Limerick, Discovering the West
as a Place
"In a region shaped by conquest, each arriving group or
individual posed the question anew:
Who was a legitimate Westerner, and who had a right to share in
the benefits of the region? How were people to sort themselves out,
and stay sorted, when the cast of characters never stabilized.?"
"As Western dilemmas recur, we wish we knew more about
not only the place but also about each other. It is a disturbing
element of continuity in Western history that we have not ceased
to be strangers. The problem of mistaken identity runs from past
"Indians, Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, Anglos, businesspeople,
workers, politicians, bureaucrats, natives and newcomer, we share
the same region and its history, but we wait to be introduced. The
serious exploration of the historical process that made us neighbors
provides that introduction."
Lewis on the Modern American West
The modern American West, like the Old- and New-West, is a shifting
ground that is shaped by competing groups trying to establish and protect their economic, political, and cultural dominance. The problem facing the 21st-century West is that all too often these groups refuse to recognize and accept each others' competing claims. Thus, environmentalists, ranchers, loggers, wilderness advocates, snow
mobilers, immigrant workers, etc. all challenge each other's legitimacy
and rights in the West. We do, in fact, know each other, but we
refuse to accept each other as equals who have legitimate rights
and concerns. In searching for our freedom and dreams in the West,
we all too often have to challenge and undermine others' freedom
...Chris Lewis, Ph.D.
Limerick on the Legacy of Conquest
"The Mormon problem stood for the larger one of Western
history. Celebrating one's past, one's tradition, one's heritage,
is a bit like hosting a party: one wants to control the guest list
tightly and, as the Mormon elder Boyd Packer put it, "selectively." To celebrate the Western past with an open invitation is a considerable
"In rethinking Western history, we gain the freedom to
think of the West as a place--as many complicated environments occupied
by natives who considered their homelands to be the center, not
the edge....The history of the West is a study of a place undergoing
conquest and never fully escaping its consequences.
"The contest for property and profit has been accompanied by
a contest for cultural dominance. Conquest also involved a struggle
over languages, cultures, and religions; the pursuit of legitimacy
in property overlapped with the pursuit of legitimacy in way of
life and point of view....This contest for cultural dominance remains
a primary unresolved issue of conquest."
Patricia Limerick, Legacy of Conquest (p. 26-27)
Babbit on the West today
"The West is no longer a rural place...The West is now
the most urbanized region of the country; in Arizona, fully 80 percent
of the people reside in just two urban areas--Phoenix
....Bruce Babbit, 1991
"The West is ours, it has been won. Now we must prove that
we can develop without losing it by destroying the very values that
attracted so many of us here in the first place."
.....Bruce Babbit, 1991
"When the West finally learns that cooperation, not rugged
individualism, is the pattern that most characterizes and preserves
it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins.
Then is has a chance to create a society to match its scenery"
...Wallace Stegner "The Sound of Mountain Water"
Wilkinson, Crossing the Next Meridian
"The state of the West is far worse than I thought when I first began to
imagine this book in 1984. A person trying to write a principled account wants to avoid overstatement, to skirt being shrill. But I am satisfied that the far greater danger is in the other direction. I remember driving back to Boulder from one of my first interviews for this book with Ed Marston in Paonia on Colorado's Western Slope
The problem, of course, is that you cannot judge land health from a car window. The bad timber cuts are assiduously tucked away from view. Destruction from grazing takes a practiced eye to comprehend. Low, even dry, streams have become expected parts of the landscape. Acid mine drainage and the other poisons usually work in secret. There are no road signs to advise that a forest or stream is missing vital cogs. Far better truths than we can observe from car windows have come from the scientists and from the endangered species and the land and water systems they represent. We cannot cross the next meridian until we understand and heed those truths." (296-297)
"How, then, might sustainable use work in the West? After identifying all economic, environmental, cultural, and abstract--call them spiritual--elements that need to be sustained, it seems to me inevitable that westerners increasingly will turn to various forms of planning. When I say planning, I mean it in the broadest sense: the process of a community coming together; identifying problems; setting goals--a vision--for a time period such as twenty or forty years; adopting a program to fulfill those goals; and modifying the program as conditions change. Some developers, imbued with the traditional carte blanche attitude so evident in the lords of yesterday, try to paint any form of planning as a straitjacket. But sensible yet visionary planning is the opposite: it can open our minds to the possibilities for our communities--our neighborhoods, schools, businesses, environment, and culture--so that we can build flexible arrangements for trying to achieve and sustain those possibilities. All across the West, stresses have built to the point where it is hard to imagine a sustainable future without some form of planning. " (298)
"The West has never been characterized by community decision-making. The people have been footloose and on the move due to a regional economy, dependent on fast-paced extraction, that has traditionally been erratic. Although there is well-grounded optimism about a new western economy based on recreation, light industry, and more stable natural resource development, the returns are not yet in. Since the 1960s, sharp hostilities between industry and environmentalists have created separate armed camps. Everyone cares deeply about the land--most westerners, when pressed, are comfortable with a word like "sacred"--but the distrust and instability run so deep that people are leery about committing to consensus solutions. We are working on it, and making some progress, but we have not yet overcome the fact that it is hard for western communities to act like communities."
