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Popcorn Activism

Lisa Song | Mar 26, 2010 09:10 AM

The trailer for the new documentary Gasland lasts all of 15 seconds: a man turns on the kitchen tap. He holds a match up to the flowing water and FWOOSH--foot-high flames leap toward the ceiling. Dramatic, yes, but perhaps old news to Westerners who know the possible dangers of natural gas drilling. Thanks to a slew of recent independent films, issues once considered predominantly Western--like water contaminated by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the return of wolves--are making their way to the national stage.

Released in January 2010, Gasland follows filmmaker Josh Fox as he documents the arrival of natural gas drilling in the Catskills/Poconos region of upstate New York and Pennsylvania. The film covers the basic topics: fracking, politics, chemical waste, health hazards--but that doesn't mean it's not good. Gasland has been called "the paragon of first person activist filmmaking done right," a possible "best film of the year." And in late January it won the 2010 Sundance Special Jury Prize for Documentary. 

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The death of a giant

Jodi Peterson | Mar 22, 2010 09:35 AM

Stewart Udall passed away on March 20. His conservation accomplishments in the West are legendary (although he wasn't always an environmental hero; as an Arizona representative, he voted to dam Glen Canyon). Our 2004 feature on Udall summed up his legacy (and that of his brother Mo):

Stewart served three terms as an Arizona congressman, followed by eight years as Interior secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Mo was elected again and again to represent Arizona for 30 years in the House, the last half of which he chaired the powerful Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. Together, Stewart and Mo helped push through Congress the Wilderness Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and the National Seashore Act. They created at least four national parks, six national monuments, 56 wildlife refuges and 20 historic sites. Their crowning achievement was the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which protected 100 million acres of mountains, coasts and forests. At one fell swoop, it doubled the size of the national park system and tripled the size of the wilderness system. As testament to the brothers’ all-encompassing vision, the easternmost and westernmost points in the United States bear the name Udall Point.

Here are some links to our prior coverage of Stewart Udall:

The Coyote Caucus Takes the West to Washington

The Udall Bloodline is Consistent

Udall Patriarch Laments Startling Changes

An Environmentalist in the Heart of Cowboy Culture


Taking back the country

Ed Quillen | Mar 22, 2010 06:14 AM

    Colorado's political season got off to its official start on March 16 with precinct caucuses, but even before those gatherings, some candidates had ads on TV.
    Among them was Jane Norton, former lieutenant governor and one of several candidates for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. The seat was won by Democrat Ken Salazar in 2004. He was appointed Secretary of the Interior, and his appointed replacement, Michael Bennet, is also involved in a contest for his party's nomination, and his campaign has also aired some advertising.
    Back to Norton. Part of her televised message is "We can take our country back."
    Like many GOP candidates this year, she's trying to get some Tea Party support. And there's a message you see and hear at Tea Party events: "Let's take our country back" or "It's time we took our country back" or some variation thereof.
    Indeed, the unofficial anthem of the movement is a song called "Take our Country Back" by Chris Cassone, who performed it at the 9/12 Rally in front of the U.S. Capitol. He also plans to be there singing it on March 27, when a traveling Tea Party "Just vote them out" series of rallies starts in Searchlight, Nev. (home town of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and wends toward Washington, D.C., through Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
    But just what do they mean by "Take our country back"? The song lyrics aren't much help; the lines point to the sinister powers of an unnamed "they," as in "Draw a line in the sand so they all understand" or "Soon they'll try to take away the only voices left that say the truth."
    The phrase "take our country back" implies that there was a time when "we" had "our country," that something happened since then to dispossess "us," but "we" can organize to get it back.
    Now, if this were a rallying point for the Utes, Navajo, Lakota or similar Native American nation, "take our country back" would make sense. I'd understand it.
    It might also make sense for hard-core Texans or Californians, since those states were independent republics before joining the United States. While there may be some secessionist sentiment in the Lone Star State these days, the "take our country back" attitude extends far beyond its borders.
    So what do they have in mind? Who's the "they" that has at some point swiped the country from its rightful rulers?
    Politicians? Since America started governing itself, the government has, pretty much by definition, been run by politicians. So they're nothing new.
    Lobbyists? They've been around pretty much since, well, before America was a nation -- Benjamin Franklin went to London in 1757 to lobby the British parliament on behalf of Pennsylvania's.
    Pundits? Well, there's Franklin again, along with many other founding fathers, like Alexendar Hamilton and James Madison when they produed the Federalist Papers.
    As for economic domination, you could make the case that America was pretty well run by slaveholders before 1861, and after the Civil War came industrialists and financiers. So that may be what's changed, in the sense of there being something to go back to. But I seriously doubt that the "take our country back" rallies are really calling for a return to chattel slavery.
    So even though "take our country back" resonates as a slogan, I can't figure out what it means. And I'm a rural white guy with no college degree -- that is, part of the demographic group that really should be able to understand Tea Party slogans.


