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.

Center News and Notes

Adventures On and Off the Pacific Northwest Trail



Image: Sunset on the Pacific Northwest Trail in the Kettle Range

By Courtney Pal
B.S., Earth Systems: Anthrosphere and B.A., Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, 2018
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Intern in Colville, Washington

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.

When I think back on these past two months in Colville, Washington, what stands out to me the most is the breathtaking places that I’ve seen and the interesting people that I’ve met. Take last night, for example. I spent the evening sitting on the porch of Snow Peak Cabin, a little shelter nestled high in the Kettle Crest. Pouring through the trail registers for the past few years, it was easy to see the growth in popularity of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT), the trail on which the cabin sits—and the trail I’ve spent the past two months studying.

“7-23-10,” one entry is dated. “Greetings to whomever. We, I believe, are two of only one or two other PNT hikers currently on the trail.” Then, jump ahead a few years—now it’s 2015, and another set of thru-hikers have made an entry. “We wish we had gotten here at 5:30pm rather than 9:30am,” this one says. It doesn’t mention that there will be somewhere close to 20 additional thru-hikers coming through that same summer. The trail isn’t crowded now by any means, but it’s not as rare to spot a PNT thru-hiker these days. As I found out, you can ask almost any business owner in either of the three trail towns that I've worked with-- Metaline Falls, Northport, and Republic. The hikers are coming through now more and more regularly, bringing with them the opportunity for towns to develop a sustainable recreation economy.

Off the trail, my main task has been hosting community meetings in each of the three trail towns located in Northeastern Washington. Prior to these meetings, I had spent time going door-to-door in towns talking to local business owners and residents about the economic opportunities the trail offered. I was excited that the meetings would offer the opportunity for an even greater segment of the public to get involved in planning how their community could grow around the trail. Indeed, some of the most insightful comments that I heard dealt not singularly with business or recreation, but the intersections between enhancing those opportunities and also highlighting community history, encouraging healthier lifestyles, and growing a sense of town pride. While much of the opposition to the trail that I had encountered in my position came from a fear that it would change traditional rural ways of life, at these meetings people came together to brainstorm ways in which it could preserve tradition and uplift it. I was especially enthusiastic to hear ideas in Northport about allowing hikers to use amenities at a newly planned local museum and visitor’s center. There is no shortage of great ideas in these towns to utilize the opportunities that the PNT provides.

Looking back on my plans for this summer, there are some things that I was not able to do—while I promised myself I’d learn how to bake three different huckleberry recipes, the huckleberry muffins that I made were so delicious I didn’t have the heart to make anything else after. Also, I may have found that I have a slight preference for wild raspberries… although that’s blasphemy to say around here, so I keep quiet about it! Other goals for my internship have definitely been fulfilled. Working with both the US Forest Service and Tri County Economic Development District has allowed me to sample the same interdisciplinary fields that I study in class, in the real world. I’ve enjoyed my adventures this summer – both the ones on and off the trail – so much, and learned so much from them as well.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Exploration of Global Groundwater Overuse Wins 2016 Knight-Risser Prize

The Desert Sun and USA Today

A sobering exploration of groundwater overuse in the United States and around the world has won the 2016 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. The series "Pumped Dry: The Global Crisis of Vanishing Groundwater" was written by Ian James of the Desert Sun, with photographs, a documentary film and information graphics by Steve Elfers and Steve Reilly of USA Today. The winners will share in a $5,000 prize and will be invited to Stanford to take part in an environmental journalism symposium this fall.

This year's competition also gave a special recognition to "Killing the Colorado," a series by the investigative website ProPublica and Matter magazine. 

Established in 2005 and co-administered by the Bill Lane Center and the John S. Knight Fellowships at Stanford, the Knight-Risser Prize celebrates the best western environmental journalism each year.

Read more about the winners, and see the complete series on the Knight-Risser Prize website »

Summer Exhibitions Highlight California and the American West

Upper Kern River, 1876, by William Keith, on display at the Cantor Arts Center

This summer brings a number of visual arts exhibitions on California and the American West to the Bay Area's leading cultural institutions. Here's a rundown of exhibitions at the Cantor Arts Center, SF Moma, the DeYoung Museum, and the Legion of Honor, from now into the fall.

