Heard Around the West

  • HULA-HOOPING AHEAD: Vandalism with a twist at Arches National Park in Utah

    Mark Gocke

Who said you’re never safe when a state Legislature is in session? In Idaho, women who choose to breast-feed infants came under attack from lawmakers who find the practice offensive. After Rep. Bonnie Douglas, D-Coeur d’Alene, introduced a bill protecting a woman’s right to breast-feed her baby in public, Rep. Peter Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, was aghast, saying this would encourage women to "whip it out and do it anywhere," reports the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Rep. Charles Eberle, R-Post Falls, agreed. "You talk about the right of the woman. If I’m in a restaurant though, having a nice meal, do I have any right to (not) get the woman next door to me taking off her blouse and starting to breast-feed?" He then asked why a nursing mother couldn’t just take her baby into a bathroom. Rep. Douglas replied, "You wouldn’t want to eat your lunch in a toilet stall." Douglas’ bill, similar to laws passed in 17 states, passed out of committee by one vote. An Idaho resident tells us he hopes the Legislature passes the bill, so he can say: "Whip it out, lady; it’s the law!"

At the Wyoming state Legislature in Cheyenne, it was: coyotes 1, women 0. The House Judiciary Committee defeated a bill that would have provided insurance coverage for women to buy contraceptives. On the other hand, the Legislature passed a bill supporting research at the University of Wyoming to control coyote reproduction. "Most interesting is Wyoming’s willingness to fund forms of contraceptives for coyotes, but not for Wyoming’s women," says Patricia Dowd, a staffer with the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club.

Playas, N.M., the 640-acre ghost of a copper-mining town, is up for sale, and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., thinks the federal government should buy it to train Homeland Security Department personnel. "We all recognize that real-world training for first-responders and anti-terrorist orginizations ... will be of vital importance," Domenici said in a letter to the General Services Administration. Phelps Dodge is asking only $3.1 million for the town, which boasts 259 houses, a community center, an airstrip, a fitness center, and a bank which is open every Friday. There’s even a fire station and a medical center with its own ambulance — helpful accessories in fighting the war against terrorism. If the federal government doesn’t bite, Playas can always follow the lead of Bridgeville, Calif., which put most of itself up for sale on E-Bay in December, becoming the first community to do so.

"Darling, you’re a klutz!" may have been the romantic response of Debra Sweeney, after her fiance — in mid-proposal — dropped the engagement ring in the snow at Colorado’s Keystone ski resort. When the couple failed to find the $6,500 diamond and platinum ring, Sweeney filed a report with the sheriff’s office. But there’s a happy ending: "The proposal must have been successful," the Summit Daily News says, "because Sweeney referred to the man as her fiance in the (sheriff’s) report."

While New York dug out from a blizzard, Alaska was experiencing "the strangest winter in memory," reports the Anchorage Daily News. So much rain fell, drivers slid from black icy patches into potholes, "playing car hockey," as state troopers put it. In February, temperatures that should have been zero rose to 40 degrees: "People are starving for snow right now."

Uh, oh. All that money we spend on feeding birds — and at $2.6 billion a year, it’s not chicken feed — might better go toward sterilizing house cats. These subsidized predators treat backyard feeders as "fast-food outlets" for feathered meals, according to the Wall Street Journal. Birdseed appeals to hungry rats, raccoons, skunks and even bears, and homeowners often demand that the state move or kill the uninvited eaters. It’s not supposed to be this way, since the urge to feed birds comes out of a desire to connect to nature. But that urge can lead to bizarre situations. Farmers in the Dakotas and Minnesota, for example, grow millions of dollars’ worth of sunflowers, some of them for birdseed. But each fall, migrating red-winged blackbirds "swoop down in giant flocks on the ripening crop and cause up to $20 million in damage." In response, says the Journal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to poison some 6 million blackbirds over three years. But "the National Audubon Society thinks killing red-winged blackbirds to save seeds for bird-feeder birds is a dumb idea." An environmental impact statement is in the works.

Speaking of backyard visitors, a mountain lion in Jackson, Wyo., killed a mule deer within 200 feet of a subdivision, after which "the emboldened cat even sat on the porch" of a house, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Homeowner Jade Walsh said she was looking out her window when she spotted the lion. "I had just been chased up my driveway by a moose a half hour before, so I was not in any mood to enjoy wildlife," she said.

Pets are looming ever larger in our lives. Some Colorado state legislators now back a law elevating cats and dogs to "companion" status, which would allow caregivers to sue veterinarians for up to $100,000 if medical mistakes lead to "loss of companionship." This would be the first law of its kind in the nation, reports the AP. One supporter, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he’s thrilled: "My ‘partner’ health benefits could be greatly expanded once I add my 20 horses, 18 cats, 4 coons, 23 prairie dogs, 4 gerbils, 2 guppies, one ferret and 7 dogs."

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an essay syndication service of High Country News. She appreciates tips of odd Western doings and photos at [email protected]

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