Heard around the West

  • The other white meat

    Greg Woodall


Governing magazine calls Vernon, Calif., "the strangest town in America." Although 44,000 people work there, only 93 people actually live in the tiny Los Angeles suburb; when election time rolls around, 60 people show up to vote. The Los Angeles Times wrote an exposé of the unusual town, which behaves more like a private club than a city. When eight "outsiders" moved in last January — and three announced plans to run for city council — the city "turned off (their) building’s electricity, declared it unsafe for habitation and evicted the eight strangers." A city official later said he feared a takeover by the outsiders. Because Vernon supplies electricity and gas to all the businesses in its jurisdiction, it brings in millions of dollars a year. That makes the living easy if you’re a city employee: The Times reported that the retiring city administrator left with "nearly $600,000 in salary, bonuses and payments for unused vacation time."


The Idaho Mountain Express says the daytime drama that played out along the Salmon River near Stanley "sounds like a tall tale." People driving by saw a herd of elk running fast before they understood why: A wolf was chasing the animals. Jane Somerville watched the wolf "pick the elk he wanted and separate it from the herd," then leap for the yearling’s neck and pull it down. She managed to photograph the attack — and then things really got interesting. A longtime foe of wolves, outfitter Ron Gillette, showed up at the scene carrying a .22 rifle. Gillette, who wants an initiative on the Idaho ballot outlawing wolves, pursued the wolf twice, causing it to stop feeding and run off, according to wolf advocate Lynn Stone, who’d joined the onlookers. When Stone asked Gillette why he needed a gun, he told her it was for "protection against the wolf." She was afraid Gillette meant to shoot the animal. But by evening, the wolf returned to drag the carcass out of sight, and by the next day, the elk had been reduced to a pile of bones, and the wolf was long gone.


Ten thousand commuters to Portland ride past gas stations every day and probably don’t blink twice at the rising price of fuel. That’s because they’re bicycling to work, reports Governing magazine. If they need a car for errands, they rent one. A private, for-profit company called Flex Car has bases around the city where bikers can pick up a car for $8 to $9 an hour. Back in the 1970s, Oregon realized how bicycling could help reduce air pollution and congestion, so lawmakers mandated a percentage of highway funds for bicycle paths.


If you think spending $60 at the gas pump is high, imagine what a farmer faces when a tractor with a 250-gallon tank runs dry. Capital Press says some late-model combines and tractors burn through 200 gallons of diesel in a 10-hour day of spring work — which adds up to a "$500 hemorrhage."


Reeves Brown, the director of Club 20, which calls itself the voice of western Colorado, writes in the group’s newsletter that God seems to possess a warped sense of humor: "He creates the most beautiful landscape on the planet … then He hides some of the world’s most concentrated energy reserves directly underneath it." Brown says you know another energy boom has hit — this one focused on coalbed methane gas — when "the 1963 mobile home that you gutted out years ago and converted to a tool shed has a new name — rental property."


It took two years, but Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, R, and the state’s congressional delegation have convinced the Federal Aviation Administration to let ranchers shoot coyotes from "aerial ATVs." The flying all-terrain vehicle is a powered parachute or ultralight flying machine and "the newest, hottest things for ranchers," according to a spokesman for the FAA. Wildlife advocates, however, say the "kit-built and experimental flying contraptions" are dangerous — and silly. "I’m covering my eyes and laughing," said Wendy Keefover-Ring, coordinator of a national coalition of environmental groups that wants to end aerial gunning of wild animals. She told Associated Press: "It’s unsafe even when you are in a plane that has a stronger engine than these ultralights have."

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

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