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Coming to America (Territory magazine)

Coming to America (Territory magazine)

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It was a stunning, sunny spring morning in Boise, Idaho’s Liberty Park near the St. Alphonsus medical campus, and two dozen people gathered with the promise of putting roots in the Earth.

A day and a half of rain had just concluded. Tilled soil was wet and stuck to shoes in big, muddy clumps. A group of women wearing bright blue, orange, yellow and purple head-scarves sat on the dirt, basking in the strong spring sun and scent of a just-passed storm.

Mahamud Kuso wore a blue button-up shirt and sat near the edge of the field with some other men. He spoke some English, but after several probing questions from a reporter flagged down a friend to translate his native Swahili.

He waved an arm toward the 2 acres of tilled soil where refugees of various nationalities were poking around a grid delineated by orange-painted wood stakes. In his native Kenya, he said, one person would farm an entire area that size, and that would be their main source of income. In Boise, the 3 square-meters that will be allotted to his entire family is comparatively tiny.

“You don’t have time to farm that much anyway because you have to work,” he said. “Back home there is less work, so you have to focus on farming for your daily bread.”

The community garden is an opportunity for refugees from diverse cultures and backgrounds to come together and nurture a sense of place, pride and fraternity. It’s also a great way to produce local food. On another level, though, it’s a fitting metaphor for refugee resettlement in the Treasure Valley. Families and people of various ethnicities were forced from their homelands and are looking for a place to put roots in the earth.

  • Click here to read more of this feature at the Territory magazine website.
  • Click here to download a pdf of the story.

Surf's Up in Boise (Territory magazine)

Surf's Up in Boise (Territory magazine)

Twenty years ago, Boise kayaker Paul Collins had a dream to build a small wave on the Boise River where kayakers could safely practice and play. That whimsy turned into a $25 million collection of facilities that includes 66 acres of flat-water paddling, waterfront park space and a state-of-the-art, in-river whitewater park that’s still growing.

“I didn’t imagine what we have, but I dreamt about it,” said Collins, an orthopedic surgeon based in Boise. “I couldn’t’ tell you the specific size, depth, how much concrete or where the waves would be. But I had a dream that we would have a place to play, and we do.”

Collins continues to work as part of a group called Friends of the Park, which raises money for the still-expanding riverside facilities in Boise’s West End. Although he and a handful of others first introduced the notion of a river park to the community, it has grown far beyond their original vision. Major financial stakeholders now also include the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, J.R. Simplot Foundation and City of Boise, each having contributed millions to transform a neglected part of the city into what may well be the nation’s premier outdoor aquatics recreation facility.

Delivering a Promise (Territory Magazine)

Delivering a Promise (Territory Magazine)

Gordon Jones is a student and teacher, hockey player and skier, freethinker and pragmatist. But perhaps most of all, he’s a man with a penchant for thinking outside the box.

In 2015 Jones traded Harvard for Boise State to help rethink higher education. He appears poised to continue on an already-developing trajectory of success.

“I love the idea of challenging conventional wisdom,” he said during a late-July interview in Boise. “That type of thinking fuels me.”

Jones is the inaugural dean of Boise State’s new College of Innovation and Design, a difficult-to-define entity that exists along the fault lines of traditional education. It’s a combination of degree-track programs, professional certificates and badges that show records of accomplishment and competencies. It’s all designed to synthesize the university’s various academic disciplines and give students a competitive edge in today’s rapidly evolving professional marketplace.

  • Click here to read more of this feature written for Territory Magazine for its winter 2016 edition.

Listen to the river (Idaho Mountain Express newspaper)

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Listen to the river (Idaho Mountain Express newspaper)

In this column for the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper, we discusses the limits of the West’s most precious natural resource.

The summer view from atop Bald Mountain tells the story about the West’s most valuable natural resource. Ribbons of verdant cottonwood trees weave along the valley floor, surrounded by grids of homes and ornamental vegetation pockets and parks. The green valley provides a sharp contrast to the surrounding brown hillsides—a disparity that is the story of water in the West.

