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UNR sponsors eco-conference

Staff reports

More than 200 of the world’s top ecological scholars and experts are scheduled to participate in the North American Interdisciplinary Conference on Environment and Community, Feb. 19-21 on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.

The event, which is open to the public, is hosted by the university’s Center for Environmental Arts and Humanities.

“The hope is to bring together an extraordinary range of people representing various geographic regions, academic and other professional disciplines, as well as political perspectives and cultural backgrounds,” said Scott Slovic, director of CEAH and the conference’s organizer. “We’re bringing together people who are in many cases doing related work but who, without such a conference, wouldn’t necessarily come into contact.”

Heading the impressive list of featured speakers is Homero Aridjis, the award-winning poet and writer from Mexico City who is serving a three-year term as president for the world’s most prestigious literary organization, PEN International. Aridjis, a United Nations Global 500 winner, is a former Mexican ambassador to the Netherlands and Switzerland. His 26 books of poetry and prose, many of them centering on the environment, have been translated into 12 languages.

Among the more than 230 participants, featured speakers include:

n Daniel Botkin, a former professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of several seminal books about the environment, including “Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-First Century” (1990) and “Our Natural History: The Lessons of Lewis and Clark” (1995).

n Keith Basso, a University of New Mexico anthropologist whose recent book, “Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache,” received the Western States Book Award for creative nonfiction in 1996.

n Michael P. Cohen, author of “The Pathless Way:John Muir and American Wilderness” (1984) and “The History of the Sierra Club, 1892-1970” (1988). His latest book, “A Garden of Bristlecones: Tales of Change in the Great Basin,” is to be published this year.

n Running-Grass, founder and executive director of the Three Circles for Multicultural Environmental Education in Sausalito, Calif., and a full-time Environmental Justice Specialist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

n Pattiann Rogers, a leading American poet who lives in Denver, Colo., whose books include “Splitting and Binding” (1989), “Geocentric” (1993), “Firekeeper” (1994) and “Eating Bread and Honey” (1997).

n Benjamin Alire Saenz, a former Catholic priest and product of the migrant farm fields of Las Cruces, N.M., whose poetry collection, “Calendar of Dust,” won an American Book Award in 1991. Saenz is a professor in the University of Texas-El Paso’s bilingual MFA program.

n Linda Hussa, a rancher for the past 30 years in northeastern California, whose poetry includes the books “Where the Wind Lives” (1994) and “Ride the Silence” (1995).

n Patrick Zentz, sculptor and installationist who maintains a dual life as artist and rancher in rural Montana. Since 1979, he has presented dozens of exhibitions and performances throughout the United States, Canada and Japan. His awards include a 1990 National Endowment for the Arts Sculpture Fellowship.

“As you can see by the participants, the entire conference is designed as a grand, on-going conversation,” Slovic said. “It’s a festival of thought, a sharing and refining of ideas. Unlike an ordinary academic or professional conference, many of the people who attend a meeting like this are committed to their subject matter in a very personal way.”

One speaker who fits that description is Keith Basso, who will speak at a plenary session during the conference’s first day. His scheduled topic, “A Western Apache Landscape and the Oldest Man in Show Low: Senses of Place in Northern Arizona,” should be a unique mix of Apache humor, history and culture, said Laverne Jeanne, a University of Nevada linguist who will introduce Basso.

“Keith presents the Apache people not as subjects, but as real, living breathing people,” said Jeanne, a member of the Hop tribe and former student of Basso’s at the University of Arizona. “He makes these people come alive. He’s got a wonderful sense of humor – that’s probably why he’s been able to live and work among the Western Apache for so long. He’s genuinely interested in other cultures, not as abstract objects but as people.”

The event will spur more discussion about local as well as regional environmental concerns, said University of Nevada, Reno biology professor Peter Brussard, who will participate in plenary discussion on “Advocacy Versus Neutrality in Environmental Studies.”

“This is one way that people who are interested in the environment in a sort of gut sense can talk to various experts,” Brussard said. “A lot of different perspectives on the environment are going to be presented. God knows, anything that helps bring attention to these key issues in Nevada and the West is definitely something needed.”

Slovic has been planning and organizing the conference in the two years since CEAH’s North American Interdisciplinary Wilderness Conference on the Nevada campus in 1996. He hopes those who attend will come away with a greater sense of the multitude of viewpoints concerning the major issues confronting citizens of the West.

“This is an almost unfathomably rich gathering,” Slovic said. “People who show up to the meetings will have many of their preconceived notions challenged and perhaps altered. There won’t be any demogoguery – only dialogue.”

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