'Til Hill and Valley are Ringing
by Erik Dafforn '91
f the politicization of the environment has had a negative impact, it's that opposing sides have been reduced to stereotypes--the tree-huggers versus the ruthless clear-cutters. But in an era in which too much is said and too little is done, three Wabash men have a vested interest in the well-being of the earth. Not only do they benefit from it; they give back to it as well. And their common thread is not a thread at all, but a clear, sturdy fishing line, with a neatly tied fly at the end.
Just the Facts
As chance dictated, he didn't need to worry. Paul spent his tour in the frigid streets of Iceland instead of the steaming jungles of southeast Asia. After being trained in the Navy Reserves' broadcast journalism school in Indianapolis, he was sent to Keflavik, a small town near Iceland's capital of Reykjavik, where his job was to broadcast news to American troops--in civilian clothes. It was about as un-military a job as the military offered, and it helped launch a career in broadcast journalism that is now over 25 years old.
After leaving the service, Day took a job at a Boise, Idaho television station, where he anchored on the weekends and reported during the week. After four years in Boise, Paul moved to Colorado, where he lives today with his wife Angelika and their two sons. In 1988, Paul was named environmental reporter for KCNC, now the CBS affiliate in Denver. Local and regional environmental issues have been his primary beat for almost 10 years.
As a professional journalist, Day is serious about his obligation to impartiality about the stories he covers.
"Colorado, by definition, is very outdoor-oriented," Day explains. "They care about endangered species, they care about wilderness protection, they care about land use issues--growth issues."
These issues include a recent investigation by Day into creek contamination by the new Denver International Airport. The airport takes measures to collect de-icing fluid that flows from planes as they load and unload passengers. No one figured that as the planes taxi down runway, however, additional fluid would wash off. The resulting runoff contaminated a nearby creek that begins on the airport's property and flows toward a wildlife sanctuary.
"Reporting on this story called into question the management of the airport," Day notes, adding that ignoring such stories would please people who would prefer that the issues be kept out of the public eye. But pleasing such people isn't his job.
Day also keeps his eye on the government. On the northeast corner of the Denver metro area lies the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a 27-square-mile facility that once produced nerve gas. Much of the soil has absorbed hazardous chemicals, and the Army is engaged in a long-term cleanup operation of the facility. Ironically, though, much of the Arsenal has not been contaminated and is now a refuge for many species of wildlife, including whitetail deer, mule deer, eagles, pelicans, hawks, and burrowing owls. That portion of the facility has become a popular tourist attraction and has been taken over in part by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
In a region whose citizenry is centered in nature, it might seem surprising that any avoidable concerns still exist. But common sense is often blindsided by human nature.
"Here in Denver," Day says, "people tell you over and over again in public opinion polls that they want clean air, but they're all too willing to drive by themselves 40 miles in and back to work. So what are they willing to sacrifice?" Denver is currently experimenting with light-rail mass-transit systems. Urban planners, however, should take note: "When you sit in on large groups of people, what you hear is 'Light rail is good, as long as somebody else is forced to ride it and I don't have to.'"
Day makes these observations fully prepared to "walk the walk." In the winter, when Denver's air pollution is worst, he rides the bus to work whenever possible. In the summer, he rides his bicycle the 25-mile round trip to and from work at least three days a week.
Though at times critical of his audience, he also respects their intelligence and convictions. He knows that some things take precedence over the concerns raised by his stories. "From my perspective, environmental concerns tend to get a fair shake in the overall consideration of other priorities. People pay attention to them in terms of looking at them and saying 'Is this really important?'" He adds that if the issue is not as important as other priorities, such as jobs or family, then it's destined to receive relatively little attention.
But once the camera's been shut off and the newscast is put to bed, how does this expert wish he could spend more days? Nothing too surprising. "I just wish we could figure out a way to build more trout streams. I have a real passion for fly-fishing."
If he's looking for fly fishing, Paul Day should head 650 miles northwest to Bozeman, Montana, a town of about 30,000 that lies 40 miles north of Yellowstone National Park. Robert Redford filmed A River Runs Through It nearby. This is the land that Brian Grossenbacher '90, calls home. Brian and his wife, Jenny, run Grossenbacher Guides, an outfitter that provides, in addition to Rocky Mountain-area tours, "the total fly-fishing experience"--lessons (if necessary), access to the proper gear, and an experienced guide to navigate tourists and locals alike through some of the finest and most scenic trout streams in the world.
Bozeman is one of several cities nestled in the eastern foothills of the Rockies that stand guard over the western third of Montana, an area almost entirely protected as national forest land, where streams and rivers wind and run at the cranky discretion of the Continental Divide. On almost every fishable day of the year, Brian rows the craggy Yellowstone or Gallatin rivers in search of the spot where spawning trout will succumb to the flitting of his newly tied flies. He's come a long way from the days he fished the creeks around Crawfordsville with equipment manager Chick Clements. Now the former Wabash baseball standout is paid to guide and instruct the likes of Kevin Costner and other amateur outdoorsmen and their families in search of peace in the outdoors and the "hope that a fish will rise." In the off-season, he skis (40 days last year) and writes. His first book, The Tying Flies Workstation, was published in March.
The Grossenbachers are part of a recent influx of people to "discover" Montana. With the increasing population has come increased awareness of environmental concerns. Mining and logging, for example, are two traditional local operations that are both difficult to justify ecologically yet nearly impossible to avoid culturally. But when a mountainside is clear-cut--when every tree is either cut off at the stump or uprooted by machinery--devastating events takes place. Brian frequentlyn sees the consequences.
