‘Undesirable elements’

UTAH

After people in the town of Moab got to talking about providing a shelter for the homeless, Carey Jones wrote the Moab Times-Independent to say that the well-intentioned move might just open the door to wandering riffraff, or as he delicately phrased it, “undesirable elements.” But before you rush to denounce Jones as a bigot, consider the fact that he’s been homeless himself for 26 years, spending every winter outdoors in the deserts or canyons of southern Utah. Jones said that he knew of only four people in Moab who were truly homeless, and that they all received continuing help from churches or public assistance. He concluded that he’d rather be poor and homeless in Moab than rich anywhere else, and in any case, he didn’t “need anybody’s roof or anybody’s pity.”

WASHINGTON

A 24-year-old seasoned hunter near the Methow Valley of Washington was scouting for deer this fall when she had an unusual — and unnerving — encounter with two gray wolves, reports the Methow Valley News. Kari Hirschberger, a research forester who’s been hunting since she was 7, said she was walking a ridge in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area when she realized she was close to both a deer carcass and what looked like an animal’s den.

“I realized I should not be there,” she told reporter Ann McCreary, when two wolves starting loping toward her, moving fast from some 45 yards away. Hirschberger, who weighs just 125 pounds, quickly decided not to retreat but to stand her ground, shouting, waving her arms wildly and attempting to look intimidating. There was a brief standoff, but then the wolves began to charge her, one at a time, so she chucked rocks at them while hastily packing up her gear and getting ready to move out.

The animals followed her for a mile and a half, “very silent and their heads were kind of low to the ground,” until finally they disappeared. She still doesn’t know whether they were chasing her off or treating her as potential prey, but she’s convinced her “instinct to fight back and act aggressively probably helped her.”

A few weeks later, Hirschberger returned with her boyfriend to bag her buck. Despite her disconcerting experience, she says she continues to believe wolves belong in the wild because “a healthy ecosystem doesn’t have missing parts.”

UTAH

Mike Winder, the mayor of West Valley City, recently confessed that he’s been leading a double life — publicly representing Utah’s second-largest city, which has a population of 129,000, while also secretly posing as a journalist named “Richard Burwash.” The real Burwash, whose first name is Peter, lives in California, where he’s a tennis player and motivational speaker; he was taken aback to discover his photo on a newspaper column written by the fake Burwash, who was known in Utah as a sometime journalist writing for the Summit Group, a public relations and lobbying firm run by the mayor.

The fake journalist frequently quoted himself — as Mayor Winder — in articles published by the Deseret News and other media outlets, saying glowing things about his town. In a three-part series in 2010, he urged voters to approve a $25 million bond issue for city parks while never even mentioning the objections of opponents to the issue.

Winder has been touted as a political comer and possible candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City. “Time will tell,” Winder admitted, whether this incident will harm his political future: “There will be people who will be disappointed in me because of this.”

CALIFORNIA

A black bear in Lake Tahoe broke into a Toyota Prius parked at a cabin and then “went into a rampage” when he realized he was trapped inside it, reports the Contra Costa Times. The animal kicked, bit and tore at the seats and the steering wheel, and finally managed to shift the car into neutral. “It rolled backward out of the driveway, picked up speed, hopped a small rock wall and stopped on a neighbor’s porch steps.” At that point, a door sprang open and the fortunate bear took off. As a police officer later noted, “It’s definitely not a normal thing to hear about.”

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an op ed syndicate of High Country News (betsym@hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared.

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