"From the beginning, westerners have exerted rock-solid control over water development, hardrock mining, and grazing on public lands. Federal activity has been mainly in the form of subsidies. A "federal" law like the Hardrock Mining Law was in fact just a pass-through, a congressional imprimatur on the practices that the western mining industry was already
following. Until the past few years, there were no significant federal water laws. Even the state laws were pass-throughs, ratifying the no-holds-barred approach favored by western water users. Gifford Pinchot and the Taylor Grazing Act notwithstanding, the public rangeland remains the province of western ranchers. DeVoto said it of water, as we saw in chapter 6, but his sharp-tongued adage about the attitudes of westerners toward the federal government applies fairly in all of these areas: "Get out and give us more money." "
"The cities of the West are not somehow the enemy. Yet we cannot ignore the effects of the cities on the intermountain West. The urban centers--Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, and Denver--take a large and growing share of Colorado River water. Phoenix , joined by a consortium of municipalities stretching from San Diego to El Paso , has installed the power plants and mines that have stripped out the coal, water, and fabulously clean air of the red rock Colorado Plateau-the Four Corners country. Again, these are just examples: all of the cities have reached deep into the mountain West."
"Still, not so long ago, "first in time, first in right" also seemed set in stone, yet today we have begun the process of putting aside that maxim. It may be that western communities are now ready to address growth based on an ethic emanating from the seriousness of the threat, a final commitment to protecting the values of the lands and waters and places, and an understanding that population growth in no way equates with economic growth or prosperity and may impede them." (305)
"Crossing the next meridian, then, requires more than abolishing the lords of yesterday--the various policies and laws governing hardrock mining, the public range, the national forests, the salmon and steelhead runs, and the region's rivers. It will require abolishing the philosophical ideas that fueled them and replacing those ideas with new ones. They include sustainability, which in turn directly implicates the level of population. The crossing also will require westerners to accept personal responsibility for the impacts on the lands, waters, and communities in a way that has not occurred before. Although I hope that this book will be of use in suggesting the magnitude of the problem and some of the paths toward resolution, I will not attempt here to catalogue all of the specific ways in which those ideas might be instilled. That will require another journey."
Marston, Coming into a New Land
Peopling the Intermountain West today:
Where do new residents come from? (in-class)
"OVER the last twenty years or so, quietly and without any organizing help, a new kind of people moved into the rural West to make new lives. They came with a variety of skills and for a variety of reasons. They were both pushed out of the nation's urban areas and pulled to the new land and new lives represented by the rural West. They were of all types, and few of them realized they were part of something that could be called a movement. They came in search of a difficult mix: the social and physical freedom the rural West represented and to build a new, collective way of life. For the most part, they came to rest in the rural West's larger cities and in the resort towns: the Bozemans, Grand Junctions, Boises, Aspens, and Santa Fes. But a significant number moved into traditional small towns." (151)
"Whatever their personal motives, the newcomers were to become a key element in the recent successes of environmentalism in the rural West. They were the on-the-ground troops, some would call them the fifth column, that forged the environmental victories of the past two decades. Their impact was a result of their being where people with urban values and environmental leanings had never before lived. Almost against their will, they found them-selves functioning initially as a sort of early-warning system in fights over logging, coal teasing, the deletion of wilderness study areas, and the birth of efforts to build dams. Later, as their numbers and their awareness of the pressures on the surrounding public lands increased, they coalesced into groups and became more than just sounders of alarms." (152)
"Environmentalists' achievements have been especially impressive in the rural West. Their efforts on offense have led to vast expanses of legislated wilderness, the growing movement to protect rivers, the use of the Clean Air Act to maintain the clarity of the air flowing through parks and wilderness, and the protection of numerous endangered species. On defense, environmentalists have made a bulldog-like effort to stop or reduce the logging of forested lands, the exploration for oil and gas, and the mining of sensitive public lands." (153)
"There is another major intangible: unlike any private or government entity in the West, environmentalists have an agenda for the land and the streams and rivers. It is embodied in the let-burn policy for fires, in reintroduction of wolves and grizzlies, in the creation of more wilderness, in the beginnings of wild-river protection, and in the effort to transcend state boundaries and to focus on the land by talking of Colorado Plateaus and Yellowstone ecosystems."
