Dear friends

  • Jim Stiak


Jim Stiak, reporter

High Country News was honored last year when The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog chose this newspaper for one of its capsule reviews, calling HCN "the model for eco-media reporting." The example the catalog chose to represent the paper was Jim Stiak's lead story on timber theft, a concise exposé of how the Forest Service in the Northwest has long allowed jiggered estimates of marketable timber.

Jim's reports were among the first here on the complexity and beauty of ancient trees; he also contributed essays about the rebirth of life on Mount St. Helens and the impossibility of mowing his lawn in straight swaths.

Last May, in his usual taut fashion, Jim wrote an essay for Oregon's Eugene Weekly about death. He talked about friends who had fought and lost the battle for life and ended by talking about himself:

A doctor told me it was my turn to face the reaper. That lump I'd been trying to ignore, he said, was malignant. Now it's my turn to do the cancer dance. Suffer the slash of the surgeon's scalpel, swallow toxic pills that cost $300 a bottle, maybe visit the radiation machine in the hospital basement. Maybe lose my hair. Maybe lose my life.

The doctor exuded confidence that I'd pull through. Still, it's a peculiar feeling, being told that you could die within months. No dark tunnels or white lights, just a dull numbness. It might be happening to someone else.

I walked from the doctor's office determined to fully experience every fragrant flower, every rippling leaf on every tree, each swirl of air that danced on my skin. By the end of my walk such lofty goals had exaporated. I was thinking, instead, of lying six feet under.

As I watched the others go - Jack, Jo, Ed, Sidney and the rest - I took each passing as a wake-up call, a message to pay better attention to this maddening reality since there was one less friend to do it with me.

The call rings louder now. Somewhat harder than usual, life has rubbed my nose in the obvious. Be it days or decades, we've all but a limited time to learn how to love.

Jim Stiak died of cancer Jan. 17 in Eugene, Ore. He was 43. He is survived by Camille Cole, his wife from 1984-93, his parents and four siblings, and his friends.

Jim Stiak will be missed.

Thanks, Patsy Batchelder

The High Country News board and staff gathered in snowy Ketchum, Idaho, on Jan. 21 to review how the paper did in 1994, to set a new budget and new circulation goals for 1995, to start working on a new five-year plan (someone has to do it, given the demise of the USSR), and to welcome two new board members.

The meeting included a Friday evening get-together at the Ernest and Mary Hemingway home on open space owned by The Nature Conservancy and a potluck for local subscribers in the American Legion Hall in Ketchum on Saturday evening. The meeting was made possible by local people who generously helped with accommodations and food and transportation for board and staff, and by subscriber Patsy Batchelder, who took care of the scores of details surrounding a board meeting roughly 1,000 miles from HCN's home base. We literally cannot thank Patsy enough.

The news from 1994

The paper grew by 8.5 percent during 1994, to 15,077 subscribers, thanks to gift subscriptions, a direct mail campaign that bought a 1.2 percent response, and a 70 percent renewal rate. Ten years ago, HCN had a circulation of 3,500.

Finances are a bit more complex now because the paper switched from cash accounting to accrual. Under a cash system, when a subscriber sends in a $28 subscription check, it is immediately booked as income. But under the accrual system, the $28 becomes a liability to be "earned" over the year by sending out 24 issues of the paper. Switching to accrual was necessary to keep track of multi-year grants, in which cash is received in one year but obligations continue for several years.

In 1994, High Country News earned $739,134 and spent $669,405, for an operating surplus of $69,729.

For 1995, the board approved an $835,490 operating expense budget and a $802,390 revenue budget, for a projected deficit of $33,100. The deficit will be funded by a bequest from Steve Arrowsmith that the paper received in 1993 but has not yet spent. The increased expense budget was caused by the continuing computerization of HCN's archives; an increase in the free-lance budget for writers, photographers and artists; and a 5 percent increase in average pay for staff. In addition, the board approved the start of a pension plan for staff retroactive to 1994, and paying 3 percent of gross salary.

The board welcomed two new members: Maria Mondragon-Valdez, a community activist from San Luis, Colo., who is a doctoral student in American Studies at the University of New Mexico, and Doc Hatfield, a cattle breeder and rancher from Bend, Ore. Maria urged the staff to pay more attention to stories about small communities in Colorado's San Luis Valley and in northern New Mexico. Doc said that HCN's entrepreneurial culture and openness to a variety of viewpoints had allowed it to thrive during what has been tough times for some environmental groups.

Karil Frohboese of Park City, Utah, brought along a meat tenderizer/gavel to pass to Dan Luecke of Boulder, Colo. Karil has served as president of the High Country Foundation board for the last two years, and Dan was elected president at this meeting. Maggie Coon of Seattle, Wash., will be vice president for fund raising; Tom France of Missoula, Mont., will be vice president for board development; Judy Jacobsen of Boulder, Colo., will serve as secretary; and Farwell Smith of McLeod, Mont., will be treasurer.

Other board members at the meeting were Michael Ehlers of Boulder, Colo., Andy Wiessner of Vail, Colo., Victoria Bomberry of Stanford, Calif., and Diane Peavey of Carey, Idaho. High Country News is owned and operated by the High Country Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(C)(3) corporation.

The board of the High Country Foundation meets three times a year around the region to oversee finances and set policy. The board meets next in Paonia, Colo., on Saturday, June 10, for an all-day long-range planning session. That meeting will be followed by a potluck in the Paonia town park.


Visitors are few in the winter, and therefore all the more welcome. Among those who stopped by was long-time subscriber Connie Harvey of Aspen, Colo., whose son Mark was an intern at HCN several years ago. Also visiting were former U.S. Senator and now State Department counselor Tim Wirth and his wife Wren Wirth.

Hail, Cascadia

In March, a new newspaper will emerge in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to the efforts of journalist Paul Koberstein, a free-lancer whose major stories on salmon and logging have appeared in High Country News. The monthly will be called Cascadia Times, and Paul says it will make connections among environmental issues and communities from California's Bay Area to Prince William Sound in Alaska. The paper is based at 25-6 Northwest 23rd Place, No. 406, Portland, OR 97210-3534. Subscriptions are $20.

* Betsy and Ed Marston for the staff

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