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Where do we go from here? Taking the West Forward

 

In his 1992 book Crossing the Next Meridian: Land, Water, and the Future of the West, Charles Wilkinson writes that in the modern era, Westerners need to "move beyond settlement and to achieve resource sustainability, economic stability, and social justice in a great land."

That call for change saw some results in the 1990s, but during the last four years, the movement to reform the West has slowed. The Bush administration has opened the region’s resources to development, massively increasing oil and gas drilling on both public and private land. At the same time, it has dramatically reduced public involvement in decision making. The federal government has repeatedly disregarded or manipulated its own scientists’ work, sometimes to devastating effect, as during the repeated die-offs of salmon and endangered steelhead in the Klamath Basin. It has stripped roadless forestlands and citizen-proposed wilderness areas of federal protection. The list goes on.

For many Westerners, the presidential election offered hope for a political transformation, and a chance to work toward a more progressive future for the region. That transformation did not happen.

But regardless of the national political situation during the next four years, we need to keep moving forward. We have been running the West at full throttle for a long time, and the dashboard is aglow with warning lights: water shortages, forests aflame, water contamination from coalbed methane drilling, and the conversion of wildlife habitat into housing at breakneck speed. If we refuse to acknowledge the problems, disaster may not be far off.

The beginning of a presidential term presents Westerners with an opportunity to identify the problems that most threaten the future of our region, and to begin talking about how we might take them on. In this edition of High Country News, we focus on 10 issues in desperate need of action. These are challenges that we believe are nonpartisan, and that will remain significant far beyond the next four years. They can — and should — unite the West.

If there is a common theme, it is that much of the vision and leadership must come from the ground level. If we can show signs of progress on the ground, the Bush administration — which touts itself as a champion of local control — will have no choice but to acknowledge and encourage these initiatives.

As history has repeatedly shown, reform will come only incrementally. But the challenges described here give cause for hope: In seeking solutions, we may yet be able to forge a collective commitment to finding a way of living in the West that works.

—THE EDITORS OF HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

ENERGY

States lead the charge for renewables



In a speech 25 years ago, President Jimmy Carter asked, "Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem?"

In the mire of the 1979 energy crisis, Carter called on Americans to conserve energy. He also set a goal that by 2000, 20 percent of the electricity generated in the United States would be from the sun.

But in the years that followed, the country made little progress toward that goal, and when 2000 arrived, the United States was far from clean and green. Instead, two oil company executives rose to power: President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. They immediately set out to increase oil and natural gas production. The Bush administration has called to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, to "expedite" energy projects on the West’s public lands, and to "streamline" environmental laws across the nation. This November, when Americans signed up Bush and Cheney for four more years — and boosted the Republican majority in Congress — they chose production over conservation.

That leaves the states to explore renewable energy options and energy efficiency on their own. Colorado just became the nation’s 18th state to set its own renewable energy standards; utilities must generate 10 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2015. And Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, D, has called for her state to become the "next Persian Gulf of solar energy." California has an ambitious 20 percent by 2017 goal, and state legislatures in Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona have all set renewable goals as well.

The Western Governors’ Association recently rolled out a program to track the use of renewable energy in the Western states. The association intends to turn the program into a renewables-credit system, allowing companies to meet state renewable-energy standards by purchasing credits from businesses in other states.

Even with these efforts toward regional cooperation, the states still need help from Congress. When a tax credit for wind energy projects expired at the end of 2003, it took Congress almost a year to reauthorize it, halting billions of dollars' worth of new projects in 2004. Restoring the 1.8 cent per kilowatt hour credit is a start — but it will expire again at the end of 2005, and it’s anybody’s guess what the more conservative incoming Congress will do next year. Although advocates for clean energy aren’t as easy to find as those for the fossil fuel industry, there are three names that stand out among congressional leaders: Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Still, it’s going to take more than a half-hearted commitment to creating a clean energy economy. "Imagine if some of this stuff had started in 1979 (with Carter)," says Richard Grossman, who led the fight against nuclear energy in the 1970s and today heads the nonprofit Project on Corporations, Law and Democracy. "It could have been done. It’s not a technological problem; it’s a problem of political will."

