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Know the West

Dear friends


Digging in

Winter finally fell on Paonia after fooling us for so many weeks with sunny days and skittish snow. The ski areas are happy about their feet-thick bases, and local water supplies, though still in snowpack, seem robust. But it isn't cold yet, with that dry, biting cold we've come to expect in December. Not that we're complaining. We might be persuaded to complain about the incessant flu that's hit town along with the invasion of six-foot-tall red-and-white candy canes. The plastic decorations emerged one morning strapped or harnessed at a tilt to every lamppost and pillar. Any day we expect them to straighten up and in a few smart steps march into city hall to demand some time off.

Speaking of a break from routine, this marks our 24th issue for 1996 and a respite in our publishing schedule. After skipping an issue, High Country News will appear Jan. 20, 1997.

Little trail, big victory

The power of the pen can be a mighty thing, even if it's a cartoonist's for a small, 1,800-subscriber paper in Bigfork, Mont., called the Bigfork Eagle.

Over the years, cartoonist and conservationist Elmer Sprunger, 77, has embarrassed state foresters by pointing out the downside of logging the state's oldest trees to benefit Montana's public schools. One of his more devastating cartoons showed a logger tossing a few coins to a school child while standing in a dismal field of tree stumps. So when a local group, Friends of the Wild Swan, stopped a timber sale by leasing a two-mile swath of old-growth larch forest from the state, and then decided to name a new nature trail there in honor of Sprunger and fellow activist Jack Whitney, 80, something of a backlash began.

No sign, insisted two staffers with Montana's Department of State Lands; no sign, said some officials with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. One opponent said since Sprunger's cartoons "misrepresented" Montana's forestry management, he did not deserve any honors.

But other officials entered the fray, including state Republican Sen. Larry Baer from Bigfork, and they defended Sprunger's and the Eagle's First Amendment right of dissent. Finally, the supporters prevailed. This fall the new trail for school children gained a Sprunger-Whitney sign and wrought-iron bench.

"I hadn't realized the power of the press before," said Sprunger, a Bigfork native. And unlike a timber sale, he adds, the nature trail will give value and rent to the state year after year.

Here for the winter

Arriving in Paonia just in time for a big snow, new intern Sarah Dry is especially impressed by the views from her cabin and how quickly the porch heats up in the sun. A Philaldelphia native, Sarah graduated in June from Harvard College with a major in History and Literature of America. In school, she spent much of her time as arts editor for the college daily. Since graduating, she has wandered parts both foreign and domestic, revisiting a farm in Tuscany where she had once spent six months, and taking a road trip across America.

Back home in Philadelphia, she worked briefly on a construction crew and is happy to be trading in her box of nails for a slew of words.

Odds and ends

We can relay good news from former interns: Auden Schendler was recently hired as the outreach coordinator for Amory and Hunter Lovins' Rocky Mountain Institute in Old Snowmass, Colo., and Ernie Atencio has been hired by Amigos Bravos, a nonprofit group that works on watershed issues in the Southwest, in Taos, N.M.

Congratulations to Maurice Hornocker, diector of the Hornocker Wildlife Research Institute in Moscow, Idaho, for winning the Earle A. Chiles Award from the High Desert Museum in Bend, Ore. Hornocker has done pioneering research into predator-prey relationships and cougar populations in the West for more than 20 years.

Corrections and emendations

Apologies to former intern Zaz Hollander, now a reporter with the Daily Astorian, for lopping off the first four lines to her Bulletin Board review in the last issue. The entire piece is reprinted below.

And apologies to Doug Edgerton, who was pictured Dec. 9, standing in front of "Rambo Cat." We misidentified him.

- Betsy Marston for the staff