Our History

High Country News traces its roots back to August of 1969 when Tom Bell, a native of Lander, Wyo., bought Camping News Weekly, a small outdoor recreation publication geared toward anglers and hunters. Bell, a World War II veteran, wildlife biologist and high school teacher, wanted to provide more than just fishing tips and camping hotspots. He was eager to inform people about what he saw as an impending environmental crisis in his beloved West, one that was largely being ignored by the region’s newspapers.

In 1970, he rechristened his publication High Country News and began to focus exclusively on environmental issues. The bi-weekly attracted a small, loyal following, but it soon became clear that subscriptions and local advertising wouldn’t support it. So Bell decided to make his fledgling publication a nonprofit. Still, by early 1973, High Country News faced mounting financial difficulties, and Bell announced to his readers that it would cease publication. He wrote: “We have done our best. It was not good enough.” The next day, dozens of envelopes began appearing in the mail, filled with cash, checks and encouraging notes begging Bell and his team not to quit.

In the next issue, Bell wrote: “Each day the letters come pouring in and, as you read them, you alternate between humbly crying and joyfully cheering. People whom we have never met except through the pages of a little paper write us as they would a long-lost friend. Somehow we have created another bond between people across a far-flung land.”

Financial challenges

At the time, his readers probably didn’t know of Bell’s sacrifices to keep the paper alive. He sold his ranch, and he spent all of his savings. He also was working for almost nothing, surviving on money from uranium stock he acquired when he was a teacher. “He even hopes that one day, the paper will earn enough so that he can collect an annual salary of around $6,000 and can take an occasional vacation,” a 1973 Los Angeles Times piece reported.

Once High Country News regained its financial footing, the stress of putting out the paper became too much for Bell and his family. In 1974, he turned it over to 23-year-old Bruce Hamilton and 24-year-old Joan Nice Hamilton, who were the paper’s staff writers. They ably kept the flame alive, covering issues as varied as ski resort development in Colorado, the plight of the Yellowstone grizzly bear, and the prospects for widespread use of solar energy in the West. High Country News faced another financial emergency in the late 1970s, when a devastating car accident took the life of one staffer and injured three others. But again, devoted readers donated $32,000 to keep it going.

Enter the Marstons

In 1983, with the Hamiltons and the other editors – Dan Whipple and Geoff O’Gara – ready to move on, the board of directors voted 5-to-4 to hire Ed and Betsy Marston, two transplanted New Yorkers who had moved to Paonia, Colo., in the 1970s to run a local newspaper. The paper migrated from Lander to Paonia in the back of a pickup truck, and it proved to be a wise move; under the Marstons, who were intensely curious about their new home, the paper grew into the West’s leading independent publication, expanding its scope beyond traditional environmental issues and attracting a broader audience. It became essential reading for Westerners and lawmakers concerned with the region’s cultural, economic and political landscapes. A 1988 Rocky Mountain News article reported that former Colorado Sen. Tim Wirth read it cover to cover. And aides to then Sen. Alan Simpson, a conservative from Wyoming, clipped stories from the newspaper. Circulation grew rapidly, too, from 3,000 in 1984 to 20,000 in 2001, when Ed Marston stepped down after 19 years as the publisher.

In 1990, a Rolling Stone magazine profile reported that the paper was read by reporters who regularly appropriated stories for their own urban dailies. “(Its) clear, balanced writing, a nuts-and-bolts understanding of the issues, and a freedom from the reproves of advertisers” helped the paper to become “a center for provocative thought on ecological issues,” the magazine said almost 20 years ago.

Finding a niche

In the 1990s, as the human population of the West rapidly expanded, High Country News broke new ground with its coverage of land-use planning and a nascent collaborative wing of the environmental movement that sought common ground, rather than lawsuits, with traditional Western powers; it reported on progressive ranchers who were committed to ecological restoration and maintaining open spaces adjacent to public lands. This stirred up heated debate among activists who wanted to curtail livestock grazing across the region, and clearly heralded that High Country News had grown to be an independent voice apart from the environmental movement itself.

The publication also began looking at the changing social dynamics brought about by the population boom. Its coverage of African workers serving the rich in Vail, Colo.; of a growing methamphetamine epidemic in the rural West; and of the deadly work conditions faced by oil and gas workers caught the attention of leaders and other journalists in the late 1990s and 2000s. It also produced the first substantial series in the country on the impacts of climate change on a region that has always been challenged by drought.

The 2000s were marked by a transition to new leadership; in 2002, the board of directors hired long-time editorial staffer Paul Larmer to become the executive director and publisher. He and the team transformed the newspaper into a four-color magazine and revamped the Web site (originally launched in 1995) to become a more nimble and active daily source of Western news.

Now celebrating its 50th year, High Country News remains true to its mission – to produce compelling and ground-breaking reporting that informs and inspires people to take action. And it’s touching more lives than ever through its magazine, website and syndication services.

Amid the current economic downturn, which has severely impacted journalism, High Country News is more valuable than ever, as regional newspapers and magazines slash environmental and natural resource coverage or fold up shop altogether. It is an example of how nonprofit journalism can flourish if it remains true to its mission and, most importantly, to the loyal and smart readers who have always kept it going.

>> Look back at our landmark reporting and pivotal stories of the past 50 years.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL OFFICE MANAGER - BOOKKEEPER
    The Wyoming Outdoor Council is seeking an office manager-bookkeeper to join our team. The office manager-bookkeeper supports the program and administrative functions of the Wyoming...
  • HEALTHY RIVERS SENIOR STAFF ATTORNEY
    WRA seeks a passionate attorney to join our Healthy Rivers team. The Senior Staff Attorney will research and advocate for wiser water management and updated...
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and will be accepted until: February 03, 2020. Overview Conservation Voters for Idaho (CVI) protects Idaho's environment...
  • WRITING SKILLS TUTOR FOR HIRE!
    Fort Collins, CO college students welcome. Meet on your college campus!
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...