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Know the West

Fight that knee jerking

  Dear HCN,

I received a great deal of satisfaction from reading Dan Flores' and Susan Ewing's articles on Western subdivisions (HCN, 5/10/99). Here are two essays that aren't the usual blinders-on, cheerleading drivel. As a prelude, I should add that I disagree with the authors on many points. As a range ecologist living in the West, I've seen a lot of grazed-to-dirt, noxious-weed-infested, two-horse ranchettes built-on elk winter range. I believe that the potential for damage from this kind of development is much greater than the potential for responsible living. Dan and Susan sound like they're making sincere efforts to fit into their place, but they surely represent the far end of the spectrum.

What encouraged me about these articles was that they challenged the point of view we usually take for granted, namely, that subdivisions are bad. How many times do we need to be told that dams kill salmon, clearcuts cause stream sedimentation and destroy species diversity, that livestock grazing on public lands is an abuse of the "Commons," and mining leads to boom/bust economies for small towns? It's become environmental-reporting white noise. We need to be challenged to think for ourselves, to understand our own arguments by listening to and understanding different perspectives.

I'd like to apply Lyons' article on nature writing subsidies to this issue. Let's fund a subsidy to prevent environmental reporters from writing an article if the subject has already been covered by, oh, say five other articles. If they can raise new issues or forward new perspectives, then they can go to print; otherwise, paying them to keep their pens in the inkwell is money well spent.

John Beaver

Helena, Montana