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Know the West

The Wayward West

  Wildfires continue to scorch the West at a record pace (HCN, 7/31/00: Colorado blazes fuel forest restoration efforts). High temperatures, low humidity and a plethora of dry lightning have created the worst wildfire season since 1988. The federal government is spending $15 million a day on fire fighting. As of Aug. 7, more than 60 major fires were burning nearly 1 million acres. Even with 15,000 firefighters, many fires are still burning unchecked. "We are stretched pretty thin," Vi Hillman of the Bureau of Land Management told AP.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has changed its mind - it doesn't want a giant hog farm after all (HCN, 11/8/99: Can a hog farm bring home the bacon?). Many environmentalists and some tribal members said the proposed 869,000-hog operation would cause massive environmental problems, but officials of the impoverished South Dakota tribe had backed the project since 1998. Now, a recently elected tribal council has told a federal judge to rescind its lawsuit that would have cleared the way for the project. The hog farm will now be only half the proposed size.

For the second time in four months, an official in charge of cleanup at Washington's Hanford Nuclear Reservation has left (HCN, 6/5/00: Hanford executive quits in protest). After clashing with U.S. Department of Energy superiors over how to replace a company in charge of turning nuclear waste into glass, Dick French was ousted from his position. That's bad news for the state's Department of Ecology, which is in charge of cleanup efforts. "I'm very, very disappointed," Dan Silver of Ecology told AP. "I don't know anyone else (at the federal level) who is working for (this program) very hard."

Many Coloradans are disappointed that President Clinton has withdrawn support for a bill that would expand the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and create a national park (HCN, 6/19/00: The Great Sand Dunes: the next new national park?). The bill would reserve the groundwater in the area for local users; however, Interior officials say such language might not provide enough water to protect the park's ecosystems. Bill co-sponsor U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R, says the federal government doesn't want the state to control park water. Administration opposition means that it is unlikely the bill will pass this year.