SEJ's 29th Annual Conference Agenda — Thursday






Agenda Coverage Sponsors Exhibitors/Advertisers About Fort Collins




Thursday, October 10, 2019

All sessions, as well as registration, exhibits and breaks, took place at CSU’s Lory Student Center,
1101 Center Avenue Mall, Fort Collins, CO 80521, unless otherwise indicated.


Tours in the Field

Advance registration is required for all Thursday tours. Attendance on each tour is strictly limited, so registering early is important. All Thursday tours will return to the Lory Student Center at about 5:00 p.m.

Please meet your tour leaders near the SEJ registration desk outside the ballroom on the third floor of the Lory Student Center at the listed departure time to check-in for your tour. Eat breakfast at your hotel before arrival or plan to purchase breakfast at the Lory Student Center food court, which opens at 7:00 a.m.; coffee and snacks will be provided for tours that depart before the food court opens. Each tour will leave the ballroom as a group to board buses at a nearby location. Please be on time, or your spot may be given to someone on standby.

For all morning departures, the tour buses will pick up attendees at the three conference hotels at the times listed below, and then make their way to the Lory Student Center, where everyone will get off and walk to the ballroom for processing prior to actual departure. Some buses might run a little late due to traffic. Tour 10 at 1:00 p.m. is a walking tour and has separate logistics below.

The MAX bus is an option for all three hotels (see transit directions here). And for the Hilton, CSU's Around the Horn shuttle or simply walking are great options.

If you are not staying at a conference hotel, please make your own way to the Lory Student Center by the departure times listed below.


Tour 1. Oil and Gas Clashes With Human Development and Public Lands

(5:30 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)


  • Bobby Magill (Tour Leader) Reporter, Bloomberg Environment, and SEJ President
  • Jason Plautz (Tour Leader) Reporter, Freelance Writer
  • Patricia Nelson (Speaker) Local Activist
  • Gabrielle Petron (Speaker) Research Scientist, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Jim Ramey (Speaker) Colorado State Director, The Wilderness Society
  • Craig Rasmuson (Speaker) Executive Vice President, SRC Energy
  • Kathleen Sgamma (Speaker) President, Western Energy Alliance
  • Shirley Smithson (Speaker) Holistic Health Instructor, Private Business and Front Range Community College

Due to weather conditions, the sunrise hike and visit to NOAA was cancelled.

Drilling rigs have become as much a part of the landscape of northern Colorado as the panoramic views of the Rockies. Residents in the far suburbs of Denver and Greeley live with one foot in the booming Colorado tech and tourism economy, and the other in an oil and gas industrial zone. On this tour, we’ll start with a sunrise hike on the Pawnee National Grassland to see public lands forever changed by fossil fuel development. We’ll also visit a fracking site and travel to a Denver suburb to see firsthand how residents live and work sometimes steps away from active wells. The day will end with a beer and the chance to talk with residents and scientists who can explain fracking’s environmental and health costs. Total drive time: 5 hours. Good for those looking for some exercise.


Tour 2. National Renewable Energy Lab: Treasure Trove of Story Ideas

(6:00 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)


  • Jeff Burnside (Tour Leader) Independent Journalist and SEJ Board Member
  • Grace Hood (Tour Leader) Energy and Environment Reporter, Colorado Public Radio
  • Derek Berry (Speaker) Senior Engineer, National Renewable Energy Lab, and Director of the Wind Turbine Technology Area, Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation
  • Joseph Berry (Speaker) Senior Scientist, Perovskite and Hybrid Solar Cells Team Lead, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Nicholas Brunhart-Lupo (Speaker) Computational Scientist, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Bryon Donohoe (Speaker) Senior Scientist, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Matthew Futch (Speaker) Business Development Director and Energy Regulatory Expert, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Kenny Gruchalla (Speaker) Senior Scientist, Scientific Visualization, Computational Science Center, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Andrew Hudgins (Speaker) User Program Integrator, Energy Systems Integration Facility, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Eric Karp (Speaker) Senior Chemical Engineer, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Martin Keller (Speaker) Director, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Daniel Laird (Speaker) Director, National Wind Technology Center, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Dave Moore (Speaker) Scientist and Director’s Fellow, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Nicholas Rorrer (Speaker) Researcher III - Polymer Engineering and Biomaterials Development, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • David Sickinger (Speaker) Researcher III - High Performance Computing, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • David Simms (Speaker) Research Operations Director, National Wind Technology Center, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Robert Tenent (Speaker) Researcher V-Materials Science, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Paul Veers (Speaker) Chief Engineer, National Wind Technology Center, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Lance Wheeler (Speaker) Researcher III-Materials Science, National Renewable Energy Lab
  • Bryan Willson (Speaker) Executive Director and Founder, Energy Institute, Colorado State University

