Dedicated to advancing scholarly and public understanding of the past, present, and future of western North America, the Center supports research, teaching, and reporting about western land and life in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Book: Bridging the Distance: Common Issues of the Rural West

Edited by the distinguished historian David B. Danbom and with a foreword by Center co-founding director David M. Kennedy, the book explores the Rural West across four dimensions: Community, Land, Economics – and defining the Rural West itself.

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Center News and Notes

Applications Now Open for Summer 2016 Local Governance Institute at Stanford

Applications are now open for the 2016 Local Governance Summer Institute, taking place from July 24-29, 2016. This week-long summer institute at Stanford University is open to city managers, county executives, regional directors, and other senior local government officials from throughout the West.

See the event page for details and a link to the application form »

A Multi-Faceted Portrait of Women Farmers and Ranchers

Photographs from the Femme Farmer Project by Elizabeth Zach

Elizabeth Zach's story opens in a bar in Highwood, Montana, where the 76-year-old rancher Donna Schroeder points out two cattle brands carved into a wooden block. The first she shared with her husband, she says, the other she adopted after his death more than four decades ago – over which time she continued to run herds of 350-odd cattle on her own.

Zach, writing under a Western Journalism and Media Fellowship from the Bill Lane Center for the American West, continues,

Donna is a striking example of an intriguing and expansive demographic in America today. According to the Economic Research Service, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency, in the past three decades the number of women-operated farms has increased substantially in the nation. Between 1978 and 2007, when the last agriculture census was completed, the number of women-operated farms in the U.S. grew from 306,200 to nearly a million. Women run 13 percent of all the nation’s farms and are 30 percent of all farmers in the U.S.

Since this past January, Zach has been traveling throughout the rural West interviewing women farmers and ranchers about their lives and livelihoods, compiling a moving portrait of a changing field though interviews with more than 50 subjects. Zach writes that the women she encountered ranged widely in age, background, and agricultural products, ranging from cattle ranchers to wine and artisinal cheese makers, from sheep herders to lavender growers. 

One of Zach's most memorable subjects, a Colorado convent where nuns rise at dawn to tend cattle, gather eggs, make cheese and run a working farm, was just featured in the October 26 issue of High Country News. Zach, a prolific freelance journalist with bylines in The New York Times, the Washington Post and other publications, is also a staff writer for the Rural Community Assistance Corporation in Sacramento. The RCAC has published a long-form version of Zach's reporting on its newly relaunched website, and Zach is working with the Center to develop more outlets for her continuing reporting on the topic, including the Spence and Cleone Eccles Rural West Conference taking place next March in Missoula, Montana.

New Faces and New Roles at the Center

From left, Iris Hui, Jessica Dutro, and Preeti Hehmeyer.

After some sad goodbyes over the summer, the Bill Lane Center for the American West entered the new academic year with some great new colleagues and a new look to our organizational structure. We hope you'll join us in welcoming our new coworkers, and making note of some changed responsibilities.

In August, Preeti Hehmeyer joined us as our new Associate Director, Planning and Development. Preeti got off to a busy start with the Center, flying down to Mexico at the end of her first week for our California-Mexico Clean Tech Trade Mission in Mexico City and Monterrey. Fresh from the world of management consulting, Preeti will be responsible for planning and organizing our events and conferences, as well as development and donor relations. She will also be handling our summer internships program and Sophomore Colleges.

Jessica Dutro is our new Associate Director of Finance & Administration. Jessica joined us from the university controller's office at the beginning of September, and has already showed her mettle by handling the many moving parts of a Sophomore College course that sent students and their instructors all around California, and our three US-Mexico collaborations on entrepreneurship, energy and water, and clean technology.  

The researcher and social scientist Iris Hui is now our Associate Director, Academic Affairs. As a postdoctoral scholar, Iris had been running our American West scholars group for the past two years, and her responsibilities have now expanded to include oversight of all of our research projects, as well as our postdocs and dissertation scholars. We are excited to have Iris in this new role. 

We'd also like to wish Kathy Montgomery well with her move to Oregon and to offer heartfelt thanks for her hard work, good humor, and friendship these past three years.

Native Lands and the Northwestern Boom: John Dougherty's Book Heads to Print

The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River in 1973.  (David Falconer, National Archive via Flickr Commons)

We are very pleased to announce that John J. Dougherty's book Flooded by Progress has been acquired by the University of Washington and is headed for publication as part of the Emil and Kathleen Sick Book Series in Western History and Biography. According to the publisher, the series "features scholarly books on the peoples and issues that have defined and shaped the American West." and "seeks to deepen and expand our understanding of the American West as a region and its role in the making of the United States and the modern world." Previous titles in this prestigious series include works written and/or edited by Richard White, Katrine Barber, Andrew H. Fisher, Lissa Wadewitz (a former Center scholar), John Findlay, Alexandra Harmon, Jen Corrine Brown and others.

