« Return to this article

Know the West

The Wayward West

  For the first time, the federal government concedes that workers at 14 nuclear weapons plants, including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state (HCN, 9/1/97: Radioactive waste from Hanford is seeping toward the Columbia), were exposed to cancer-causing radiation and chemicals. The Department of Energy report linked radiation exposure to the high rates of cancers among the more than 600,000 people who have worked at the sites. President Clinton asked the department to come up with a policy on compensating affected workers and their families.

In a recent speech in Kalispell, Mont., Gloria Flora said that, although the West's shifting economy can make life difficult for some, "survival requires change ... My father made a living selling ice from a horse-pulled cart," she said. "If I followed the same line, I'd be selling stainless-steel refrigerators online." Flora recently resigned as a national forest supervisor in Nevada (HCN, 11/22/99: Nevadans drive out forest supervisor), denouncing "anti-federal fervor" in the state.

The Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program is coming of age. When wolves were imported to the area from Canada in 1995 (HCN, 2/6/95: The wolves are back, big time), wolf number nine was the first to give birth. She had five litters in all, was the alpha female of her pack and was once fed by President Clinton. Now, like almost all aging wolves, number nine has been driven out of her pack. Biologists say they don't expect the 8-year-old wolf to live much longer.

A coalition of ranchers and environmentalists has sued the Air Force over low-level military training flights (HCN, 4/13/98: Military wants to grow its Western empire). Activists from Nevada, Utah, Texas and southern Colorado say the flights harm wildlife and livestock; they want the Defense Department to study the cumulative effects of the flights on wilderness lands and rural communities.

In Arizona's Arrastra Wilderness, a permit to bulldoze a road to a private inholding remains in legal limbo. Rancher Erik Barnes says he needs the road to improve a spring on his 40-acre Peeples Canyon property (HCN, 2/16/98: Private rights vs. public lands). Though a federal board of appeals upheld the Bureau of Land Management's permit in late November, the agency is in a self-imposed holding pattern while it takes another look.