Heard around the West


One hundred and ninety million years ago, give or take a few millennia, a meat-eating dinosaur walked to an oasis in a place now close to Vernal, Utah, and bent down for a drink. The 12-foot-tall beast was heavy, and its clawed, three-toed feet sank deeply into what is now wonderfully preserved sandstone rock. Scores of tracks this and other dinosaurs left are visited by some 120,000 people a year, reports Associated Press. Now, one "trackway" is no longer intact.

Bored when their leader took other youths on a boat ride, three 15-year-old Boy Scouts went on a spree July 19. They uprooted three of the area's rarest fossils and chucked them at buoys floating in a lake. State park ranger Curt Sinclear, who saw the splashes, said he was "angry, sad and disappointed that the Boy Scouts' environmental message is getting lost."

Two weeks later, two men who run a dive shop in Vernal volunteered to hunt for the stone tracks in the murky reservoir at Red Fleet State Park. Just as Paul Carroll and his partner at Atlantis Divers shop were about to give up for the day, Michael Weyland spotted the fossils in the water, and like pieces of a puzzle coming together, the rocks he brought up constituted 90 percent of the vandalized tracks.

The three Scouts face charges in juvenile court while a fourth boy who was with them will not: "He said he knew what was being destroyed and that's why he didn't join in."

When they wanted to roam, they up and went, two 1,500-pound bison escaping from a ranch near John Day, Ore., that is owned by a timber-company executive. The pair of 3-year-old bulls wandered free for two months, reports the East Oregonian, eluding a helicopter pilot who'd glimpse them but never long enough to pin them down.

Then the wily animals were spotted three times in rapid succession - "ascending a hill behind the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in John Day," came one report; in the vicinity of a McDonald's Restaurant, came another; and, finally, walking down the middle of a road near the Weary Traveler's Motel. Pursuers closed in, though Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer said the runaways - part of a herd of 200 - were so wild it was impossible to get close. The sheriff was 200 yards away when he shot both buffalo with a 7mm magnum. "They had been in town," he said afterward, "and there were houses in the area where I shot them." The bison were salvaged for their meat.

A huge, 1,200-megawatt coal-fired plant has been proposed for southern Colorado, near the town of Las Animas. Housing for workers, however, seems extraordinarily tight. According to the La Junta Tribune Democrat, Tri-State Generation and Transmission would employ 800 to 1,000 workers over the six-year construction period, and "most will live in a camper on site, which could bring about sewer and electricity issues."

Think of Rebel without a Cause movie actor James Dean, who died at age 24. You probably think of a motorcycle, a black leather jacket and a cigarette dangling from his lips. It all fits together - though not in the pages of one of Salt Lake City's dailies, the Deseret News. The paper, owned by the Mormon Church, digitally altered a picture of the actor recently to remove the cigarette, reports Associated Press. Newspaper staffers had two reasons to censor Dean's addiction: The church prohibits tobacco in any form for its members, and newspaper policy is to not accept tobacco advertising.

Yet transforming James Dean into a "rebel without a smoke," as an Aspen Times headline put it, was "a mistake," says managing editor Rick Hall.

Meanwhile, a recent full-page ad in The New York Times from a nonprofit group called Smoke Free Movies says Hollywood continues to take money from Big Tobacco. And when charismatic actors play parts that show them puffing like chimneys, says the group, young people watching get hooked.

In western Colorado, off-road vehicle aficionado Bill Sutton is hopping mad at the exaggerations of people he calls "wacko environmentalists." In a letter to the Delta County Independent, Sutton says a fellow ATVer, caught "cutting donuts" across a mountain meadow, doesn't deserve any penalty for ripping up public land.

Sutton makes his case for muddy ruts this way: "I have personally taken an ATV on my own wet pasture and spun tires, cut donuts, committing every abuse possible. The resulting damage was nil. The visual evidence of my indiscretion lasted about a week." Sutton says he wishes environmentalists would stop "bleating, whining and complaining."

Idaho Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter is still trying to have it his way. The Republican congressman, who serves on a House subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Clean Water Act, fought the EPA for two years after it fined him $80,000 for destroying 2.4 acres of wetlands on his ranch. Otter had neglected to get a federal permit, something he had been caught failing to do two times earlier.

Otter stalled and said he wouldn't pay the fine - reduced to $50,000 - unless he could be assured that the agency would use his money for restoration, not to "hire another bureaucrat," reports the Idaho Statesman. Mark Ryan, attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency, said Otter's check went to the common purse of the U.S. Treasury.

Census data rolling in for the year 2000 are giving reporters lots to write about. A few tidbits from the West have emerged. Not surprisingly, Wyoming ranks No. 1 in cars per household, reports the Casper Star-Tribune. The Cowboy State's "fecund fleet," as Jason Marsden characterizes it, is caused by two-paycheck families, the rural life and those wide-open spaces. In Montana, the Missoulianreports, more people - .07 percent - lacked indoor plumbing than most other Americans - .05 percent. But rents in Montana are cheaper. They're $451 a month, compared to the national median of $612.

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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