Mountain & Prairie Podcast

Ed Roberson

Interviews with innovators of the American West. Guests include ranchers, writers, athletes, artists, adventurers, conservationists, entrepreneurs—anyone who’s doing important work and has an interesting story to tell. Through informal yet substantive conversations, conservationist Ed Roberson introduces you to these fascinating characters, giving you a better understanding of their careers, influences, and outlooks, as well as a deeper appreciation for life in the American West.

  • 1 hour 8 minutes
    Dan Stellar - Bolstering Biodiversity in Arizona and Beyond

    Dan Stellar is the State Director for the Arizona Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, where he leads the organization’s efforts across a wide range of cutting-edge initiatives, including forest health, water conservation, resilient cities, healthy grasslands, and more. Arizona is one of the nation’s largest and most biodiverse states, which creates a host of extremely unique conservation challenges and opportunities– both in its arid, wide-open landscapes and densely populated urban centers. As you’ll hear, Dan and his team are implementing conservation solutions that not only benefit people and nature specifically in Arizona, but they are also creating actionable conservation frameworks that can be applied all over the American West.

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    Dan was born and raised on the East Coast, and he has spent his career in the non-profit sector, applying his talents to important issues both domestically and abroad.  He began his tenure at TNC Arizona in 2016, when he assumed the role of Deputy State Director. He quickly fell in love with Arizona and TNC’s critical work in the state, and, in 2020, he assumed the role of State Director. Dan is also a committed endurance athlete, and he’s run a mind-blowing number of marathons and half-marathons. And on top of all of that, he’s a dedicated father, husband, and family man.

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    Dan and I share so many common interests in conservation, endurance sports, and family, so I was super excited to have the opportunity to learn more about the specifics of his work and his fascinating personal and professional journey. We started the conversation with an overview of what makes Arizona such a unique place from a conservation perspective, then we dug into the details of TNC’s work in forest heath, rivers, aquifers, outdoor recreation, and resilient cities. We talked about some of the lessons he learned from traveling and working internationally, why he chooses to push himself so hard athletically, and how he goes about building such strong relationships with stakeholders, partner organizations, and his TNC team members. Dan is also a voracious reader, so we obviously chatted about books, and he wrapped up the conversation with very wise parting words.

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    I really felt like I’d met a real kindred spirit in Dan, and I greatly appreciate everything that he and his team are doing to make Arizona– and the West– a better place. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

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    This episode is brought to you in partnership with the Colorado chapter of The Nature Conservancy and TNC chapters throughout the Western United States. Guided by science and grounded by decades of collaborative partnerships, The Nature Conservancy has a long-standing legacy of achieving lasting results to create a world where nature and people thrive.

    On the last Tuesday of every month throughout 2024, Mountain & Prairie will be delving into conversations with a wide range of The Nature Conservancy’s leaders, partners, collaborators, and stakeholders, highlighting the myriad of conservation challenges, opportunities, and solutions here in the American West and beyond.

    To learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s impactful work in the West and around the world, visit www.nature.org

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    TOPICS DISCUSSED:

    3:30 - Setting the scene for conservation work in Arizona

    8:45 - Forest health work in Arizona

    15:00 - Aligning profit motives with forest health goals

    22:00 - Whether or not there are down-sides to forest thinning

    25:15 - Discussing the Verde River

    31:15 - Discussing the Big Chino Aquifer 

    35:00 - Collaborating with the Trust for Public Land to build a new park in Arizona

    39:45 - TNC’s work with cities in Arizona

    46:00 - Dan’s passion for running, and his attraction to doing hard things

    50:15 - How Dan fits running into his schedule

    52:00 - How Dan became interested in conservation

    57:30 - Dan’s lessons from traveling

    1:00:00 - Dan’s book recommendations

    1:04:30 - Dan’s parting words of wisdom

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    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    28 May 2024, 11:01 pm
  • 1 hour 3 minutes
    Sandy Colhoun - Building Leaders Through Outdoor Education

    Sandy Colhoun is the President of the National Outdoor Leadership School, also known as NOLS.

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    Founded in 1965 by legendary mountaineer Paul Petzolt, NOLS is widely considered to be the world’s premier wilderness school, and its mission is “to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment.” NOLS operates in many of the world’s wildest outdoor classrooms, and it provides the highest quality instruction in many outdoor skills, including wilderness travel, mountaineering, rock climbing, sea kayaking, and more. But perhaps most importantly, through these outdoor adventures, NOLS students learn the foundational and all-important life skills of leadership, teamwork, humility, and responsibility.

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    Sandy was named the seventh President of NOLS in October of 2023, after serving as the interim President and, before that, as a member of the NOLS Board of Trustees. Prior to his work with NOLS, he had spent much of his career in the worlds of education and journalism, most notably leading a $750 million fundraising campaign at Colby College in Maine. Sandy is also a proud graduate of a NOLS Wind River Mountaineering course, and he’s no stranger to hardcore outdoor adventures– he worked as a ski patroller in Park City, climbed in Alaska, Nepal, and Bolivia, and cycled up and over the Himalayas from Tibet to Nepal. As you’ll hear in our conversation, he’s focused, driven, and lots of fun, and he’s s fully committed to leading NOLS into the future.

