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Know the West

Not boring, not befuddling

  Somewhere there is a school that teaches those who work for government agencies and environmental groups to write press releases. The school's core curriculum consists of courses in Boasting in Print and Bad Writing; it also offers seminars in Boring and Befuddling the Reader, Grazing the Truth, and Tunnel Vision. Even in peacetime, those who must read the daily flood of these sorry things deserve Purple Hearts.

So it's a shock to discover Earthlaw - a public interest law firm whose press releases are well-written and concise 300- to 600-word essays. They even contain humor.

And while the press releases are not shy about describing the good work Earthlaw does, they only become truly boastful when it comes to the students who work for the University of Denver Law Clinic. And who can blame Earthlaw head Mark Hughes? How often does a law student successfully argue a case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals? Or become the first legal practitioner anywhere to haul the U.S. government before the NAFTA environmental commission? Or do the research that helps persuade U.S. Supreme Court J. Antonin Scalia to let a logging ban stand on the national forests in the Southwest?

But readers will most appreciate Earthlaw's ability to create a context before plunging into the details of a lawsuit. Its press release on Preble's meadow mouse, for example, starts this way:

"When folks from other parts of the country think of the Denver area, they envision snow-capped mountains and green woodlands stretching from foothills to plains. They may imagine themselves moving to Denver, spending their days striding across high mountain ridges, the cool breeze rustling their Gore-Tex parkas ...

"A more accurate picture of the area around Denver would show a sea of bland suburban tract homes stretching from foothills to plains, punctuated now and again by a clump of factory outlet stores ..."

Having set the stage, Earthlaw can now talk about the mouse, and its potential for preventing the Front Range from becoming less livable. It's no longer a technical case about the Endangered Species Act - it's about the impact development has on human and non-human habitats and lives.

Earthlaw also does something few other groups and no agencies do: It mocks itself. When Earthlaw won a case reducing the number of Atlantic sharks that fishermen could catch, the group downplayed its victory. "We only took the case as a professional courtesy."

The press releases, appeals for financial support, and a primer on filing your own NAFTA-based appeal can be found on Earthlaw's Website: www.earthlaw.org. You can also reach the group at the University of Denver-Forbes House, 1714 Poplar St., Denver, CO 80220-1878; 303/871-6996.

*Ed Marston