At home in the wasteland

  • The Great Basin: half empty or half full? A broken goblet

    Stephen Trimble
  • Schell Creek Range

    Stephen Trimble
  • Wheeler Peak from Mount Moriah

    Stephen Trimble
 

Note: this feature article is one of several in this special issue about the Great Basin.

The Great Basin can be seen as the geography of hopelessness. Wallace Stegner might roll over in his grave at this turn of phrase. But at the twilight of the 20th century, the Great Basin is still a social, political and environmental frontier. It is still a wasteland and a colony shaped by forces out of its control. And it is still a home to many people who prefer getting Western - a synonym for violent - to getting civilized.

However, there are also reasons to be hopeful about the Great Basin. The region is part of a larger changing West and changing world. And now change is also coming from within the Great Basin.

The end of the Cold War brought nuclear testing to a halt, and Nevada has united against becoming a nuclear waste dump.

The region's cities have become forces pushing water reforms, along with tribes, environmental groups and even the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Culinary Workers Union is proving that the service industry does not have to run on dead-end low-paying jobs.

While many ranchers are still ready to get Western when it comes to range reform, federal land managers are holding steady. And ranchers such as the Tiptons are showing that they can work to restore ravaged rangelands.

Even that most refractory extractive industry, mining, is paying closer attention to the environmental bottom line.

These are all cases of enlightened self-interest, provoked in part by steady pressure from regional and national environmental groups, and in part by global changes.

But environmentalists must also learn to change. As environmental values are internalized in Western towns, cities and industries, there will be new work to be done.

Fallon and Pyramid Lake provide an example where the tribe, the farmers and the federal government are trying to reallocate water. The Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund are providing expertise, resources, ingenious approaches and steady pressure in an attempt to keep an intractable conflict moving toward solutions.

The Nevada Progressive Coalition is also grappling with questions that link social, economic and environmental concerns in communities. They haven't found the answers. But they're headed in the right direction.

The Great Basin could still use a strong regionally based environmental movement that can relate to its communities. But the old dream of a sagebrush alliance of environmentalists and rural folks banding together against outside threats - such as the federal government - is running out of steam as the region faces the fact that change is coming from within as well as from without. The federal government is part of the regional community.

Together we helped make the Great Basin a wasteland. Together we can make it a homeland.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...