Dear Friends

 

A blizzard of mail

The staff of High Country News returned from our holiday excursions to find the mountains above town buried in snow, and our desks — and e-mail boxes — piled high with mail from many of you. The holiday cards and fruit baskets and jerky and chocolates were wonderful — but it was the letters to the editor that really made our jaws drop. We must have received 100 of them in the month of December alone.

We were surprised to get a half-dozen letters about Matt Vincent’s back-page essay, “Like Butte, a lonely dog hangs on,” about a wayward “mutt” that has made his home in a mining wasteland (HCN, 12/9/02: Condit Dam removal hits snags). “That’s no mutt!” was the resounding reply. Most theorized that the dog is actually a Hungarian Komondor.

“Komondorok (plural) were bred to live with and protect sheep and goats from predators,” wrote Ron Chacey of Pagosa Springs, Colo. “The matted coat protects the dog from the elements and works as armor from teeth and claws. They will challenge coyote, wolf, bear and lion.”

From Telluride, Colo., Hal Clifford wrote to dispute a point in our cover story about Leadville, Colo., “In search of the Glory Days,” which he co-authored (HCN, 12/23/02: In search of the Glory Days). In it, one of his fellow authors, Ray Ring, referred to the Leadville 100 — a 100-mile foot race — as “probably the nation’s toughest sporting event.”

The Hardrock 100, staged around Telluride, is tougher, according to Clifford (who, incidentally, was among seven finalists for the 2002 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism for his cover story “Wyoming’s powder keg,” (HCN, 11/5/01: Wyoming's powder keg). “The cutoff time for finishing the Leadville race is 30 hours; until two years ago, nobody in the Hardrock even managed to win the race in that time (our cutoff time is 48 hours, and about 50 percent of entrants don’t finish at all).”

But Leadville may still take the prize for the toughest sporting event. Geoff Reed of Seattle, Wash., a former student of the town’s branch of Colorado Mountain College, wrote to say we neglected to mention the “Get your ass over the pass” man and burro race.

And then there was this, from Paonia, Colo., reader Gene Lorig, who served as district attorney for the 5th Judicial District in Leadville from 1966 to 1969: “On assuming office, I discovered that the whorehouse and gambling parlor on State Street were both flourishing. Mildly curious, I inquired why there was no outcry from outraged wives and upright citizens. I was informed that Dr. Kelly checked the girls twice a week, and that there was a two dollar limit at the tables in the Pastime. I left well enough alone.”

Keeping us on our toes

We also received a few pearls of wisdom regarding the job we’re doing — or not doing — here.

“I am trying not to pass judgment too soon on the new HCN leadership,” wrote Bob Hartley from Westminster, Colo. “But there are signs of sloppy decision making.” Among these, Hartley cited “Greg Hanscom’s puffery and unnecessary flapdoodle in the Dear Friends column. Let the lead story speak for itself, and spare us the mini-editorial.” (Ouch!)

Hartley also wondered if we hadn’t dedicated too much ink to the pro- and anti-ranching book reviews from Ed Marston and John Horning (HCN, 12/9/02: Cow-free crowd ignores science, sprawl) (HCN, 12/9/02: Ranching advocates lack a rural vision). Perhaps we did, but the grazing debate set more pens to paper than any other topic. As you’ll see in the letters on page 6, readers lined up on both sides — and smack in the middle — of the perennial debate over whether cows belong on the public lands.

Among the letters we couldn’t squeeze into the paper was one from reader Michael Fishman of Miami, Fla. He said he was halfway through Horning’s essay, when he realized that the book Horning was slamming had been written by Marston — our former publisher and now senior journalist.

“It stopped me dead in my tracks,” wrote Fishman. “My first thought: Whoa … what’s going on here? My second thought: Where the hell else could this happen? I could think of only one other journal that might (might) open itself to fully voiced, well-argued controversy like that.”
We like to think that well-argued controversy is one of our specialties. High Country News is the perfect venue for these debates, which are never easy. So keep the letters coming. And don’t hesitate to take us to task — sometimes your harshest critics are your most valuable friends.

Corrections

Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent Chas Cartwright called to tell us our story about the demise of paleontology at Dinosaur was much exaggerated (HCN, 12/23/02: Budget cuts bury paleontologists). We reported that Cartwright planned to eliminate nine positions in the paleontology department and hand future scientific work to private contractors. Cartwright said he is making cuts, but the paleontology department contains only two people: Scott Madsen and Dan Chure.

Madsen’s position will be eliminated, and he will move to another park or monument. Chure will stay on, but when he retires, he will be replaced with a “physical resources program specialist,” who will work with outside scientists. “We will not be handing off our research program to the private sector,” said Cartwright. “We will still be controlling the research. We’ll just bring in more people from the outside.” The story also implied that the monument was planning to buy out grazing allotments and build a museum at the expense of its science budget. Cartwright says funding for both projects comes from sources completely separate from the science budget.

Our apologies to the monument staff for the inaccuracies, and to the author, Tom Rea, for introducing the numerical error to the piece.

Neal McCaleb was the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, not director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as we reported in The Latest Bounce (HCN, 12/9/02: Election Bounce). And a Wal-Mart and a Blockbuster Video in Lebanon, Ore., escaped the writer of the cover story, “Planning’s poster child grows up” (HCN, 11/25/02: Planning’s poster child grows up).

Last, we feel obliged to eat a healthy serving of crow for the fun we’ve had scoffing at The Daily Evergreen’s abysmal translations of the name of the boat Nuestra Senora de Buena Esperanza. The paper, which mistakenly translated the boat’s name “Big Ass Spanish Boat,” later corrected that to “Our Lady of Good Peace.” But the paper is not published at Western Washington University, as we first reported — nor is it a product of Western State University, as we claimed in a correction in our last issue (HCN, 12/23/02: Dear Friends). The Daily Evergreen is, in fact, published at Washington State University in Pullman. We never claimed it came from Big Ass Washington University, but we’re feeling about that clumsy.

Hcn.org gets a facelift

The New Year brings big changes on the High Country News Web site, hcn.org. As always, it’s where you’ll find the latest stories from the newspaper, programs from Radio HCN, and commentary from Writers on the Range. And now, the site has a new look, a better search engine, simpler navigation toolbars, and a “related stories” feature that will help you dig deeper into the West’s most important issues.

The biggest change is that we’re now asking our online readers to pay to subscribe if they want to read the most recent news. Folks who subscribe to the newspaper get free access to the entire site, of course. (When you visit the site, click on the “print subscribers” box, shown circled at right, to register for Web access.) And the archive, dating back 10 years, will still be free for everyone.

For Web junkies, this may seem backward; most newspapers offer the recent news free, and charge a fee for articles from the archive. But we didn’t want to close off the archive to nonsubscribers, because it is a valuable tool for students and researchers; over 1 million people visit it each year.

At the same time, if the site is going to survive for the long haul, it needs to start paying its way — it’s a roughly $30,000-a-year undertaking. We’re hopeful that between subscription sales and your many generous gifts to the Spreading the News Campaign, hcn.org will be around far into the future.

Check out the new site and let us know what you think. If you have any questions or comments, e-mail Assistant Editor Matt Jenkins at matt@hcn.org, or give us a call.