Dear Friends

 

Never say never

For decades, High Country News has monitored the rise and fall of extractive industries in the West. In recent years, we've joined a growing number of scholars and pundits in asserting that the West has turned a corner: Logging, mining and grazing are on their way out, even as a new amenity-based economy rises. Such generalizations may be helpful in understanding the large-scale changes afoot in the region, but they can be misleading, as this issue's cover-story writer, Hal Clifford, discovered when he toured Wyoming's Powder River Basin. There, a full-scale coalbed methane gas boom is under way, and it threatens to transform the landscape much the way coal strip-mining did in the early 1970s, when HCN's founder Tom Bellstarted this enterprise. Apparently, it's too early to write off at least one Lord of Yesterday.

Visitors

Former U.S. Attorney for Colorado Tom Strickland stopped by to say hello, as part of his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from Colorado now held by Republican Wayne Allard. The election is about one year away, but Strickland, who looks like a long-distance runner, is acting as if election day is around the corner.

The candidate expects to see an issue-oriented race. "I don't think the public's appetite for low-ball politics will be high in the wake of Sept. 11." He said he expects national attention to the contest: "This - and a few other races - will be one of the battlegrounds" that determine which party will control the U.S. Senate starting in 2003. "Right now, we're dead even in the polls," which, he says, is pretty good for a challenger.

Anne and Mike Fenerty of Boulder, Colo., and son Robert biked into town to say hello. On their trip they discovered a new source of political activism: bed and breakfasts. One B&B owner was on the local planning commission and another was a former state legislator.

We didn't get to meet Sharon Kolber and Gerry Burkard and pups Coco and Grace, all of Heber City, Utah. But they did leave a note one Sunday saying they look forward to every issue. Will Lee-Ashley, an organizer for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, said hello. His group represents small family farms in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. Mike Bogan and Cindy Ramotnik of Corrales, N.M., came by after scrambling around the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Both are USGS wildlife biologists.

Longtime subscriber Steve Reneau took a break from hiking the Maroon Bells to visit. He is a geologist at Los Alamos National Laboratories, which, he says, does a lot more than build bombs these days.

Gary Shellhorn stopped by to say he's been reading HCN for more years than he can remember. The environmental consultant from Albuquerque has worked in land-management agencies around the West, but is now in private practice.

Keystone, Colo., reader Mary Parrott and her friend Brian Dodds of Calgary, Alberta, arrived just hours after the Oct. 8 issue - with its cover story, "Whoa! Canada!" - went to press. Brian confirmed that the extractive industries are having their way with the Canadian wilds; a logging company is presently having a heyday with the country between Banff and Jasper national parks, he said. But this time it's an American company that's doing the damage. Parrott and Dodds were on their way to canoe the San Juan River in Utah.

Reader Tom Rule, from Ketchum, Idaho, dropped in after a three-week tour of southern Utah. Rule manages a ski-rental shop in the winter and keeps himself busy in the summer planting custom flower beds.

Joe Lemmon

was on his way to Las Vegas on his motorcycle when he stopped in to re-up his subscription. Lemmon just retired from a career with AT&T. He sported biking leathers and a huge grin.

Reader John D. Armstrong II dropped by at the height of fall color season. He had been visiting his son and daughter-in-law in Carbondale, and planned to take the scenic route home to the Lyons, Colo., area by way of the San Luis Valley. Armstrong is a professor emeritus at CU Boulder, where he taught at the Center of Health Care Ethics, Humanities and Law.

Passing the land trust torch

Jenny Dalen writes to tell us that when Jean Hocker signed on as head of the Land Trust Alliance in 1987, there were 600 nonprofit land trusts in the United States. Today, there are nearly 1,300 organizations promoting the protection of the nation's private lands.

In December, Jean will call it quits to pursue a still-unspecified next stage in her career. She leaves behind an organization that has spread from Washington, D.C., to establish several regional offices, and that attracted 1,600 participants to its last annual meeting.

The LTA has set up an "In Honor of Jean" fund to further her efforts. For more information, call 202/638-4725 or check www.lta.org.

