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Community Voices

11 Apr 2018
You may never have heard of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, but it is a place of global importance. At the very southwestern tip of the mainland, it is vital to the survival of virtually the world’s entire population of emperor geese and Pacific black brant, as well as other bird species from multiple continents. It’s also important habitat for caribou, brown bears and marine mammals. But if the Trump administration gets its way, the roar of diesel engines will soon drift across this landscape as bulldozers scour a new road across the fragile tundra. Development here would set a terrible precedent for all the places across America that Congress has designated as wilderness areas—the highest level of protection for public lands. If a road is built through Izembek, what would prevent acts of future destruction in our Joshua Tree National Park, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or…
14 Mar 2018
When it’s 5 degrees Fahrenheit out, even politically divided Americans can agree on one thing: It’s cold. But that’s where it ends. President Donald Trump used this winter’s frigid East Coast temperatures to Tweet: “We need more global warming!” Climate hawks fired back: “2017 was the second-hottest year on record.” But as much as we’d like to think political discourse is about ideas, it seems much more about defending your tribe. And on no issue is this more evident than climate change. Many Republicans simply can’t support climate action—not because they don’t believe the science, but because it would represent a breach of cultural identity, akin to wearing a Che Guevara tank top to the gun range. The left often ignores this dynamic—that climate is a proxy for an entire tribal worldview encompassing issues like abortion and the size of government. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Climate…
07 Mar 2018
On Jan. 1, weed aficionados in California were finally able to do what they say they’ve always wanted—legally buy marijuana, no prescription required. But small farmers who had been selling on the black market were not uniformly delighted by the change. For decades, the illegal-weed industry has been lucrative. Then came increasing legalization that created its own boom: In the United States, the total medical and recreational market for pot is expected to hit $2.6 billion in revenue this year, reports the Financial Times. Nine states have now legalized recreational sales, and 29 states have legalized medical marijuana. Colorado alone recorded nearly $4.5 billion in sales since recreational stores opened on Jan 1, 2014. But many small farmers in California worry about this new world of legal pot. They’ve been the backbone of the industry through the drug-war years of heavy enforcement and heavy penalties, and they know all too…
10 Jan 2018
Nearly a half-century ago, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act by a vote of 92-0 in the Senate, and 355-4 in the House. Republican President Richard Nixon said the legislation “provides the federal government with needed authority to protect an irreplaceable part of our national heritage, threatened wildlife. … Nothing is more priceless and worthier of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.” As the Trump administration continues to roll back America’s commitment to conservation, we should fear that it will succeed in turning the federal government away from its responsibility to protect species from extinction. The administration recently denied petitions to list 25 wildlife species as endangered. As Kathleen Hartnett-White, who is a Senate-vote away from becoming the administration’s chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, put it, the Endangered Species Act is “economically harmful” and a “formidable obstacle to development.”…
03 Jan 2018
Like a lot of small towns in the West, my town of Ashland, Ore., is nestled in a lovely valley surrounded by conifer forests. The forests grow on public lands managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and last year, as in many recent years, there were fires on those lands. The town of Ashland was not threatened, but our valley filled with thick, eye-burning smoke for weeks at a time. It was miserable. Outdoor theater and music events were cancelled, drastically affecting the summer tourist season, which is critical for our economy. Folks who would usually be out hiking, camping, fishing, birding and rafting stayed indoors. Parents kept their kids inside. Everyone got cranky. We’ve never had a summer with smoke as bad as this. Understandably, people don’t want to go through this again next summer—or ever. Southern Californians can relate thanks to all of…
22 Nov 2017
When I stopped standing in school for the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance, no one noticed. Not only was I not famous; I wasn’t even popular. But it was already clear to me—almost 50 years ago—that I was primarily a citizen of a planet, not of a nation, especially not a nation that used young people as fodder in a baffling war, and a nation that diminished women and demonized people of color, although I would not have used that language then. Still, I knew enough to be disturbed by the images of war and the Civil Rights Movement that I saw on television and Life magazine. Maybe the knowledge that I was basically invisible gave me the courage to resist the flag-waving agenda. Perhaps I was slightly odder than other 16- or 17-year-olds. I’d grown up a little wild and a little dreamy, by a lake in the…
15 Nov 2017
In 2015, Kathryn Schulz, a writer at The New Yorker, published “The Really Big One,” a meticulous evocation of the oceanic earthquake that will someday drown the Pacific Northwest beneath a tsunami. I lived in Seattle then, and the quake was all anyone talked about: at coffee shops, in elevators, on buses. Many articles and books had been written about the coming 9.0, but Schulz’s Pulitzer-winning story was the first to grab the slumbering Northwest by the shoulders and shake it awake—until, that is, the news cycle shifted; people got on with their lives; and earthquakes receded again in society’s consciousness. Earthquakes, writes another Kathryn—Kathryn Miles—in her new book, Quakeland, are our most confounding natural disaster. We can watch hurricanes spinning in the Atlantic weeks before they land; we usually detect the rumbling of volcanoes months pre-eruption. Earthquakes, though, often provide no warning at all. Our grasp of what triggers…
09 Nov 2017
As the West’s elected officials wrestle with how to protect us from gun violence in the aftermath of the Las Vegas nightmare and the Texas church shooting, a truth comes to mind: These leaders are not actually wrestling with the issue of how to protect us from gun violence. If they were, the solution would be as clear as a mountain stream: Treat people more like fish. Here in the West, fish get far more protection than people. If you’re an adult, you need a license to fish. In Colorado and other states, that license limits you to two fishing rods at a time. Keeping fish is often forbidden, and barbless hooks are often required to boost the odds that your catch-and-release gem lives to see another day. Live bait is frequently illegal, and hook size and the fishing season itself are often limited. There are restrictions on the size…
12 Oct 2017
It has happened again. Near Española, N.M., the monumental statue of Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate has been attacked. Though Oñate rides his horse behind a tall metal fence, someone painted his booted right foot blood red and spray-painted “Remember 1680” on a nearby wall. In the culturally diverse Southwest, schisms over history and heritage live on. The statue is part of the Oñate Monument Center in Rio Arriba County. While many longtime New Mexicans want to commemorate Onate’s bold leadership in establishing the Spanish presence in the region, most Native Americans from the pueblo villages along the Rio Grande River—and specifically Acoma—hold a different opinion. Across the American South, the public is embroiled in controversy over statues of Confederate war heroes. For some white Southerners, statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis represent states’ rights, chivalry and valor. For others, including most African Americans, Confederate leaders symbolize…
07 Sep 2017
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of the Forest Service as well as several agricultural and food-related research agencies, recently told its staffers to avoid using the term “climate change.” The business-as-usual term “weather extremes” was recommended instead. While dropping the word “climate” may seem like a defeat for those of us who remain convinced that human influences are harming the global environment, this federal directive made in the spirit of changing the narrative might be good advice. Could it be that the term itself has failed us? Suppose, for a moment, you are in a restaurant, and someone yells, “Help, she’s having a heart attack!” Being a good person, you would no doubt spring into action, call 9-1-1, look for aspirin or a defibrillator, and so on. Suppose that same person had instead yelled, “Help, she’s having a myocardial infarction!” You would probably react the same…

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