Weber StudiesHome , Archives , Reading Room , Search , Editorial Info , Books , Subscribe ,  West Links
Spring 1999, Volume 16.3


Reading The West

read-ing (from ME reden, to explain, hence to read) - vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to, study.

 
What is an Educated Person?

In our complex society, there may be too many answers to the question of what makes an educated person, but that only increases the need for discussion The College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Newsletter at Utah State University recently published a collection of short faculty essays on the subject. Here are three excerpts:

An educated person, confronted with a headline [from a National Enquirer] in the grocery store, knows how to determine the possible validity of the "facts" reported. For example, there is the headline "Bat Baby Found in Cave." It appeared in a tabloid, accompanied by a photo of a bat/human hybrid. Anyone with a basic knowledge of reproductive biology would not be taken in by the photo, anyone with a knowledge of folklore would be struck by the appearance of a familiar motif, and anyone with a knowledge of history would know that from the time the printing press was invented in the 15th century, printers sold cheap new sheets announcing monstrous births. The "Bat Baby" is much like the cat born to a woman in 1568. A biological impossibility with great entertainment value.

Norman Jones, USU Professor of History

 

Attempting to define the educated person is a necessary but very difficult task. To make such a definition means having to choose among complex and vexed conceptions of education, cultural identity, and truth. Worse, in making such a choice, insight must always come at the expense of blindness. To choose one definition of the educated person requires that other definitions be rejected or marginalized. To give privilege to one means to take it from others. For this reason, I define the educated person in what may appear to be negative terms: the mark of an educated person is the ability to perceive and articulate the limits of any idea; to live with doubt, uncertainty, and incompleteness without demanding a truth that cannot be questioned. The fundamental assumption here is that for human intelligence there can be no absolute explanations.

Jeffery Smitten, USU Professor of English

 

There is an inherent tension in contemporary academic life between the ever-increasing demand for specialization and the need to provide broad common knowledge. Frequenty, the former is stressed at the expense of the latter, often in response to demands from legislators, parents, and even students themselves, many of whom view a college degree as nothing more than a ticket to a "good job."

Francis C. McGovern, Director of Development for the College


Campaign Finance Reform—More than a Desert Mirage

In November 1998, Arizona voters approved a ballot initiative (proposition 200) that will radically change the way state-level campaigns are financed and conducted in the state. A broad-based coalition_the Arizona League of Women Voters, AARP, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, Democrats and Republicans supported the proposition:

What's wrong?

The people of Arizona find that our current election-financing system allows Arizona elected officials to accept large campaign contributions from private interests over which they have governmental jurisdiction; gives incumbents an unhealthy advantage over challengers; hinders communication to voters by many qualified candidates; effectively suppresses the voices and influence of the vast majority of Arizona citizens in favor of a small number of wealthy special interests; undermines public confidence in the integrity of public officials; costs average taxpayers millions of dollars in the form of subsidies and special privileges for campaign contributors; drives up the cost of running for state office, discouraging otherwise qualified candidates who lack personal wealth or access to special-interest funding; and requires that elected officials spend too much of their time raising funds rather than representing the public.

How will the proposition work?

Proposition 200 would establish a system for the public funding of election campaigns for political candidates who voluntarily participate in a system to limit campaign spending and fund-raising in statewide and state legislative elections. The proposition would also reduce by twenty percent the amount per individual that can currently be contributed to a candidate if they opt not to receive public funding.

Proposition 200 would establish a Citizens Clean Election Commission that consists of five members, no more than two of whom can be from the same political party or same county. Persons would be eligible for membership on the Commission if they meet certain voter registration requirements, are not lobbyists and have not been candidates for public office or appointed to public office. Members are appointed by both the Governor and the highest ranking statewide officeholder who is not from the same political party as the Governor.

Candidates who agree to limit their fund-raising and spending would qualify to receive money from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. To qualify, a candidate would have to receive a specified number of $5.00 contributions from registered voters from within the candidate's district. The total money distributed by the Commission would be limited to $5.00 multiplied by the number of individual state income tax returns filed that year.

Participating candidates would be: a) Prohibited from spending more than the amounts established by the Commission for the primary and the general election. b) Limited in the amount of personal money that could be used in the campaign. c) Prohibited from accepting other contributions, except as specified for emergency situations. Proposition 200 would establish reporting requirements for participating candidates in addition to the requirements under current law and would provide for various penalties, including forfeiture of office, for violations.

This proposition would establish a 10% surcharge on certain civil penalties and criminal fines and a $100 annual fee on lobbyists representing for-profit entities, including trade groups of for-profit entities, and would allow any other person to donate to pay for public financing of candidates. Taxpayers who donate are eligible for a tax credit in the amount of the donation up to $500 or 20% of the taxpayer's total tax owed, whichever is more.

