Skip to content Skip to navigation

Astride Two Wests, Colorado County Faces a Tricky Economic Balance

Felicity Barringer
Oct 29 2019

With outdoor recreation in its east and fossil-fuel resources on the west, can Garfield County develop an economy that serves both ends?

Interstate 70 and the Colorado River transect Garfield County, Colorado, which is perched between Rocky Mountain resorts and the natural resources industry. Above, the community  of Chacra, about 8 miles west of the county seat Glenwood Springs

Location, Location, Location Interstate 70 and the Colorado River transect Garfield County, Colorado, which is perched between Rocky Mountain resorts and the natural resources industry. Above, the community  of Chacra, about 8 miles west of the county seat Glenwood Springs.   Jeffrey Beall via Flickr
 

By Felicity Barringer

SILT, Colorado — For those speeding by on Interstate 70, Silt is a hiccup of a town between Grand Junction and the Rocky Mountains. But its visions belie its size. Jeff Layman, the town’s administrator, believes Silt contains the seeds of a new economy. It could mean the end of the days when most of its three thousand residents drive an hour east to work in the recreational world of ski resorts — places they can’t afford to live. Many others drive an hour west to work in the industrial world of oil and gas wells.

As Layman sees it, “We’re in the sweet spot” of Garfield County, a long stepladder of land with its eastern end near Aspen and its western end at the Utah border. About 60,000 people live there; the Colorado River and Interstate 70 are its twin arteries. Silt is one of about 10 communities clustered around major highways. New businesses are arriving in town: Skip’s Farm to Market, with its offerings of vegetables and fruits opened on Main Street a few months ago, getting the attention of young foodies. A marijuana dispensary sits across the street.

Map of Garfield County in Western Colorado.

Garfield County is a long stepladder of land with its eastern end near Aspen and its western end at the Utah border.   Geoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West

Solar panels in town generate 20.5 kilowatts of electricity and the town is investing $40,000 to install four electric vehicle chargers downtown.  “We’re talking to a guy who is involved in new-age energy — wind turbines for residential apartments. He’s a Western Slope guy and looks at Silt as being less expensive for land, buildings and labor,” Layman said. He dreams the man will decide to bring 180 jobs to town. He expects the town will allow all-terrain vehicles to ride on the same streets as cars, which could bring more ATV riders to town to head for the stunning plateaus above it. A town park is being expanded to make it more of a Colorado River boating hub.

Silt is one of many rural small towns balanced precariously between the old western economy and an emerging economy whose shape is unclear, but which could become a hybrid of recreation jobs and some kind of 21st-century manufacturing or technology. As Don Albrecht, executive director of Utah State University’s Western Rural Development Center explained, “Rural communities that are thriving are starting to make a transition,” recognizing that traditional industries are fading away.

Left: the Crown Mountain bike trail near Carbondale and Basalt Colorado; right, tourist gondolas at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park outside of Glenwood Springs.   Bob Wick/BLM via Flickr; Clean Energy Economy for the Region via Flickr

“Rural communities that are thriving are starting to make a transition,” recognizing that traditional industries are fading away.

Can Rural Economies Decouple From Energy Booms and Busts?

The future Layman envisions for Silt would move toward manufacturing, retail and leisure industries. These could keep some of his commuting workers home. But he thinks some will always work for the oil and gas industry, which has been central to Garfield County’s economy for decades. The county government and many public services, from schools to libraries to fire stations, rely on property and severance taxes from oil and gas wells.

On the other hand, towns like Silt, Rifle, Parachute, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs benefit directly from sales taxes.

Jeff Layman, town administrator of Silt, population 3,129.

“We’re in the sweet spot” of Garfield County  Jeff Layman, town administrator of Silt, population 3,129.   Felicity Barringer

The region has almost recovered from the bust a decade ago, when everything — the oil and gas industry, the real estate market, and the stock market imploded simultaneously. Its unemployment rate rose to 11.3 percent by 2010; in August it was at a national low figure of 2.4 percent. But nervousness — or resignation — about the boom-and-bust cycle lingers. Right now, one coal mine after another is closing in counties near Garfield. Oil and gas income fluctuates — it has declined in recent years — but could be more stable if demand is reliable.

It almost never is. Low gas prices just led Halliburton to lay off 178 petroleum workers in Mesa County, next door to Garfield County and home to Grand Junction, the Western Slope’s biggest city. It is 87 miles southwest on I-70 from Glenwood Springs, Garfield’s county seat.

