February 10, 2006

Michelle Nijhuis Wins prestigious Walter Sullivan Award for series on climate change in the West

PAONIA, COLORADO —Michelle Nijhuis of High Country News has won the 2006 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism—Features. Awarded by the American Geophysical Union, Nijhuis is being recognized for a three-part series with the overall title, "Hot Times: Global Warming in the West," front-paged in High Country News on 24 January, 18 April, and 17 October 2005.

In recognizing the reporting of Michelle Nijhuis (pronounced nye-house) in High Country News, the Sullivan Award selection committee said, "This series of articles did a particularly good job of combining science, policy, and human interest in telling the story of global warming from a regional perspective. It was particularly well-written, discussing the techniques used to document paleoclimate throughout the western United States and how to estimate future climatic conditions. The articles include discussions of historical work of considerable interest as well as modern science so it is possible for the reader to see the progression of knowledge with time. By writing a series of articles on a common underlying topic, Nijhuis is able to illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of global warming research and its effect on nature....It is an excellent example of science writing for the public; engaging, informative, unbiased, and easy to follow."

For more than three decades, High Country News has covered the West’s natural resources, public lands, and changing communities, always looking for stories that illuminate larger trends in the region. When editor Greg Hanscom and contributing editor Michelle Nijhuis began brainstorming a series of articles about the current impacts of climate change on the West, it quickly became clear that Michelle was the right person to properly tell this enormous and complicated story. It was also clear that Michelle would need to spend several months on these stories, attending scientific gatherings with leading climate change researchers and traveling with the biologists, dendrochronologists and other scientists who became central to her stories.

"Many High Country News readers have told us that these articles are among the best we’ve ever published. I wholeheartedly agree," says Paul Larmer, publisher of High Country News.

The winning series, posted in High Country News’ online archives, may be read at:




The AGU journalism awards will be presented during Honors Evening at the AGU/GS/MB/ MSA/SEG/UGM Joint Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, 23-26 May [http://www.agu.org/meetings/ja06/]. The Sullivan Award is named for Walter Sullivan, late science editor of The New York Times. The award consists of a plaque and a $2,000 stipend.

AGU is the world's largest organization of Earth and space scientists, with 45,000 members worldwide. One of its goals is to encourage excellence in reporting science news to the general public, through journalism awards, mass media fellowships, communications workshops for scientists, and other programs.

For information on the 2007 Sullivan and Perlman Award competition, see  http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/sci_awards.html#sullivan.

- About Michelle Nijhuis
Michelle Nijhuis lives in western Colorado, between the foothills of the Rockies and the redrock canyons of southern Utah. She is a contributing editor of the environmental journal High Country News, and her work has appeared in many national publications including Smithsonian, Salon.com, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Sierra, Orion, Audubon, and the anthology Best American Science Writing. She travels frequently to cover stories throughout the western United States, northern Mexico and beyond. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Nijhuis was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York and graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

- About the series
Nijhuis’ article "Written in the Rings" investigates a science that was, as she writes, "birthed and raised n the Interior West."  The study of tree rings began as an Arizona astronomer’s hobby, but it now plays a central role in the global debate over human-caused climate change. Tree ring patterns show, with disturbing certainty, that the Northern Hemisphere has warmed dramatically over the past several decades — a change likely without precedent in the past millennium. They also show that the West’s most recent drought, though extreme, is just the latest in a long series of deep and frequent regional droughts.

Her second story of 2005 addressed a pressing question for many in the West: "What Happened to Winter?" Last winter was so dry in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies that governors declared a state of emergency, fearing a summer of massive drought and fires. Many wondered, and worried, if the weird weather was caused by global climate change. Though Michelle’s article made it clear that no one weather event can be blamed on global warming, she explained that last winter may well be a harbinger of the future.

Her third story this year, "The Ghosts of Yosemite," looked at the effect of global warming on one of the iconic landscapes of the West — Yosemite National Park. Michelle followed a crew of modern biologists as they retraced the steps of renowned researcher Joseph Grinnell, who surveyed the wildlife of the park in the early 1900s. The modern scientists found that many small mammals had shifted their ranges uphill, a change they say can only be explained by global warming. The shifts in Yosemite’s wildlife mirror changes already underway throughout the world.

- About High Country News
High Country News is a nonprofit news magazine that covers the West’s communities and nature resource issues. The publication was founded in Lander, Wyoming in 1970 by a rancher and environmentalist, Tom Bell and in 1983, Ed ad Betsy Marston brought the paper to Paonia, Colorado where it became known as "the conscience of the American West."

All of High Country News’ journalism can be found on its web site, www.hcn.org. The mission of High Country News is to inform and inspire people to act on behalf of the West’s land, air, water and inhabitants. It works to create what Wallace Stegner called a society to match the scenery.