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Center News

2019 in Review

Photos (clockwise from left): A waterfall at Yosemite National Park; Megan Nelson of the Nature Conservancy speaks at this year's Rural West Conference in Park City, Utah; a photo of Burning Man by Scott London, presenter at ArtsWest 2019; summer intern Anna Greene at the Washington Water Trust; Sophomore College students tour the Kawailoa Solar Farm in Hawaii.

Dear Friends of the Bill Lane Center, 

Through arts initiatives, intellectual pursuits and travels, the Bill Lane Center spent 2019 exploring the American West both imaginatively and geographically. In the spring, center staff flew to Park City, Utah, where this year’s annual Rural West Conference focused on amenity tourism and migration. Over the summer, our cohort of student interns dispersed across eight Western states for practical training in everything from conservation at the Deschutes Land Trust in Bend, Oregon, to energy internships at the state and federal level. Just before classes resumed on the Farm in the fall, the center sponsored a three-week Sophomore College course in Hawaii, where undergraduates immersed themselves in learning about the state’s ambitious clean energy program. As always, our travels and studies in 2019 have taken us deep into the American West’s culture, history and unique policy challenges.

 Photos: (Upper left) Sophomore College students tour the Schofield Barracks on Oahu; (Right) An ArtsWest photo of Burning Man by Scott London; (Lower left) An image of railroad workers building the Transcontinental Railroad.


New collaborations highlight the centrality of interdisciplinary study to our mission

Embracing our interdisciplinary mission, the Bill Lane Center forged new creative partnerships this past year that spanned from art to medicine. Led by affiliated scholar Marc Levin, and in collaboration with the de Young Museum, we produced a sold-out ArtsWest symposium in late February on the art and technology of Burning Man. Multiple presentations brought the program to life, including photographs by Scott London, and a talk by Smithsonian American Art Museum curator Nora Atkinson, who managed to mount a Burning Man exhibit at a prominent national museum while preserving the anarchist, anti-commercial ethos of the movement.

Spring of 2019 marked the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion. We honored this historic moment for the West – and the nearly-forgotten Chinese laborers who made it possible – with two projects: a film series in conjunction with the Stanford Historical Society, and the publication of a major research project on the Chinese railroad workers that was made possible in part by several years of support from the Bill Lane Center.

With Stanford Medicine, we co-hosted a daylong workshop in May exploring digital health in the rural American West. Raising awareness about the health challenges rural populations face, and reducing health disparities, has long been an objective of our center. This event brought experts together from across disciplines to better meet the needs of Western rural communities, and to address a set of difficulties unfamiliar to many who reside in urban and suburban settings. Following the workshop, Bill Lane affiliated scholar Phil Polakoff, a consulting professor at Stanford Medicine, convened the Healthier Rural West Summit in Salt Lake City. The three-day conference expanded on the Bill Lane Center’s rural West programming, and leveraged the expertise of stakeholders to deliver on a four-pronged goal: better health, better care, lower cost, and improved satisfaction with health care in rural America. On the first night of the summit, attendees enjoyed a dinner keynote by Bill Lane Center co-founder David Kennedy, which focused on the rural westward movement. I am pleased to share that this important work will continue in 2020, expanding to encompass rural health for the country as a whole. Next year's summit is planned for Omaha, Nebraska, in September. 

As mentioned above, our Sophomore College partnership with the Precourt Institute for Energy allowed undergraduates to travel to Hawaii in the fall for real-world lessons on the issues surrounding energy production and use in the state. Site visits in Hawaii included tours of a synthetic natural gas plant, a biofuel plant, a utility-scale solar farm, a wind farm and more.

Each of these collaborations gave members of the Bill Lane Center community an opportunity to deepen their appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the American West. We hope to continue offering partnered learning experiences to enhance public understanding of all aspects of the region, and to tap into the collective brainpower of experts in multiple disciplines who are passionate about the lands, people and culture of Western North America.

 Photos: (Left) Max Klotz, Bill Lane Center intern at the Santa Lucia Conservancy in Carmel, Calif., with Christy Wyckoff, Bill Lane Center advisory council member and director of conservation science at the Santa Lucia Conservancy; (Right) Fiona Noonan, BS '17, former Bill Lane Center intern and conservation associate at the Deschutes Land Trust.

Educational Programming

Courses and programs facilitate learning for both Stanford students and the wider public

With the goal of providing valuable learning opportunities for both Stanford students and the wider community, we spent 2019 knee-deep in the preparation and production of broad educational programming, much of which was made possible by the fundraising efforts of our Advisory Council. We would like to extend a special thanks and congratulations to members of the Advisory Council, who successfully met their $4 million fundraising goal to permanently endow our undergraduate programs.

Here on campus, we formed a student ambassador program to give us important input and feedback on our undergraduate programs. We also hosted two open houses, one for current students in the winter, and one for prospective students during Admit Weekend to provide an introduction to the center’s offerings.

