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All sessions, as well as registration, exhibits and breaks, will take place at BSU’s Student Union Building, 1700 W. University Drive, Boise, ID 83725, unless otherwise indicated.
Please note: SEJ is committed to supporting a harassment-free environment at the conference. Please read our anti-harassment policy.
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Note: All information is subject to change.
8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
All three workshops below have limited attendance and are for SEJ members only. Pre-registration is required. They will include breakfast and lunch and a $60 fee if held on-site in Boise. If the Boise conference is canceled, we’ll still hold the workshops virtually on the same day and times, the fee and other details TBD.
The West is home to most of the public land in America — land that’s managed by the federal government for everyone to enjoy, and in many cases profit from. Cattle grazing. Mining. Logging. Energy extraction. Recreation. Conservation groups fight to protect it. Oil companies push to lease the land for drilling. Ranchers pay small fees to graze their cattle, and millions of people turn to public lands to hike, mountain bike, camp and more. But, long before the federal government designated land as public, much of it was home to Native people. During this day-long workshop we’ll explore the ethos of public lands, and what the future holds. We’ll discuss best practices for covering ancestral lands in Indian Country, and how to go beyond stereotypes. We’ll also learn about the traditional use of public lands by Hispanics and other cultures, and we’ll consider a full spectrum of alternative voices to help tell a more holistic story of public lands.
Moderator: Sadie Babits, Journalist, Editor and Professor of Practice, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University
On Earth, the oceans define connectedness. They are where everything eventually goes and they fuel the global cycles that make ours a living, breathing planet. Whether you live on an island, the coast or far inland, the fate of the oceans will impact your future in countless ways. For this all-day workshop, we’ll begin the morning local and specific by discussing Idaho’s ocean connections via the unique salmon life cycle, and end the day with broad overviews of the state of our oceans nationally and globally. Along the way, we’ll discuss ocean acidification and oyster beds, fisheries and catch shares, climate change and ocean currents, and more.
Moderator: Robert McClure, Co-Founder and Executive Director, InvestigateWest
This full-day workshop will equip reporters working in all media to tell local climate and agriculture stories that matter to their audiences. A diverse group of experts will lead us on a deep dive into how agriculture affects climate and how solutions such as regenerative agriculture can provide a broad array of benefits to people and the environment. Journalists successfully tackling this subject will discuss their experiences. We’ll also discuss public opinion and communication strategies and resources relevant to climate change. Localized climate reporting resources will be introduced and discussed and we will use them in hands-on practice.
Moderator: Susan Hassol, Director, Climate Communication, Climate Matters in the Newsroom
5:30 – 9:00 p.m.
The bar opens early, so grab a drink and mingle. Chat with colleagues and network with sources and then settle in for dinner with some serious show-and-tell about the remarkable Idaho conservation story. Republicans hold a veto-proof margin in the Idaho Legislature, all four congressional seats and every statewide office including governor. Ammon Bundy lives here. So how is it that two wilderness bills were passed during the Obama administration, the second in 2015 unanimously? Why is it that ranchers, loggers and even miners join together to restore landscapes ravaged by past practices and to reduce the threat of catastrophic fires? How is it that an executive of the largest purchaser of federal timber sits on the board of the Idaho Conservation League? After 30 years of fighting over logging, grazing on public lands and roadless area protection, Idahoans have embraced collaborative partnerships where they sit across the table and find solutions that benefit all sides. SEJ will examine why this happened and how it can be expanded throughout the nation and worldwide. We’ve invited all four Northwestern governors — Gov. Brad Little, R-ID; Gov. Jay Inslee, D-WA; Gov. Kate Brown, D-OR; and Gov. Steve Bullock, D-MT — to cap off the evening with a round-table discussion about the future of salmon, rivers, dams… and our country.
Advance registration is required for all Thursday tours. Attendance on each tour is strictly limited, so registering early is important. Departure times vary (see below), but all Thursday tours will return to the BSU Student Center about 5:00 p.m. Planning is still underway, so please check back here or keep up to date by subscribing to our Annual Conference email list. For those looking for some exercise, tours 3, 5 and 7 are your best options. Other tours involve moderate exercise. Tours 1 and 9 are best suited for those with limited mobility.
In the event of cancellation in September, we may try to offer one or more of the tours virtually. Stay tuned for details.
