Defending the West is virtue


At Potamogeton Park, Madison Range, Montana. Gallatin National Forest. Photo by Ralph Maughan

I believe that spending as much of your life as possible defending the Western lands, water, air and wildlife is an act of pure virtue.Your actions needs no other justification, but make sure you get plenty of time out on the land so that it doesn’t get to be an abstraction. Turning into a symbol rather than a presence is dangerous.whitepine9.jpg

White Pine Range, north central Nevada. Humboldt National Forest. Photo copyright Ralph Maughan






  1. be Avatar

    hear hear !

  2. kt Avatar

    Great picture of the White Pine Range, Ralph!

    Imagine the dynamiting, bulldozing and earth moving it would take to site a wind farm here. Unfortunately, major wind farm industrialization and development on just such ridges of central Nevada is now very foreseeable.

    It has been enabled by Wilderness legislation and the sell-offs of public land for energy infrastructure. New energy corridors have been opened up by all of this.

    In the recent White Pine County Bill, portions of the White Pine Range became Wilderness (dark green on map at this link).

    The trade-offs made, though, in the recent Nevada legislation (developed behind closed doors and that determined the fate of the lands that belong to all of us)— were essentially for wilderness fortresses in exchange for:

    Unlocking the door to water export to Las Vegas and to dump into the Colorado system; and

    Selling-off of public land to enable coal plant, and wind and other development in the undesignated areas.

    If you’ve ever climbed up into one of these central Nevada Ranges, a great part of the pleasure is the sweeping views into an empty landscape – an empty landscape that extends far outside the boundary of any particular WSA or Wilderness area you may be in. It is that sense of being in an untrammeled LANDSCAPE that is now on its way to be filled up with roads, powerlines, air pollution, etc. Unless the public steps in and stops the terrible developments that are now being incrementally proposed.

  3. Denise Johnson Avatar
    Denise Johnson

    Thank You for sharing this information….
    It boggles the mind, what people with power do in the name of progress??
    There are those of us who value such landscapes and wilderness areas. I had no idea that this is what the powers that be have in mind when selling the taxpayers land. INCREDIABLE that this is happening at such an alarming rate!
    This has been such a postive experience reading this blog. A big note of THANKS to all that particiapte to protect and get the truth out. I find it very thought provoking as well as motivating.

    How can we provent them selling off public lands??

    It seems there is this attitude of we are doing what we want. And the rest be damned..

  4. Monty Avatar

    For those of us who love wildlands, it is a burden to read about the destruction that is sweeping across our lands. In the March 2007 issue of National Geographic there is an article about: “Orlando Flordia Beyond Disney”, that protrays the Brave New World of “Exurban Sprawal”. It is a new world of industrial foods, industrial religion, industrial recreation, industrial housing & so on. I love the guote by Linda Chapin, former Orlando County Commissioner: “Just because we’ve ruined 90 percent of everything doesn’t mean that we can’t do wonderful things with the remaining ten percent”.

  5. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    So a question I have for everyone here: if we are to address the environmental issues of coal and nuclear with renewable power sources such as wind, what trade-offs will you support to achieve that? Is it realistic to think that public land can never be used, even for renewable energy production? I’m not saying that the beautiful place that Ralph showed in that picture should be the site of a wind farm. Is there some public benefit to public land being used for renewable power generation? There is a debate back east in Massachusetts where I used to live that is similar to this – a group wants to develop a wind project in Nantucket sound, and the green groups and some politicians (Senator Kerry, Senator Kennedy and his nephew, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., are just a few) have tripped over themselves to decry the project as one that would devastate a “pristine” environment, be a hazard to navigation, and line the pockets of a corporation at the expense of the public resource that is exploited (Nantucket Sound). These are, generally speaking, the same people who say we need to do something to address the threats of global warming. I see parallels in to this issue out west. So as “progressives”, are we willing to make the tough choices that I think will be needed if we are to ween ourselves from dirty energy?

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I didn’t say anything about energy, dirty or clean.

    However, much of the public land is already being sacrificed for energy development. I’d say let them purchase private land for a change if they want to build windmills and solar farms.

