2010: The year that was


Back when I was a High Country News intern, one of our contributing editors gave me and my comrades this bit of wisdom about our profession: Environmental news doesn't break, it oozes. Looking back at HCN's year-in-stories, this truism resonates. The intractable issues that have defined our region for years -- whether people and wolves can peacefully coexist in the northern Rockies, how to balance the thirst of farms, cities and native fish in California's Bay Delta -- persist. Our challenge is to keep bringing fresh perspectives to these stories year after year. Sometimes we doubt it can be done. (Another story about wolves?!?) But try we must. Here's a look back at where we've been in 2010:

Water is still for fightin'. We kicked-off and ended the year with stories about California's water woes from HCN's resident water wonk, Matt Jenkins. His first story of the year, which examined the troubles of Westlands Water District, an irrigation "empire that may have seriously over-extended itself," was a precursor to the epic cover story on California water that closed our publishing year. Over 10 months of intensive reporting, Jenkins looked for an answer to this important question: "Will there ever be enough water in California's Bay Delta to satisfy farmers, keep fish alive and quench the thirst of millions of people?" Read on to find out what he concluded.

Two more stories about wolves. In a couple of our most attention-grabbing stories of the year, Michelle Nijhuis and Hal Herring proved that, after all these years, there is still much to be said about wolves. Nijhuis broke a story about a team of scientists who believed they'd found evidence that wolves were planting roots in Colorado. DNA tests didn't prove their assumptions. Still, wolves will likely keep making their way into the state, and Nijhuis' story helped start an important conversation about the social and ecological implications of their return. A few months later, Herring wrote a provocative piece about the wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho. This was the headline that his story ran under: "One way to save the wolf? Hunt it." 'Nuff said.

Permeable borders. A couple of times this year, HCN ventured beyond the geographic borders that delineate our coverage area to examine figures and issues outside our region that have a big impact here. Writer Charles Bowden and photographer Julian Cardona deconstructed "the war next door" in Mexican border towns. And we looked at the rise and rule of Oklahoma senators Tom Coburn and James Inhofe, and how their obstructionist politics shape the West.


Green justice. Twenty years ago, the SouthWest Organizing Project, a small Chicano social justice group in Albuquerque, dropped a bomb on environmentalists. They sent a letter "challenging the leaders of the Big 10 environmental groups to address institutional racism in their own ranks and to tackle a broader range of issues important to people of color," as HCN executive director Paul Larmer described it. We marked the anniversary of that letter with a cover story examining where the environmental justice and mainstream environmental movements had come since.

Damned if we do, damned if we don't. In June, Hillary Rosner brought us a story about the plight of the razorback sucker, a fish native to the Colorado River. The bigger story here was about "the built-in, largely intractable problem that looms over native fish recovery efforts" throughout the West: "Humans are (the fishes') biggest problem -- and (their) only hope."

An empire on the rez. Former HCN editor Jonathan Thompson took an in-depth look at the Southern Ute tribe's rise to wealth in July, explaining how "they've achieved cultural, environmental and economic self-determination through energy self-determination -- a feat rarely accomplished, whether by Indians or non-Indians."

Hotter times. We added to our coverage of significant developments in climate change science with a cover story from J. Madeleine Nash about how certain species are finding refuge from warmer climes in high alpine microclimates.

That's not all! We also wrote about gold mining's stranglehold on Nevada politics, butterfly trafficking, the arsonist behind California's Esperanza fire, the doom and gloom predictions of HCN's founder, Tom Bell, and more! You can browse through HCN's entire 2010 bevy here.

Cally Carswell is High Country News' assistant editor.

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