The Knight-Risser Prize
for Western Environmental Journalism
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2010 Knight-Risser Prize Winner Reveals Rot in Boy Scout Councils’ Woodlands Management

Lewis Kamb has been named winner of the 2010 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. The $5,000 prize was awarded for “Chain Saw Scouting,” a project Kamb initiated while working at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The three-part series was the Hearst Newspaper’s first national investigation, published simultaneously in five newspapers in early 2009. It revealed land-use practices by the Boy Scouts of America in direct opposition of their mandate to preserve and protect the environment. Kamb, a member of the P-I’s investigative team, was lead reporter.

The awards were announced by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships and The Bill Lane Center for the American West, both at Stanford University. The two programs co-sponsor the award and a symposium to be held Wednesday, November 17 at Stanford University. The symposium will address challenges to environmental watchdog journalism represented by the fates of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which ceased print publication in 2009, and the Rocky Mountain News, which won the inaugural Risser Prize in 2005 and closed in 2009.

The prize became a permanent award this year with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The three-year $220,000 grant includes $200,000 in challenge funds to raise an additional $100,000 to establish an endowment that will support the prize and symposium in perpetuity.

Judges of the contest were Meg Caldwell, senior lecturer, Woods Institute for the Environment and School of Law, Stanford University; Christy George, producer, Oregon Public Broadcasting, and president, Society of Environmental Journalism; Felix Gutierrez, professor of journalism and communication, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California; and Steve Ringman, Seattle Times photographer and co-winner of the 2009 Risser Prize.

Two other entries were recognized for Special Citations: Dawn Stover’s “Troubled Teens,” published in Conservation Magazine’s October-November issue, and Jonathan Thompson’s “Wind Resistance,” which appeared in High Country News in December.

This year’s winner, “Chain Saw Scouting,” documented how local Boy Scout councils across the country had over the years been logging or selling off prime woodlands to developers, in part to raise monies lost to a drop in membership after the national organization banned gays and atheists. Some councils carried out clear cuts, salvage harvests and other commercial logging operations in and around sensitive forests, streams and ecosystems — and sometimes in areas specifically bequeathed for recreational use. Some of the land deals involved insider relationships with volunteers or their companies.

The project had several significant results: The Washington Department of Natural Resources changed several forestry inspection, training and reporting procedures. The Oregon Department of Forestry acknowledged errors in an approved Boy Scout logging site next to a protected river, and ordered the site cleaned up and replanted. In California, forestry officials changed a conflict-of-interest policy. The Washington State Court of Appeals overturned a ruling allowing a Scout property to be sold despite deed restrictions for recreational use. And it triggered a challenge to property owner Weyerhaeuser's certification under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which seeks to assure consumers they are buying wood that is grown sustainably.

Other Hearst papers contributing to the project were the Albany Times Union, the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News and San Francisco Chronicle.

After the Post-Intelligencer ceased print operations in 2009, Kamb worked briefly for The Seattle Times and helped launch InvestigateWest, a nonprofit investigative journalism studio in Seattle. He has also uncovered police corruption, prostitution scandals, flaws in missing persons investigations and other untold stories for Knight-Ridder's Washington D.C. bureau, the Birmingham Post-Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer. He currently covers government issues for The (Tacoma) News Tribune.

“Troubled Teens” by freelance writer Dawn Stover describes how heavy hunting pressures have contributed to a declining Western population of cougars, one made up of increasingly younger males. As older males are culled, the age structure of cougar “societies” is disturbed, leaving “problem youth’’ more likely to cause trouble and run afoul of humans. Stover is a freelance science and environmental writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, Popular Science, New Scientist, Conservation, Outside, Backpacker, and other publications. She is Editor at Large for Popular Science, where she was a staff editor for 19 years.

Jonathan Thompson’s “Wind Resistance” exposes the political upheavals aroused by a boom in wind power in Wyoming. The trend is the latest energy production explosion in the state, which supplies more than 40 percent of the coal used in the United States, along with gas and oil. After working in a seed factory, as a bike mechanic and as an artisan baker, Thompson started his own literary journal/news magazine a decade ago in Silverton, Colo. He later served as Editor-in-Chief of High Country News. He now writes about international policy from Berlin.


Lewis Kamb

This year’s winner, “Chain Saw Scouting,” documented how local Boy Scout councils across the country had over the years been logging or selling off prime woodlands to developers, in part to an effort to raise monies lost to a drop in membership after the national organization banned gays and atheists.

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The Desert Sun and USA Today
Big Oil, Bad Air
CPI, InsideClimate News, The Weather Channel
Sea Change
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The Killing Agency
The Sacramento Bee
Perilous Passages
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Dry Times
5280 Magazine
Chain Saw Scouting
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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Squeezing Water from a Stone
High Country News