There was a time when everyone knew their place out West, when every animal knew its role in the ecosystem.

Sheepherders and cattle ranchers didn’t associate with each other. Grass-chewing bison had nothing in common with bone-crunchers like wolves.

But our relationships just haven’t been the same lately. Earlier this month, the Montana Stockgrowers Association began running radio ads intended to expose the true costs of wolf reintroduction. Sure, wolves may be good for tourism, the ranchers say, but they’re hell on cattle and sheep.

Even if ranchers are compensated financially for wolf kills (and they are), the campaign points out that the mere presence of the predators causes immeasurable wear and tear on herds in the form of stress and panic.

And then there’s the bison threat. Bison, many of which are infected with brucellosis, migrate north during the winter in search of forage, and there are currently 1,000 more bison in Yellowstone National Park than management plans call for. Responding to pressure from cattlemen, wildlife officials may soon consider “culling” bison near the park. Last year, officials culled about 200 bison. In 1996-97, they culled about 1,100. To date, brucellosis has never been transmitted to cattle outside the lab, but the presence of the disease outside the park seems to cause ranchers plenty of stress and panic.

So we have radio ads and wildlife kills. When sheepherders and cattle ranchers started working together, wolves and bison developed common interests. They’re both on the defensive now.

No, the West’s ecosystem just ain’t what it used to be.

•••

Last month, Ravalli County commissioners voted unanimously to prohibit drivers and passengers—sorry shotgun boozers—from drinking while driving. The ordinance comes on the heels of a statewide—and to some degree, nationwide—effort to curtail drunk driving.

After Montana received an “F” grade from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, many in Helena realized the state’s got a problem. Still, Ravalli’s open-container ordinance makes it one of only two counties in Montana to outlaw boozin’ an’ cruisin’. And to date, the Legislature has rejected the idea of passing any statewide open-container law.

But don’t think you beer-abstaining pot smokers are safe. The White House recently declared a national “drugged driving” initiative. The idea is that drivers pulled over with marijuana or certain other drugs in their system can be slapped with a DUI. Problem is, marijuana can stay in your system for weeks, so if you toke on Friday and get pulled over on Monday with a clear head, you get the same DUI as if you had wrapped your Lexus around a telephone poll hopped up on goof balls.

This weed bashing arrives on the tail of a study by a British policy-research think-tank debunking the ‘gateway drug’ theory. The study, published in the medical journal Addiction, reports that teens likely to experiment with cocaine, heroin, and hallucinogens would do so regardless of whether they use marijuana first.

•••

Department of patting ourselves on the back: The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has announced the nominees for its 14th Annual GLAAD Media Awards and former editor Ken Picard—now a staff writer at Seven Days in Vermont— has been nominated for his Independent cover story “Queer and Present Danger” (March 21, 2002). The GLAAD awards recognize fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Nominated in the category of “Outstanding Newspaper Article,” Ken’s piece is a shoe-in to win—competing against stories from such lowly rags as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. But even if Ken isn’t victorious—it’s an honor just to be nominated, isn’t that what they always say?—we’re proud of his analysis of Montana’s ambient homophobia.

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