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From the Editor

What Can Be Done

Take a quick ride into a realm of possibilities.

I'm constantly encountering the unexpected, and there are numerous splendid examples in these pages. For instance, who would have thought that ranchers in Montana would dedicate themselves to the protection of the grizzly bear, an omnivore with a taste for cattle and sheep?

Curious about this wave of reconciliation, we dispatched writer Bruce Barcott to explore several programs best described, perhaps, as inter-species conflict resolution. When Yellowstone National Park's threatened population of grizzlies began to rebound in the late 1980s, conserva-tionists uncovered a new problem: Bears started to venture out of the park into national forests and private land, where they encountered ranchers and their livestock. By the 1990s, the bears had crossed paths with another burgeoning population -- second-home owners, telecom-muters, and retirees drawn to the region's stunning beauty and wilderness right in their own backyards. Sharing these backyards, however, are grizzlies that forage through garbage, ramble onto back porches, and ransack bird feeders and barbecues. Over the years, ranchers have adapted to the presence of these critters, but the newcomers have been largely clueless. And that can be dangerous, because once drawn to human sources of food, grizzlies become a nuisance and many are eventually killed. This latest threat to Yellowstone's grizzlies could undo decades of conservation work -- or, if handled correctly, as Barcott suggests, could become a model for managing a new, more crowded Wild West.

We recently came upon another promising example of progress: a Pittsburgh woman who has begun to change the enormously wasteful practices of the medical-industrial establishment. Hospitals discard an astonishing amount of perfectly good medical supplies and equipment. Sutures, IV bags, syringes, bandages, and similarly critical supplies that would otherwise be dumped in landfills or incinerated are instead sent by an organization named Global Links to medical facilities in some of the world's poorest nations. In the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and elsewhere, these desperately needed supplies are immediately put to use saving lives. The extraordinary resourcefulness and compassion of Kathleen Hower, the founder of Global Links, give recycling a new meaning. For the last several years, photojournalist Lynn Johnson, between assignments for such publications as National Geographic and Newsweek, has documented Hower's work. We're proud to publish her stirring photos.

We found encouraging signs in yet another quarter: Large groups of shareholders -- such as churches and state pension funds -- are increasingly using shareholder resolutions to pressure some of the nation's biggest industrial polluters to curtail their greenhouse gas emissions. Senior editor Laura Wright digs into one such resolution filed with Progress Energy, the power industry's ninth-largest generator of electricity and ninth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Still it's fair to ask: Has Progress really begun to address global warming? Has the health care industry reformed its wasteful practices? Are Yellowstone's grizzlies safe now from extinction? Well, not entirely; too much remains to be done. Yet if there's anything this issue of OnEarth should tell you, it's that almost anything is possible.

Douglas S. Barasch


In his 25 years as an illustrator and mapmaker, Mike Reagan (The Rancher and the Grizzly, Himalaya Melting) has worked for dozens of publications, including National Geographic, the New Yorker, and Time, continuing to work with his paintbrush and water-colors while his peers went digital. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Bruce Barcott (The Rancher and the Grizzly) writes frequently about the outdoors and the environment, both as a contributing editor to Outside and for such publications as the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, and Sports Illustrated. He is the author of The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier (Sasquatch).

Scientist and author Carl Safina (Where Did All the Fish Go?) was fascinated by the ocean and its creatures as a child, and he's main-tained that sense of awe ever since. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2000 for his marine conservation work, and his book The Eye of the Albatross (Henry Holt) received the 2003 John Burroughs Medal.

Boston-based investigative reporter Sonia Shah (Running on Fumes) is the author of Crude: The Story of Oil (Seven Stories Press) and Body Hunters: How the Drug Industry Tests Its Products on the World's Poorest Patients (New Press). She is working on a book about the ecology, history, and politics of malaria.

Photos: Shah: Cameron Laird

OnEarth. Winter 2007
Copyright 2007 by the Natural Resources Defense Council