means when police in Cortez, Colo., entered a zipped-up tent without a warrant and then searched a backpack inside for stolen money, they were acting illegally. That's "unreasonable government intrusion," said Hobbs, and violates the Fourth Amendment.

In Summit County, Colo., home to several ski resorts, it isn't bears vandalizing cars, it's some sort of anti-tourist gang. Thirty-four cars during the summer were damaged when corrosive liquid was dumped on the hood or passenger door; all sported non-Colorado plates. There was a hiatus in the attacks until October, when four cars were similarly damaged, though one car had Denver plates. Police Chief Steve Annibali said the vandals "have this misguided thought that tourism is not good for Summit County," reports the Denver Post.

Finally, hats off to a consummate climber and escape artist in Yellowstone National Park. Stuck in a holding pen by biologists, Wolf No. 29 broke out in October by scaling a 10-foot fence. Instead of then making a run for it, says the Salt Lake Tribune, the "clever canine dug a tunnel back under the fence so five other wolves could escape with him."

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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