Heard around the West


"One of the reasons environmental protection is so hard is that it is so embarrassing," says Oliver Houck, a law professor at Tulane Law School in Louisiana. It's one thing to say you got ticketed for speeding, but another to confess "that you are using the Boise River as a sewer," which explains why the language of damage control was born. Whether it's "brownfields" to describe an area contaminated by toxic waste or "even-aged management" to sanitize clear-cutting a forest, Houck says, jargon always helps to put things nicely. "Overburden," for instance, sounds like something heavy and onerous that weighs down the land. "What is weighing down the land in the case of mining operations," he says, "is trees, grass, soil and the thousands of little creatures that they contain." But sometimes bureaucrats get caught. Houck's favorite example is a memo a few years back from a mining operations chief of the U.S. Geological Survey. He so disliked the term "disturbed" for the effects of mining that he chastised staffers: "Inflammatory words such as disturbed, devastated, defiled, ravaged, gouged, scarred and destroyed should not be used," he ordered. "These are the words used by the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, environmentalists, homosexuals, ecologists and other ideological eunuchs opposed to developing natural resources." Yet the bureaucrat could not come up with a better word, says Houck.

Could you live without your car?
Seattle is spending $50,000 to answer that question. The city is paying 21 families to leave the car in the driveway. So far, says the Seattle Union Record, the consensus is that bus trips are cumbersome for grocery shopping, but otherwise they aren't so bad. "I think we're going to get rid of our second car," says Bobbie Martin. In the first two weeks of the experiment, seven families reported they'd found other ways to make 124 trips. That translates to 124 fewer cars on congested highways and 74 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide released into the air. Seattle Mayor Paul Schell says he hopes the families going carless will teach others how they can shed a vehicle and still survive in the city.

Back in 1971, homeowners
east of Seattle liked the idea of converting a 12-mile railroad bed into a hiking trail. Over the years, sprawl happened, and the modest summer homes that dotted East Lake Sammamish morphed into tony all-year residences, some featuring three stories. That tarnished the shine of the "rails to trails" goal for some lakeside homeowners - especially those who had encroached on the trail's right of way with landscaping and driveways. Now, "Tensions are high along the lake," reports the Seattle Times. One homeowner became so incensed after a visit from King County employees that he fired off a threatening e-mail: "I'll give 72 hours notice and begin to meet trespassers from the county with a loaded shotgun." The town and county say they hope to negotiate a deal that saves the trail and is satisfactory to homeowners, but they also have to consider the needs of wetlands and salmon as well. Meanwhile, of the 600 lots along the lakefront trail, some 251 remain to be developed.

You see a cow
and it's plodding left, turning right, maybe even backing up. No, it's not mad cow disease; it might be an animal wearing an expensive collar and reacting to "electronically generated cues," reports the Santa Fe New Mexican. USDA researcher Dean Anderson has spent two decades developing his "virtual fence" technique, with benefits ranging from fewer fencing costs to streams that remain free of cow poop. There's just the pesky problem of cost: the first collar that worked for cattle cost $100,000. But Anderson says costs could drop to about $2,000 or less if enough collars are manufactured in bulk. Ranchers would use the collars and their global positioning satellites to keep the little mooers moving. If a cow veers the wrong way, an electronic sound in its ear would direct it to turn; if that doesn't work, "a mild electric shock on one side of its neck" should induce a change of direction.

Rustling cattle is still
a nefarious business in the West, but there's a new twist to the old dodge: Rustlers who rip off sagebrush seed. Wildfires last year wiped out thousands of acres in Washington state and the Great Basin, and now federal agencies are hard put to find the seeds to bring back sagelands. Rustlers have been stealing the seed from public lands and then "selling to the agencies they stole it from," says Roger Parker, a law enforcement agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Parker calls the practice "illegal entrepreneurialism." Poachers often use tennis rackets "to whack the desert shrubs to drop their seeds onto plastic tarps," reports Associated Press. When cleaned and dried, the tiny seeds can bring as much as $100 a pound.

It seemed like a heck of a good idea: Remote, isolated, Halfway, Ore., near the Wallowa Mountains would change its name to half.com to ride the Internet bandwagon to fame and fortune. The name was transformed, but alas, jobs and tourists never materialized, reports Associated Press. Residents who liked not much of anything ever happening in town are happy; boosters are not, although 20 new computers came to the town's elementary school, thanks to a donation from the company half.com, which matches buyers of goods with sellers. Why didn't Halfway make the big time as a dot-com? Councilwoman Diana Glynn explains that "the only people that are going to come here in hordes are the ones who love the things that we do - the isolation. There may not be too many of those."

You can't just walk up
to a moose and ask if it's stressed by traffic, snowmobiles or cross-country skiers. What's a moose to say? But you can find its droppings, and measure them for stress hormones. Martha Tomeo, when a graduate student at Alaska Pacific University, studied moose poop for glucocorticoids and made some surprising discoveries, reports Elizabeth Manning in the Anchorage Daily News. The study, funded by The Mountaineers Foundation and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, was originally meant to look at whether snowmobiles make moose anxious. But Tomeo found that people riding snowmobiles caused only slightly higher stress for the animals. "I can't point a finger at snowmachines," she said. The major difference was between city and rural moose, with city animals experiencing much higher stress. And among the urban moose, those in midtown surrounded by traffic were less stressed than moose in a city park, where skiers and runners occasionally zoomed by. The poop comparisons were a first for moose, Tomeo says, and more work needs to be done.

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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