The Great Basin can be seen as the geography of hopelessness. Wallace Stegner might roll over in his grave at this turn of phrase. But at the twilight of the 20th century, the Great Basin is still a social, political and environmental frontier. It is still a wasteland and a colony shaped by forces out of its control. And it is still a home to many people who prefer getting Western - a synonym for violent - to getting civilized.
However, there are also reasons to be hopeful
about the Great Basin. The region is part of a larger changing West
and changing world. And now change is also coming from within the
The end of the Cold War brought
nuclear testing to a halt, and Nevada has united against becoming a
nuclear waste dump.
The region's cities have
become forces pushing water reforms, along with tribes,
environmental groups and even the Bureau of Reclamation.
The Culinary Workers Union is proving that the
service industry does not have to run on dead-end low-paying jobs.
While many ranchers are still ready to get
Western when it comes to range reform, federal land managers are
holding steady. And ranchers such as the Tiptons are showing that
they can work to restore ravaged rangelands.
Even that most refractory extractive industry,
mining, is paying closer attention to the environmental bottom
These are all cases of enlightened
self-interest, provoked in part by steady pressure from regional
and national environmental groups, and in part by global changes.
But environmentalists must also learn to change.
As environmental values are internalized in Western towns, cities
and industries, there will be new work to be done.
Fallon and Pyramid Lake provide an example where
the tribe, the farmers and the federal government are trying to
reallocate water. The Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense
Fund are providing expertise, resources, ingenious approaches and
steady pressure in an attempt to keep an intractable conflict
moving toward solutions.
The Nevada Progressive
Coalition is also grappling with questions that link social,
economic and environmental concerns in communities. They haven't
found the answers. But they're headed in the right
The Great Basin could still use a
strong regionally based environmental movement that can relate to
its communities. But the old dream of a sagebrush alliance of
environmentalists and rural folks banding together against outside
threats - such as the federal government - is running out of steam
as the region faces the fact that change is coming from within as
well as from without. The federal government is part of the
Together we helped make the
Great Basin a wasteland. Together we can make it a homeland.