Better Know an Educator: Todd Wilkinson

“If your mother says she loves you, you had better check it out.” This is author and journalist Todd Wilkinson’s mindset when he reports on stories across the American West. From the history of Lewis and Clark on the Missouri River to the politics of life on the Pine Ridge reservation, and the “New West” paradise that is becoming Jackson Hole, WY, Todd is well-versed in the environmental and social issues of the West. He has been published in Christian Science Monitor and National Geographic, and he previously wrote a column called “The New West” for the Jackson Hole News & Guide. After nearly twenty years in Jackson, he has moved on to other journalistic endeavors in Bozeman, MT. Todd began his career as a violent crime reporter in Chicago and has developed an impressive resume since, writing “Last Stand,” a critically-acclaimed biography of Ted Turner and authoring a collaborative work with photographer Thomas Mangelson called “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek.” His work is so diverse in fact, that some have mistaken him for two different people sharing the same alias. In his writing, Todd seeks out the complexity inherent in western environmentalism, showing that there are usually more than two clearly-defined sides to any issue. It is clear however, from reading and talking with Todd that he cares deeply for the lands of our Western United States, and seeks to share the full story of them with his readers and those lucky enough to get to listen.

By: Maggie Baker

Meet Our Speakers: Gus Yellowhair

Gus Yellowhair walks to the front of the room on soft, moscasinned feet. Dressed in a buffalo bonnet with a colorful headband, hide shirt and khaki pants, Gus begins a telling of the creation story of the Oglala Lakota people for the gathered crowd inside. He opens with a prayer song from the Native American Church, accompanied by the beat of a handheld drum, his voice deep and resonant. Interspersed throughout his telling are jokes referencing Kung Fu Panda and flairs of showmanship. Gus and his daughter Tiana work at the Chamber of Commerce on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southern South Dakota and are practiced storytellers, taking time out of their days to share this piece of their culture and history with visitors. At the end of the story, Gus and his daughter traveled around the room, passed a braided portion of sacred Sweetgrass to smell, and shook every visitor’s hand. 

By: Amanda Champion

Meet Our Speakers: Terry Schramm

When he speaks frankly, Terry Schramm describes the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as "a piece of shit legislation written by a bunch of cowards." Schramm is a rancher who has lived and worked around Jackson, Wyoming for 41 years. He has spent a large portion of his career trying to protect cattle from grizzly bears and other predators which explains his strong feelings towards the 1973 environmental law. Wolves have recently returned to the Teton Valley after their ancestors were nearly hunted to extinction in the twentieth century. Just last week, the cattleman awoke to find that his herd had broken out of its pasture while trying to escape a pack of wolves that killed and maimed several of his cows. Schramm wants the Department of Fish and Wildlife to issue him permits to hunt the canids, but he says that local conservation groups like the Jackson Hole Alliance sue the agency under the auspices of the ESA in order to prevent wolves from being killed. Unsurprisingly, the rancher has had little luck finding common ground with his opponents, declaring that they “are not rational people.” Schramm expressed anger at the restrictions that have been put on his work, but he also voiced feelings of melancholy, saying, “this is our livelihood and our lifestyle, and it’s sad to see it go away.”

By: Evan Romasco-Kelly

Meet Our Speakers: Tom Mangelsen

Tom Mangelsen awoke early on a morning in 2006 to the jarring yelp of his dog.  On the back porch of his home stood a Grizzly Bear.  His next encounter with the Grizzly came the following year at one of his favorite places, the Oxbow Bend.  That moment inspired him to spend the next chunk of his life looking for and photographing this bear, identified as “Grizzly 399,” and her offspring around the Jackson Hole area.  Tom grew up in Nebraska, hunting, fishing, and watching migratory birds on the Platte River.  He yearned for someone to paint the beautiful river and birds of flight.  He discovered a different way to capture an image when his professor and mentor, Paul Johnsgard taught him about photography at the age of 22.  Now one of the most famous wildlife photographers in the world, he is known for his staunch position against photographing wild animals at game farms. Animals at game farms are kept in tiny cages, bred for captivity, and later disposed of once they are old and un-photogenic. “It is unethical and immoral to keep an animal in a cage,” he says and equates game farms to animal slavery.  He believes game farm photographers destroy the credibility of wildlife photography by misrepresenting and exploiting animals. In all of Tom’s work, the common thread is the value of animal life.

