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.

Upcoming Event: Uncovering a Little-Known Agency's Toll on Wildlife

Poster for the Knight-Risser Prize Symposium, to be held at Stanford on February 5.

Amid the national debate about the National Security Agency's aggressive surveillance measures, and as the federal government continues to crack down on media leaks by public employees, a recent series by Tom Knudson in the Sacramento Bee raises a complementary question: how can reporters keep government transparent and accountable?

Knudson's series, "A Killing Agency," focuses on a little-known part of the Department of Agriculture called Wildlife Services. Founded during the first World War to help protect farmers and ranchers from wolves, Wildlife Services' mandate now includes trapping and killing animals that pose a threat to agriculture, transportation and the environment. Since 2000 alone, the agency has killed millions of animals, from hundreds of species, and all too often its indiscriminate use of traps and poisons has killed endangered species like wolverines and bald eagles, as well as house pets.

"A Killing Agency" was recognized by the judges of the Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism as the finest story of 2013. Based on dozens of interviews and many Freedom of Information Act requests, Knudson compiled an exhaustive record of an agency driven to extremes. 

To learn more about how Tom Knudson got the story, and to be part of a larger discussion of the future of government accountability reporting, please join us for the Knight-Risser Prize Symposium at Stanford University on Wednesday, February 5 at 4:15pm. We'll honor the Sacramento Bee's report and hold a panel discussion with a group of educators and journalists. The panel will be followed by a reception. Attendees are welcome to register on the symposium event page, and are asked to please RSVP by January 28.

The Knight-Risser Prize and Symposium are jointly administered by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the John. S Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford.

Letter from the Faculty Director: An Eventful 2013

See photo captions at foot of article

Along with the Stanford University campus, The Bill Lane Center for the American West will be shutting down Friday for winter recess until January 6. As we near the end of a productive year, we offer the following reflections from the Center's newly designated Faculty Director, Professor Bruce E. Cain

The past year at the Bill Lane Center for the American West was particularly eventful. In addition to the Center’s many research programs, public events and undergraduate activities, there were important changes in leadership and staffing. David M. Kennedy, a founding Director, was finally able to hand over the Center’s academic leadership responsibilities to his successor and enjoy his version of “retirement,” which does not even remotely resemble what other people mean by the term. He has agreed to take a position on the Lane Center’s Advisory Council and has continued to play an active role in developing programs, raising funds, and giving strategic advice. In addition, David will be co-teaching a new interdisciplinary undergraduate course on the American West that will be offered in Spring 2014. Fortunately for us, David completely misunderstands the retirement concept. We have no intention of correcting him.

Kathy Zonana has now had a little more that a full year’s experience as Associate Director, taking over the administrative duties previously handled by Jon Christensen. Among her many achievements in the past year, she hired Kathy Montgomery to replace Laura Ma as the Center’s Financial and Administrative Manager and Minh Chau Ho to succeed Madeline Weeks as our Program Associate. Laura and Madeline were invaluable members of our community and replacing them with equally talented individuals was not easy, but we could not be more pleased. The Lane Center now has three distinguished Stanford alums on its staff keeping a watchful eye on a faculty Director who spent 21 years at a university that cannot be politely mentioned on the Stanford campus. Kathy Zonana also led the successful effort to draft the new bylaws for the Center’s Advisory Council. Nancy Pfund has become Chair of the Advisory Council, and Nelson Ishiyama its Vice Chair. In addition to David Kennedy, we added David J. Hayes, former Deputy Secretary of the Interior, to the Council’s membership.

Our goal in this transition is to nurture and extend the Lane Center’s mission of promoting education and research about the American West. The previous leadership and staff gave the Lane Center a remarkably successful start. They established important projects such as Water in the West, Comparative Wests and the Rural West Initiative. They developed many undergraduate internship placements and research opportunities for Stanford’s talented students and established now-annual traditions like the Walking the Farm and the State of the West Symposium. Moving forward, we seek to strengthen these activities and look for new opportunities to extend the Center’s reach and impact.

 

(Click "read more" to read the continuation)

 

Trilateral U.S.-Canada-Mexico Relationship Is Focus of Third State of the West Symposium

Full video of the symposium is available for viewing in the player above and on YouTube.

Regional free trade and North America's energy issues were front and center at the third annual State of the West Symposium, which took place on the Stanford campus on November 14. Co-sponsored by the Center and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the half-day conference observed the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement and looked at how the region's energy future has been transformed by unconventional fuel production and renewables.