GLOBAL WARMING

Westerners can speak truth to power



You didn’t need to see this summer’s blockbuster, The Day After Tomorrow, to grasp the impacts of global warming on the West. The region got a live-action sneak preview back in the summer of 2002, when drought and high temperatures fed record-setting wildfires.

Was this really global warming at work? Most scientists, with their customary caution, still aren’t ready to give a definite answer to that question. But they will say that in the future, the West is likely to look a lot like the summer of 2002. With continued global warming, current research suggests, the Interior West can expect deeper and more widespread drought, hotter temperatures, less snow — and, of course, more and bigger wildfires (HCN, 9/27/04: In a warming West, expect more fire).

Yet the Bush administration isn’t satisfied with the international scientific near-consensus that humans are changing the climate. The president and administration officials emphasize the uncertainties about the causes and effects of global warming, and oppose mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas production.

The West, however, isn’t waiting for Washington. Nonprofit groups such as the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and Cities for Climate Protection are encouraging local governments and businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. More than three dozen Western cities, including "red state" metropolises such as Salt Lake City and Tucson, have already cut their energy use — and consequent greenhouse gas production — as part of the international Cities for Climate Protection program.

On the "blue" Coast, California, Washington and Oregon have all taken steps to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, and in late 2003, the three governors pledged to cooperate on new climate-protection policies. The California Legislature has approved standards expected to reduce heat-trapping automobile emissions by about 30 percent by 2016. Earlier this year, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, D, created a task force of academics, environmentalists, businesspeople and others to identify ways for the state to cut its greenhouse-gas production; among its draft recommendations is the adoption of the California tailpipe standards.

But cities and states can’t do it alone. To effectively slow — and eventually reverse — the impacts of global warming, federal action is needed. Arizona Sen. John McCain, R, has championed legislation limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and his dogged advocacy has put a valuable bipartisan face on the issue. But the McCain-Lieberman bill, which was defeated 43-55 in a Senate vote last year, will face an even tougher crowd in the new Congress.

What is certain is that in the continuing push for national action on global warming, Westerners can play an important role. Because we’ve had a glimpse of the future under global warming, we now have a dramatic — and instructive — story to tell. Pressure from state governments and grassroots initiatives, combined with the ever-louder international call for action on greenhouse gas emissions, will eventually become impossible for the White House to ignore. Westerners can help make that happen sooner, not later.

WATER

It's time to get flexible



It usually takes a crisis to spur change in the world of Western water. As luck would have it, a major drought in the Colorado River Basin has arrived at the perfect time.

After a century’s worth of tremendous public investment in the construction of Western waterworks, we have piled up plenty of water behind dams. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which together hold four years’ worth of the Colorado River’s flow, have often been depicted as a sort of regional insurance policy. Now, after five full years of drought, they are half-empty, most of the water having gone not to cities or to the environment, but to grow crops such as iceberg lettuce in California’s Imperial Valley.

It is time to remove the bar from the door so that water can begin moving to where it’s most needed — to meet the evolving needs of the West’s urban areas as well as those of the region’s streams and rivers. It is possible to do so equitably through the use of water transfers, which allow those in need of water to lease or otherwise "borrow" it from willing water rights holders, many of whom claimed their rights over a century ago.

Transfers are not a radical concept. They’ve long been used in Colorado and, more recently, in California, where they have put water into the state’s Environmental Water Account. That account is, in part, a creation of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which has moved forward in fits and starts since the 1980s to make water transfers possible. The Bush administration has vowed to continue this progress in its Water 2025 initiative, which was unveiled a year and a half ago. But Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has also been painfully insistent on the principle that water is a states’ issue.

States and cities have been sorting things out for themselves: Most recently, Las Vegas and the Metropolitan Water District of California inked an agreement to trade Colorado River credits to meet short-term needs. The federal government gave its blessing to the deal, but it needs to take a more active role in facilitating interstate transfers, and in allowing transfers of water from farmers to urban areas and streams where the need is acute.