“Desert, semi-desert, call it what you will. The point is that despite heroic efforts and many billions of dollars, all we have managed to do in the arid West is turn a Missouri-size section green—and that conversion has been wrought mainly with nonrenewable groundwater,” writes Marc Reisner in his landmark examination of Western water use, Cadillac Desert—The American West and Its Disappearing Water.

Idaho’s streams and rivers are veins and arteries that pump through a parched landscape and give life to its people and creatures. Half of Idaho’s resident birds use rivers for nesting, and riparian areas are home to 70 percent of all plants and animals in arid parts of the state like the Wood River Valley. But water is as crucial to Idaho’s people as it is to its prodigious natural landscape.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants named Idaho’s top magazine feature of 2012

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants named Idaho’s top magazine feature of 2012

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area of central Idaho is widely considered the Gem State’s crown jewel. On Friday, May 18, the Idaho Press Club honored the story, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,  as Idaho’s top magazine feature of 2012. The story chronicles the men and women who created the SNRA.

To date, Western Perspective Principal Greg Stahl has been honored 53 times by state, regional and national journalism organizations, and this recent accolade constitutes his fourth such recognition for magazine writing. Meanwhile, the same issue of Sun Valley Guide helped the magazine achieve top honors for the state’s best magazine.

By way of further background, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is widely considered the Gem State’s crown jewel, and the story is told on the management area’s 40th birthday. It is a unique composite of more than 40 peaks over 10,000 feet in elevation, picturesque valleys, high alpine lakes, forests and free-flowing rivers. It is home to 327 fish and mammal species, including reintroduced gray wolves, endangered salmon, mountain goats, lynx, mountain lions and wolverines.

  • Click here to read Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.

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Snow Sense (Sun Valley Guide magazine)

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Snow Sense (Sun Valley Guide magazine)

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Every fall for 45 years, Rich Bingham has looked to the skies over Sun Valley in anticipation. As days grow short and trees turn gold, his excitement mounts.

There’s a palpable and understated inevitability to the arrival of winter in the mountains. The cycle of the seasons dictates life here, and no single season is as synonymous with Sun Valley as winter. Snowflakes have been changing lives in Sun Valley since the resort was founded 76 years ago. “I started getting excited a month ago,” Bingham said in early October. “I’ve been doing it so long I’ve learned to be patient, but I’m definitely thinking about another winter on Baldy.”

Bingham has worked on the Sun Valley Ski Patrol since fall 1967. As snow safety department director, his responsibilities include weather and avalanche forecasting, and avalanche control on Bald Mountain, so he’s always got an eye trained on the sky. He’s learned not to get uptight about Mother Nature’s fickle sensibilities. Sometimes it snows, sometimes it doesn’t. But when the jet stream drops out of Canada and begins pumping swirling masses of Pacific-born moisture into the Rocky Mountains, his demeanor changes as he prepares for another winter on what he describes as “a special mountain.”

Plentiful snow equals excellent skiing and snowboarding, but it also means improved spring runoff, and green, healthy forests in the summer. And each falling snowflake translates directly into improved financial vitality for the communities nestled at Bald Mountain’s base.

From its celebrated founding to present day, Sun Valley Resort has been dependent on snowy winter seasons. In a world in which climate patterns are increasingly erratic—exemplified by super storms like October’s Hurricane Sandy, heightened Western wildfire seasons and the historic April 2011 outbreak of tornadoes in the Southeast—most climate scientists agree that change is afoot. What it means for weather-dependent communities and resorts, however, is a plot yet to be completely written. “Long-term trends are kind of all over the place,” Bingham said. “With the influences changing so much, with the arctic oscillation and sea ice and temperatures—the weather is less predictable, with stronger and more erratic storms when they do happen.”

