The Wayward West

  Three Wisconsin Chippewa tribes wanted to start a casino. Nearby tribes didn't want the competition. They had given money to the Democratic Party. After the regional office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs endorsed the casino, higher-ups in Washington rejected it. Conflict of interest? Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt says no. His old friend and former law partner, Paul Eckstein, who represents the Chippewa tribes, says he remembers Babbitt mentioning the contributions when asked about the casino. Attorney General Janet Reno has ordered a 90-day review of Bruce Babbitt's role in the rejection of the casino.


University of Colorado law professor Charles Wilkinson surprised his colleagues on the Wilderness Society board of directors by signing on to a brief on the side of loggers - but a week later, Wilkinson withdrew his brief, saying, "It would be a bad law for environmental organizations." The case could decide the fate of the much-contested La Manga timber sale in New Mexico. If upheld by the courts, the brief would make it almost impossible for groups that belong to coalitions to sue.


When Northern California police officers were called in to remove nine nonviolent protesters from a congressman's office, they swabbed a few in the eye with pepper spray and sprayed others from two feet away. A video shows the women writhing in pain and screaming. Now the women, opponents of an agreement on the Headwaters forest, are suing the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department and the Eureka Police Department. This is the third time officers from these departments have used pepper spray on Headwaters protesters.


Portland's Yellow Bike Project has failed. Hundreds of old clunkers were painted yellow and left out for anyone to ride and then leave on the street for the next rider. Now, the entire fleet of yellow bikes has disappeared into people's garages. But the Community Cycling Center plans to release a new fleet of free bikes; this time, by attaching clunky baskets, it hopes to make the bikes too nerdy to covet.


Debate over southwest Colorado's Animas-La Plata Water Project (HCN, 11/11/96) has intensified - if that's possible. Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell attacked Gov. Roy Romer, a Democrat, for not pushing hard enough against environmentalists who oppose the project. Of Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler, Romer's negotiator on the project, Campell said, "She knows about water. I think she knows it comes from a spigot." But Schoettler believes a year of negotiations has helped. Proponents, including two southern Colorado Ute Indian tribes, favor a less expensive project. Environmentalists support establishing a fund to help the tribes buy water rights. Romer has asked the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to decide on the issue.


The Fund for Animals and the Biodiversity Foundation have won a round in the debate over winter use of Yellowstone National Park (HCN, 10/27/97). U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., approved the settlement of a suit by the two groups against the National Park Service. The settlement requires the agency to do an environmental impact statement on winter use of the park, and an environmental assessment on the impact of keeping snowmobiles off a 14-mile stretch of road from Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge. The court blocked snowmobile advocates from becoming intervenors in the suit.


A Forest Service recommendation to cancel the controversial China Left timber sale (HCN, 7/7/97) in Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest has annoyed the logging industry and drawn cool reaction from environmentalists. "It's too little, too late," says Debbie Lucas, spokeswoman for the China Left Coalition, which demanded the sale's withdrawal two years ago. Agency chief Michael Dombeck will issue a decision next month.


Oil and gas drilling along the Rocky Mountain Front of Montana's Lewis and Clark National Forest was rejected by the forest supervisor (HCN, 10/13/97), but now the Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association and two other groups have appealed supervisor Gloria Flora's ban. Drilling can be compatible with wilderness conservation, they say. The agency won't decide on the appeal until next year. Meanwhile, officials of the Helena National Forest, a few miles south, are negotiating a drilling deal with Chevron.


The National Park Service has settled its decades-old dispute over grazing on the Mantle Ranch's two inholdings at Dinosaur National Monument (HCN, 10/2/95) in northwestern Colorado. The compromise, announced Nov. 4, recognizes the family's right to run cows on the land and the agency's right to regulate grazing. But the settlement also sets up a 90-day negotiating period for a Park Service purchase of the land.


In Twin Falls, Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management has transferred Mike Austin, an agency realty specialist, to its Boise office after he questioned the professional ethics of his boss, Ray Hoem, manager of the BLM Jarbidge Resource Area. Austin challenged Hoem's purchase of a grain silo from a farm the agency had penalized on a trespassing charge (HCN, 9/1/97).


* Heather Abel, Peter Chilson