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Know the West

DAPL dispatch; forgotten funds; Obama’s rush to the end

HCN.org news in brief.


Cars head out of the Oceti Sakowin camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, after Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II and other tribal officials urged protesters to go home. Thousands have left camp.
Andrew Cullen

In early December, High Country News reporters traveled to North Dakota to find out more about the events unfolding at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. In the weeks following, they witnessed a chaotic mix of law enforcement and protesters, unforgiving winter conditions and the celebrations that erupted at the Oceti Sakowin protesters’ camp following the Army Corps of Engineers’ announcement that a crucial easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline was denied. But they also discovered that the story is far from over. Tribal leaders said that the Army Corps would look for alternative reroutes for the pipeline after environmental review, but the companies behind the pipeline project say they intend to complete construction as planned. As the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump — who has selected as his Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline— looms, protesters are readying for more battles at Standing Rock. Despite the mass exodus from the camps, some protesters plan to stay through winter. “This victory is not a real victory. It’s just the first step,” said Jean du Toit, a film producer staying at the Oceti Sakowin camp. -Tay Wiles 

Read more of our on-the-ground updates and perspective. 

“It takes a long time for something like that (news) to make its way around the camp, because there’s no internet, there’s no cellphone connection. ... I was sitting in on a direct action training session when I overheard someone next to me whisper it to someone else: ‘Hey, did you hear the news about Army Corps denying the easement?’ And I said, ‘Wait, what’d you just say?’ And then I realized what all the whoops and hollers and
celebration sounds had been.”

—Reporter Tay Wiles, speaking about her experience in the camp at Standing Rock. 

$4 MILLION: Value of parcels still owed to Montana by the federal government, including one in the middle of Glacier National Park and another in Gardiner, and one just outside Yellowstone National Park.

In an era when many schools are underfunded, money might be found in forgotten school trust lands. After more than a century, some Western states are receiving school trust land that was allocated to them when they entered statehood. Homesteaders, Indian reservations or national forests had already claimed the allocations in some designated sections, so the government allowed states so-called “indemnity” selections, which gave them the chance to pick unreserved spaces instead. But federal and state bureaucracy has led to a century of delays. Eleven Western states, plus North and South Dakota, have slogged through the indemnity process with the Bureau of Land Management, and now only five remain unfinished: California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Utah. With the end in sight, state land boards signed an agreement with the BLM in 2012 to make resolving the issue a priority; the states began their final steps last year. -Laura Lundquist


In their final weeks in office, Obama administration officials are releasing a flurry of rules that could have implications for federal land for decades to come. Many rulings, such as nixing offshore drilling and a minerals withdraw near Yosemite National Park, bolster the president’s conservation legacy, but others do not. These rules have been years in the making but face imperiled futures. A Trump administration could not simply erase these actions in most cases — but it could get help from the GOP-controlled Congress to either block them or prevent funding from going to implement them. It also could settle industry lawsuits and ask courts to send the rules back to the agencies to be rewritten in ways that reflect President Trump’s pro-industry and fossil fuel-friendly stances. -Elizabeth Shogren and Anna V. Smith

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at the National Solar Thermal Test Facility in Bernalillo, New Mexico, in 2015.
Sandia Labs/CC Flickr

Several people each year are killed or injured by stray bullets or from guns fired into the air. In Arizona, a young girl’s death in 2002 lead to the passing of “Shannon’s Law,” making it illegal to discharge a firearm into the air. Yet in the wilderness, some holdouts think it’s still the Wild West and endanger hikers, backpackers and others in the backcountry when they fire their rounds, writes Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff in an opinion piece. But the crux of the issue is not really gun control: “Carrying a gun in the backcountry is not the issue. The irresponsible use of said gun is,” she writes. “Gun owners do themselves no favors when hikers, bikers, equestrians, or ATV riders unwittingly become moving targets.” -Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff, opinion

You say

Mike Lander: “Years ago, a friend was accidentally shot by a recreational shooter who assumed his rounds would never travel far enough to hit that guy loading his ATV on his trailer so far away in the distance. Tragic.”

Gordy Gowdy: “Carry one of those canned air horns and sound off if you hear gunfire to let everyone know you are there.”

Trevor Pellerite: “Recreational target shooting is NOT a Second Amendment issue, regardless of what the NRA claims to the contrary.