There may be no single location with as many story ideas than the renowned National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, where the planet's future just might be saved. The executive director and founder of the Energy Institute at Colorado State University will brief journalists on the bus about the differences between 100 percent renewable and carbon-free goals, and what challenges lie ahead. Journalists will hear from the NREL director on the transformation of the energy sector happening now. And you'll be amazed at demonstrations from scientists of jaw-dropping renewable energy technology. Will your windows or the paint on your house become energy collectors? They're working on it here. Corporations are embedded with the Lab to bring technology to market. We'll visit a net-zero office building, a smart appliance lab and a test wind farm. Bring your camera and an extra notepad. Total drive time: 3 hours. A good option for those with limited mobility.

IMPORTANT: The National Renewable Energy Lab requires security checks on all visitors. Therefore, domestic journalists must register online by October 3; deadline for international journalists was September 1.

Note: The National Renewable Energy Lab provided lunch for this tour.


Tour 3. Reclaiming the Toxic Legacy of War Through Wildlife Conservation

(6:30 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)


  • Sonya Doctorian (Tour Leader) Video Producer/Photojournalist
  • Paul Karolyi (Tour Leader) Editorial Director, House of Pod, Host/Producer, Changing Denver
  • Len Ackland (Speaker) University of Colorado Boulder
  • Louis Cheroutes (Speaker) Board Member, Friends of the Front Range Wildlife Refuges
  • Stephanie Malin (Speaker) Dept. of Sociology, Colorado State University
  • Murph Widdowfield (Speaker) Board Member, Rocky Flats Cold War History Museum

Coloradans once looked on the weapons plants at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, which manufactured nerve gas, and the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb factory with pride. They were huge economic boons for the region during World War II and the Cold War. Decades of spills, fires and other environmental crimes changed all that, leaving a legacy of distrust and releases of radionuclides and other industrial by-products in their wake. Our day will begin with a bus tour of the Arsenal, with expert speakers discussing the massive cleanup effort that led to the opening of the site as refuge for bison, the endangered black-footed ferret and more than 300 other species of animals. We can’t leave the Arsenal without a stop at the National Wildlife Property Repository, which houses 1.3 million items recovered from wildlife traffickers. After lunch, we’ll drive over to Rocky Flats for an optional one-hour hike and an overview of the former nuclear weapons plant’s history, the controversial remediation efforts that followed its closure and the public health concerns that remain (the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have certified the whole refuge as safe for visitors). Total drive time: 3 hours. Good for those looking for some exercise.


Tour 4. The Grand Transect: From the High Plains to the Heights of Rocky Mountain National Park

(7:00 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)


  • Sadie Babits (Tour Leader) Independent Editor, Journalist
  • Amanda Peacher (Tour Leader) Public Radio Journalist
  • Tom Yulsman (Tour Leader) Director, Center for Environmental Journalism
  • Hanem Abouelezz (Speaker) Supervisory Landscape Ecologist, Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Jill Baron (Speaker) US Geological Survey
  • John Freemuth (Speaker) Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Cecil Andrus Endowed Chair of Environment and Public Lands, Boise State University
  • Doug Kenney (Speaker) University of Colorado
  • Tom Veblen (Speaker) University of Colorado Boulder

Colorado is best known for its majestic mountains, 59 of which exceed 14,000 feet. Yet nearly 40 percent of the state consists of high plains. This will allow us to make a grand environmental transect on our trip up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Within just a few hours, we’ll pass through roughly the same number of ecological zones as a trip from Fort Collins to Alaska. We’ll begin our transect at the foot of the mountains where we’ll get an overview of the day ahead and discuss pressing Western water issues. Next, we’ll plunge into the Big Thompson Canyon to learn about forest ecology and wildfire. Our transect will then take us into the gateway town of Estes Park and finally into the park itself. While there, we’ll hear about impacts on park ecosystems from pollution, massive tourism, over-population of elk and other factors — all against a backdrop of climate change. Total drive time: 4 hours. Good for those looking for some exercise.