  • Click here to read more of this 2,500-word feature about the tradition of snow in central Idaho–and what climate change could mean for the future of skiing.

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Homeland chief warns of long fire season (Idaho Mountain Express newspaper)

Homeland chief warns of long fire season (Idaho Mountain Express newspaper)

The nation’s top official responsible for disaster response visited Boise Tuesday, July 3, and said it’s time for Westerners to brace for a long, hot wildfire season.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spent Tuesday afternoon at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, where the nation’s leading fire commanders and scientists briefed her and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on the conditions that have led to one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in years. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter joined the briefing.

“We were looking at the extensive amount of interagency cooperation that goes into planning for fire season, making…”

Click here to read the whole article, written for the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Sun Valley Guide magazine)

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Sun Valley Guide magazine)

For the summer 2012 issue of Sun Valley Guide magazine, on the 40th anniversary of the SNRA’s founding, Cannady and Western Perspective Principal Greg Stahl joined forces to retell the story of how Idaho’s most prized landscape was preserved.

Ed Cannady walks on the shoulders of giants.

Sculpted lean by decades of backcountry travel, he’s a man with a passion for Idaho’s celebrated Sawtooth National Recreation Area that weaves through the fabric of who he is.

As the SNRA’s backcountry recreation manager, Cannady has what he calls “an intense 40-year relationship” with the SNRA’s craggy mountains and swift-running streams. What he won’t say is that he knows the SNRA’s subtleties and struggles as well as anyone. He arrived for a backpacking trip in 1973, a year after the 756,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land were protected, and his heart has been struck through with the place ever since.

“I wasn’t born in this place, but I was born for this place,” Cannady said. “There’s never been a doubt. When I go there and find a nice spot with a view or flowers or whatever, I’m able to slow down, breathe and slow my pace a little bit. There’s a magic quality to that. These places make me want to be better than I am.”

“Better than I am.” A humble man and his place. A place that’s an awful lot better than it might have been.

And that has everything to do with the giants on whose shoulders Cannady walks. Forty years ago this August their efforts fell short of creating Idaho’s only national park while succeeding at protecting 756,000 acres of timelessly beautiful mountains, rivers and ranchland as Idaho’s first national recreation area. In the annals of the United States’ well-documented legacy of public land conservation, they’re some of the most monumental unsung heroes of their time.

“They’re the nobility here,” Cannady said. “I’m just trying to be worthy of their efforts.”

  • Click here to see Cannady’s photographs and read the story, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.
  • Click here to read the sidebar, How a Photographer Saved a Mountain.

Those Dammed Salmon (Voices for Biodiversity)

Those Dammed Salmon (Voices for Biodiversity)

The Tendoy Store on the banks of eastern Idaho’s Lemhi River is a place arrested in time and frozen in the annals of the Pacific Northwest’s rich salmon fishing heritage. Among the small general store’s charming clutter are groceries, t-shirts, tube socks, post office boxes and a small assortment of dry flies mounted to a white sheet of cardboard.

For more than sixty of her ninety-two years, Viola Anglin has owned and operated the Tendoy Store, but those decades have come with unexpected and unwelcome change. Anglin misses the long-ago mornings when salmon fishermen swarmed her wares, buying salmon eggs and filling up on enough calories to sustain them during days casting lines on the Lemhi.

“I was an angry old lady when the salmon fishing was no more,” she said. “I had loved it and made a terrific living in those days. But when it was gone…”

  • Click here to read more of this 5,000-word feature, written for Izilwane, an anthropological e-zine that works on “connecting the human animal to the global ecosystem.”

Broken, An interview with author Lisa Jones (Voices for Biodiversity)

Broken, An interview with author Lisa Jones (Voices for Biodiversity)

In the first chapter of her memoir, Broken: A Love Story, Lisa Jones elicits both laughter and tears. This might simply be the mark of a strong writer’s ability to connect with her readers’ base emotions, but the theme of opposites is something that also threads the book.