A big draw for students is our internship program. Each summer, the Bill Lane Center places Stanford undergraduates at organizations throughout the West where they can take a quarter to explore careers in natural history, conservation, resource management, and related fields. In 2019, we instituted a new process of vetting and rotating internship hosts to keep the placements current and relevant to student interests. We funded six state and federal level energy internships at agencies throughout California and Colorado, including the California Public Utility Commission; the Western Electricity Coordinating Council; the Western Interstate Energy Board; the California Energy Commission; and two at the California Department of Water Resources. This summer, we also had the joy of watching an alumna of our internship program host her own Bill Lane summer intern. Read more about Fiona Noonan, BS ’17, who credits a 2014 Lane Center internship at Yellowstone with inspiring her current employment at the Deschutes Land Trust in Central Oregon.

We are always expanding opportunities to educate students about the West. In 2018, our Sophomore College course on public lands was immensely popular, with students traveling to Utah for fieldwork at the state’s beautiful national parks. Back on campus in the winter of 2018-2019, we then offered a complimentary course to the students’ site studies in Utah, taught by Stanford alumnus Pat Shea, a former director of the Bureau of Land Management. The new class, “What is Public about Public Lands?”, engaged students in the intense U.S. debate that already exists about public land management in the West. We will be reprising this course in the winter of 2020.

Building off the success of our fall 2018 course on adaptation to sea level rise, we will also be offering a winter course on wildfires in the West. In the aftermath of destructive blazes in Paradise and Sonoma, California’s recent fires will serve as a case study for exploring specific strategies to enhance climate resilience. This course will culminate in a March 2020 workshop that we will host for Bay Area policymakers interested in greater preparation for wildfire.

Our public-facing programs in 2019, featured below, were just as robust and informative as our offerings for students on campus: 

Rural West Conference

In April of 2019 we hosted the Seventh Annual Rural West Conference in Park City, Utah, with panels focused on amenity migration and tourism. Our 2020 conference will explore the future of ranching in the West.

Learn more about our 2020 Rural West Conference

2018-2019 ArtsWest Season

Our most recent ArtsWest season looked at Western arts as seen through the lens of contemporary photography. It featured exhibits on the intersection of nature and culture in the West, Burning Man, and daguerreotypes of the Western landscape.

Learn more about our ArtsWest initiative

Photos: (Left) The San Juan Generating Station in Farmington, N.M., photo by Vladimir Choloupka; (Center) The 2018 Woolsey fire in California, photo by Peter Buschmann, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service; (Right) Heavy runoff in February 2017 near Ojai, California, photo by tquist24 via Flickr.

Research, Media and Publications

Original reporting and research reflect our expansive coverage and analysis of the most pressing issues facing the American West today

The Bill Lane Center is pleased to announce the completion of a new publication, “The System of the River,” a study that documents the life and policy contributions of Francis G. Newlands. Credited with bringing about the National Reclamation Act of 1902, a law that allowed the arid American West to become inhabitable, Newlands initiated a long national effort to conserve water and reclaim Western land for productive agricultural purposes. Now available as a PDF, the document began as the doctoral dissertation of Advisory Council member William Lilley III at Yale in the 1960s, and it remains highly relevant today as the West continues to grapple with water resource policy.

We continue to produce original research and have recently released our findings from an August poll on climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in the American West. At the University of Oklahoma in October, I shared the survey’s findings in the 2019 Julian J. Rothbaum Lecture, delivering three talks on the politics of adapting to climate change. You may watch the lectures here. It might come as a surprise to some of our readers that, in spite of devastating wildfires that have recently ravaged the state, our poll indicates Californians are still reluctant to pay for certain wildfire prevention measures.

Under the editorial leadership of Felicity Barringer and Geoff McGhee, our “…& the West” blog once again offered nuanced analysis and reporting on key environmental issues from around California and Western North America. This piece on atmospheric rivers highlights an innovative water management strategy that looks to replenish California’s aquifers by capturing large columns of water vapor in the sky. And this thoughtful post by student intern Danielle Nguyen, ’20, digs into the uncertain fate of a rural New Mexican city as it contends with a new clean energy law that requires transitioning away from a coal-dependent economy. With the intensification of climate change, we are grateful to have such strong, in-house journalism on the environmental future of the region.

Looking back on 2019, we are grateful for the students, faculty, staff and donors who have sustained the Bill Lane Center’s commitment to a thriving American West. Increasingly, the university has come to recognize the importance of engaging students in public service internships, projects and research. I am proud to say that the Bill Lane Center has been at the forefront of that movement in undergraduate education, and that we remain committed to the mission of integrating academic excellence with service to society. We look forward in the coming year to furthering the  exploration and stewardship of a region that means so much to us all.


Bruce E. Cain
Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director
Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in Humanities and Sciences

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