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Know the West

Reform was killed by "100 peacocks in heat"


Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, Turmoil on the range.

Brant Calkin, who until a few months ago was head of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, one of the region's most aggressive environmental groups, thinks he knows why the Rangeland Reform '94 initiative crashed and burned. He says environmentalists could have been more energetic on behalf of reform, and the White House could have been more skillful in dealing with the U.S. Senate. But mostly, he says, fault lies with the senators.

"I look at that bunch and it's 100 peacocks in heat. Basically, it's one industry per one senator. The Senate does not represent popular opinion. The Senate's rules favor selfish behavior."

Calkin, who ran SUWA for six years, has little hope for Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's fallback position: the Colorado approach. "My view is that it's the Balkanization of public-land management. I don't like the politics or the substance. And I don't think it has enough support in the environmental community to be credible."

He says the Colorado approach is driven by Babbitt's aversion to controversy - -He goes to extraordinary lengths to quiet the scene around him' - possibly backed by instructions from the White House to keep the West quiet. "This is not a firebrand administration. My guess is that the White House has told Babbitt not to push reform very fast."

Calkin thinks the strategy may backfire. "If the Colorado grazing approach is pursued, there's going to be a rebellion in the West, but it won't be the Western senators. It will be the environmentalists, when we find we've been disenfranchised."