The two sides of a man’s personality. Suffering and redemption. Death and life. A face that’s half-burned, half not. And the plain contrast between the comforts of developed Colorado and the stark, windswept poverty of the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming.

Broken very much incorporates the yin and the yang, but to focus entirely on dichotomies would be to miss the point.”It wasn’t intentional in any conscious way,” Jones said in a March 2011 interview from her home in Boulder, Colorado. “That’s very similar to Stanford Addison’s…”

  • Click here to read more of this story, written for Voices for Biodiversityan anthropological e-zine that works on “connecting the human animal to the global ecosystem.”

Why Wilderness (Habitat magazine)

Why Wilderness (Habitat magazine)

From an eagle's vantage, it looks like a great, crumpled piece of paper that someone tried halfheartedly to flatten. In the brushed glow of early morning, the wrinkled topography of central Idaho creases the horizon. There's no end in sight. It is big country filled with big mountains and big, wild places.

Like much of the West, Idaho is a land of staggering beauty, but it's also a place of biological and philosophical integrity: intact forest and high-desert ecosystems threaded by clean, cold, free-flowing rivers. It's a land of wilderness and wildness, where man has set at least some of the wild aside so all living creatures might benefit. "Wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape," states the Wilderness Act of 1964, "is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." 

What that means is wilderness set aside by Congress is a place where man cannot tread with anything heavier than his boots. He may enter, but his machines may not. Wilderness, then, with its intact wildlife habitats, is a vital ecological reservoir, a spiritual well for those seeking solace and silence and a significant part of the fabric of who we are.

But as the discussion about wilderness continues to mature in the 21st century, particularly in political circles, it is clear that aspects of the Wilderness Act are often overlooked. In setting aside wilderness, humans recognize something of value that's bigger than they are. More than any access issue, this is the foundation upon which the modern-day idea of wilderness is built.

"This ecocentric argument for wilderness centers on the proposition that human interests are not the paramount concern," wrote historian Roderick Frazier Nash in his seminal book Wilderness and the American Mind. "Wilderness is not for us at all. We should allow it to exist out of respect for the intrinsic values of the rest of nature and particularly for the life forms dependent on wild habitats."

One of the last continental states to be settled by Europeans, Idaho is synonymous with wilderness. With 4.9 million acres in 12 congressionally designated wilderness areas, some of the finest and wildest wilderness areas in America are located here. The state's center is a giant doughnut hole of wild land, and only a handful of roads invade its wild heart.

The late Sen. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat, was a key sponsor of both the Wilderness Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, Idaho's 2.4-million-acre centerpiece, was renamed in the senator's honor.

Wilderness, Church told a northern Idaho newspaper in 1961 while campaigning for the Wilderness Act's passage, "has nothing to do with economics. It has to do with philosophy … . It is our moral responsibility that some of the heritage we have had as Westerners is protected for future generations."

This is in line with the stated positions of many wilderness proponents, and is in step with statements issued by Congressman Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican who has been working for the past decade to designate as wilderness more than 300,000 acres in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains north of Sun Valley.
"I don't believe there's anybody who's seen this who doesn't think we should protect it," Simpson said during an August afternoon near Big Boulder Creek in the White Cloud Mountains in 2006. "The solitude here is just—you almost need to come out from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world to find yourself … I think the value of wilderness is going to increase over the years. I think future generations will look back and say, ‘Thank God somebody protected these areas so that we could enjoy them.'"

These are the modern manifestations of the long and tangled history that has molded the idea of wilderness, a concept invented by civilization and still rolling across the American psyche in an evolving intellectual wave. It was at the end of the American frontier in the late 1800s that the scarcity of wild country began to increase its value. The intellectual topography was ready for the vanguard of philosophers and activists who began to consider that nature might merit rights to existence completely independent of its use to people.