(5:00 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)
The U.S. has more nuclear plants than any other nation in the world. To some, that means carbon-free energy. To others, that means dangerous waste. On this tour, we’ll take a bus up to Idaho National Lab, which has dealt both with the nuclear waste issue and is on the cutting edge of a new form of nuclear energy: Small modular nuclear reactors. We’ll have speakers on the bus discuss what concerns exist over old nuclear waste and these new types of reactors. We’ll also have experts talk about ways to best use nuclear power. Speakers will even dabble into some non-nuclear research going on at INL that’ll come in handy during the election. Total drive time: 7 hours.
(5:30 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)
Idaho’s wild salmon are unique: They swim farther and higher than any other salmon species in the world to reach their spawning grounds in central Idaho. But these iconic fish are critically endangered, and for more than 40 years, changes in dam operations, habitat, harvest and hatcheries haven’t worked to restore them. Just this year, the federal government released a fresh draft of an Environmental Impact Statement focused on how dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers harm salmon, and how it might mitigate that damage. On this tour, we’ll visit the spawning grounds of wild chinook in the Salmon River and hear from hatchery operators trying to preserve the genetic pool of Idaho’s struggling sockeye salmon. We’ll eat lunch at Redfish Lake (named after the sockeye) surrounded by the jagged granite peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains. We’ll hear about the dams that are the main reason for salmon’s decline in Idaho, and gather perspectives from biologists, energy experts, outfitters and small town business people on whether the removal of the four Lower Snake River dams is a viable option. And we’ll learn about the salmon’s importance to endangered southern resident orcas. You’ll come away with a delightfully nerdy appreciation for salmon biology and new perspectives on the economic and ecological effects of salmon decline. Total drive time: 6 hours.
(6:00 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)
We’ll explore the urban-wildland interface and how that interacts with the recreation economy that has become even more crucial to many towns with the decline of the timber industry. Our scenic loop will take us through the resort town of McCall, on Payette Lake, and into New Meadows, where billionaire brothers from Texas have abruptly cut off access to large swaths of land. In Cascade we’ll see the impact of the closing of a timber mill and the area’s struggle to reinvent itself. Along the drive we’ll wind our way through one of the premier whitewater rafting and kayaking stretches in the country (The Payette River) and a valley where cattle operations, a ski resort and protected land co-exist (Donnelly). Total drive time: 5 hours.
(6:30 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)
In Idaho, one of the country’s biggest producers of milk, potatoes and other agricultural goods, farming and water quality are intimately connected. On this tour, we will visit the Magic Valley, the heart of the state’s farm economy. Our first stop will be with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association and a dairy farmer near Twin Falls. We’ll learn about dairy farming in the West, what makes Idaho’s industry unique and hear about a water quality working group that agricultural interests recently formed to limit their impacts. Next, we’ll travel into the Snake River Canyon with scientists working on a long-term water quality study, examining the impact of nutrient discharge from agriculture and municipalities on aquatic plant growth. Idaho raises about 70 percent of the nation’s trout in fish farms, and on our way back to Boise, we’ll make a stop at one production facility near Thousand Springs, where aquifer-fed waterfalls pour into the Snake River. Here, we’ll examine the connection between ground and surface water systems in the high desert. Total drive time: 4.5 hours.
(7:00 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)
Southwestern Idaho is a mecca for raptors and other birds and home to conflicts when they cross paths with human activities. We’ll meet scientists monitoring and banding songbirds at the peak of fall migration at the BSU Intermountain Bird Observatory’s Boise River Research Station. Then we’ll head to the remarkable desert habitat of the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. There, BLM is preserving key raptor breeding grounds, land that people use too. We’ll finish at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey, delving into how lead ammunition threatens raptors and meeting feathered predators up close. Pack your camera and binoculars! Total drive time: 2.5 hours.
(7:30 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)
From the National Interagency Fire Center, the nation’s “Pentagon” for wildfire, to Boise’s smokejumper base to the Payette National Forest and Packer John State Forest, Boise is at the heart of both the nation’s response to wildfires and its efforts to make forests and the communities sprawling into them more resilient to fire. Participants in this tour will meet some of the “generals” of the nation’s response to wildfire, some of the firefighters who march or parachute into flaming forests, foresters who intentionally set forests ablaze to “reintroduce fire” to landscapes where the fire cycle has been interrupted and communities that have worked to live with fire rather than fight it. Total drive time: 5 hours.
