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Know the West

New Forest Service chief; Pardoning Cliven Bundy; Monarchs in decline

HCN.org news in brief.


With the West experiencing one of its most severe wildfire seasons ever, the newly sworn-in Forest Service chief, Tony Tooke, has walked into a challenging situation. Tooke has worked for the Forest Service since he was 18, but unlike his recent predecessors, the Alabama native has held no positions in the West. “It’s hard to tell how he will translate what he knows about that Eastern fire environment into the West,” says Don Falk, a professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Arizona.

Tooke will have to confront the Forest Service’s long struggle with increasing firefighting costs, which now swallow up more than half the agency’s budget. Though Congress recently passed legislation that included emergency funding to fight wildfires this year, the long-term problem remains unsolved. “We desperately need a fire-funding fix,” Tooke said during a visit to Oregon to see the damage caused by the Eagle Creek Fire. If he can achieve that, he’ll have the opportunity — and the budget flexibility — to chart a new course for the agency.  -Rebecca Worby

New Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke addresses the audience after his swearing-in by Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in the White Mountain National Forest in early September.
Lance Cheung/USDA

Roger Stone, an on-and-off adviser of President Donald Trump, has become a public supporter of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his co-defendants, who are currently awaiting federal trial. The case stems from Bundy’s 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service over his illegally grazing cattle. Stone made public appearances in July in Nevada to urge Trump to officially pardon the Bundys, and name-dropped them at a conservative leadership conference in Las Vegas in mid-September. Stone is an odd bedfellow for the Bundys, since he is a longtime Washington, D.C., insider with no obvious connection to ranching or public-lands issues. Stone has served as a consultant for four past presidents and foreign dictatorships. The Florida resident worked as a lobbyist on behalf of Trump businesses in the 1980s and served as a consultant during Trump’s presidential campaign. 

At a Las Vegas rally in July, Stone told a crowd the “jackbooted” government had “lost all sense of law or morality.” That kind of message could continue to play well, inciting the kind of anger and vitriol that have become the hallmarks of this presidential era. Whether it would yield a pardon remains to be seen. Cliven Bundy’s trial begins Oct. 10. -Tay Wiles

10 MILLION: Population of Western monarch butterflies in the United States in the 1980s.

300,000: Population today.

35: Years before the Western monarch population could stop migrating altogether, if current trends continue.

The population of monarchs living west of the Rocky Mountains has shrunk by 97 percent in the last 35 years, according to an analysis published by Washington State University in September. The butterflies take generations to migrate from overwintering habitat on California’s coast to breeding habitat throughout the West. They face serious threats, including development, which destroys overwintering trees, and the increased use of genetically modified agriculture, which encourages farmers to spray pesticides that kill milkweed.
-Maya L. Kapoor

Peter Miller/Flickr

"When you have an administration that is in denial mode about climate change, to have a senator as prominent as McCain make an opening — I think it’s an opening we should take advantage of."

—Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, speaking about Arizona Sen. John McCain’s appearance on CNN, during which he suggested the time has come to readdress climate legislation. -Elizabeth Shogren


With the national conversation over Southern statues honoring the Confederacy, Civil War memorials in the West have also garnered attention. A fountain built in memoriam to the Confederacy was removed in Helena, Montana, after prodding by local American Indian leaders. Some locals disagreed with the city’s decision, saying the memorial’s creators were not racist. But state Rep. Shane Morigeau, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, pushed back. “The United Daughters of the Confederacy were out to rewrite history, to make the Civil War about states’ rights rather than slavery,” Morigeau said. “When you put the monument in (this) context, then you can understand it as a glorification of inequality.”  -Gabriel Furshong

You say

Larry Mammoser: “There is nothing admirable about Confederate monuments. They memorialize people who fought a civil war in order to continue slavery.”

Marshall Massey: “While I nearly always support the positions of the Native American tribes here in Montana, where I live, I do not share their belief that the dubious motives of the United Daughters of the Confederacy justified taking the monument down.”

Brian Erskine: “There are places Confederate monuments belong, and reasonable people can differ about what those places are. But Montana isn’t one of them.”