The Wayward West

  They wanted to understand the real West, so they came to watch explosives blow up at an open pit copper mine and to fly over logged forests. Their conclusion: Environmentalists grossly exaggerate the land's plight; the West is in pretty good shape. The group included about 20 House Republicans, including the three highest-ranking, Speaker Newt Gingrich, Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay. Hosts for the four-day tour were the Republican representatives from the states they visited: Idaho's Helen Chenoweth, Wyoming's Barbara Cubin, Utah's Jim Hansen, and Montana's Rick Hill. The trip was paid for and organized by the conservative Western States Coalition, leading local environmentalists to condemn it as an elaborate lobbying junket ...


Gingrich took time out of the tour to talk about the slaughter of bison that wander out of Yellowstone Park looking for forage. His advice to the Park Service: Just feed them ...


Also heading West this summer was Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who took his first trip to the Elwha River, where two fish-killing dams are just $113 million away from being dismantled. He said he came to seek "consensus' with Washington's Republican Sen. Slade Gorton. Translation: The Clinton administration wants Gorton, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee for the Interior Department, to allow funding for dam destruction. Although Gorton voted for the removal of the dams five years ago, he now argues removal is too expensive ...


Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin raised public ire by becoming the fifth member of the House (once Natural) Resources Committee to join People for the West, the wise-use group that originally received its major funding from the mining industry and whose president is on the payroll at ASARCO. Cubin, who heads the subcommittee that oversees mining, told the Billings Gazette: "I believe People for the West are environmentalists and I believe that I am an environmentalist ..."


Just 2 hours after a jury declared him guilty of seven felonies, Arizona Gov. Fife Symington resigned. He had been indicted on nearly 24 counts of bank fraud, perjury and extortion. On Sept. 5, Secretary of State Jane Dee Hull became Arizona's 20th governor - the second time in the last decade that Arizona's secretary of state had to take the reins from a governor. Republican Evan Mecham was impeached for campaign finance irregularities in 1988 ...


Colorado's "fourteeners," the 54 peaks over 14,000 feet, have just been climbed faster. Telluride's Ricky Denesik, 38, summited all the mountains in 14 days and 15 minutes, beating the old record by one day, despite rain, hail and snow. The record he beat was his own. "-Heather Abel