Dear Friends

  • Reader Susan Kenzle spotted this faux can somewhere in Wisdom, Montana


Word from Gretchen

Circulation manager Gretchen Nicholoff is in the business of increasing HCN's subscription rolls, so she was horrified to learn that some subscribers thought a letter she wrote threatened to cut them off. It is the Postal Service that is threatening HCN with non-delivery unless we get subscriber addresses right.

Gretchen is grateful to the many subscribers who have responded to her pleading/threatening note with precise addresses.


Charlotte Black Elk was inaccurately described in the May 26 story on sacred sites as a spiritual and cultural leader of the Lakota Sioux tribe. She tells us she is not a spiritual leader and has never led a Sun Dance. We apologize for any distress the mistake caused.

Apologies, too, to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Susan Saul, who tells us that in a Hotline June 6 we turned a regional total into an agency total for the money available for listing endangered species. The correct amount of the agency's budget is $5 million for fiscal year 1997.

And thanks to California reader and newsman Jim Risser, who tells us editor Don Robinson writes for the Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore.; not the Post-Register-Guard.

About guns and such

The shooting of boat-owner Joe Thiemann at Lake Tahoe (HCN, 5/12/97) in a dispute over planning reminded land-use planner and HCN reader Myles Rademan of the many years he had spent expecting a shootout. Rademan said, "I used to sleep with a gun. I'd practice rolling off the bed and reach across my wife, and aim at the bedroom door. My wife wasn't crazy about that."

Rademan, then in Crested Butte, Colo., a ski town, was preparing for an invasion by a rancher named Tony Verzuh. "He's dead now. But starting in 1972, I'd present land-use plans at meetings, and he'd say, "I will kill you before you do that."

"He repeated that 20 to 30 times. The town marshal heard him threaten me repeatedly. So he said to me, "Here's a gun. If he walks in your house, shoot him." " (The possibility of Verzuh walking into Rademan's house was enhanced by the fact that Verzuh lived next door.)

"Verzuh wasn't a developer. He was a rancher, and to him we were a bunch of stupid radicals. He was right about some of it, I see now. But you had to take him seriously. He was threatening and unreasonable. He was watching the town change around him. And he hated it.

"A few months before I left my job - it must be 10 years or more now - he came into my office. He couldn't see very well - he wore coke-bottle glasses - and he'd get right in your face, and he'd point his finger at you, real threatening. I don't know why, but this time I just saw red. He'd caught me on the wrong day. I jumped at him across the desk. I was going to kill him. I'd never in my life lost it so much that I couldn't remember what happened. But I did this time. It was frightening.

"Bill Crank, the town manager, came in and pulled us apart. Verzuh left me alone after that. He didn't prefer charges - that wasn't part of his code."

Rademan is now director of public affairs in Park City, Utah. "Things are calmer for me today," he says. "But I still have the gun somewhere."


We know better, but sometimes staff gets lazy, and starts thinking High Country News readers are like us - liberal in our politics, environmentalists with a capital E, and people who work keyboards rather than minerals or grass or lumber.

We're never allowed to hold such views for long. A comment several years ago in this column that the paper supported the gay boycott of Colorado brought a bunch of cancellations and an even larger group of letters suggesting that we stick to our natural-resource knitting.

The March 3, 1997, issue, suggesting that groups such as the National Rifle Association weren't the best friends wildlife have, brought us a renewal card with an NRA sticker pasted over it, and a terse: "Need I say more!"

One respondent said that staff needs to read past the First Amendment, with its protection of speech and religion, and get to the Second Amendment, with its guarantee of the right to bear arms.

The letters and surveys reveal again the strength of High Country News - its appeal to a diverse readership united in perhaps only one way: We all care about the West.

A new look

We've had the idea for years that we would like a new look for HCN - one that would make the paper more accessible to readers without sacrificing its clean appearance. We thought we could make changes incrementally - a new font for text here (did you notice the change a few issues back?), a different pullout-quote style there.

