Marston: Heard around the West (column) |

Marston: Heard around the West (column)


If the fish in Washington’s Puget Sound suffer from migraines or depression or need birth control, they don’t need to schedule a doctor’s appointment: The water that passes through their gills is already loaded with pharmaceuticals. Each year, 106 wastewater treatment plants around Puget Sound discharge “as much as 97,000 pounds of chemicals,” which, according to a study in the journal Environmental Pollution, come from drugs like Advil, Benadryl, Prozac and contraceptive pills, says reporter Elaisha Stokes. James Meador, an aquatic toxicologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that some chemicals in the fish were at surprisingly high concentrations. “That’s the kind of information that raises eyebrows,” he says, adding that though pesticides in water get monitored, pharmaceuticals, “now ubiquitous in society,” do not.


As far as we know, nobody was harmed in the making of Backpacker magazine’s video, Survival School: How to Eat Your Hiking Partner. Still, we’re reasonably sure that its tips on butchering will never be palatable to vegetarians — or anybody else with a queasy stomach. Standing somewhere in the backcountry, our instructor uses a schematic drawing of a hapless hiker to explain that the belly is the prime cut because “marbling” adds to the flavor. Legs, however, should be eschewed as they can be stringy. With nary a smile to indicate that he might be kidding, he urges us not to neglect to slice out the “tri-tips” from the back of arms as well as the inviting “rump roast.” The brief video, which features the coup de grâce of the instructor’s unfortunate colleague (who moans, helplessly, “I’m not dead, John!”), shows the gruesome details of butchering and concludes with dinner — all in hideous taste and hilarious. Or maybe not; we suppose it depends on how hungry you are.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or more accurately back on our public land, Cliven Bundy’s surviving cattle of some 1,000 animals are “mean and ornery,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Gorder. The Justice Department calls Bundy’s ranching operation “negligent to the point of cruelty in sending half-wild cattle to graze illegally on protected lands without supervision.” Unvaccinated and susceptible to illness, “the cattle have little contact with humans, and Bundy often has no idea where they are,” reports the Los Angeles Times. Ken Mayer, former director of Nevada’s Department of Wildlife, adds that trying to round them up is “like hunting cape buffalo. They’re nasty, they’re smart, and they won’t hesitate to charge.” E&E News says the animals continue to trample sensitive soils, devour native saplings and routinely “bed down” on Native American artifacts. The cattle have also invaded a community garden and golf course and, more notoriously, run off scores of Bureau of Land Management agents. Rob Mrowka, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity who has spent decades urging the BLM to remove Bundy’s cows, says it will be an expensive proposition when the government finally acts: “I think the price is going to be a lot more when you add the risk.” The now-jailed Bundy, who has allowed his cattle to run unsupervised on public land for 23 years, manages to hold off the government by his family threatening violence and “range war.” In 2014, for example, three days before the BLM had scheduled a roundup by Utah contractor ‘R’ Livestock Connection, Ryan Bundy and others threatened the contractor with “force, violence and economic harm,” according to a Department of Justice indictment. That escalated to the standoff between BLM rangers and several hundred Bundy sympathizers who brandished “too many guns to count,” the Justice Department said. The well-publicized confrontation ended with more than 400 impounded cows released to the wild, there to continue their trashing of the public land.


While no one was paying attention, says columnist Geoff O’Gara in WyoFile, “90 legislators in Cheyenne devised ways to spend about $3 billion a year, fueled by 18 years of revenues from an energy boom.” Alas, the boom has withered into a bust, and legislators, who earn a paltry $150 a day, will need to find new ways to spend their time while now trying to save the state’s money. O’Gara has some tongue-in-cheek suggestions, ranging from selling the state Capitol, instead of spending $3 million to fix it up, to instituting a capital gains tax — Wyoming is one of six states without an income tax. He also recommended designating a state vegetable but realized that a state shrub was already under consideration, and that’s “enough heavy lifting for one year in the State Icon department.” Finally, given that legislators recently refused $268 million in federal dollars to extend Medicaid services — on the grounds that the money wasn’t guaranteed forever — O’Gara suggests turning down federal school-lunch money, “before our kids get hooked on food.”

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an opinion service of High Country News ( Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared,

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