HCN bids farewell to an old friend

  • William L. Berry Jr.

    the Berry family

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to get a closer look at the lives of our remarkable readers. Shortly after longtime HCN reader and donor William L. Berry Jr. died on Sept. 30 from pancreatic cancer, two of his sons, John and Scott, got in touch with us to tell us a bit more about their dad. Some of what follows is from the obituary they wrote, which appeared in the Sacramento Bee Oct. 14.

Born in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1932, Bill moved as a high school student to Sacramento, where his father worked for the State Division of Water Resources and was one of the principal architects of the California Water Plan. His father's role in the plan -- which resulted in the damming of many important rivers -- and seemingly contradictory love for fly-fishing on unspoiled streams would become grist for Bill in later years.

Bill shared his dad's enthusiasm for rivers, and, during college, developed his own passion for trains, working summers as an assistant brakeman on the Southern Pacific line. After a long career as an attorney, Bill's two early interests literally collided in 1991, when a Southern Pacific train derailed and dumped an herbicide into the Upper Sacramento River, killing all aquatic life for 40 miles downstream. Bill labored for the next 10 years to force the railroad to implement safety measures that would prevent future derailments. Although Southern Pacific eventually had to pay a substantial fine, change certain operating procedures and build a containment structure, the more far-reaching safety reforms sought by Bill and his allies were rebuffed in the courts.

Years later, Frank Pipgras, an executive at the conservation group California Trout, wrote, "If I had to name the one person most responsible for extracting a $38,000,000 settlement and bringing the railroad to its knees, it was and still is Bill Berry." In recognition of his efforts, California Trout presented Bill with its Joseph Paul Award in 2003. Today the Upper Sacramento again supports a healthy population of wild trout, which Bill enjoyed fishing for until early this summer.

The staff at HCN remembers Bill most vividly for a letter he wrote last year, urging us to not forget those readers who love print more than electrons.

"Last week, my wife and I made a donation to the HCN Research Fund in what for us was a substantial amount, given the declining state of our retirement account -- more than we'll give to many other nonprofit organizations appealing for our help in this dark economic time. Would we have done so for an online magazine of similar content? Would I faithfully renew subscriptions for myself and three of our kids for a website publication? I'm afraid the answer is no. If I couldn't read High Country News during lunch at the cafe near my retirement office, or carry it in my briefcase to pull out for a doctor's office wait, or mark and save articles for future reference and sharing with my wife and friends -- I'd simply fall out of touch. I don't say this as a threat, but as a fact -- and in serious concern for a publication I value highly. ...  As you take HCN further into the era of electronic communication, remember that the Web, fast and far-reaching as it is, tends to be cluttered, transitory, and unappealing to page-turners like me. Please keep one foot on the solid ground of print journalism -- at least until I'm gone!"

Bill would be relieved to know we have no intention of abandoning print journalism. Those who would like to remember Bill can make a donation to Save the American River Association, California Trout, High Country News, or the Effie Yeaw Nature Center (c/o The American River Natural History Association).

Piece de resistance
Jonathan Thompson's HCN feature story "Wind Resistance" was awarded a Special Citation by the prestigious 2010 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. The story, which ran Dec. 15, 2009, examined the political upheaval caused by Wyoming's rush to develop wind power. Another Special Citation went to Dawn Stover for her Conservation Magazine piece on the decline of the West's cougar population, "Troubled Teens." The overall Risser Prize winner was Lewis Kamb, a member of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's investigative team and the lead reporter on "Chain Saw Scouting," a series on "land-use practices by the Boy Scouts of America in direct opposition of their mandate to preserve and protect the environment." Congrats to all.

"Taming the River Wild" in the Oct. 25 issue incorrectly stated that the Long family hosted a public meeting on a proposal to modify Staircase Rapid. In fact, the Idaho Whitewater Association hosted the meeting at Cascade Outfitters' headquarters in Boise, Idaho.

Also in that issue, the story "Wolves, wilderness, drilling and Latinos" stated that New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish chose Brian Colon as her running mate. Actually, Colon ran for the office of lieutenant governor and won the race in his Democratic primary. We regret the errors.

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