Oregon, Public Lands, The West

A Not So Well Regulated Militia


          “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

– Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


As word spread over the weekend about the armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon by a self-styled militia group social media lit up. One posting asked if the protesters represented “that well regulated militia” we hear so much about. The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz suggested that Oregon erect a 20-foot high wall around the state to keep out angry white men and that any angry white guys currently in the state be deported to, say, Texas. There were debates over whether the occupiers were “protesters” or “terrorists.”

Malheur Lake Duck Northern pintail ducks coming in for a landing in the late fall at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Malheur Lake – pintail ducks coming in for a landing in the late fall at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

In all seriousness this is no laughing matter. There is a crazy saga, long in the making and dangerous in its potential, unfolding in the remote high desert near the rural cowboy and timber town of Burns, Oregon.

This is a reaction against many perceived wrongs, including the American judicial system and the long established notion that all the people of the United States own the public’s land. The forefathers of Oregon’s current takeover gang cut their teeth on the mostly manufactured outrage that drove the Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1980’s and the even earlier Posse Comitatus movement. Some of the rugged individuals of the American West have always been in revolt against what they consider an alien government. Some things never change.

It should also probably not be a great surprise, given the current state of American politics and the desire by too many to make the most of the anger that seems to pervade every public issue, that we would eventually have to confront a bunch of gun toting radicals occupying a bird sanctuary as they make some kind of point about how much they disagree with “the feds.”

To say that the “standoff” is dangerous, as in Ruby Ridge or Waco dangerous, is to understate the broader implications. The armed guys in cowboy hats initially showed up in Burns to protest the judicial treatment of two local ranchers, but as the local sheriff said over the weekend, “these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.” The self-styled “militiamen” in Oregon are not a new phenomenon in the West, but perhaps they do represent a more aggressive strain of land use protesters than we have seen in a while.

Schwartz cartoon for the New Yorker
Schwartz cartoon for the New Yorker

The takeover group, apparently all from outside the local community, clearly rejects much of the established system of law and justice in the country and embraces a version of the American Constitution that, despite what they say and obviously believe, has never existed.

Most westerners adhering to such beliefs live out there “off the grid,” desiring to be left alone, not paying their taxes and believing that the Founders sanctioned such nonsense. Once in a while one gets elected to something, but since they don’t really believe in government the tenure of office is usually pretty short.

The yahoos in Oregon, by contrast, seem to have spontaneously decided to occupy a remote wildlife refuge in the dead of winter and vowed to stay, well, forever. But demanding what exactly? That the federal government disappear? That the land Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore in 1803 be privatized?

The Roots of Protest…

This “protest” is as incoherent as the beliefs of the protesters, but we can surely trace the current eastern Oregon standoff to the federal government’s earlier incoherent and ineffective response to southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s blatant disregard of federal law back in 2014. Bundy and his followers, armed to the teeth, bullied and threatened federal officials to such a degree that the government backed down and continued to allow Bundy to graze cattle illegally on public lands without paying you and me for the privilege of doing so.

You will remember that Bundy’s case became a several day sensation on Fox News with politicians like Senator Rand Paul shamelessly pandering to deeply engrained anti-public lands sentiment among many hard right conservatives (or libertarians) in the West.

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy

Now, Bundy’s sons have led the armed takeover of the wildlife refuge in Oregon based on the completely specious argument that public land is illegal. Even a public land skeptic like Randal O’Toole of the libertarian Cato Institute says the takeover is crazy.

“The Supreme Court has heard hundreds of cases involving federal land and has never ruled that the Constitution does not allow the federal government to own land in the West,” O’Toole writes. “So any battle against federal ownership would have to fought politically, not in the courts.” Taking that approach, of course, would mean that people who don’t accept settled law on a whole range of things and feels it’s fine to threaten harm to public officials would suddenly have to accept that they can never prevail in a political process in a democratic system.

O’Toole also points out that 90% of westerners live in urban areas where many people actually like wildlife refuges and enjoy national parks. Sympathy for “spotted owls and sandhill cranes” in the urban West is a good deal greater than for sheep and cattle or for cowboys who don’t pay their way. But then again true believers don’t have to believe in rules made for the rest of us.

The federal government has long and often been a target for the legitimate grievances of many people who live in the wide-open spaces of the West. The rules and regulations often seem arbitrary, confusing or misguided, The paperwork is annoying and the economic ups and downs of the resources industries can stimulate anger about a way of rural life that seems fragile, even fleeting to many. And if you don’t subscribe to the law, not to mention the philosophy of the greatest good for the greatest number, you conveniently don’t have to worry about clean water, endangered species or paying for our rangeland.

