Dear Friends

  • BISON BEARER: Jay Knight and the buffalo

    Michelle Nijhuis

Back from Berkeley

They stayed for graduation and one last sushi dinner, but then Ed and Betsy Marston, publisher and editor of this paper, high-tailed it east from Berkeley, Calif., to Paonia, Colo., and the rural life. But while their four-month teaching stint at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, is over, the work of their eight graduate students will see print in a future edition of High Country News.

They report that their class, working as a team and sharing quotes from interviews, homed in on the Sierra Nevada and the Forest Service's new and innovative framework for the range's 11 national forests.

"Teaching was challenging and a huge amount of fun," says Betsy, "though it didn't start that way. The hard part was finding a California story that would also work for High Country News."

Meanwhile, to build the class's knowledge of public lands in the West, the Marstons imported "backgrounders," who were generous with their time and knowledge. Speakers included Western historian Richard White; documentary producer Jon Else; Oregon ranchers Doc and Connie Hatfield; New Mexico rancher and fire expert Sid Goodloe; Chris Wood, senior policy advisor to former Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck; Bruce Hamilton, conservation director for the Sierra Club and a former editor of High Country News; Johanna Wald, grazing activist and attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council; Craig Thomas, environmental activist; Michael Jackson, member of the Quincy Library Group; Frank Allen, president of the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources; and Jay Watson of The Wilderness Society.

Over the months, Matt Mathes, public information officer for the Forest Service in California, became a key resource as the class sought interviews with fire bosses, forest supervisors, ecosystem planners and district rangers. "When in doubt," say the Marstons, "we said, 'Call Matt. He'll know.' " Agency staffers Kent Connaugton and Steve Clausen also offered valuable perspectives on the story.

The graduate school set up its course in environmental journalism with the help of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Hewlett Teaching Fellow following the Marstons is Paul Jacobs, environmental reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. Jane Kay, environmental reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, directs the program at UC Berkeley, which so far has brought in five teaching fellows.

The dean of the journalism graduate school is China scholar Orville Schell. The Marstons say he's a believer in small classes, hiring and bringing in working journalists as teachers, and offering international travel for the 100 graduate students (Cuba, eastern Europe, China). "The place hums," says Ed. "Being there was a privilege."

Rubbing the buffalo

Spring brought with it a visit from James "Jay" Knight, a reader and old friend from Madison, Wis. Jay was a man with a one-of-a-kind mission: He was here to deliver a 285-pound bison to the High Country News office. Not the hairy, heavy-breathing, stampeding variety, fortunately for us. The bison is made of Utah alabaster, a beautiful pinkish stone with cream and rust-colored swirls.

Carved by Santa Fe sculptor Tim Shay, the animal is frozen in mid-charge. It now sits in our entryway, where visitors inevitably end up stroking its smooth hump like Buddha's belly. We're sure it will bring good luck, and thank Jay kindly for lending us the sculpture.

Reader Mitch Tobin dropped by the office en route to cooler climes. Mitch is a reporter for the Tucson, Arizona Daily Star, where he covers water issues. He also freelances for High Country News.

"Tucson has a habit of screwing up in really spectacular ways," he said. The latest example came in response to riots after the NCAA basketball finals: Reporters and cameramen were caught in the crossfire as police sprayed rioters with rubber bullets.

But the town does seem to be getting its act together on another front, he says. It has started pumping Colorado River water into underground aquifers that have been sucked down for drinking and agriculture. The last time Tucson tried to make use of its Colorado River water, which is drawn south through the massive Central Arizona Project aqueduct, it pumped the corrosive and bitter liquid directly into the water system. That caused millions of dollars in damage to pipes and appliances and left a foul taste in many mouths.

Mitch was on his way to Aspen, Colo., for a bachelor's party and some fun on his mountain bike.

High Country News Classifieds