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Feb. 17, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

HSU, Internews team up for environmental journalism


The Weekly Wrap

RODONI CLEARED: The Fair Political Practices Commission last week let it be known that it had concluded its investigation of Supervisor Roger Rodoni and that no charges would be filed against him. The commission received complaints about Rodoni nearly two years ago, when the supervisor joined a 4-1 board majority denying District Attorney Paul Gallegos' request to hire help in his fraud suit against the Pacific Lumber Co. Rodoni has leased a 9,000-acre southern Humboldt ranch from the company for more than 30 years -- at the time of the vote, he was paying $350 per month for the lease. Rodoni did not return the Journal's calls or provide a copy of a letter the FPPC sent him; according to the Times-Standard, the letter stated that FPPC staff found that there was "insufficient evidence" that Rodoni received a discounted rate on the lease.

MURDERED MEN IDENTIFIED: The remains of two slain men whose bodies were left in Southern Humboldt have been positively identified. A body discovered last month in Honeydew was identified through dental records as Rex Donald Shinn, of Loleta, according to the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office. Autopsy results confirm that Shinn, 32, died of a gunshot wound. The Sheriff's Office says that they know who killed the man, who was reported missing in July 2003. Sheriff's detectives are continuing an investigation into Shinn's murder. Anyone with information should contact Detective Rich Schlesiger at 445-7251. In another unsolved homicide, a recent DNA comparison has identified Robert John Tobaka, 53, of Eureka almost one year after his body was discovered in the woods near Pepperwood. The cause of the man's death was not released by the Sheriff's Office; an investigation continues.

AUGUST TRIAL DELAYED AGAIN: Last week Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney reset the date of the trial of Fortuna City Councilmember Debi August, who stands accused of malfeasance conflict of interest. The trial had been previously scheduled to start next week; Feeney ordered it rescheduled to May 22, in order to consider a request by August's attorneys to be allowed to access previously confidential testimony to the Humboldt County Grand Jury. At the same time, Feeney denied a motion that would have barred Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen from prosecuting the case. In May 2004, the Humboldt County Grand Jury filed a formal accusation against August, charging that she abused her office by seeking special dispensation for a developer she was representing as a real estate agent.

FLUORIDE WEBSITE LAUNCHED: A coalition of medical and dental professionals and community organizations last week announced the launch of a new organization -- the North Coast Fluoride Information Network -- dedicated to combating Arcata's fledgling anti-fluoridation movement. At a press conference at Potawot Health Village, Dr. Steven Schonfeld, a Eureka dentist, said opponents of fluoridation, while well-intentioned, proved that "you don't have to be an ultra-right-wing lunatic to believe in conspiracy theories." Dr. Ann Lindsay, the county's director of public health, directed interested citizens to the group's new Web site -- -- for objective, "thoroughly researched" scientific studies on the benefits of fluoridation. Another group, Arcata Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, is sponsoring an initiative that would ban the city from adding fluoride to Arcata's drinking water.

KEEP CALIFORNIA CLEAN AND SAFE: State Sen. Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) introduced a bill last week to devote $3 billion to protecting the state's scenic wonders. The California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2006 (SB153) calls for the state to ante up bond money for environmental protection. The bonds would help local governments maintain public parks, protect beaches, forests, rivers and wildlife, and preserve historic buildings. The bill will be presented to the Senate Natural Resources Committee next month. According to a press release from Chesbro's office, SB153 is a follow up to Propositions 40 and 50 billion-dollar environmental protection measures that passed in 2002 and are now beginning to run out of funding. Assemblymember Patty Berg or Eureka was a coauthor of SB153.

POOL IMPROVEMENTS: One project that benefited from Prop. 40 funds is the Arcata Community Pool renovation, which is nearing completion. Among the pool improvements are a new pool bottom lining and an ultraviolet purification system, which limits chlorine use. Dave Nakamura, director of Humboldt State's Center Activities, which manages the Arcata Pool, said that $220,000 of Prop. 40 money was given to the public pool for repairs.

SUPPORT TROOPS WHO WON'T FIGHT: The Arcata City Council continues to thumb its nose at the Bush Administration with its third formal resolution condemning the U.S-led war in Iraq. On Wednesday evening, the council was scheduled to present the Resolution Supporting Troops Who Refuse to Serve in Illegal Wars for public input. Arcata's other anti-war resolutions, penned by the council's prominent peacenik Dave Meserve, have blasted the Patriot Act and called for the impeachment of Bush.

MAN CLUBBED ON PLAZA: One man beat another with a golf club following a Friday afternoon argument on the Arcata Plaza, police said. Shanti Wyatts, 27, of Seattle was reportedly swinging a golf club wildly on the plaza green when a 22-year-old homeless Arcata man asked him to cool it. Wyatts then hit the homeless mediator in the shin, ribs and face with his club and fled on foot, police said. A plaza businessman who witnessed the scene from his window called the cops, who caught up with Wyatts as he walked northbound on F and 11th streets, according to police. He was arrested by APD for assault with a deadly weapon. The victim was treated for minor cuts and bruises at Mad River Hospital and released.

ARCATA THEATRE GETS PERMIT: The long-closed Arcata Theatre cleared another hurdle last week. Theater owners Brian and Lara Cox received a crucial conditional use permit from the Arcata Planning Commission, which endorsed their vision of transforming the historic structure into a combination restaurant, pub and entertainment venue. The Cox's floor plans can be viewed online at

DON'T FEED THE BIRDS: The Department of Fish and Game is asking North Coast bird lovers to stop feeding their feathered friends for at least one month to slow down the spread of an avian disease. Small brown birds with yellow tinged wings and tails known as pine siskins, which live mainly in the woods, are carrying a bacterial disease called salmonellosis. According to a DFG press release, it is rare or unlikely for humans to catch the disease from birds, but other birds and pets can be infected by eating the contaminated fecal matter of sick pine siskins, or by coming in contact with eye mucous rubbed onto bird feeders. Reports of dead siskins have been received from Grass Valley to Eureka, the DFG said. Biologists urge residents to empty their bird feeders; use gloves when handling feeders or dead birds; wash birdhouses with bleach; use plastic or metal houses instead of wooden ones (wood harbors disease longer); and to spread bird seed on the ground rather than using feeders.