A drilling rig south of Rifle, photographed in 2008

A drilling rig south of Rifle, photographed in 2008.   Courtesy Lee Gelatt/Conservation Colorado via Flickr

In 1982, the area faced an economic apocalypse as Exxon left and 2,000 oil-field jobs disappeared. It was the biggest of the Western Slope’s recent economic downturns. As Headwaters Economics, a Montana research firm, said in a 2011 report, “Oil and natural gas jobs are more volatile than coal jobs because oil and natural gas prices tend to fluctuate more widely than coal prices. The bulk of the growth in mining employment over the past decade has been in the oil and natural gas sector, along with the bulk of lost mining jobs.”

Visions Range From a Rural ‘Start-Up Mecca’ to Pursuing Overseas Gas Exports

Sarah Shrader is a co-founder of Bonsai Design, a Grand Junction business specializing in recreation facility design — they make zip lines, among other things. She said hard experience has bred a downbeat attitude. “There have been five significant booms and busts in the last 50 years. This creates a culture of hopelessness… you’re always thinking prosperity is temporary.”

One option is Shrader’s dream. As a board member of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, she wants to transform Grand Junction, the Western Slope’s biggest city into a tourist and start-up mecca. Shrader advocates enhancing access to the natural world to lure hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, fishers, and other recreation enthusiasts. Ideally start-ups seeking an outdoor-oriented workforce would arrive, paying employees good wages.

The pollution from the extractive industries does not add to the region’s tourist appeal. But the $15-an-hour salaries of service industry workers in resorts cannot match annual salaries of $60,000 to $100,000 that oil and gas workers can command.

The other option is doubling down on the fossil-fuel industries. In 2012 the county produced 703 billion cubic feet of gas; that declined to less than 500 million cubic feet last year. But industry leaders are banking on the Jordan Cove Project, a proposed liquified natural gas terminal that Pembina Pipeline Corp., a Canadian company, seeks to build in Coos Bay, Oregon. It would export gas to Asia from the Western Slope's Piceance basin, one of the largest deposits in the country.

This avenue to ending booms and busts relies on the terminal’s access to overseas markets. Local officials have personally lobbied Interior Secretary David Bernhardt — a Rifle native — to help get the Jordan Cove Energy Project approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This summer, the commissioners wrote a letter urging FERC to approve it.

Graphic showing locations of oil and gas wells in Garfield County and Western Slope.   Geoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West
 

Graphic showing locations of oil and gas wells in Garfield County and Western SlopeGeoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West
 

Landowners in the pipelines’ path and Oregon environmental regulators are resisting. Colorado’s current governor, Jared Polis, has changed the state’s position from supportive to neutral. All this has made 2019 a fraught moment for the Western Slope’s corridor county. Western Slope officials argue angrily that it is not just their jobs, but their culture and values that are being tossed away,

“We can’t recreate our way out of the natural resource industry we have put ourselves into.”

“We can’t recreate our way out of the natural resource industry we have put ourselves into” with the existing tax structure, said Doug Monger, a commissioner of Routt County, speaking last month to a visiting group of state legislators specializing in energy issues. In the same meeting, Ray Beck, a commissioner in Moffat County, said the state’s government has launched “an onslaught of legislative and policy efforts aimed at destroying our way of life.”

The Oregon gas-export facility could change that. “We think the beauty of Jordan Cove is the long-term evening out of the boom-and-bust cycle,” said Kevin Batchelder, the County Manager in Garfield County, in an interview. “It would provide us a direct market to the Pacific Rim where there’s a lot of energy demand, particularly for cleaner energy like natural gas.” Half of the county’s spending money, he said, comes from taxes on natural gas.

From Dispensaries to Broadband: A Plan for Every Town

Town-level efforts to cobble together new economic options also receive county support, said Tom Jankovsky, a county commissioner. “Each community is unique and each community wants to direct the effort” for economic development, he said. “The county is a conduit for different economic development groups in different communities.” He said that Parachute, an oil and gas hub hit hard by the last bust, has added the marijuana industry to its playbook; it is now home to six dispensaries.

“There are a lot of sales off the highway,” Janovsky said. “From there the town has reached out to do more events — tourism, boat ramps on the Colorado River, a float business, renting ATV’s and Rzrs,” — two kinds of off-road vehicles. Internet access is also a big part of future economic development. “Broadband is essential,” he said.