But this issue introduces more than a few changes. We've bid farewell to the "lozenges" we had used as standing heads since 1981, and given up putting gray screens over Hotlines and Barbs. We're being more flexible with column widths, jazzing up photo captions, highlighting information about getting involved in stories, and giving a sort of nut graph, in addition to the headline on news stories, that explains what the story is about.

Incremental changes will continue, although we won't go as far as one California publisher, promising one innovation per issue.

Staff hopes the changes make reading and using HCN easier than before.

May 31 board meeting

It was Tom France's first meeting as board president, and the HCN board of directors reacted with its most robust turn-out in years. In part that was because four new board members showed up, leading someone to joke that we could have great attendance if the board turned over every meeting.

Aside from that joke, things were serious. The board heard that for the first time in 13 years, the paper's numbers have turned down. Renewal rates declined from a high 71 percent to a still-respectable 68 percent. The stomach-churning drop came in direct mail solicitation, as the response rate went from 1.1 percent to an unacceptable 0.7 percent.

Theories ranged from "list exhaustion" (HCN goes to the same workhorse lists year after year) to a tired letter to an insufficiently gripping envelope. The board resisted the urge to spend the meeting writing new letter and envelope copy and instead instructed staff to experiment with small mailings of different letters and to prepare a comprehensive marketing plan.

The board also got some good news thanks to board member Andy Wiessner and former board member Michael Ehlers. Led by Wiessner, the pair have raised enough funds from subscribers to launch the Writers on the Range project of High Country News. Its goal is to place op-ed pieces by an array of Western writers onto the pages of the region's daily and weekly newspapers. Its mission is to help the West face up to the region's tough issues. Financially, Writers on the Range hopes to sign up enough papers to be self supporting at the end of three years.

The board meeting was followed by a potluck at the 92-year-old Bruce House. HCN is grateful to the owners, Devon and David Keegan, for donating the use of the house.

Here for their first board meeting were new members Richard Swanson of Flagstaff, Ariz., a marketer with Gore Associates; Karl Hess Jr., of Las Cruces, N.M., a writer; Caroline Byrd, of Lander, Wyo., a former HCN intern and an attorney with the Wyoming Outdoor Council; and Bill Mitchell of Seattle, a foundation staffer. Other board members attending were Maggie Coon of Seattle, Maria Mondragon-Valdez of San Luis, Colo., Suzanne Van Gytenbeek of Salt Lake City, Tom Huerkamp of Delta, Colo., Dan Luecke of Boulder, Diane Josephy Peavey of Carey, Idaho, Lynda Taylor of Santa Fe, Luis Torres of Santa Cruz, N.M., and Andy Wiessner of Vail, Colo.

A bit of advice

Esther Fisher writes from Pahrump, Nev., near Death Valley, to suggest that the fight over sacred sites (HCN, 5/26/97) could be solved by having Native American guides at the Rainbow Bridge and other places to conduct tours, recite poems, sing, or recite in order "to emphasize their religious feeling toward the place." To start things off, she enclosed a contribution which we will forward to the National Park Service, and some advice gleaned from her almost 90 years: "I have found that negotiation and compromise usually works best."

Call them fellows

Congratulations to former HCN editor Dan Whipple and to HCN freelance writer and Billings Gazette reporter Michael Milstein on being named Ted Scripps Fellows in Environmental Journalism at the Center for Environmental Journalism, at the University of Colorado, Boulder.


The next visitors to this office will find a new wall decoration: a poster titled Motels of the Southwest, which photographer Doug Towne said he put together after "many years of negotiating bypassed highways that serpentine through dying towns. ..." If neon at night is your passion, check out or contact Towne at 602/957-9411.

Chris Treese, who handles external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, stopped by on his way from Glenwood Springs to Lake City. That day we also talked to Larry Palmer of Montrose, Colo., a retired employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Edith and John Pierpont, readers from Santa Fe, stopped by June 5 on their way to Vernal, Utah, to raft the Green and Yampa rivers. Edith, 75, and John, 80, are veteran rafters. Said Edith, "We'll see if we're too old to still be rafting."

* Ed Marston, for the staff

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