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.

Video Report Examines Role of Energy Boom's "Fugitive Emissions" in Ozone Problems

The Center's Rural West Initiative has published a video report exploring the link between emissions caused by oil and gas development in parts of Wyoming and Utah, and increased levels of ozone in those communities. 

With our video feature "The New Western Fugitives," we now turn our focus on a side effect of gas extraction that is literally invisible: the build-up of “fugitive” emissions that contribute to high levels of ozone gas.

Along the Green River in Wyoming and Utah, we look at two basins that have some of the worst ozone pollution in the nation. They have recorded ozone levels that sometimes exceed peak conditions in traffic-choked cities like Los Angeles. Following on a lawsuit by a citizen's group in Pinedale, Wyoming, the EPA has declared Wyoming's Upper Green River Basin a "non-attainment zone" for ozone, a ruling that could carry sanctions against the industry if conditions don't improve.

Further south, in Utah’s Uintah Basin, the EPA is still studying the problem, along with partners from NOAA, Utah’s Department of Air Quality, and the Bureau of Land Management. Environmentalists are frustrated with the delays and say some regulators seem to be in a state of denial.

The video is available at and on Vimeo, and is available for sharing and embedding through a Creative Commons license.

Spring Seminars on the West, and More Upcoming Events

It's our pleasure to announce the lineup for the Bill Lane Center for the American West's Spring Seminars on the West, a series of lunchtime talks by our distinguished visiting scholars, project leaders, and other friends of the Center. Join us for light lunch and fascinating conversation on topics ranging from California as an "island," to the shaping of Oregon's foundation story, to federal water policy in the face of climate change.

We're also looking forward to co-sponsoring a high-level panel discussion on the future of political reform with Sen. Russell D. Feingold and Judge Ken Starr, and to hosting The Honorable David J. Hayes as he speaks about the Interior Department's management of public lands. And coming in mid-May, a special celebration of the memoir The Sun Never Sets: Reflections on a Western Life, by L.W. "Bill" Lane, Jr. and Bertrand Patenaude.

2013 Spring Seminars on the West

Lunchtime Talks begin at 12pm. Please RSVP to each event on its respective page.

Wednesday, April 24 in Y2E2 300
"Pioneers and Indians: The Twin Pillars of Historical Significance at the Oregon Historical Society, 1898-1905"
Sarah Keyes, Postdoctoral Scholar, the Bill Lane Center for the American West

Thursday, May 9 in Mitchell Earth Sciences Building, Room 67
"The California Archipelago: Thinking About Mapping California"
Rebecca Solnit, Research Fellow, the Bill Lane Center for the American West

Friday, May 17, in Y2E2 300
"Weathering Change: An Assessment of Federal Water Policies in The Face of a Changing Climate"
Andrew Fahlund, Executive Director, Water in the West at Stanford

Additional Upcoming Events – Save the Date

Tuesday, April 30 at 7:15 pm in Paul Brest Hall, Stanford (reception 6:30pm) 
The Future of Political Reform
Panel Discussion with Sen. Russell D. Feingold and Judge Ken Starr

Thursday, May 2 at 5:30 pm in Jordan Hall Auditorium, Building 420, Room 40
Adopting a Landscape-Level Approach to Managing our Nation's Public Lands
The Honorable David J. Hayes

Tuesday, May 14 at 4:30pm in the Lane History Corner, Building 200, Room 203
The Sun Never Sets: Reflections on a Western Life – Celebrating the Memoirs of L.W. "Bill" Lane, Jr.
Bertrand Patenaude, Stanford University

Defining "Nature" in an Urbanizing World

Innovative “CityNature” project launches website in collaboration with the Bill Lane Center for the American West

CityNature's "Naturehoods Explorer" application

How do city dwellers experience nature? Through parks, of course, but what about less obvious green spaces like tree-lined streets, backyards, and unpaved lots? An innovative new research project called CityNature has launched a website and suite of interactive tools to help explore the question of how U.S. cities provide open and green space to their residents. Accessible at, the website presents data, digital tools and some early results from some of the project's initial studies.

Created by the Center's former executive director Jon Christensen and an interdisciplinary group of researchers at Stanford, the project seeks to combine historical scholarship with rigorous spatial analysis and innovative text mining and topic modeling. To this end, the website features several interactive mapping and data visualization tools to help users explore various data sets and understand concepts framed by the research.

Exploring Space, Data and Planning Documents

One of these, called “Naturehoods Explorer,” is an interactive application that compares 2,600 neighborhoods in 34 U.S. cities across a number of spatial, economic and demographic measures. Are neighborhoods with less parkland typically lower-income? Do housing prices correlate with access to green spaces? The tool not only lets users explore individual cities by neighborhood, but also lets them create "Frankencities" composed of neighborhoods nationwide that share similar characteristics, like high "park need" and low income, or vice-versa.

