Dear Friends

  • NEW ADDITIONS: HCN business manager Paul Gibb, his wife,Greta, and their new twins, Samuel and Cooper, on the twins' firstvisit to the office

    Rebecca Clarren
 

Conflagration

Troubles of the modern West continue to break out around the home of High Country News. A month ago in this space, we talked about coalbed-methane developers beginning to target the mesa slopes near our office in Paonia. Now the trouble is wildfire in areas where people have chosen to live.

Even though the fire season has barely begun, smoke from more than two dozen fires darkens the daytime skies over much of Colorado, whipped around by dry winds that also propel the flames.

In the next valley northeast of town, around Glenwood Springs, 3,000 people were evacuated from the potential course of the Coal Seam Fire. A thousand who had no better place to go holed up in the local high school or the branch campus of Colorado Mountain College. Despite counterattacks by slurry bombers and bucket-dumping helicopters, at least 24 homes burned, and traffic on Interstate 70 had to be rerouted for nearly 24 hours, while the flames jumped four lanes of pavement and the Colorado River.

That wildfire, ignited by one of Colorado's many persistent underground coal-mine fires, erupted in the same area where the South Canyon Fire in 1994 killed 14 firefighters. This summer's iteration has spread over 11,000 acres and is still burning out of control as we go to press.

In the suburbanized mountains southwest of Denver, the Hayman Fire, started by an illegal campfire, has become the biggest single wildfire in Colorado's history, blackening more than 90,000 acres, destroying 22 homes, forcing the evacuation of another 3,700 homes, sending its smoke over the Denver metro area, and still going strong. The chaos came only a week after 88 homes burned in a wildfire near Ca–on City.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Utah and New Mexico, at least 160,000 acres are already burning. The Denver Post has taken to running succinct front-page headlines in huge type normally reserved for war against other nations or terrorists - "Wildfire rampage" one day, followed the next day by a desperate quote from U.S. Forest Service fire spokesman Rowdy Muir, in 108-point type atop the page: "We can't stop it."

Fires have spokesmen now, and they can explain some things about the fires, but not much about whether increasing drought and decades of poor forest-management practices have brought us to a Western turning point, so that from now on, every late spring and summer day will be dark and dangerous at 2 in the afternoon. It seems that way more and more.

Welcome to a new Paul

As fragile and fraught with risks as our High Country News neighborhood seems, it didn't deter Paul Gibb from signing up as our new business/finance manager.

But this Paul has a history of taking risks. He used to be engaged in a corporate life in Austin, Texas, ultimately as chief financial officer of a startup health care company. He says he escaped all that several years ago, with his wife, Greta, and they have been looking for the right opportunity and the right town in order to test their vision of small-town mountain life. They tried Nederland, Colo., perched at 8,240-feet elevation along the Front Range, then decided they wanted something even more out of the way (and a bit warmer). The second move was complicated by the birth of twin sons, Samuel and Cooper, on April 6. Nevertheless, in a moment of questionable judgment, Greta consented to Paul's fulfilling a dream - working for one of their favorite publications.

Despite sleeping about four hours per night due to his new housemates, Paul comes to work with energy, saying he's happy for the opportunity to use his finance/accounting skills and education for something other than making fat-cat investors fatter. He and Greta love the Western Slope for the abundance of sunshine, outdoor activities and organic produce.

Everyone in the HCN community outside the office, be warned: With Paul Larmer serving as editor and Paul Gibb managing the business end, when you call us now and ask for Paul, likely as not you'll be asked, "Which one?"

Making waves

Radio High Country News, which now plays every week on 26 stations in 10 Western states and on our Web site (www.hcn.org), has been favorably reviewed by L.A. Heberlein in The Rough Guide to Internet Radio, 2002: "Although actively environmentalist, High Country News is strongly differentiated from the likes of Sierra by being imbued with a lived sense of what existence is actually like in small communities in the West. This offers a perspective perhaps less polemical, probably more pragmatic, and definitely more deeply informed about the particularly local."

If you'd like to hear Radio High Country News on a local station in your listening area, please call the station's manager to express your interest, or e-mail Radio HCN producer Adam Burke ([email protected]) and marketing director Steve Mandell ([email protected]) to concoct a coordinated plan.

Visitors

The wildfires haven't deterred all visitors from stopping into the Paonia headquarters.

New Mexican Steve Albert, the director of the Zuni Indian Tribe's Game and Fish Department, was taking his daughter to violin camp in Snowmass, Colo. He thanked us for keeping him informed about the important issues in the West.

Bill Rhoads, from Arlington, Va., is a retired U.S. Foreign Service diplomat who has worked with The Nature Conservancy. He was touring the Southwest looking at federal land used for livestock grazing, and to his eyes, much of it looks hammered. He stopped in to remind us that people back East care about federal land too.

Rini and V.B. Price were on their way back to Albuquerque after reveling in cooler weather in the Northern Rockies. Jennifer Redding from Moab, Utah, and Julie Huldinfrom Rico, Colo., wandered in after attending the bluegrass festival at Crystal Meadows Resort just up the road.

Long distance happy b-day

Sharon Sherlock of Enterprise, Ore., celebrated her 65th birthday recently and invited HCN's staff to come to the party. We couldn't make it, but we wish her well.

Correction

Todd Malmsbury, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, called to straighten out a statistic in our story on chronic wasting disease in game herds last issue. The average 5 percent infection rate applies to the wild deer population in a portion of northeastern Colorado, not to deer throughout the state.

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