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Dixie Check 

Brave New West seeks a united vision for developing southern Utah.

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About 15 years ago, a lawyer who often did pro bono work for environmental groups said on the subject of setting aside wilderness lands'and the resulting impact on small-town economies in southern Utah'“If those guys can’t make a living down there, they should have to move up here and commute like the rest of us.” Five years later, in a Northern California town that was going through rough times in part because of logging restrictions designed to protect the endangered spotted owl, a bumper sticker read, “Earth First! We’ll log the other planets later.nn

Those opinions sit at opposite ends of the spectrum, but the differences between those who support each point of view aren’t so great that they couldn’t find common ground'if someone could help them stop shouting past each other. Thankfully, Jim Stiles has performed such a service in Brave New West. Stiles is uniquely suited to the task, having arrived in Moab in the early 1970s and survived as a seasonal park ranger through the bust after uranium mining companies left the area. He was also there in the late ’80s and early ’90s'as editor of the independent Canyon Country Zephyr'when Moab transformed into a boomtown after becoming a hotspot for mountain biking and other outdoor recreation.


While Stiles’ observations range enjoyably far and wide, a simplified version of his central thesis is that there are two types of Westerners, Old and New, who both need to address a problem that slipped past them while they were battling one another. Old Westerners have lived in rural areas for generations, surviving on ranching, logging and mining; New Westerners are (often) city dwellers and environmentalists who want to preserve wilderness areas from extractive industries. While the two groups have been at odds for years, both were blindsided by what Stiles refers to as an “amenities” economy that has overwhelmed both small towns and wilderness areas.


Stiles wonders if things are really better for Old Westerners if those who once struggled due to lack of industry now struggle because the cost of living has skyrocketed. He questions whether environmental groups have succeeded if mining operations have been replaced by people participating in “high-adrenaline, low-serenity” recreational activities that tear up the land, or if it is an improvement to see a ranch replaced by vacation homes and condos.


Both Old and New Westerners allowed the rise of the amenities economy because, according to Stiles, both were blinded by greed. Old Westerners failed to see “there is a difference between progress and development,” while New Westerner environmental groups were bought off by donations from the power players of the amenities economy, suffering from a misguided belief that people who were coming to enjoy the wilderness areas would surely treat them better than the extractive industries they had been battling for so long.


Identifying the problem is easier than solving it, but Stiles offers perhaps his best advice when he jokes that Old and New Westerners should jointly form MAHBU'“Mormons and Heathens for a Better Utah.” Such a group could address issues that face both those who live in and those who enjoy visiting the beautiful areas of the American West.


A word of warning: While the message of Brave New West is important and well thought out, the messenger can be difficult to stomach at times. Stiles is basically an old hippie, with all of the characteristic self-righteousness. When it gets right down to it, it seems Stiles would really prefer that everybody else, no matter how reverentially they want to treat the wilderness, just stay home so he and his friends can enjoy it by themselves.


Still, Stiles’ book is important reading for anyone'Old Westerner or New Westerner, city dwelling environmentalist or rural rancher'who cares about the future of the western wilderness. Now where do I sign up for MAHBU?


nJim Stiles
nUniversity of Arizona Press 2007
n$19.95 paperback
n260 pages

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