Dear Friends

by Paul Larmer

March madness

Winter finally arrived in Paonia, March 1. The thermometer at the bank dipped to 5 below zero following a blustery eight-inch snowfall. The moisture was appreciated. Snowpack is well below average in almost every drainage of the state, and ranchers are already wondering how early in the summer their irrigation water will dry up.


Hypothetically, we'd all love to have a few gigantic spring blizzards to pack the mountains with more snow. But many of us are eagerly noticing the first signs of spring, from the raucous male redwing blackbirds atop the cattails to the cavorting new calves in the hayfields.


And then there's the mud, so slick and sticky that you can't help but drag some through office and house. The town and surrounding mesas seem to wear a dull coating of soil this time of year. Businesses endure it with clenched teeth, especially real estate agents who must try to convince newcomers that this is prime mountain real estate, not a dirty, rural backwater. That's not a bad problem to have, as this week's cover essay by George Sibley so vividly illustrates. Newcomers with money are inexorably changing the faces of our towns, for good and bad, and if a little mud slows things down for a while, that's all right. The day the streets start looking squeaky clean in mud season, we'll know it's time to move on to that next last haven from the suburbanizing world.


The Tom Bell legend grows

In the world of High Country News, Tom Bell has always been something of a legend. The gutsy Wyoming rancher who founded this paper in 1970 is a powerful reference point by which every staffer here gauges his or her efforts.


Now Tom has been recognized by the larger environmental community. On March 9, he traveled with former HCN editor Geoff O'Gara to Atlanta, Ga., to pick up the National Wildlife Federation's J.N. "Ding" Darling Conservationist of the Year Award. In receiving the award, he joins the likes of artist and naturalist Roger Tory Peterson and former President Jimmy Carter.


Tom crusaded against proposed dams on the Green River, strip mining on the high plains, illegal fencing of public lands and misguided predator-control policies. He used his position as publisher of High Country News as his bully pulpit.


"He saw the need for a vehicle to expose and address the threats to this region 30 years ago, and that vehicle is needed more than ever today," says NWF regional board member Craig Thompson. Amen, to that.


Tom, who continues to fight for such places as Wyoming's Red Desert, received letters of support for the award from a host of organizations, including the Sierra Club, Land Trust Alliance and Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Federation president Mark Van Putten described Tom as "a one-man conservation movement."


But, characteristically, Tom downplayed his own role in his acceptance speech: "A poverty-stricken Wyoming ranch boy of the Depression 1930s could hardly have ever dreamed of one day standing here. ... My credo has always been, 'Don't take yourself too seriously and never give up.' ... The honors I get here tonight are not for me alone but for my wife, my kids, my friends, my supporters, and all those who gave of themselves. The honors are for all of those who carried on when I stepped aside ... I am humbled and grateful."


We are, too, Tom.

More congratulations

Hal Clifford, whose words have periodically graced the pages of this paper for the past decade or so, was named a top-three finalist in the 2002 Scripps Howard National Journalism Awards in the category of Environmental Journalism for his story on coalbed methane gas development in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Hal tells us that "Unlike the Canadian pairs figure skating team, I won't be protesting my almost-a-winner status in a nationally televised whinefest. I'm quite pleased to be not quite the best." The top award in the category went to Scott Streater of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal for his investigative series on toxic pollution and cancer rates in the Pensacola area.


Hear Ed on Ed

The late Edward Abbey was famous for his mockery and caricatures: of car-bound tourists wrecking national parks, of ranchers herding range maggots over cow-burnt land, of Bruce "the rabbit" Babbitt. That's the Abbey whom an adolescent West and an adolescent environmental movement could grasp, says High Country News publisher Ed Marston. But Abbey's writings could also be thoughtful, humane and complex. That's the Abbey we're ready for today and that's the Abbey Ed Marston will discuss in "An Edward Abbey for the 21st Century," at the Boulder, Colo., Public Library, 1000 Canyon Blvd., at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 27. The talk is sponsored by the Boulder Creek Watershed Initiative.

Visitors

Andy Zodrow, a lawyer who works in Florida for the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, said hello during a visit to his mother, Barb Heck, who grows grapes with her husband, Mike, just outside of Paonia. When his mother moved to Paonia in the early '90s, Andy said he wondered what kind of way-out-of-the-way place she'd picked. But during his second day at the Stetson School of Law in Florida, a professor said that everyone in the class should start reading a paper out of Paonia, Colo., called High Country News. Then Paonia came up again when a friend told him he ought to subscribe. "Finally, I was listening to NPR and heard somebody mention Paonia again!" Zodrow says he is busy these days weighing the permit for a desalinization plant in his county.


When Steve and Janet Andersen came from Estes Park, Colo., to the Western Slope to visit Cedaredge friends, Mark and Wilma Reeves, the four made their way into our office for a tour and some conversation. Mark is a board member of the Tongue Creek Conservation Project and Steve was a founding member in the 1970s of a Katchemak Bay conservation group in Homer, Alaska.

Boo-boos

There were mistakes in our Feb. 18 story and headline about Paul Hoffman's appointment to a Department of Interior post. Hoffman, formerly the head of the Cody, Wyo., Chamber of Commerce, is now deputy assistant secretary of Interior for fish, wildlife and parks. He oversees the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, but not, as we stated, the Bureau of Land Management. He has close ties to Vice President Dick Cheney, which helped him get the Interior post, but he was appointed by Secretary of Interior Gale Norton.





The glass is half-full

It's been exactly 29 years since HCN founder Tom Bell wrote in March of 1973 that the paper would have to close its doors because it had run out of money. In the days that followed, hundreds of $5, $10, and $20 checks from readers flooded the office, saving the paper.


Today, HCN isn't facing the prospect of closing its doors. Instead, we're opening doors by building a regional media network that brings more people into the debate over the fate of the West's diverse communities and public lands. And once again, the generosity of our readers is making this possible. We're just over halfway toward reaching the $2 million goal for the "Spreading the News" campaign. The funds will provide the resources to support the HCN Web site (www.hcn.org), Radio High Country News, Writers on the Range, a news syndication service, and our intern program. We can't thank you enough for the support you give.


For information, contact Robyn Morrison, robyn@hcn.org or 970/527-4898. © High Country News