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Heard around the West

Brief by Betsy Marston

Heard around the West – June 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

An Apple a Day

“It will be a stunning ruby red. But chances are it’s a bit mushy,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “It” is a big, fat, shiny Red Delicious apple, the variety American orchardists have produced for decades. They were spurred by marketers who said it was better for fruit to look good than to actually taste good. One expert notes that the apple grown mainly for looks resembles other “inoffensive” products of the 1950s like Wonder bread, Cool Whip and Campbell’s condensed soups.

But times change, and distinctive taste is in. Now, produce sections sport tart and crunchy apples, some jade green, some mottled pink, and they far outsell the gorgeous but boring Red Delicious. It’s a bitter lesson for growers who lost their Asian market last year and who face trade barriers in Mexico and Japan. Still, there’s hope that Americans, whose apple consumption is flat at about 20 pounds per person per year, can be motivated to eat more apples provided they taste good.

The shift will be costly since Red Delicious apples make up 40 percent of the U.S. crop. Yet some growers are already responding by ripping out trees that bear the bland fruit. They’re replanting groves with tasty varieties such as Fuji, Gala and Granny Smith.

Wanted: More Potholes

Every motorist hates potholes. But rotted roads, it turns out, can save elk, grizzly bears, black bears, coyotes, ravens and bald eagles from becoming roadkill. A new study finds that rebuilt roads in Yellowstone National Park increase animal deaths because drivers speed up, and faster vehicles bump off more wildlife.

No matter what the speed limit, researchers found, drivers in the park tend to drive as fast as the condition of a road allows. The safest speed for driving near wildlife, though, is 45 mph or less, a factor Yellowstone will keep in mind as it catches up on road maintenance and repairs.

Clinton: Leader of the Free World

President Clinton bought some books recently while he was wandering around Park City, Utah, but not with his credit card. A clerk at Dolly’s Bookstore had to tell the president that his card had expired, forcing him and his aides to turn their pockets inside out to come up with $62.66 in cash.

For free, Dolly’s gave the president a copy of Park City Witness, a book of essays about saving open space, reports the Park Record.

Snowshoeing And Skiing Are The Rage

First, there was road rage, then accounts of something dubbed ski rage, as snowboarders and downhill skiers pummeled each other after colliding on the slopes. Now comes word that cross-country skiers are mixing it up with practitioners of the hot new sport, snowshoeing.

“I’ve had (skiers) yell at me when I’ve crossed their trails,” said snowshoer Mike Prager in the Oregonian. It’s not “snow rage” yet, but skiers complain that they don’t like sharing the woods with klutzy snowshoers who tramp down their smooth trails.

Jim Thornton, a Forest Service ranger who patrols the backcountry of Mount Hood, says he spends most of his time refereeing debates between the two groups. “I tell some of the Nordic skiers to quit whining,” Thornton said. “After you bust out four or five miles, you’re not going to see any snowshoers.”

Slow Down

The fun of fast and fearless driving is fizzling out in Montana. On May 28, the state’s dubious distinction as the only state in the nation without a daytime speed limit will come to an end.

Montana Governor Marc Racicot signed legislation making the daytime limit 75 mph on interstate highways and 70 mph on other roads. Since the state banned official limits in 1995, more than a few ticketed drivers complained that they weren’t sure how to drive in a “reasonable and prudent manner,” the state’s substitute for a posted limit. The governor recently joked to AP that while natives knew what that meant, visitors couldn’t always get it right.

Hide Inside

Camouflage is becoming chic. Cabela’s, the popular outfitter for hunters, now offers camouflage-covered furniture. Camo patterns don’t come in just one style; there’s mossy oak and wetlands, among others. And if you buy matching clothing, says The New York Times, you have the option of disappearing in your own living room.

Viagra For Fish?

Call them eco-freaks, but many conservationists in the Northwest believe fish belong in a free-flowing river. Now, some scientists agree. Forcing salmon to run a gauntlet of dams, they say, may leave the vanishing species too pooped to procreate.

“The fish, some approaching 40 pounds, must climb dams, slog through warm reservoirs, and press on for hundreds of miles; worse, once they leave the ocean on their month-long journey, they never stop for food,” said Richard Williams, who wrote the report for the Northwest Power Planning Council.

Scientist Phillip Mundy said he’s concluded that fish-counting at dams may give a “falsely optimistic picture of salmon in the Columbia Basin,” AP reports.

Fish sucked back by turbines or spillways may have to climb fish ladders more than once. In any case, he pointed out, “There is a huge disconnect between the number of fish that are passing the dams and what’s happening in the spawning grounds.”

Coyote Carnage

A coyote crossing ranch land to get to the Salmon River in Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley never made it. Snowmobilers veered off a groomed trail to chase the animal down and run it over, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

Tracks in a pasture tell the story: The snowmobilers kept running the animal over until it died. Killing a coyote is legal anytime in Idaho. What made this act illegal was that it took place on private land, says Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer Lee Frost.

Prairie Home Companions

Prairie dogs are nothing if not perky, popping up from their burrows to check for owls or other predators, chattering all the while. Now comes word that the rodents are all the rage in Japan; last year, people there imported 5,000 prairie dogs for pets. “The Japanese are crazy about small animals,” says Pat Storer, author of Prairie Dog Pets. “They are good luck to them.”

Prairie dogs have their fans among pet owners in America as well, AP reports. Deborah Gaskins of Greenville, N.C., brags that “No matter where you are in the house their eyes are on you all the time. It’s like she can’t live without me.”

But while their indoor relatives may be thriving, wild prairie dogs are finding it harder to survive. The federal government has begun a nine-month review to determine if the black-tailed prairie dog teeters on the edge of extinction.

Barry Biting

Syndicated columnist Dave Barry can be so mean. Writing about the indignities of airplane travel for The Denver Post, he offered a little tip for Colorado: “The Denver airport is nice,” he said, “but it should be moved to the same state as Denver.”

Peak Pique

If you join The Mountaineers in Seattle, Wash., you’ll find others who do everything from alpine scrambling to sea kayaking. Judging from a recent exchange of letters in the monthly magazine, The Mountaineer, you might add debating to the list.

It all started with the humble bivy sack, a not-so-cheap item bought to enclose you and your sleeping bag for extra protection on the ground. In the February issue, an outraged woman warned that when she completely closed her Advanced Bivy, she began hyperventilating. Then she spotted a too-small warning tag: To avoid suffocation, it said, never zip up completely.

The following month a Mountaineer member jumped on the bivy owner’s case: “The concept of zipping yourself up tight inside anything, much less anything supposedly waterproof, without realizing there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea, is in my own humble opinion, an oversight of Darwinian proportions.” What’s more, he warned his fellow mountaineers, this kind of victim mentality leads to “the downfall of modern America.”