Heard around the West

 

The West has no shortage of strange juxtapositions: Gold prospectors and mountain bikers, Utah's tabernacle and Nevada's casinos, Denver International Airport and airplanes. But a new pair of strange bedfellows has recently sprung up: The Forest Service and Wal-Mart. The federal agency and the retail behemoth are going to spend the summer jointly promoting environmental understanding and supporting sustainable local communities. This may come as a surprise to rural towns where Main Street businesses have been wiped out by Wal-Mart.

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What Wal-Mart has done to Main Street shopkeepers, sheep often do to Western rangelands. But in a notable turnaround, sheep have actually cured overgrazing in two Utah canyons, according to the American Sheep Industry (ASI). And this time the range destroyers weren't livestock.

At the Deseret Land and Livestock Co., a 200,000 acre private ranch near Woodruff, Utah, elk usually spend the spring munching the ground bare of grass and willows. Last year, ranch wildlife manager Rick Danvir grazed a herd of 700 ewes in the area. The sheep stayed up high, avoiding the wet, delicate canyon bottom the elk frequented. But the elk didn't like grazing near the sheep, or, presumably, the Great Pyrenees dogs guarding them. They left.

When Danvir walked the canyon bottom in the fall, "there was the most grass I'd ever seen, and willows were growing," according to an ASI press release.

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A north Idaho farmer recently called state officials about an odd-looking pig-like animal in the area, reports the Spokane Spokesman-Review. It turned out to be a javelina, which is native to the American Southwest. Javelinas aren't supposed to survive cold northern winters, but this one had, according to a worried Lloyd Oldenburg of the state Fish and Game Department, who didn't catch the javelina but swears he will.

Oldenburg keeps tabs on exotic animals who could wreak ecological havoc on the state's native wildlife. It's an interesting job, but a difficult one. Oldenburg is currently duking it out with Cyndi Foti, a pet shop owner who wants to breed and sell sugar gliders - tiny, flying marsupials native to Australia. Although Foti has turned to everyone from a pet shop industry group to Rep. Helen Chenoweth for help in her crusade, Oldenburg has exiled her six sugar gliders to neighboring Washington.

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Do political satirists make good politicians? John Callahan, the noted cartoonist who takes successful aim at the politically correct (a recent cartoon shows an imposing woman bending over a small man and saying, "This is a feminist bookstore! There is no humor section!') is entering the race for the Oregon State Legislature. "I'm trying not to be too funny," the 45-year-old Republican told the Portland Oregonian. "I'd like to be taken seriously." He is especially serious about crime and education.

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We know that land-grant universities are trying to modernize their mission, but we didn't know just how quickly they would do it. Leafing through a list of Colorado State University's current research projects, we found one in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition called "Vacuum Processing of Wheat in Space." Well. NASA has paid the scientists $22,000 to develop a vacuum oven that will cook bread and bagels from wheat to be grown on future space stations on Mars and the moon. "They could make their own Cheetos," says Professor Joseph Maga. "I don't know why they'd want to, but they could."

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Perhaps the strangest bedfellows of all are cowboys and California. Rancher Brit McIin recently explained to prism magazine, the student newspaper at San Francisco State University, why he's pulling up stakes from his spread near Davis and moving to Colorado:

"A little while ago, I was harnessing my horses, and a couple of bicyclists rode by me and started hooting and hollering and shouting obscenities. Two hours later, the Humane Society shows up and wants to investigate. Turns out that they had complaints of horse bondage. That's California, in a nutshell."


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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