The persistent trampling of the West

Environmental laws are one way to force people to consider their actions.

 

As yet another storm spun into western Colorado in late March, turning my hopes for a hike to mud, my friend Coby mused, ”Well, at least there’s going to be an amazing super bloom this year.”

Devils Hole pupfish, an original digital illustration by John Ivie.

No doubt: In heavy precipitation years, even the austere hills outside of town can glow with the subtle beauty of blooming cactus, vetch and other species. Still, nothing equals the super bloom that turned parts of Southern California into gold, with poppies so bright and abundant that they appeared on satellite images. The flowers, however, were almost eclipsed by the people who pursued them.

In Lake Elsinore, an epic human tide trampled and Instagrammed its way across the Walker Canyon poppy fields, until town officials had to temporarily close off access. Someone even landed a helicopter in the middle of a field for an illegal hike, roaring off minutes before law enforcement arrived, according to the LA Times.

The West has a long tradition of people doing ignorant things with little regard for the natural world. On the macro level, that includes clear-cutting most of the Pacific Northwest’s native forests, allowing millions of livestock to denude and simplify our desert ecosystems, and digging countless mines in the mountains with no thought for the subsequent pollution. But there are oodles of smaller atrocities, such as the unfortunate endangered species case painstakingly documented in this issue by Assistant Editor Paige Blankenbuehler.

The three drunken men who ended up at the pool in Death Valley National Park that is the only home of the Devils Hole pupfish didn’t know that they were caught on camera, or that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would throw the book at them for killing a fish, however accidentally. As Blankenbuehler notes, trespassing has long been a threat to the pupfish, whose population currently is 136. But this was the first time it resulted in a conviction that led to jail time, and, apparently and surprisingly, true contrition from the offender.

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

It’s refreshing to see the Endangered Species Act so effectively enforced at a time when the Trump administration is so intent on gutting it. Environmental laws are one way we force ourselves to consider the impact of our actions and show restraint. Another way can be found in our second fish tale. In Dutch Harbor, Alaska, writer Ben Goldfarb discovers a high-tech commercial fishing operation that takes seriously the idea that fish feel pain and therefore deserve a respectful death before they end up on our plates. Let’s hope that Blue North Fisheries is on the edge of an industry-wide ethical revolution.

Under a strengthening April sun last weekend, I headed out in search of a super bloom. But someone had beaten me to it. On the hills above the Gunnison River, hundreds of sheep grazed off the early green growth, leaving hoof-churned soil, like a rototilled garden, in their hungry wake.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...