How Artists Documented – and Mythologized California's Waterscape

California: The Art of Water
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University
June 18-November 28

A new exhibit at the Cantor Arts Center traces the changing California landscape through a wealth of images ranging from epic 19th paintings to dissonant and thought-provoking images by postmodern photographers. 

The curators write:

California: The Art of Water examines the way artists and photographers have portrayed one of California's most precious resources over the last two centuries.  The exhibition features over 50 works of water subjects by eminent artists, including Ansel Adams, Albert Bierstadt, David Hockney, Richard Misrach, Carleton Watkins, and others.
 

The exhibition links visions of natural beauty and progress with depictions of places where patterns of water use destroyed thriving environments. Many 19th-century artists created images that portray California as a place of pristine lakes and rivers, while later painters and photographers captured the immense and growing system of waterworks--titanic dams, pipelines, and aqueducts---that moved water for hundreds of miles across the state. The visitor to California: The Art of Water will encounter works of art that raise urgent questions about the human relationship with water in the state.

Also happening in the Bay Area this summer:

Wild West: Plains to the Pacific
Legion of Honor, San Francisco
June 18-September 11

"Mined from the wide-ranging collections of the Fine Arts Museums, Wild West explores artistic responses to the natural and cultivated landscapes of the western United States from the frontier era to the present. The exhibition features paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, historical artifacts, and ephemera in a thematic presentation that celebrates the abundance and diversity within the region’s physical environment. (This is a companion exhibition to Ed Ruscha and the Great American West, below).

"Included in Wild West are works by Albert Bierstadt, Maynard Dixon, Ester Hernández, Thomas Moran, Eadweard Muybridge, Chiura Obata, Bill Owens, Frederic Remington, Ed Ruscha, Fritz Scholder, Michael Schwab, Wayne Thiebaud, Carleton Watkins, Emmi Whitehorse, and other artists, whose diverse range of approaches to the theme contribute to a multifaceted picture of the American West."

 

California and the West: Photography from the Campaign for Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
May 14–September 5

"California and the West — the title taken from Edward Weston’s celebrated book — consists of gifts and promised gifts to the museum that depict wild nature as a spiritual resource, illustrate how land here has been used over time, and explore diverging photographic approaches, from evocation to documentation to self-conscious art making. Arranged roughly chronologically, from the medium’s invention in the nineteenth century to the present, this exhibition reveals changes in the landscape as well as shifts in photographic attitudes and subject matter. Artists on view include Ansel Adams, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Lewis Baltz, Imogen Cunningham, and Lee Friedlander, as well as Dorothea Lange, Ed Ruscha, Larry Sultan, Edward Weston, and Minor White, among others."

 

Ed Ruscha and the Great American West
DeYoung Museum, San Francisco
July 16-October 9

"Ed Ruscha and the Great American West includes 99 works that reveal the artist’s engagement with the American West and its starring role in our national mythology. This exclusive exhibition has been organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and celebrates the career of one of the world’s most influential and critically acclaimed artists.

"Ruscha continues to work steadily at the age of 78, and this exhibition includes prints made as recently as 2015. He maintains a studio in the California desert and makes regular road trips through the spare and evocative landscapes that first inspired him as a young man. Ruscha has now worked in California for more than 50 years, and this exhibition celebrates his long commitment to exploring the American west as both romantic concept and modern reality."

On the Trail in the Inland Northwest



Image: The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail runs 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific Ocean. Here, the trail as it winds through Northeastern Washington.

By Courtney Pal
B.S., Earth Systems: Anthrosphere and B.A., Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, 2018
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Intern in Colville, Washington

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.

