Heard around the West

  • A CRAP SHOOT? Sign outside a Basin, Wyo., convenience store

    Dewey Vanderhoff

Cattle have always enjoyed right of way in the West. If the road is suddenly filled with mooing and manuring animals, it's up to a motorist to slow down and enjoy the passing herd. If you're unlucky enough to crest a hill and crash into a 2,000-pound cow, the animal is legally innocent; it's the animal that gets paid for - not the totaled vehicle. But hold on, that tradition is under siege in Montana, the state infamous for its experiment with drive-as-fast-as-you-want-highways. The Montana Supreme Court recently ruled in a 5-2 decision that "livestock owners have a responsibility to keep their cattle from wandering onto public roads and colliding with cars," reports Associated Press and the Great Falls Tribune. The decision overturned a 1967 ruling that said the "open-range doctrine" absolved cattle owners of any responsibility to motorists. The court made its decision after hearing a case about a woman whose car hit a bull on a back road near Billings. "The animal rolled onto the hood of the vehicle and crashed through the windshield" into Mary Larson-Murphy, severely injuring her. She then sued both the animal's owner and the people who leased the pasture the bull escaped from. The state Supreme Court's decision means a lower court must hear her case.

Occasionally, politicians speak with remarkable frankness. A few weeks before taking office, Montana's Gov.-elect Judy Martz allowed that she looked forward to becoming the "lap dog of industry." Addressing the Montana Taxpayers Association, Martz said that "collectively we will send a message loud and clear, far and wide, that Montana is open for business." Her remark might have been a response to criticism during the campaign from Democratic challenger Mark O'Keefe, who repeatedly charged that Martz would "shill" for the big businesses supporting her. Martz told the taxpayers' group, reports Associated Press, that she "will work with industry of all sizes."

Here's a post-election bumper sticker suggested by a frustrated Democrat in Wyoming: Hail to the thief. And another floating around on the Internet: One person, one vote (may not apply in certain states). Bumper stickers seen at a Salmon Festival in Portland: Clean streams mean ... safe sex for salmon, and, Salmon Enchanted Evening.

Some people apparently think there's a caste system on trails and that anybody riding a vehicle with a motor belongs on top. Reader Sandy Shea of Crested Butte, Colo., says that while hiking 80 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in Southern California, she was amazed to see dirt bikers and motorcyclists - even though prohibited - criss-crossing the trail and messing it up. To make matters worse, she read this non-apology in the trail register: "We just love to moto on the Pacific Crest Trail! Please don't be mad at us. After all, motos are to hikers what computers are to smoke signals."

Ranchers in Europe don't want to feed remnants of dead cattle to their animals since the practice has been linked to the spread of mad cow disease. But their problem may be a solution for farmers in Washington and Idaho. With lentils at their lowest prices since 1973, says Tim McGreevey of the Dry Pea and Lentil Council, "there's some good news out there - mad cow disease." McGreevey says farmers in the Palouse area are more than ready to supply high-protein substitutes for bone meal.

Is it cruel to fool a fish? Some catch-and-release anglers wonder if their hooking and handling of fish causes them pain. Not to worry, says University of Wyoming neuroscientist Jim Rose. Rose told The Denver Post that fish can't feel pain because, like the straw man in The Wizard of Oz, they don't have the brain for it. For interpreting what happens to them, Rose says, fish need to evolve a neo-cortex. When fish thrash around on a hook, he says, it's a reaction to the threat of bodily harm, not necessarily to pain.

No one knows why, but two sea otters in California have really gone to the dogs. They are attacking harbor seal pups about 80 miles south of San Francisco. The otters have killed more than a dozen young seals in Elkhorn Slough, and "witnesses to the slaughter say the otters attempt to have sex with the seal pups before shoving them underwater long enough to drown them," reports Associated Press. The first otter to target the young seals has some familiarity with humans, who named him Morgan. Morgan came from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Research and Conservation program, which rehabilitates abandoned otters, and "the second otter is apparently mimicking Morgan's deadly ways." But don't try messing with these otters gone bad; they're protected under the Endangered Species Act. Biologists hope to capture Morgan, equip him with a radio transmitter in his abdomen, and possibly relocate him.

Two men in Corte Madera, Calif., near San Francisco, got so fed up with bloated sport-utility vehicles that they decided to expose their drivers to public embarrassment. Their modus operandi: Slapping homemade stickers onto SUV bumpers that read, "I'M CHANGING THE CLIMATE! Ask me how!" Charles Dines, a construction worker, and Robert Lind, manager of a deer-repellent business, told AP they were tired of watching SUVs "suck down fuel at gas stations and flood rear-view mirrors with blinding headlights." But SUV drivers tend not to feel shame so much as anger at the vandalism. They've been whipping out cell phones and calling police when they see the men bumper-sticking their way through a mall parking lot. Still, the protesters say they'll keep on spreading the word; they've already decorated several hundred SUV bumpers.

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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