"Much of what is attributed here to environmentalism was helped along mightily by the global economy and the ending of certain economic cycles. The Bureau of Reclamation ran out of dam sites and irrigable land. In many of its forests, the Forest Service ran out of trees it could cut economically. Urban populations grew and became less convinced that the production of commodities was tied to their well-being and became more concerned about nature. Finally, the consequences and long-term costs of dam building, logging, grazing, mining, and milling have become ever more clear and have received ever more publicity."
"The newcomers were brought west by the public land; but it was an uncritical attraction--the land was beautiful, the air was clear, the possibilities endless. It was only after they moved into the region that the land came into focus, and they saw the problems and the conflicts." (156)
"Local people wondered why well-educated young people would accept a low-wage life in a rural area when their own children felt compelled to move away in order to pursue the money available outside the West's rural valleys. They wondered why these urban young people, these hippies who had been raised in a comparative lap of luxury, were now opposing progress and the creation of well-paying jobs. Local people were especially bitter because the young newcomers were writing letters, filing appeals, and creating organizations to oppose the creation of jobs that might bring the area's real children home." (156)
"There may be a lesson here for the environmental movement--insofar as one can talk about this loose grouping as a movement. This movement is focused on the land, and over the past several years that focus has made it triumphant. But unless the environmental movement figures out how to live in the West among Westerners and as Westerners, it runs the risk of losing the present advantage in the next inevitable economic upheaval, just as the extractive industries have lost their grip on the region. The environmental agenda of more wilderness, more wild rivers, less logging, less drilling, and less mining is well enough, so far as it goes. But a vision that sees only land and wildlife has the same weakness as a vision that sees only ore bodies and old-growth forests. A vision that does not recognize the small communities and rural human activities that accompany the land and wildlife has an enormous blindspot."
"Danger lies on all sides, however. From one, the region is threatened by an ever-growing tourism and lifestyle industry, which might leave the West its landscape and air but would remove the way of life that makes it unique. On the other side is the threat of a resurgent extractive industry, whose damage to the land, air, and wildlife is obvious, but which has the virtue of supporting, through contemptuous neglect, an admirable way of life. Hope lies, I think, not in a search for a middle ground but in locating a fulcrum upon which to balance these opposing forces so that neither becomes dominant."
Wright, Pay as you Play?
"It's only fair, defenders of the program say. Why shouldn't hikers, picnickers, bird-watchers, hunters, fishermen, bikers, and other daydreamers pay for their use of public lands, like loggers, miners, and grazers do? "
"The problem, as I see it, is not that public lands don't pay their own way; the problem is thinking that public lands should have to pay their own way. That's the point of public lands: They are refuges of undeveloped, unprofitable, and unindustrialized land protected from the great cult of economics devouring big open spaces everywhere else.
To many of us, our public Iands are an investment in national spiritual-health care: places held in trust so all Americans can afford to get out, away from our ever more crowded and commercialized world."
Stiles, Old West vs. New West
"At the heart of this land war — and that's what we should call it — is a fundamental conflict of cultures. On one side stand the "New Westerners," mostly urbanites who consider themselves environmentalists, but whose connection to the land is as observers, recreationists and infrequent visitors. On the other side are the "Old Westerners," most of whom oppose the environmental movement, live and work in small rural communities and make their living from the land. "
"Old Westerners oppose wilderness, since they believe it will limit their access to public lands. On the other hand, Old Westerners understand one key component of wilderness far better than their adversaries do. They understand solitude and the emptiness of the rural West. They like the emptiness.
