Sunset magazine’s annual camping issue is on newsstands now and, as usual, it is an eclectic and informative salute to a treasured outdoor lifestyle readily available at little or no cost to most the 104 million Americans who live in the 11 western states.
We’ve been Sunset readers for many years and find the magazine to be an excellent source of information about places to go, things to see and do, and what to pack.
My wife, Julia, is a spectacular gardener and cook, so she quite naturally gravitates to those sections. Me? I’ve had open road fever since I was a kid. I can pack my bags in less than 30 minutes.
When publisher Bill Lane died in August of 2010, Sunset and the travel industry lost an exceptionally dedicated and principled man. His father, L.W. Lane Sr., a publishing industry executive from Iowa, bought the magazine from the Southern Pacific Railroad for $60,000 in 1928.
I can’t say for sure, but I think Sunset was the first magazine to blend the West’s vast beauty with fine hotels, great wines, delicious food, spectacular gardens, stone walkways, sprawling decks, barbeques, kitchenware and a dizzying array of lifestyle accessories – everything from wine openers to six-figure travel trailers.
Today, there are thousands of “lifestyle” titles on newsstands and the worldwide web, but Bill Lane set a standard for excellence imitators can never surpass. Others see mountains, deserts, grasslands, rivers, lakes and beaches, but the effervescent Lane saw the seeds of a way of life, and he skillfully wove its tapestry in a unique image that sets Sunset apart from all other outdoor lifestyle magazines.
Among the publishing standards Lane set: no advertising from tobacco, liquor or off-road vehicles if they were photographed navigating steep terrain. Three years before the government banned the use of DDT, Sunset published an article urging its gardening readers to stop buying the chemical. To back his one-man boycott, Lane added pesticides containing DDT to the list of gardening-related advertisements he would no longer accept. No doubt his decision cost him millions of dollars in lost advertising revenue, but he never wavered.
“There’s no magazine in the country, not even National Geographic, that has done as much of what I would call participatory environmental coverage,” Lane told a San Jose Mercury interviewer in 1990. He was right. No one else had done as much.
I would have liked to interview Mr. Lane, too, and it is to my detriment that I never asked. But I had not yet connected the right dots in my own head – the dots being the necessity of science-based forestry in a world in which timber production has become a byproduct of a much larger effort to protect the West’s outdoor assets – its rivers, streams, lakes, forests and rangelands – the lifestyle.
My late friend, Bill Moshofsky, who at the time was Government Relations Vice President for Georgia Pacific, spoke with Lane on several occasions. The topic was always the same: clearcutting. Lane hated it and said so publicly and on Sunset pages. For his part, Moshofsky simply wanted to remind Lane that there were libraries filled with research justifying clearcutting in Douglas-fir forests.
Moshofsky never doubted that Lane understood the science behind clearcutting, but he also knew that his environmental side would never accept it, so the pair agreed to disagree.
Besides, Moshofsky knew that Lane had already compromised his position. One article, “Our Wondrous Old Growth Forests” decried clearcutting, but appeared in the same edition as several advertisements extolling the beauty and strength of old growth fir and redwood decks, many of them assembled from GP logs clearcut from company forests in Oregon and northern California. Sunset readers loved wooden decks, especially redwood, and Lane knew it.
Lane’s understandable concern for the environment and the West’s great natural beauty has me wondering what he’d have to say about the wildfire crisis that is savaging the West’s National Forests. So much of the outdoor lifestyle that is celebrated monthly on Sunset pages is now at great risk. Worse, we are headed in all the wrong directions in our search for ways to stuff the Wildfire Genie back in her bottle.
Were he still living, I’d like to think Bill Lane would have lent his considerable political influence – and his booming voice – to the chorus of conservation groups that lobbied Congress to fix the fire borrowing mess that has long hobbled Forest Service efforts to reduce the risk of wildfire in western National Forests.
Instead, we have the REI Co-op to thank for exercising its own political muscle in congressional hallways at a time when it appeared that our deeply-divided Congress might again kick the fire-borrowing can down the road, just as it has for five years running.
REI blogger, Mary Flandreau, tells the story in a March 28 post in which she explains that REI, the Outdoor Industry Association [OIA] and several conservation and sportsmen’s groups worked tirelessly to encourage House and Senate members to find a bipartisan fix.
“Few people realize it, but the National Forests are home to thousands of miles of trail and thousands of campsites,” REI’s Marc Berejka, told Ms. Flandreau. Berejka, who is the co-op’s Director of Government and Community Affairs, told Co-op readers, “The Forest Service is one of the largest hosts of campers and hikers in the country. To have the agency suffer ongoing erosion of its budget to maintain trails and campsites meant that we were losing access to the campsites and trails that so many of our members use.”
To see many of these campsites – and the lifestyle they symbolize – you need only thumb through the pages of Sunset. It’s all there, from camp stools, to tents, gas-fired stoves, fry pans and delicious recipes for good things made better by the conviviality of an open campfire and the beauty and solitude of a National Forest or National Park.
OIA Executive Director, Amy Roberts, readily agreed with Berejka’s assertion that freeing the Forest Service from its congressionally imposed fire borrowing mandate was critical to restoring funding to forest restoration and recreation maintenance budgets.
“By stopping the practice of borrowing money,” Roberts explained, “Congress has assured communities and businesses, particularly in the West, that recreation, conservation and other public land accounts won’t get siphoned when wildfires strike, and that the necessary resources will be there when firefighting seasons begins in earnest.”
OIA has graciously shared more than a dozen analyses with us that quantify the economic impacts of outdoor recreation by congressional districts in Montana, Idaho and Washington. We are reviewing them now and will report to you as soon as possible.
For decades, the West’s timber industry downplayed the economic benefits of outdoor recreation, unfortunately foregoing the opportunity to champion the combined benefits that flow from National Forests in which the outdoor lifestyle Bill Lane envisioned is protected from the ravages of wildfires that destroy everything in sight.
I’d like to think Mr. Lane would agree with my belief that we’re finally bridging a cultural chasm that has divided “timber and tourism” to the great detriment of both.
Because it took us more than 30 years to bridge our chasm, some 90 million National Forest acres – an area nearly as large as Montana – are dying or are already dead. We have no more than 30 years left in which to rescue what can be rescued.
Short of a massive restoration effort – something on the scale of the post-World War II Marshall Plan – millions more acres will be lost in stand-replacing wildfires for which there is no precedent in western ecological history.
We have a long way to go and a short time to get there, but at least most of us are now singing from the same sheet music.