The county’s broadband service is better than it was, with wired connections along Interstate 70. Batchelder, the county manager, said the county is finishing the design and engineering of a wireless system to connect 7,700 homes in remote areas, assuming that commercial internet service providers would provide the “last-mile” service by beaming wireless signals — an improvement, even though wireless service can be unreliable.

Colorado’s state-run “Bustang” line offers wifi and comfy seats and transports commuters 150 miles from Glenwood Springs and several other western Colorado towns to Denver

Colorado’s state-run “Bustang” line offers wifi and comfy seats and transports commuters 150 miles from Glenwood Springs and several other western Colorado sites to Denver.  

Extractive wealth versus tourism and perhaps new, innovative businesses? The debate is also playing out in Congress: the House is expected to pass the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, a section of which would ban future oil and gas leases in Thompson Divide, a hunting, fishing, and mountain-biking mecca west of Carbondale in the White River National Forest. County commissioners oppose a permanent ban.

“We’ve been having this discussion for a long time,” said Trési Houpt, a Democrat who is a former Garfield County commissioner and a former member of Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Ms. Houpt, now retired, focuses on preventing the industry’s negative effects on human health, and on preserving environmental values, though she recognizes the industry’s past importance to the local economy. For the future, she said, “one of the most important industries that could continue to grow are those companies feeding recreation.”

The state legislature this year passed a bill that requires that permits for new gas wells must be considered with a primary emphasis on human health and environmental protection. But Garfield County’s point man on oil and gas, Kirby Wynn, points out “the permitting process has been vastly diminished. It’s slowed to a crawl, a standstill.”

If that continues, and Jordan Cove is never built, what can Garfield County do? The sun shines here about 300 days a year – should it build out more solar energy? The process has already begun in Rifle and other sites; government-owned projects generate 8,400 megawatt-hours of energy annually. Or will developers expand the second-home growth of towns like Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, which are bedroom communities for thriving ski resorts?

A worker installing solar panels on the Garfield County Fairgrounds Riding Arena in Rifle.

A worker installing solar panels on the Garfield County Fairgrounds Riding Arena in Rifle. Government-owned projects generate 8,400 megawatt-hours of energy annually in the County.   GARFIELD CLEAN ENERGY via Flickr

Connection Matters, But It’s Not the Only Thing

Mark Haggerty, an economist with Headwaters Economics, said airports and broadband are necessary preconditions for economic transformation, but are not sufficient to ensure it. “Innovation clusters,” he said, are “the real value in the new economy, where wages are high and … drive real economic growth..The problem is, nobody knows how to do that…. The kernel that starts those things is serendipitous.”

The kernel could be the rooftop turbine manufacturer looking at Silt. Or a new Bill Gates who seeks to live amid heart-stopping landscapes and might arrive with a world-changing business idea. Or an entrepreneur attracted by a workforce trained in an innovative education program.

Tinker Duclo, dean at the Colorado Mountain College’s campus in Rifle.
“The campus has had to pivot away from oil and gas training.” Tinker Duclo, dean at the Colorado Mountain College’s campus in Rifle.    Felicity Barringer

Tinker Duclo, dean at Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle campus, has been trying to anticipate future needs and find the right mix of programs for CMC’s students. “The campus has had to pivot away from oil and gas training,” she explained. A few years ago, it had a program to train students to install solar panels, but students with CMC’s installer certificate could only get entry-level jobs that did not pay a living wage; the program ended. “To go deeply into solar, you have to be an electrician,” Duclo said.

Now the college trains students to perform locally-needed services: teaching, fighting fires, nursing. It is exploring curricula to mesh with the needs of the automotive, construction, and marijuana industries. For the latter, students could learn to grow and harvest hemp, extract fiber and oils from the plants, and become fluent in the industry’s legal requirements. “What is the workforce the future needs?” Duclo wonders.

Unclear. No-one has found the secret sauce that lets communities find and nurture the kernel of a new economy. For all the new things being tried, oil and gas employers remain the surest source of income. But Layman, the administrator in Silt, isn’t giving up. “I’ve been joking about putting up billboards in Silicon Valley,” he said.

But as much as he wants economic diversification, he fears his residents’ reaction if he finds a goose that lays too many golden eggs. “It’s sort of a two-edged sword. People here … like this part of Colorado the way it is. Simple, not fast-paced. They are holding back the tide.”

 

and the west logo

 

Edited by Geoff McGhee.

 

Read Next in ...& the West

U.S. Route 50 Was the Best Way to the Pacific; Now, It’s a Road to the Past

In 1919, a difficult cross-country trek made the case for better roads in the West. The roads came, but a hundred years later, Central Nevada may be as isolated as ever.