Tour 5. Feeling the Heat: Western Wildfire Regimes in a Changing Environment

(7:30 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)


  • Jolie Breeden (Tour Leader) Lead Editor and Science Communicator, Natural Hazards Center
  • Michael Kodas (Tour Leader) Freelance Author and Photojournalist
  • Mike Battaglia (Speaker) USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • Peter Brown (Speaker) Director and President, Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research
  • Carol Dollard (Speaker) Fire Chief, Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department
  • Gabe Donaldson (Speaker) Manager, Colorado Fire Program, The Nature Conservancy
  • Chela Garcia (Speaker) Director of Conservation Programs, Hispanic Access Foundation
  • Russ Schumacher (Speaker) Colorado State Climatologist, Colorado State University
  • Chris White (Speaker) Owner, Anchor Point Group
  • George Wuerthner (Speaker) Public Lands Media

The past year has seen the biggest, the deadliest and the costliest wildfires on record. These extremes stem from numerous factors, including a warmer climate, forest management trends and more people living in harm’s way. Wildfire has gone from having something of a season, to plaguing the nation year-round, and none of these conditions are likely to change soon. Considering its broad and cascading impacts, it’s likely environmental reporters will find more than one occasion to include wildfire in their work. This tour will travel through forests and burned areas above Fort Collins to provide a comprehensive look at fire in Colorado. Participants will learn about its history, wildland firefighting, climate change and fire weather, community resilience and human behavior in fire, fire management at the local and national level, and post-fire impacts such as debris flows and invasive species encroachment. We’re going to get down and dirty in the Wildland-Urban Interface, so bring your backpacks, hiking boots and enough energy to complete an easy to mid-level hike. Total drive time: 3.5 hours. Good for those looking for some exercise. 


Tour 6. Farming on the Great Plains

(8:00 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)


  • Chris Clayton (Tour Leader) Ag Policy Editor, DTN/The Progressive Farmer
  • Esther Honig (Tour Leader) Reporter, KUNC
  • Collin Cannon (Speaker) Immigrant & Refugee Center of Northern Colorado
  • Armando Elenes (Speaker) Secretary Treasurer, United Farm Workers of America
  • Frank Garry (Speaker) Professor of Clinical Sciences, Veterinarian and Livestock Health Extension Specialist, Colorado State University
  • Paul Schlagel (Speaker) Owner, Schlagel Farms
  • Jon Slutsky (Speaker) Owner, La Luna Dairy

The Colorado Front Range was once known as “The Great American Desert,” but railroads and irrigation altered the landscape. Sugar beets, beef cattle and dairy products are three of the mainstays in northern Colorado farms as advancements in technology have drastically altered how each of them is produced. We’ll start the day visiting a sugar beet farm at harvest and end at a family dairy operation that has grown to more than 1,500 cows. Over lunch in Greeley we’ll hear from the workers who labor in these industries and see firsthand how communities of immigrants and refugees are reviving the surrounding rural economies. After lunch we’ll visit the Five Rivers Cattle Co., considered the world’s largest cattle-feeding company, which runs a 98,000-capacity operation just outside Kersey. Feedlots are often criticized for air and water quality problems from having so many livestock concentrated together. However, the cattle industry is increasingly focused on its environmental footprint and argues that improvements have led to a smaller environmental impact. Total drive time: 4 hours. A good option for those with limited mobility.


Tour 7. The Past, Present and Future of Western Water

(8:30 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)


  • Eleanor Hasenbeck (Tour Leader) Reporter, Steamboat Pilot & Today
  • Luke Runyon (Tour Leader) KUNC, Community Radio for Northern Colorado
  • James Bishop (Speaker) Public Involvement Specialist, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • Daylan Figgs (Speaker) Director, Larimer County Department of Natural Resources
  • Meegan Flenniken (Speaker) Manager, Land Conservation, Planning & Resource Division, Larimer County Department of Natural Resources
  • Brian Jackson (Speaker) Senior Manager, Western Water, Environmental Defense Fund
  • Kevin Lock (Speaker) Water Resources Project Engineer, Northern Water
  • Kerri Rollins (Speaker) Larimer County
  • Andy Schultheiss (Speaker) Executive Director, Colorado Water Trust
  • Jerd Smith (Speaker) Fresh Water News
  • Jeff Stahla (Speaker) Public Information Coordinator, Northern Water
  • Reagan Waskom (Speaker) Director, Colorado Water Center, Colorado State University
  • Brian Werner (Speaker) Public Information Officer, Northern Water
  • Mely Whiting (Speaker) General Counsel, Trout Unlimited

