High Country News in the ’70s

The HCN community reflects on the ‘Me Decade.’

 

Robert Redford peruses Tom Bell’s HCN in Lander, Wyoming, in the early 1970s.
Wyoming State Journal (now Lander State Journal)

In the 1970s, there was a mad dash to promote U.S. energy independence following the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. Plans were unveiled to transform the Northern Rockies and Northern Great Plains into the Ruhr Valley of North America, tapping the region’s abundant coal, oil, gas, uranium and oil shale. Activists and conservation groups were still few and far between, and High Country News knit them together by sharing information and hope. There were few environmental journalists back then, and HCN caught the eye of major newspapers that picked up on our stories and shared them with a national audience.  

The North Central Power Study proposed a transbasin diversion to bring water from the Colorado River Basin to the water-short Powder River Basin to exploit its coal resources. There were plans to pepper North Dakota with mine-mouth coal gasification plants and build a giant coal slurry pipeline from the Powder River Basin to Arkansas. The Atomic Energy Commission suggested using underground nuclear blasts to produce natural gas from tight geologic formations. As acid rain became a growing problem in the East, industry pursued the West’s low-sulfur coal, which could be easily strip-mined without pesky union labor.  Another proposal called for geothermal energy development right up to the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, threatening the world’s most famous geysers.

High Country News covered all of this every two weeks and empowered the fledgling regional environmental movement.  Wyoming and Montana passed the nation’s toughest strip-mine regulation, industrial siting laws, severance taxes and sulfur dioxide regulations, with one Wyoming legislator arguing that we did not want to end up having “49 states and one smudge.” The AEC’s nuking proposals and the coal slurry pipelines were blocked, and plans to fast-track and subsidize energy projects were both defeated. The proposed transbasin diversions and geothermal leasing next to Yellowstone were blocked.  

All these victories were won by a coalition of outspent, scrappy local volunteer conservationists, ranchers, outfitters and sportsmen, business owners, Native Americans and a handful of environmentalists. What brought them together as a powerful community with a common voice was High Country News. Carrying forward the spirit of its founder, Tom Bell, HCN fearlessly confronted powerful adversaries. One wonders what the region would look like today without High Country News to tell this story.   

Bruce Hamilton was an HCN editor from 1973 to 1978, and is now national policy director of the Sierra Club.

Reflecting on the 1970s

“What drew me to HCN was the fresh new environmental reporting for the Rocky Mountains on the Forest Service and BLM, the forests and rangelands. Many so-called “multiple-use” practices favored only a selected few — grazing, drilling, logging and mining.”  —Gerry Snyder, Manhattan, Kansas

“I’d say the most memorable story from the ’70s is in Tom Bell’s first issue, about ‘the shame’ of a fellow rancher poisoning eagles to protect his lambs.” —Betsy Marston, Paonia, Colorado

“By the early 1970s, Vietnam raged on, bloodier than ever. Many civil rights leaders had been assassinated. … Freedom and harmony could only be found outside the system — get out of the polluted cities and stifling suburbs, find a place in the country, tend your garden and find beauty in life.” —Doug Morris, Sonoita, Arizona

“As a kid in Arizona and Utah, I understood the West’s issues through grownups’ conversation — that individuals, corporations and government agencies were ruining the West by overuse (including grazing and tourism), mining, logging, building roads. ... All this happened out East, of course, but the East was considered a lost cause.”  —Susannah Abbey, Albuquerque, New Mexico

“The summer of 1979, I joined a Forest Service fire crew in Northern California that brought together people from around the West and exposed me to an interesting mix of personalities and cultural backgrounds. It resonates with what HCN is trying to do these days — expand the way we’re exposed to people with different experiences and backgrounds, interacting with the Western environment.” —Tim Baker, Eureka, California

“I was involved in anti-nuke activities in Eugene, Oregon. During the 1970s, there were major efforts to develop alternative energy sources. Jimmy Carter even put solar panels on the White House — until Reagan took them off!”  —Tom Lynch, Lincoln, Nebraska

“An HCN story revealed heavy duck kills on waste ponds near Green River, Wyoming. I was a chemical engineer at one of the plants and helped set up a successful duck rescue and rehabilitation program.”  —Jack Schwartz, Weatherford, Oklahoma

“Pollution: Growing up in LA in the ’60s and ’70s, we’d have over 100 ‘Ozone Alert’ days per year, where folks had to stay indoors because of the unhealthy air.” —Mike Newton, Las Vegas, Nevada

“The 1970s was when the working class once and for all lost the class war. The decade is when Roosevelt’s New Deal was killed dead.”  —Joe Ward, Farmington, NM

In celebration of HCN’s 50th birthday, we’re looking  back through the decades, one issue at a time. To scroll through HCN’s full timeline, visit our webpage: hcn.org/events/50-years-timeline

TAKE US HIGHER
From its inception as a rare environmental voice in an ecologically fragile region, to its increasingly nuanced coverage of the country’s most rapidly growing and diverse populations, High Country News has, story by story, unveiled the real and complex West behind the beautiful scenery. Now we’re raising $10 million to spread the news and launch HCN into the next half-century. Please make a pledge or contribution today: hcn.org/support50more

High Country News Classifieds
  • DISTRICT MANAGER
    The San Juan Islands Conservation District is seeking applicants for the District Manager position. The position is open until filled and application plus cover letter...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -