By Terri C. Hansen
With a population of only 800, Escalante is small, but the environmental issues surrounding this town form a fitting composite of the larger picture taking place throughout the West.
The focus on these issues was through the story of this canyon in southern Utah, called "one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world" by panelist Jon Christensen, Great Basin regional editor of High Country News.
The town also has had the distinction of being named twice as one of "The nation's ten most endangered communities," by the National Association of Counties.
Moderator Howard Berkes, Rocky Mountain correspondent for National Public Radio, described Escalante as a place that visitors come to care deeply about. It is those visitors who are now fighting hard to preserve it.
Berkes described bitter battles "right on Main Street," where an environmentalist was hung in effigy. Another environmentalist had his well salted. Yet another had dynamite thrown into his home.
Residents who can trace their roots back to Mormon pioneers raise hay in the valley, and cut timber from the mountains above the town. They say they want to mine carbon dioxide and coal from the ridges above their town. Their cattle are free to run just about everywhere, including the canyons.
Some of these same cattle have been shot, execution-style. It is not clear who is responsible. Each side wants to blame the other.
Berkes used a question and answer format to frame these issues to panelists Joseph Chapman, dean of the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University, Scott Groene, staff attorney for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Louise Liston, a native of Escalante and currently a Garfield County commissioner, Brooke Williams, an economic and environmental consultant, and Christensen. In this framework the panelists neatly illustrated many of the issues and changes taking place over the last 10 to 15 years in Escalante, providing an overview of the many dissimilar voices demanding a say in the future of the West.