The West is large enough to host contradictions

Embrace incongruity, both domesticated and the wonderfully wild.

 

Every March, as the first earthy smells of spring waft through the air, I home in like a pigeon on a place called Fruitgrowers Reservoir. There, by the shallow waters below western Colorado’s Grand Mesa, I absorb the sights and sounds of an eclectic menagerie of avian life. And I ponder how such a domesticated place can feel so wonderfully wild.

Wild horses on the lower Salt River below Saguaro Lake in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.

The three bald eagles landing on that patch of ice? Definitely wild. But the scrap of fish they’re arguing over — a perch, perhaps? — is an introduced species. Those sandhill cranes legging it along the shore? Wild, but part of a non-migratory flock that survives the increasingly warm Colorado winters on cornfield stubble. And the ugly waterfowl making a ruckus in the reeds? Feral descendants of Muscovy ducks, a species native to South and Central America but now found on ponds all over the world, courtesy of human beings.

Can you love a Muscovy duck the same way you love a bald eagle?

I have always been drawn to native species. Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary with horses, the subject of our cover feature. The ancestors of modern horses disappeared from North America 10,000 years ago. In the 1500s, Spanish colonizers reintroduced horses into New Mexico, and by the late 1800s, as many as 2 million mustangs may have roamed the West. Today, Debbie Weingarten reports, most of the remaining “wild” horses — estimated to number in the tens of thousands — are caught in the middle of a debate that is more than semantic. Public-land managers view the herd along Arizona’s Salt River as exotic livestock that trample soil and native plants and pose a danger to boaters and hikers, while horse advocates insist they are historically significant wild natives that should be allowed to roam freely. Fortunately, the two sides seem to have found a middle path that provides a management role for all.

Paul Larmer, executive director/publisher
Brooke Warren/High Country News

There is no middle path yet for the three-decades-old debate over the name of Northern California’s Dixie School District. As Wayne Hare, the HCN board member who produces our “A Civil Conversation” series, writes, some Marin County residents are perfectly happy with the name, while others see it as a painful reminder of slavery and racism. The school board rejected alternative names in February, but Hare believes it’s not too late for the area to choose to honor the experience of its few African-American citizens.

And finally, we hope you enjoy the essay and photo spread about the Western gay rodeo circuit in the 1980s, 1990s and today. As Assistant Editor Emily Benson notes, Blake Little’s photos reveal both the violence of the sport and the tenderness of the people involved. The West, it seems, is a big enough place to hold a host of contradictions.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
    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,...
  • SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR
    Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has been doing work you can believe in protecting the lands and waters that all life depends on....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • COMMUNITY FORESTER
    The Clearwater Resource Council located in Seeley Lake, Montana is seeking a full-time community forester with experience in both fuels mitigation and landscape restoration. Resumes...
  • GUNNISON BASIN ROUNDTABLE
    The Gunnison Basin Roundtable is currently accepting letters of interest for ten elected seats. Five of the elected members must have relevant experience in the...
  • PCTA TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS IN WASHINGTON'S NORTH CASCADES
    Seasonal Positions: June 17th to September 16th (14 weeks) - 3 positions to be filled The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Salary: Up to $65,000/year DOE Benefits: Generous benefits package — health insurance, Simple IRA and unlimited...
  • UTAH PUBLIC LANDS MANAGER
    Who we are: Since 1985, the Grand Canyon Trust has been a leading voice in regional conservation on the Colorado Plateau. From protecting the Grand...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Walker Basin Conservancy Reno & Yerington, NV Background The Walker Basin Conservancy (Conservancy) leads the effort to restore and maintain Walker Lake while...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.