Telling the story of the changing West

As the Trump administration retrenches, there’s a rising call for justice and political reform.

 

Hundreds of youth climate activists demonstrate outside of BlackRock’s offices in San Francisco, California, as part of a nationwide strike coinciding with the United Nations climate summit.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“On the Road to 50” is an ongoing series of the publisher and editor's notes to our readers, as they travel the region and plan for our 50th anniversary – through community gatherings, individual meetings, and other listening sessions.

It was June 28, 1983, and things had gone seriously sideways at Glen Canyon Dam. Spring thaw had sent torrents of meltwater into the Colorado River, and the Bureau of Reclamation was desperately trying to get that water through the works before Lake Powell spilled over.

The 710-foot engineering wonder “was shaking, vibrating madly,” T.J. Wolf wrote in this publication in December of 1983. Then he conjured the scene one might have witnessed from the bridge just downriver from the dam:

“You would have seen the steady sweep of the spillway mouths suddenly waver, choke, cough, and then vomit forth half-digested gobbets of steel reinforced concrete (bad, very bad), spew out blood-red water (My God, it’s into bedrock), and finally disgorge great red chunks of sandstone into the frothy chaos below the dam.”

Wolf imagined dams downstream toppling like dominoes, wreaking watery havoc and dooming the Bureau itself. The son of a Bureau engineer, he was aghast at the prospect, though he knew that some would cheer the destruction.

These days, throughout the West, there are new rumblings. They’re coming from a rising generation and resurgent tribal nations and communities of color, demanding justice and political reform. The establishment is hell-bent on holding them back, but one wonders how long the dam will hold.

“The establishment is hell-bent on holding them back, but one wonders how long the dam will hold.”

All this is on my mind as I return to High Country News after 14 years. I got my start here, under Ed and Betsy Marston. Now I’m back to take the publisher’s seat as Paul Larmer concentrates on raising $10 million for HCN’s 50th anniversary campaign.

The Old West has retrenched in the past few years. A sagebrush rebel runs the Bureau of Land Management. Environmental policies have been rolled back. Ammon Bundy is on a revival tour, and there’s talk of putting cows back on the Escalante. 

But there’s no denying the rumbling. We heard it at the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and we see it in cities from Seattle to Salt Lake City, where residents are demanding action on climate change. As I write, I see it in the surge of support for a democratic socialist who is vying for the White House, buoyed by primary voters from Colorado to California.

A new, diverse, justice-minded generation is rising, and the political edifice is beginning to rattle. There’s a feeling of inevitability to it — it’s a simple question of demographics, right? But we’ve seen the inevitable halted before.

In 1983, Glen Canyon Dam held fast. Its demise will come, but slowly, as Lake Powell fills with sediment. It will be decades before the hydroelectric turbines whirl to a stop and the river again has its way. 

I hope that High Country News will still be here to tell the story. We’re 50 years in, thanks to you, dear readers. May there be 50 more. 

Greg Hanscom is the publisher and executive director of High Country News. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ANCESTRAL LANDS ADMINISTRATIVE MANAGER
    Starting Salary: Grade C, $19.00 to 24.00 per/hour Location: Albuquerque or Gallup, NM Status: Full-Time, Non-Exempt Benefit Eligible: Full Benefits Eligible per Personnel Policies Program...
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • 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...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
  • TRUSTEE AND PHILANTHROPY RELATIONS MANGER,
    Come experience Work You Can Believe In! The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is seeking a Trustee and Philanthropy Relations Manager. This position is critical to...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers