Earth First 

10 years on the environmental beat

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The Independent's dedication to coverage of environmental issues has been unyielding since January 1994 when we first reported on the fragility of clean air in Colorado Springs. In July '94, news editor Cara DeGette followed up with a look at the history and future of the Springs' threatened water supply.

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The early years of the paper saw extensive coverage of erosion on the Pikes Peak Highway, damage to the surrounding forest, charges that the city was violating the Clean Water Act, and local activists' agitating to get the road paved. After repeated City Council inaction, the Sierra Club finally sued, forcing the road to be paved -- which the Council's own consultants had recommended for decades.

In '95, the Indy examined the history of open space in Colorado Springs and ran an op-ed by Ann Oatman-Gardner calling on the city to preserve open space to ensure quality of life as the city's population boomed. Thus were born the seeds of the TOPS initiative, endorsed for inclusion on the ballot in '97 by the Independent and passed despite ardent editorializing against it by the Gazette.

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The Independent continues to monitor and report on open space purchases made by the city with designated tax dollars. One blip in the TOPS efforts was the open space surrounding the Big Johnson Reservoir, which the city bought without bothering to find out what the reservoir owners had in mind for the future.

In '96, Kathryn Eastburn visited the San Luis Valley and the ongoing controversy over logging practices on the Taylor Ranch that threatened traditional agricultural practices. Eastburn discovered a rift in the anti-Taylor camp and reported that efforts to save the ranch were divided. Also in '96, Eastburn visited the Land Institute in Salina, Kan., and interviewed visionary plant biologist/MacArthur grantee Wes Jackson about efforts toward sustainable agriculture.

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In '97, Malcolm Howard delved into the city's diminishing air quality and a tire-burning enterprise in the eastern part of the county that posed an environmental threat as well as a business scam. In '98, Howard and Cara DeGette produced a two-part series on the impact of massive gold mining operations on the tiny town of Victor, Colo. Howard also reported in '98 on efforts by Manitou Springs activists to save the town's landmark Higginbotham Flats.

In recent years, the Independent investigated a rock mining operation in Fremont County that threatened the Mexican spotted owl and stunk of sweet government deals and contentious lawsuits ("South of the Border," by Cara DeGette), and looked into the impact of the recreation boom on pristine wilderness ("Footprints on the Wilderness," by Malcolm Howard).

Red Rock Canyon and efforts to save it and the battle over open space in the Black Forest Regional Park have been covered by the Indy, as has a scare over the disappearance of Great Blue Herons in local nesting grounds and Indy contributor Rob Gordon's experiment with organic agriculture and farming with draft horses.

In 2001, Kathryn Eastburn reported on the annual Bioneers Conference in California, a gathering of some of the most innovative and creative thinkers in environmental restoration practices in the United States.

Also in '01, Eastburn interviewed Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, about the environmental and health impacts of corporate meat production. Just after the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., Eastburn spoke with nature writer Terry Tempest Williams about the Bush administration's potential impact on environmental policy and the need to be more vigilant during times of national crisis.

In April of '02, the Independent featured a unique partnership between a cattle rancher and conservation biologists at the Chico Basin Ranch in eastern El Paso County where grass-fed beef cattle are raised against a backdrop of native wildlife and prairie conservation efforts.


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