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission would enforce and administer the system, including the allocation of money to qualified candidates, sponsor debates, adopt rules, ensure proper use of the money distributed to candidates and provide education to voters.

SOURCE: Proposition 200 and the Analysis of the Proposition prepared by the Arizona Legislative Council.


Cartoon by Calvin Grondahl (The Standard-Examiner)

 

A Senate Beholden

National elective office has become the province of the wealthy or those willing to become beholden to special interests. The figure below shows how much money candidates for the U.S. Senate have spent in recent years. The average senatorial race (winner and challenger combined) in the Western States spends more than $6 million. "Soft money" or funds spent by various interest groups on behalf of senators are not included in the table.

More detail about individual senators or representatives, their campaign spending and contributors can be found at the Common Cause web site.

SOURCE: Common Cause at http://www.commoncause.com

 

Recent U.S. Senate Campaign Expenditures
$ Millions


"The more you read and observe about this politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that's out always looks the best."

—Will Rogers

Progress!

On good days, there is some evidence that environmental concern is being rewarded. Noted historian Patricia Nelson Limerick writing in the July 1998 issue of the Journal of the West describes the reclamation of a small creek in Boulder, Colorado.

Boulder Creek is a current of water so appealing that it could be "Central Castings'" choice for "Quaint and Charming Stream." The creek runs through the middle of the city of Boulder, Colorado. The public library straddles it; a pleasant bike path runs beside it; in the summer, shade trees cool the air around it. During the annual festival celebrating the creek, in one event pressing hard against the margins of tolerable cuteness, hundreds of rubber duckies ride the current downstream. Visually, this creek meets nearly all the standards that Americans have designed for certifying a natural feature as attractive and appealing. As clear water moves briskly over rocks and sand, viewers of the creek can say to themselves, "Thank heavens, human beings haven't yet made a mess of everything in the west."

Human beings have certainly made plenty of messes in the West, and yet they have also—more or less—made the charming Boulder Creek. It runs in a designed and prepared channel. The volume of water rises and falls according to releases from an upstream dam. People, moreover, have plunked down rocks and boulders in just the right places, creating swirls and ripples exactly where they ought to be. Trees have been planted or permitted to grow along the creek bed. Perhaps most important, Boulder Creek has been cleaned up and rehabilitated from the sorry days when runoff from upstream mining mills drained into the creek, causing its water, on bad days, to run red. Contemplating the difference between Boulder Creek in the late 19th century and Boulder Creek in the late 20th century, one feels an unexpected urge to dig into the closet for that discredited word, "progress," and liberate it from its mothballs.

SOURCE: Journal of the West, July 1998, p. 66

 

Bighorn Sheep in Utah

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep were plentiful in Utah during the Pleistocene age. Pueblo Indian cliff dwellings contain skeletons and rock art that evidence their presence. With the coming of the first explorers, however, the population began to decline, and as early as 1876 the Utah territorial legislature found it necessary to protect Bighorns by setting hunting limits. Poaching, competition with domestic livestock, deteriorating habitat, and disease pushed sheep population downward until by the 1970s all native sheep had become extinct.

The major bighorn reintroduction efforts, locations, and current herd status are shown below:
1952 Ladore Canyon/Dinosaur Nat. Mon. established/expanding
1966 Brigham City/Mt. Ben Lomond unsuccessful (no survivors)
1970 Desolation Canyon (Ute Reservation) established
1981 Mount Nebo unsuccessful (no survivors)
1983 Green River/Flaming Gorge shrinking
1983 Green River Corridor eliminated to prevent spread of disease to domestic herds
1984 Harpers Corner/Dinosaur Nat. Mon. expanding, will eventually mix with herd at Ladore Canyon
1984 Deep Creek Mountain (near Nevada border) expanding, not yet established
1987 Pilot Mountain (near Nevada border) expanding, not yet established
1988 Sheep Creek and Hoop Lake shrinking due to disease

SOURCE: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources at http://www.nr.state.ut.us/dwr/!homeypg.htm

The High-Tech West is Expanding

The cover story of a recent Newsweek touted the growth of high-tech industry in the West. The story observed technological business growth in Western cities under the headline: "The hottest tech cities—watch out Silicon Valley, they're gaining on you." Featured were:
Cities Firms Anchor Corps.
Boise, ID 300 Hewlett Packard, Micron
Austin, TX 1750 Dell, AMD
Salt Lake City, UT 2120 Novell, Iomega, Evans & Sutherland
Seattle, WA 2500 Microsoft

SOURCE: Newsweek, November 9, 1998

 

Where the Endangered Ones Are

A majority of the 1,100 threatened or endangered animal and plant species in the United States can be found in the Western states. The map at right shows the number of species resident in each state. Note that the numbers include both plants and animals species and are not directly additive since species often occur in more than one state.

