The same beast stalks the West

  Dear HCN,


Thanks for Jon Margolis' piece exposing the West's new menace (HCN, 4/27/98); for far too long, the recreation/tourism industry has been treated with kid gloves, wrongly presumed environmentally benign. Yet, while I applaud questioning the motives of the American Recreation Coalition, there is hidden in Margolis' analysis a seriously flawed and potentially destructive assumption, one which too many would-be environmentalists are depending on.


In the telling passage, Margolis suggests there is an emerging conflict between "two New Wests," one with the backing of ARC types and conservative legislators, and the other composed of "high-tech industry and nature-friendly recreation ..." ; unfortunately, there is nowhere near such a good-bad polarity in the region.


There seems to be a persistent, shallow perception among most of these "New West" environmentalists that if and when Western cities and towns shift from resource-extraction to high-tech economic bases, they suddenly come to exist in a vacuum, no longer impacting the local environment as a consequence of belonging to the "information age." In reality, they simply impact it in new ways; the high-tech industry perpetuates other extractive economic activities which are equally as destructive as the old ones. Some are fairly intuitive - witness Intel sucking the life out of the Rio Grande, or Peabody raping more of Black Mesa to serve burgeoning regional utility demands. The most insidious, however, is more slippery, shrouded in the nauseating tripe of real-estate ads: extracting hip, "90s lifestyles from the intangible ecological, scenic and spiritual values of the public lands.


I have yet to see a single instance in the West where some benevolent high-tech industry relocated in some former backwater, or even a regional-center cowtown like Denver, and then committed to relying solely on the local population for its workforce - nor do I expect to see this ever occur.


On the contrary, high-tech industry is conscious of the marketing benefits of "outdoor recreation" in the West, and wields it as an enticement to help attract the skilled workers it wants from remote urban centers. Why do we suppose Nike considered locating a new tech facility in Golden, Colo., as opposed to Tulsa, Okla., or Hoboken, N.J.? With the celebrated arrival of allegedly "clean" industry like software programming comes significantly enhanced opportunity for the industry's developer cronies to exploit the non-existent or antiquated (formerly unneeded) land-use controls typical of the West.


Suddenly, the previously vital and often ecologically productive private land located within the sphere of influence of public-lands recreation is replaced with innumerable iterations of a dead, formulaic "Western outdoor lifestyle" for the high-tech newcomers. Recreation, specifically the fashionable lifestyle image its pursuit and its trinkets convey, helps keep the industry's workers in the area, and motivates continued new arrivals to meet the job growth demands accompanying industry expansion.


The big loser is nature, which, while perhaps retaining a few protected islands of wildness, sacrifices its soul to the developer, the marketer, and the shameless whim of fashion, ensuring there can never again be a true, healthy, local connectedness between people and nature in the West - for it would bring down property values. (Working in a cubicle 60 hours a week followed by climbing on Sundays does not, in my mind, connote a connection with the land.)


High-tech and recreation in the West are mutually reinforcing, and that implies not "nature-friendly," but nature-menacing recreation. The result of this supposedly happy marriage in the "New" West?


The worst environmental threat the West has yet seen: overpopulation.


What is going on here is neither, as Margolis suggests, a conflict of two "New Wests," nor even a conflict between "New" and "Old." The New West of high-tech and gratuitous recreation is the same beast as the Old West. Though the means are different, the West of the 1990s is characterized by the exploitation of remaining natural resources and the willful displacement of the local population by righteous newcomers, just as it was in the 1880s. The weapons of this generation are no longer obviously aggressive ones like rifles, steam shovels and chain saws, but "mainstream" ones: computer chips, software, telecommuting, RVs, mountain bikes, pitons; and accommodating it all, "1" acre lot, full services, year-round access, spectacular mountain living ..."





Mark Adams


Boulder, Colorado


NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Take over the reins of a dynamic grassroots social justice group that protects Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - Winter Wildlands Alliance seeks an experienced and highly motivated individual to lead and manage the organization as Executive Director. Visit https://winterwildlands.org/executive-director-search/ for...
  • Background: The Birds of Prey NCA Partnership is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Boise, Idaho, which was established in 2015 after in-depth stakeholder input...
  • Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor of Native Americans and the News Media The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is...
  • AWF seeks an energetic Marketing and Communications Director. Please see the full job description at https://azwildlife.org/jobs
  • The Southwest Communications Director will be responsible for working with field staff in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico to develop and execute detailed communication plans...
  • An intentional community designed for aging in place. Green built with Pumice-crete construction (R32), bamboo flooring, pine doors, T&G ceiling with fans, and maintenance free...
  • (CFROG) is a Ventura County, CA based watch-dog and advocacy non-profit organization. cfrog.org
  • Take your journalism skills to the next level and deepen your understanding of environmental issues by applying for the 2019-2020 Ted Scripps Fellowships in Environmental...
  • The San Juan Mountains Association is seeking a visionary leader to spearhead its public lands stewardship program in southwest Colorado. For a detailed job description...
  • The Cascade Forest Conservancy seeks a passionate ED to lead our forest protection, conservation, education, and advocacy programs.
  • Mountain Pursuit is a new, bold, innovative, western states, hunting advocacy nonprofit headquartered in Jackson, Wyoming. We need a courageous, hard working, passionate Executive Director...
  • The Draper Natural History Museum (DNHM) at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center of the West in Cody, WY, invites applications for the Willis McDonald, IV...
  • Couple seeks quiet, private, off-grid acreage in area with no/low cell phone service and no/low snowfall. Conservation/bordering public lands a plus. CA, OR, WA, ID,...
  • Former northern Sierra winery, with 2208 sq.ft. commercial building, big lot, room to expand.
  • The dZi Foundation is seeking a FT Communications Associate with a passion for Nepal to join our team in Ridgway, Colorado. Visit dzi.org/careers.
  • Available now for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojaidigital.net.
  • Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.