But what is happening in Oregon and happened before in southern Nevada goes beyond legitimate grievance. This is no mere “protest against government,” but instead the Bundys and their followers have walked right up to the line of sedition.

When an earlier day “terrorist” by the name of John Brown, admittedly acting on behalf of a much better cause than the Bundy’s, seized a federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859 in an act of revolt against the federal government he was tried and executed. Most of us would probably be content to see the Bundy Gang indicted for using weapons to seize a federal facility, a felony crime, by the way, that ironically would prevent anyone found guilty of violating from owning a gun.

The federal government’s failure to enforce the law against Cliven Bundy in 2014 sent a signal to his sons in 2016 and they have now acted on that signal in Oregon. The message was sent that the essential social and legal compact we make with each other as Americans can be disregarded if a self-styled militiaman hints at violence and commands enough media and political attention.

Back in 2014, the New York Times quoted Alan O’Neill, a one-time superintendent of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in southern Nevada, who had experienced his own earlier run in with Cliven Bundy. “He calls himself a patriot, and says he loves America,” Mr. O’Neill said then. “And yet he says he won’t follow any federal laws. You just can’t let this go by, or everybody is going to be like, ‘If Bundy can break the law, why can’t I?’ ”

Welcome to Oregon 2016…

Turns out the Oregon ranchers who were convicted of arson – they set fire to public grazing lands without Bureau of Land Management approval and were senselessly sentenced under a federal terrorism statute – also have a bit of history. More than 20- years ago rancher Dwight Hammond was accused of “disturbing and harassing” federal officers. High County News reported in 1994 that, “a thick file at refuge headquarters [the same refuge now occupied by the Bundy Gang] reveals just how patient refuge managers have been” in dealing with Hammond, who “allegedly made death threats against previous managers in 1986 and 1988 and against…the current manager, in 1991” and again in 1994.

The newspaper also reported that Hammond had “never given the required 24 hours’ notice before moving his cows across the refuge and that he allowed the cows to linger for as long as three days, trespassing along streams and trampling young willows that refuge workers had planted to repair damage wrought by years of overgrazing.”

It is not difficult to conclude that the entire situation has been poorly handled by the government and by the cowboys. There is a widely held view, for example, that the punishment vastly exceeds the Hammond’s crime and a belief persists among many who have watched this case that a vindictive federal government, at best, is guilty of harassing the ranchers. No one should be so naive as to believe that such things do not happen. The government, too, makes mistakes.

Hard cases, they say, make bad law and this case is hard, unfortunate, troubling and may well demand a further review – including a clemency review – that is untainted by the emotions and history of Harney County.

It must be noted that on Monday the Hammonds turned themselves in, as scheduled, to face punishment and they had earlier taken significant steps to distance themselves from the refuge takeover. Nonetheless, it is important to separate the rancher’s case and the emotions surrounding it from the armed takeover of a federal facility which is a crime that demands a timely legal and law enforcement response.

Pro-Hammond protest in Burns, Oregon. KOIN photo
Pro-Hammond protest in Burns, Oregon. KOIN photo

Unlike the Fox News firestorm that made the southern Nevada Bundy incident a national story, this time most politicians, even Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz, have behaved sensibly.

“Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds,” Senator Cruz told reporters in Iowa. “But we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence against others. So it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”

One has to sympathize with the local sheriff and other officials who seem determined to defuse the situation without someone getting hurt. But they need help. A good step toward defusing the situation and avoiding violence would be for more elected officials, particularly conservatives across the West to state the obvious: the United States is a nation of laws and not individuals and following the law is not an optional exercise.

You can dislike the law, you can peacefully protest, you can petition the government and elected officials to change the law. You can even commit civil disobedience if you are willing to accept the consequences. You cannot, however, ammo up and take the law into your own hands. You cannot pick and chose the laws you will obey and you cannot commit armed sedition.

Disregarding long established law – the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge at the center of the Oregon dispute was created in 1908 when that well-known political despot Teddy Roosevelt was president – only breeds more disregard. In a representative democracy laws matter and upholding the law matters just as much.


Airport Security, Andrus, Boise, Conservation, Egan, Idaho Politics, Labor Day, McClure, Refugees, Simpson, The West

A Celebration of Politics Working…

It would be easy – even inevitable – given the dysfunctional state of American politics to just say the heck with it – nothing works any longer and nothing much gets done. I’ve been in that funk and may well slip back soon enough, but today I take heart that politics can still work.

The Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho
The Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho

The United States Senate this week completed action on a piece of legislation to protect more than a quarter million acres of some of the most spectacular landscape on the North American continent as Wilderness – with a capital W. The action, eventually coming as the result of a unanimous consent request in the Senate, follows similar approval in the House of Representatives. President Obama’s signature will come next.

The Politics of Effort…

The legislation is largely the result of determined, persistent effort by Idaho Republican Congressman Mike Simpson, a legislator of the old school who actually serves in Congress in order to get things accomplished and not merely to build his resume and court the fringe elements of his own party. Simpson is not the type of lawmaker that many in his party might wish him to be – one of those nameless, faceless members who vote NO, do as little as possible, get re-elected every two years and blame Washington’s shortcomings on “bureaucrats” and “Democrats.”

Rep. Mike Simpson
Rep. Mike Simpson

For the better part of fifteen years Simpson has, often single-handedly, championed greater environmental protections for the high peaks, lush meadows and gin-clear lakes of the Boulder-White Clouds area in his sprawling Congressional district in eastern Idaho. Rather than churn headlines denouncing the environmental movement, Simpson invited them to the table along with ranchers, county commissioners and a host of other interests to find a way to resolve controversies in the Idaho back country that date back decades. None of the parties trusted the others, but Simpson made them reason together with the quiet hard work that is the essence of real politics.

Blessed with a fine staff and the instincts of a patient dealmaker, Simpson worked the problem, understood the perspectives of the various interests and pushed, cajoled, humored, debated, smiled, and worked and waited and never gave up. At any number of points along the way a lesser legislator might well have lost patience, gotten discouraged or just said the hell with it, but Simpson never did, even when blindsided by members of his own party who once unceremoniously knifed his legislation after publicly indicating their support.

I wasn’t alone in concluding that the political process in Washington and the “Hell No Caucus” in Mike Simpson’s own party would never permit passage of another wilderness bill in Idaho. Over time the discouraged and disgruntled placed what little of their faith remained with President Obama. Obama, who has only gotten grief from Idaho Republicans the last seven years and owes the state nothing except maybe a thank you to a handful of Democrats who give him a 2008 caucus victory over Hillary Clinton, hinted that he would use “executive action” to declare the Boulder-White Clouds a National Monument. That potential provided the grease needed to lubricate Simpson’s legislative handiwork and the stalemate was broken.

There is an old maxim that dictates that you can keep your opponents off balance and disadvantaged in politics by displaying just enough unpredictability – even recklessness – that they think you just might be crazy enough to do what they most fear. Idaho Republicans, who had mostly not lifted a finger to help Mike Simpson over the years, came to believe that Obama just might be crazy enough to stick his proclamation pen in their faces and create a monument twice the size of the wilderness Simpson’s proposed.

Make no mistake, whatever they might say now, the determined congressman would not have received the support he ultimately did from other Idaho Republicans had they not feared – really feared – action by the president that would have created an Idaho national monument. It also didn’t hurt that Simpson and conservation-minded Idahoans in both political parties demonstrated broad public support for action on the Boulder-White Clouds.

Victory has a thousand fathers…and mothers…

While it is tempting to gloat about the late comers to the grand cause of environmental protection finally having to cave, it is more important to remember that political victory always has a thousand fathers and mothers. This is a moment to celebrate. Mike Simpson deserves – really deserves – to savor what will be a big part of his political legacy. Idaho conservationists, particularly the Idaho Conservation League and its leadership, deserve to celebrate the role that Idaho’s oldest conservation organization played in creating what some of us thought we would never see again – a wilderness bill in Idaho.

Cece Andrus in the shadow of the White Clouds
Cece Andrus in the shadow of the White Clouds – Idaho PTV photo 

There must be praise for visionaries who came before, particularly including former Governor Cecil D. Andrus who campaigned against an open pit mine in the area in 1970 and later attempted to do what has now been done. The late Idaho Senators Frank Church and Jim McClure deserve a big acknowledgement. Both knew the value of protecting the area and never flagged in their determination to see it accomplished. Countless other Idaho hikers, hunters, fishermen and outdoor recreationists played their indispensable roles as well.

