Dear Friends


Our Boise get-together

The latest meeting of the High Country Foundation board was in Boise Sept. 8-10, and although all of the subscribers who attend the paper's roving potlucks are good cooks and convivial company, Idaho subscribers have ratcheted that high standard up a notch. The food was wonderful and plentiful, and the turnout was over 100, in part because of a story by Susan Whaley in the Idaho Statesman about HCN turning 30.

High Country News potlucks are usually free of ceremony, but this one featured a reading by three Idaho essayists from the paper's new book, Living in the Runaway West, a collection of essays from our Writers on the Range syndicated op-ed series. Penelope Reedy first read "Flower power for the armed West," about abusive, gun-loving husbands. Then came Rocky Barker, who read his "Why I still love guns." Steve Stuebner got away from guns; he read "Desperately seeking silence" about his family's quest for a quiet campground, and his bemusement that people play boom boxes in the country.

The venue was perfect: Boise's Log Cabin Literary Center, built by federal employees in the Great Depression, using material donated by Idaho's timber firms. Closed for several years, it is now being restored.

How tolerant are we?

The board meeting was held in the Basque Museum and ran all day Saturday and Sunday morning because of the range of issues: a business plan to guide the paper over the next five years; review of HCN's ventures into op-ed and news syndication, radio, the Web and book publishing; a discussion of why the response to our several hundred thousand pieces of direct mail has been very high this year; and approval of a campaign to raise capital for radio, syndication and the Web.

The most interesting part of the meeting revolved around Writers on the Range, and a column by Holly Lippke Fretwell, titled "Bigger is not better when it comes to public lands." The column argued against the federal Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), whose provision to buy new public land is close to the hearts of many HCN board members. Discussion centered on the appropriateness of Writers on the Range publishing columns that oppose prevailing sentiment within the environmental community.

It is not an easy question. We have a wide variety of readers, but probably most support CARA. We also guess that most HCN readers oppose charging for use of public lands, although a Steve Stuebner column last spring suggested that opponents "Stop whining about recreation fees." Does it make sense for the paper to send out columns supporting positions most of us oppose? Especially when we use reader donations to subsidize this service?

Writers on the Range editor Paul Larmer argued that the syndicate's strength, and the reason why it has penetrated the op-ed pages of 62 newspapers, lies in its ability to provide a variety of viewpoints, including the occasional conservative perspective. Although there was no vote - the board is not an editorial one - there seemed general agreement that Writers on the Range best serves the West by promoting a broad range of views.

In a weekend of many highlights, the most memorable hour was provided by Pat Ford, a prodigal son of HCN. Pat, at a lunchtime talk, described how his work as editor of a special series on salmon for HCN in 1990-1991 led him to leave writing about natural resources and dedicate himself to the saving of the salmon, because, "I can learn more about the world I live in through salmon than anything else."

Will the four Snake River dams be breached? we asked. He wouldn't predict, but he did say he was seeing a trend. People who once called the campaign a fool's errand now say, "I can't believe how far you've come." The unspoken coda, Pat said, was that "we will get no farther." Pat disagrees: "We think that in two years people who are now on the sidelines will jump in."

Pat is executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon and can be reached at 208/345-9067, or by writing to 1511 N. 11th St., Boise, ID 83702.

High Country News thanks the Basque Museum for allowing us to hold the board meeting, and the Log Cabin Literary Center and Paul Shaffer for hosting the potluck. We are also grateful to former HCN board member Jeff Fereday and his spouse, Kay Hummel, for hosting the Friday evening get-together for HCN board, staff and some readers.

The weekend would have been impossible without the help of two Boise-area board members: Brad Little of Emmet and Diane Josephy Peavey of Carey. Coincidentally, this was Diane's last meeting; the rancher and essayist is going off the board after eight years. We will miss her.

It was also Farwell Smith's last meeting after almost a decade of the best-natured service one can imagine. Farwell, who lives in McLeod, Mont., said he felt as if he were saying goodbye to a family.

