Los Angeles Times, reporters specializing in science and the environment are becoming something of an endangered species. Before being purchased by real estate tycoon Sam Zell, the newspaper employed over a thousand editors and reporters; now it's about half that, according to the numbers meticulously compiled by the LA Observer.
But it's still the biggest newspaper on the West Coast, and still employs some of the best reporters in the business, including Kenneth Weiss, who co-wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series on our trashed oceans. Other first-rate reporters focusing on the environment, whose efforts should not be overlooked include Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart, who first caught my eye with a piece she cowrote on Marlene Braun, a Bureau of Land Management employee who killed herself rather than consent to the ruination of California's priceless grasslands, the Carrizo Plain.
This past Sunday, Cart wrote a first-rate piece on how the Civilian Conservation Corps helped build the national park system we know and love, focusing on Yosemite.
The economy was a shambles. Millions of Americans were out of work. Saying something drastic needed to be done, the newly elected president announced a massive economic stimulus package aimed at repairing the nation's sagging infrastructure and putting people back to work.
The first "emergency agency" established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which eventually put 3 million men to work in the national park system.
I talked with Scott Gediman, the National Park spokesperson for Yosemite, about the story. (Which he liked, by the way.) He said that although today's Congress does not want to create new programs, or revive the CCC, which was phased out after World War II, the idea of government investment in park infrastructure is widely popular on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
"We have hundreds of projects on the boards," he said. "The National Parks has a maintenance backlog of about $8 billion. In Yosemite, the Ahwahnee Hotel is overdue for a seismic retrofit. That's the kind of infrastructure project that requires a great deal of professional expertise, but we also have a lot of projects — like the Four Mile Trail from the valley to Glacier Point — that could benefit from CCC-type work. We have eight hundred miles of trail in Yosemite Park."
When asked to name names of prominent backers of government funding for infrastructure investment in the National Parks, Gediman surprised me by mentioning Mitch McConnell — the Senate Minority Leader who has been loudly protesting the size and scope of the President's stimulus package, complaining about $70 million for climate research, $20 million for fish barriers, and other environmental projects.
One question: Why is it wise to invest in national parks, but not in the health of our environment?
[A view of the valley from the Wawona Tunnel, constructed by the CCC, courtesy of Buck Forester's incredible photostream]