From the inside out
There may be no more powerful agent for change in any agency than someone who has worked on the inside.
During the 1980s, a Forest Service timber marker from Oregon named Jeff DeBonis became sick of his role in overcutting the public lands. He founded an organization for his fellow Forest Service employees who felt as he did, providing an avenue for dissent and the spread of new ideas. Today, thanks in part to the efforts of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, timber harvest in the Pacific Northwest has dropped dramatically, and an entire agency is grappling with a new mission focused on ecosystem health, rather than timber (HCN, 5/7/01: Back into the woods).
In this week's cover story, New Mexico writer Ernie Atencio introduces us to another individual who may help to push an entire industry in a new direction. After a some 20 years in the mining industry, in which he witnessed a bottom-line callousness toward environmental protection, Jim Kuipers decided to lend his energy to environmental groups pushing for mining reform. Today, the former mining engineer is leading efforts to force state regulators and mining companies to fully reclaim the scarred land and polluted waters they leave behind.
We want to thank the True North Foundation for funding the mining reclamation stories in this issue.
Flagstaff, Ariz., writer Mary Sojourner wrote us the following about journalist Cate Gilles, who died recently:
"I met Cate through the Havasupai Tribe's successful resistance to Energy Fuels Nuclear's plan to sink a uranium mine into what the Havasupai know to be the belly of Mother Earth. Cate was present in that work in more ways than her writing. She organized, cooked, drove the endless dirt-road miles necessary to taxi Havasupai elders and tribal officials from their remote location to hearings, protests and prayer gatherings. She befriended an abandoned Havasupai child and provided the girl with the safest home she had ever had. I often wondered when Cate slept. I don't think that was something she worried about.
"I think of Cate and I see a beautiful sturdy woman with deeply sad eyes. She wears red and purple. Beaded earrings glitter in her dark hair. She holds a little girl in her lap. And she is writing, always writing. Her wild laugh rises on the high desert wind. If she were to say anything back to us, it would be: 'Never forget. Never give in.' "
More letters, please
The staff at High Country News has long enjoyed the letters that flow into the office from readers. It's nice to know people are reading and reacting to the stories we send out to the world every other week.
Particularly noteworthy are the yellow-pad epistles from Anthony Peiffer of Bellevue, Wash. Anthony has a keen eye for the ironies of the changing West, and he always has something pithy to say. Recently, he responded with typical candor to HCN publisher Ed Marston's appeal for a contribution to HCN's research fund, which pays to put words on our pages: "Since I'm broke, I'll leave the heavy funding to the West's hobby farmers and ranchers who are the new wealthy."
He also had this suggestion: Print more letters from readers. "Those letters give viewpoints and make for an informed readership."
We hear you, Anthony, and we will try to always leave space for letters in each issue. One editorial word of advice to letter writers: Shorter is better.
Still on the loose
"Have you ever started a backpack trip and hit a storm on the first pass and spent 24 hours under a wet plastic tarp, drinking lumpy icy chocolate and walked through the snow to a cabin and burnt your jeans drying them over a wood stove?" During the early 1960s, Californians Terry and Renny Russell loved to do stuff like that. They'd camp in a dump, or sleep on a sandbank, only to wake up in the water; once, in the desert in July, they spent five hours under a truck, because it was the only shade. In 1965, the brothers put together a handwritten book of observations and photos about their adventures, calling it On the Loose.
By chance, they showed their work to David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. Brower was already becoming famous for his production of coffee-table books that fought for preservation of the West's natural wonders. Russell recalls that, almost casually, "Brower took one look at (On the Loose) and immediately said, 'The Sierra Club has to publish this.' " The book went on to sell 1 million copies. Now, says Russell, the book is back in print, thanks to publisher Gibbs Smith of Salt Lake City (HCN, 7/2/01). It's quickly finding a new audience after 35 years.
Russell, who stopped by HCN last month, says that for the last three decades he's been lying low in Questa, N.M., building dories and working as a rafting guide through Grand Canyon. But after Brower died, he says, he got back the original manuscript of the book he produced at age 18, and saw that it still had something to say. He has a new book ready to emerge next year, too. Called Rock Me on the Water,it tells of his solitary journey down Utah's Green River after the death, at age 20, of his brother, Terry.
Tony Massaro of the Colorado Conservation Voters Action Fund stopped by on his way to a wilderness meeting in Ouray, Colo. He reports that the Colorado Legislature generally does a so-so job protecting the environment, although in election years it does much better. Everything is relative - compared to California, we're big zeroes, but compared to Arizona, we're the next John Muir.
Aspen architect Wayne Poulsen stopped in to renew his subscription while on his way to talk about fuel cells with the Delta-Montrose Electric Association. Wayne specializes in building houses off the grid.
Karl W. Flessa of the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson has discovered the roots of our Colorado River water problems in this Aug. 21, 1926, quote from Herbert Hoover:
"True conservation of water is not the prevention of its use. Every drop of water that runs to the sea without yielding its full commercial returns to the nation is an economic waste."
Hoover was secretary of Commerce then, on his way to the presidency, and he gave the talk in wet Seattle.
We learned as we were going to press of the death of Tommie Bell, 76, wife of Tom Bell, founder of High Country News. Tommie died Monday, Nov. 19, in Lander, Wyo. A tribute to Tommie Bell, who was both ranch wife and co-founder of the paper, will appear in the Dec. 17 issue of HCN.