Heard Around the West

 

Rep. James V. Hansen of Utah spent 24 happy years - he didn't know how happy - in the U.S. Congress as a minority member. Then, a year ago, Republicans won the House, and Hansen became chairman of a subcommittee. With the appearance of power came trouble. His bill to sell Forest Service mountainsides to ski companies ran into a tree. His attempt to close down some national parks brought jeers from around the nation. Even a modest proposal to give BLM lands to the states seems stalled. Perhaps most embarrassing, a bill that should have sailed through this Congress - an anti-wilderness wilderness bill for southern Utah - is, well, wandering in a legislative wilderness.

The problem, it turns out, is worse than aliens: it's a New Yorker. Hansen's frustration spewed out in a column by his state director, Steven T. Petersen, in the Salt Lake Tribune:

"Who, or what, is SUWA (Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance)? They are hardly mainstream Utah. The leaders of this cultist-like movement consist mainly of out-of-state individuals and wealthy contributors, like the Fingerhut family of Ohio. Ken Rait (a SUWA staffer) is a New Yorker who presumes to come to Utah on SUWA's payroll to speak for all Utahns on the environment."

After citing a closed mill in Utah, Petersen concluded: "These job losses can be laid directly at Ken Rait's feet. Then again, why should he care about that? He's being well taken care of by wealthy out-of-staters. Spokesman for Utah, Ken Rait? No thanks."

The funny thing is, Rait isn't really an Easterner; he's from Buffalo, which, thanks to New York's peculiar shape, is practically in the Midwest.

--

While New Yorkers are persona non grata in Jim Hansen's Utah, they are lusted after in Wyoming. At a secret meeting of chambers of commerce from Yellowstone National Park's gateway towns, one representative said the park is so crowded local people shun it.

Nevertheless, the five chambers - Cody, Jackson, West Yellowstone, Gardiner and Park County - agreed to push for bigger roads and more entrance stations. The rationale, we infer, is that the park is still too empty to attract - you guessed it - New Yorkers. The representative from Cody said:

"'Crowded" is a subjective term ... for a New Yorker you can't put enough people in Yellowstone to make them feel comfortable."

The minutes, as reported by Todd Wilkinson in the Cody Enterprise, reveal the chamber reps to be pretty savvy: "If it is perceived that we are strictly "cut new roads and damn the environment" then we will be subject to a massive campaign against our proposals." They were prescient. Since the minutes became public, and revealed that the chambers would use political force against the park's superintendent if he opposed expansion, some people, presumably not crowd-loving New Yorkers, have suggested boycotting certain gateway communities.

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Environmentalists always whine that "their" elected officials get co-opted by Washington, D.C. Now it's Republicans who are getting co-opted. The Republican Congress started bravely enough, with plans to gut the Endangered Species Act, turn the nation's surviving swamps into parking lots, chop down forests so hunters would have better shots at deer, and convert the Environmental Protection Agency into the Environmental Pollution Agency.

The Alaska and Utah delegations are still standing strong, but other Republicans look to be buckling. A memo from the House Republican Conference urges its members to go home and plant trees, clean beaches, join zoo boards and garden clubs and even get together with members of the "National Audobon Society." Environmentalists told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that they won't be convinced the co-option is real until the GOP learns to spell Audubon.

--

Year after year, perhaps decade after decade, Shelley, Idaho, holds a fall potato festival. And year after year, perhaps decade after decade, local reporters get migraines inventing new ways to cover the festival.

This year, the lead photo shows two people wrestling in a 12-foot by 12-foot pit filled with potato slurry. (If your town wants to do this, shovel 1,000 pounds of potato flakes into a cement mixer, add 600 gallons of water, spin for an hour, and start wrestling.)

But as any journalist knows, you can't cover something as big as a potato festival with a single photo. You need to go in depth. So while the Idaho Falls Post-Register photog was at the potato pit, a reporter was digging in the library. She learned that Tom Jefferson caught heck from a Puritanical John Adams for fancying up the White House menu with french fries, and that 1928 Idaho license plates were first in the nation to sprout a saying. They said "Idaho Potatoes;" today they say "Famous Potatoes."

Over in Lewiston, the Morning Tribune ran a story about Miles Willard, who invented, among other things, O'Boises (ask for Roysters when in Europe, Ozacks in Japan). As if America's collective belly weren't large enough, at this very moment Willard has 20 people in Idaho Falls inventing new lives for potatoes.

--

Landscape architect Michael Leccese writes from Boulder, Colo., to tell us that walkers have been promoted. Leccese, who attended a three-day pedestrian conference (that is, a conference on pedestrians) in his town, reports that Portland is now officially "pan-modal." That means "pedestrians are considered an equal mode with bikes, vehicles and transit."

Deciphered, that's good news. The bad news is that "traffic calming," the science of slowing down drivers, usually with speed bumps, has hit potholes. Drivers, it seems, hate any approach that says, "If you don't slow down, we will break your car."

So planners are turning to soft-path traffic calming by enticing people out of their cars with "urban amenities': roadside coffee stands, park benches, shade trees. It's an attempt - new to the United States - to make the world outside of cars more attractive than the world inside cars. If they beat Detroit, the pan modalists and traffic calmers may next try to make real life more interesting than videos.

--

Speaking of videos, it would make a perfect plot if it weren't unbelievable: Wyoming, a state of less than 500,000 people, got 38 million Italian visitors in late October. It happened when a truck carrying 480 hives from Italy overturned in the small town of Mills. Volunteers and professional beekeepers saved 90 percent of the California-bound insects, although that still meant almost 4 million bees died before they could make it west. The driver walked away from the crash without a scratch - except for at least 20 bee stings. He quickly saw the Hollywood angle. "It's like a horror movie," Gary Peterson of the Happy Bee Trucking Co. (everything's a specialty these days) of Rosholt, S.D., told Deirdre Stoelzle of the Casper Star-Tribune.

--

Indian protesters are gradually chipping away at baseball's use of symbols and slogans they find offensive, according to Indian Country Today. But some fans resented low-key demonstrations at a Cleveland Indian World Series games. (The club's logo is Chief Wahoo.) One furious fan told a protester at Cleveland's Jacobs Field that the Indians were fair-weather activists:

"You guys are only out here when we're winning," he shouted. "Where were you when we stunk? Why are you ruining this for us?"


Heard Around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

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