Bottle ban ‘limits personal choice’

ARIZONA

Walk around the rims of Grand Canyon National Park and you can’t help but notice that a lot of the trash tourists leave behind is plastic water bottles, especially on trails during the summer when the temperatures regularly hits 100 degrees. Disposable water bottles, in fact, make up 30 percent of the park’s waste stream, says the National Park Service. So just before he retired from his job a year ago this December, Park Superintendent Steve Martin intended to announce a smart environmental move that culminated months of planning: Grand Canyon would ban those plastic bottles and institute water refill stations.

Grand Canyon wouldn’t be the first park to make the move; Zion National Park in Utah banned disposable plastic water bottles in 2006, and in just that year eliminated 60,000 of the non-biodegradable containers. That decision brought Zion staffers an environmental award from the Park Service itself.

Martin told the New York Times that after working with vendors in the park on the ban, everybody had “accepted it,” paving the way for the public announcement. Then suddenly, Park Service Director Jon Jarvis informed the park superintendent that his ban was kaput — postponed indefinitely. What had changed? Coca-Cola, which sells bottled water, was not happy, and Coca-Cola, a major donor to the nonprofit National Park Foundation, called the foundation president and told him so, reports the New York Times.

“There was no “overt statement to me that they objected to the ban,” said Neil J. Mulholland, president of the National Park Foundation. But Susan Stribling, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, explained that a ban against disposable plastic bottles was a bad idea because it limited personal choice and was not as good a solution to the problem of littering as recycling.

For Superintendent Martin, who was ending a 35-year career with the Park Service, the sudden policy reversal was disheartening.

“That was upsetting news because of what I felt were ethical issues surrounding the idea of being unduly influenced by business,” he told reporter Felicity Barringer. Plastic bottles, he said, remain “the single biggest source of trash” in the canyon. The story may not yet be over. Negotiations with Coke are said to be starting again.

WYOMING

An embarrassment of riches brought together two families of grizzly bears in Grand Teton National Park: delicious piles of guts discarded by hunters, plus numerous carcasses of elk and the carcass of a bison. Unfortunately, the late-November reunion — like many others this holiday season — did not always go harmoniously, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. The two heads of the families — the larger 399, and 610, her daughter from 2006 — tussled several times over the spoils, rolling “in the snow during one brawl,” said photographer Tom Mangelsen, who kept a close watch on the action as it unfolded. He said the sows’ cubs, five in number, tried to join in, and one of 399’s cubs was “a real scrapper,” not just charging at the other cubs but also chasing its grandmother. “The scene made for amazing wildlife viewing,” Mangelsen said, but if the two grizzly sows had not been related, he speculated, “it would be a fight-to-the-death sort of thing.”

MONTANA

Bob Ream, chairman of the state Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission, was driving to north-central Montana just before sunrise to hunt deer, when a deer jumped in front of his car and made the trip unnecessary. The deer was a goner, “but only its hind quarter was damaged,” reports the Independent Record, “so Ream tagged it.” Even though his job involves setting hunting regulations, Ream apparently didn’t know that tagging a roadkill is illegal. After he told a game warden what he’d done, the animal was confiscated and Ream was issued a warning. That wasn’t even the worst part: The deer also totaled his Subaru.

THE WEST

We won’t go into the Freudian implications of hunters who covet wall decorations fashioned from the enormous antlers of the deer or elk they “hunted” on a fenced game ranch, but in Texas, where everything is supposed to be bigger than life, the desire for giant racks has gotten entirely out of hand. Smugglers have been hauling in bucks with huge antlers to breed with the state’s “delicate native deer,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The result: deer with racks that can span four feet and are “often festooned with dozens of thick knobs and nubbins,” reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ creations. Federal agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently nabbed one of the smugglers — Billy Powell, 77, who was sentenced to up to six months of home confinement, $1.5 million in penalties and the forfeiture of 1,300 vials of frozen deer semen, said to be worth close to $1 million.

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

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