What’s working in the West

Feel-good reads to end the year on a high note.


It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by what’s going wrong in the West — and the world. Time for a palate cleanser: Below, we’ve curated a list of some of HCN’s best feel-good “what works” stories from 2021. From hiring heat officers to utilizing gobbling goats, communities are tackling our region’s challenges in unique and interesting ways. You’ll see perspectives, reportage and even the next generation of writers in the mix, covering topics from railroads and water to prairie grass seeds. As the year comes to a close, don’t forget to remember the positive changes, creative thinking and solutions-oriented efforts that are happening across the West, from Alaska to Arizona. A sustainable and just future is possible. And we’ll be here to cover it. 

Think of this list as the reading equivalent of a cup of tea on a chilly day, warming you up from the inside out. Best enjoyed by a crackling fire. 

Reviving traditional Apsáalooke water sources

Tribal scientists and community members are testing wells, solving plumping problems and delivering clean water to their neighbors.  

Second-graders take on Colorado’s wolf reintroduction

‘Wolves are AMAAAAZING! Because they help the ecosystem and are amazing.’

Rekindling with fire

An Indigenous writer reclaims her relationship with fire in the landscape of her ancestors.

Collecting seeds to restore prairie grasslands

‘These youth are going to be able to take ownership of healing the land at Fort Belknap.’ 

Rebel eviction-enforcers are helping tenants stay in their homes

In Tucson, Arizona, a group of constables went rogue and stopped enforcing evictions.

Will a Native-led initiative spur an agricultural revolution in rural Alaska?

A grassroots project to build biomass-heated greenhouses aims to alleviate food insecurity in the communities most affected by it.

How to cool one of the fastest-warming cities in the West

In Phoenix, a new heat office hopes to prevent more people from dying of extreme heat.

A rural remedy to health care access

A virtual tele-mentoring program helps the West respond to the pandemic

Montana counties band together to reinvigorate passenger rail

The newly formed Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority aims to connect a deeply divided rural state.

Pueblos in New Mexico turn to goats for fire management

As climate change exposes wildfire risks, tribes by the Rio Grande experiment with a four-legged technique to nibble away fuels.

Reclaiming LA

Communities in Los Angeles are turning old industrial sites into pockets of green.

Foreign-born doctors fill physician shortages in the West

Some find a permanent home; others languish in a visa holding pattern.

Kylie Mohr is an editorial intern for High Country News writing from Montana. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy. 


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