    Most importantly, however, the least expensive source of new energy, is energy efficiency, not dirty energy and not “clean” energy.

  7. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    I know you didn’t say anything about dirty or clean energy, Ralph, but kt’s post above lead me to think about the tradeoffs we are willing to make (or not) for cleaner energy, so I thought I’d pose that question or problem.

  8. kt Avatar

    There is so much private dying agricultural land in the West. Some of it was former Desert Land Entry Land that farmers got for a song from the public in the 1960s or so, the sagebrush was plowed up, bonanza crops of potatoes were planted for 2 or 3 seasons, and then it all started going to Hell.

    For example, it took huge amounts of electricity to pump newly allocated water from the Snake River up above the canyon rim, or to pump water from those 500 foot irrigatin wells drilled near Mountain Home, to irrigate the ever-waning-in-productivity —- no matter how many chemicals were put on them — fields.

    A lot of that country has sufficient wind to power wind farms. Small to medium-sized wind farm development is happening there, with comparatively fewer impacts than would occur with massive development like proposed for the Cotterell Mountains near Burley. The development there would extirpate sage grouse, including an important wintering area for grouse from across a much broader region.

    Even more disastrous consequences, because the whole region is relatively less developed, would accompany large-scale wind energy development in northern and central Nevada.

    The problem in both the case of the Cotterell Mountain and northern and central Nevada is GREED. The BIG wind companies want the sites with maximum wind, and they want the nearly free use of public land. Yes, they pay some fee to BLM or the Forest for use of lands for wind farms, but it is less than for private lands.

    Fish and Wildlife Service had issued some Draft guidelines for wind farm Siting that I think by now have been watered down. Unfortunately, the Wind Industry – especially big players like Shell – have refused to abide by them, and the agencies under Bush have been hamstrung, as you can imagine, in denying ANY applications for ANY thing on public lands. Plus, big utilities like Idaho Power (I in no way understand all that goes on with utilities but this is how it has been explained to me by some folks who follow it all) has tried to make it tougher for the the small wind farms on the abandoned ag lands. Idaho Power would rather buy somewhat cheaper power from a Big Player — like Shell or somebody, to essentially destroy public lands forever by gashing in a wind farm in a remote area.

    Here is a link to the 2003 FWS Siting Guidelines:

    Check out the site developmet criteria on document page 3. These should apply to ANY site – either public or private lands.

    Wind power from the top of a Range in the Great Basin would not be “green” — it would be brown with the gashed eroding mountainsides, and red with the blood of migrating birds.

  9. Peter Kiermeier Avatar

    I think there is no such thing as truly „clean“ energy. With the production of energy you always have to trade off something. Here in Germany wind power plants nowadays grow like asparagus because they are heavily subsidised by the Government through tax allowance programmes. What´s the trade off ? Environmental pollution with noise (they emit a pronounced subliminal hiss, making human living in the vicinity virtually impossible) and their visual impact on the scenery. Next, they eat land! So much that already offshore farms are projected. Next, they kill birds – many. By the way, I first came across a wind power farm in California, many years ago and long before they became known in Europe. I´ll never forget when we came driving around that mountain and suddenly the whole horizon was planted with these props against a perfect Hollywood sunset. What a (terrible) sight! Ok, they contribute to production of electricity, here in tiny Germany the contribution amounts to 3% (!) at the moment. Now think about gas for cars. Word of the day is biological fuel. Sounds like the perfect solution. But now look to Brasil, the first to exploit ethanol fuel on a substantial scale, and discover what an incredible amount of land (including tropical rain forest) is necessary to produce that much bio mass. And they are still far from being 100% independent from fossil fuel. “Green” energy can only go hand in hand with drastic energy savings. Imagine, what masses of overfertilized monocultures would be required to still the thirst for fuel in the US or Europe?

  10. Barb Avatar

    In these incredible photos, you can almost feel Mother Earth and the West beckoning its creatures to return — to come back home where they belong — the mountain lions, the wolves, the coyotes, the foxes, all the animals that have been shut out, harrassed, destroyed by private livestock owners and “Wildlife Services”…..

    Is it just a dream, or could it become a reality?

    Please support organizations that advocate for the return of native predators to their rightful homelands.

