Don't mess with Smokey Bear

THE WEST

It takes a bold person to tinker with Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service icon who proclaims, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires." Messing with the paunchy blue-jeaned bear and his strong message might just earn you a cease and desist letter, plus a threat of jail time and fines. That happened to Lopi LaRoe, an artist and Occupy Wall Street activist, after her altered image of Smokey went viral on Facebook and the Web. LaRoe's "NO FRACKING" Smokey warns, "Only you can prevent FAUCET fires" - referring to flaming water taps caused by nearby gas extraction. "This is Smokey waking up and saying, 'Oh, you didn't do that to my environment,'" LaRoe says. "Smokey wants to fight the corporations and protect the air and the water and the plants and the animals and the people." LaRoe plastered her vision of Smokey on everything from T-shirts to tote bags - "great for Dumpster diving" - and, as she notes with a grin, "It spread like wildfire." Legal counsel for the Forest Service, however, told LaRoe in no uncertain terms that Smokey is government-owned, and co-opting his image to sell a product can result in up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, reports the website readersupportednews.org. No word yet on whether LaRoe has severed her relationship with her controversial anti-fracking bear.

THE WEST

Who knew that six beavers could become environmental saviors? Unwittingly, of course, a dam they created was crucial in halting the spread of 27,000 gallons of gasoline from a leaky pipeline. Absent the beaver dam, the gas would have spread across a huge area from Salt Lake City through Idaho to Spokane, Wash., reports the Idaho Statesman. But the beavers paid dearly for their community service, "with petroleum burns that Utah officials treated with baths of Dawn dish soap and water at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah." Four of them recovered fully, but two younger animals needed more time to battle infections. Leaks along the Chevron pipeline, which supplies Boise with gas and diesel fuel, are nothing new: Two earlier pipeline breaks earned the company $400,000 in federal fines.

THE SOUTHWEST

As Bill Donovan explained in the Navajo Times, Obi Wan Kenobi will soon say, "May the force be with you!" in the Din language: "Adziil Nitholoodo!" In a first for the Navajo Nation, tribal members will dub Star Wars in Navajo. Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum, said he started thinking about dubbing a popular film into Navajo more than a decade ago, and many critics rank Star Wars as among the top 10 movies ever made. It would encourage kids to learn their language, he figured, and help preserve Navajo culture. Wheeler received an enthusiastic response when he approached Lucasfilm not long ago. The company agreed to make the film available, and funding then came from the tribe's Parks and Recreation Department. Now, Star Wars-Navajo-style will debut at no charge for reservation moviegoers at a July 4th celebration; afterward, it will be shown regularly at the Navajo Museum.

WYOMING

Hats off to Wyoming Game and Fish Department Warden Joseph Kraft, whose detailed police work nabbed two men who shot two deer out of season. When Kraft found a headless deer carcass last winter, he examined nearby litter and found a chewing tobacco tin; at the site of the second dead deer, there was a can of Monster Energy Rehab drink. At a convenience store, Kraft then scanned surveillance photos until he spotted two guys buying the same brands of tobacco and drink. A credit card receipt soon revealed the poachers' names. Brian Nesvik, chief game warden for the department, wasn't kidding when he explained that cases like this are pursued "vehemently."

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an op ed service to Western magazines and papers of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of regional weirdness are appreciated and often shared (Betsym@hcn.org.)