Predator control, Alaska-style

Jodi Peterson | Mar 19, 2010 09:35 AM

In Alaska, it's once again time for one of the state's major rites of spring -- the aerial shooting of wolves. In five management areas around the state, Alaska's Department of Fish and Game has decided that there aren't enough moose and caribou, and that the answer is to shoot more wolves.

In the Fortymile Region near Tok, the state hopes that a total of about 185 wolves will be killed (about two-thirds of the present wolf population in the area). On Wednesday, Fish and Game employees killed four wolves from the air, including two that National Park Service biologists had recently fitted with tracking collars as part of a 16-year study -- despite the state's promise that it would not kill any collared wolves. Oops.

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Wheatpastin' the Rez

Jonathan Thompson | Mar 19, 2010 03:25 AM

During the last year or so, a new kind of "graffiti" has been showing up on abandoned buildings, old billboards and rusted out oil tanks on the Navajo Nation. A street artist who goes by the name of Jetsonorama (who sometimes works with another artist, Yote, and No Reservation Required) has been plastering these places with giant, black & white, cutout photographs and using wheat paste to fix them in place. They are somewhat ephemeral by nature, getting torn up by wind, rain and snow. It turns out the character behind the art is pretty interesting, too. Watch Jetsonorama at work, and turn the volume up!




Name that fish

Nicholas Neely | Mar 18, 2010 03:25 AM

Quah-rah, Ulken, Anchovies, Olthen', All-Can, Uth-le-chan, Uthulhuns, othlecan, ulichan, fathom-fish, Oulachan, "those little finny swarming beings of the deep," Oolá-han, uthlecan, ulluchans, Ulachans, oolachan, Hoolakans, Hooligan . . .

If this list is any indication, frontiersmen had a hell of a time figuring out what, precisely, to call this thing. In 1856, when Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, a Hudson Bay Company merchant, gave naturalist George Suckley a basket of baitfish to consider for his “Report on the fishes collected on the Pacific Railroad Survey," it's little wonder Tolmie wrote in a note that "The Indian name of the species is almost unspellable."

But the 9-inch, slim-bodied eulachon, or Pacific smelt (not to be confused with the freshwater Delta smelt of California), might soon be on the tip of more tongues: on Tuesday, NOAA listed a distinct population segment (DPS) of this silver, googly-eyed fish as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  Plenty of evidence exists, says NOAA, that eulachon from Northern California to British Columbia are "at or near historically low numbers," nowhere near the abundance described in early accounts. (Under the ESA, a DPS is a "discrete," but "significant" sub-population, treated as a species.)

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The accidental highway

Ed Quillen | Mar 12, 2010 02:15 AM

Glenwood Canyon on the Western Slope of Colorado has been in the news lately, thanks to a big rockslide that happened just after midnight on March 9. The tumbling boulders blocked and damaged a stretch of Interstate 70. It took four days to get the highway open again, just on a limited basis. During the closure, motorists traveling between Denver and Grand Junction faced a 200-mile detour.

So how did a narrow canyon with high and steep walls become a vital transportation corridor? Mostly by happenstance.

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Ladybugs and Lear

Nicholas Neely | Mar 11, 2010 08:15 AM

I ran into an article today about "a harbinger of bad insulation . . . good fortune and an early spring," which stirred a memory from a few years ago, an episode out of doors.

On a Friday in September, three friends and I drove east from Reno on I-80 into the Nevada desert to climb King Lear Peak.  We camped that night at the base of the mountain, which looms on the eastern edge of the Black Rock Desert — a vast playa once the bed of ancient Lake Lahontan, now the site of the notorious Burning Man festival. A lone ranch light burned in the valley below us as we crawled into our tents far from Reno's millions of technicolor bulbs.

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All aboard the coal train

Cally Carswell | Mar 09, 2010 02:00 AM

Very little is certain for ol’ King Coal these days. The numbers weren’t pretty last year. Coal production was down almost 8 percent in 2009, and consumption fell even further. Environmentalists are still fighting new coal-fired power plants tooth and nail—and winning. And the future of federal carbon regulation, which could have major implications for the industry, has gained little clarity under the Obama administration.

Which is all to say it’s a risky time to invest in coal.  Nevertheless, Montana is making moves to do just that. Amid much controversy, the state Land Board showed its commitment to leasing the Otter Creek coal reserves last month by lowering its asking price from 25 cents per ton to 15 cents after receiving no bids. And in the past few weeks, the Associated Press has reported on a number of new mines “being eyed” by the industry.

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Politics and currency

Ed Quillen | Mar 07, 2010 07:10 AM

H.L. Mencken once observed that it would have been worth losing the Civil War in order not to have Ulysses S. Grant as president. The reputation of Grant's presidency, 1869-77, has improved since Mencken's day, but apparently not enough.

Now there's a bill introduced in Congress to replace his picture on the $50 bill, a fixture since 1913, with a portrait of Ronald Reagan.

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