Dear Friends


Ex marks the spot

We love those ex-interns, especially when they land in some Western locale and start sending in stories. This issue is an intern tour de force: Tim Westby, who spent time here in the summer of 1999, penned our cover story on the misunderstood and much abused Great Salt Lake, near whose shores he now resides; Karen Mockler, intern in the fall of 1999, fills us in on the controversy surrounding the feeding of elk outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. She lives in Cody, Wyo. Then we have a book review by Connecticut-based Ali Macalady (also fall 1999), and a Hotline by Erika Trautman of Denver (fall 2001).

Current interns are also busy. Every spring we assign one to write a Western Roundup on the weather conditions in the region following the end of the all-important snow season. For the past several years, the plot has sounded disturbingly familiar: low snowpack, low runoff, lots of fire potential. This year is all that and more, reports Sarah Wright, as the region staggers under the cumulative impact of successive dry years (see facing page).

We're hearing lots on the streets of Paonia about the drought, especially after last week's dust storm. Just as local watermasters released the first chocolatey-brown waters into our valley's irrigation ditches, the wind blew so hard for five days that nearby mountains disappeared behind thick veils of airborne soil. At the feed store, ranchers complained that what little snowpack remains was being devoured by the howling winds. "You better hold onto your hay this year," warned one grizzled veteran. And your hat.

Litter bit of work

On a recent windy overcast day, a gang of intrepid High Country News staffers took to the highway near Paonia in pursuit of pop cans, plastic bags and cigarette butts. Three back-bending hours and 40 orange trash bags later, the paper's two miles of adopted Highway 133 looked downright passable.

Our findings should make it simple to find the litterers:

They drink Budweiser, eat Piccadilly pizza and Snickers, and chew Copenhagen, but they aren't picky about what kind of cigarettes they smoke.

A few staffers stumbled upon some unusual garbage. Robyn Morrison found a Rubber Ducky with a number written on it, perhaps a former contestant in a ducky race; Gretchen Nicholoff discovered a wrench bent perfectly in half; and Amy Alanko picked up a broken fishing pole and a screen door.

The work, reports Betsy Marston, was not necessarily appreciated. "Teens, I think, threw a Big Gulp container of soda pop at us, and we had to pick up the cup!"

On the roads again

Speaking of former interns, we're happy to announce the publication of No Place Distant: Roads and Motorized Recreation on America's Public Lands, written by David Havlick. David is a founder of and instructor for the Wild Rockies Field Institute in Missoula, Mont., and served as the coordinator of the Predator Conservation Alliance's Roads Scholar project. His book takes an historical and ecological look at the road-building spree that has placed more than 550,000 miles of roads on the public domain. Island Press is the publisher.

Washington State University recently published a book by another long-time associate of HCN, Idaho journalist Niels Sparre Nokkentved. Desert Wings: Controversy in the Idaho Desert tells how in the 1990s an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, ranchers and Native Americans thwarted an attempt by the U.S. military and state and federal officials to secure a 1.5 million-acre bombing range in southwest Idaho.

Welcome, Lolly

She may be sleeping out of her car for a few weeks while the rental market loosens up, but Lolly Merrell has left five years of freelance writing and climbing pinon trees in New Mexico to join HCN. It wasn't a straightforward path. After stints at local publications in Boulder, graduate school in Chicago, hard time at Outside magazine, five months in India with her anthropologist husband, and assignments that ran the gamut, from National Geographic Adventure to Executive Mansions, she's finally turned off the ignition in Paonia.

Lolly's been reading (and stealing ideas from) HCN for nearly 15 years, and plans to bring her love of science writing to the paper. She feels lucky to move to Paonia, where she once helped the driver of an overturned watermelon truck collect a few intact melons before they tumbled into the river. She hopes the snow will last just a little longer on the nearby Ragged mountains, so she and her husband, David, can ski up to the best view of their new home.

Those wolf-loving Europeans

In early April, the last members of Idaho's Whitehawk wolf pack were killed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to livestock depredation, drawing harsh criticism from wolf advocates around the world. We discovered this when our e-mail inbox was suddenly flooded with messages from folks living in Germany, Switzerland and other farflung countries. Apparently, HCN was among a list of Western media contacts circulated among activists. The e-mail letters expressed outrage at what at least some Europeans viewed as the wholesale killing of rare wildlife for the sake of a few sheep and calves.

One veterinary student from Germany asked, "I don't understand the purpose of such an action. Is it to satisfy the will of ranchers? And to keep these men and women as voters for a particular party?" A disappointed wolf admirer from Luxembourg wrote, "We think we will wait to visit your magnificent national parks until there are more wolves." Ecologically minded American tourists might deliver the same message to German officials before heading overseas.

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