  11. dbaileyhill Avatar

    For me these beautiful places are heaven. Being in “the great outdoors” renews my spirit, clears my mind, and fills me up with such joy it brings tears to my eyes. It’s nature’s spa.
    And it really puts everything in perspective.

  12. SmokyMtMan Avatar

    Everyone decries the energy industry, and how it provides us (ALL of us, you included) with the energy that makes civilized life possible. But, on the other hand, you don’t want wind farms anywhere, no one supports nuclear energy, very few of us utilize solar power….etc etc

    And there is no possible way “energy efficiency” can meet the energy demands of today, and definitely not tomorrow’s. We are adding too many businesses and consumers every year. Will it help? Of course. Is it a solution? Heck no.

    The U.S. population increases every year, as consumers we require more energy every year, more acreage to grow food, more water for crops and personal consumption, more of every single resource. Every year, U.S. demands on our public lands INCREASE.

    But most of you seem oblivious to the reality of the demand on our resources. We cannot stop utilizing public land, that is crazy, never going to happen, and is actually naive. We NEED public land, what it provides the U.S. economy with is IRREPLACEABLE.

    Quit the pipe dreams, stop daydreaming, because if real-world solutions aren’t found, all public land will be eventually utilized. It will have to be, no doubt about it. While we complain and wonder how we use/destroy these resources, the engine of economic growth rumbles onward, increasing, and slowly chewing up our public lands.

    Idle talk is doing nothing, I am afraid. We are playing the violin while Rome burns, people.

  13. JB Avatar


    I don’t decry the energy; I decry its inability to move to sustainable sources of energy, and integrate low/no-pullution technologies.

    I support wind farms, solar power plants, and nuclear (if its done correctly).

    I don’t disagree that efficiency alone won’t solve our problems; however, it is certainly a BIG part of the solution!

    I am not oblivious to our demand on NR resources, nor the effects of population growth (so far, my wife and I are the proud parents of a dog and two cats, and we’re getting long in the tooth).

    What “pipe dreams” are you referring to? I think you underestimate many of the people who participate in this forum. If you have “real-world” solutions to these problems, I’m sure there are many people here willing to listen!


  14. Barb Avatar

    The problem with “Wildlife Services” is that they are not acting as stewards of wildlife as their name implies — they are acting on behalf of the livestock industry to destroy predators and other animals at OUR tax expense.

    They should change their name to “Livestock protection Services.” It would be more accurate and people might think twice about supporting it.

    Wild animals are intinsically more valuable and precious than cattle are (or any “commodity” designed for profit.

    Would anyone rather sit in a park and watch cattle than wild animals?

    Cattle have been competing with wildlife for far too long — not the other way around.

    Of course, don’t blame the cattle. They’ve been exploited too; and who could ever forget the story of the Great Blizzard where 10’s of 1,000’s cattle froze to death?

  15. Brian Ertz Avatar

    we do not need public lands for anywhere near the resources currently extracted. we need public lands to be removed from consideration for resource extraction such that actual costs of commodities are that much closer to being realized in a free market (rather than a passively subsidized market such that infusion of public resources contributes to). to a too large degree our public “resources” and subsidies are being enjoyed by global markets ~ we’re not just raping our land to make commodities cheaper (in perceived cost) for americans anymore.

    we do not need to perpetually grow energy production ~ solutions that address consumption are more wise. part of that entails allowing the true costs of consumption to be realized by internalizing alternative cost – then behaviors will change.

    we do not need to found our standard of living on the perpetual growth of material stuff — it ought not be the government’s job to turn a blind eye and actually enable such monetization of all of the values that the public holds dear with the public’s domain for that single unsustainable aim.

    industry won’t take care of what i value. industry’s bottom line is different than mine, and many folks that i know.

    keep the markets in the private. maintain the ability for the experience of diverse values in the public vibrant such that this generation can be proud of its ability to pass on the public trust it was charged to preserve to the next in as good a condition as it found it, better, or the closest to such it can.