Bozeman board meeting

Staff had expected dismal attendance at the Oct. 6 meeting of the High Country Foundation. We figured that our board members, like many other Americans, would avoid plane travel when they could. We were happily surprised. Most of the board showed up, and a lot of work was done, or, at least, a lot of work was laid out for the staff.

Board was displeased with the format in which financial results were presented, and asked the finance committee, chaired by Bill Mitchell, to work with staff to come up with a new format.

Circulation manager Gretchen Nicholoff said direct mail results were as expected, and HCN should reach 24,000 subscribers by the end of the year. The growth would be faster than the current 5 percent if not for the fact that roughly 30 percent of all subscribers fail to renew each year. Board member Tom Huerkamp suggested that staff consider calling lapsed subscribers.

Staff member Betsy Marston said that the editorial staff had had a good experience last fall, when it called lapsed subscribers to ask why they had dropped their subscriptions. But other staff, who heard some sad low-income stories, were less than enthusiastic.

Board member Caroline Byrd, who hears Radio High Country News on KOTO in Norwood, Colo., said she is impressed with the half-hour show's quality. But board members said that the show needed to be on many more stations. It is presently on 22 stations in seven states. Radio producer Adam Burke is at work on a marketing plan.

For once, the usually controversial Writers on the Range syndicate got only passing attention. At 65 subscribing newspapers with 2 million readers, the operation is strong. One weakness, WOTR editor Betsy Marston said, is that we don't know which columns are actually used by the 65 newspapers. Board member Suzanne Pollock volunteered to raise funds to hire a clipping service to answer that question.

Speaking of numbers, associate publisher Greg Hanscom said that www.hcn.org gets 240,000 distinct visitors per month, or 3 million per year. Most of them are doing research on the eight years of archives on the Web. The good news is that very few of the visitors return regularly, which means the Web site is not being used as a substitute for a paid subscription. The bad news is that because few of the visitors return, it will be a struggle to turn the site into a paying proposition. But Greg told the (skeptical) board that he thinks it can be done.

The most interesting part of the meeting, as always, was hearing the story suggestions of board members. Michele Barlow said that the Bureau of Land Management is considering the permitting of 51,000 wells in Wyoming's Powder River Basin (see this issue); Terry Janis of the Indian Law Resource Center in Helena, Mont., said that for the first time the tribes are banding together to talk about their relationship with the federal government; and John McBride of Old Snowmass, Colo., urged staff to cover the ongoing destruction of Western communities by development.

But the biggest story was personal: Idaho state senator and rancher Brad Little said that after 100 years in the family business, he had been forced to sell his sheep and stock his Boise-area ranch with cattle. The villain is the strong dollar, which allows New Zealand and Australian ranchers to way undersell U.S. lamb. "I realized I was in the buggy-whip business," Little said.

Board president Maggie Coon gave another example of the global economy's impact on the West. She said eastern Washington apple growers are pulling out orchards, partly because China has planted huge expanses of apple trees.

The daylong, exhausting meeting was sandwiched between two invigorating social events. On Friday evening, Bozeman board member Emily Stonington gave a dinner for 50 or so board members, staff and guests from the area. And on Saturday night, perhaps 100 HCNers and subscribers gathered at the Lindley Center in Bozeman for the traditional potluck. We thank the New Belgium Brewery for supplying an excellent keg of beer.

And we thank Bozeman-area readers for bringing excellent food and dessert and very lively conversation.

The HCN potlucks are always wonderful events. We look forward to the next three: Jan. 19, 2002, in Las Cruces, N.M., followed by June 15, 2002, in Park City, Utah, followed by Sept. 21, 2002, in Seattle, Wash. Please put one or all on your calendar. And if you have suggestions for where in these three cities to hold the meeting or potluck, please contact Robyn Morrison at 970/527-4898; robyn@hcn.org.

The meeting was attended by Maggie Coon, Andy Wiessner, Michele Barlow, Terry Janis, Suzanne Pollock, Michael Fischer, Rick Swanson, Caroline Byrd, Tom Huerkamp, Brad Little, John McBride, Bill Mitchell, Andy Hays and Emily Stonington.