Heard Around the West

  • Kittitas Valley, Washington - Sheep jam on a rural highway



For 30 years, says biologist Charles Jonkel, he’s tried to educate people about grizzlies and black bears. He started an International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Mont., 28 years ago to spread the word that ethical standards were needed for making films about the animals. Nonetheless, he says, thrill-seeking has gained ever-wider prominence, with some wanna-be biologists even calling themselves "bear-whisperers." Writing in Bear News, the publication of the Missoula-based Great Bear Foundation, of which he’s president, Jonkel offers a stirring call to wildlife biologists to "arise," to accept their responsibility as educators and to challenge pseudo bear-researchers and what he calls "wildlife trash media." All exploit bears for profit, Jonkel says, and give the public the false idea that bears are cuddly critters that want a relationship with us.


A 39-year-old camper in the Angeles National Forest learned the hard way that black bears don’t like being interrupted when they’re eating. The camper wanted to distract the bear, which was rummaging through the family’s food chest at 2 a.m., so his wife and two daughters could make a break for their car. So he threw something at the bear; this, the bear did not appreciate. "He (the bear) swatted at him, and that threw the man against the picnic table," reports The Associated Press. The bear resumed its search for food, allowing the man to escape with only minor cuts to his chest. The state Game and Fish Department said it would kill the bear for being aggressive.


Our favorite police blotter column lately is "Crime Waves" from the Four Corners Free Press in Cortez, Colo. Often, erratic drivers pulled over by police just give up and flat-out tell the truth. Two examples: A man stopped for driving too fast told police he would not bother to attempt sobriety maneuvers because, he confessed, "I’m drunk." Another man who ran a stop sign explained that "he did not have time to stop because he was in a hurry."


A Western scourge no longer speaks for the region. Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, who insisted on being called by the honorific "pastor," died recently at age 86. For 30 years, Butler spewed hatred against Jews, African-Americans and other minorities until his bankruptcy in 2000 put a crimp in his neo-Nazi activities. According to the AP, Butler’s legacy may be the opposite of what he stood for. To counteract his influence, Idaho passed tough laws against malicious harassment and adopted a Martin Luther King Jr.-Human Rights holiday. And in Boise, a memorial financed by private contributions opened in 2002 to celebrate the life of Holocaust victim Anne Frank. Politicians also backed a slogan of tolerance to counteract Butler’s whites-only ideology: "Idaho, Too Great to Hate."


Firefighters in Delta, Colo., recently parted with their old yellow fire truck. It was considered an "ugly duckling," and would almost tip over when a fully equipped 200-pound firefighter jumped on board. But the truck, which featured a 55-foot extension ladder, helped train some 60 firefighters during its 21 years of service, and carried one firefighter’s wedding party down Main Street, reports the Mountain Valley News. Firefighter Radford Mansker, who liked to prepare and polish the yellow vehicle for the Deltarado Days parades, says he felt sorry for the truck because it wasn’t red like the others. Embarrassing or not, he admits, "I liked it!" Really liking the truck these days is the Artesia Fire Department, which welcomed it to a new home in Dinosaur, Colo., population 324. Delta now sports a shiny red truck that "needs no pity."


Get ready for the $115,000 CXT, International Truck’s 21-feet long, 14,500 pound "ultimate toy for extreme work and play." "If you brought this truck to the playground, you’d be king of the dirt pile," boasts the manufacturer. All of this "aggro-macho-gluttonous" hype for a gas-guzzling behemoth infuriated San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford. Morford said this newest monster truck —"the size of a large studio apartment" — symbolizes what we’re doing all over the world, so, "Let’s just get it over with. Let’s just give in and stomp around like we own the goddamn place and burn up all the remaining oil as fast as possible, maul the roads and gag the air and wipe out all those silly Priuses and Mini Coopers and all those annoying gnatlike bicycles …" In Hell, he concluded, "it’s all off road."

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are shared in the column, Heard around the West.

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