(8:00 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)
For many, ranching is a way of life in Idaho’s Wood River Valley. And since their reintroduction 25 years ago, wolves have been part of that life. We’ll visit the University of Idaho’s Rinker Rock Creek Ranch, a unique collaborative site near Hailey, Idaho, where researchers work alongside conservation groups and federal agencies. There we’ll hear from expert speakers who are trying to reduce conflicts between livestock and wolves. Local sheep ranchers will share their experiences and their techniques. Next, we’ll drive to Ketchum to get a rare tour of the final home of Ernest Hemingway — a longtime resident of the Wood River Valley — and how the outdoors he loved is still there today. Total drive time: 6 hours.
(8:30 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)
This tour will examine the federal government’s five-year, $67 million rehabilitation effort following a 2015 rangeland wildfire in southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon. The fire burned 436 square miles of sagebrush steppe that supports cattle grazing and 350 species of wildlife, including sage grouse. The U.S. Geological Survey has been monitoring the area and tracking various experiments as part of the federal government’s plan to develop new strategies to combat rangeland wildfires, mainly in the Great Basin. The tour will include stops to view how the area looks five years after the fire, and include conversations with scientists, conservationists and ranchers. Total drive time: 3 hours.
(9:00 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)
Pesticides, climate change and international migration are key topics for U.S. agriculture in 2020. For this tour we focus on those who live on the frontlines of these issues: The workers. We’ll see how the local refugee community is helping locally grown agriculture thrive in the heart of Boise. We’ll visit a sugar beet refinery to learn about automation, GMO and how farmers are working to reduce their carbon footprint. Then we’ll head to the heart of Idaho’s wine country where we’ll learn about how rising temperatures are impacting grape production. We’ll have a catered Mexican lunch on the vineyard. There we’ll also be serenaded by Mexican corridos that recount the history of immigrants and worker rights in the state. We’ll travel to a historic site for farmworkers in Idaho to hear how immigration reform is a top priority for many in the local ag industry. And we’ll hear how state and federal laws governing pesticides are endangering worker health and safety. Our final stop will be at an organic greenhouse to learn about the trials and tribulations of the organic market. Total drive time: 2 hours.
5:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Now a popular SEJ tradition, this is the conference’s best networking opportunity. After spending the day in the field, meet with hosts of multiple receptions. They’ll have experts on hand as well as displays, materials and, of course, great food and drink. Mingle with our exhibitors and build your source list.
12:15 – 2:00 p.m.
We already knew global warming was changing everything. Then came the global pandemic. And now a global great depression. Like they say, there is no Planet B. For all its wealth, Earth is a closed loop ecosystem with finite resources. As the world attempts to emerge from these twin crises, we ask — are market forces the problem or the solution? This plenary session will take a deep dive into high stakes environmental economics, the cost of human encroachment into nature and how to bail out our over-leveraged planet.
Noon – 2:00 p.m.
Journalists are the first responders for democracy. Your courage in holding the powerful accountable has never been more important, for the planet and our freedom. We’ll honor the winners of the SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment, and announce the Pulliam Prize winner live. We’ll have a special roundtable with journalists on staying safe and sane while reporting from the frontlines of crises, from COVID to climate to conflict. Join us as SEJ marks 30 years of supporting you, the heroes of democracy.
We’ll plunge into two days of everything from the interaction between Snake and Columbia River dams, Idaho salmon and orcas from the Salish Sea to climate equity to environmental economics to avoiding extinctions to mining cleanups to tribal sovereignty to regenerative farming to the future of fire to Western water to smart cities and stupid infrastructure to encroaching cougars and skydiving beavers!
And there will be a plethora of craft panels, too, on how to create your own collaborative projects and deploy edgy journalism teaching tools, working in the gig economy and how to cover unheard voices, rural America and looming disasters.
As a journalism organization that believes in an open society, SEJ each year welcomes a diverse group of attendees to our annual conference. Attendees include representatives of business, government and environmental groups, as well as working journalists, academics and students.
Because non-journalists are here, you may see or hear presentations or responses to presentations that you might not expect from mainstream journalists. The presentations and any responses do not necessarily reflect the views of SEJ or any of its members.
As our guest, you should respect our interest in open discussions of environmental issues by thanking all participants in sessions you attend and not disrupting presentations of views you disagree with.
Finally, please respect our rule that SEJ members are given preference during question-and-answer sessions.
Please note: SEJ is committed to supporting a harassment-free environment at the conference. Please read our anti-harassment policy.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Ben Hoskyn / Unsplash