Dear Friends


Changing times

The Nez Perce tribe is returning to its stolen lands. As we report in this issue, the tribe now manages wolves on 15 million acres of central Idaho wilderness, and it's even bought back part of the Oregon homeland that Chief Joseph fought for in 1877.

Though many tribes continue to struggle against poverty and political hostility, the victory of the Nez Perce isn't unique. Last fall, a coalition of tribes helped to bring about the defeat of longtime Republican Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington (HCN, 10/23/00: Stalking Slade), and the Chinook tribe in western Oregon recently won a long battle for federal recognition (HCN, 2/12/01: Chinook tribe recognized). We also hear that Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet tribe, who has tirelessly fought the Interior Department over the Indian trust-fund debacle (HCN, 8/3/98: A banker battles to hold the government accountable)is now the driving force behind the first Native American land trust. Stay tuned for more stories about changing times in Indian Country.

An HCN revival

Our experience over almost 20 years shows that those who subscribe to High Country News are excellent cooks and enjoyable company. We test this proposition three times a year in towns as different as Helena, Mont., Socorro, N.M., Pueblo, Colo., and Las Vegas, Nev. The most recent test came on the first Saturday evening in February, in a meeting room at the Phoenix Zoo, and once again we found good company and good food.

We had not expected such a large turnout. Phoenix is a major metropolitan area that offers lots to do. Subscribers in Phoenix are unlikely to know each other. But 70 subscribers and family members showed up, to join 20 or so HCN board and staff members. For a while, the evening took on the tone of a church revival, as a dozen subscribers told the room why they read HCN. They said it in different ways, but it added up to the following: Because the paper is rooted in a region they love, and because it speaks to them in ways other publications do not.

Those we spoke to were a cross section of the West: Pat Quirk grows cacti at the Desert Botanical Gardens; Matt Chew is a state parks employee who was at the center of a recent HCN story on Arizona's Kartchner Caverns (HCN, 7/3/00: Freedom of speech shines in Arizona cave); and Tony Davis of Tucson has been this paper's most prolific freelance writer for almost two decades.

Among those whose first and last names didn't make it home with us were a boatman, a retired college professor, a man who controls insects without the use of chemical insecticides, at least two home builders, and a member of Republicans for Environmental Protection.

A look at the books

Our potluck coincided with a meeting of the board of the High Country Foundation, the nonprofit that owns and operates HCN. Unlike the Ford Foundation, let's say, the High Country Foundation seeks money rather than grants it. And so the weekend meeting started on Friday with a presentation by consultant Ilene Roggensack on how board members can help the organization raise money.

The board also reviewed last year's income and expense, and approved an expense budget for the Year 2001 of $1,669,075 and a circulation goal of 24,000, up from 22,274 at the end of 2000.

If last year was any indication, we may well reach that goal. Paid subscriptions jumped 5 percent in 2000. Most of our new subscribers were respondants to our direct mail - promotion letters we send out to members of environmental and citizens' groups, and subscribers to like-minded publications. Surprisingly, 694 people subscribed to the paper last year from our Web site.

In other business, the board added two new members: Pamela J. Kingfisher, who directs the Alma de Mujer Center for Social Change, a retreat center in Austin, Tex., and Michele Barlow, a Laramie, Wyo., resident who works for the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Attending his last meeting was Tom France, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula, Mont. Tom has been on the board for four three-year terms, served as president for two years, and provided much of the impetus for HCN's expansion into Writers on the Range, Radio High Country News and news syndication. Thank you, Tom.

A fiery speech

The Saturday luncheon speaker was ecologist and historian Stephen Pyne, a professor from Arizona State University's Biology Department. He walked us through the immense fires of 1910 in the Northern Rockies, during which 78 firefighters died in a single day, most on the Coeur d'Alene National Forest in Idaho.

The story he told centered on a Forest Service employee named Ed Pulaski, who led 45 trapped firefighters to an old mine tunnel, and kept the panicked men there at the point of a gun while the fire raged outside. They were all felled by the smoke and heat, but all survived, and Pulaski went on to invent the ax-grub tool now named for him.

As important as the loss of life and the loss of 7 billion board-feet of timber was the fire's aftermath. Until that summer, Pyne said, rural Americans used fire as a tool, and "advocates of light-burning were numerous and determined." In fact, he continued, most of the public was hostile to firefighting. "Rural America burned everything."

But the Forest Service couldn't live with that predator, said Pyne, and "fires would soon go the way of wild animals as the land was domesticated." But unlike cattle and pigs, fire doesn't stay domesticated, as last summer showed us.

Each board meeting is a logistical challenge, since it takes place in a distant city, often where HCN has no staff representation. So we are very grateful to Jeff Williamson, director of the Phoenix Zoo, for allowing us to hold a potluck in its facility. It was a wonderful site for a wonderful evening.

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