By Hannah Trettenero

Meet Our Speakers: Brad Mead

Just outside of Jackson, Wyoming, Brad Mead lives in a quiet home nestled within the pastures of the Charter Place, his 1,200-acre ranch. Mead is well-known; he is the brother of Wyoming governor Matt Mead, a fourth generation rancher, a former insurance litigator and founder of Wyoming Whiskey. Mead’s variety of experience complements his profound understanding of what it means to live and subsist in the New West. Having made his home in Jackson for fifty-seven years, Brad Mead bears witness to its transformation into an affluent tourist and recreation town. Although Mead is well aware of the economic benefits of development, he also recognizes the consequent issues. Speaking on local ranches and landowners, he admits that the encroachment of development means “smaller places, tiny cow herds.” Though grim for local ranchers, Mead knows that the future of the Jackson area is not fixed.  Mead ensured that the Charter Place will not be developed; he and his siblings placed the land under a conservation easement that will only allow the construction of three new homes and guarantees that it will remain a ranch. However, the loss of middle-class ranchers and homeowners will not go unnoticed by those who have always called Teton County a home; Brad Mead reluctantly acknowledges that with the presence of only the affluent and disadvantaged seasonal workers, “you lose a little bit of the soul of the place.”

By: Fields Ford

Meet Our Speakers: Dave Olson

If one place could be called the nation’s capital for energy production, that place is Gillette, Wyoming. The sixteen coal mines in the Powder River Basin currently supply 30% of the nation’s electricity. The three mines near Gillette employ 10% of surrounding Campbell County. One such employee is Dave Olson, a Senior Geologist for Alpha Coal West, which operates the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in the area. A fourth-generation miner that has worked all over the interior West, Dave showed us the operating Eagle Butte pit mine and gave us a crash course in economic geology and the process of coal mining, from assessing reserves to mining to generating electricity. Some of the best coal, Dave explains, has too much overburden (rock above the coal seam) to be mined profitably, limiting the economic supply and quality of coal.

According to Dave, the Clean Air Act triggered coal production in the Powder River Basin in the 1970s because it is “clean coal,” containing fewer sulfate pollutants than coal from Appalachia. Dave is pleased to share how clean Alpha’s mining operation is, with comparatively low-polluting coal, minimal dust during transportation, and reclamation efforts that often leave the land in better condition than before mining.  

Like it or not, coal is currently an important component of our national energy portfolio. Gillette is a perfect place to understand how coal, when converted to electricity, powers the devices that enable you to read this.

By Elizabeth Greenfield

Meet Our Speakers: Mayor Louise Carter-King

Here in Gillette Wyoming Mayor Louise Carter-King can’t imagine what it’d be like without the coal. At Eagle Butte Mine, everyone’s daily purpose and livelihood is dependant on the coal mining industry. Standing tall in her blue blazer with the atom symbol sewn into the upper corner, Mayor Louise Carter-King, the first women to lead here, finds herself adamantly defending this area's coal. A pin near her collar proclaims Gillette the “Energy capital of the nation”. Powder River Basin coal is some of the cleanest in the world, having formed in the presence of freshwater which greatly minimizes its sulfur content. Responsible for 30 - 40% of coal energy produced in the USA and with goals of supplying coal to other countries, Alpha Mines sees a future for coal. Especially considering the “sustainable” ways they mine in a moving pit, reclaiming land as they go with the dug up soils followed by the reconstruction of streams. Reclamation leaves these areas looking better than they did before mining commenced, according to Carter-King. The reality in Gillette is that coal is an available natural resource that should be utilized to meet today’s energy needs overlapped with the belief that “climate change is a moot point”. Carter-King recognizes that something always hurts someone. Utilizing the cleanest coal available to run not only the lights of this place but offer people a life as well is her course of action. There is a great deal to be lost here and coal is the deciding factor for this place's future, Louise Carter-King knows that.

By: Emma Rollins


Meet Our Speakers: Richard Sherman

“The greatest tradition of the Lakota is giving,” says ethnobotanist Richard Sherman, an Oglala Lakota born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Sherman, like his seven siblings, has spent his life giving to his many communities. He funded and operated a wildlife biology program on the reservation for ten years. Now he works with the National Park Service and the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA), chaired by his brother Ben, to teach visitors from all over the world about the region’s plants and their traditional Lakota uses.