SOURCE: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Endangered Species at http://www.fws.gov

 

A Disappearing Wilderness

A recent report from the California Wilderness Coalition outlines how easily wild places can cease to be. The executive summary of the report observes:

By 1979, California's national forests contained only two million acres of protected wilderness. Meanwhile, over sixteen million acres—or two-thirds of our national forests—had been logged, developed, laced with roads, or otherwise degraded to the point they could no longer qualify as wilderness as defined by the 1964 Wilderness Act.

In 1979, the United States Forest Service inventoried California's twenty-four million acres of national forest lands to identify potential wilderness areas. The survey found that only 6.3 million acres of roadless land remained in California's national forests. These lands represent our last wild places.

In the past two decades, we've lost an additional 675,449 acres of national forest roadless land, an amount almost equal to the size of Yosemite National Park. Since 1979, we lost ninety-seven acres of wild forest land every day.

Losses of roadless land are not spread evenly throughout the state. Northwestern California lost 248,921 acres—far more than any other region. The Modoc National Forest lost fifty-three percent of its roadless land—a far greater percentage than any other
national forest. The Los Padres National Forest lost 130,067 roadless acres—more acres than any other. The Shasta-Trinity National Forest lost 121,389 acres.

Logging, road construction, and off-road vehicle use have had the greatest impacts on California's roadless lands since 1979. While logging destroyed almost all of the roadless areas in the northwest and northern Sierra, off-road vehicle use severely impacted specific regions, particularly southern California and the eastern Sierra Nevada. Mining, power line construction, electronic sites, aqueducts and recreational developments also caused impacts.

SOURCE: California's Vanishing Forests: Two Decades of Destruction, A Report by the California Wilderness Coalition, October 1998

Politics and Environmental Concern, Western Style

The following excerpt is from the final chapter of Cecil Andrus: Politics Western Style, coauthored by Cecil Andrus and Joel Connelly. Andrus was a four-term Governor of Idaho and U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter. He is currently chairman of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University.

I've racked my brain for a wider, overall approach by which we can hold on to pleasures of the old, uncrowded life at a time when people are thronging to the West. I've heard the word "sustainability" frequently used. It's usually a code word for encouraging the kind of growth that will not do permanent damage to natural systems.

It's my opinion that we should extend sustainability to embrace protection not only of natural habitats but of the human environment of the West, which looks so attractive to those on the outside. We should be sustaining clean air, clean water, and wild places—but also small-town values, the ability to make a living from the land, civilized debate, and the ability to resolve problems at a local or regional level.

We should do everything possible to preserve the West's open spaces. By that I mean not just critical habitat for wildlife but places where families and kids can fish, roam in the woods, marvel at a tulip field, or visit a working farm. It is, of course, important that we safeguard remote desert canyons owned by the Bureau of Land Management. But such projects as the greenway along Interstate 90 in Washington will have immense, positive impact in a Puget Sound region expected to grow by 1.1 million people in the next quarter-century.

We should also try to sustain the West's traditional way of life, but not at the expense of those who lead it. With retirement havens and destination resorts springing up in once-remote places, working ranches are being devoured. I favor buying up development rights or granting tax breaks to those who don't put multiple homes on the range.

Incentives are the way to go. Forcing changes in behavior on unwilling people, while taxing them to death, won't work in the West. Such policies run against a value system rooted to individual freedom. If you take value from land, the owner should be compensated with money or, preferably, an exchange for other land.

In the last four years, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has negotiated habitat conservation plans with California land developers and Northwest timber owners. In our region, the landowners have agreed to maintain a certain amount of "old" forest and to protect streams and wildlife migration corridors. They can go ahead with timber harvest on nonsensitive lands.

Babbitt has been attacked by the everybody-is-a-sellout-but-us faction of the environmental movement. Such criticism is counterproductive. If you want owners to keep land in timber, they have to cut a certain number of trees. If you want developers to be sensitive to endangered species, show them the option of reasonable compromise. Leave a wetland alone, and you can build at higher density on the bluffs overlooking the marsh. Otherwise, owners will simply deploy chainsaws and bulldozers the moment there is a hint of something worth preserving on their land.