Leading off the event was the head of Mexico's central bank, Agustin Carstens, who discussed regional economic integration and recalled a proposal to unify North American currencies under an "Amero." (Video)

A panel looking back at the NAFTA ratification in 1992 brought together three of the original architects for the United States, Mexico, and Canada: Michael Boskin, Jaime Serra and John Weekes. Moderating was the Center's founding co-director, David M. Kennedy. (Video)

A second panel looked at regional energy policies and brought together experts from the three nations: former U.S. energy secretary Steven Chu, the petroleum consultant and former Mexican national oil company executive Adrian Lajous, and Canada's former environment minister Jim Prentice. The panel was moderated by the business leader and philanthropist Tom Steyer. (Video)

The event closed with a keynote address by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who described his state as uniquely positioned to innovate in both renewable energy and fossil fuels, and previewed a new policy initiative aiming to eliminate "fugitive" emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases from gas and oil production. (Video)

Social media coverage of the conference is available in the continuation of this article.

Americans’ Last Frontier

By Katie Kramon
B.S. Earth Systems and Modern Languages minor, 2015
Summer Intern at American Prairie Reserve

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 American Prairie Reserve wants to restore wildlife populations to numbers that haven’t been seen in a hundred years or more, but how do they know what was there? That is the question that my predecessor, Michelle Berry, worked with for ten weeks last summer, and I have continued with for the past ten weeks. The word “prairie” traditionally doesn’t bring to mind the abundance of natural habitat and biodiversity found in America’s national parks, but rather cornfields, agriculture, perhaps windswept wheat, but not much more than that. APR is here to change that perception, and demonstrate the incredible value of the Great Plains—as a natural habitat, and one that Americans will want to keep around for the future. 

A large part of this value is in the wildlife that used to thrive on the plains, and in some cases, still does. Michelle and I hoped to enrich APR’s story by giving an idea of what used to be out on the prairie, and the plethora of animals that encountered Lewis and Clark, the fur trappers, and others who had the good fortune of visiting the Great Plains before many populations were wiped out. 

On arrival at APR, I had no concept of what the Great Plains once had to offer. I could guess they had prairie dogs, coyotes, the occasional sage grouse, but was ignorant of the variety of species and sheer quantity that called the prairie home—everything from the iconic bison to the grizzly bear, the pronghorn antelope, and the elk.

Sophomore College 2013: Alaska

The Bill Lane Center for the American West has just published its report on its Sophomore College 2013 course.  This is the latest in a series of field-based Sophomore College courses, following trips in Idaho and Colorado.

Twelve Stanford sophomores took part in this year's course, "In the Age of the Anthropocene: Coupled-Human Natural Systems of Southeast Alaska," and they brought back stories, insight, and memorable photographs to share.  Led by Environmental Earth System Science professor Rob Dunbar, four graduate-student instructors, and a course assistant, the sophomores traveled to this pristine landscape to grapple with sustainable resource management issues surrounding forestry, fisheries, energy, and tourism.

READ MORE »
Explore our other Sophomore College courses »

An Island Is Anything Surrounded By Difference: Thoughts on Maps and History

Detail from 1700s map from the Glen McLaughlin Maps Collection at the Stanford Libraries

Author Rebecca Solnit was a visiting researcher at the Center in the Winter and Spring of 2013, exploring Stanford's newly acquired collection of historic maps that curiously depict California as an island off the West coast of North America. The maps date from the 1600s to the 1860s, and are now viewable online through the Stanford University Libraries

For those inclined toward research, there is nothing more luxurious than an invitation to delve into an archive and no more delicious territory than an extensive array of primary documents, two glories I’m still profoundly grateful Stanford offered me this year, and to which I hope to return as time permits. I feel now like an explorer who had to turn back after only catching sight of the splendors and curiosities of the terrain. I will return. That the material I focused on was astonishingly gorgeous—hundreds of maps full of compass roses, mermen splashing on seahorses, an allegorical America riding an armadillo, land masses whose edges were delicately tinted in golds and roses and greens, western places I’ve visited mingling confidently with places that don’t exist – made it all the richer. But that was frosting; the cake, or the central concept, was about California and islands.

It must have been in 2009, when I was working on my atlas of San Francisco, that the great map collector David Rumsey told me the biggest private collection of maps of California as an island was also in the Bay Area, in the hands of Glen McLaughlin. I thought that someday I would look him up and ask to see the maps, and the very idea of this trove within reach was intoxicating, magical, alluring. And then it came very much more within range when Stanford acquired the collection and made it available to me.

I had long thought that we asked the wrong question of these maps, which are usually discussed as though the most salient point is that they are wrong. To me, in other crucial ways they are right, in ways that raise resonant questions about what California is and what islands are. To me an island is anything surrounded by difference, which is why we also talk about heat islands or cultural islands, and California—a densely populated landscape of great biological diversity and richness surrounded by ocean, desert and mountains, beyond which lie starker realms—is all kinds of island, or archipelago.

