Opinion

If you think that race is only an issue in the country’s biggest cities, consider a murder trial that recently concluded in the small town where I live, in the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon.

The good news these days about Farmington, New Mexico, is that the air looks clear. That’s a huge change.

I learned to shoot on the family ranch, as ranch kids are wont to do. My gun education was furthered at a Catholic summer camp, and I still have my paper target proving my marksmanship. Hunter safety classes, and calm, clear-eyed common sense. This was the rural approach to guns I grew up with.

The prehistoric past can perk up the present. When woolly mammoth bones were found in my hometown in Wisconsin years ago, they became the centerpiece of one of our local museums. Today, they continue to attract visitors and serve as one of the city’s informal symbols.

Shortly after World War II, California fish managers had a brainstorm: They loaded juvenile trout into airplanes and saturation-bombed naturally fishless lakes in the High Sierra Mountains of California. Some of the fish hit rocks and ice, but most hit water.

In 2017, the public lost 1,470 acres of wilderness-quality land at the base of Mount Sopris near Aspen, Colorado.

Although I’ve lived in a small Western town for 30 years now, I have never known much about one of its fundamental institutions, the service club. Many small-town residents still center their lives on Lions, Elks, Rotary or similar organizations.

Reservoir manager Ken Beck says wryly that he has lots of water coming his way, “and I need a hole to put it in.”

In late March, after countless lawsuits and scientific opinions, the lesser prairie chicken in New Mexico, Colorado and eastwards finally got what it so desperately needs – federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In just two years, wildfire has killed an estimated 13-19% of all mature giant sequoia trees. These most massive of trees grow only on certain western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range that divides California’s Central Valley farmland from the Great Basin Desert.

The return of wolves to the West has always been contentious, and the deaths last fall of more than 40 cattle in western Colorado alarmed ranchers. But here’s the true story: Wolves did not kill those cattle found dead near Meeker.

Even from a distance it’s clear that an oil and gas well called “State Senate #2” in New Mexico has seen better days. The pumpjack sits idle, tumbleweeds surround the once-moving parts, and the earth smells of crude saturating the soil.

In Colorado, farmers must enroll in a four-state program by March 1, if they want to get paid for fallowing their fields – perhaps the best option to plump up the Colorado River’s giant reservoirs, Mead and Powell.

Last November, the Great Salt Lake, iconic landmark of the Great Basin Desert, fell to its lowest surface elevation ever recorded. The lake had lost 73% of its water and 60% of its area. More than 800 square miles of lakebed sediments were laid bare to become dust sources laden with heavy metals.

Six people have died in avalanches in the United States since the snow started to fly this fall. Every year, an average of 27 people – skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, snowshoers – die this way.

High on a mesa where everyone can see it, a trophy house is going up in the northern Colorado valley where I live. Some of my neighbors hear that the house will be as big as 15,000 square feet. Others say it will take three years to complete. Whether that is valley gossip or truth, the house is now the center of everybody’s attention.

In Girdwood, Alaska, we’ll long remember the snowstorm of Dec. 6, just three months ago. But it won’t be for the school cancellations. We’ll remember it as the night dozens of residents traveled a snow-packed highway to testify at a public meeting – about housing.

Moab, Utah, gets just 8 inches of rain per year, yet rainwater flooded John Weisheit’s basement last summer. Extremes are common in a desert: Rain and snow are rare, and a deluge can cause flooding.

Some people have become so alarmed by what children might read in school or in libraries that they want books they don’t like removed – immediately. The targeted books include scenes of sexual awakening, gender identity, racism or violence.

Finally, after a 50-year effort, four massive dams on the Klamath River in northern California and Oregon will start coming down this July.

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