The Wayward West

  Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt have agreed to settle a squabble over state-owned school trust lands isolated by the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; now it awaits approval in Washington, D.C. (HCN, 5/25/98). The deal means Utah will trade 377,000 acres of state lands for $50 million and 139,000 acres of federal lands in the state. Though the Senate has yet to vote on Senate Bill 2146, a version easily passed in the House.

Mobil Corp. has agreed to pay $45 million to settle claims that it systematically cheated Indian tribes and the federal government out of oil earnings. The corporation will pay $36.9 million to the federal government, the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache tribes and 10 states to make up for 10 years of underpaid oil royalties. Another $8.1 million goes to private parties. The Washington, D.C.-based Project for Government Oversight, which brought the lawsuit against Mobil with the Justice Department in federal court, said settlements with other oil companies may follow.

The town of Portola, Calif., has $9.1 million coming to it from the state of California (HCN, 5/25/98). The money will help the town recover from a state project to rid Lake Davis of illegally introduced northern pike; poisoning the pike left a legacy of polluted waters. Two million dollars later, the unwelcome fish species is gone, but tourism slumped and the town lost a source of drinking water for the summer. The check is not yet in the mail: All criminal charges against the Department of Fish and Game for the fiasco must first be resolved.

Chainsaws are buzzing in Colorado's Routt National Forest. Environmentalists had tried to halt 3,000 acres of salvage logging planned after a windstorm whipped through the forest last year (HCN, 6/22/98). The Forest Service says the sales will help control an outbreak of beetles and the threat of wildfire. Environmentalists doubt the logging will slow the spread of spruce beetles.

Two predators that vanished from Colorado's wilds are coming back, with help from the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Biologists plan to capture 80 lynx and 30 wolverines in Alaska and Canada and release them in the Rio Grande/San Juan and Gunnison national forests this winter, reports the Denver Post. Environmentalists are pleased with the project. But they warn that the project's success depends on protecting habitat on Forest Service lands.

* Dustin Solberg

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