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Springtime in Washington, D.C.

In nation’s Capitol, even simple solutions are complicated

Ah, springtime has arrived in Washington, D.C.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is under way. The cherry trees, 3,700 of them given to America by the Japanese in 1912, are in full bloom.

One incident in- volving the trees reminds me why Americans are so wary of Washington.

In the spring of 1999, you see, some culprits had been chopping down cherry trees.

The National Park Service, in a state of high alert for days, finally identified the tree fellers: three beavers, who decided to construct a dam in the Tidal Basin.

In a normal city, this situation would have been dealt with swiftly. The beavers would have been trapped, transported to another location and released.

In fact, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), not known for common sense solutions, suggested exactly that.

But Washington is no normal city.

No sooner was PETA’s idea floated than experts began crawling out of the woodwork. One said it would be tragic to separate the three beavers, since they’re likely from the same family.

Another said you can’t move beavers to a new colony because the new colony — beavers are Republicans? — would reject the freeloaders. Besides, what’s the point of being a beaver if you don’t have any buddies to plug up storm sewers with?

A third expert said that, all things considered, the most humane solution would be to euthanize the beavers.

Boy, did the public react negatively to that suggestion.

This is because beavers are cute. Their cuddly television presence clouded the public’s ability to address the problem rationally.

The fact is that if beavers looked more like their pointy-nosed cousins, rats, even PETA would have lined the banks of the Tidal Basin with rifles and shotguns to take out the varmints before they felled more beloved trees.

By that point, PETA returned to form. It demanded the beavers be allowed to continue damming the Tidal Basin — to hell with the cherry trees and the fact that “Tidal Basin” would need to be renamed “Tidal Wave.”

The hullabaloo went on for some time before the Park Service finally hired a professional trapper. The trapper caught the beavers and they were carted off.

You’d think that would have been the end of it. But not in Washington.

Activists, suspicious of what the Park Service really did with the beavers — Guantanamo Bay? — demanded their location be divulged.

That prompted the Park Service to issue a statement. It said that, due to the publicity surrounding the case, the beavers were moved to a “safe house,” which, apparently, is some kind of beaver witness protection program.

The beaver incident illustrates how convoluted and confusing things can get in Washington — simple ideas and solutions that work everywhere else are twisted and contorted and made unrecognizable there.

That’s why the fellows who founded this country had the right idea when they sought to keep most of the decision-making out of Washington — keep it among the people and within the states.

But the birds running the government right now don’t see it that way. They have Washington butting into every aspect of our lives.

Alas, springtime has arrived in Washington. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the cherry trees are in full bloom.

And all I can do is worry about what that nutty town is going to meddle with next.

A prior version of this column was distributed by Cagle Cartoons in 2010. It is an excerpt from Tom Purcell’s new book, “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” available at

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