Encouraging water transfers does not mean that the West’s urbanites will rise to greatness with their boot on farming’s throat. In one of the most promising tactics, pioneered in California in the 1980s, cities invest in making farms more efficient by lining canals with concrete to prevent seepage, or by helping farmers convert from flood irrigation to more efficient watering methods. In exchange, the cities get the conserved water.

Transfers will provide the sort of adaptability that’s needed to thread the needle of the current drought. They will not, however, eliminate the need for a crucial debate: Will we simply trade one kind of water-intensive growth in the desert for another, or will we use this crisis to begin putting the brakes on development, and diversify our strategies for living in this dry land?

THE NUCLEAR WEST

States need to take a stand on weapons, workers and waste



The Cold War is over, and aboveground nuclear testing ended in 1992, but a new nuclear age is dawning in the West. As the Bush administration requests billions of dollars from Congress for nuclear weapons maintenance, manufacturing and research, Western states are vying to score the next big contract — either to resume production of "pits" to replace aging triggers in the nation’s existing nuclear stockpile, or to develop nuclear "bunker-buster" weapons (HCN, 9/1/03: Courting the bomb).

But communities should ask themselves if the prospect of new jobs is worth the fallout of nuclear proliferation. That question is particularly important as 140,000 American soldiers slog through a war in Iraq that was marketed by the Bush administration as a search for "weapons of mass destruction."

We might also look a little closer to home to see how Western weapons workers and "downwinders" have fared over the last 60 years. Today, four years after Congress passed a bill to compensate Cold War-era weapons workers who became sick as a result of their work, 98 percent of those dying workers are still waiting for their claims to be processed. Meanwhile, citizens who lived downwind from the last generation of nuclear tests sit through one court case after another, as the federal government denies responsibility for the thousands of cancer cases that victims claim have resulted from fallout. And this fall, Congress has approved a bill allowing the Energy Department to "reclassify" high-level radioactive waste at weapons sites as "waste incidental to reprocessing" — thereby allowing the federal government to simply leave the waste where it is.

The time has come for states to oppose a reckless federal policy of proliferation, by refusing to take part in building new weapons — and refusing to be a dumping ground for a new generation of nuclear waste. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, introduced a bill last year that would require Congress, rather than the president, to authorize resumption of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. But he supports nuclear weapons production and voted to decrease the amount of time required for the site to be "test-ready." Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will soon become the new Senate minority leader. Reid opposes storage of the nation’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain and supports aid for weapons workers and communities affected by fallout; now may be the time for him to tackle the problem at its production-and-testing root.

In the absence of federal leadership, grassroots groups will have to keep the nonproliferation flame burning. Groups such as the New Mexico-based Nuclear Watch and the Los Alamos Study Group, the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah and the Natural Resources Defense Council persist in holding the federal government accountable for its actions. They also have the foresight and compassion to try to prevent new bombs from being built in the first place.

ENDANGERED SPECIES

Reform the act to save it



The 1973 Endangered Species Act is a crucial tool for protecting the West’s environment. But the ESA is far from perfect.

For years, Congress has refused to provide the agencies in charge of endangered species protection with enough money to determine which species to protect, much less to actually protect them. Those agencies — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries — spend much of their inadequate budgets defending themselves from lawsuits by environmentalists, who charge them with neglecting their ESA responsibilities.

The key to reviving the ESA is money. There needs to be a steady funding source to provide more incentives for landowners to protect and create endangered species habitat. Increased, regular funding would help eliminate the backlog of species still waiting for consideration, and bolster recovery plans for those already listed. It would also help support the reintroduction of species into habitat from which they have disappeared.

But some changes may be merited, including tweaking one aspect of the law that many see as unfair: It applies not only to federal land, but also to private landowners. And over the years, protecting endangered species and habitat has cost landowners many millions of dollars by limiting development and reducing farm and ranch production.

Some environmentalists acknowledge that if society wants to protect species and habitat on private land, the taxpayers should do more to pay for it. There have been some attempts to reform the law. Changes made during the Clinton administration, for example, allow landowners some flexibility if they participate in "habitat conservation plans" and obtain permits for impacts on endangered species. But so far, Congress has failed to provide significant cash to landowners.