Other board members who attended were president Emily Swanson of Bozeman, Mont., Andy Wiessner of Vail, Colo., Luis Torres of Santa Cruz, N.M., Tom France of Missoula, Mont., Maggie Coon of Arlington, Va., John McBride of Old Snowmass, Colo., Rick Swanson of Flagstaff, Ariz., Bill Mitchell of Seattle, Wash., and Caroline Byrd of Norwood, Colo.

Fall interns

Fall intern Tim Sullivan arrived in Paonia at the mercy of his ninth tank of gas in a week, with the last leg of his summer road trip the five-and-a-half hour desert dash from Salt Lake City, his hometown. Tim liked growing up in Utah, he says, but after 18 years behind what some call the "Zion Curtain," Tim upgraded his area code a digit and traded the "U" in Utah for a "V," eventually receiving a B.A. from Vermont's Middlebury College last spring. At Middlebury, Tim studied anthropology, English, Spanish and architecture, traveling to Ecuador for thesis work on the common-property rights of the Secoya people.

Tim's interest in the West and its environmental issues originates in memories of family camping trips to southern Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. He climbed on slickrock and built forts in aspen groves, only later learning of other Western phenomena such as mine tailings and clear-cutting. Over the years, he has worked as a gardener, musician and jack-of-all-trades at Mexican restaurants in several states; most recently, Tim maintained the listings and wrote for the City Weekly in Salt Lake.

Like many of his generation, Tim tells us, he discovered our internship program on the Web. He was, however, already familiar with the paper during his time in Vermont, where it served as a lifeline to the West and its public lands.

Our second fall intern, Oakley Brooks, arrived in Paonia on Sept. 5 in a slight quandary.

His father, he told us, has been busily lobbying Washington congressional offices on behalf of Montreal-based snowmobile manufacturer Bombardier. Department of the Interior officials, backed by environmental groups, began pushing for a ban on snowmobiles in national parks this spring, claiming the noisy snowmobiles ruined supposedly serene parks.

Brooks says he falls into the "green" category on most issues, but he thinks his father's position is reasonable. The elder Brooks wants an environmental impact study of snowmobiles in national parks, an economic impact study on the potential ban and an exploration into using quieter machines. And our new intern insists that this is not a contentious dinner-table topic. All the same, we are going to keep him off the snowmobile beat.

Oakley comes to us after five years in New Jersey - four years studying history at Princeton University and another year teaching social studies at a high school in Trenton. Inner-city Trenton High was a far cry from placid La Jolla, Calif., where Brooks went to high school and, at 14, started covering sports for a local weekly paper. Before his brief teaching stint, Brooks worked for several years for the Daily Princetonian and the Princeton Alumni Weekly. He tells us he is happy to be writing again.

Visitors from afar

High Country News is somewhat removed from the world of journalism. So we were pleased to welcome Jim Risser to Paonia. Jim, who has just retired as director of the James S. Knight Journalism Fellowship Program at Stanford University, came through with his spouse, Sandi, a former journalist and former staff member at Stanford. The couple spent a few days touring the area, and Jim spent an hour talking to staff about today's media.

Jim is one of the rare journalists who has received two Pulitzer Prizes. He was awarded them while working in Washington, D.C., for the Des Moines Register. He got his 1976 Pulitzer for a long series of articles on corruption in grain exporting. Three years later, he was honored for a weeklong series on the environmental effects of farming.

Although it is customary to deplore the state of journalism and the press, Jim's main concern was with readers. The daily newspaper, he said, publishes a wide variety of stories about American life, allowing us to become broadly informed. But today, he said, Americans tend to read specialized publications that don't paint a broad picture of the nation. With daily newspaper circulation steadily drifting downward, he said, he wonders how Americans will make the large decisions that face us.

Thank you, Peggy

We thank subscriber Peggy Rawlins for giving staff the shove it needed to cover the methane issue in a comprehensive way. When Peggy transplanted herself from California a few years ago, she discovered that her new town of Parachute, Colo., was in the midst of a methane patch. She set about organizing her neighbors, and when she visited HCN's office in Paonia, she put a bee in our collective bonnet.

- Ed Marston for the staff

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