Few issues in the West can both divide and unite communities like water rights. Conversations about who has access to the scarce resource and who doesn’t can quickly grow tense and are fundamental to the region’s future. This tour begins near the scenic Continental Divide, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, with an overview of complex water laws and Colorado’s sprawling infrastructure. We’ll start at the eastern portal of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Built in the 1940s, the project pumps water for miles through tunnels dug deep in the mountains in an effort to plumb the arid state. Then, we’ll head down the mountain to hike around the site of the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, a pool planned to serve Colorado’s thirsty Front Range cities. We’ll wrap up downstream, talking about pressures on water supplies for both agriculture and municipalities in the face of ongoing drought and a changing climate. We’ll also look to the solutions water managers, conservationists and farmers are considering to tackle these challenges. Total drive time: 4 hours. Good for those looking for some exercise.


Tour 8. Environmental Justice in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea

(8:45 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)


  • Tony Barboza (Tour Leader) Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times
  • Rachel Cernansky (Tour Leader) Freelance, WaPo, NYT, Nature, EHP, Ensia, others.
  • Kati Weis Barraza (Tour Leader) CBS Denver
  • Sunni Benoit (Speaker) President, 350 Colorado
  • Candi CdeBaca (Speaker) City Councilwoman, Denver City Councilwoman, District 9
  • Lisa Cicutto (Speaker) Director, Community Outreach and Research; Professor, Director, Clinical Science Graduate Program, National Jewish Health and University of Colorado | Anschutz Medical Center
  • Marta Darby (Speaker) Associate Attorney, Earthjustice
  • Jim Garcia (Speaker) Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Clinica Tepeyac
  • Charles Norris (Speaker) Professional Geologist, retired
  • Michael Ogletree (Speaker) Air Quality Program Manager, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment
  • Nina Roumell (Speaker) Development and Communications Officer, The GrowHaus
  • Sandra Ruiz-Parrilla (Speaker) EGS & Partners RNO
  • Stacia Sellers (Speaker) Central 70 Communications Manager, Colorado Department of Transportation
  • Michael Wenstrom (Speaker) Region 8 USEPA

The communities of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea (GES) in northern Denver are located in the most polluted zip code in Colorado. Decades of environmental injustices in these communities have brought them to this unfortunate title. With several nearby industrial factories emitting toxic chemicals into the air, a busy interstate highway running directly through the neighborhoods — also the site of an ongoing and extremely controversial expansion, diesel trains traveling through the communities regularly and soil contamination from historical metal smelting, the GES is home to a confluence of pollution sources that have had untold health, economic and social impacts on its residents. This tour will provide an insight into the major challenges facing residents, as well as air quality and health studies underway designed to offset some of the impacts from these historic and ongoing environmental hazards. This will be a unique opportunity to learn about perhaps the most impacted and underserved community in Denver — during a time when the city as a whole is undergoing rapid growth and transformation. You’ll come away with new ideas, concepts and understandings of reporting on environmental justice issues, as well as learn how these concerns relate through communities across the country. Total drive time: 3 hours. A good option for those with limited mobility.


Tour 9. Wildlife Restoration on the Prairies: Ferreting Out a Solution

(9:00 a.m. departure, $45 fee, lunch included)


  • Katie Langin (Tour Leader) Associate Editor, Science Magazine
  • Hillary Rosner (Tour Leader) Independent Journalist and Scholar-in-Residence, Center for Environmental Journalism, University of Colorado
  • Jennifer Barfield (Speaker) Colorado State University
  • Dean Biggins (Speaker) Research Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Kimberly Fraser (Speaker) USFWS National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center
  • Jason LaBelle (Speaker) Associate Professor of Archeology, and Director, Center for Mountain and Plains Archaeology, Department of Anthropology and Geography, Colorado State University
  • Sarah Reed (Speaker) Director of Applied Conservation Science, Americas Program, Wildlife Conservation Society and Faculty Affiliate, Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University
  • Kate Wilkins (Speaker) Postdoctoral Researcher, Ecology, Colorado State University

Due to weather conditions, this tour went to:
Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, 408 Mason Ct, Fort Collins, CO 80524
- Colorado State University Foothills Campus, 3785 Laporte Ave, Fort Collins, CO 80521