John is in his second year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center, and is working on completing his manuscript, which began as his doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley. Here, he describes his forthcoming book:

Flooded by Progress: Law, Natural Resources, and Native Rights in the Postwar Pacific Northwest examines the politics of federal Indian law and the changing environmental landscape in the post-World War II Pacific Northwest. It argues that the changing legal status of Native lands and resources was instrumental in both the industrial expansion of the region and environmental changes brought by increased development of natural resources. It highlights how the region’s environmental and economic transformations inequitably burdened Native communities in the Pacific Northwest, from their loss of treaty rights and tribal status to the destruction of tribal lands and natural resources. However, the book also illuminates how Native communities actively navigated critical directions in Indian policy and became powerful stakeholders in regional environmental politics.  

Please join us in congratulating John and in looking forward to his book's debut.

Weighing Californians' Appetite for Water Reductions

Lake Oroville reservoir in the summer of 2014 (California Department of Water Resources)

Buffeted by years of drought, Californians appear more ready than ever to make sacrifices to address the state's water challenges. According to a poll conducted in late August and early September, 54 percent of likely voters in California supported mandatory cutbacks in water supplies, and that "dealing with the state's water problems" topped their priorities for state government. 

Poll respondents also showed high levels of support for a variety of water storage investments, from dams and reservoirs (70 percent in favor), desalination (81 percent), aquifer storage and recharge (89 percent) and stormwater recycling (91 percent). Support for recycled drinking water varied from 10 to 43 percent, with those who knew more about how the process works showing greater comfort with the idea.

Bruce Cain, the Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, helped the Hoover Institution design the poll, which was administered by the polling firm YouGov.  It surveyed 1,500 adult Californians from around the state between August 31 and September 11. 

Earlier this week, Prof. Cain joined a panel at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to talk about the results. Concluding that voters had largely accepted California Governor Jerry Brown's water policy so far, he added a note of caution: "but the reality is that we've done so far is the easy stuff, and what we're facing is potentially a bigger and deeper problem." Cain cited two concerns: one, that California's water infrastructure was designed during what scientists now believe was an atypically wet 20th century, meaning that even normal conditions might be much drier than we realize; second, that rising temperatures due to climate change may undo the state's system of using winter snowpack as a "frozen reservoir."

"That system," he concluded, "is being undermined systematically and it's not clear that if we have to go to deeper cuts if we're going to find that level of public support."

Listen to the full audio of the event:

Ice Patches, Holes in the Ground, and Other Adventures in Yellowstone National Park


By Peter Salazar
B.A., History, 2015
Summer Intern at the Archeology Department, Yellowstone National Park

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

As much as I might have expected the pace of change and dynamism of my job in the Yellowstone Park Archaeologist’s office to slow in the final few weeks, no such thing actually occurred. I could hardly settle into a comfortable office routine before a new task or challenge would rise up and present itself for contemplation or resolution. My day-to-day task of updating, editing, and cleaning up the 2000 park site file records found regular and happy interruption in a number of other projects that continued to expose me further more to the world of archaeology and cultural resource management.

My experience working with GIS software, for example, allowed me to assist my supervisor in updating the park archaeological map, clearing out inconsistencies and filling in data that would make the rather unwieldy map to function in its capacity as a directory for the location and content of all of the park’s archaeological sites. I also had the opportunity to join my supervisor and a group of other natural and cultural resource management professionals on an educational excursion to the Beartooth Mountains (right next to the northeast entrance to the park) to explore the topic of ice patch archaeology, that is, scouring the rapidly melting ice patches of the high alpine regions of the vicinity for artifacts emerging after thousands of years. While we didn’t have any sensational finds on this particular excursion (aside from a well-preserved sheep skull and a spear shaft fragment), the exercise was a fascinating exposure to the issue of how cultural resource management is affected by such a far-reaching issue as global climate change.

And a description of my final few weeks in Yellowstone would be woefully lacking without a reference to my role participating in the Fishing Bridge construction monitoring. A scheduled update of a water main was taking place at Fishing Bridge, one of the principal intersections in the middle of the park, and an extremely sensitive archaeological site – it was there that the only pre-Columbian burials in the entire park were found. Another volunteer and I in the office, Melanie Langa, supervised the work and made sure that nothing of an archaeologically sensitive nature was being disturbed. It’s hard enough to methodically analyze stratigraphy, soil changes, and artifact density in a controlled excavation setting. But when your scientific instrument changes from a trowel to a backhoe, the task becomes exponentially more difficult. Unfortunately (or perhaps thankfully), we did not stumble across any buried settlements or treasure troves, but the exercise was nevertheless a fascinating lesson in geology and archaeological field methods.

I’m sad to go, of course. Yellowstone is a remarkable and breathtaking place to spend one’s summer. I became fond of saying to others that I would be more than happy to scrub toilets all summer, and I would still consider myself to have the emerged with a sweet deal for having been able to live in the park. To be able to live in the park and spend my time doing something that I loved and found interesting, however, makes an already dreamy situation that much better. I don’t know if I’ll end up pursuing a career in archaeology at this point, but this experience was nevertheless a fascinating introduction to the world of careful compromise, concession and dialogue that takes place in the stewardship of natural and cultural resources.

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