Now, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., who chair key congressional committees, are trying to address property-rights concerns through a large-scale rewriting of the law. Their proposal would weaken the requirement for protecting "critical habitat" and require more "peer review" by scientists outside the agencies, which means scientists funded by industry. As one agency biologist says, "You can’t beat industry science," because industry can afford to hire an overwhelming number of scientists who know where their money comes from.

Environmentalists have a much better chance of heading off such attacks if they support the reforms needed to make the law less of a target for property-rights advocates. Any reform of the Endangered Species Act will involve trade-offs — but those may be necessary to keep the law alive.

PRIVATE LANDS

The ‘rest of the West’ is more important than ever



The West is renowned for its public lands, but roughly half the region is privately owned. The private lands, located primarily in the valley bottoms, are not only the most biologically rich in the West; they are also the most endangered. Ranchlands and farmlands are being converted to housing tracts and strip malls at an astonishing rate (HCN, 3/29/04: Who will take over the ranch?).

Nonetheless, it is private lands that present some of the greatest conservation opportunities for the next four years and beyond. Over the past decade, a land trust movement has sprung to life to keep the most valuable lands intact. The more than 265 land trusts in the West have conserved over 2.5 million acres through conservation easements and outright purchase.

But that is just a drop in the bucket: The West has 100 million acres of private ranchlands alone. As Alan Front, senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land, says, "There is an ocean of need and a trickle of cash."

Still, Westerners continue to show that they are willing to tax themselves to protect private lands from the bulldozer blade. In this election, they approved ballot measures amounting to $431.5 million for land and conservation easements, according to the Trust for Public Land.

These local efforts can be leveraged into even more protection, with help from the state and federal governments. But Western states have generally allocated few dollars to private-lands conservation, and the Bush administration and Congress have been stingy with funding for the past four years.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is the granddaddy of funds for conservation purchases, is supposed to be filled each year with federal royalties from offshore oil and gas development. But the fund has steadily decreased, from a high of $450 million in 2001 to just $175 million in 2004.

Still, other sources of money have grown under the Bush administration. The Forest Legacy Program, the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and funding for Habitat Conservation Plans, which protect endangered species, now each provide approximately $100 million a year to purchase private lands or conservation easements.

But the biggest bang for private-land conservation may come through another Bush administration priority — tax reform. Conservationists, allied with ranchers, farmers and sportsmen’s groups, will continue pushing for reforms in the federal tax code that increase the incentives for landowners to voluntarily conserve wildlife habitat, says Rand Wentworth, director of the Land Trust Alliance.

The reforms, which Wentworth says could leverage $18 billion worth of conservation easement donations over the next decade, didn’t make it into law this year, but will be reintroduced next year.

Standing at the gate is Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, R, chairman of the Finance Committee. Last year, following a Washington Post exposé, Grassley held a series of hearings looking into the legality and propriety of land-acquisition practices at The Nature Conservancy and other land trusts. The high-profile attention has forced internal reforms at The Nature Conservancy and set up a quid pro quo for any future tax-reform legislation: Grassley will not include any new conservation incentives without other reform measures, including tighter land-appraisal standards to ensure that conservation easements won’t be abused for personal profit.

HEALTHY FORESTS

Learn to love the cut



There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the evils of the 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act. The act’s backers, including Western congressmen and President Bush, sold it as a way to protect communities from wildfire, but critics say it strips the forests of protection and, in some cases, deprives the public of its right to comment on and appeal timber sales.

For all its genuine dangers, however, the Healthy Forests Act is something Westerners need to embrace.

Already, under the act, local advisory groups, fire-safe councils and watershed alliances are working with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to protect homes from wildfire and restore forests. Communities that develop fire-protection plans can receive funding to thin trees and clear brush on both public and private lands. Tribal, state and local governments can get funding and technical assistance for watershed restoration and protection projects. There’s also money for research on environmentally friendly forest practices, and for jump-starting small businesses that use small-diameter trees and other "biomass." There’s even a clause that allows the government to create temporary "healthy forest reserves" to protect endangered species on private lands.