Development should carry its own weight. In four terms as governor, I never bribed any manufacturer to come to Idaho. We sold the state as an attractive place to live and do business. We never lured a company by letting it off the hook on taxes or winking at environmental regulations. Instead we made improvements, notably to education, that enhanced Idaho's overall attractiveness. Incoming industries should not be showered with corporate welfare. In the South, this has mainly served to lure low-wage jobs and employers who pick up and move again when they can get the work done cheaper in the Third World.

Nor should developers, particularly the housing industry, be lifted from obligations to help pay for infrastructure made necessary by the subdivisions they build. For instance, an energy efficiency code may add some cost to new homes but helps avoid the need for new power plants that are expensive and polluting.

Bigness is best at times. The sprawl edging out from some Western cities is dominated by houses occupying lots of one, two, or five acres. It is a formula guaranteed to gobble up open spaces. Far preferable is to let a developer of proven sensitivity do the shaping. A parcel of land can be developed to cluster houses, set aside an area for services, and create walking and bike paths. Wetlands need not be harmed and riparian zones can be left alongside streams. Wildlife migration can be studied and corridors created for critters.

Unfortunately, some are blind to such positive tradeoffs. Witness the fate of a proposal, for both homes and preservation of open space and environmentally sensitive areas, made in the early 1990s by the Port Blakely Company
for the eleven-hundred-acre site of its old lumber mill on Bainbridge Island, across the water from Seattle. Amazingly, not-in-my-backyard sentiment delayed the project so long that the company's patience was exhausted; the project's financial requirements became unacceptable, and its prospects turned uncertain. The eleven hundred acres are being split into twenty-acre lots.

In recent years, much noise has come from property rights advocates. The sound is amplified thanks to generous financial underpinnings provided by big agricultural, mining, and real estate interests. The "wise use" movement claims to be campaigning for the West's traditional values. But beneath the veneer of timber families and rugged miners, it is about unsustainable exploitation of resources and uncontrolled, runaway growth.

Given a clear choice, the region's people will support land use planning and efforts to rein in sprawl. Amidst a Republican sweep in 1994, Arizona voters rejected a radical property rights measure on the state ballot. It had carried the backing of then-Governor Fife Symington. A "takings" measure on Washington's 1995 ballot, lavishly financed by home builders and the Farm Bureau, would have gutted the state's growth management act. It lost in a landslide. Voters in several conservative areas of Washington used the 1996 election to toss out county commissioners who refused to draw up plans under the state act. It happened even in Chelan County, where the state's meanest militia group has operated on the political fringe.

 

We naturally resist higher taxes and are overdosed on politicians railing about how much money the government spends. But sustaining the West requires investing in schools, transportation systems, parks, and recreation improvements needed by a growing population.

It is, as the old auto transmission ad on television says, a case of pay me now or pay me later. Seattle-area voters turned down a rail rapid transit system in the late 1960s. What an act of folly. Three decades later, confronting some of the nation's worst traffic jams, they are paying through the nose for a more limited rail system that was once rejected. Portland had the smarts to put in a light rail system, and has reaped the rewards in a revitalized downtown, particularly at night, and the increased ability to channel and cluster growth.

Despite a proliferation of destination ski resorts, and the growth of weekend getaway spots to pamper overworked professionals, recreation in the West is sustained by public lands. We are doing a disgraceful job when it comes to keeping up campgrounds, trails, and
ranger stations.

One reason a place like the Enchantment Lakes gets overrun is that the Forest Service no longer maintains hundreds of miles of trails in the Cascades, Selkirks, and Rockies. It is hinting that trails may be abandoned in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. It is even talking about pulling pit toilets out of Hells Canyon.

I am amazed. Many of our trails, campgrounds, and lookouts were built during the Great Depression, when the country's economy was gasping for air. In a booming economy, sixty years later, why can't we afford to send a crew around to collect the garbage and spruce up a campground? Or have the budget to put trail crews in the backcountry?

In our national parks, too, visitations are going up, budgets are coming down, and maintenance is going to hell. Summer rangers are still living in trailers that date from when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. Visitors are using rest rooms built in the Kennedy administration, when park visitation was at one-third the present level. Many parks are staffed by fewer full-time rangers than thirty years ago.

Congress likes to pay for high-profile projects in our parks. The old lodge at Crater Lake was lovingly restored at great expense, and no detail was spared in the equally impressive job on Yellowstone Lake Lodge. North Cascades National Park has a new visitors center, while interpretive centers seem to duel with each other for attention on the road into the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Area.

It's impossible, I guess, to cut a ribbon around a newly hired ranger, or to make a dedication ceremony out of repairs to a New Frontier-vintage septic system. But there's a desperate need to provide for the unheroic requirements of our parks and recreation lands around the West.