The researchers have also made use of natural-language processing techniques to text-mine city planning documents and draw insights into the differing policies and philosophies of American cities. Users can explore the results through a feature called "The Language of Nature."

Stanford Technologists and Students

In addition to the extensive development work contributed by the digital humanities specialists Karl Grossner and Elijah Meeks of the Stanford Libraries, the site showcases research by a large team of Stanford student researchers who began as research assistants at the Center during the summer of 2012. You can read more in our Out West student blog about the work contributed by Isabella Aaker, Alice Avery, Nicholas Biddle, Monica Climaco, Jennifer Farman,Alex Kindel, Jared Naimark, Claudia Preciado and Sarah Quartey. Their work has brought a wealth of data and analysis to the project on nearly 40 U.S. cities.

The project will continue to roll out new research and tools, such as an interactive map chronicling the growth of Los Angeles' park system. The CityNature team encourages questions and feedback, and is reachable through email and Twitter.

You can read more about the project in posts that appeared today on Atlantic Cities and The Nature Conservancy's Cool Green Science blog.

At Stanford, Tracing the Roots of a Pan-American Connection

The Curaumilla Coast in Chile (FoundArt via Flickr)

Edward (“Ted”) Melillo is an Assistant Professor in the History Department and the Environmental Studies Program at Amherst College, where he teaches courses on global environmental history and the history of the Pacific World. Over the winter, Melillo spent three months at the Center as a visiting scholar.

During my time at the Bill Lane Center for the American West, I was able to use Stanford’s extensive historical collections to finish revisions to my forthcoming book, Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection, 1786-2008. In January, I had the chance to give a lunchtime talk about my research as part of the Center's seminar series, and among the attendees were several Chileans and Bay Area residents of Chilean descent who stayed afterwards for a lively discussion.

My book charts a series of unexpected routes along a north-south axis, in order to rediscover sites where the women and men of Chile and California profoundly altered each other’s social and environmental histories. These zones of engagement are countless. Between the 1780s and the 1930s, new crops, foods, fertilizers, mining technologies, laborers, and ideas from Chile radically changed California’s development. Likewise, systems of servitude, exotic species, and capitalist development schemes from California dramatically shaped Chilean history from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. Strangers on Familiar Soil unfolds along a chronological arc, extending from 1786 when a French expedition brought the potato from Chile to California to 2008 when Chilean President Michelle Bachelet made a major diplomatic visit to the Golden State. From the earliest botanical exchanges to the most recent cooperative agreements, the peoples and environments of Chile and California have been deeply interconnected with each other and with a wider Pacific World.

The peoples and environments of the Pacific are also central to my most recent article, “The First Green Revolution: Debt Peonage and the Making of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Trade, 1840-1930,” which appeared in the October 2012 issue of the American Historical Review. During my residency at the Bill Lane Center, I was honored to learn that the piece received the Alice Hamilton Prize from the American Society for Environmental History for the best article of the year.

I also spent some of my three-month fellowship co-editing a volume with James Beattie of the University of Waikato, New Zealand and Emily O’Gorman of the University of Wollongong, Australia. The book, Networks of Nature in the British Empire: New Views on Imperial Environmental History (London: Continuum Press, 2014), brings together twelve scholars from North America, Europe, South Asia, Africa, and Australasia to examine the networks of environmental exchanges connecting various parts of the British Empire in the nineteenth century and the outcomes of these transfers for cultures and ecosystems across the globe. In mid-February, I travelled to New Zealand to meet up with my colleagues and hike among the North Island’s extensive stands of California redwoods and Monterey pines. With a bit of human help, California’s botanical legacy has found its way to nearly every corner of the Pacific!

In the future, I will return to California, New Zealand, and Chile to continue research for my second book, which explores the maritime connections between the island of Nantucket and the peoples and environments of the Pacific World. The Nantucket Historical Association recently named me their 2013 Verney Fellow. As part of my fellowship, I will travel to Nantucket in October to deliver a public lecture at the Nantucket Whaling Museum.

Water in the West Website Relaunches with New Features, Contributors

Water in the West, the Center's joint project with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, has opened a new chapter with the launch of an updated and expanded website. Over the coming months, the site will feature regular posts by project staff, researchers, and guest contributors on current events in western water, emerging scholarship, and related events organized by the project and its collaborators.

Andrew Fahlund, the executive director of Water in the West, writes:

Please look around this site to learn more about how we are engaging in research and dialogues to help achieve a future of sustainable water management for the American West.

