Every fall, black bears enter a ravenous state in which they will do almost anything for food. Biologists call it hyperphagia — the time of super eating.
hyperphagia can get into trouble if the search for calories leads
them astray — to the greasy garbage cans behind the local
diner, or to a hunting camp where deer are strung from trees, like
so many enticing fresh venison kabobs.
We humans have
also been known to let our appetites get ahead of our brains,
especially here in the West. Witness the beaver rush, the buffalo
rush, the gold rush, and the land rush, which continues to this
day. In each case, the sudden success of a fortunate few spawned an
immense popular rampage that soon outstripped the resource.
Boomtowns that were built overnight collapsed the next day when the
bust overtook them, and everybody bolted off in search of the next
Today, the hunger is for oil and gas. There
is a mind-boggling amount of exploration and drilling in the West,
and, with high prices seemingly here to stay, this boom looks to go
on forever. But, as HCN Northern Rockies Editor
Ray Ring points out in this issue — the first of a two-part
special report — that doesn’t mean that it will. When
the bust finally comes, will the West be ready? Will we have been
smart enough to save some money to build a future for our region?
By all indications, the Western states, with the
exception of Wyoming, are doing a poor job of figuring out how to
use the tax revenues coming in from the gas fields. And many are
starting to think they’re not getting nearly as much as they
As Ring notes, there is room for negotiation.
Many countries tax oil and gas revenues at a much higher rate than
the United States does; even some industry leaders say they expect
to be asked for more than they are currently giving. In this
historic energy market, there is plenty of money to go around.
With many Western states facing budget shortfalls and
crumbling social and physical infrastructures, now is not the time
to be meek about insisting that industry pay its way. Economist
Juan Carlos Boue of London points out that California could solve
its budget crisis "with the stroke of a pen" if it had the will to
implement a severance tax on the oil and gas industry. Other states
in the Interior West could solve a lot of problems by increasing
their tax rates.
Prosperous states are much more likely
— and much better able — to protect the environment
than are poor ones. Our land, our air and our water are taking a
huge hit from the oil and gas hyperphagia. We need to act now to
ensure that the West will have the resources to restore the
landscape when the boom is over. And we need to plan for a future
economy beyond the petroleum age.
instantly burn all the calories they gorge on in the fall. Instead,
they store them for future use, to get through winter’s
hibernation. Contrary to what all the magazines say, fat
isn’t always a bad thing.