The Rural West: Toward a Regional Approach to Common Issues

Two-Day Conference in Ogden, Utah
Saturday, October 13, 2012, 7:00am –
Sunday, October 14, 2012, 2:00pm

2415 Washington Boulevard
Ogden, Utah 84401-2315
(801) 689-8600

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Many parts of the rural West share several attributes: an abundance of fossil fuels, scarcity of water, vast tracts of land under federal control, sizeable migrant labor populations, distinctive patterns of drug and alcohol abuse, and limited access to credit, air and rail transportation, and health care, including reproductive health services.

But despite shared issues, scholars, journalists, and policymakers concerned with the rural West have had few opportunities to gather together, raise awareness, and seek solutions to the region's distinctive problems. Western governments have rarely succeeded in forging regional policies to address common rural issues. For example, hoping to be more attractive to energy companies, states levy dramatically different severance taxes for the extraction of fossil fuels. Rural community newspapers have proven successful with tightly-focused local stories but often ignore their regional dimensions and implications. Stakeholders, including the Western Governors Association, refer to a new “era of cooperation” between the upper and lower basin states on the Colorado River, but have made little progress in rationalizing water transfers between rural farmers and cities. On the federal lands front, payments to rural counties from the Secure Rural Schools Act and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) are in jeopardy as the budget tightens, threatening to escalate tensions between western states and the federal government. Airport and post-office closures threaten to further exacerbate rural isolation. Rural health care, already in short supply, is further jeopardized by new budget cuts.

In October 2012, the Rural West Initiative of the Bill Lane Center for the American West will bring together in Ogden, Utah, approximately fifty scholars, journalists, representatives of NGOs, and state officials to discuss issues affecting the rural West. Participants will engage in seminar-style discussions of pre-circulated papers. Following the conference, selected peer-reviewed papers will be published in Rural Connections, a publication of the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University.