  16. Brian Ertz Avatar

    the other thing,

    lots of folk upset about overpopulation creating over-consumption… i just don’t see how building the infrastructure for artificially cheap commodity utilizing public domain helps curb that problem. if anything, it seems to me to be the opposite. stop cutting into the principle of a finite resources ~ especially one that serves as a beacon for non-consumptive, sustainable, alternative values. wildlife and wild-places are a profound and inspiring alternative to the materialism at heart of this unsustainable “standard of living”.

    obstructing perpetual development of our natural resources is infusing/internalizing cost that industry understands ($$$) otherwise externalized ~ that’s good.

  17. kim kaiser Avatar

    what IF we could curb population 1%, imagine how much less of a drain on its resoursces would be achieved on earths trees and grass and water resources,

    From the census bureau:
    CURRENTLY 6,440,113,448 people in the WORLD.

    IN JUNE 08 PROJECTED 6,673,199, 685
    33 million more people in 6 months, every day after that, we have to find 33 million more glasses of water to drink, cook with, etc, milk to feed the 33 million new babies,, take half that for breast feeders, and you still have a lot of milk that babies need,

    IN THE USA 301 million people in 2007
    projected at current growth 350 million in 2025.. 50 million more people sucking air, needing houses, needing food, toilet paper, diapers, water bottles, addl sewage treatment needs. trees for housing,,fuel,

    thats just 17 years,, so if you dont think puttin on a glove isnt at least as important buying a prious and your arent promoting it just as fervent as you promote fuel usage, one is sticking his head in the sand and being irresponsible.

    btw, i have no children, so i at least practise what i preach.

    but, when i look in the traffic jams and at office building staff in all my work travel, on both counts, emissions or population control, 99% are concerned only about getting the kids to soccer, sending the next text message or whatever people are doing, have you ever looked at people in there daily functions, do they really look concerned about any of this on either count.

    You can beat the specifics and beat my theory and you can beat me up call me a nazi or whatever makes you feel better, but you cant beat the size of the numbers that face us in sheer human occupancy of the earths surface, and its effect. so where ever you are standing right now, in 2025, there will be almost 2 more humans, right next to you. THats right, in the coffee shop, 2 more people next to you, at the line in the grocery store, at your favorite park, 2 more people on the trail near you. IF you are encourageing your kids to have you a couple of grandkids, or to have a jr. or a III in the family tree, you are part of the problem, not a solution,, we are strangling the earth of all its resources.

  18. Concerned Avatar

    I am a conservationist….but I would like to pose, one simple question?

    What the hell do we do with the people?

    I have heard many talk about God in these threads, and such, but what exactly does anyone propose we do with the people and the continue growth in world population?

    Are we Really talking about controlling how many children people can have?

    I sure hope not, because that becomes a world I don’t think any of us want to venture into again, just think, the Nazi’s did it, as did the Chinese…that is a very sticky subject..

    I have one child…but come on…we have to have children to continue to perpetuate our species…

    Are you really suggesting, that the human species stop reproducing?

  19. Concerned Avatar

    I would also like to pose the question, just because we became the dominate species on the earth, what makes us so much different than the rest of the species that inhabit this blue ball? We have the reasoning power and we can solve the problems, that is, if we don’t go off in left field…

    I don’t think I want to be the one sterilized and I certainly don’t want my daughter to be sterilized..are we now going to favor the earth going back to the past? I agree, we as humans have exploited the planet, but come on…that is really getting out there…

  20. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Human population control will occur from what it has always occurred from: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse-Disease, Famine, War, and Death. I find the notion that humans can adopt rational, enlightened, non-violent policies to control human population growth ludicrous.

  21. Concerned Avatar

    What I want to know, is who gets to decide? Even the species we work on preserving have the drive to pro-create and survive, do we really think we can “control” human population with out having problems?