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    I’m a proud graduate of a 1999 semester-long NOLS course, which was hands-down one of the most formative and valuable experiences of my entire life. Yes, I learned plenty of outdoor skills that have served me well for nearly 25 years now, but the most important lessons were those that taught me the value of good exhibition behavior, being comfortable in uncomfortable situations, and keeping a positive attitude when life gets difficult. If not for that semester, I highly doubt I would’ve ever moved out west, worked in conservation, or started this podcast. So, I’m obviously a superfan of all things NOLS.

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    I was so excited to chat with Sandy, and we covered a lot in our hour-long conversation. We discussed the history of NOLS, what separates NOLS from other wilderness schools, risk management, exhibition behavior, expanding one’s comfort zone, a description of the ideal NOLS student, Sandy’s own leadership style, his vision for the future of NOLS, how he will measure success, leaders that Sandy admires, favorite books, and much more. Be sure to check out the episode notes for links to everything we discuss.

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    A huge thank you to Sandy for being so generous with his time and for everything he and the entire team at NOLS do to make the world a better place. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy!

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    TOPICS DISCUSSED:

    4:00 - A brief history of NOLS

    8:15 - What sets NOLS apart from other outdoor schools

    10:30 - Discussing NOLS’ partnerships

    13:00 - How NOLS manages risk

    16:30 - The talent of NOLS instructors

    19:00 - What “expedition behavior” is

    22:15 - How NOLS recruits students in a world that prioritizes job opportunities and career advancement

    24:45 - How NOLS expands one’s comfort zone

    28:45 - The ideal NOLS student

    30:15 - Determining the next chapter of NOLS in the early 2020s

    33:30 - Sandy’s career pre-NOLS

    37:00 - Sandy’s leadership style

    42:30 - How Sandy got his mind around the task of taking the helm at NOLS

    46:00 - Measuring future success at NOLS

    49:00 - Leaders that Sandy admires

    52:15 - Sandy’s book recommendations

    58:15 - Sandy’s parting words of wisdom, and how you can support NOLS

     

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    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    22 May 2024, 8:28 pm
  • 1 hour 15 minutes
    Kami Bakken - How to Build a Life and Career in the West's Wide-Open Spaces

    Kami Bakken is a river guide and outdoor advocate, and she currently serves as the Director of the Freeflow Foundation and Director of Ambassador and Grant Programs for Rivers for Change. A native of Minnesota, Kami headed West for college at Colorado State University, where she earned a degree in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. Since graduating in 2018, she has been fully focused on helping others explore and appreciate the mountains and rivers of the American West, while also advocating for their protection and conservation.

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    Kami and I met in 2023 when she was the facilitator on my Green River Freeflow Institute workshop through Dinosaur National Monument and the Gates of Lodore. During our weeks of preparation for the course and our five days on the river, I was so impressed by her expertise in outdoor education and river travel, and perhaps more importantly, by her ability to connect with a wide range of people in a sometimes-intense wilderness setting. She’s humble yet confident, earnest yet hilarious, and I credit her with so much of the success of that workshop.

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    When I was in my late 20s and deep in a traditional career in the real estate business, I dreamed of having a life and career like Kami’s– one that combined adventure and wide-open spaces with purpose-driven work. So I wanted to chat with her in depth to learn more about how she has made it all happen. If, like I was, you are interested in learning the realities of following a non-traditional but deeply fulfilling career in the outdoors, then you’ll definitely learn a lot from Kami.

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    We met up a few weeks ago at my house in the Springs and had a wide-ranging and funny conversation about her life, career, adventures, and crazy misadventures. We talked about what drew her to Colorado for college, and some of the challenges of adjusting to such a new place and environment where she didn’t know anyone. We discussed some of her wild experiences traveling in the West and internationally– including a few run-ins with cult-like groups– and how she took the leap to become a sea kayaking guide and eventually a western river guide. We talk a lot about her commitment to pushing outside of her comfort zone, overcoming fear and discomfort, and why she’s drawn to conservation work. We also discuss the financial realities of seasonal work, how her non-profit work compliments her guiding work, her career plans for the future, and her roles with the Freeflow Institute and Foundation.

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    And it’s worth noting that Kami and I will be heading out on the river again this summer for another Freeflow workshop, this time on Oregon’s Wild & Scenic Rogue River– August 15th through 20th. As of this recording, there are still a few spots left, so you can follow the link in the episode notes to learn more about the workshop and apply. As of this moment, you can use the secret code “ED200” to get $200 off of the tuition.

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    A huge thanks to Kami for agreeing to let me ask her a bunch of weird questions, and more importantly, for all of her leadership and support on our river trips. Enjoy!

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    TOPICS DISCUSSED

    4:00 - Where Kami is from

    5:00 - Why Kami went to Colorado State, and how her family felt about that decision

    9:00 - How her early experience in Colorado led her to WWOOF (and apparently a couple of cults)

    15:30 - Kami’s return to CSU, and her entry into the world of outdoor recreation

    19:30 - Kami’s travel adventures post-graduation

    22:00 - Kami’s time with Protect Our Winters

    24:15 - Kami’s transition to professional guiding

    27:45 - Where Kami’s desire for connection and impact led her career next

    31:45 - What Kami’s friends from college were doing while she was raft guiding, and whether or not she has ever questioned her career path

    33:30 - Exploring the difference between contentment and happiness, and some more details about the outdoor education and rafting nonprofit that Kami worked for

    37:15 - Kami’s transition to the Freeflow Foundation

    44:00 - Discussing the Freeflow Foundation

    45:45 - Balancing safety with growth driven by risk

    50:00 - The trip that Ed and Kami did together on the Green River

    54:45 - What makes for a good outdoor guide, and what makes for a bad one

    59:00 - Who Kami admires 

    1:03:00 - Kami’s next steps

    1:05:45 - What worries Kami

    1:09:00 - Kami’s book recommendations

    1:10:30 - Kami’s advice for those who want to try a new lifestyle or career

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    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    15 May 2024, 9:21 pm
  • 1 hour 2 minutes
    Hampton Sides Returns: The Wild and Tragic Tale of Captain James Cook

    Hampton Sides is a Santa Fe-based historian and bestselling author who has written many books that are favorites of Mountain & Prairie listeners, including "Blood and Thunder," "On Desperate Ground," and "Ghost Soldiers." His newest book is "The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook," which is available now and sitting high on the New York Times bestseller list. If you’re a longtime Mountain & Prairie listener, then I’m sure you’re glad to see that Hampton has joined me for yet another podcast conversation.

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    Much of Captain Cook’s epic third voyage takes place far from the mountains and prairies of the American West, in tropical paradises including Tahiti and Hawaii. But what you may not realize, is that a big portion of his final voyage was spent exploring and mapping the west coast of North America, from the rocky shores of present-day Oregon and Washington, all the way up to Alaska. While I was somewhat familiar with Cook and his explorations, I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the mind-blowing scale of his journeys or his impact on world history.

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    As is the case with all of Hampton’s books, he melds together deep and extensive research with thrilling storytelling to make the process of understanding history as entertaining as it is educational. While Cook is obviously a central figure in "The Wide Wide Sea," the book also profiles numerous fascinating Polynesian and Indigenous historical figures, including the Tahitian man named Mai, whom Hampton and I discussed at length in our September 2021 episode. If you haven’t already listened to that episode, I’d encourage you to do so when you’re done with this one– there’s a link in the episode notes.

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    Hampton and I met up here in Colorado Springs, one of many stops on his book tour for The Wide Wide Sea. As usual, we had a fun and at times very funny conversation about history, his research and writing process, and all things Captain Cook. We started out discussing why Hampton is drawn to write about controversial historical figures, and we talked at length about how he combined historical accounts from Europeans with those from the Indigenous communities that Cook visited. We talked about the mystery of Cook’s dramatic personality change, how Cook’s arrival disrupted the equilibrium of Polynesian cultures, Cook’s leadership style both before and after his personality change, how Hampton organized such massive amounts of research, and how and why he works so hard to get his books into the world. He also gives a sneak peek into his next book, which will based here in Colorado and explores one of the West’s most notorious massacres.

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    A huge thank you to Hampton for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with me again, and thank you for listening. Enjoy!

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    TOPICS DISCUSSED:

    4:30 - Discussing Hampton’s recent time on the road, and why Hampton values in-person readings

    7:00 - Why write about Captain Cook

    10:45 - Captain Cook, pre-1776

    16:45 - Cook’s ship

    21:15 - Exploring Cook’s mental health

    25:30 - Exploring humans’ predisposition towards greed

    29:30 - The importance of doing boots-on-the-ground research for history

    32:00 - How Cook kept scurvy at bay

    34:30 - Hampton’s biggest unexpected discovery while writing The Wide Wide Sea

    38:00 - Whether or not Hampton experienced apprehensions about telling the story of a complicated person like Cook

    42:00 - Discussing the circumstances that led to Cook’s death

    45:45 - Discussing some of Cook’s personality traits and cultural differences between Cook and the Māori 

    49:30 - How Hampton organizes his quotes for writing

    53:45 - How Hampton actually sells his books

    58:00 - Hampton’s plans for the future

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    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    8 May 2024, 11:08 pm
  • 1 hour 15 minutes
    Celene Hawkins & Izabella Ruffino - Tribal Partnerships, Indigenous Voices, Cutting-Edge Conservation

    Celene Hawkins is the Colorado River Tribal Water Partnerships Program Director for the Nature Conservancy, and Izabella Ruffino is the Tribal and Indigenous Engagement Program Manager for the Colorado Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Both Celene and Izabella use their skills to advance and support tribal-led land and water conservation work throughout the American West.

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    Most of Celene’s work is centered around the Colorado River Basin, and she has played an integral role in many cutting-edge water conservation projects that have sought out Tribal voices and Indigenous perspectives to create some of the West’s most effective and equitable solutions to complex water challenges. Perhaps most notably, she worked with the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and her colleagues at TNC to create a first-of-its-kind water agreement that was a true win-win for nature and people.

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    Izabella’s work builds on TNC’s strong foundation of partnerships with Tribal Nations for land and water issues, and she is also focused on expanding Tribal and Indigenous engagement into all aspects of TNC’s wide-ranging conservation work. Additionally, she is responsible for internal efforts to fortify organizational cultural awareness and humility within TNC’s Colorado Chapter. As you’ll hear, Izabella is doing everything from leading internal educational initiatives to working with wide-ranging stakeholder groups on projects such as determining the best uses for TNC-owned land and preserves.

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    In this episode, we dig into the details of many of their specific projects and initiatives, but we also talk more broadly about the importance of seeking out Indigenous perspectives to help guide TNC’s critical conservation work around the world. They both offer plentiful resources– online courses, books, podcasts, essays, and more– that will help me (and you, the listener!) better understand the importance of bringing together diverse perspectives to guide the next chapter of conversation work in the West and beyond.

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    Celene and Izabella mention so many excellent books, people, and resources, so don’t forget to check out the episode notes for links to everything. A big thanks to them both for such a fun, inspiring, and educational conversation. I hope you enjoy!

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    This episode is brought to you in partnership with the Colorado chapter of The Nature Conservancy and TNC chapters throughout the Western United States. Guided by science and grounded by decades of collaborative partnerships, The Nature Conservancy has a long-standing legacy of achieving lasting results to create a world where nature and people thrive.

    On the last Tuesday of every month throughout 2024, Mountain & Prairie will be delving into conversations with a wide range of The Nature Conservancy’s leaders, partners, collaborators, and stakeholders, highlighting the myriad of conservation challenges, opportunities, and solutions here in the American West and beyond.

    To learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s impactful work in the West and around the world, visit www.nature.org

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    TOPICS DISCUSSED:

    3:30 - Introductions

    8:30 - The win-win partnership between the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and TNC

    14:00- Challenges and opportunities related to putting together the partnership deal

    19:00 - Benefits to all parties as a result of the deal

    21:30 - Positive ripple effects resulting from the partnership

    24:15 - TNC’s strategies for managing its preserves, including the Medano Zapata Ranch

    29:15- The process of gathering Indigenous and local perspectives

    32:00 - Strategies, tactics, and frameworks for building cross-cultural relationships

    36:30 - Balancing the time it takes to build solid relationships with the reality that “time is of the essence”

    40:30 - Upcoming exciting projects

    44:30 - Resources for further learning

    50:30 - Why they each chose to apply their talents, skills, and careers to the cause of conservation

    55:30 - Heroes and mentors

    1:05:00 - Favorite books

    1:11:00 - Parting words of wisdom

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    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    30 April 2024, 9:20 pm
  • 1 hour 24 minutes
    Kristine Tompkins – Nothing to Lose

    Kristine Tompkins is an iconic conservationist, the president and co-founder of Tompkins Conservation, and the former CEO of Patagonia. For three decades, she has committed to protecting and restoring wild beauty and biodiversity by creating national parks, restoring wildlife, inspiring activism, and fostering economic vitality through conservation.

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    Kristine and her late husband Douglas Tompkins have protected approximately 14.8 million acres of parklands in Chile and Argentina through Tompkins Conservation and its partners, making them among the most successful national park-oriented philanthropists in history. To give you a frame of reference for exactly how much land 14.8 million acres is, Yellowstone National Park is just over 2.2 million acres– so the scale and scope of Tompkins Conservation’s impact is truly mind-blowing.

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    Kristine’s amazing life story was beautifully told in the 2023 feature-length documentary Wild Life, which I highly recommend and can be streamed on Disney+. She was also awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, and she recently gave her second TED talk, which will be released in the coming weeks. She’s been featured by pretty much every media outlet you could imagine, so I was honored that she took time out of her very full schedule to chat with me.

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    Tompkins Conservation has published multiple books about its groundbreaking conservation work in South America. The most recent book is titled Patagonia National Park Chile, which tells the story of the park’s transformation from a former sheep ranch into one of the crown jewels of Chile’s National Park system. Featuring stunning photography by Linde Waidhofer and essays by Kristine, the former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, Yvon Chouinard, and many others, the coffee-table style book is equal parts inspiring and educational. It’s the kind of book that you’d proudly display on your shelf and find yourself revisiting for years to come.

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    I met up with Kristine at her California home, and we had a fun and fascinating conversation about everything from the book to leadership to the growth and evolution of Tompkins Conservation. We discussed optimism and pessimism, the difference between contentment and happiness, the importance of having a relentless work ethic, living an extreme life, and operating as if you have nothing to lose. We also talked in detail about the challenges of creating Patagonia National Park, balancing rewilding efforts with the need for economic vitality, and how the conservation lessons learned in South America can be applied to conservation efforts here in the American West. There are even a few brief appearances by her two very sweet pups who sat with us during our conversation, so all of you dog lovers will surely enjoy hearing from them.

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    Patagonia National Park Chile is available right now at Patagonia.com and available for pre-order wherever you get your books. Follow the links in the episode notes to learn more.

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    TOPICS DISCUSSED:

    3:40 - Why Kris keeps coming back to books

    7:30 - Who is Arnie Næss

    13:45 - Discussing leadership, giving credit, and other behaviors key to Kris’s success

    18:40 - Happiness vs contentment

    21:30 - Discussing Valle Chacabuco

    25:45 - Establishing local buy-in as a conservation entity not local to Chile

    30:30 - How the Tompkins managed livestock on the Valle Chacabuco

    32:15 - The speed at which settlers spread to Chile

    34:15 - Whether Kris is an optimist or pessimist 

    36:00 - Who in the new generation gives Kris hope, and what Kris thinks about “hope”

    40:45 - Kris’s view on taking action

    44:30 - How Kris prioritizes her efforts

    49:45 - What Kris has learned in South America that is applicable to the North American West

    52:15 - Business’s impact on Kris and Doug’s conservation work ethic

    53:45 - Kris’s favorite failure and lessons learned

    59:45 - Kris’s life of extremes and passion for service

    1:05:45 - Kris’s book recommendations

    1:15:45 - The land trust movement in the US, and the American grasslands

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    25 April 2024, 8:50 pm
  • 56 minutes 15 seconds
    Logan Maxwell Hagege Returns - On Taking Action & Finding Balance

    Logan Maxwell Hagege is an Ojai, CA-based contemporary artist with modern visions of the American West. Logan is no stranger to longtime Mountain & Prairie listeners—he first joined me on the podcast back in 2019, and he made another appearance in 2022 alongside several other renowned Western artists in an episode recorded live at Maxwell Alexander Gallery’s 10-year anniversary exhibition. In this episode, I reconnected with Logan at his Ojai studio, and we caught up on a long list of fascinating topics, including his upcoming exhibition at the Gerald Peters Gallery in New York City titled Flowers Will Grow.

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    Since our first podcast conversation, Logan’s artistic career has continued to skyrocket, and his work has earned the acclaim of a growing number of collectors, critics, and journalists. Most recently, his painting titled “Time and Space” won Best in Show at the Autry’s Masters of the American West show. He’s also been featured in all corners of the Western art world, including a recent spread in Western Art and Architecture and collaborations with well-known brands such as Stetson and Pendleton. But perhaps most impressively, he’s accomplished all of this success while being a deeply committed husband and father of two young children.

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    As you’ll hear in this conversation, Logan works extremely hard and is fully committed to exploring new realms of his artistic interests, but he brings balance and calmness to what could easily become an all-consuming obsession. I caught Logan just as he was wrapping up all the final details for his upcoming show, and we had a fun discussion about a wide range of topics, including: The intensity of preparing for a show, accepting the judgment that comes with showing art, his practice of constant doodling, how living in Ojai has changed his approach, the importance of self-talk, Georgia O’Keefe, the idea that perfection is boring, the need for action, and much more. Check out the episode notes for a full list of topics discussed and links to everything.

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    And if you happen to be in New York, the Flowers Will Grow exhibition will open with a reception with Logan on Thursday evening, April 18, 2024, and will be on display through May 23rd. There’s a link in the episode notes with all of that information.

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    A huge thanks to Logan for letting me barge into his studio during such a busy time and a huge thanks to you for listening. Enjoy!

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    TOPICS DISCUSSED:

    2:45 - What the hell is happening in Logan’s studio, and his upcoming show in New York

    5:15 - Why Logan is working with a gallery outside of the Maxwell-Alexander Gallery

    7:30 - Whether Logan was nervous the last time he showed his art in New York

    9:00 - The impact of being able to show more examples of an artist’s work

    11:15 - How periods of intensity and external pressure have shaped Logan’s work

    12:45 - How Logan’s art has changed since his 2018 show

    14:30 - What a Logan’s process looks like when there isn’t external pressure from deadlines

    17:45 - Logan’s doodling process

    19:45 - The need for action

    23:30 - How Logan deals with the fact that unique art will be judged

    27:45 - Discussing perfection and how boring it is

    28:45 - Who Logan admires

    31:15 - Discussing Georgia O’Keefe

    32:45 - Discussing Logan’s life in Ojai

    40:00 - The importance of retreat for Logan’s art

    42:00 - The impact of self-talk

    44:30 - Discussing the new gallery

    47:45 - Logan’s book and artist recommendations

     

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    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    12 April 2024, 2:13 pm
  • 1 hour 6 minutes
    Dr. Emily Howe - The Interconnectedness of Mountains, Forests, Rivers, and Estuaries

    Dr. Emily Howe is an aquatic ecologist with the Washington state chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and she holds a Ph.D. from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. Her work integrates across ecosystem boundaries, investigating how landscape configuration and management shape cross-boundary relationships for food webs, organisms, and ecosystem processes.

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    At the Nature Conservancy, Emily’s projects stretch from the high peaks of the North Cascades all the way down to the estuary of Port Susan Bay, and her work highlights the interconnectedness of everything from snowpack to salmon populations, forest management to marsh grass health. Much of Emily’s work focuses on understanding liminal spaces– areas in nature where boundaries blend together and where the interactions between ecosystems can be fluid and dynamic.

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    Since the earliest days of European settlement, this area has been subject to a wide variety of threats to the overall ecosystem—aggressive logging, wildfire suppression, attempts to engineer order into the ever-changing estuaries, and more. And with the intensification of climate change, snowfall and its resulting snowpack have decreased, which only exacerbates the negative effects and threats to the ecosystem.

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    But thanks to Emily and her team of stakeholders and partners, there are many, many reasons to be optimistic about the future. Combining cutting-edge science with Indigenous knowledge, Emily and TNC are making great progress toward finding solutions that can help with everything from increasing the depth and duration of snowpack in the Cascades to restoring all-important salmon habitat, and much much more.

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    If you’re a fan of ecology and are interested in how Indigenous wisdom can bolster our 21st-century scientific knowledge, then you’ll love this episode. We start our conversation at sea level, discussing the magic of the tidal ecosystems, then work our way up the into mountains, eventually discussing all things snowpack and forest health.  We talk about TNC’s partnership with the Stilliguamish Tribe, how forest gaps can affect snowpack, snow droughts and El Nino, collaboration with federal agencies, and rising sea levels in the Northwest.  Emily also talks about her career path to becoming a scientist and she offers up some excellent book recommendations.

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    I love the Pacific Northwest, so I greatly appreciate everything that Emily and her partners are doing to keep this region of the West so wild, special, and healthy.  I hope you enjoy.

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    This episode is brought to you in partnership with the Colorado chapter of The Nature Conservancy and TNC chapters throughout the Western United States. Guided by science and grounded by decades of collaborative partnerships, The Nature Conservancy has a long-standing legacy of achieving lasting results to create a world where nature and people thrive.

    On the last Tuesday of every month throughout 2024, Mountain & Prairie will be delving into conversations with a wide range of The Nature Conservancy’s leaders, partners, collaborators, and stakeholders, highlighting the myriad of conservation challenges, opportunities, and solutions here in the American West and beyond.

    To learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s impactful work in the West and around the world, visit www.nature.org

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    TOPICS DISCUSSED

    • 3:45 - Discussing the history Port Susan Bay Preserve
    • 8:15 - The colonial reasons for the “straightening out” of the complex Stille River System
    • 11:15 - Why TNC became interested in Port Susan Bay
    • 13:15 - Emily’s focus on the Port Susan Bay Preserve
    • 17:15 - Emily’s partnership with Tribal entities around Port Susan Bay Preserve
    • 21:45 - Where and how TNC partners with the federal government on its work on the coast
    • 26:15 - Goals for the Port Susan Bay Preserve
    • 32:30 - How fast the sea level is rising in the Port Susan Bay Preserve
    • 34:15 - The 2015 Pacific Northwest snow drought
    • 38:15 - Emily’s involvement in higher elevation forest management and how it can impact snowpack and water resources
    • 45:00 - Putting Emily’s work above to practice
    • 52:30 - Emily’s personal journey to this work
    • 56:30 - Emily’s book recommendations
    • 1:02:00 - Emily’s parting words of wisdom

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    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    26 March 2024, 5:23 pm
  • 1 hour 6 minutes
    Sterling Drake - Roots Music, Ranching, and Giving Back

    Sterling Drake is an award-winning musician whose soulful tunes reflect his deep love of the landscapes, people, and culture of the American West. The media outlet Lonesome Highway probably best described Sterling’s music by calling it a “perfect fusion of western swing, honky-tonk heartache, and dance hall treasures.” But you can’t really confine Sterling’s music to a single, over-arching category– his influences range from country to folk to blues (and more!), and he’s toured everywhere from rural Montana to the swamps of South Florida to the music epicenter of Nashville, Tennesse. And it’s those wide-ranging experiences and influences that make him such a fascinating and thoughtful character and such a fun person to talk with.

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    Sterling’s family has roots in the southeastern U.S., and he was born and raised in Florida. Music was always a big part of his life, but his early interests revolved around the hardcore music scene and his love of drumming. Soon after graduating high school, he decided to head out west, where he began a long stretch of working on various ranches in several different states. Over time, his musical focus shifted from the hardcore world into the roots genre, and he began to capture the attention of audiences at bars, rodeos, and everywhere in between. Today, Sterling is a full-time touring musician, and as I record this, he is preparing for his first European tour. In my mind, Sterling is a perfect example of how a person can successfully meld passion, curiosity, hard work, and respect to create an entirely unique brand of art that resonates with a large, thoughtful audience.

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    I met Sterling last summer at the 2023 Old Salt Festival in Helmville, Montana, and I was instantly struck by his thoughtfulness, sense of humor, and his desire to contribute to the culture of the American West.  So I was glad to finally connect with him for a podcast episode and have an in-depth conversation about his artistic journey. We started out talking about his upbringing in Florida and why he eventually decided to head west. We discuss his time working on ranches, lessons learned from living and working in Nashville, and why he continues to be drawn to Montana. We discuss his most recent EP titled Jereco Sessions, and why he decided to donate all of the proceeds of that project to the nonprofit Western Landowners Alliance. We also discuss Willie Nelson, books, martial arts, straight-edge culture, travel, and much, much more.

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    If you want to see Sterling perform in person and have a chance to hang out with him, I’d encourage you to come to this summer’s Old Salt Festival, which is taking place June 21-23 in Helmville, Montana. Both Sterling and I will be there, and we’re both looking forward to what is guaranteed to be an amazing weekend.

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    Thanks for listening, hope you enjoy!

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    TOPICS DISCUSSED:

    5:00 - Sterling’s first memory of music

    7:45 - Reflecting on Sterling’s childhood in Florida

    11:00 - How Sterling became interested in the West, and further discussing Sterling’s upbringing

    14:30 - Sterling’s time in Utah

    17:30 - Where Sterling’s work ethic comes from

    20:00 - How music played into Sterling’s early years out West

    22:00 - A brief discussion of martial arts and its impact on Sterling’s life

    25:45 - Sterling’s shift into country music

    28:15 - When Sterling’s country career started to take off

    33:15 - Sterling’s insider take on the Nashville music industry

    40:45 - How Sterling became involved with WLA

    44:15 - Discussing Sterling’s recent/upcoming album cover

    45:15 - Sterling’s upcoming European tour

    46:45 - Looking forward to Old Salt Festival

    52:30 - Where Sterling may eventually choose to settle down

    54:00 - Sterling’s advice to early career professionals and aspiring artists

    1:00:30 - Sterling’s book recommendations

    1:03:45 - Sterling’s parting words of wisdom

    ---

    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    12 March 2024, 9:34 pm
  • 1 hour 2 minutes
    Kevin Krasnow - Keeping Jackson Hole Wild and Beautiful

    Kevin Krasnow is the Conservation Director at the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, a long-standing, highly effective organization whose mission is to “protect the wildlife, wild places, and community character of Jackson Hole.” For more than four decades, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance has been a staunch advocate for keeping Jackson Hole wild and beautiful, and it has proven to be a nimble and creative protector of the legendary Wyoming valley. The organization has served as a watchdog against poorly planned development, a champion for public land, a community voice that holds elected officials accountable, and much more.

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    Kevin brings a fascinating and diverse professional background to his work at the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance– he’s worked as an Outward Bound instructor, a high school teacher, a college professor, and, most notably, he earned a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of California Berkley. Prior to joining the team at the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, he worked for ten years at the Teton Science Schools in Jackson. As you’ll hear in our conversation, Kevin is a high-level expert in forest and wildfire ecology, and he speaks eloquently about the role of wildfires in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and beyond.

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    When I first headed out West from North Carolina nearly twenty years ago, I moved to Jackson Hole— and I will always have a tender spot in my heart for that particular area. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to connect with Kevin and talk about all things related to ecology, wildlife, fire, and conversation in Jackson Hole. We started with a deep dive into Aspen trees, and why they are such an important and unique part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We discussed the Yellowstone Fire of 1988 and how that disaster shaped forest management in the future. We discussed the unprecedented development pressure in and around Jackson, how Kevin and his organization collaborate with a wide range of conservation partners, his professional journey from indirect to direct conservation work, and how his career as an educator informs his work today.

    -

    If you’ve ever spent time in the Tetons, Yellowstone, or the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, then you’re going to learn a lot from Kevin. Please visit the episode notes for a full list of everything he mentions, and I hope you enjoy!

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    This episode is brought to you in partnership with the Colorado chapter of The Nature Conservancy and TNC chapters throughout the Western United States. Guided by science and grounded by decades of collaborative partnerships, The Nature Conservancy has a long-standing legacy of achieving lasting results to create a world where nature and people thrive.

