Heard around the West

  • WYOMING - Kemmerer goes Zen



Molly Ivins, that passionate defender of the underdog, died recently from breast cancer at age 62, leaving behind hilarious books skewering the Texas Legislature and a Texas homeboy named George W. Bush. The word “scrappy” doesn’t begin to describe her style. John Nichols, in a tribute to Ivins in the Nation, called her a “wisecracking, pot-stirring populist,” who wrote columns carried by some 350 papers, large and tiny, while also touring the country to give unpaid talks about the meaning of democracy. Nichols said the best thing that ever happened to Ivins was irritating her boss, A. M. Rosenthal, the imperious and stuffy New York Times editor, 25 years ago. She did it by calling a small-town chicken-killing festival a “gang pluck.” After that contretemps, she went back to Texas to cover politics her way. Just before her death, Ivins wrote one more column about the war in Iraq, telling her readers that each of us in a democracy must be a “decider.” “Keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds,” she urged in a column a few years ago, “but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.”



Back in 1982, the Bureau of Land Management found that off-road vehicle drivers were grinding up the desert, pulverizing the land and the cactuses trying to survive around iconic Factory Butte, east of Capitol Reef National Park. But the agency couldn’t muster the moxie to limit ORV use until September 2006, when it announced that off-roaders had to stay on designated routes on 142,000 acres around Factory Butte. It had been a long struggle for local environmentalists and some public officials, and for them the agency’s decision was a huge victory over those who consider public land nothing more than a free-for-all jungle gym. For ORV groups, of course, the end of complete freedom was a bitter defeat. The newsletter of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Redrock Wilderness, collected some enraged comments from off-roaders, including this one: “What if we just burn the cactus and get rid of the problem all together? If it’s an endangered species, then it has obviously outlived its usefulness…there should be a new open hunting season on SUWA members. ...” And from another rider: “Who besides environmental weirdos cares about a stinking cactus? … Kill the cactus, let people enjoy the open space!” The newsletter’s editor responded: “This one puts us in mind of Mo Udall’s classic definition of the difference between cactuses and caucuses: ‘With cactuses, the pricks are on the outside.’” SUWA congratulated all those who worked hard to protect the area, including the Richland Field Office of the BLM.



For the 22nd year, volunteers organized by the Northcoast Environmental Center patrolled more than 90 miles of beach in Humboldt County, outfitted with tough gloves, plastic bags, and cards on which to record all the junk they picked up. Seven hundred and forty-one people removed everything from a car bumper and a World War II ammunition container to 4,108 cigarette butts and other smoking debris, but they couldn’t budge a port-a-potty stuffed with garbage. One good sign: Smoking seems to be in decline in Northern California. Just two years ago, reports the center’s newspaper ECONEWS, based in Arcata, volunteers patrolling the coastline picked up more than 7,500 butts.



It might be everyone’s nightmare: Rats popping up out of the water in the toilet. That happened in a neighborhood next to the University of Arizona in Tucson, reports The Associated Press. The swimming animals were white, like lab rats or the kind sold in pet stores, but even so, the county health department said it’s not smart to “handle or touch a toilet-surfing rat, though the chance of getting rabies or plague is low in this situation.” The situation is certainly puzzling, since rats coming into a house would have to hold their breath and swim against the current, so to speak, of a sewer pipe leaving a house. A spokesman for Arizona’s Health Sciences Center said the rats were certainly not from academe, “and I wouldn’t want that to become an urban myth.”



What do you do when your city golf course has become a haven for deer? You ask golfers to stay home and invite hunters in to kill the animals, reports the Valley Courier in southern Colorado. Alamosa did just that in late January, selecting 30 hunters by lottery to cull the nearly tame deer that had been causing car accidents and spearing pets. There was a constraint: Only archers were allowed on the golf course to bump off the animals.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado.

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