Writers on the Range

Grazing saddles the West with a heck of a problem

The drunk who said it was right. Denial is not a river in Egypt. But it may be a river in New Mexico. Or Arizona. Or Nevada or Utah. Maybe Montana. The river is 20 feet wider than it was, say, in 1840. The only cottonwood on its banks is just about that old, magnificent but half-dead. Trout don’t swim in the water. Cowbirds, not flycatchers, nest on the banks.   Belsky and a number of her colleagues, including Robert Ohmart of Arizona State University, now predict that if livestock grazing in the West isn’t severely cut back, restoration will …

Enviro learns rural town isn't about Big Timber and Big Mining

“I don’t know what we’re going to do if the mine closes.” The woman’s voice sounds strained and tired through the phone. “I’m going to have to find a job, and we may have to cash in our retirement fund. I guess we’ll move if we have to.” I hadn’t meant to pry. I had just called to remind her of her daughter’s peewee basketball practice that night. But in a small, western town, you can’t help but run into the lives of your neighbors. Like everyone else in town, I had heard about the fire in one of the …

The Intermountain West becomes a California suburb

One does not expect enlightenment from a barber shop conversation, but there it was. I’d always had hunches about the nature of demographic change in Western mountain towns, nasty hunches, hunches counter to the conventional wisdom that immigration was motivated by the newcomers’ love of the land, so the newcomers would become allies in environmental struggles. Nothing, however, explained my skepticism, other than the simple fact that the political struggles of my place steadily grew harder and meaner, despite the newcomers. The woman in the barber shop was prattling on about the charms of Missoula, Montana, my hometown, her new …