The first time I set foot on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT), I didn’t even realize I was on the trail. It was my second day on the job after arriving in Colville, Washington, a small town of 4,700 people in the northeastern corner of the state. A coworker from the Forest Service was taking me out to see a new land parcel that the Colville National Forest had just acquired. We were talking about the economics of land acquisition, driving down a muddy forest road, when he pulled out a map and looked at it quizzically: “You know, I think we’ve actually been on the PNT for the past twenty minutes,” he told me. The fact that the old road we were driving on just happened to also be part of America’s newest National Scenic Trail – and what had brought me to northeastern Washington – certainly surprised me. Excitedly, I stepped out of the rig to take a look around.

Not many people know about the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, but it’s a gem of the National Scenic Trails system. The trail stretches 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific Ocean. While parts of the PNT have wilderness that rivals its fellow long-distance trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail, what I love most about the trail is its deep history and culture.

Walking the PNT tells a story of the economic forces that have shaped the Pacific Northwest for the past few decades. The trail is not spared from view sheds that show the impact of clear cut timber harvest, and it isn’t unusual to meet some of the inhabitants of the grazing allotments that dot this National Forest. But what’s really special about the trail is the towns that it passes through: in the part where I’m working, that means the towns of Metaline Falls (pop. 200), Northport (pop. 300), and Republic (pop. 1000). These towns tell stories too, from the old-schoolhouse-turned-theatre in Metaline Falls, to the Wild West architecture on Main Street in Republic.

My work this summer focuses on connecting small businesses in these towns to the trail and the economic opportunities that it offers. My first step will be going door-to-door downtown to speak with business owners about the trail. I spent my first week here creating a “hiker friendly business guide” for just that purpose. Many people here don’t know about the trail or what hikers want to purchase while they’re in town, so I’m hopeful that this guide will start to raise awareness about this opportunity. After I have these one-on-one conversations, I’ll be hosting a community meeting in each of the trail towns to get feedback from the broader public about how they see the role of the trail in their community. I strongly believe that the future direction of the trail should lie in the hands of community members, and I’m planning these meetings to reflect that vision.

Next week, I’ll begin venturing out into the trail towns with my meticulously prepared materials and friendly pitches about the trial. For now, most of my work has been either in the office of the Tri-County Economic Development District, or out in the field with the Forest Service. I’ve been surprised at how easily I’ve been able to transition between these two very different agencies, but I’m loving every second of the interdisciplinary and connective work that I’m doing. I’m looking forward to the rest of my summer in this community.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Center Interns Go Out West for the Summer

Top row: Emily Santhanam, Seth Chambers, Rachel Lam, Justin Appleby; Middle row: Emilia Schrier, Jaclyn Marcatili, Kate Roberts, Courtney Pal; Bottom row: Julia Goolsby, Sarah Flamm, Iain Espey, Princess Umodu
Not pictured: Caroline Spears (Click image to enlarge)

As summer begins, the Bill Lane Center will once again send a group of students off for a unique set of Western adventures. This year’s cohort includes 13 undergraduates and co-terms who will be spending their summers working in national parks, nature conservancies, hiking trails, rivers, or cities of the West. Stay tuned for blog posts from each of our interns as they chronicle their experiences throughout the summer.

2016 Interns in the West

Location Topic Intern
Henry's Fork Foundation Environmental Modeling Internship Justin Appleby
Heyday Books Sales and Marketing Internship Iain Espey
San Francisco Estuary Institute Resilient Landscapes Program Internship Kate Roberts
Yellowstone National Park Archaeology Internship Seth Chambers
Yellowstone National Park Curatorial Internship Emily Santhanam
Yosemite National Park Archives & Records Management Internship Emilia Schrier
Yosemite National Park Museum Internship Rachel Lam
National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Studies Internship Princess Umodu
Trust for Public Land Government Affairs Internship Sarah Flamm
Trust for Public Land Climate-Smart Cities Internship Caroline Spears
Santa Lucia Conservancy Adaptive Management and Conservation Internship Julia Goolsby
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trial Trail and Community Development Internship Courtney Pal
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Historic Landscape Documentation Intern Jaclyn Marcatili

This summer, read about our interns on the Out West student blog. During the summer quarter, Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their work at organizations thoughout the West.