 

Back to main page

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments

Submit your own thoughts and questions by using the form at the bottom of this page. Entries will be reviewed and posted as we get them.

Jon Stavney Eagle, Colorado

Responding to Astride Two Wests, Colorado County Faces a Tricky Economic Balance

Just read a forwarded blog by Barringer about Garfield County/Silt. I am the Executive Director of Northwest Colorado Council of Governments where I report out on similar topics to our membership of towns and counties on a monthly basis. My own blog is at a-public-observer.com . As a self proclaimed Citizen of the West, I am glad to find this resource from Stanford.

10/30/2019, 1:23pm

Anonymous

Responding to Astride Two Wests, Colorado County Faces a Tricky Economic Balance

I am a reporter, living in Garfield County, CO. Your article "Astride Two Wests" is spot-on, as they way, about economic issues facing the county and the region. Garfield County Commissioners continue to hope and pray that natural gas will make a comeback, including championing Jordan Cove and fighting the SB-181 rulemakings. It's amazing to me how they will not admit that natural gas is going away eventually and plan for the future instead of resisting the inevitable. Good story. Thanks.

10/29/2019, 2:23pm

Submit a Comment

We'd like to know what you think. We will not share your email address or add you to any lists. If you'd like to be notified about new blog posts and news from the Center, you can join our mailing list.

You will receive emails no more than once a week. We will not share your information.

 

...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Madison Pobis, Sierra Garcia and Danielle Nguyen

Articles Worth Reading: November 18, 2019

Mining Expansion Poses Risks for a Colorado Tourist Destination. The town of Glenwood Springs relies on water flows from the Colorado River and subterranean heating to supply its popular hot springs. Denver-based mining company Rocky Mountain Resources acquired a nearby limestone quarry in 2016. Now the firm has proposed plans to expand from 20 acres to more than 450 over the next few decades. Several surrounding towns, including Glenwood Springs — a bedroom community for ski resorts — have passed resolutions opposing the expansion, citing impacts of dust, traffic, and impacts on water (read our recent report from Garfield County, Colorado). The Bureau of Land Management has not yet decided whether or not to allow it. The Denver Post

Caribou Take Home the Gold for Long-Distance Migrations. A recent study confirmed the widely cited evidence that caribou are the mammals that routinely make the longest migrations over land. Over the course of a year, caribou will travel as much as 840 miles. The New York Times

Bird Rehabilitators Seek to Ban Lead Ammunition after seeing the devastating impacts of lead toxicity in raptors like Wyoming’s golden eagles. Lead bullets shatter easily upon impact, which means that birds feeding on prey that have been shot can ingest the toxic substance and suffer severe impacts to the brain and nervous system. Many hunters are resistant to the transition because lead-free ammunition tends to be more expensive and less-suited to certain styles of hunting. WyoFile

Dry Lakes are Kicking Up Dust Throughout the West and prompting air quality officials to consider legal action. The Salton Sea in California’s Imperial County and the Utah Great Salt Lake are two of the largest contributors to dust in the wake of increasingly dry conditions. Dust in the air clogs lungs and airways and carries with it toxic compounds from agricultural sources. Bitterroot

Mountains Could Act as Batteries for Storing Gravitational Potential Energy according to new research. As western states work to meet their renewable energy goals, lithium-ion batteries often fall short when it comes to storing energy from solar or wind for more than a few hours. But by using a contraption similar to a ski lift to hoist sand up mountainsides, gravitational potential energy is stored and ready to generate electricity once the material falls down again. The system would increase the time and scale of energy storage while avoiding the drawbacks of hydropower storage, like evaporation. Utility Dive

Articles Worth Reading: November 5, 2019

Devastating Sea Urchin Invasion is Spreading to the Oregon Coast and wreaking havoc on abalone fisheries. Rapacious purple urchins have decimated California’s kelp ecosystems in recent years, and new estimates suggest that as many as 350 million of the spiny critters were latching onto a single Oregon reef — a 10,000 percent increase over the 2014 numbers. “You can't just go out and smash them. There's too many,” says Scott Groth, a shellfish scientist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Conservationists and other stakeholders are hoping to combat the issue by paying divers to remove the urchins by hand so they can be farmed for their meaty roe. Associated Press