Sherman’s worldview is wider than most. Driving by cathedral-like formations of red and white clay in Badlands National Park, he mixes the Latin names of passing wildflowers with a story of running away from reservation boarding school to join the Navy at age 18. Since then, Sherman has attended college in Utah and Massachusetts, worked in Washington, California, Colorado, and DC, and even spent a stint aboard a ship in the Bering Sea, working with native peoples of the Aleutian Islands.

For all the experience his varied past brings him, Sherman is soft-spoken and humble, maintaining that “you never become an expert, you keep being a student your whole life.” As he explains how the Lakota use yucca root to make soap and curlycup gumweed to treat poison ivy rash, he spreads this spirit of lifelong learning to others. His love of the land shines through as he smiles and asserts that “any day spent outside is fun.”

By: Thomas Meinzen

Meet Our Speakers: Marilyn Pourier

“I feel so honored to be a small part of this,” says Marilyn Pourier, the Institutional Development Director for Oglala Lakota College. Based in Kyle, South Dakota, the college currently has around 1400 students and is one of only a few dozen tribally run colleges in the United States. Pourier’s passion about the college shows as she explains that the school is about 97% tribal members and their average student is a mother in her early twenties. Oglala Lakota College has nine centers around the Pine Ridge reservation as well as an extension in Rapid City. This decentralized arrangement helps connect the college to communities and encourages the teachers and administrators at each center to really know their students. The college also runs a K-6 Lakota language immersion school and head start programs for early childhood education.

            Pourier was born and raised on the reservation with seven other siblings. She attributes her dedication to education to her mother, one of the only Lakota schoolteachers at the time. Pourier previously worked in Colorado bringing school boards under tribal control but was drawn back to Kyle because, in her words, “this is my home.” When discussing the history of the oppression and mistreatment of Native Americans, Pourier proudly states, “You can do what you want to me, I am still a wild Lakota woman.”

By: Willa Johnson

Meet Our Speakers: Ben Sherman

Ben Sherman speaks softly and slowly, picking his words intentionally. “People enjoy telling their own story,” he says. Ben grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation with seven siblings in a house without the common amenities like electricity, sewage, or running water that most Americans happily take for granted.

Pine Ridge, inhabited by the Lakota people, is currently ranked the 3rd poorest county by capita in the nation. Ben’s mother, Alice, one of the first Lakota schoolteachers on the reservation, always encouraged her children to value education and work towards college as a concrete goal, an ambition that poverty and limited formal education prevented many other young people on the reservation from pursuing. Speaking of his mother’s passion for art, Ben said, “We have very little of her art left, but maybe her art was in raising children”. Ben continues her legacy through his work as the Education Specialist for the Native People’s Fund, bringing Native American art to attention by teaching artists how to market their work and profit from telling their stories.

Ben helped found the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance in 2012 to stimulate Native economies through sustainable, authentic cultural tourism. Ben works so that tribal tourism is not exploitive, but instead respectful and educational. Ben will travel to Chile in a few weeks to work with indigenous peoples to create an ecotourism program. As Ben sits under a hazy sunset in his reservation hometown of Kyle he says, “I will probably never live here again, but it’s always home.”

By: Sophie Poukish

Meet Our Speakers: Betty O'Rourke

At Bette’s Kitchen on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Betty O’Rourke serves up fry bread and wisdom with equal vitality. Betty has run the Wounded Knee, South Dakota restaurant out of her home for the last 17 years to provide nourishment and a meeting place for reservation residents and visitors. Betty is an Oglala Lakota Indian and the great granddaughter of well-known tribal spiritual leader, Nicholas Black Elk. Her experiences on and off the Pine Ridge Reservation have led Betty to believe that little is more important than education. After a meal of fry bread, soup, and Indian tacos, Betty instilled in us the critical role education plays on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and in all communities, and urged us to never cease in our pursuit of learning. For multiple generations the Black Elks have acted as liaisons for the Oglala Lakota culture, sharing their history and beliefs, and Betty continues this legacy through the food, hospitality, and stories she offers to tribal members and visitors alike. “I love what I do,” Betty says, “its not a job.”

