On the green beat
When journalists who cover the environment get together as 450 did Oct. 6-9 in Provo and Sundance, Utah, they tend to talk like underdogs. They tell how frustrating it is to sell complex green-beat stories to editors who ask for 12 inches of copy, or how tough it is to compete for space when the slimmest development in the case against O.J. Simpson commands a front page. (Somehow, said conference organizer Marla Cone, LA Times reporter Frank Clifford did the impossible by writing an environmental story that included O.J. Simpson's name in the lead.)
This fourth annual get-together of the 1,000-member-strong Society of Environmental Journalists banged on those familiar themes and added a new concern as Congress ended its 103rd session: Why were environmental reforms gut-shot? A decade in the making, the California desert protection bill barely squeaked into law while other green laws died. EPA Administrator Carol Browner blamed Republicans looking toward the November elections, as did actor-director Robert Redford, who talked briefly to a delighted press. We'll try to post-mortem the gridlock in Washington in our next issue although, as Westerners, we know our inside track is outside.
A few of the panelists at the environmental journalists' conference offered answers. Washington, D.C., attorney John Echeverria of the Audubon Society said when it came to covering the so-called property-rights movement, reporters had done a terrible job.
There is no "movement" of landowners, he said, and no potential to fundamentally change protection of endangered species under the law. "The eagle on your land is not your eagle," he said. Reporters failed to cover the story of environmental regulations and their impacts in an accurate light, he continued, noting that 80 percent of people who own property are homeowners not overly concerned with federal regulations. How is it possible that this overblown issue has such good legs? he asked, clearly exasperated. Echeverria, like many at the gathering, passed out several pounds of briefing materials.
For more information about the fast-growing Society of Environmental Journalists, which publishes a newsletter and holds regional conferences, write SEJ, 9425 Stenton Ave., Suite 209, Philadelphia, PA 19118 (Fax 215/247-9712).
Fall must be travel time for writers. A mother-son writing team returning from a llama trek through the San Juan Mountains came through: Marty Carlock free-lances out of Boston while son Hal Clifford writes out of Aspen. A few days later writers Christina Nelson and Robert Breyer, both of Moffat, Colo., visited. Then Tony Davis of Albuquerque, a frequent contributor to this paper, stopped by.
Dick and Darlin" Arnold, who recently moved to Fruita, Colo., from Hereford, Ariz., came through on their way to the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, which is a mini Grand Canyon.
Reader Paul Clement, who told us he is a dilettante retiree, stopped in after a high-altitude drive over Ohio Pass, where he noted the aspens' brilliant yellows. Recreation therapist Sue Bucan from Overland Park, Kansas, was also on a scenic trip, as were Gary and Jesse Boyce, from Grand Junction, Colo.
On their way to the Wildlife Society's annual meeting in Albuquerque, Richard and Heather Knight said Paonia was a good change from the Front Range, where he is a wildlife biologist at Colorado State University.
Former HCN intern Tom Mullen stopped in on his way from Albuquerque to Dillon, Colo., and ultimately to graduate school in England, where he plans to study water engineering.
Readers Jan and Robert Woodward from Round Mountain, Nev., sent along a quotation from Zane Grey as their response to the Grappling with Growth special issue. "The spell of the desert comes back to me as it always will come. I see again the veils like purple smoke in the canyons, and I feel the silence." The novelist wrote that in 1915.
Julie St. John of Tucson, Ariz., toured the office recently. She works for the group Wildlife Damage Review. Mary Gilbert of Fort Collins, Colo., said hello and told us of her summertime pursuit: climbing the highest 100 mountains in Colorado. Ellyn Axelrod, an assistant city manager for Livermore, Calif., was on her way to Boulder, Colo. She "pounces on the paper," she told us.
From Ketchum, Idaho, Ellen Glaccum brought us a care package of several years of back issues of HCN, thanks to Tom Pomeroy, an Idaho Conservation League activist who couldn't bear to throw them away. Ellen's daughter, Catherine, helped lug the carton of papers in; she was on her way to her sophomore year at Western State College in Gunnison, Colo. Our thanks, too, to Don Higgins of Rapid City, S.D., who stopped by to give us a large sack of back issues. His dated back to the 1975-77 years, when the paper was based in Lander, Wyo.
On the same day Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, D, complained to the press about National Rifle Association members threatening him for supporting President Clinton's crime bill, his Washington press assistant, Carol Knight, who once edited a local paper, stopped here on a tour of the Western Slope. Carol said one of the callers threatened "to blow Ben's head off with an assault rifle." That did not go down well with the senator, she pointed out.
HCN's Sept. 5 special issue, Grappling with Growth, has become a best-seller by our standards. After the normal mailing to subscribers, the issue was reprinted to honor requests for more than 2,300 additional copies to be sent to planning commissions and conferences and individuals interested in the West's growing pains. Some citizens said they were going to hand-deliver the newspaper to their local government.
But Pamela Lichtman, private lands director for the Jackson Hole Alliance for Responsible Planning, says we mischaracterized her organization's work with a recent land development in Teton County, Wyo. She says the Alliance did not "negotiate" with the owner of prime big game habitat in the Snake River floodplain and has no authority to do so. The county has approved the landowner's development, she says, and the remaining land, which the Alliance would like to see protected, is still at risk of development.
* Betsy Marston for the staff