New Westerners are terrified of solitude. Leave most of them alone in the canyons without a cell phone and a group of companions and they'd be lost.
As a result, the search and rescue budgets of many rural Western communities have increased astronomically in recent years."
"As long as Westerners, New and Old, refuse to acknowledge the fruitlessness of their own entrenched and inflexible positions, the West will suffer for our stubbornness. This is not about compromise, it's about dialogue. Discussion. An honest discussion. "
Less Water, More People
Prolonged drought, perilous forest conditions, and rapid population growth are combining to create serious challenges for the eight-state Rocky Mountain region.
With increased population growth and continued drought-like conditions becoming a regional norm, how will the Rockies manage competing needs, particularly allocation of the region's already scarce water?
Predictions of climate change in the Rockies have three major implications. The average temperature in the Rockies is expected to warm by 3 to 7 degrees Celsius during the next 100 years, and snowpack scenarios show losses of up to 50 percent in much of the region.
Precipitation predictions vary. Information from a 2007 National Academy of Sciences study indicates that severe droughts experienced in portions of the Rockies, including the Colorado River Basin, in the 1990s and 2000s now appear to be the expected norm for the future, rather than isolated exceptions. Further, residents are warned the region must prepare for more frequent and severe dry spells. The National Wildlife Federation reports that winter snowpack, the source of nearly 75 percent of the region's water supply, has declined by 33 percent in the northern Rocky Mountain region since 1950. This and other studies argue that global warming trends will make water availability in the Rockies even more limited, with less precipitation as snow at high elevations, thus compromising the region's extensive water collection and storage systems.
Population Growth Increases Demand for Scarce Water
Environmental regulations restrict development within forests, but increasing numbers of people live near national forests, and public opposition has challenged some forest management techniques such as prescribed burns and salvage logging.
One useful measure of human-forest interaction is the growing wild land-urban interface, defined as a wild land area within a half-mile of housing with a density greater than one house per 40 acres. This interface is expected to double in the next 20 years. Colorado's Front Range alone has 1.1 million such acres. A recent New York Times article estimates that since 1990, more than 8 million homes have been built in the burgeoning wild land-urban interface in the Western Rockies.
Between 2000 and 2005, the population of the Rocky Mountain region grew 9 percent, 4.5 times the national rate. Contrary to the perception of being mostly rural, the population of the Rockies actually is more urbanized than the U.S. as a whole. In 2005, 83 percent of Rockies residents lived in an urban area, compared to 79 percent nationally. In 1950, 55 percent of Rockies residents lived in an urban area, and in 1900, only 32 percent did.
One important component of growth in the Rockies is the increase in those aged 65 and older, a boom within a boom. Between 2000 and 2005, the elderly population in the West grew by 45 percent, a higher rate than in any other region. Many cities in the region have experienced double-digit growth of their elderly population, including St. George, Utah, 27 percent; Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., 22 percent; Santa Fe, N.M., 17 percent; and Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, both 11 percent.
Limerick, The Popular Image of the West
"The image of Western history was still ethnocentric and tied to a simple notion of progress. President Reagan said: 'We believed then and now there are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams.'....Professional Western historians explored conflict, unintended consequences, and complexities in Western history. Presidents continued to see only freedom, opportunity, abundance, and success in the same story." (324)
Contradictions facing the present and future American West:
1. The West is the most urbanized region of the United States.
2. Westerners tend to move more often, and live in places a
shorter period of time, than other regions in the United States.
3. The West holds firmly to a "mythic west"
that often undermines its understanding of its past, present, and
4. The myth of the West insists that it is a place of individual
freedom and opportunity that the government, environmentalists,
and any one else has no right to threaten.
5. The West is a large expanse of arid, desert land that will
never be productive.
6. Aridity and lack of a reliable water supply is a major factor
that limits Western growth and
7. The West tends to be a Republican region, insisting on the
individual's right to get rich and
to use their property as they please.
8. Large chunks of the West are controlled by the Federal government,
and Federal laws tend to restrict development and growth on this
9. There is an increasing conflict between Western resource
extractors, environmentalists, recreational users, and developers.
