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Know the West

Dear Friends


Questions and visitors

Gregory Reis of Lee Vining, Calif., writes that he was in a plane flying near New Mexico's Aztec Ruins National Monument when he saw mysterious "rectangular cleared areas all over the place." What might they be? he asked us.

Intern JT Thomas called around until he found Rich Simmons, a staffer with the Bureau of Land Management. Simmons' opinion: the patterns Reis saw are formed by roads to oil and gas rigs, and are not ranchettes or controlled burns in the sagebrush.

Thanks to subscriber Malcolm Wells, an artist in Brewster, Mass., who likes HCN enough to offer to illustrate our back page essays "on one day's notice." A man who thinks homes and just about everything else should be built underground, leaving the surface for living and wildlife, Mac Wells celebrates "Underground America Day" on May 14. He is also the author of numerous books on underground architecture.

Visitors who popped in the door recently include Shane, Stacy and Dakota Becker, who interrupted their trip home to Morrison, Colo., to renew their subscription.

Rick Anderson, a newcomer to Paonia from Boise, where he taught drama for many years, stopped in to ask if we had any need for volunteers. We're sure we do.

The card says, "We welcome with love Clara Frances Fernandez Odell," a big name for a newborn girl whose mother is Maria Fernandez-Gimenez and whose father is former HCN intern Devin Odell. The three live in Anchorage.

An evening with Stewart Udall

Stewart Udall claims to be 78, and there is a certain logic to that claim. The Arizonan was a congressman for several terms before president John F. Kennedy appointed him Secretary of Interior in 1961 - a post he held until Lyndon Johnson left office eight years later.

But looking at the man standing behind the lectern at Mesa College's Liff Auditorium in Grand Junction on the evening of March 31, the years didn't compute. The child of Mormon pioneers stands too straight, and his gray hair, worn long, is too thick. He claimed he couldn't hear some of the questions, but his eyesight must be pretty good - he wasn't wearing glasses. Of course, he didn't need glasses - he spoke in an easy flow without a single note about the history of the environmental movement from John Muir through today.

He also has a sense of Western style that Ralph Lauren probably tried to copy. But Udall's is the real thing. He was formal enough, in a tie and jacket, but they didn't constrain him, or distract from the person. You didn't walk away more impressed by whoever made the clothes than by the man who wore them.

It wasn't a scholarly, footnoted talk; instead, it was about events and personalities. Mostly it was about the wonderful federal laws that quietly slipped through Congress, like the Antiquities Act of 1906 that allowed Teddy Roosevelt to save the Grand Canyon and the law that allowed Roosevelt to establish national forests wholesale. He also described Rachel Carson's bravery in taking on both the chemical business and agribusiness, and recalled for the audience of about 100 her funeral at the National Cathedral.

Udall himself was Interior Secretary when the next generation of environmental laws was passed, including the Wilderness Act; the expansion of the national park system to include national seashores like those at Cape Cod, Fire Island, Padre Island and Point Reyes; and the creation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. There was also the Wild and Scenic Rivers bill, which, he said, "was the other side of dam building."

After almost eight decades, Udall describes himself as a "troubled optimist. I'm optimistic because this country has a sense of stewardship, even though it also has people who ask, 'What has posterity ever done for me?' " He is troubled because we have huge blind spots. "I don't think we understand how important water is. Keep an eye on Tucson, Phoenix and New Mexico, where I live, when the next drought comes." And, he says, we use gasoline as if it were as plentiful as we think water is.

Udall is no longer a politician, and so he feels free to say the occasional unkind thing about other parts of the country. He is glad he doesn't have to live "cooped up" in a state that lacks public land. And that doesn't mean just the East. The state of Kansas, he said, has the least public land in the nation and its residents seem to like it that way. He had tried to get a national park in Kansas during his tenure at Interior - so that people could see the beauty of the prairie or the Flint Hills - but he couldn't find a Kansas senator to work with. All he got was a letter from a Kansan saying the state didn't need parks; "It needs more roads to get visitors through to Colorado."

Over and over, his talk returned to former Congressman Wayne Aspinall, who represented western Colorado for many years and who headed what was then the House Interior Committee. Udall and Aspinall fought, in a respectful way, over the Wilderness Act and over the creation of national parks. Aspinall, Udall said, thought he represented a mining district, and he didn't realize it was changing until the voters kicked him out in a Democratic primary in 1970.

Following his talk, Udall was asked about the Animas-La Plata water project proposed for southern Colorado. After confessing that he and his brother, longtime Congressman Morris Udall, had fought hard for years for the Central Arizona Project, he said, "Animas-La Plata is the most shaky water project ever proposed in the West in terms of dollars. It's the last dinosaur ... I don't think it will fly."

Throughout his talk, Udall emphasized that he was first and last a Westerner, who made common cause through the 1960s with other Westerners, including former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater and Wayne Aspinall. Those were different, less contentious, more cooperative times, he said.

He closed by telling the audience that he's thrilled to see a new generation of Udalls competing for public office. In Santa Fe, his son Tom, now New Mexico Attorney General, is in a primary battle for the northern New Mexico congressional seat. And in Boulder, Colo., his nephew (Mo's son) Mark, a Colorado legislator, is in a primary for that area's congressional seat.


High Country News has been written about in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Snow Country, and other national publications. But together they don't add up to the circulation of HCN's latest media exposure: a full page on the back of the May 8 issue of Awake!, a publication of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The back page contained an excerpt from our Oct. 13, 1997, Bulletin Board page, which discussed Awake's environmental coverage. It will go to 19 million people in 81 languages. The front cover shows heavy equipment tearing up a jungle with the headline: "Can Our Rain Forests Be Saved?" Amy Alanko, a young woman from Paonia who is helping send out the spring Research Fund mailing, brought us a copy hot off the press.

- Ed Marston for the staff