Best of all, unborn generations of Americans will now have a chance to experience one the most remarkable, pristine, and beautiful areas in the entire country, if not the world. American wilderness is landscape and habitat and majesty and solitude, but it is also a state of mind. Knowing we have conserved something so special and so valuable not just for ourselves, but also for the future is truly a priceless gift.

On this one occasion and after decades of work, the good that politics can do reigns supreme. A piece of heaven right here on earth has been saved and we are all the richer for it.

Campaign Finance, Health Care, Prostate Cancer, The West

I’m Marc’s Prostate


As a kid growing up it always seemed that we had a daily newspaper in the house, as well as a magazine or two. We watched the network evening news, of course, everyone did, but for real information we turned to print. Very old school. My Dad was particularly fond of Reader’s Digest and would often consume the entire contents of the latest edition in one sitting. The articles were mostly short, crisply written and, in matters of politics, almost always had a right-of-center slant.

The Digest also had jokes that could be repeated safely in polite company. I particularly remember pages of jokes called “Humor in Uniform” (for the World War II generation like my parents ) and “Life in These United States,” humorous little stories about everyday life.  Sometime in the 1960’s the Digest also started publishing a series of short articles on various aspects of human health all written from the perspective of the vital organ featured. I distinctly remember Dad pointing out to me that I needed to read and absorb a little feature entitled “I’m Joe’s Heart.”

“I’m certainly no beauty,” Joe’s Heart says writing in the first person (or organ). “I weigh 12 ounces, am red-brown in color, and have an unimpressive shape. I am the dedicated slave of —well, let’s call him Joe. Joe is 45, ruggedly good-looking, has a pretty wife, three children and an excellent job. Joe has made it. Me? I’m Joe’s heart.”

Joe’s heart goes on to report that Joe probably eats too much fat, has gained weight, smokes and doesn’t exercise enough. Sound familiar? It was a good, gentle and authoritatively delivered message that remains as appropriate today as it was to the Don Draper generation in the 1960’s. Reader’s Digest pieces on “Joe’s Liver” and “Joe’s Kidney” followed. I don’t recall that there was a Reader’s Digest piece on Joe’s Prostate this was, after all,  way before WebMD and “men’s health” (and women’s, for that matter) wasn’t much discussed in the polite company where Dad told his jokes.

Things have changed for the better in that regard with the Internet full to overflowing with good, authoritative information on “Joe’s Prostate,” or in the case that I have become most familiar with – my prostate.

Like more than 200,000 American men annually I was diagnosed recently with prostate cancer. Next to skin cancer, prostate cancer in the most commonly occurring cancer among American men. The disease claimed more than 28,000 lives in 2009, the last year for which we have the most complete figures. There is almost truth to the line I’ve heard and now use myself – “if you live long enough, I’ll get prostate cancer.” Prostate cancer is indeed widespread and it takes a particular gruesome toll among African-American men.

My case – special to me, for sure – nonetheless seems fairly typical in many ways. My own concerns about heart health lead me some years ago to regularly monitor blood pressure, cholesterol and other blood markers. Often these simple blood tests will also include the somewhat controversial screen for prostate cancer – the PSA test, or  prostatic specific antigen. Early this year my PSA level took a jump in the wrong direction. A re-test confirmed the increase and signaled cause for concern. A number of good and caring health care professionals advised a biopsy of, what until this spring had been, my somewhat mysterious prostate. The biopsy, conducted in a doctor’s office, confirmed cancer.

Like millions of other Americans I now know what it’s like to have a doctor straightforwardly tell you – “you have cancer.” Wow. Didn’t see that coming. It is a moment of coming face-to-face with your own mortality. One’s attention is immediately fixed.

Like any unwelcome news there was for me, at least, a period of denial. There must be some mistake, right? Cancer doesn’t run in the family. From a health standpoint I haven’t been behaving that badly. Maybe too much red meat and too few veggies, but I get my exercise. What gives? Soon enough denial gave way to questions about what can be done to treat the unwelcome visitor in the nether regions of the male anatomy? Answering that question became a research mission of the kind I have never before undertaken.

I offer only two pieces of advice in this little prostate post with the first being the importance of becoming your own best advocate when confronted with any health challenge. Doctors and other medical professionals are (generally) wonderful people, committed, smart, caring and often overwhelmed. They exist not just to treat your condition, but to be a walking, talking sources of first-rate professional information. In order to take full advantage of their knowledge, however, I’m convinced you must do your own homework and engage in the development of your own treatment strategy. Knowledge really is power and information about your health care options truly is empowering.