Reaching a broader audience is fundamental to the mission of Water in the West. Our blog, the Western Water Forum, is dedicated to commenting on current events, communicating our latest research in plain language, and bridging the divide between academia, practitioners and policymakers. Authors will include faculty, visiting scholars, staff and students from Water in the West, as well as the occasional guest. We hope that you will come back regularly to learn about what we’re up to and make suggestions and recommendations about our future direction.

Heather West Wins Scholarship for Western Land Conservation Research

From left: Heather West, Whitney Leonard and Hanna Mershman, 2013 Wyss Scholars from Yale University

A year after leaving the Center to pursue degrees in environmental management and business administration, our former program and research associate Heather West (Stanford, '09) has been awarded a scholarship from the Wyss Foundation to further pursue her graduate work at Yale University and in the American West.

West, who is in her second year in the Master in Environmental Management and Master in Business Administration programs, is dedicating her research to "understanding and improving the relationships of individuals and their natural environments, with the intention of bringing together unique stakeholders to achieve large-scale land conservation." 

The Wyss Scholars Program supports graduate-level education for up-and-coming leaders in western land conservation. The awards support tuition and other expenses toward the master’s degree, and offer an additional award to cover conservation work experience in summer research or internships.

While at the Center, Heather served as chief mentor and teaching assistant to undergraduates on our three-week Sophomore College on the Colorado River watershed. She also oversaw our student internship program placing undergraduates in government and nonprofit organizations along the West Coast. 

Please join us in congratulating Heather and in looking forward to her continued work in western conservation. 

Center's Interactive Map Honored by Cartographic Society

The interactive feature "Envisioning California's Delta as it Was," which takes users on a tour of the historical Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, has won Honorable Mention in the Interactive Digital Category of the 40th Annual Cartography and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS) Map Competition. According to CaGIS, the judges found the map "particularly pleasing from an aesthetic perspective, as well as intuitive to read."

As part of the award, according to CaGIS, a copy of the interactive feature is being submitted to the Library of Congress for cataloguing. The Bill Lane Center produced "Envisioning California's Delta" in collaboration with KQED Public Media's science and environment program QUEST and the San Francisco Estuary Institute's Aquatic Science Center. Based on an extensive historical ecology survey of the Delta conducted by SFEI for the California Department of Fish and Game, the interactive was a collaborative work of scientists, journalists and technologists, and was published on KQED's website in May 2012 as part of a comprehensive radio, tv and web series on the Delta and its future.

Past winners of the CaGIS awards include National Geographic Maps, The University of Oregon, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and San Diego State University. 

Technology and Up-Close Reporting Help Environmental Stories Make a Difference

It took more than two months for a camera attached to a remote trigger to capture just the right picture of pronghorn antelope crossing Wyoming's Green River. Photograph: Joe Riis
How is technology changing wildlife reporting? The 2013 Knight-Risser Symposium on February 20 brought together a panel of journalists and scientists to consider this and other questions raised by the 2012 Knight-Risser Prize winner, "Perilous Passage," which chronicled the epic migration of pronghorn antelope in Wyoming. The prize and symposium are co-organized by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford.

By Robin Evans
John S. Knight Fellowships

If journalists want their environmental stories to make a real difference, it may not be enough to just conduct research and interviews and publish. Today’s audiences need to identify with the issue – to visualize it, even experience it – in a personal way.

That’s what writer Emilene Ostlind and photographer Joe Riis were able to do with “Perilous Passage,” their two-year project on pronghorn antelope migration in Wyoming. It won the 2012 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. And it encouraged changes, big and small, to keep this ancient migration path, one of the longest in the western hemisphere, safe for its four-legged travelers. Wireless photography tools and immersive fieldwork made it possible.

The use of technology in wildlife journalism was the topic of the Knight-Risser Prize Symposium at Stanford, at which the annual journalism prize is presented. The Knight-Risser Prize, which also comes with a $5,000 award, recognizes the best environmental reporting on the North American West — from Canada through the United States to Mexico. They symposium explores new ways to ensure that such sophisticated environmental reporting survives.

The discussion, moderated by photographer and John S. Knight Journalism Fellow Samaruddin Stewart, included the two prize winners, Philippe Cohen, executive director of Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, and Susan McConnell, a nature photographer and Stanford biology professor.

Complete Video of the Symposium (Story continues below)

A Personal Story

Ostlind went out backpacking to find the pronghorn’s path, later detailing her challenges along with that of the pronghorns’. “She got lost in drainages, battled through thick brush, and post-holed her way through deep snow,” said Paul Larmer, executive director of High Country News, where her story was published. She alerted Riis about good observation locations. He then went out to place cameras with remote triggers. During subsequent migrations, the cameras captured unprecedented video and close-ups of the antelopes fording rivers, cleaving willow thickets and maneuvering housing developments, highways and natural gas fields.

Syndicate content