Not in Our Backyards

27 May

I have a story in this month’s Outside magazine about the first county in the country to ban fracking. It’s an unlikely new epicenter for the fracking fight–the county is poor and rural, with just 5,000 people and no stoplights. The Community Legal Defense Fund, an environmental advocacy group from Pennsylvania, helped Mora County draft a community rights ordinance that grants the county the right to prevent corporations from drilling for oil and gas. A subsidiary of Shell and a petroleum producers associaiton have both sued the county, arguing the ordinance violates their corporate personhood and is therefore unconstitutional. The case may take years to resolve in the courts, but in the meantime the rest of the country is looking on to see if a community’s rights will trump a corporation’s. You can read the story here.

Illustration by: Shout


8 May

A month ago today, my wife changed our lives forever by delivering our firstborn child in the living room of our small house. It was a wondrous experience. An essay I wrote about it is up on Esquire’s website, in time for Mother’s Day, along with some photos from the birth and the first two days of our son’s life.



Beetles with Benefits

24 Apr

Anyone who’s driven or hiked through the Rocky Mountain West knows about pine beetles. They’re killing whole swathes of forests, a blight that’s now climbing into higher altitudes thanks to warmer winters that don’t kill beetles like they used to. For anyone who enjoys green, pine-clad mountainsides, they’re a real pest. But they’re also an impressively complex organism. Two University of Montana researchers are studying the symbiotic relationship they share with two fungi that live in their mouths. Without these fungi, it turns out, the beetles couldn’t digest the wood they thrive on. But with them, they’re limited by climate constraints that they wouldn’t be otherwise. Is it a match made in heaven, or hell? I tried to find out in this brief story for the UM publication, Research View. 


The Birding Beat

21 Apr

A year ago, I landed an assignment with Coastal Living magazine to fly out to New Jersey and report on the World Series of Birding, an annual event in which teams of birdwatchers race around the state identifying as many species of birds as they can in 24 hours. Identification can be made by sight or sound, and works on the honor system. Photographer Michael Turek and I embedded with a team called the Monarchists, which was competing in the carbon footprint division and limited themselves to the coastal town of Cape May. We spent 24 hours riding bicycles through violent thunderstorms, pedaling from swamp to sea to coastal forest and back again. It was a memorable day, for the company, the weather, and also the birds, of which the Monarchists saw 139. The story is in the May issue of Coastal Living. It’s also available online.

Birding: Team Zeiss

Photo courtesy of Michael Turek.

Learning to kill

14 Feb

Last November I joined my wife’s family at Deer Camp and came back with a doe. Killing a large, beautiful animal didn’t come naturally to me. I wondered if I could do it. I wondered if I should do it. I value the argument that if you’re going to eat meat, you should be able to kill it. So I wanted this experience, and after I had it, I wanted to write about it. It was sad, and it was brutal, but it was real, and for that I’m grateful. The story, “Getting Behind the Gun,” was just published on Esquire’s website.

(Photo by my father-in-law, Jerry McGahan)

The best medicine

10 Feb

I recently wrote a story for the Montanan about UM’s School of Pharmacy, which aims to get students into the field long before they graduate. The results are a quality education, but also a healthier public–during one routine screening in Helena, a team of pharmacy students saved a Montana legislator’s life. You can read the full story here.

A group of pharmacy students in an elective course work on “Sim Man,” a computerized dummy that tests students by being programmed with different health scenarios.

UM pharmacy students run tests on a computer-programmed dummy they call Sim Man. (Photo by Todd Goodrich)


Teaching again

8 Feb

I’m back at The University of Montana this semester, teaching an honors class called Global Current Events. It’s a fun course, designed to provide students with the historical, cultural, social and economic context to understand developments around the world. Our textbook is the Economist magazine. Each week I assign readings from the magazine and then give a quiz on the reading. Each week we also have a long presentation and discussion on a current international issue. Over the semester, we’ll cover America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Putin’s post-Olympic Russia, China’s minorities, Joseph Kony, India’s election, the Syrian civil war, the Iranian nuclear program, Guantanamo Bay, Mexico’s drug wars, Uruguay’s president, and the whims of North Korea’s young leader. With everything going on in the world right now, it’s sure to be a busy semester.


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