Exposé of Federal Predator Overkill Wins Knight-Risser Prize


Leg-hold traps are used to capture and kill animals such as coyotes. photo: Steve Thompson/US Fish and Wildlife Service

Tom Knudson and the Sacramento Bee have been named winners of the 2013 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism for the investigative series “The Killing Agency,"  about a little-known federal government agency whose "brutal methods leave a trail of animal death.”


Tom Knudson

The $5,000 prize honors excellence in reporting on environmental issues in the North American West, and is jointly administered by the Center and the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford.

The Bee's 2012 project examining Wildlife Services focuses on a a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency whose strategy for controlling animals deemed of risk to livestock and the public has killed millions of predators and other species across the West, often in ways that are inhumane, excessive and at odds with science.

It shows how the wide-scale killing of coyotes has proven ineffective and can backfire biologically by contributing to population explosions of prey species, such as rabbits and rodents. And it describes the indiscriminate nature of the agency’s traps, snares and poison, which have caused the often tortuous deaths of many thousands of non-target animals over the decades, including family pets and such rare, protected species as bald and golden eagles.

The series also tracks a long history of unsuccessful efforts at reform ––and two western congressmen’s current mission to revive those efforts.

“It’s a great example of a regional paper doing something really ambitious,” said David Yarnold, one of the judges and president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. The series and its use of Freedom of Information requests “reflect our best investigative traditions.”

The judges also gave a Special Recognition citation to the series “Clean Water: The Next Act"” by Robert McClure and Jason Alcorn of InvestigateWest and the staff of EarthFix.

The prize will be awarded at the 2014 Knight Risser Prize Symposium, to be held at Stanford early next year.

Reflecting on a Busy Summer Researching Election Laws

By Yoseph Desta
B.S. Political Science Research Honors Track, 2014
Summer Intern at National Conference of State Legislatures

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.

My summer working at the NCSL was an amazing and enriching experience. For the past ten weeks I worked in the Legislative Management department of the NCSL, where I had the opportunity to work alongside passionate and dedicated policy experts and become immersed in the fascinating world of state politics and election law.

To say that I’ve learned a lot about election law would be an understatement. Take, for instance, my most recent research projects this summer. In the past weeks alone, I was asked to write an article and create a webpage on preregistration of youth voters, create 50-state reports on requirements for poll workers and polling places, and respond to an information request regarding campaign contributions from PACs. These topics, although only a brief glimpse into my research this summer, illustrate just how broad and diverse election laws and research requests regarding these laws can be. Moreover, with 2013 bringing a slew of election law changes at the national level (e.g. the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision) and state level (e.g. North Carolina’s recently passed elections bill), the research that I have conducted with the NCSL Elections Team has been constantly evolving and expanding.

Seeking Research Assistants for Historical Photography Exhibition

We are pleased to offer a new internship opportunity for undergraduate students over the fall and winter quarters: a research assistantship related to an upcoming exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center on the 19th-century western photographer Carleton Watkins. More details and application information follow below.

The Bill Lane Center for the American West, in collaboration with the Cantor Arts Center and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), seeks to hire a team of undergraduate research assistants to help produce a series of digital, interactive maps that will accompany the exhibition Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums at the Cantor. The exhibition, opening in April 2014, features Watkins’ mid- to late-nineteenth-century photographs of the American West from Stanford Libraries’s Special Collections. The collaboration between the Bill Lane Center, the Cantor, and CESTA grew out of a mutual interest in illustrating the importance of Watkins’ photography to early cartography and the role that geographic exploration played in employing Watkins and other photographers of the era. The cartographic accompaniments to the exhibition will illustrate elements of Watkins’ life and spatial elements of the photos on view in the exhibition. These accompaniments will take multiple forms including interactive technology as well as simple graphics. 

The research assistants will aid in the research and production of the cartographic accompaniments to the exhibition. Research assistants will have the opportunity to learn about the elements of planning and mounting an exhibition and to assist with museum tasks related to the cartographic work. Research assistants will also participate in seminar-style discussions with the team at the Bill Lane Center and the Cantor (topics will highlight the intersections of art and science, especially as derived from Watkins’ relevance to the history of photography and geography of the Pacific Coast as well as museum concerns including display and conservation of photographs). A background in geography, history, photography, art history, design, UI design, and/or communication is preferred, but not required. Students should demonstrate skill in Adobe Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, and/or ESRI's ArcGIS. We are seeking responsible team players and clear communicators who meet deadlines reliably. The position requires approximately 8-10 hours per week during fall quarter, with the potential to continue during winter quarter, at $15/hour.

To apply: send resume and cover letter to Minh Chau Ho, Program Associate, at mchauho@stanford.edu by Sunday, October 13th.  Contact her with questions via email or (650) 721-2569.

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