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for people who care about the West

HCN founder Tom Bell to receive honorary degree


We have no idea how it happened, but March is already behind us. Our staff is still hoping for a little more snowfall before we put the skis away and break out the camping and hiking gear — though we’ve also begun shaking the dust from our packs, smearing on sunscreen and venturing onto the sun-soaked trails. Spring is always a time for new beginnings, and after this issue, our staff is enjoying a publication break. We’ll see you again in May, and until then, at hcn.org. 

Tom Bell, our founder, who gave HCN its name and empowered the magazine to become one of the West’s strongest voices on natural resource issues, is receiving some special recognition in his home state: The University of Wyoming is presenting him with an honorary doctoral degree during the May commencement ceremony.

Back in 1970, Tom purchased Camping News Weekly and moved it to Lander, Wyoming, under a new name: High Country News. During the early years, Tom wrote most of the articles, ran the business and slowly grew the then-tabloid newspaper’s readership. The fledging publication struggled at times, and Tom made it a nonprofit in 1971. In 1974, he instituted the Research Fund page to thank donors for saving HCN from nearly collapsing under the weight of an avalanche of crises, both personal and financial. Later that year, Tom passed the baton to young editors Joan Nice and Bruce Hamilton, who continued his legacy. Tom has won numerous awards over the decades, including conservationist of the year, and has been named a distinguished citizen of Wyoming.

During the nomination process for the honorary degree, HCN staff — both new and old — submitted letters of support. Emilene Ostlind, an editorial intern and fellow in 2010 and 2011, who currently works at the University of Wyoming Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, wrote: “The rest of us need people like (Tom) in our state. He is exactly the citizen and change-maker we, as the state’s institute of higher education, should celebrate.” 

HCN would not have thrived “without the vision — and yes, the stubbornness — of Tom Bell,” Paul Larmer, our executive director, wrote. “He saw a need, then had the courage of his convictions to follow through and do something about it, creating institutions that will outlive him and deeply educate future generations.” Congratulations, Tom, and thank you.

A couple of corrections: In “How not to forget the West’s past atrocities,” (HCN, 3/7/16), a classification error of sorts: The Manhattan Project is a national historical park, not a historic park, as stated. And, in the same issue, Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1775 journey, which led 30 families out of Mexico to Alta California, was not the first Spanish expedition to cross into the borderlands. We regret the errors.