  22. kim kaiser Avatar

    part of the problem is our own ability to survive longer.. look at the drugs out older population takes to keep on keepin on,, 4 and 5 and six precriptions 1500 bucks a month but complain about high prescription cost, and living to 98 but cant walk down the hall with out a 15 pill a day sustenace pack, science has not only allowed us to live so much longer but to have many more when just 40 years ago,if you couldnt have one, well you counldnt have one,,,,45 year old women are taking fertility pills to have there second round of kids,,,,even younger women who naturally cant have kids go to great lentghts to have kids at considerable expense…. If you believe in some semblence of natural selections,,woudlnt it hold that if you cant naturally have a child, maybe there is a genetic reason you shouldnt and thus, shouldnt have one, and yet, we see people who cant have a child take fertility pills to have 6 and 7 at a time. oh sure, its just few, but my gosh,, is it really necessary to fulfull that be fruitful and mutiltply.

    the other thing is that most of the population growth is in underdevoped nations that cant afford to allow additional people, they dont have resources,, (food and medicine) to provide for what they have,, and we send them more and more and more food and money, to perpetuate,,,, as Robert says, 4 of the 4 are already trying to happen in some o the african nations now,, but the BONO;s of the world just wont let it happen..but an ebola is gonna pop up somewhere , ,jsut like in the elk feed grain locations where elk congregate and diease develops,, it will happen in these nations as overpopulation will breed a diease we can stop before it creates an epidemic

    who gets to decide,,?? you simply cannot talk about “conservation” and ignore human over population,, maybe humanity needs a reality check,however russias Putin said in the last year, he want to reward his people to have MORE kids, for security reasons,,they are going to need more soldiers in the years to bout that ..

    i for one think the chinese did themselves a great service to the world by trying to curtail there human production. You dont have to tell people to stop, but you can make having them a real burden if you go over a couple children, no tax breaks, pay additional taxes for each one over two, etc..make people think,, do we REALLY need to have our 7 th kid,can we really afford this,,we have SO MANY give aways and free rides in all forms in this country, I am also catholic, but I do not subscribe to that notion or gobs of offspring, i think it is financially, ecologically/environmentally, and socially irresponsible. how and where the heck is all this food gonna come from,, well,, rainforest in arg and BRZ are this minute being cut down thousands of acres a month to make crops for corn and beans, one for the new ethanol craze and the other for food. Africa is cutting there rainforest to make room for you know what, more farms for more food for more people., all at the expense of our cousins the gorilla and the other endangered forest specie,,.and you dont see the hippocrasy of it all or disregard it and just say, but we are humans, we are entitled,,

    I find it really hippocritical to say we need to control bison or wolves or elk or elephants or what ever we strive to ‘MANAGE” and at the same time, say why should we MANAGE ourselves,,,

    To me,, the root of the envirnmental problem is the human population.. we are the only one that is not even attempted to be controlled and yet is the most destructive of all specie,

  23. dbaileyhill Avatar

    I have to agree with Robert Hoskins. But would like to expand on diseases just briefly. I think that nature tries to balance overpopulation, and not completely unlike the effects as seen with elk, ie., elk farms and the Nat’l Elk Refuge. Humans need to meddle because they believe they can do a better job than nature, and also because they do not want to see the “bad” things that can happen even though it is a natural part of all life. For example; There was a time that people were not starving in Africa. Simply put, birth and mortality rates were fairly equal, and there was plenty of food. Then a certain group who were upset at all the deaths and vaccinated everyone. The birth rates rose dramatically and deaths dropped dramatically. The land could not support such a large population and the people began starving to death. Most of us if not all have seen the ads with the heartbreaking photos of children…..
    Densely populated areas allow for the easy spread of disease; influenza kills over 20,000 people a year. There is an extensive list of just communicable diseases.
    Antibiotics are losing efficacy at ever alarming rates; if a little is good then a lot is even better, right? If it is good for people then it is good insurance for livestock. It is one enormous, tangled mess of vicious circles with no pretty or pleasant solutions.
    I saw a story on tv recently about a woman who has given birth to 26 children and is currently pregnant with #27. She is a single mother who has been addicted to drugs most of her life, is currently struggling with drugs, is in jail, doesn’t know who any of the fathers are, and all the kids have been taken away, as will #27 when born.
    Mine were really surprised when before my fifth b-day i told them that i was not going to have any babies because there were too many kids without homes. I reminded my mother again in my teens; she told me i was very selfish.
    Back to wildlife and vicious circles–I think about how crazy it is that we have one gov’t agency to kill wildlife, and another to save wildlife. Also, i doubt that if the Elk Refuge is eliminated, it will be a pleasant solution.