To learn more about Bette’s Kitchen, visit: 

By: Abby Popenoe

In the Wake of Lewis and Clark: Canoeing the Upper Missouri River

Last week we ditched the trailer for canoe paddles and took a trip down the Missouri River. We floated (and at times even paddled) from Coal Banks down to Judith Landing, a 47-mile excursion. On the way we slid past the white cliffs of the Missouri Breaks, hiked through slot canyons, climbed to towering sandstone hoodoos and searched for fossils in the muddy banks of the river. Along the way, our writer in residence, Todd Wilkinson, related the river through the eyes of Lewis and Clark and artist Karl Bodmer. It was at times wet and more than a little breezy but we all enjoyed the rest and recuperation that only time on the water can provide.

Camp Life: Walla Walla to Montana

We've had an action-packed start to the semester but that doesn't mean we haven't had a little time to laugh and relax. We hope you enjoy this selection of our favorite camp photos from the beginning of the trip!

Meet Our Speakers: Danny Johnson

Danny Johnson went from “shoveling shit to dishing it out,” as media mogul-billionaire Ted Turner likes to say. Johnson works as the Ranch Manager for Turner’s Flying D Ranch near Bozeman, Montana. He stands tall in brown cowboy boots, a Patagonia brand pullover and a large, clean, white-brimmed hat. He carries momentum in his voice. Danny has worked for Mr. Turner since 1993 in various positions from fishing guide to stable hand to the manager he is today, and he likes to talk about how he has evolved with his work.

            Flying D is a 113,000 acre piece of land purchased just four years before Johnson first was hired by Turner, who has restored the place once trammeled by cattle grazing to a well-endowed conservation effort. The ranch has since been stocked with native species including fish, plants, and bison. Danny works to maintain this carefully balanced ecosystem.

            Part of the job description calls on innovation to efficiently turn roaming bison into burgers. When Johnson first started work under Mr. Turner, the bison meat industry was just getting its start. As demand increases, Danny faces the challenge of balancing distinct aims of the ranch: economic sustainability and ecological health. Bison play into both as a profitable industry and as a native animal with far less impact on the land than cows. Ultimately, Johnson works for the best interest of the land, wildlife, and his boss.

By: Signe Lindquist


Meet Our Speakers: Carter Kruse

When the daytime temperatures peak at around forty degrees Fahrenheit, Carter Kruse wears a baseball cap and a sweater. An avid hunter and fisherman originally from South Dakota, Kruse fits right in at Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch outside of Bozeman, Montana, where on a chilly autumn day bison stipple the hills and the rivers teem with trout. Kruse came to Montana to pursue a career in conservation and has worked for Turner Enterprises, Inc. for about two decades as a natural resources manager on Ted Turner’s vast private lands. During his tenure, Kruse has overseen dozens of successful restoration projects including the renovation of a 60-mile stretch of Cherry Creek that runs through the Flying D. “We need a new model for conservation,” Kruse said. “Private landowners need to play an increasing role–especially those fortunate enough to own large tracts of land where large differences can be made.” The Cherry Creek Project, funded primarily by Turner and supervised by Kruse, was the largest successful river renovation in the country. It increased habitat for the nearly-endangered westslope cutthroat trout (one of 14 subspecies of native cutthroat) by five hundred percent. Kruse is modest about his own achievements and encouraging of the next generation of scientists. Standing outside Turner’s tool shop looking up at the Spanish Peaks, Kruse relayed a token of wisdom: “You don’t have to love fishing to do something for conservation.” 

By: Rachel Needham

Meet Our Speakers: Joe McCormack

Joe McCormack began catching salmon on the Columbia River in his teens. It was then that he began to connect with his Nez Perce heritage. After serving with the Marine Corps in Vietnam, Joe was hired by the Nez Perce Fisheries to manage and monitor the return of native fish species whose migrations have been impeded by a series of dams. Nez Perce Fisheries was created in the 1980’s after the Nez Perce Tribe won several lawsuits affirming their right to use resources, like fish, on their “usual and accustomed lands”. As co-managers with the US government, tribal employees protect, monitor, raise, and research fish like salmon, steelhead, and lamprey.

