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Know the West


  Another Interior Department official is under investigation for a conflict of interest: This time it’s the department’s top lawyer, William Myers (HCN, 6/23/03). Watchdog groups say Myers, who represented public-lands ranching associations as a Boise lawyer and signed a recusal agreement after his appointment as solicitor, met with cattle interests seven times to discuss changes to federal grazing regulations. Last November, Myers told the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association that “you can hardly dig a post hole without having to do an environmental analysis.”

As Utah prepares to petition the federal government to hand over thousands of old roads across public lands, officials in Kane County have launched their own first strike. County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw and Sheriff Lamont Smith plucked 31 BLM signs prohibiting ATV and motorcycle use on roads in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. They delivered the signs to monument headquarters with a letter saying BLM restrictions on other roads “are obstructing public access upon county roads” (HCN, 2/3/03: Road warriors back on the offensive).

It might not exactly be a love-in, but it’s good for the land. In New Mexico, the pro-property rights Paragon Foundation — which has frequently defended ranchers against environmentalists’ lawsuits — is teaming up with wilderness advocates to save Otero Mesa (HCN, 9/10/01: Gas industry gambles on New Mexico mesa). With oil and gas companies salivating for a crack at the mesa’s hidden treasures, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is pushing to protect over a half-million acres on the mesa as wilderness.

And just when it looked like California’s quest to mandate zero-emission vehicles might get zeroed out, compromise has saved the day … more or less. A 1990 law required that about 100,000 cars sold in the state this year be nonpolluting, but three big automakers — and the Bush administration — challenged the law. An August settlement between the automakers and the state now calls for 250 hydrogen fuel cell cars on California’s roads by 2008, as well as 120,000 hybrids and 2 million “low-emission” vehicles by 2009.