Heard Around the West

Capitol Reef by Bobbie D. Johnson



Ball caps off to the feisty writer Ted Williams, called a “national treasure” and “Rachel Carson for sportsmen,” by Forbes magazine for his decades of environmental and outdoor writing. Williams didn’t pull his punches in a December interview with contributing editor Monte Burke. He called most sportsmen”easily manipulated by their worst enemies,” and blasted the National Rifle Association, saying it “can now be counted on to be on the wrong side of every environmental issue.” And he still has it in for feral cats, those domestic feline marauders estimated to gorge on up to 4 billion birds a year: “Feral cats learn to avoid traps and guns. The only solution is selective poisoning — again by wildlife professionals, not the public. The Aussies do it; we don’t.”


One of the hottest potatoes in the West is the question of whether open range laws are outmoded. The way it is now, if you’re driving and a one-ton cow materializes in front of you in an area that is designated open range, it’s your responsibility to avoid hitting that animal; if you hit it, you’re liable for its loss. You’re also required to fence out cattle if they annoy you by trooping into your garden. A tragic accident last November has led some people to question this long-enshrined code of the Old West. After a vehicle hit a bull on a remote highway near Council, Idaho, the police arrived, gunfire erupted, and rancher Jack Yantis “ended up dead.” Nonetheless, the Idaho Farm Bureau, which has some 12,000 fulltime ranchers and farmers among its membership, resolutely backs the open range law. Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little, a rancher, told that it might be time to reconsider. “I tell my cattleman friends, ‘You have a school bus hit a bull, you’re not going to like the way the open range laws in Idaho are changed.’ ”


Magazine editor Amanda Fortini didn’t move from Los Angeles to Livingston, Montana, to get closer to nature, but rather to make a relationship work. Once she entered this new and rugged way of life, she tells Good magazine, she suddenly found herself living in a still “feral” place that was prone to violence and blizzards —a place where “nature becomes part of every decision.” Perhaps the biggest surprise, she says with humility, was that nature called the shots. If you choose to adopt a place like Montana, she advises, “You will be reminded that the moon is running you. The sun is running you. The light or lack of light is running you. You are the full moon. You are the rushing river. You are the animal, moving and being moved.”


After five years of a frantic building boom fueled by horizontal drilling for oil in the Bakkan area of North Dakota, the bust has settled in, big time. Although permanent dwellings continue to go up in towns like Williston — thanks to borrowed money — oil prices have plummeted, rigs have been pulled out, man camps closed, and the upshot, as Williams County Commissioner Dan Kalil puts it: “We are overbuilt.” As thousands of laid-off oil-field workers depart, many have adopted a routine that involves TJ’s Autobody & Salvage, reports Bloomberg Business. TJ’s is where former workers dump their pickups and recreational vehicles —not even stopping to collect some money for a vehicle’s scrap value. “I wake up and RVs are in my driveway,” said owner Tom Novak. “It’s insane, there are empty campers everywhere.”


A paid obituary in western Colorado’s Delta County Independent caught our eye because of the family’s willingness to talk about their father’s long battle with mental illness. Randolph “Randy”Park, born in 1952, owned a grocery store in Rifle when his daughters, Jessica and Katie, were growing up. There, he “knew and extended a hand for anyone who needed it,” they write. During the last half of his life, however, Randy Park realized that he needed help for himself; he could not outrun his “demons.”Mental illness, his daughters report from experience, “is one of the most debilitating things that can happen in a family.” Shame and guilt are associated with trying to deal with it, they say, and many people may feel they never did enough to help. “If you feel that way at all, I ask you to treat yourself with the same compassion you would offer a good friend, and forgive yourself. My dad would want you to do that.” Randy Park, who loved to hunt, fish and hang out with friends when he was younger, spent his last years in a caring place called Delta House. The town’s growing recognition that people like Randy needed help encouraged local support for Delta’s homeless shelter, and as his daughters say, “We are thankful for that.”

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


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Writers On The Range

Writers On The Range

Writers on the Range is a syndication of High Country News (hcn.or)