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Heard Around the West

Writers on the Range

It’s rare that a press release makes us feel a sense of amazement, if not

downright wonder. The one that follows, from Yellowstone National Park, was sent to the news media by staffer Olivia McCombs under the ho-hum headline: “Bear Incident in Yellowstone National Park.” But here’s the story that followed:

“Abigail Thomas, a 32-year-old U.S. Post Office employee at Lake, was jogging around the Lake Lodge cabin loop when she encountered a male sub-adult grizzly bear approximately 15 yards to her right. Ms. Thomas did not make eye contact with the bear and continuously reassured the bear that she was not a threat. The bear stood up on its back legs and sniffed the air, then dropped to the ground and slowly approached Ms. Thomas on her right side. When it reached her, it began sniffing her from the waist down, then opened its mouth and “every gently” closed its mouth around Ms. Thomas’ right upper thigh. The bear applied a small amount of pressure, then released her leg. Ms. Thomas received no injuries, other than some very minor contusions; her skin was not broken from the bite. After Ms. Thomas felt the bear release her leg, she reached for her water bottle and squirted the bear between the eyes. The bear immediately ran from the area.”

The press release goes on to praise Thomas for retaining her cool throughout her encounter. Just what was that adolescent bear up to?

Overtipping?

A bar-hopping Colorado cowboy over-tipped a waitress to the tune of $2,000, reports the Billings Gazette. The hefty tip definitely charmed the waitress, Tara, 21, at the Billings Club. The mother of two, Tara says, “He told me to go home and tell my kids I love them and to buy something for them. I thought it was a nice gesture.” Wouldn’t you know it, the cowboy had a change of heart. A friend named Michelle visited the bar afterward to ask for the tip back. When the bar owner ruled, “Being drunk is no excuse,” that clinched it: Tara kept the tip. Friend Michelle comments, “We already know it’s his own damn fault and if he has to eat it, he eats it. But everybody does stupid things when they’re drunk.”

Waste-a-comin’

Not to worry, Nevada. Those 77,000 tons of hot nuclear waste aren’t heading your way. They’re destined for Utah. Or so says People magazine in its online story about an actor lobbying Congress against opening a federal repository at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles north of Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that some Nevadans laughed out loud at People’s weak grasp of Western geography.

Bad language

When are prairie dogs a piece of paper? When a politician mangles the English language. In a TV commercial, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Barnett in South Dakota pledges: “I will continue the battle against prairie dogs, pine beetles and other ridiculous federal policies.”

How to plan

It’s a truism in the West that planning is suspect because it “tells a man what to do with his land.” But is planning a commie plot? That’s what the planner for Montana’s Beaverhead County heard when he called meetings to revise a land-use plan. Most comments came from two people who showed up at all of the sparsely attended meetings around the county. One was county-clerk candidate Phyllis Denton, who calls planning “another name for communism.” She says land-use plans are backed by newcomers who “are rich, spoiled, urban dwellers … used to having whatever they want and having other people take care of them.”

The other persistent speaker was Republican state legislator Debbie Barrett of Dillon. She was persuaded by economist Randal O’Toole, who she says wrote that today’s planners and “Smart Growth” advocates are just like communists. According to the Billings Gazette, county planner Rick Hartz agreed with the public input of two. He revised the county’s 12-year-old land-use plan so that it now states: “Local government is not interested in telling private property owners what they can or cannot do with their property.”

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (betsym@hcn.org). Tips on Western stories of odd resonance are always appreciated.


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