Dear Friends

  • FROM UTAH: New intern Keri Watson

    Dustin Solberg photo
  • ERNIE NUNN: At his new restaurant, The Silos Inn

    Ed Marston photo

Welcome, Keri

New intern Keri Watson arrived at High Country News on Paonia's first sunny day in what seemed like weeks. She'd just spent time shepherding her German in-laws around Salt Lake City, the city where she was born and where she worked as a camera operator at KUED-TV while also doing research for a writer working on a biography of Richard Nixon. She plans on returning to both jobs this fall.

Keri graduated with a degree in history from the University of Utah in 1996, and it was there that she first saw High Country News and used it as a resource. She has tried out a lot of jobs through various internships: a sound-engineering assistant at L.A. East Recording Studios in Salt Lake City, and a broadcasting intern at the Senate Republican Conference in Washington, D.C. She also learned a little about radio by working as an intern with KUER FM90 in Salt Lake City.

Keri says her ultimate goal is to become a documentary filmmaker.

A Nunn's story

Ernie Nunn once ran hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. In Colorado, he ran districts on the White River National Forest in the 1970s that were besieged by ski area development, such as the proposed Adams Rib resort. In Wyoming, he was forest supervisor on the immense, and immensely important, Bridger-Teton National Forest. And in Montana, he ran the Helena National Forest.

Starting in 1994, Ernie moved into the private sector, serving as head of the Helena Chamber of Commerce. A few weeks ago, he stopped promoting Helena area business in general and bought a restaurant - the Silos Inn, just outside Helena. Ernie says that when he was with the U.S. Forest Service, he was forever putting on barbecues for agency employees and guests. Barbecued ribs will be the star attraction at his new venture.

Staffers from High Country News, in Helena for a board meeting, nipped into Ernie's latest venture on May 20, the night before he and his spouse, Caroline, were to hold their grand opening. The ribs, flavored by Ernie's special sauce, tasted great.

The Nunns looked pleased with their new venture, but it was also a sad moment, because Ernie, talented restaurateur though he will surely be, ought to be running a national forest, or a region, or perhaps even all the forests.

That he is instead enjoying himself at the Silos Inn is a sad commentary on the recent history of a once-proud agency. When we got back from Helena, we went into the back issues of High Country News, starting with the Feb. 26, 1990, edition, which reprinted a letter from the Northern Rockies forest supervisors to then Chief Dale Robertson. It alerted him that the agency was no longer viewed by the public as a "conservation leader" and begged the chief to do something.

The supervisors did more than write letters to an unresponsive chief. Under Regional Forester John Mumma, they reduced timber cuts on many of the 15 forests in the region so that they were no longer violating environmental laws.

Those reductions, backed by Mumma, succeeded where the letters had failed: They got Robertson's attention, and he responded by ordering Mumma to Washington, D.C. (HCN, 9/23/91). Mumma refused the transfer and, four years short of retirement, quit. (He now runs the Colorado Division of Wildlife.)

Forcing out Mumma wasn't enough to quell the rebellion among forest supervisors. So in 1994, after spending an estimated $1 million on an investigation, the Forest Service yanked Ernie Nunn into federal district court, charging him with improperly buying a $1,500 horse and spending $180 in agency funds on a going-away gift for Mumma.

After a trial that included testimony by Robertson's replacement, Chief Jack Ward Thomas, the federal judge ordered the agency to reinstate Ernie as a forest supervisor and pay him $67,000 in back pay and interest (HCN, 8/8/94).

This paper, in its usual restrained way, headlined the page 3 story: "Forest Service dunked by its own 'witch hunt.' " In his testimony, the article by Tom Reed reported, Mumma told the judge that the investigation was part of a purge initiated by the timber industry and backed by Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana.

When we saw Ernie at The Silos, he was philosophical about the matter. It was history. But he regretted that the Forest Service, an agency he remains loyal to, had wasted so much time. If it had heeded him and the other forest supervisors back in the late 1980s, when they warned in letters that the agency was following a disastrous path, the Forest Service could have saved a lot of time and money and trees. Today, Ernie said, the agency is beginning to do what he and his colleagues had urged over a decade ago.

The gathering in Helena

Three times a year, High Country News takes its show on the road somewhere in its 1 million square-mile region, and holds a board meeting and a potluck for readers. This time, it was Helena's turn, and approximately 15 board members and staff converged on Montana's capital city for ribs, a Friday evening potluck at the YWCA, and an all-day board meeting at The Nature Conservancy's offices.

Under the direction of the board's new president, Emily Swanson, who was minority leader in the state House this term, the nine board members who made the meeting reviewed staff's efforts to establish High Country Foundation as a multimedia effort.

Assistant editor Greg Hanscom said that recent improvements in the Web site had doubled the number of daily visitors to to 700. Paul Larmer, who edits Writers on the Range, said that the op-ed syndicate now had 43 subscribing newspapers, and was one-third of the way to becoming self-supporting. Marketing director Steve Mandell reported that the paper had just signed a contract with Oregon State University Press to publish a book on water. Editor Betsy Marston, who anchors the hour-long public "Radio High Country News," told the board what it's like to attempt to master yet another communications medium.

At lunch, economist Stan Nicholson discussed Montana: People and the Economy, a report on Montana published by the Claiborne-Ortenberg Foundation, and Emily Swanson talked about the legislative session.

In addition to Emily, the following board members were at the meeting: Tom Huerkamp of Delta, Colo.; Tom France of Missoula, Mont.; Diane Josephy Peavey of Carey, Idaho; Brad Little of Emmett, Idaho; Rick Swanson of Flagstaff, Ariz.; Karl Hess, Jr., of Las Cruces, N.M.; Caroline Byrd of Lander, Wyo.; and Bill Mitchell of Seattle, Wash.

The board meetings are always useful, but it is the potlucks that are fun. Potlucks are one of the most dependable, and enjoyable, connections we have to our community of readers, who often suggest stories. The paper is largely written by writers we never see and read by subscribers who live all over the United States. But in Helena we got to see three writers - Florence Williams, Edwin Dobb (see the lead this issue), and Ray Ring. We also got to meet readers who told us we were doing what they read us for: publishing stories about the West that tell the several sides of the issues as accurately as possible.


We would love to find Cara Chamberlain. We published a poem by her in the May 10, 1999, issue and we owe her a check.

* Ed Marston for the staff

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