"The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wilderness is the preservation of the World," wrote Henry David Thoreau in his 1862 essay Walking. "Every tree sends its fibres forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind."

Wilderness isn't about us or them or whether it's fair that people wearing shoes can access it while those on bicycles cannot. Wilderness is a refined way of thinking about humankind's relationship with nature and offers an alternative to our historic domination and conquest.

"At the heart of the new, ecocentric rationale for wilderness is respect for this larger community of life and process," Nash wrote. "So wilderness preservation has become, finally, a gesture of planetary humility."

Senior Editor (Sun Valley Magazine)

Senior Editor (Sun Valley Magazine)

From a bare-bones, poetic feature about the rural Idaho hamlet of Challis to a captivating retelling of Ernest Hemingway’s life and suicide in the Gem State, Western Perspective Principal Greg Stahl worked for more than a year at Sun Valley Magazine in 2009 and 2010 to make the magazine’s prose sizzle.

Sun Valley Magazine is devoted to celebrating life in the Wood River Valley and surrounding communities in central Idaho. With a mission of breaking down barriers, opening readers’ eyes and leaving a mark on their memories, it aims to honor its community and region–a place steeped in the story of the West.

Founded in 1936 by the Union Pacific Railroad, Sun Valley Resort is the nation’s original destination ski resort. But its roots go back further still, to 1881 when the discovery of lead and silver initiated settlement by miners in search of fortunes. Today, Sun Valley and the surrounding area comprise one of the nation’s premier destination resorts and lifestyle-oriented communities. Its residents are diverse. Its landscape is beautiful. Its culture is compelling.

Sold nationally in more than 400 locations, Sun Valley Magazine has surprising reach and an influential, educated readership.

As Senior Editor, Stahl worked as one of two editors to edit, organize and fact-check stories, and to plan for future issues. With a 10-year history of writing about the politics and people of the Sun Valley area, he also served as a key adviser to the Editor-in-Chief regarding the magazine’s content and vision.

Fall 2009
Winter 2010
Summer 2010
Fall 2010

For the love of a girl (Idaho Mountain Express newspaper)

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For the love of a girl (Idaho Mountain Express newspaper)

Following a bizarre and mysterious vigilante rescue in the rain forests of Costa Rica in the spring of 2003, a fair-skinned blonde-haired little girl was reunited with her mom after 22 months on the FBI’s missing persons list.

It’s one of the most fascinating stories I’ve researched or written.

During the winter of 2004, while awaiting sentencing in Fifth District Court in Hailey, Idaho, the kidnappers hunkered down in a jail cell to tell me the story about why and how they took a 4-year-old girl from her mother and fled the country for Mexico and, later, Costa Rica. Wearing blaze-orange jumpsuits and surrounded by cinder-block walls and iron bars, they explained that their abduction of Lily June Snyder was motivated by how much they cared for her.

This is more than a story about kidnapping. It’s a tale of misguided love, of family failures, of a botched federal agency investigation and, really, one of hope. Hope for the bright future of a bright-eyed little girl.

But it’s also a story made all the more intriguing by a man whose work to recover missing children has largely lurked in the shadows. A former U.S. Marine and CIA operative, Bazzel Baz is the founding director of a mostly under-the-radar organization called the Association for the Recovery of Children. On a quiet morning near the resort city of Playa Chiquita, Costa Rica, the kidnappers slept while Baz and three others wearing army fatigues and ski masks slipped into an open-air house armed with duct tape and knives–and perhaps guns–to rescue Lily Snyder and return her to her mom.

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A leaky mine must get in line (High Country News)

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A leaky mine must get in line (High Country News)

When the Grouse Creek Mine opened in 1995, it was hailed as an example of mining done in harmony with the environment. But the central Idaho gold mine closed in 1997 because it wasn’t making enough money, and its 500 million-gallon tailings pond leaks and has been contaminating streams with cyanide.

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