HCN shows its roots

There was a veritable High Country News love-fest in Gunnison, Colo., in early November. Western State journalism professor George Sibley called together several hundred academics, activists, writers, students — and even a rancher or two — to ponder the history of this newspaper, and the state of the West, at the 14th annual Headwaters Conference. The conference turned out to be a toast-and-roast session for Ed and Betsy Marston, who ran HCN for almost 20 years. (Ed retired on the first of October, while Betsy stays on as editor of our Writers on the Range column syndicate.)

Scholar, attorney and author Charles Wilkinson recalled finding HCN for the first time, on a friend’s coffee table back in 1977. "The West hadn’t been rethought in a century. We were searching out meaning," he said. "High Country News has caused us to have a sense of what our society is, for ill or for good."

Wilkinson later read a speech from High Country News founder Tom Bell, in which Bell described flying over the devastated landscape of Carthage in Northern Africa during World War II, and deciding that, when he returned to Wyoming, he would protect his home from a similar fate. Former HCN staffers Lisa Jones and Steve Hinchman spoke about how important it is for journalists to "dig deep," and look for the real stories, not just the obvious ones. HCN board member Loris Vicente-Taylor spoke about tribal sovereignty. And Oregon ranchers Doc and Connie Hatfield and Forest Guardians director John Horning engaged in a debate over ranching that you’ve seen in these pages many times.

The conference was a strong reminder of High Country News’ deep roots and wide embrace. It was also a call to action.

Dan Kemmis, a scholar, writer, and Missoula, Montana’s former "philosopher king" mayor, called on people to "re-inhabit" the West, by fostering democracy, thriving communities and healthy ecosystems. Blake Fredrickson, a student at Western State, had a challenge for the HCN staff: "Engage the students," he said. "We know the issues. We live in the issues. We can help."

Notes and corrections

Diane Reimers of Jackson Hole, Wyo., wrote to remind us that the Murie Ranch, where HCN had its fall board meeting, was not always the Murie Ranch. "Before the Muries owned the ranch, it belonged to the Estes," she says. "It was my first home after my birth on April 21, 1935, and I lived there for a time at the end of WWII, when my father came home from the war."

Ronald Lanner of Placerville, Calif., wrote to tell us the photograph that ran with our story "Return of the king" showed Dick Bingham inoculating white pine seedlings to test their resistance to blister rust, not "grafting" them, as we’d said (HCN, 10/13/03: Return of the King). He also took issue with environmentalists who oppose clearing out firs and hemlocks so that white pines can make a comeback: "Sounds like an example of throwing out the baby with the ideological bathwater."

About a dozen readers wrote to remind us that sage grouse hang around strutting grounds called leks in the spring, not in the fall (HCN, 10/13/03: Heard Around The West).

And finally, Paul Whiting of Billings, Mont., took me to task for my editorial calling on people to demand more of their local newspapers (HCN, 10/13/03: Talking about a revolution). "I was with you until the end when you suggested putting up billboards to protest poor coverage of environmental issues," he wrote. "Please, think about what you are advocating! The use of billboards to advertise a good cause only legitimizes them and, in my view, communicates a lack of caring (about the West)."