COUNCIL CANDIDATES TO DEBATE: The six people running for an empty seat on the Arcata City Council will debate the issues at the Arcata Community Center Thursday night, from 7 to 9 p.m. The debate, which is sponsored by the Arcata Eye and HSU's Department of Mass Communications, will be simulcast on KHSU and cable Channel 12.

OLD GROWTH LAWSUIT FILED: Three environmental organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service. The suit seeks to prevent a sale of around 750 acres of old-growth forest -- mostly Douglas fir -- in the Klamath National Forest. "The key problem is that they're cutting hundreds of acres of old growth in an area that needs to be protected and restored," said Scott Greacen of the Environmental Protection Information Center, one of the parties to the suit.

CORRECTION: In last week's cover story, "Working the street," the name of a drug used to help heroin addicts kick the habit was misspelled. The drug is buphenorphine. [The online version has been corrected.]

HSU, Internews team up for environmental journalism


FOR 10 YEARS, JAMES FAHN [photo at right] worked as an environmental reporter in Thailand, writing for an English-language paper and hosting a television show on environmental issues at a time when the country's economy -- and its exploitation of its natural resources -- was booming. The passions of the nation's industrial interests and its fledgling environmental movement were high, and Fahn spent much of his time teasing out the truth beneath controversies.

"The environment is not a black-and-white issue," he said. "That's what makes it so interesting."

Many of Fahn's former colleagues in newsrooms throughout the developing world don't have access to the resources they need to report fairly and adequately on environmental issues. Scientific knowledge may be hard to come by, and is often difficult to interpret. There is little cross-cultural communication -- it's sometimes hard for reporters to figure out how a similar problem was solved halfway across the world. Reporters and their readers must muddle through issues as best they can.

Since September, when he was hired as director of the Arcata-based Earth Journalism Network, Fahn has been doing his best to change all that.

The Earth Journalism Network is a joint project of Humboldt State University and Internews, a local nonprofit organization that works to foster independent media in developing and democratizing countries. The idea for the network came out of talks between HSU President Rollin Richmond and Internews President David Hoffman shortly after Richmond came to the university.

The program is in its infancy, and Fahn -- who spent a year as a environmental grant analyst for the Ford Foundation -- has been devoting most of his efforts to raising money. But Fahn and his colleagues are hoping that the Earth Journalism Network will eventually become an international association of reporters specializing in the environment and sustainable development, centered in Humboldt County.

In its first stages, Fahn and his colleague Gary Strieker -- the network's president and the former lead environmental reporter for CNN International -- will conduct workshops with environmental reporters in developing countries. Strieker has already led one such workshop in Indonesia; Fahn hopes to lead another in Mexico later this year.

Ultimately, the plan is to bring some of the most promising workshop attendees to Humboldt State for a two-week training session with professors from HSU's College of Natural Resources and Sciences. The journalists would also spend time touring the area, learning about local environmental projects and controversies -- from old-growth logging to the dispute over Klamath River water flow.

Fahn said he believed that foreign reporters would likely find both halves of their Humboldt experience -- scientific training and exposure to the sometimes contentious debate over environmental issues -- applicable to their work back home.

"I found, working in Southeast Asia, views are so polarized that a lot of times it really helps to understand the science and approach things in an analytical way," he said.

So far, $150,000 of the Earth Journalism Network's start-up funds have been donated by the Eureka-based SN Servicing Corp. Rob Arkley, owner of the Eureka-based company and also of the Eureka Reporter newspaper, said Monday that he applauded the goal of training environmental journalists in scientific principles.

"Environmental journalism tends to be very, very advocacy-based," he said. "EPIC [the Environmental Protection Information Center of Garberville] comes up with one set of numbers, other people come up with other numbers. At some point, I want the science."

Arkley added that Humboldt State, because of its academic strength in the natural sciences field, stood to become a "pro-active, worldwide" leader in the field of environmental journalism -- an outcome that would benefit the region economically.

To date, the Earth Journalism Network has also secured grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Rockefeller Financial Services.

Fahn said that if the current round of fund-raising goes well, the first Earth Journalism Network summer seminars at HSU could be held at HSU as early as 2006. Richard Hansis, an HSU natural resources professor and a member of the network's advisory board, said that he looked forward to working with the top students from the in-country workshops.

"It would be the best and brightest, in some ways," Hansis said. "It's always fun to teach people like that."

HSU Public Affairs Director Jane Rogers, another member of the network's advisory board, said that the university is excited that the project is finally getting under way, after nearly three years of talks. She said that things would have moved more quickly had it not taken nearly a year to find someone of Fahn's experience and stature to lead the effort, but added that it was worth the wait.

`We're very excited about his qualifications," she said. "He's just been dynamite."

For his part, Fahn said that he thought the Earth Journalism Network was fortunate to have Humboldt County as a home base. He said that he first heard of Arcata while researching a story on wastewater. Reporting from Thailand, he came across information on the Arcata Marsh, the city's natural wastewater treatment facility that doubles as a sanctuary for birds and other marsh-loving creatures. It struck him as a brilliant solution to a problem that communities everywhere must tackle.

Having finally visited the marsh, he looked forward to showing it to other environmental reporters from across the globe.

"To actually see one in place, one that's been working for three decades now -- what a great example," he said.



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