Ever wonder what environmental journalists talk about with each other?

This is your bleary-eyed blogger heading home from the 20th Annual Meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) in Missoula MT. My head is filled with beautiful Montana landscapes, and with the amazing people I met.  The SEJ membership is about 1500 environmental journalists, but the meeting also attracts scientists, policy wonks, and field experts. I met a lot of people from state and federal governments who have projects to monitor water contaminants, tag and track wildlife,  recover landscapes, protect nesting areas,  and otherwise protect and preserve wild spaces and wildlife. Thank you!

One thing that became really clear to me was that landscape protection is complicated, and success requires humility, creativity, and cooperation. 

For example, an SEJ-organized tour of the Flathead Indian Reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes has many impressive successful projects including an expansive Bison Reserve (the babies are so cute!) administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge with successful breeding programs for Great Blue Herons and other waterfowl. The Reservation also has an impressive grizzly bear protection program that involves preventing hiking in certain mountain areas during the seasons when bears are in those mountains loading up one of their favorite foods - little fatty moths. Yum! It’s easy to see that this program could just as easily have been called the “hiker protection from bears” program – everyone benefits. We also toured a fisheries protection program that has recovered miles of streams on the Reservation.

Part of the wildlife protection efforts of the Reservation includes an extensive array of roadway underpasses so that wildlife can safely cross under the highway that bisects their grazing pastures. Camcorders not only demonstrate the success of the underpasses, but show that animals hide out in them during the “dog days” of summer to stay cool. The only losers in this program are the autobody shops because car-bear collisions have dropped significantly.

A tour of a local bee research lab associated with the University of Montana was the highlight of my trip. It is run by Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and the research is funded by the US Defense Department. They are using bees as sensors to identify chemical contaminants in the environment. The lab can train a colony of bees in a matter of days to locate a chemical –  anything from an industrial pollutant to a dead body to a meth lab to a landmine. Bromenshenk’s private company, Bee Alert Technology, Inc, scales the research to benefit beekeepers across the country because the lab’s work provides beekeepers with tools to rapidly identify sick or dying hives. In this way, beekeepers have a better chance of saving a hive, and of limiting the unnecessary use of costly and hazardous treatments such as pesticides and antibiotics. As a hobby beekeeper I have a natural fascination with these amazing creatures, but the tour of the Bromenshenk lab expanded my adoration of bees even more.

My own presentation on nanotechnology was very well attended by brilliant journalists with cameras, recorders, and penetrating questions. I look forward to many more stories about nanotechnology by all these journalists.

Thank you SEJ, for inviting me to your conference, and for the amazing work that your members do to provide accurate and timely information to us, the public, about the things that matter most. And, congratulations on your 20th Anniversary!

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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