Of moose and mandolins

  • Jeff Chen
 

AGE 30
HOMETOWN Broadview Heights, Ohio
OCCUPATION Environmental scientist with the EPA
HCN READER SINCE 2002

Elaine Lai stopped by High Country News on a sunny day in early May. She works for the wastewater unit of the Environmental Protection Agency, and had driven over from her Denver office to write a permit for the federal fish hatchery in nearby Hotchkiss.

Lai -- who plays the banjo and speaks rapturously of bluegrass festivals -- still seems a bit surprised to find herself working for a federal agency. But after she earned a master's degree in public policy and environmental management from Duke University, the EPA made her an offer she couldn't refuse: two years on agency pay with an EPA partner in the continental U.S. or elsewhere. She chose "elsewhere," and took a position in the Alaskan Arctic with the World Wildlife Fund, where she helped coordinate a climate change witness program. In the Far North, Lai helped stimulate communication between scientists and indigenous people, who experience global warming not as a temperature trend line on a graph, but as rapidly changing natural patterns: shifting caribou and moose migrations, altered salmon runs, thawing tundra and river ice that breaks up earlier in the spring. 

Lai was deeply impressed by the Native communities she worked with: "They're such warm people," she says. "The communities are so tight-knit."

Lai came to Paonia expecting to spend the night camping out in her car. Instead, she temporarily joined another tight-knit community -- the HCN interns. Lai lingered in town long enough to co-host a show on the local radio station, KVNF, with interns Jeff Chen, Emily Underwood and Terray Sylvester. Then she slept on their couch. No comment on whether they made her play the banjo in exchange for the night's accommodation.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNING & BUILDING DIRECTOR
    Searching for candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Planning, Community Development, or a related field with 7 years' experience in land use planning forums, including...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: