Dedicated to advancing scholarly and public understanding of the past, present, and future of western North America, the Center supports research, teaching, and reporting about western land and life in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Technology and Up-Close Reporting Help Environmental Stories Make a Difference

It took more than two months for a camera attached to a remote trigger to capture just the right picture of pronghorn antelope crossing Wyoming's Green River. Photograph: Joe Riis
How is technology changing wildlife reporting? The 2013 Knight-Risser Symposium on February 20 brought together a panel of journalists and scientists to consider this and other questions raised by the 2012 Knight-Risser Prize winner, "Perilous Passage," which chronicled the epic migration of pronghorn antelope in Wyoming. The prize and symposium are co-organized by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford.

By Robin Evans
John S. Knight Fellowships

If journalists want their environmental stories to make a real difference, it may not be enough to just conduct research and interviews and publish. Today’s audiences need to identify with the issue – to visualize it, even experience it – in a personal way.

That’s what writer Emilene Ostlind and photographer Joe Riis were able to do with “Perilous Passage,” their two-year project on pronghorn antelope migration in Wyoming. It won the 2012 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. And it encouraged changes, big and small, to keep this ancient migration path, one of the longest in the western hemisphere, safe for its four-legged travelers. Wireless photography tools and immersive fieldwork made it possible.

The use of technology in wildlife journalism was the topic of the Knight-Risser Prize Symposium at Stanford, at which the annual journalism prize is presented. The Knight-Risser Prize, which also comes with a $5,000 award, recognizes the best environmental reporting on the North American West — from Canada through the United States to Mexico. They symposium explores new ways to ensure that such sophisticated environmental reporting survives.

The discussion, moderated by photographer and John S. Knight Journalism Fellow Samaruddin Stewart, included the two prize winners, Philippe Cohen, executive director of Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, and Susan McConnell, a nature photographer and Stanford biology professor.

Complete Video of the Symposium (Story continues below)

A Personal Story

Ostlind went out backpacking to find the pronghorn’s path, later detailing her challenges along with that of the pronghorns’. “She got lost in drainages, battled through thick brush, and post-holed her way through deep snow,” said Paul Larmer, executive director of High Country News, where her story was published. She alerted Riis about good observation locations. He then went out to place cameras with remote triggers. During subsequent migrations, the cameras captured unprecedented video and close-ups of the antelopes fording rivers, cleaving willow thickets and maneuvering housing developments, highways and natural gas fields.

Food for Thought About the American West: Announcing our Winter Lunchtime Seminars

Over the next few months, the Bill Lane Center for the American West will be hosting a series of lunchtime talks by our distinguished lineup of visiting scholars and other friends of the Center. Join us for light lunch and fascinating conversation about the intertwined histories of Chile and California; issues of race, gender and identity in the historical West; and the postwar influence of Sunset Magazine on suburban life in Australia. Later in March, we'll have an additional appearance by Timothy Egan, the columnist for The New York Times, celebrated author and former Center media fellow.

2013 Winter Seminars on the West

Lunchtime Talks begin at 12pm in the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Y2E2). Please RSVP to each event on its respective page.

Tuesday, January 29 in Y2E2 300
"Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection, 1786-2008"
Edward D. Melillo, Amherst College

Thursday, February 7 in Y2E2 300
"Pickett’s Other Charge: The Hidden History of Jimmie Pickett, the Confederate General’s ‘Fine Little Half Breed Boy’"
Scott D. Sagan, Stanford University

Wednesday, February 13 in Y2E2 105
"Western Living Down Under: Sunset Magazine in Australian Suburban Culture During the 20th Century"
Ruth Morgan, Monash University

Thursday, March 7 in Y2E2 300
"Race Around the Quad: Eugenics, Race and Steinbeck at Stanford, 1919-1925"
Kevin Hearle, Bill Lane Center for the American West

Wednesday, March 13, Location TBD
"Creating the Largest Wildlife Park in the Continental U.S.: An Entrepreneurial Approach"
Sean Gerrity, American Prairie Reserve

Monday, March 18 in Y2E2 101
"Fixing the Dust Bowl: A Climate Change Parable"
Timothy Egan, The New York Times

Reflecting on a Year of Transition and Growth

Idaho's Lava Lake Ranch, taken in September 2012 by Sophomore College Student Annie Kong

As 2012 comes to a close, we at the Bill Lane Center for the American West have much to celebrate.

We hope you'll take a moment to read faculty director David M. Kennedy's letter summing up the year. In addition, you may enjoy the following articles about our work and activities:

This is a year of leadership transitions for us. Kathy Zonana joined the Center in September as associate director, taking over administrative leadership from Jon Christensen, who has taken up a post at UCLA. The Center remains involved in Jon's CityNature and Year of the Bay projects, and we are grateful to still benefit from his energy and wisdom. Next summer, the distinguished political scientist Bruce E. Cain will take over as faculty director. David Kennedy will remain actively involved in the life of the Center, and we all look forward to the next chapter in our history.

In the meantime, we have a slew of activities planned for winter quarter: lunchtime seminars with political science professor Scott Sagan and visiting scholars Edward Melillo and Ruth Morgan; a talk by award-winning author, New York Times opinion blogger and former Center media fellow Tim Egan; and the Knight-Risser Prize symposium, celebrating High Country News for its feature on pronghorn migration and discussing the state of wildlife journalism.

Details on these events will be forthcoming, and we hope to see you at many of them. Meanwhile, please accept our warm Western wishes for a wonderful holiday season.

Where Scholarship and Journalism Meet

The Bill Lane Center for the American West has always been committed to working with journalists and supporting great reporting on the West. We also believe that the growth of the Internet has increased the potential reach and impact of good journalism, as well as opening new possibilities for enhancing the user experience, like data visualization, interactivity and multimedia. But with the economic challenges facing news organizations in the current era, we are also concerned about the state of reporting on critical issues facing the West.

The Stanford News Service has a story today about the Center's efforts to develop new partnerships and collaborations with journalists, centered around our Media Fellowship program, our original reporting for our Rural West Initiative, and our work developing interactive media projects:

"We have this idea that universities have a real role to play in engaging the public," said Geoff McGhee, the center's creative director for media and communications.

The Center has increasingly been partnering with news agencies, as well as producing its own original reporting. "We can carry the weight that independent news agencies are increasingly unable to carry on their own," McGhee said.

The Center is already well known for bringing together academics on Western topics ranging from wildfire ecology to rural health care. Now, in a process that began with former executive director Jon Christensen and has continued with new associate director Kathy Zonana since her arrival in September, the Center has been bringing journalists to those academics, partnering with news agencies and conducting original reporting on the West.


If you're interested in learning more about our media fellowships and looking at some of the projects we've created in collaboration with news organizations like High Country News, Harper's Magazine, the Texas Tribune and KQED Public Media, see our post on PBS Mediashift, "Producing a Collaborative Media Fellowship Model at Stanford."

Center Co-Hosts State of the West Symposium

Watch complete video from the conference

The Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research co-hosted the second annual State of the West Symposium on November 15. The symposium included panels on political demography (video), the regional economy (video part 1 and part 2), and climate change (video). Luncheon speaker Richard Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, analyzed job creation and other economic indicators from California to Texas (video), and keynote speaker Utah Gov. Gary Herbert advocated a free-market approach to citizens’ desire for affordable clean energy (video).

"Our annual assessment of the fiscal, economic, and political state of the West produced both good and less-than-good news,” says Center director David M. Kennedy. “The West continues to be the nation's most vibrant region, though it has much work to do with respect to energy security, adaptation to climate change, and accelerating demographic transformation. And some parts of the West are healthier than others. We learned that California, in particular, with its chronic fiscal and governance difficulties, is perhaps facing long-term challenges from other states -- notably Texas -- for the mantle of regional leadership."

Large-scale Conservation on Montana's Glaciated Plains

Bigger is better when it comes to conservation efforts on Montana's glaciated plains, writes Michelle Berry, a Center intern this past summer at the American Prairie Reserve. Representing one of the largest conservation efforts in the United States, the Reserve currently spans 274,000 acres, and hopes to expand to more than three million. At the Reserve, Berry completed a 10-week internship researching historical wildlife populations. Her summer findings were recently featured in The National Geographic Society's NewsWatch blog.


Berry writes:

America’s iconic species – bison, pronghorn, elk, wolves, grizzly bears – evolved over tens of thousands of years on a wide-open continent. Over this long period of time, these species became well adapted to environmental “stochasticity,” the highly dynamic and unpredictable nature of their habitat. In fact, the prairie is one of the most dynamic ecosystems in the world.

In Wake of U.S. Election, Center Directors Offer Context and Analysis

As the sun sets on the epic 2012 presidential election cycle, scholars from the Bill Lane Center – past, present, and future – have taken to the media to help Americans, and westerners in particular, make sense of the results. On CNN's home page on Wednesday morning, Center director David M. Kennedy greeted readers with a sobering preview of the next four years in his op-ed, "Obama's victory won't transform America." 

Americans may yearn for strong leadership, but in their stubborn contrariness they do not want truly powerful leaders. They may want effective government, but they apparently like divided government even more, when neither party simultaneously controls House, Senate, and presidency -- the situation we've been saddled with for 31 of the last 43 years. So it should not be surprising that Obama's accomplishments marked the narrow limits of the achievable. They triggered a vicious political backlash in the 2010 election, ushered in yet another round of divided government, and may yet prove but short-lived reminders of the young president's aspirations, not permanent features of the American landscape.

Professor Kennedy elaborated today on these thoughts in Bloomberg Views, while our incoming faculty director-designate, Bruce Cain, could be heard on the airwaves assessing the election results on the Wednesday morning edition of KQED Radio's "Forum," the full audio of which can be streamed on our website. Professor Cain was part of a panel that included the veteran political consultant Chris Lehane, and the Bill Lane Center's former executive director, Tammy Frisby of the Hoover Institution, who served as an adviser to the Romney campaign. 

Center Welcomes Harold Montgomery to Advisory Council

Harold Montgomery, who received his bachelor‘s and MBA degrees at Stanford University before founding a Dallas-based electronic payment processing firm, has joined the Advisory Council of the Bill Lane Center for the American West. As a member of the council, Montgomery will help guide the Center as it makes its transition to a new director in 2013, and seeks to expand and refine its work supporting research, teaching, and reporting in the American West.

‘Harold comes from a family with deep roots in Texas and a deep commitment to public service -- as well as abundant connections with Stanford," says Center faculty director David M. Kennedy. "He will bring to our Advisory Council his intimate knowledge of the region‘s history and his passion for its future, and, of course, his matchless business acumen as we plan for the next phase of the Center‘s development.’

Montgomery is the Chairman and CEO of Calpian, which provides electronic payment processing services to retail merchants around the United States. He is a widely known authority in the transaction processing industry, contributing to trade publications and speaking regularly at regional and national conferences. He has been a resource for the Federal Reserve Bank Card Payment Center in Philadelphia, and has testified before Congress as an expert witness on credit card legislation. 

He is a native of Dallas, Texas, and currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Communities Foundation of Texas and the Board of St. Mark‘s School of Texas. He has served as President of the Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations and Young Audiences of Greater Dallas. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and was a member of the Young Presidents‘ Organization from 1991 to 2009.

"Year of the Bay" Launches with the Sail of the Alma

Photograph by Madeline Weeks

2013 is the "Year of the Bay," bringing together the America’s Cup yacht races, the opening of a new span of the Bay Bridge, the 150th Anniversary of the Port of San Francisco, along with dozens of events, museum exhibitions, publications, and media projects celebrating San Francisco Bay. 

On November 1st, the Alma, a historic scow schooner, sailed from the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park’s pier to Hunters Point, the site where she was built in1891. This also marked the launch of an online crowdsourcing history project about the bay by Stanford University’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The project is a collaboration with, a nonprofit technology company whose applications enable millions of people to come together, from across different generations, cultures and places, to share small glimpses of the past and to build up the huge, diverse story of human history. The public is invited to participate in this project by digging up old photos, letters, maps, and other documents about the bay. 

Many organizations are coming together to celebrate the Year of the Bay, including the California Historical Society, Heyday Books, the Oakland Museum of California, the San Francisco Public Library, the Bancroft Library, Literacy for Environmental Justice, Golden Gate Audubon, the EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many others. 

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