    On the last Tuesday of every month throughout 2024, Mountain & Prairie will be delving into conversations with a wide range of The Nature Conservancy’s leaders, partners, collaborators, and stakeholders, highlighting the myriad of conservation challenges, opportunities, and solutions here in the American West and beyond.

    To learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s impactful work in the West and around the world, visit www.nature.org

    --

    TOPICS DISCUSSED:

    3:30 - Discussing Aspen trees and how they captured Kevin’s attention

    9:30 - Threats to Aspen populations

    13:30 - Looking at the Yellowstone Fire of 1988

    24:00 - How significantly forestry and attitudes toward fire have changed after the Yellowstone Fire of 1988 

    28:30 - What brought Kevin to the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance 

    31:00 - Whether or not COVID has impacted the urgency of JHCA’s work

    35:15 - What specific problems Kevin works on at JHCA 

    39:15 - How Kevin and JHCA have collaborated with The Nature Conservancy

    43:00 - Kevin’s switch from “indirect” conservation to “direct”

    45:00 - When the outdoors became a part of Kevin’s life

    47:15 - Kevin’s early career in experiential education, and how it benefits his career now

    52:30 - Kevin’s words for a young person looking for career advice

    55:00 - Kevin’s book recommendations

    58:15 - Kevin’s parting words of wisdom, and how folks can support JHCA

    ---

    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    27 February 2024, 10:48 pm
  • 58 minutes 8 seconds
    Mike DeHoff - Exploring the Colorado River's Reemerging Rapids

    Mike DeHoff is the Principal Investigator at Returning Rapids Project, a one-of-a-kind project that is documenting the recovery of the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon, upper Glen Canyon, and along the San Juan. Back in 1963, the construction of Glen Canyon Dam created Lake Powell, which submerged many of the area’s canyons– turning what were once wild stretches of the Colorado into flat water. Today, the southwest’s ongoing historic drought has caused Lake Powell’s water levels to drop significantly, revealing historic rapids, recently hidden geologic features, and riparian ecosystems that had been deep underwater for nearly fifty years.

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    Returning Rapids began as a personal project for Mike and three of his river-loving friends– Meg Flynn, Peter Lefebvre, and Chris Benson. They began to notice changes in the river created by Lake Powell’s receding waters and started documenting those changes and using historic photographs and documents to better understand the reemerging landscape. Over the years, their work caught the attention of universities, academics, scientists, and government agencies, all of whom were fascinated by what was being discovered deep in those canyons. Fast forward to today, and their work is not only enabling cutting-edge research, but it’s capturing the attention of bigtime media outlets, including a recent feature in Rolling Stone.

    -

    Mike connected with me virtually from his home base in Moab, Utah, and we had a fascinating discussion about the Colorado River, Lake Powell, and the history of the Returning Rapids project. We started out with a brief history lesson on the drought’s effect on the Colorado River, then we dug into issues such as the mind-blowing amount of sediment created by Glen Canyon Dam. We discussed when Mike and his partners realized that their personal project was capturing the attention of the public, the challenges of garnering attention for lesser-known places like Cataract Canyon, and the idea of combining Lake Powell and Lake Mead. We also talk a lot about Mike’s personal journey with this project, and how his willingness to follow his curiosity, partner with very smart people, take risks, and work extremely hard has had a significant scientific impact. We also discuss books, his mentors, his desire to learn from everyone he meets, and much more.

    -

    A huge thanks to Mike, Meg, Peter, and Chris for their important work, and for providing such a solid example for all of us who feel drawn to make a difference here in the American West.

    ---

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    This episode is brought to you in partnership with the Mighty Arrow Family Foundation.

    To whom much is given, much is expected. This value guides the philosophy behind the Mighty Arrow Family Foundation today.

    Committed to its cause and infused with an entrepreneurial spirit, Mighty Arrow aims to invest in solutions that take action on climate change to build a more vibrant future, repair relationships from farm to market to table, heal our connection to the lands and waters we call home, and demand a more just and equitable society.

    To learn more about Mighty Arrow’s forward-thinking, optimistic, and visionary work here in the American West and beyond, please visit www.mightyarrow.org.

    ---

    TOPICS DISCUSSED:

    3:30 - The drought of the early 2000s and how it started a 20+ year journey for Mike

    16:30 - How an entire land mass of Colorado River sediment can be created with no one claiming management or responsibility of it

    21:30 - When Mike’s project shifted from a personal interest to an interest of the public

    26:15 - The surprising rate that Lake Powell and Cataract Canyon are capable of recovering

    34:30 - How Mike garners attention for lesser-known but important places like Cataract Canyon

    37:15 - Discussing the idea of combining Lake Powell and Lake Meade

    44:15 - Mike’s advice for people wanting to do something similar to he and his team

    47:30 - Mike’s powerful appreciation for the people he meets, and his mentors and heroes

    50:30 - Mike’s book recommendations

    53:45 - Mike’s parting words of wisdom

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    ABOUT MOUNTAIN & PRAIRIE:

    22 February 2024, 12:02 am
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