In 1981, a small population of black-footed ferrets, which scientists had believed were extinct, was discovered on a Wyoming ranch. Biologists captured 24 of the secretive mammals and brought them into captivity, reasoning that captive breeding was the species’ only hope of survival. Today, hundreds of black-footed ferrets, a keystone species, call the Great Plains home — all descendants of that Wyoming population. On this field trip, we’ll visit the Soapstone Prairie, a site where ferrets have been successfully re-introduced into the wild and where bison — another iconic plains species — have seen a resurgence of their own. A genetically pure herd of “Yellowstone” bison, also created through captive breeding, was released at Soapstone in 2015. We’ll tour the bison enclosure and hear from experts about the challenges — disease, genetics, habitat — that scientists faced in their efforts to restore both species. In the afternoon, half of the group will stay at Soapstone for a hike, which will feature an 11,000-year-old archaeological site and plenty of opportunities to spot pronghorn antelope. The other half will tour the nearby Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, which is run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and houses two-thirds of the world’s captive black-footed ferrets. The ferret center tour is capped at 24. Sign up online for the center (Tour 9A) or the hike (Tour 9B). Total drive time: 2 hours. Good for those looking for some exercise.


Tour 10. The Seed and Semen Bank

(1:00 p.m. departure; no fee)


  • Mark Schapiro (Tour Leader) Author, "Seeds of Resistance," and Lecturer, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

Protecting Our Food From Climatic and Other Catastrophes: Inside North America’s Biggest Repository of Seeds and Animal Germplasm

The converging forces of climate change and corporate consolidation are presenting unprecedented threats to the Earth’s ability to grow food. We’ll take an exclusive tour through a facility at the front lines of ensuring our ability to respond to these pressures — the USDA’s National  Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation, on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Here, just minutes from the SEJ conference hub in the Lory Student Center, is the oldest and largest repository of plant and animal DNA — aka, more than a million seed samples, and the germplasm and semen of beef and dairy cattle, chickens, turkeys and other commercial animals. This material is considered critical to enabling the food system to respond as conditions shift dramatically in this country and around the world.

We’ll take an exclusive tour of the facility guided by top scientists working with plant and animal genetics as the institution tries to address the accelerating pace of environmental change.

The tour will take roughly 2 1/2-3 hours, with stops at the the Lab responsible for tracking and storing germplasm for our nation’s beef, pork, chicken, turkey and other commercial animal industries; the lab where seed varieties are analyzed for their genetic composition and potential to address ongoing climatic, disease and pest pressures; and a tour through the cold vault containing more than a million samples of seeds and animal germplasm. Each will be introduced by the scientists overseeing different aspects of the work. Afterward, all scientists involved will be available for a more formal Q and A (questions are also welcome during the tour). Total tour time: 4 hours.

Among those we will encounter on the tour include: Dr. Christina Walters, a plant physiologist and supervisor at the facility; Dr. Gayle Volk, an expert on seed preservation; Dr. Colin Khoury, an expert on genetic centers of origin; Dr. Harvey Blackburn, an animal geneticist; and Dr. Cliff Richards, a population geneticist.

This tour is free. There will be no buses for this tour. Please find your own way to the SEJ registration desk on the third floor of the Lory Student Center before 1:00 p.m. We will walk over to the Lab. Space is limited so register early!

Note: This is a highly secure government facility; registration includes required email and phone contact information. At the lab, security requires a photo ID and signature upon check in. No purses, backpacks or heavy coats are permitted in the building.


Independent Hospitality Receptions and Exhibits

5:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Grand Ballroom, CSU's Lory Student Center

Now a popular SEJ tradition, this is the conference’s best networking opportunity. After spending the day in the field, meet with hosts of multiple receptions. They’ll have experts on hand as well as displays, materials and, of course, great food and drink. Mingle with our exhibitors and build your source list.


Open Screen

8:30 - 10:00 p.m.
Longs Peak Room, CSU's Lory Student Center


  • Kevin Beaty (Emcee) Multimedia Reporter, Denverite and SEJ Conference Associate

Calling all photo and video journalists! The SEJ open screen is a show-and-tell for our visual crafts. Come hang out with us after you peruse our exhibit hall and partake of the independent receptions. It's an opportunity to discuss the craft, joys and challenges of covering environmental topics through a lens. We'll draw names from a hat to decide the order. Presentations are limited to ten minutes to ensure everyone has a chance to share. It will be informal and fun!


Wednesday, October 9
Friday, October 11
Saturday, October 12
Sunday, October 13

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