Heard around the West

  • Spelling not a job requirement on Ore.'s Fremont Nat'l Forest

    Beverly Stone photo

Cows as we know them seem to be on the way out in the West. The Arizona Republic reports that in the "once stolid cattle country" of southeastern Arizona, a hydroponic tomato greenhouse near Willcox, Ariz., employs more than 500 people, while ranchers now raise "all kinds of weirdness from ostriches to rabbits and chinchillas." Traditional farmers are also changing their ways, with many converting to organic growing and the "You Pick It" approach, which attracted 120,000 people from Tucson last year. But hold on, there's an inevitable downside. While fewer cattle are sold in the area, overgrazing continues, subdivision-style. The extension service recently distributed a brochure to backyard ranchers because so many had overstocked their 40 acres - cows were eroding streams and tearing up the "ranchette."

For most ranchers, size matters. The beefier the cow, the bigger the profit. But what if you're a "rancheteer?" There's not much room on the back 40. Australian researchers offer a solution: the mini cow. "This is the size of animal you can work with and lead around like a dog," says Gene Kantack, a breeder of what he calls "the cattle of the new millennium." The lowslung cows, which come up to a person's waist but still tip the scales at 1,000 pounds, were on display at Denver's National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, says the Denver Post. The cows were bred in New Zealand beginning in 1929, and can be raised completely on grass. So far, however, there are only some 500 "cowlettes" in the world.

To the forces arrayed against Old West-style ranching, add this: "nice-guy" herding. "We don't need hot-shots on the range anymore," says Steve Cote, a holistic-herding teacher for the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service. "The hard-riding, Stetson-waving cowboys are on the way out." Cote says the feelings of cows must be respected, with cowboys speaking softly. Results are obvious when politeness reigns, Cote says. "Cows accept being branded if they are talked to properly and will file quietly into a corral and wait." Horace Smith, 72, owner of a ranch in northern Nevada, says he knows the new style won't work for all hands, but he agrees it's the cost-effective way to go. Calmer cows put on weight much faster, gaining an extra pound a day. They're also easier to move around to prevent overgrazing, he adds. Says instructor Cote: "Cowboys will have to change their way of thinking or change their job."

Some loggers in Minneapolis say federal bureaucrats have succumbed to a religious cult. They're suing, of course. Instead of cutting down the trees, the loggers charge, the Forest Service worships them. The name of the new religion? "Deep ecology." The New Mexico-based group, Forest Guardians, dismisses the lawsuit as ludicrous, and the Institute for Deep Ecology in California insists that its studies have nothing to do with faith. The approach is all about interrelationships in nature, they say. In their suit, the loggers ask the government to pay them $600,000 for lost income from cancelled timber sales.

Reporters at the Aspen Times had fun conjuring up stories they'd like to cover in the year 2000. One was the formation of a "Noxious People Board," modeled after the noxious weed board. It would pursue non-natives who "make the area so unpleasant," starting with men in fur who are "easy to spot, slow on foot, and generally present no real threat to the guys in the 'department.' " Other targets were owners of sport-utility vehicles, at least one former mayor, trophy wives in Range Rovers, people who use cell phones on ski lifts and in movie theaters, and drivers who never bother to signal turns.

In much of Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management has its hands tied: Because it doesn't have rangers on the ground, it can't do much about vandalism, artifact thieves or illegal roads blazed by drivers of off-road vehicles. So the agency recently announced it would hire a Lander-area ranger to be the agency's "eyes and ears." It's a first step, but with no sense of irony the agency also said that the new ranger would be responsible "for patrolling approximately 3 million acres of BLM lands," reports the Billings Gazette. That means the lone ranger, who will carry a gun, must patrol an area only slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey.

Blame it on Y2K: Just after millennial midnight in Whitefish, Mont., near the Big Mountain ski resort, four women decided to run naked through the town. That sparked a riot as some 400 people "spilled out of bars along Central Avenue" to cheer on the streakers, reports Associated Press. When police showed up to arrest the women for indecent exposure, they were pelted with rocks, snowballs and bottles. Then two police cars were attacked, at which point, police called in reinforcements from the state, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. Police arrested a dozen people, including three of the four streakers; all were released the next morning "as they sobered up."

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 bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

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