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Know the West

Meanwhile, the West is in jeopardy

Amid political and cultural tumult, we are unprepared for the new reality of climate change.


In this issue of the magazine, we honor the life and work of Ed Marston, the longtime publisher of High Country News, who died in August from complications of West Nile virus. Needless to say, this has been a reflective few weeks for all of us. Ed, who retired from the magazine in 2002, had a powerful vision for the rural West, one that included both conservation and compromise, especially over the shared natural resources of the public lands.

Over the years, HCN has remained true to that vision — in part. But the magazine has also pushed into other facets of the West to tell its ongoing story. We, the editors and writers, have deliberately brought more voices into the conversation, especially from communities typically excluded from it. (Not everyone agrees with this approach, and this issue includes a letter from a reader who will no longer subscribe to HCN.)

The truth is, the West is more than ranchers and loggers and miners. It is more than recreationists and environmentalists — whatever that word means. It is a complicated, contradictory place, where militiamen prowl the southern borders and a grieving orca carries the corpse of her dead calf for 17 days. It is a rapidly urbanizing region of widening inequality, where real estate deals sever the poor from the natural world, even as red-tailed hawks circle the sky over elk, bear and the occasional hunter. The West produced people like Ursula K. Le Guin, a writer whose ecological warnings were woven into fantasy, science fiction and poetry. But it also produced the white supremacists indicted recently for their part in Charlottesville’s violent “Unite the Right” protests last year.

Editor-in-chief, Brian Calvert
Brooke Warren/High Country News

Meanwhile, the entire West is in jeopardy. Amid political and cultural tumult, the climate is changing, bringing a new reality we are unprepared for. This issue’s feature story, by Contributing Editor Ruxandra Guidi, describes a coastal town in Southern California that is asking whether it can, or should, retreat inland from the rising seas. The residents of Imperial Beach are not grappling with hypothetical abstraction; the tides are rising, the shores eroding. Also in this issue is an analysis of Trump administration rollbacks of policies meant to slow greenhouse gas emissions, and a story on the Navajo Nation’s attempts to rebuild a police force that honors tribal sovereignty.

These stories should be read together, holistically, bound by the idea that the ecological crises are inseparable from the problem of human domination — of the land and of each other. Ed Marston was right: The West deserves a vibrant rural landscape. But it deserves much more than that. We are honored to build, from Ed’s legacy, the vision of a thriving, inclusive American West, one equal to the challenges of our time.

Brian Calvert is High Country News' editor-in-chief. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.