10. There is increasing population density in large, spread-out
urban areas such as Salt Lake City, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles,
11. Because good jobs often are located in crowded urban areas,
Westerners feel compelled, often against their wishes, to settle
in these crowded urban areas.
12. Faced with increasing crowding, pollution, crime, and a
declining quality of life in larger urban areas, many Westerners
try to escape to the suburbs and even the exurbs.
13. Commute times for Westerners going to and from work have
been increasing as more and more Westerners flee to the suburbs.
14. Faced with living in crowded urban areas, increasing numbers
of Westerners seek escape through outdoor recreation and wilderness
15. As more and more Westerners seek relief in the Western backcountry,
the Western wilderness feels increasingly crowded and endangered.
16. The West is increasingly a multicultural, multinational,
and global region whose future depends on the growth of a global
17. Despite the West's continued dependence on the Federal government,
Westerners tend to resent and resist Federal government efforts
to shape the region's future.
18. The West is an increasing magnet for immigration from Latin
America and Asia.
19. Faced with increasing cultural diversity, the West still
wants to see itself as an Anglo-American culture and society.
20. Faced with all the above contradictions, the West still
clings to it mythic past as the last frontier of American freedom,
individualism, and rights.
The West is a place that can be characterized by certain common
1. The West is prone to aridity and semi-aridity.
2. The West contains many Indian reservations
and many visible, unvanished Indian people.
3. The West shares a border with Mexico, and
has been the entry point for Mexican immigrants.
4. The West provides a gateway to Asia and the
5. The West contains the bulk of the land still
under federal control.
6. The West to this day still demonstrates and
displays the ongoing legacy of conquest in
everyday American life.
7. The West has a long history of boom/bust
economies of extractive industries such as mining, logging, ranching, oil drilling, and commercial
8. The West has a long history of "commercial,
intentional mythologizing of the West as a place of romantic escape and adventure.
9. The West has been the United States' dumping ground for difficult peoples, toxic wastes, and nuclear materials.
10. Despite the myth of its rural roots and traditions, 70 to
80 percent of Westerners live
in large urban areas.
Introduction to Western Futures Study (2005)
The American West is the fastest growing region of the country, but it is also a place endowed with great open spaces that offer important ecological and social values. This juxtaposition, and the region's rapidly changing land use patterns, attract a lot of interest and evoke a lot of emotion. Residential and commercial development is spreading across the landscape. The region is home not only to some of the most sprawling cities in the country, but to a more dispersed “exurban” pattern of low density development in rural areas, especially near charismatic landscapes like national parks. Westerners watch these changes and grieve over lost open space while simultaneously appreciating the benefits of economic and population growth, and the land development, expanded services, and property value appreciation that naturally follows.
Each developed acre is subtracted from the fount of open lands that have long marked this region as a special place and have allowed the West to maintain much of its natural endowment of biodiversity. Because development is carved predominantly out of lands used for agriculture, it also inevitably reflects a reduction of the agrarian and pastoral economy and culture that once formed the core of Western rural society. Letters to the editors of newspapers in Boise, Phoenix, and Denve , and even in rural valleys like the Bitterroot and Payette, speak to a sense that development is spreading too fast, consuming the view, habitat, and sense of community that Westerners have valued for so long. Of course, many of us who complain about growth and land development are ourselves part of the problem. We gravitate to the edge of the suburbs, attracted by views of the mountains and cheap land, or we take the next step and build our homes out in the exurbs—out in the so-called wildland-urban interface where people and nature coexist uncomfortably.
And much of the West's private land is not likely to be developed in the foreseeable future—it is too dry or too remote. But there's reason to believe that a lot more development is coming. The West has grown faster than the country as a whole for much of the last century, and is likely to outpace national growth for the foreseeable future. The “New West” is increasingly attractive to migrants and to investors. Western land owners will certainly continue to respond to market forces, and to their own preferences, by transforming lower value land uses, like agriculture, into more financially-rewarding options like subdivisions and shopping malls. Finally, Westerners will continue to buy homes in suburbs distant from city centers and to build second homes in the forests and on ridge tops. They will demand highways, water systems, and other utilities. They will also continue to complain about the sprawl, traffic, interrupted views, and lost sense of community that growth brings.