"Clear-cutting, especially at high elevations, presents many problems, such as topsoil erosion. Spawning trout require heavily oxygenated water flowing over a very fine gravel bed," Grossenbacher explains. When the topsoil washes down the mountain and flows into the water, the siltation literally chokes out the spawning beds."
Grossenbacher warns that clearing the land is also beginning to dissect the natural migratory corridors for many land animals.
"Yellowstone Park is a perfect example," Grossenbacher explains. "We've created kind of a 'genetic island' inside Yellowstone. It used to be that Montana was so wide-open that we had a very strong migratory corridor from Yellowstone all the way up to Glacier National Park." With increased logging and development, he adds, "Yellowstone effectively has been sealed off with very little buffer zone for the animals to expand and to migrate in and out of the park. What we're going to see in future generations is species that are specific to Yellowstone Park."
Grossenbacher is reluctant to single out individuals as the problem. "People don't think, when they cut down a tree, 'what other effects am I having?'" As a logger or a miner, he continues, "you're putting food on the table. But somewhere down the line it affects another creature somewhere else."
The problem, he says, is logging or mining--or doing anything--recklessly and without regard for the potential consequences. "Our perception of land is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations. The idea, however, that in modern society we can co-exist without an impact on the land is mythical and unrealistic. What we need to consider is that with every building we erect, every parking lot we pave, every mountain we clear cut, we are leaving our legacy on the land, and we must be prepared to live with the ramifications."
When he chose his vocation, Grossenbacher became more than just a fly-fisherman; he became a disciple.
"The land out here has so much to tell us, if we'd only listen to it. As fishing guides, we're in a perfect position to educate people who come out here and tell them." No one likes to be preached to, he adds, but fortunately, preaching isn't necessary. "Getting people to appreciate that beauty is not hard to do."
Getting people interested in the beauty of nature may not be hard to do, but raising the public's awareness of another "endangered species"--the American farmer--is more difficult. Few men know the problems faced by America's dairy farmers better than John Zinn '74. Zinn, his wife Marcel, and their four daughters live on a farm in Westby, Wisconsin, a small town in the southwest part of the state where the streams produce trout, the farms produce milk, and the Mississippi River opens up and starts to mean business.
Traditionally, the Zinns have been dairy farmers. They've been in the business for the last 16 years, and at their peak, they had around 40 cows and shipped around 90,000 gallons of milk per year. For the last couple of years, though, they've been scaling down their dairy work and plan to sell their last dairy cow soon. Simple economics is the main reason. In general, the profit potential per cow is dropping, so people have to run more units to come out ahead. With a one- or two-person operation, this is difficult. Modern milking technology has made it possible to process enough cows, but it's a difficult lifestyle to maintain. The cows absolutely must be milked twice a day, which makes it difficult to get away from home for long periods of time. In addition, Zinn routinely worked 12 hours per day with a full barn of cows, and in the spring, that number often jumped to 18 or 20.
The decision to leave dairy farming would be easier if he disliked it.
"I actually enjoy working with cows," Zinn explains. "I enjoy trying to develop a good cow that will live a long time, give a lot of milk and be relatively trouble free."
"It's really hard for me to explain," he laughs. "I've been kicked up pretty bad by some cows." Like cat people and dog people, though, some people are just cow people.
But don't worry about John Zinn having too much free time. He still grows hay and corn on his 80-acre farm in a pattern that would leave many Midwesterners scratching their heads. Called "contour strip cropping," the technique entails alternating strips of corn and hay parallel to the valleys. This slows down rainwater as it moves down the slope and conserves the topsoil.
Soil conservation is another of John Zinn's many specialties. He holds a master's degree in soil management from the University of Tennessee and actually works full-time for the Vernon County Land Conservation Department, where he administers the Farmland Preservation Program, a state-sponsored tax credit program that encourages farmers to farm their land in a manner that conserves the soil.
"It's a cooperative effort, which makes my job a lot easier," Zinn says, noting that in many instances, the farmers have invented the conservation methods. "Conservation has been, from the beginning, a group effort. I probably work with some of the best conservation farmers in the whole country."
Zinn also does stream restoration work in trout streams. His area of Wisconsin has many good hardwater streams, and when the watershed surrounding the streams is protected from soil erosion and runoff from farmsteads and feedlots, the local streams provide great trout fishing. Some of the conservation that he and other farmers have done is having a positive impact on the trout streams. Where 20 years ago the streams had to be stocked, some are now beginning to flourish via natural reproduction. Wisconsin is wise enough to allocate some of the money from fishing licenses to do the conservation work.
John Zinn probably could have entered a profession that would pay him better or give him shorter days, but he has no regrets. In fact, he's rather philosophical about the pay structure.
"Farmers will never get rich, because, whether it's stated or not, the goal of the way we live is that there has to be cheap food." He jokes that "I was always discouraged from getting into farming because they told me there was no money in it. Now I know for sure." But for him, working the earth has other benefits."It gives me a lot of satisfaction to know that I've provided a lot of food for a lot of people."
In soil work, he conservatively surmises, "you feel like you're making a contribution that is going to last, maybe beyond your lifetime, and is going to benefit a lot of people. When you can save soil and improve the habitat for a desirable species of fish and maybe improve the overall quality of the environment, you think that maybe you're making a valuable contribution."
John Zinn's valuable contributions are probably too numerous to count.