 

As I head into the twilight of a long political career, this old warhorse has a few other hopes. The first is that we attempt to think and act regionally. Some say, as Tip O'Neill did, that all politics is local. Others say to think globally, but act locally. I feel we must think and act regionally, in the Pacific Northwest as well as the Pacific Southwest.

I've watched recently as politicians like Washington Representative George Nethercutt tried to kill, and then to suppress, a sweeping study of the environment and land management in the upper Columbia River basin. The project has looked at 144 million acres of land in seven states, all of it drained by the master river system of the Northwest. It aims to provide a comprehensive picture of environmental quality and its degradation. The good
sense of doing so is self-evident. We could deal with species before triggering stringent provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Communities would have more warning about coming changes to the timber harvest. There would be fewer lawsuits challenging logging, mining, and grazing based on the claim of not enough scientific information.

Some Northwest lawmakers have viewed the study as a plot to decrease grazing, logging, and mining on public lands while threatening private property rights. It's an attitude that reminds me of officials in the Middle Ages who tried to prevent anyone from questioning the accepted wisdom that the world was flat.

If the Northwest cannot sustain past levels of logging and grazing, or if parts of the landscape are threatened with lasting environmental damage, let us learn what the region can live with. Let us face and deal with problems—from lodgepole and ponderosa pine forests threatened with catastrophic fires to bull trout facing extinction—before we are in crises. A political solution is preferable to a judge's injunction.

My second hope is that the future of the West gets debated in a way that is rational and constructive. The public responds to positive messages much better than to attack ads. Public debate is not war; it's a marketplace of ideas that must compete for public support.

In my last term as governor, I tried to play referee in a battle between the Air Force and national environmental organizations. Mountain Home Air Force Base wanted to formally establish a training range for aircraft of more than one million acres along Idaho's upper Owyhee River. The Air Force already had, and still has, a right to fly over the area. The environmentalists fastened onto the proposed range and complained that earsplitting noise would disrupt bighorn sheep.

I stepped in with a plan to limit the training range to less than one-tenth of what the Air Force wanted. We would keep aircraft away from canyons where the sheep live. The environmentalists responded by turning their ire on me. They accused me of wanting to bomb the bighorns. They captured the ear of the Clinton administration and used the press to portray me as that most nefarious of villains, the sellout.

It made me mad, but also left me saddened. The environmental groups were, with but the slightest hesitation, willing to demonize an old ally. The battle was more important than the issue. It became a vehicle for raising money and recruiting members. Exaggeration, a basic tactic of politics, had become gross exaggeration.

We see equal or greater excess from the other side; witness a recent diatribe against "environmental extremists" by Perry Pendley, an attorney for the Mountain States Legal Foundation. "In their vision," he
declared, "everything from the 100th meridian to the Cascade Range becomes a vast park through which they might drive, drinking their Perrier and munching their organic chips, staying occasionally in the bed-and-breakfast operations into which the homes of Westerners have been turned, with those Westerners who remain fluffing duvets and pouring cappuccino."

Laugh if you wish, but this is one blunt-spoken old politician who believes that language can be put to more constructive use. We can joust, and even fight at times, but it must be from a position of mutual respect. The issues are too important. The West is too precious to be used as a scorched-earth, all-or-nothing battleground.

Robert Frost once wrote, "We should not have to care so much, you and I." But we do care, and we should. We care about the future of our region, and I am thankful to have been given the opportunity to care about Idaho, and Alaska, and the West and its people, for as long as I have.

I remain hopeful that I will be able to pass on to my grandchildren all the pleasures of life in an unspoiled West. Perhaps hope should be replaced by a stronger word. It is a matter of obligation.

SOURCE: Cecil Andrus, Politics Western Style,Copyright © 1998, reprinted by permission, Sasquatch Books, 615 Second Avenue, Suite 260, Seattle, WA 98104 at http://www.sasquatchbooks.com

 

Colorado Winds

The Colorado Public Service Company began operation of the state's first wind-farm (1.5 megawatts) north of Greeley this past summer. More recently, Enron Wind Corporation has proposed adding its own 100 megawatt wind-farm to Colorado and an additional 100 megawatt farm in Wyoming.

More than half of the nation's operating electrical wind-farms are located in the western United States, and the western plains of North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico have a vast potential for further wind development.

Wind power currently generates more than 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year or about 1 percent of the nation's need. Some experts predict that wind could provide 10 percent or more of U.S. electricity by the year 2020.

SOURCE: National Wind Technology Center at http://www.nrel.gov/wind/

 

Back to Top