Another law passed in 2003 gives agencies authority to use multiyear "stewardship contracts," which pay contractors based on the condition of the forest left behind, rather than the logs they remove. These long-term contracts give small operators some financial stability, and can guarantee a supply of small trees and biomass to local manufacturers and power plants. Any money the forests make from selling the logs can be plowed back into local projects, rather than sent to the federal treasury.

The alternative to making these tools work — watching the forests languish and houses burn while the agencies and environmentalists are stuck in gridlock — is far worse.

"It’s up to the folks who live next to those forests to keep them on the straight and narrow," says George Sexton, conservation director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, Ore. If agencies go back to cutting old-growth trees and logging roadless areas, he says, groups like his will "sue their pants off." And if the administration guts the laws and stacks the courts to make those lawsuits futile, activists will take to the trees, as they have in the last old-growth redwoods on private timberlands.

"There are few laws protecting (those trees on private lands), but the timber companies have to fight old-growth tree by old-growth tree," says Sexton. "If that’s what they want to do on the national forests, that’s fine by me."

AGENCY OPENNESS

Support your local bureaucrat



In contrast to corporations, public agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are required to open their doors — and their decisions — to the public. Over the past several years, however, federal land-management agencies have become increasingly secretive, to the point that they seem like branches of the timber and energy industries.

It has become difficult for the press, and the public at large, to talk with agency personnel. Requests for interviews with agency employees — even leaders such as Bureau of Land Management Director Kathleen Clarke and Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth — are routinely bumped to politically appointed higher-ups in the Interior and Agriculture departments.

Citizens often have to force agencies to share information by using the Freedom of Information Act, and even that has its limits: More than three and a half years after environmental groups filed a FOIA request, and then a lawsuit, to obtain information about Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force, they are still waiting.

National energy policy isn’t the only thing being decided behind closed doors. Outgoing Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman rescinded the Roadless Area Conservation Rule despite overwhelming public comment in support of it. The department has accepted a new round of comment on a revised rule, but it makes no secret of the fact that public comments are not votes, and will have less influence on the new rule (HCN, 4/26/04: Outsourced).

The most alarming phenomenon has been the stifling of scientists’ work. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly ignored its own scientists’ recommendations for recovery of the Rio Grande silvery minnow in New Mexico. Similar suppression of biologists’ research in NOAA Fisheries helped cause the death of 58,000 salmon and steelhead in the Klamath Basin in 2002 (HCN, 6/23/03: Are minnow scientists still under the gun?) (HCN, 6/23/03: Sound science goes sour).

A few dissenters have spoken out. BLM archaeologist Blaine Miller, whose concerns about the impacts of oil and gas exploration on archaeological sites led to his removal from a project in Utah, continues to speak candidly to the press (HCN, 7/19/04: BLM gags an archaeologist to get out the gas). NOAA Fisheries biologist Michael Kelly blew the whistle on his bosses when they doctored river-flow recommendations on the Klamath; he has since resigned in the face of similar censorship on another project.

But truly bridging the secrecy divide is a challenge for people outside the government as well. Local citizens and environmental groups need to become savvier watchdogs, to learn the issues inside and out, and to be front and center at every public meeting. They also need to have the sort of over-the-backyard-fence conversations with agency staffers that seem to have disappeared with the rise of the FOIA request. No matter how badly science and public process have been manipulated, continued and unrelenting public involvement will create a brand of local solidarity that extends into the agencies, to the bureaucrats under siege.

MAKING IT LOCAL

Time for a new Sagebrush Rebellion



If there were any doubts that the Bush administration is out of touch with Westerners on environmental issues, the November elections should have laid them to rest. In race after race, Westerners stood up to industry and demanded protection for their crisp, clear air, gurgling trout streams and wide-open landscapes. Oddly, the administration insists that the election gave it a mandate to continue to dismantle environmental protections, clearing the way for its corporate backers to run roughshod over the region.

To make the administration understand the error of its ways, it will take a new Sagebrush Rebellion.

In fact, a new rebellion has been brewing for some time, and it has a distinctly different flavor than the original, which was championed by President Ronald Reagan and Interior Secretary James Watt, who set out to plunder the public lands. The new rebels recognize that the days of strip-mining and clear-cutting and overgrazing are past, and that the future rests, first, on repairing damaged landscapes, and second, on building an economy that doesn’t clean out the West’s larder in one massive gulp.

