Conservation Goes to the Dogs

Throughout the American West, recovering populations of wolves and grizzly bears have crept beyond the boundaries of national parks, clashing with sheep and cattle as they advance… A good guard dog, however, forestalls conflict by warding off carnivores before they attack. “Ideally the sheep don’t die, the wolves don’t die, the dogs don’t die,” Kinka explains. Can a domestic animal truly help restore some of the world’s wildest creatures while at the same time saving livestock?

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Check out my first story for Ensia, an environmental magazine at the University of Minnesota (co-published with High Country News). This was a fun piece in so many ways:

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Read it in Ensia or HCN

So Much Depends Upon a Dead Wolf

On Jan. 20, 2014, a Wyoming resident shot and killed a wolf.

That, in itself, was not remarkable; Westerners kill wolves all the time. But this incident was different. This particular wolf, a 2-year-old male, was slain under a confusing set of circumstances: on the grounds of a private inholding within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park.

So begins my latest feature for High Country News, in which I trace how a single slain canine spurred a major management change in one of America’s most contentious national parks. Read more here.

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Happy April Fool’s!

From the Dept. of 4/1 Satire:

In a joint press release, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service said that hundreds of iconic parcels will now bear the monikers of major corporations. “We’re pleased to collaborate with our private partners in stewarding our nation’s public lands,” states the release. “It gives us great pleasure to know that future generations of Americans will be able to raft down the Grand PepsiCo Canyon, hike across the Anheuser-Busch Badlands, and gaze upon the transcendent peaks of North Cascades Presented by Citibank.”


More foolery here.


Washington Doings

A couple recent High Country News stories about Evergreen State goings-on — one urban, one from the wilderness.

First, from the transportation sector, is my take on Bertha, the world’s largest and most dysfunctional tunneling machine, which got stuck beneath the Seattle waterfront after completing just 1,000 feet of an 8,000-foot dig. Most of the Bertha conversation these days centers on whether the tunnel will ever be completed, but my story asks a different question: From a traffic management standpoint, should it have been launched in the first place?

Second, a classic tale of tenuous rewilding: Wolverines return to Washington’s Cascades! But will climate change soon force them out again?

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Good news for people who love good news

Environmental journalists (like me!) are accustomed to covering bad news: endangered species listings, harmful energy extraction projects, the never-ending acceleration of climate change, yada yada yada. Chronicling such doleful developments is vital, but it’s also kind of exhausting.

Another thing that gets a little stale: constantly interviewing older white men. Don’t get me wrong, we owe the entire conservation movement to older white men (Mssrs. Thoreau, Muir, Brower, Abbey, Soulé, McKibben, etcetera). If you’re an older white man reading this right now, do not think for one second that I take your contributions for granted. Virtually every protected and wild place in this great country was saved by the advocacy of older white men. I salute you!

Still and all, once in a while it’s nice to talk to someone in a different demographic. Combine that desire with the longing to occasionally cover something hopeful, and you get “10 Under 30: Young Leaders Who Are Changing the West,” my new profile series for High Country News. From Navajo environmental justice advocates to community organizers diversify the economies of warming mountain towns, in here you’ll meet ten young folks who are doing their damnedest to make the West a better place. This was a heck of a lot of fun to work on, and it’s generated lots of positive feedback from people who, like me, require the occasional pick-me-up. Thanks for reading.

Photo c/o Herman Fillmore.

Photo c/o Herman Fillmore.

Cryptic amphibians and abundant crustaceans

What do lobsters and hellbenders have in common? Aside from their mutual inhabitance of watery environs, they’re both the subject of some really cool research, covered recently by me.

First, for Nautilus, on the use of Environmental DNA to track hellbenders and other aquatic critters…

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…and then, for Modern Farmer, on the role of herring bait in enhancing Gulf of Maine lobster populations, and whether that fishery is in for a hard fall.

Enjoy (and a huge thanks to the scientists who shared their work with me)!

The Great Salmon Compromise

In 2008, the federal government struck a landmark deal with Northwestern states and native tribes: The feds would devote an additional $1 billion to restoring endangered salmon, but only if its erstwhile adversaries agreed to stop fighting for dam removal. Six years later, are the Columbia Basin Fish Accords recovering salmon — or just preserving the status quo?

Find out in my first cover story for High Country News, a deep dive into salmon management, tribal politics, and hydroelectric dam operations. It’s been called “meticulously researched,” “thought-provoking,” “the best journalism I’ve seen on this topic in years,” and also “this is terrible are you kidding????” Read on and judge for yourself.

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For my most recent print story for High Country News, I trekked out to Shepherd, MT, to meet one of the most interesting humans on the planet: Bruce Kania, an inventor and CEO who’s attempting to solve some of the world’s toughest environmental problems by imitating nature. Any reporting trip that lets me catch some panfish is alright by me. Read the story.



Update, Dec. 19: This piece was named one of the 11 best stories of the year by the Solutions Journalism Network.

Politics, Schmolitics

Wrote a couple of political stories for the 2014 midterm elections. In the first, for High Country News, I predicted the demise of Don Young, the obstreperous Alaskan congressman whose multitudinous offenses include obliquely alluding to having murdered a man for touching him. In the other, I forecast a victory for Gary Peters, an outspoken pr0-environment candidate with the backing of Tom Steyer, in the Michigan U.S. Senate race.

Well, one outta two ain’t bad.