Lasers, LiDAR, and Drones Can Detect Methane Leaks that contribute to global warming and cost the oil and gas industry as much as $30 billion per year. Tech entrepreneurs in Colorado are working to design monitoring systems that are rugged enough to be left unattended in the oil fields forlong periods but accurate enough to identify even small leaks. Yale Environment 360

The Wild Population of California Condors is Well on its Way to Recovery. There are now more than 300 condors throughout the Southwest thanks to an aggressive breeding program and a ban on lead ammunition put into effect in July. Scientists are finding that an abundance of marine mammals contributes to healthier chicks. Soon the population will reach the goals originally set for the species in the 1996 plans Hakai

New Law Requires Texas Homeowners to Disclose Flooding Risk to potential buyers in the wake of damage from Hurricane Harvey. The new law means that buyers are more informed about flood history and risk, but properties in floodplain areas may have more difficulty selling. Surveys suggest that more than 74 percent of Americans are in favor of a disclosure law that can help buyers decide whether or not to purchase a home or seek flood insurance. NPR

Navajo Woman Reflects on the Importance of her Grandmother’s Weaving. Melanie Yazzie remembers holding yarn between her feet as her grandmother wove traditional rugs in their home in Arizona. Now a printmaker and educator, she draws from her memories of her grandmother to find purpose in her work. The piece begins at the podcast’s 11:41 mark. The Moth Podcast

Articles Worth Reading: October 22, 2019

Greater-Sage Grouse Populations Stand a Better Chance, thanks to a new court ruling that found a lack of acceptable scientific support for the Trump administration’s rollback of protections on more than 9 million acres of the bird’s habitat in states like Wyoming and Oregon. The rollback in March was an effort to lease prime land for oil and gas drilling projects. This week’s court ruling, in which the judge wrote, “When the [Bureau of Land Management] substantially reduces protections for sage grouse contrary to the best science and the concerns of other agencies, there must be some analysis and justification,” is a win for conservation groups suing to get the plans thrown out. The sage grouse has already lost some 90 percent of its historic numbers. Audubon

Colorado Cannabis Growers Are Becoming More Energy-Efficient by taking advantage of sustainable investments in technology. Carbon emissions are rising with the expansion of the legal marijuana industry because indoor growing operations rely on huge amounts of electricity to power cooling and lighting equipment. Creative design systems and a rigorous energy offset program are helping to keep the state on track for its efficiency goals in the next few years. The Denver Post

Shellfish Farming Permit Thrown Out Due to Concerns for the Marine Environment in the Pacific Northwest. A federal judge found the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t properly analyze the environmental impact of aquaculture farms. The industry takes in nearly $150 million per year in Washington state, the hub of shellfish aquaculture. Critics said the original permit doesn’t account for potential damage from microplastics, herbicides, and tideland conversion. The Seattle Times

Ecologists Lobby for Wildlife-Friendly Highway Crossings Along the Border With Mexico. Mexico’s Highway 2 intersects a wildlife corridor that could be used by populations of endangered species like jaguars, ocelots, and black bears traveling between Arizona and Sonora. Wildlands Network is pushing for additions to highway construction that would direct animals to safe crossings and maximize their chances of survival during dangerous travel. ASU Cronkite News/Arizona PBS

Wild Burros Aren’t All Bad for the Death Valley Ecosystem according to ongoing research. Yes, the donkeys compete for resources with the park’s native species, but they may also serve other beneficial purposes. By digging wells in dry streambeds, they create small water sources for insects and amphibians and help struggling tree species germinate. The default option is to round up and remove the burros, but there may be unintended consequences for the complex desert ecosystem. Undark

Articles Worth Reading: October 7, 2019

California Fisherman Are Repeatedly Catching and Releasing Protected Great White Sharks Without Consequences due to cloudy language in the law. Although state regulations strictly prohibit killing a Great White, it’s almost impossible to prosecute because anglers can claim the catches were accidental. Changing ocean conditions mean that more of the animals are sticking around in Southern California, spurring advocates to call for heftier penalties for illegal takes. Hakai Magazine

More Than 80,000 Wild Horses Ended up in Foreign Slaughterhouses Last Year even though killing horses for food is illegal in in the U.S. “Kill buyers” say that exporting to Canada and Mexico decreases the exploding population and helps feed the world, but animal rights activists say that the Bureau of Land Management can do more to protect adoptable horses. The New Food Economy