Joe is also exercising his rights, delineated in the Treaty of 1855, by freely grazing cattle on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. His Nez Perce heritage and tribal membership allow him to bypass the usual grazing allotment system and other bureaucratic hurdles. Joe reflects that this would not have been possible 30 years ago since the ranching community was resistant to native land use rights, viewing them as unfair special privileges. The opposition was so strong that he would have feared for his life. Now, Joe is able to experiment with different grazing strategies, as the Wallowa community has grown more aware of the historic treaties that provide context for his rights.

Joe has been working for the tribe for 21 years and has no plans for retirement. “This is a great life,” he says. Over these years, Joe has witnessed the return of salmon to many of their native streams, alongside the return of his people to their traditional lands. Though he is only one of two Nez Perce living in the county, each year the tribe holds a powwow that gathers the Nez Perce community together in their homeland. Joe explains that this celebration opens the door for friendship and respect between the local community and the Nez Perce Tribe.

By: Sarah Dunn

Meet Our Speakers: Allen Pinkham

“Son, do something for your people.” These were the words of advice left to Allen Pinkham, or Paaxat Higatin in the Nez Perce language, by his father. Pinkham is a Nimiipuu elder who has accomplished a great deal for his people, a vast family that includes salmon, deer, eagles, grizzly bears, wolves and insects. “Everything you see on this earth is your people,” Pinkham told us. “We have red blood just like them.” This concept, one of Pinkham’s “mythological truths,” was the basis for his 1999 book on Nez Perce fishing culture, Salmon and His People. Last year, Pinkham published a second book, Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce: Strangers in the land of Nimiipuu, to recount the famed explorers’ journey from his people’s perspective. As former Chairman of his tribal council, Pinkham fought to enact treaty rights, bring fish ladders to local hydroelectric dams, and reintroduce coho and fall chinook salmon to the Clearwater River. While he has won many battles as leader and activist, Pinkham’s greatest gift is his ability to weave together history and future through story-telling. He invited us to visualize our bodies as part of the earth, each finger representing a species. “When you lose the passenger pigeon, you lose your little finger,” he explained. Because we abuse ecosystems, we’re at risk of losing bison, salmon, and thousands of others. Wounded, fingerless hands seared across our imaginations. “The earth is squirming,” Pinkham concluded. “How much longer until we say, no more body parts lost?”

By: Nina Finley

Meet Our Speakers: Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly strives to do his work where the spheres of ecology, society, and the economy meet. He believes that there is a way to go about conservation work that will benefit all three, and speaks about this intersection passionately. In his words, “People who disagree need to respect each other.” Brian is the Restoration Director for the Hells Canyon Preservation Council, a collective founded in 1967 with the mission to “protect, restore, and connect.” The HCPC formed in reaction to proposals to build dams in Hells Canyon, where the Imnaha and Salmon rivers join the Snake. Since then, it has prompted the creation of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (HCNRA), a 652,000 acre parcel of land that includes 200,000 acres of wilderness. This area connects the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest, allowing species like wolves and moose unfettered access across the western portion of the US. In terms of conservation, Brian thinks that “change is growth, and growth is part of life.” Bearing this principle in mind, human connections must be forged that can allow for restoration practices that are flexible and tailored to the specific place being restored.

By: Kenzie Spooner

Meet Our Speakers: Nils Christofferson

Nils Christoffersen is the executive director of Wallowa Resources, an organization that seeks to wed local economic stability and the sustainable management of natural resources.  Nils spent his early career farming on an Israeli kibbutz, working aboard a fishing boat, ranching in Australia, and exploring community land management in Southern Africa.  Seventeen years ago Nils moved to Oregon and began his work with Wallowa Resources.  Today, his feet planted broadly beneath a stand of mixed conifers, Nils gestures animatedly and asks us what kind of ecosystem we see.

The Westies spent the morning touring a series of forest sites in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest with Nils, stopping to analyze and discuss the management history at each stand.  During our last hour together Nils led us through the Integrated Biomass Energy Campus, an entrepreneurial sawmill that processes unmarketable timber.  This facility has created a market for understory timber and secondary growth, thereby reducing the amount of forest ground fuel and adding value to an underutilized resource.  The business serves as a model of innovative stewardship.  Is Nils stated: “Instead of being overwhelmed by change from the outside as things collapse and have others decide that we should be a destination resort or a prison …we could all work together on a new and different model that would advance this vision of socioeconomic revitalization and align it with land stewardship.”  

By Maya Aurichio