Smith branches out by writing text for Fielder’s forest book | PostIndependent.com
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Smith branches out by writing text for Fielder’s forest book

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Colorado landscape photographer John Fielder and Glenwood Springs resident Steve Smith have paddled rivers and promoted environmental protection together.

Now they have teamed up on Fielder’s latest book, released late in 2003.

Smith, a consultant to environmental organizations, has penned a 10,000-word essay accompanying the photos in “Seeing Colorado’s Forests for the Trees.”



Smith’s text covers the gamut: the different types of trees found at different elevations in Colorado; the history of man’s use and enjoyment of forests; the impacts of fires, and infestations of insects and weeds; and the conservation ethic that has arisen side by side with logging, road development and other human incursions into the backcountry.

Fielder hadn’t planned on publishing a book in 2003, but Colorado’s wildfires in 2002 changed his mind. The fires focused debate on forests and their management, on fire’s destructive and beneficial effects, and the degree to which humans should try to limit fires through logging.



As all of this debate was taking place, Fielder considered that he hadn’t published a book on trees since “A Colorado Autumn” in 1993.

“I had 10 years worth of great tree and forest shots in my files so I decided to publish a book,” he said.

Only a few of those images are of burned forests. Two were photographed in the Trappers Lake area of the Flat Tops in the winter following the Big Fish Fire of 2002, which White River National Forest officials allowed to burn as a natural fire.

Fielder said he also has photographed the forest burned by the Big Fish Fire in the spring and summer. These photos, he said, show that fire is beautiful biologically and aesthetically.

Fielder said much was written in the state’s newspapers about the 2002 fires, and “not all good.” But he liked the newspaper commentaries Smith had written.

“They were thoughtfully scientific in terms of forest ecology,” said Fielder.

He quickly decided Smith would be the ideal person to write text for his book.

The two knew each other prior to the book project, due to their combined efforts to protect the state’s wildlands, and time spent enjoying these lands.

“We’ve kind of worked together on lots of things over the years and even done a couple of river trips together,” Fielder said.

He likes Smith’s measured, open-minded views toward forest management. Though Fielder and Smith share many of the same philosophies on the subject, Fielder said he tends to be more contentious in how he expresses himself. He believes Smith’s greater willingness to acknowledge different viewpoints is more likely to open the minds of others toward the viewpoints of environmentalists.

He suspects Smith’s style came from the consensus-building work he did as a staff member for former U.S. Rep. David Skaggs, D-Boulder.

Smith said he has long believed that environmental policies, particularly regarding public lands, that make good economic, environmental and human sense “are most protective of the natural environment.”

“If that comes across as even-handed, fine,” he said.

Smith has been active in Colorado environmental issues for more than three decades.

He served as professional director of the University of Colorado’s Environmental Center for three years. He researched and negotiated wilderness legislation for Skaggs. After Skaggs left Congress, Smith continued work on wilderness and other public lands issues. He was a staff member for the Sierra Club, and more recently has been working on a contractual basis for other environmental groups, including Western Colorado Congress and The Wilderness Society.

Said Fielder, “He’s just a remarkably connected person with all things wild and natural.

“Like I try to do with my photos, he’s used his voice and his passion to help effect change by working for elected officials, and now especially for conservation in environmental groups. We’re really lucky to have somebody who walks the talk like he does.”

For all of Smith’s experience, the book project was still an education from a writing and research perspective. His most ambitious writing efforts before the book involved a stint as arts and entertainment for the Glenwood Independent, prior to its merger with the Glenwood Post.

He is also the husband of Post Independent managing editor Heather McGregor.

Smith has a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University in environmental policy studies, which gave him some grounding in biology, political science and economics. But to write with some authority on the wide range of forestry topics covered in the book, he spoke with experts in the field and dug into collections in larger libraries.

“It turned out to be very enjoyable, and it was nice to have a moderately substantial body of research that I had put together. It was a good mental exercise, and hopefully a good educational opportunity for people who read it,” he said.

Smith realizes that people don’t buy Fielder’s books for the words, but for the photos, which he thinks they will enjoy in this latest tome.

Still, he said, “I hope they’ll take time to read through the text as well, because I think in at least a small way it enhances the beauty of the photographs.”

Smith believes the text and photos complement each other, with the writing providing a greater understanding of the trees and forests that are pictured. This should deepen the experience for those who buy the book, and boost their appreciation of Colorado’s forests.

Meanwhile, Smith will go back to his work in Colorado’s environmental movement. Whether more book projects await remains to be seen.

“It may have been a onetime deal, but we’ll wait and see if other deals come up,” he said.

As for Fielder, he is resuming work on what he calls a major book project on Colorado’s 28 mountain ranges. “Mountain Ranges of Colorado” will include images created during 14 years of backpacking into remote areas, Fielder said. He also plans to write about the biology and geology of these ranges.

The book will be a culmination of a part of Fielder’s life that has largely come to an end. Although he still travels and photographs Colorado’s backcountry with the help of llamas, it is difficult for him to hike off-trail ridges and drainages due to ailing knees.

“That may be my swan song on mountains,” Fielder said of his next book.

Fielder plans to take time out from his latest book project to make a public appearance the evening of Feb. 27 at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.

He will give a slide show of images from “Seeing Colorado’s Forests for the Trees,” as well as unpublished photographs from the aftermath of the Big Fish Fire. A time for the slide show will be announced later, and proceeds from an admission fee will benefit a local nonprofit organization, Fielder said. Smith also plans to attend the event.


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