Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation went for the deal
because, according to federation lawyer Tom Lustig, "We really had nothing
to gain by suing for an EIS and we at least had something to gain from the
research agreement." The agreement got the oil companies out from under the
pressure and expense of a long battle. It got the BLM off the hook. And it got
Riddle, whose department would be excluded from doing the research, mad as
hell. "That so-called agreement," he thundered after it was signed,
"is just a pig in a poke...."
happened was that the environmentalists got bought off," charged one Game
and Fish Department official.
"No, we just
took the best deal we could get," replied Ron Smith, who negotiated the
agreement for the conservationists.
accomplished nothing else for the developers, the controversial agreement
succeeded in splitting the ranks of the environmentalists. Riddle was seen by
his erstwhile colleagues as "a crybaby clinging to an extremist
position," as one of them put it. And Smith, who originally was one of the
hotheads Riddle was worried about, assumed the role of conciliator and mediator
with the opposition. On the shoals of such role reversals, real or imagined, do
conservation coalitions founder.
else has changed much around Evanston as a result of either the research
project, which has yet to get off the ground, or the oil glut that has slowed
exploration elsewhere in the West. Though the rate of drilling has fallen off
somewhat in the past three months, the Evanston boom goes on. Hundreds of
unemployed laborers continue to pour into town. One local environmentalist
refers to the emigrants as "criminals and creepy-crawlies." Some may
fit that description, but many of the newcomers are law-abiding citizens who
would rather try to find an honest job in Wyoming than go on the unemployment
rolls back in their home states.
afternoon three such men from Neilsville, Wis. sipped beer at the Whirl Inn
Disco, a rowdy hangout on the western edge of Evanston, and talked over the job
situation in the oilfields. Chuck York, 27, George Murphy, 38, and John
Phillips, 31, had driven out together the week before. Phillips was already
employed as a "floorman," wrestling pipe on a drilling rig near Whitney
Canyon. A quiet, clean-cut former foundry worker, Phillips had to leave his
wife and two children back home in Wisconsin. He was working the second shift,
putting in 56 hours and making about $1,000 a week, including subsistence pay.
Murphy hadn't been making ends meet as a tavern owner in Neilsville, and so he
decided to see if he could save up a bankroll in Wyoming. York, an erstwhile
paratrooper, steeplejack and bartender, carries a snapshot of a woman he lived
with for a while in Iowa who had tattoos all over her body, including her left
buttock, which was stamped: GRADE-A U.S. PRIME. "It's now or never," he
said of their job prospects, parking his toothpick in his beard and ordering up
another Pabst. "Folks round here say the population is going to double
again in the next six months."
over strategy notwithstanding, Riddle and Smith both worry about the same thing
these days: where it will all lead and what will be left when the oil and gas
are gone 20, 30 or 40 years from now. Smith recently spent part of a cold
morning tramping through a ghost town in the Bear River Divide called
Cumberland, where his maternal great-grandfather was killed in a mine explosion
that ended a fabulous coal boom. A pragmatic young entrepreneur ran a saloon
and a bawdy house in Cumberland, and even now the house—an impressive two-story
building of stone-block construction—retains a hint of decadent elegance. The
hardwood floors are partly intact, and upstairs, where the ladies entertained
the gentlemen, delicate stenciling can still be seen on the violet walls. Not
far away, a dilapidated bridge spans Muddy Creek, and as Smith stood above the
water and gazed out at the ridges, a loose door back in town banged forlornly
in the wind.
"The West has
seen a lot of boom-towns come and go," he mused aloud. "I wonder if
we'll ever learn the difference between plundering the land and developing