New Mexico rancher Tweeti Blancett is one of the rebellion’s many local leaders. A staunch Republican, she turned against George W. Bush when his energy policies opened her family’s ranch to natural gas drilling, destroying the grass and the groundwater. She’s locked drillers off her ranch, gone to Washington, D.C., to lobby her congressmen, and pushed for change in the Republican Party. Most recently, she’s taken to the courts as a plaintiff in two lawsuits, one from the Sierra Club, and another from Karen Budd-Falen, a darling of the original Sagebrush Rebellion.

This kind of work, says Blancett, is "bringing people together from all across the West that have different views." The rebellion is also raging in rural Montana, where rancher-conservationists, organized as the Rosebud Conservation Alliance, recently put tight restrictions on coalbed methane drilling (HCN, 11/22/04: Election Day surprises in the schizophrenic West). In New Mexico, environmentalists are working to get a reformer elected to the board of the state Farm Bureau. In Washington, some loggers are saying, "Thanks, but no," to the Bush administration’s offer of old-growth timber sales, and instead putting their energy into restoring cut-over forests (HCN, 9/27/04: Life After Old Growth).

The new Sagebrush Rebels may be able to turn the far right’s agenda to their own purposes. Bush administration appointees and congressional Republicans claim they want to put the public lands in the hands of the locals. If locals understand that finding a lasting place in the region requires standing together against industry efforts to plunder it, they may finally create a Sagebrush Rebellion worthy of the West.

SOLIDARITY

Take it to the streets



The environmental movement campaigned against George W. Bush for three years and had no noticeable influence on his re-election. That’s the clearest evidence yet that the movement has stalled. There is widespread public support for protecting environmental quality, but the national groups have trouble tapping into it. For decades, they’ve built their staffs and budgets, but as they’ve grown large, they’ve become a bureaucracy — a movement of clerks filing the paperwork of appeals and lawsuits and official comments, insisting on procedure and technicalities.

The movement needs to reinvigorate itself, to get more creative, and to reach out to people who don’t necessarily consider themselves environmentalists.

Some groups already help provide farmers with windmills that generate clean energy as well as profit. Some seek tax credits for automakers that make cleaner-running vehicles, thereby also preserving union jobs. Recently, hunters and anglers have been enlisted in the campaign to save roadless forest habitat.

Environmental issues need be framed around people, and the movement could do that in a big way by marching on Washington, D.C. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. drew 250,000 people to the Washington Mall to rally for civil rights. Today — when the Sierra Club alone has 700,000 members — the environmental movement should be able to rally a million people to demonstrate the extent of public opposition to anti-environmental policies.

A Green March would be proof of the great variety of people who believe that environmental protection is important. It could include the mothers of children who suffer from asthma, which scientific studies link to air pollution. It could include the residents of Libby, Mont., the mining town where people are dying from the asbestos fibers in their lungs. It could include government scientists whose research is being squelched; American Indians and commercial fishermen who want more done to save salmon runs; and anglers who can no longer eat the fish they catch because of mercury contamination from power plants. It could include caravans of ranchers who don't want their land ruined by coalbed methane wells, and outfitters and even real estate agents who rely on healthy rivers and scenic country to lure their customers.

Westerners could link up with people from West Virginia who want no more of their mountaintops lopped off for coal mining, and people from Florida who want more done to save the Everglades — and who want the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be saved from oil drilling.

A Green March would strengthen the identity of the movement and widen its outreach. Most importantly, it would flesh out the movement with a million faces, and reveal the depth of popular concern about the environment in a far more tangible way than a million e-mailed public comment letters — or an exit poll — ever could.

To participate in an online forum about the future of the West, and to meet other Westerners who are working locally to make positive change, visit www.hcn.org/takeitforward.jsp .

Contributors to this project were High Country News executive director Paul Larmer, editor Greg Hanscom, editor in the field Ray Ring, associate editor Matt Jenkins, assistant editor Laura Paskus and contributing editor Michelle Nijhuis.