An antidote to despair

  Chip Ward’s first book, Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West, was decidedly grim, detailing his fight to keep the deserts of Utah from becoming a dump for toxins ranging from radioactive waste to defunct biochemical weapons. His new book, Hope’s Horizon, gives us a brighter view of recent environmental battles, taking an optimistic yet clear-eyed look at efforts to heal tattered ecosystems and abandon dangerous technologies.

Organizing his stories around the key themes of reconnection, restoration and abolition, Ward describes dozens of environmental activists working to realize visions both large and small. Central characters include conservation biologist Michael Soulé and his Wildlands Project, which seeks to stitch together chunks of wildlife habitat from Greenland to Mexico and "rewild" the land (HCN, 4/26/99: Visionaries or Dreamers?), and Corbin Harney of the Western Shoshone Indian tribe, who is fighting nuclear waste storage at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain (HCN, 7/2/01: Can Nevada bury Yucca Mountain?).

Ward manages to convey hope while remaining realistic. He portrays anti-dam activities across the West, focusing on physics professor Rich Ingebretsen’s crusade to drain Lake Powell and restore the Colorado River (HCN, 12/22/03: Being Green in the Land of the Saints). Although the flooding of Glen Canyon was a huge loss, it may yet be undone: Even the Bureau of Reclamation admits that Lake Powell loses more water to evaporation and its porous sandstone walls than it saves, and Bureau scientists have thought seriously about decommissioning the dam. Meanwhile, activists have notched up victories over dams on Utah’s Bear and Diamond Fork rivers, and dam-busting proposals abound in Washington and Oregon.

In the end, Ward reminds us that all is not yet lost in the natural world. He sees the stubborn spread of coyotes, despite our best efforts at eradication, as emblematic of nature’s resilience and our often-futile efforts at control: "As Coyote is here to say, sometimes Nature is our dog, and sometimes she is God’s dog."

Hope’s Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land
by Chip Ward
350 pages, hardcover $27.
Island Press, Washington, D.C.