The Western Rivers Conservancy Conserves Vital River Habitat by Purchasing Land and partnering with local managers. The recent acquisition of old-growth forest surrounding the Blue Creek watershed marks a 10-year effort to preserve critical salmon streams. The organization has purchased and conserved an estimated 175,000 acres of riparian habitat since its founding three decades ago. The acquisitions are handed over to stewards who are expected to implement long-term conservation management plans and make the lands more accessible to the public. Modern Conservationist

The Right of Personhood for the Klamath River Means It Can Bring Cases in Tribal Court, opening up avenues for legal advocacy and shifting the conversation around indigenous knowledge. The move follows a precedent set by New Zealand tribes and an international indigenous movement called Rights of Nature. Although no case has yet been brought to court, the Yurok Tribe’s resolution means that issues like pollution, diseased fish, and even climate change can now be addressed through tribal court. High Country News

A Small Alaska Town Is Slowly Being Consumed by Rusting Cars along with refrigerators, forks, shoes, and everything else imported by plane and boat. With limited options for removing waste once it arrives, Bethel’s citizens instead create graveyards of junk and spare parts. Native Yup’ik Elder Esther Green says that the abandoned cars are more than an eyesore — they’re a disturbance to their native land. “Everything around us has ears, and they can see and they can feel. Just like us human beings.” 99 Percent Invisible Podcast

Articles Worth Reading: September 23, 2019

Las Vegas is Thirsty for Snake Valley Groundwater even though there is not enough now for key wetlands and springs in this semi-arid region on the Utah-Nevada border, a U.S. Geological Survey study shows. There is certainly not enough to send the Las Vegas area, 250 miles to the south, as much as it wants. The Southern Nevada Water Authority, a regional wholesaler that serves Las Vegas, has applied for an additional 50,680 acre-feet of water per year, which would almost double the current volume of permitted withdrawals of 55,272 acre-feet per year. Circle of Blue

While Seeking Montana Land to Restore Biodiversity, a biologist made friends in Silicon Valley and enemies on the short-grass prairie. The American Prairie Reserve’s strategy was buying land from ranchers who had been struggling economically. After raising $156 million, mostly from Silicon Valley, buying 400,000 acres of land, and reintroducing 800 bison, the group is now a pariah locally. As one rancher said, “their media blitz was 'You guys have been doing it wrong all your lives, and we're about to buy you all up because you're all broke…They came in and insulted the culture and said, we're going to replace you all with bison." Sierra Magazine

From Monterey Bay to the Canadian Border, the Coast Would Become Protected Orca Habitat under a new federal proposal. If it becomes final, the area would be a massive expansion of the ocean area deemed critical for the survival of the killer whales of the Puget Sound. Their hunting ground extends from Southern California to the Salish Sea, but the fish they eat are disappearing, scientists have found, noting that the habitats where people have made major changes are the same ones feeling the extreme effects of climate change. The new area would begin just south of Santa Cruz and would include about 15,626 square miles. Seattle Times

Alaska Summer Heat Means Disappearing Water and Worries about the future. Residents of the Native village of Nanwalek on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage are suffering from a severe drought and working hard to conserve their freshwater. Last month, town officials decided to shut off the taps for 12 hours every night. Nanwalek was one of six communities suffering water shortages during the unusually hot summer. The village, home to the Sugpiaq tribe, is trying to find funds to purchase a reverse osmosis machine to desalinate sea water. Npr

Duck Fat Is for Gentrified City Dwellers. Bear Fat is for Lovers of the Wild. Pastries using bear fat get rave reviews, one hunter-cook says. But the old habit of using bear fat has languished because the quality of the fat depends on what the bears eat – and many eat mostly human garbage. From baking to curing baldness to predicting the weather, the many uses of bear fat over the centuries, and the way the creation of the teddy bear curbed human appetites for bear fat. Atlas Obscura

Graphics & the West

Where California Grows Its Food

See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »

California's Changing Energy Mix

A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »

U.S. Conservation Easements

Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »

 

Recent Center News

Nov 18 2019 | ... & the West Blog, ... & the Best | Stories Recommended by the ‘... & the West’ Blog
A mining expansion threatens a Colorado town; dried up lakes are stirring up trouble for western states; harnessing gravity for energy storage; and other environmental news from around the West.
Nov 11 2019 | Center News, Happenings, ArtsWest
A curatorial tour of a new Cantor Arts Center exhibition gave audiences a glimpse of iconic Western photographs.
Nov 1 2019 | Stanford News Service | Center News, Research Notes
The new normal for Western wildfires is abnormal, with increasingly bigger and more destructive blazes. Understanding the risks can help communities avert disaster.