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for people who care about the West

Fleeing wolves; coal and water; California crash

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


MONTANA: Anything to cool off in this heat.
Marc Lutsko


Angela Hernandez, 23, will always have an amazing story to tell if anybody ever asks her about her most interesting road trip. The adventure began when she set out on a journey from her home in Portland, Oregon, to Lancaster, California. On the way through Big Sur along the Northern California coast, she swerved to avoid a small animal in the road and lost control of her Jeep, which hurtled over the cliff to the beach below. “They say I fell somewhere around 250 feet. The only thing I really remember after that was waking up. I was still in my car and I could feel water rising over my knees.” Though her head hurt and she was bleeding, reports the Willamette Week, Hernandez found a tool to smash the driver’s side window so that she could crawl out of the car and onto dry land. But her accident was completely invisible to drivers on the road above, and she remained invisible, too, though she yelled for help. Hernandez survived alone for a week, despite sustaining a brain hemorrhage, four fractured ribs, two broken collarbones, a collapsed lung, and ruptured blood vessels in both eyes. Despite her injuries, she was calm and resourceful, rigging a hose from her car after three days to collect fresh water dripping from cliff moss. “It would be a lie to say that things got easier as the days passed. They never did,” Hernandez wrote on her Facebook page. “But they sure got predictable.” On July 13, a couple hiking on the beach found Hernandez, and her ordeal was over at last. Hernandez wrote: “I’m sitting here in the hospital, laughing with my sister until she makes broken bones hurt. … I don’t know, you guys, life is incredible.” People like Hernandez are pretty incredible, too.


Not far from the tiny towns of Winthrop and Twisp, in west-central Washington, a Forest Service staffer was doing some surveying work in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest when a wolf “approached her,” reports The Associated Press. This is unusual wolf behavior, but then something even more unusual happened: Bear spray failed to deter the animal and other wolves suddenly appeared, forcing the staffer “to climb 30 feet up into a tree.” Perched on a branch, she used a satellite phone to call the Okanogan County sheriff, who then called the state Department of Natural Resources, which sent a helicopter to the rescue. The noise from the rotors scared away the gathered wolves and enabled the staffer to climb down from the tree. It is somewhat reassuring to note that wolf attacks in this country remain “exceedingly rare,” with only eight aggressive incidents recorded between 1962 and 2001.


Sometimes, private companies get a well-deserved comeuppance, though it can be costly. After spending nearly $1 million in legal fees, Campbell County, Wyoming, has recouped much of the $20 million in unpaid taxes owed by Alpha Natural Resources, which declared bankruptcy in 2015. The missing tax money was a blow to the county, as it’s used mostly to finance public schools. So the county played hardball, hiring both local and out-of-state lawyers to build its case against Wyoming’s largest coal company. Campbell County didn’t get everything it was owed, but the settlement will bring in close to $15 million. Now, county commissioners are urging the state to attach liens to a company’s property “at the time of production in favor of the county” — thereby avoiding future problems of this sort, reports the Casper Star-Tribune.


And in California, the Nestlé Corp., after bottling billions of gallons of water from the San Bernardino National Forest for 30 years without a current permit, will face limits on how much water it can withdraw, reports EcoWatch. On June 27, the Forest Service offered Nestlé a three-year permit that ups its annual fees from $624 to $2,050 and requires the corporation to maintain “minimum flows” of surface water. The Forest Service said the watershed’s health is now rated as “impaired,” and that water extraction will be allowed only “when there is water available consistent with the forest’s Land Management Plan.” Nestlé, which bottles the spring water it captures under the brand Arrowhead, has operated with remarkable freedom in the national forest: In 2016, for example, the company depleted Strawberry Creek by piping 32 million gallons from San Bernardino Mountain. The proposed permit is a victory for The Desert Sun, the newspaper that wrote an exposé of Nestlé’s decades-long water grab, as well as for the three environmental groups that went to court to try to halt the water withdrawals: the Center for Biological Diversity, the Courage Campaign Institute and the Story of Stuff Project. Nestlé has 60 days to decide whether to accept the permit’s terms.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.