Learn more about our summer internships »

Center Media Fellow Explores Decline of Ranching on Public Lands

Click to see the full graphic on High Country News

The armed standoff at Bundy Ranch in southern Nevada in 2013 reignited a long-running debate over ranching on public lands. Cliven Bundy's refusal to pay fees for cattle grazing rallied those who felt that large holdings of federal land were smothering economic opportunity in the West – in Nevada, for example, nearly 85 percent of the land is owned by parts of the federal government.

A powerful and enduring symbol of the American West, rangeland cattle grazing has nonetheless been shrinking for many years, with the amount of livestock on federal lands dropping by more than half since the 1950s. Nevada has been hit particularly hard, declining nearly 75 percent from its modern peak in 1954.

But is federal policy to blame for the decline of western ranchers? With the support of a Western Enterprise Media Fellowship from the Bill Lane Center, the journalist Tay Wiles set out to understand what is ailing cattle ranching. To this end, Wiles and her colleagues gathered 50 years of grazing data from the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service, some of which had never been digitized before. In the resulting story for High Country News, Wiles writes,

One of the prime drivers of the 45-year-old Sagebrush Rebellion, the movement to take control of public lands from the federal government, is the sense that rural western ranchers are bullied by forces beyond their control. That narrative remains compelling, in part because it’s true.
 

In looking for forces behind ranching's decline, Wiles finds more to blame than environmental regulations (the most widely criticized federal policy), all of which have contributed to a "perfect storm" buffeting ranchers: the switch to polyester yarn after World War II, which depressed demand for wool; the growing use of feedlots to raise cattle, which lowered the cost of beef and cut ranchers' operating margins; private conservation organizations that bought and retired grazing lands; advances in rangeland science, which set limits of how much livestock arid landscapes could support; and in many areas, urban growth – Bundy's ranch in Southern Nevada ranch is situated in the same county as fast-growing Las Vegas.

If those factors haven't been hard enough for ranchers to endure, prolonged droughts have added more hardship, Wiles writes, forcing ranchers "to sell off animals that their allotments can no longer support."

The full report contains a number of maps and data visualizations tracing the changing fortunes of western cattle ranching.

Read more at High Country News »

New Poll Finds Support for Clinton and Trump in California - Up to a Point

With Memorial Day behind us and the California presidential primaries just a week away, the latest Golden State Poll shows Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to be in good shape. According to the poll, Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by 13 points (51 to 38 percent), while Trump stood at 66 percent support. But the poll also warns that the front-runners in both parties face coming obstacles: in Clinton's case, a lack of enthusiasm among younger voters, and for Trump, weaker support among California Republicans than Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee.

In other races, Attorney General Kamala Harris leads Rep. Loretta Sanchez (26 to 13 percent) and three Republican challengers (standing at 6 percent) in the race to succeed outgoing U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

Stanford News Service has a summary of the poll findings

Clinton, meanwhile, continues to struggle with younger primary voters – Sanders leads 61 percent to 30 percent among Californians under 30 and shows weakness among “no party preference” voters, trailing Sanders by 40 points. Clinton leads among registered Democratic voters by 17 points.


Bruce Cain, the Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Center, said: “The huge age divide in the Democratic contest poses a serious strategic question for the Clinton campaign: Spend a lot of money now to try to offset or reduce this gap to avoid an embarrassing primary outcome that will not affect the delegate count much, or be patient, save her money and address the problem in the fall.”

Carson Bruno has a deeper analysis in the new issue of Hoover's Eureka magazine, in which he looks at Californians' attitudes towards the economy, which he says are brightening overall:

Looking forward, while a majority of Californians think their finances will remain the same over the next six months, again we see general movement in the better off direction.  Moreover, for the first time a majority (54%) of employed Californians are confident in their ability to find a similarly paying new job in the next 6 months.

The quarterly poll of 1,700 adult Californians was administered by YouGov for the Hoover Institution, and was designed in association with The Bill Lane Center for the American West. 

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