For The Record

News from the Field, February 1997

For The Record
By Todd Balf and Paul Kvinta

E A R   T O   T H E

"If their Great-Aunt Matilda buys a Volkswagen van and she dies and gives it to one of them, that baby's mine."

-Don Blewett, president of Highland Enterprises, on his plan to collect $1.15 million in damages from 12 mostly unemployed members of Earth First! Last November, a jury in Grangeville, Idaho, ruled that the group had sabotaged the firm's road-clearing equipment during a 1993 protest in Nez Perce National Forest.

An Equal Opportunity Precipice
"Cliff diving is very dangerous for women because of the breasts," argues Ambrosio Garcia, of the 52-man Acapulco Cliff Union. "A blow to the breasts is six times more powerful for them as it is for us men." A bold theory indeed, but apparently Garcia wasn't persuasive enough with his colleagues. Last fall, the all-male association finally relented and allowed women to compete in the sport's de facto world championships on the 90-foot La Quebrada cliff. Of course, the decision wasn't based entirely on altruism and progressive thinking. With the event's popularity waning and international TV coverage hinging on female participation, the organizers mysteriously wised up. Curiously, while the men's division is dominated by Mexicans, all of the female participants were from north of the border, with one Canadian and five Americans jockeying for the $6,000 first-place prize. In the end American diver Heidi Pascoe beat out Canadian Adele Laurent Koch to take top honors. And despite Garcia's concern for the ladies on the cliff, all competitors exited the water safe and sound.

There Goes the Ecosystem
Every year about this time, residents of the tony Austin, Texas, suburb of West Lake Hills wait in anxious anticipation for Scout Bird, a plastic pink flamingo that mysteriously roosts on the public right-of-way at the intersection of Texas 360 and Bee Caves Road. Two weeks after his appearance, in one of the most unusual avian migrations anywhere, more than 700 of the birds arrive to, uh, nest. "They come in February and leave in October, with the first blue norther," explains Bob Cook, president of a shadowy "environmental" group called SAFE, Society Against Flamingo Extinction. "But the flock has come under pressure recently from habitat destruction and hate groups." He's referring to certain city council members who don't find the flamingos as aesthetically pleasing as he does and who want them removed or, better yet, destroyed. So far, the fate of the birds appears secure. An aggressive letter-writing campaign by SAFE and other residents has kept the flock intact. "If we removed the flamingos," says Cook with only a hint of sarcasm, "it could upset the ecosystem."

C'mon, Ricardo, Take a Load Off!
In October, a month before the high-altitude Sky Marathon series finale in his native Mexico, Ricardo Mejia seemed cooked. The 28-year-old Veracruz native and two-time Pikes Peak winner had raced three major marathons in the previous month and looked like he needed a long, low-altitude rest after the Tibet Sky Marathon, in which he finished a distant third to Americans Matt Carpenter and Robb Reese. "I honestly think Ricardo is racing too much," said Carpenter, who opted to skip the Mexico race and stay home in Colorado. Mejia disagreed. Not only did he enter the 20.6-mile race up and down the fabled 17,154-foot Xinantecatl volcano; he destroyed the field, including the favored Italian mountain runner Bruno Brunod. With neighboring Popocatepetl smoking away, Mejia crossed the finish line in a blistering 2:56:52, to the cheers of his fellow countrymen.

Strong Like Strom
In politics, success often comes after you've identified your enemy's strength and made it your own. In the case of South Carolina's antienvironment-prone Senator Strom Thurmond, who blew out 94 candles on his birthday cake last December, the biggest weapon is obvious: longevity. What keeps the seven-time incumbent coming back to cast all those timber-cutting votes? "Diet and exercise," maintains Thurmond. As the 105th Congress settles into serious work this month, Thurmond's opponents would do well to study his regimen.

Coach, Can Brian Crash in Every Race?
Brian Shimer's six-year run of crash-free bobsledding came to an abrupt end late last November at the season's first World Cup event, when he mistimed the infamous Turn 13 on the course at Altenberg, Germany. Then coaches began to fret about the psychological effect on the team. "It's the fallen-god syndrome," says Matt Roy of USA Bobsled. "We weren't sure how fast the other guys would want to go after what happened to Brian." Three days later, Roy got his answer. Two-man driver Jim Herberich and Garrett Hines stunned everyone by taking silver at Altenberg and finishing second the next week in La Plagne, France. Shimer, for his part, rebounded from the crash with a course record in La Plagne but followed it up with a 12th on the second run, earning them a disappointing sixth.

Operation Arbor Assault
Think of Moshe Alamaro as Johnny Appleseed meets Norman Schwarzkopf. "This is very smart bombing," insists the Massachusetts Institute of Technology mechanical engineer. In what amounts to the most ambitious reforestation campaign ever conceived, Alamaro hopes soon to be flying sorties over the planet's most environmentally ravaged areas and sprinkling them with 12-inch saplings. His strategy: A "tree bomb," a bullet-shaped, biodegradable container that packs a tiny tree and a little fertilizer, is dropped from the cargo hold, reaches a maximum velocity of 200 mph, and then plants itself in the topsoil. Or so the theory goes. This spring, before Alamaro approaches various governments for permission to, um, attack, he'll test-bomb several sites in Massachusetts. So confident is Alamaro of his green thumb, he's says that he intends to reforest areas as diverse as Greenland and the Arabian Peninsula. "Leave it to me," he says. "We will drop trillions of trees."

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