  24. dbaileyhill Avatar

    Hey Kim, we must have been writing at the same time. I just wanted to add that people were not meant to have litters.

  25. Concerned Avatar

    I am not sorry to say Kim, People like you scare the crap out of me, and I have worked in conservation for over 20 years now..and seen just about all extremes you can imagine..

    As I said, we created the problem, which means we have the solutions to the problems.

  26. Brian Ertz Avatar

    any decent model shows that human population plateaus as economic justice takes hold – and the education, health care, etc. that follows. look at europe. this does not imply that we need to produce more wealth – from my perspective it suggests government ought not promote disparity as it does today and community ought be valued – that means “public”.

    population control is not an appropriate solution ~ that is, it’s not politically viable, i do not believe it to be right, nor is it effective when you consider the advances in technology which afford greater consumption at at least the rate of population growth. it does no good to cut the population by 1/3 if the remaining 2/3 consumes at twice the rate to keep up with the jones’s. with population, government can educate, cinch over-consumption of public resource that promotes artificially low costs of consumption, and enforce democratically established standards of economic and ecological justice (including international to leverage our markets toward stifling corruption in places like mexico which result in economic disparity and excessive immigration). consumption is where government can make meaningful contributions to the future of the world internalizing costs of production by initiating regulation as they do in places like Denmark (I believe) “cradle to grave” whereby when you go to buy a car you pay for the production costs of the car thought the entirely of its life as well as the cost of ensuring that all of the components of the vehicle are recycled, reused. taxing the hell out of carbon (and other sources of peril for society in general), etc.

    having children is not the problem and if it is ~ good luck. rearing children in a culture that values consumption above all else is the problem. of course, i welcomed a daughter into this world on 2/27 so take that with a grain i suppose.

  27. dbaileyhill Avatar

    Brian Ertz,
    Congratulations are in order. From reading your writings on this blog, i bet you will be a great dad. (Not that my opinion matters). You just seem very much like my dad was. Being human he was not perfect, but he always did his best and was the greatest positive influence of who i am.
    I am certain that conservation, integrity, and teamwork would make a world of difference. (pun intended). Those three things alone will still make a huge difference despite those who are running this country. The world will never be perfect, but it can be made to be much better.
    We just need to be supportive of each other and never give up when things are going poorly. I have to remind myself constantly to be persistent and consistent, and BFC is an excellent example of never giving up. Ten years is one very long protest…..

  28. kim kaiser Avatar

    why should you have fear of me, i think its jsut basically wrong and arrogant that if we cant control ourselves, how can we possi bly think we can control anything else, i know it will never happen, we will continually expand our genetic debris exponenetially, and continue to try to keep the rest of the non human inhabitants pushed and cornered into small slices and call that conservation,,whats to fear there,,

  29. dbaileyhill Avatar

    To defend the west and anything worth protecting everyone will need to make sacrifices. We need to keep the open spaces open. And if living in an apartment or condominium can insure that our wilderness areas are not encroached upon, then i think that is a worthwhile change. I think the importance of emphasizing ownership of land etc, has contributed to the detriment of western places. In some
    areas of Europe it is common to live in apartments, home and land ownership are less common. They build upwards instead of spreading out.
    People need to realize that their actions and decisions not only affects them, but all those around them too. Very simply put, common courtesy needs to be emphasized over the me, me, me, it’s all about me attitude. Being victimized has been reinforced to the point of it becoming a lifestyle and not taking responsibility for one’s own actions have become the norm. It is always someone else’s fault. (ie, it’s the credit card companies fault that i can’t pay my bill, It’s the mortgage companies fault, etc.) Being a responsible citizen can change a lot.
    I cannot speak for anyone else here, but i am guessing that one of the first thoughts that come to mind at the mention of population control most likely would be the nazis exterminating the Jewish people. Ethnic cleansing. The thought that someone would consider who decides to live and what criteria is used to determine that is extremely frightening at the very least. I am just speaking generally, as I just think that is one of the first things that comes to the minds of many people at the mention of population control.
    The true Russian people have been pro-birth because while the USSR still existed they were the minority in their own country. Their intentions were and still may be that they need to become stronger by increasing their numbers.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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