Heard Around the West

  • Built like a bearacrat: A paunchy Smokey Bear greets staff and visitors outside the Oregon Department of Forestry's central office in Prineville

    BRIAN BALLOU
 

UTAH

Some Western wag once said that the most dangerous thing in a forest was a bunch of Boy Scouts with hatchets. In Utah’s Wasatch-Cache National Forest, make that heavy equipment instead of hatchets. When his son needed a service project to become an Eagle Scout, Scott Vanleeuwen proposed “cleaning up” an abandoned trail that begins at the edge of land owned by the Vanleeuwens and their neighbor, Wendell Burt, and runs two miles to a lake inside the national forest. The cleanup — never authorized by either the Boy Scouts or the Forest Service — became a major deal when a bulldozer was apparently used to widen the trail, knock down trees and remove other vegetation. “In places, the trail was cut 4 feet deep and in other places 8 feet wide,” reports The Associated Press. Vanleeuwen and Burt face misdemeanor charges for the illegal construction, which could cost $35,000 to clean up.

THE WEST

How low can you go? By April 2004, Lake Powell is likely to drop 106 feet below normal, according to a nonprofit group that wants to drain the reservoir and restore Glen Canyon on the Colorado River. Living Rivers, based in Moab, Utah, warns that the West’s continuing drought not only closes docks and dries up tributaries, but also threatens Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to produce electricity. Power generation requires at least 6 million acre-feet of stored water; by this August, Lake Powell had dropped to about 50 percent of its capacity — only 12.7 million acre-feet of water.

NEW MEXICO

Ignoring the adage that one should not speak ill of the dead, a Catholic priest in Chama ripped the reputation of an 80-year-old man while presiding at his funeral a year ago. Now, the dead man’s family is suing both the priest and the archdiocese of Santa Fe, saying the Rev. Scott Mansfield, a former disc jockey whose moniker was “Hubby Dean,” used harsh language to defame the deceased. The AP gives an example. Father Mansfield, ordained only three years ago, allegedly said: “The Lord vomited people like Ben out of his mouth to hell.” The priest has since been transferred to another parish.

CALIFORNIA

Forest Service officials have suspended 10 supervisors at the Los Padres National Forest for plastering photos of “scantily clad women” inside two trucks used by Hot Shot firefighters. Archaeologist Janine McFarland, who blew the whistle on the agency employees, says she has since been constantly harassed, reports the Santa Barbara News. Matt Mathes, a Forest Service spokesman, admitted that the federal agency didn’t handle the incident correctly. He called the problem inadequate supervision: “It was a failure to recognize the inappropriate nature of the photos and to remove them, as well as a failure to address the incident properly.”

ARIZONA

If you want to be branded a flaming radical, just ask people to sign a petition that reads exactly like the Declaration of Independence. An Arizona Daily Sun reporter did that in Flagstaff’s aptly named Heritage Square. The reaction? Suspicion. The reporter gained only a few signatures, though teenagers were apt to sign “without even reading the entire document.” The declaration’s revolutionary language apparently made people jittery, especially the line about “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of the consent of the governed, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” Though one woman said she sympathized with these sentiments, she wanted no part of the petition. “I didn’t want Bush after me,” she explained.

MONTANA

A childhood spent in Montana can make it hard to adapt to what some call “the real world,” and others “California.” In an essay in the New York Times, Maile Meloy says it baffles her family — and sometimes herself — that she’s chosen to live in Los Angeles: “I still have the Calvinist, Montana stoic’s idea that you must survive winter to earn your summer. The below-zero air in my lungs when I go home feels austere and bracing and right. A place where it’s always summer must be in some way damned.”

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column.

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