Heard Around the West

  • An idea whose time has come



Perhaps in jest, the award-winning Jackson Hole News&Guide wants readers to come up with a new welcome sign for the town. The current greeting at Teton Pass is definitely outmoded: "Howdy, stranger, yonder is Jackson Hole, the last of the Old West." With the town now urbanized and chock-full of New West bazillionaires, the paper suggests more appropriate messages, such as "Our chai complements your chi," or "Jackson Hole, where California plays and Mexico works." Ski Country online magazine suggests exhuming a slogan from 1999 that might still resonate with locals: "Welcome to Jackson Hole, where men remain boys and women work three jobs."


Which is better for the environment: a stand of redwood trees or an array of solar panels? Both seem "green," so why should you have to choose? Well, a little-known California law passed in 1978 did choose - selecting solar panels and imposing a possible fine of $1,000 a day for tree-owners found guilty of obscuring them. A squabble between homeowners in Santa Clara County is now putting that law to the test, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett, who consider themselves environmentalists, refuse to cut down eight redwoods that they planted for privacy between 1997-'99. Their neighbor, Mark Vargas, who also considers himself an environmentalist, sued the couple under the Solar Shade Control Act because their redwoods reduced the output of his 10-kilowatt solar system. Before he put up the solar panels in 2001, he said, "I offered to pay for the removal of the trees. I said, ... Let's try to work something out.' They said no to everything." Vargas has the law on his side, because it applies to trees planted after 1979 that later grow big enough to shade solar panels. In December, Vargas won his case in county court, but his neighbors, who say they've already spent $25,000 on legal fees, appealed the ruling, even though the judge waived the fines and offered to let them keep six of the offending trees. "We could be done with this and walk away," Bissett said. "But this could start happening in every city in the state." For his part, Vargas said he'd move his solar panels if he could, but there's not enough room on his roof.


Knotty questions about environmental correctness didn't figure into Patricia Vincent's thinking when she had three ponderosa pines - each close to a century old - chopped down on publicly owned land near Lake Tahoe. The trees' offense: They blocked her view of the lake. Vincent has been indicted on charges of stealing government property from "environmentally sensitive" land, and if convicted, reports The Associated Press, she could face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 or more in fines.


According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau findings, 42,800 commuters in Arizona spend three hours or more on the road every weekday. These are the folks considered "extreme commuters," and the Arizona Republic asked several of them why they do it and how they survive long commutes made even more tedious by construction delays. Several workers shuttling between Tucson and Phoenix cited the benefits of extra income and a better lifestyle: "Tucson is a nicer place to live, but you can earn more money working in the Phoenix area." But because the trip is notable for its lack of scenery and boredom, drivers work hard to distract themselves. Some watch other drivers doing stupid things, while others listen to music or books or talk on the phone. Doug Jones, for instance, listens to professional-enrichment tapes and proudly notes he's "becoming much more intelligent."


A suspected drunken driver may not have been wearing a seatbelt when he crashed into a tree at 60 miles per hour, the Sacramento Bee reports. However, his 12-pack certainly was. The driver suffered serious injuries to his head and body, police said. But the beer, nicely strapped into the seat next to him, was fine.


If you want to hear a ringing defense of SUVs, contact Barry McCahill of Eagle, Idaho, president of the SUV Owners of America. Since he took over as head of the advocacy group in 2004, he's spread the word that "in America, people have a right to buy vehicles that meet their needs." He adds, "I've never seen a vehicle so demagogued and attacked, its drivers criticized as inconsiderate." What's surprising, perhaps, is that McCahill doesn't own one of the gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles he defends. He told the Idaho Statesman that he drives a Harley or a pickup, and since he works from home, he says, "I use less gas in a month than someone who drives a Honda Civic into Boise every day."

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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