Since April I’ve spent hours reading, consulting friends who have dealt with the same issue, and quizzing health care professionals trying to learn about what I now consider my favorite gland. I gave that gland up to surgery a little over a week ago after it became clear to me that what the surgeon’s call a “radical prostatectomy” was my best option given factors like age, overall health and the state of my cancer. The surgery, again from my perspective, was a very big deal. Thousands of men undergo this treatment every year, but facing major surgery, time in hospital and recovery was a brand new experience for me.

Friends and family faced this new challenge with me and 10 days on I’m feeling better and better. There will be months ahead of coping with and overcoming the undesirable side effects of prostate removal, but thanks to early detection, superb medical care and those who have helped – they know who they are – I feel today like a 60 year old guy with a new lease on life.

Second piece of advice: don’t be confused about the controversy and debate over the utility of PSA testing after age 40. Every male needs to have enough information in order to formulate a personal point a view on this central issue of male health. In my case, because a savvy family practice doctor has rather routinely checked my PSA levels, which led to my early diagnosis, I am an advocate of the checks on a regular basis. The rap against the test is that it’s not precise, produces false positives and causes many men to undergo expensive testing that may not be needed.

In short, whatever you decide for yourself, don’t be a victim of a lack of knowledge. Take charge of your own health. Decide what works for you. It just might save your life. In my case I’m convinced regular testing and early diagnosis did save my life.

Finally to all the family and friends who have sent endless good wishes my way for the last couple of months I can only say – thanks a million. In the busy world of the 21st Century it is all too easy to take for granted, or not fully appreciate, the awesome power of people who take the time and trouble to care. Take it from me: it means the world.

Late last week a call from my surgeon confirmed that the pathology work up on my former prostate and the other tissue he removed during surgery was negative. My cancer had not spread beyond the prostate. In the textbooks they call that a good outcome.

My personal brush with the disease that is described as the “most rapidly rising” in most countries around the world was both frightening and enlightening. I am richly blessed to have had access to (and been able to afford) world-class health care and the tools to seek out information upon which to make life changing (and saving) decisions. I come away with a new appreciation for the American public health crisis of obesity, poor nutrition and lack of access to care and I’m convinced that knowledge and awareness of a whole range of health care issues is at the heart of a healthier country.

I’ve always taken good health for granted. I now consider it a gift, indeed a miracle.

Air Travel, Airport Security, Books, The West

The Big Burn

The Big Burn by Tim EganPositive Notices Roll in for Egan’s Latest

As I noted in this space a while back, Tim Egan’s new book – The Big Burn – is a winner both as western (especially Idaho) history and as a cautionary tale about natural resource policy.

Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review and Kirkus said it is a must for any “green bookshelf.”

Egan’s work deserves a wide audience and appears to be getting one based upon accolades so far.

The Seattle Times said: “The Big Burn shows off Egan’s writerly skills and will bring attention to both how the Northwest was won — with big timber at the front — as well as the current debate over fire prevention in the wilderness.”

The Washington Times, a newspaper not likely to embrace much of what Egan writes in his New York Times column, nonetheless loved his book: “Not since David McCullough’s 1968 The Johnstown Flood grabbed readers and hurled them down the narrow Conemaugh Valley to certain doom can I remember a natural-disaster yarn that yanks one by the back of the neck face to face with horror the way Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn brings the great Western fire of 1910 over the mountain to destroy the town of Wallace, Idaho.”

The Oregonian’s review focused on the heroes of Egan’s story: “Timothy Egan loves the story of Ed Pulaski and tells it with relish, gesturing with his arms and lowering his voice to imitate Pulaski. He also loves the story of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the future president and the first chief of the Forest Service, stripping to their underwear and wrestling to seal their friendship in 1899.”

The Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker has a good piece on the book and, like me, loves the story of forester Pulaski who left his family during the worst of the great fire to march back into the woods to help his trapped firefighters.

In a long essay on the first chief of the Forest Service, Pennsylvanian Gifford Pinchot, who plays a center role in The Big Burn, the Philadelphia Inquirer said: “Central to Egan’s story are the nation’s forests themselves. And Pinchot’s efforts to conserve them.”

And, the Christian Science Monitor says: “What makes The Big Burn particularly impressive is Egan’s skill as an equal-opportunity storyteller. By this I mean that he recounts the stories of men and women completely unknown to most of us with the same fervor he uses to report the stories of historic figures.”

For Idaho history buffs, Egan’s book also resurrects one of the state’s true political characters, Senator Weldon Heyburn, who has mostly been forgotten.

