Wildfire response is ‘big government’

COLORADO

As if the recent local wildfires weren’t trouble enough, now Woodland Park, Colo, has to worry about a “strong, aggressive” 6-foot monitor lizard that might find itself tempted to dine on cats and dogs. The “pet,” known as Dino, snapped its mesh leash and wandered off in the tourist town northwest of Colorado Springs, reports AP. “If it gets hungry enough, we don’t know what it will do,” Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger remarked helpfully.

Speaking of fires, in a letter to the Colorado Springs Independent, Terri Weber had a heartfelt reminder for area residents who’d weathered a terrible wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes: “Local resources were not enough to save our city. You, my fellow taxpayers, paid for the C-130s dropping fire retardant, (the) Hot Shots(and) boots on the ground. This is the big government that some people are wailing about. I am so tickled to have it, and I thank you for it.”

THE WEST

It was such a sweet story at first: A man in a hairy white goat suit with fake horns who appeared to be trying to join a mountain goat herd in the Wasatch Mountains some 40 miles north of Salt Lake City. Yes, the faux goat was clumsy, not being a real caprid with fabulous grippy, gravity-defying, cloven hooves, but there he was, clambering over rocks on a steep slope, hoping — perhaps unwisely — to be accepted by animals renowned for their sinuous grace and wise faces. Or so some of us assumed. Philip Douglass of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources was even worried that “goat man,” as the press called him, might be shot and turned into an unusual trophy when hunting season for the animals began in September.

Alas, the mystery ended when goat man revealed himself to be a 57-year-old archery hunter from Southern California. No, he didn’t want to be one with the mountain goats, he told The Associated Press, he just wanted to practice getting as close as possible to a herd in order to kill one of them. So all that laborious four-legged climbing while wearing his homemade goat suit was merely preparation for a mountain goat hunt in Canada next year. The man, who was not identified, was apparently not happy about all the publicity, which began when a hiker spotted him on a mountainside and a TV news crew photographed him from a helicopter. And we suspect that he was the anonymous “agitated man” who called wildlife authorities to say: “Leave goat man alone. He’s done nothing wrong.”

Meanwhile, up in Washington, the Olympic National Forest has had to close a trail for two weeks because the mountain goats there have been getting testy with tourists. Forest officials told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that “aggressive goats” on the Mount Ellinor Trail near Hoodsport had caused several hikers to feel threatened. Violating the closure order is a big deal; the maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and six months in jail. But the caution is understandable; just two years ago, in nearby Olympic National Park, a mountain goat defended its spot on a hiking trail by butting and killing a man, whose family is now suing the Park Service.

MONTANA

Jesus has a friend in Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, or at least the blue-robed Big Mountain Jesus statue does, standing with arms outstretched at the top of Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Chair 2. For nearly six decades, the statue has welcomed skiers, “whose irreverence, however unintentional, most recently cost the Jesus statue an outstretched hand,” reports the Missoulian. But that’s the least of its problems. First, the Forest Service chose not to renew the lease for the 25-by-25-foot parcel of land where the statue stands. But after 95,000 public comments flooded in, the agency decided to let the statue stay “after determining that it was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.” That’s when a Wisconsin-based group of atheists called the Freedom From Religion Foundation went to federal court to attack the legality of allowing a religious symbol on national forest land, calling it a state endorsement of religion. Rehberg, who is running for the Senate in a closely watched race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, has joined forces with those who want the Jesus statue to continue greeting skiers. He believes the statue is a “historic monument” inspired by members of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, who had seen similar shrines in the mountains of Italy.

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

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