The Twin Falls Times-News notes that the mean-spirited Heyburn was a “hard man to like” and that, “In his hometown of Wallace, the U.S. senator from Idaho once stopped a visiting band in mid-performance and ran it out of town because he didn’t like a tune it was playing.”

Heyburn State Park near Plummer, Idaho – the oldest park in the Northwest – is named after the Senator. After you read Tim Egan’s book, you may well conclude that renaming the park to honor Ed Pulaski would make some sense.

The Big Burn is as good a piece of northwest political, cultural and public policy history – all in the wrappings of an adventure story – as we’ve seen in a long time.

Go read it.

Airport Security, Al Gore, The West, Theodore Roosevelt

How the West Was Saved

ConservationConservation Visionaries

Douglas Brinkley’s fine new book – The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America – tells the great story of how Roosevelt, the New Yorker born of privilege who became a westerner by choice, came to preserve during his presidency vast amounts – 230 million acres total – of national forest land, monuments, wildlife refuges and parks.

Roosevelt’s remarkable foresight keeps on giving. More than 100 years after TR’s aggressive use of Executive Orders and the Antiquities Act marked him as the nation’s foremost conservationist, we are still debating what to do with all he set aside. Thank the 26th president for not foreclosing our options all those years ago.

When some westerners speak dismissively of the unique American legacy of public ownership of vast amounts of beautiful, rugged, economically valuable, and often largely untouched land they tend to refer to the acreage as “federal land.” But that is inaccurate. The land belongs to all of us just as TR envisioned and every generation since Roosevelt has faced the task of reconcilining its stewardship responsibilities with the unrelenting pressure – and unrelenting need – to harvest timber, extract minerals, generate energy and generally support a modern society.

The debate over that stewardship of public land has often been shrill and polarizing, but that may be changing at least a little.

In a thoughtful piece in The Atlantic Jonathan Weber, publisher of NewWest.net, an on line magazine covering the west, extolled what may be a gathering trend – attempting to resolve age old disputes about western land management using collaboration and compromise right here in the west rather than resorting to bombast and lawyers.

Weber points to the approach pioneered in Idaho by Rick Johnson, the Executive Director of the Idaho Conservation League (ICL), that has helped engineer recent new wilderness protection for the magnificant Owyhee Canyonlands in extreme southwestern Idaho and will soon, we can hope, finally see through the Congress the long sought, often delayed protection of the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in central Idaho.

Johnson – no relation, but a friend – has learned what some in the conservation community, and the national media, have yet to see: pragmatic, common sense conservation must be built from the ground up and it will always involve compromise. ICL has made common cause with two pretty conservative Idaho Republicans – Senator Mike Crapo and Congressman Mike Simpson – in the interest of moving the ball on wilderness protection, while also acknowledging the local need for economic stablity and jobs.

Montana’s new Democratic Senator John Tester is working the same trapline and I”ll be surprised if we don’t see more use of the model across the vast American west. It seems to be working.

I marvel at Teddy Roosevelt’s vision that encompassed creation of the remarkable system of national forests that provide us raw materials, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and solitude. At the same time the man who hunted every type of African game and proudly saw to it that mounted heads graced the walls of his home and many musuems was also the bird loving creator of Deer Flat and Minidoka Wildlife Refuges in Idaho.

When I spent last Christmas at the picturesque old El Tovar lodge on the south rim of the Grand Canyon – the park was saved by Roosevelt from the designs of early Arizona miners – and walked in the snow along the trial overlooking what may be the most spectacular site in the country, I couldn’t help but feel immense gratitude for the old Rough Rider’s certainty that this marvelous place must be conserved for all of us and forever.

Thankfully TR had the vision to act as he did; mostly unilaterally and often in the face of powerful opposition. But, thanks as well for a new generation of westerners, of many political stripes, who realize a different time demands a different approach.

The great writer Wallace Stegner often made the point that westerners live with many myths, including the myth that the west was built by the hands of rugged individuals acting on their own. Not true, Stegner said. The west has been built through cooperation and government action including reclamation projects created 100 years ago and 2009 stimulus spending on everything from renewable energy to road and transit projects.

The west’s story has always involved much hard give and take. The west’s true rugged individuals realize that fact and are willing to summon the courage and sustain the energy to work and worry over the compromises that continue to make the west a place of hope, opportunity and awe.

As Roosevelt once said: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Good advice and not a bad slogan for the future of the American west.