Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Much More Important Than That

Last spring, after reading one of my posts referencing urban trees as a form of green infrastructure, a friend of mine in high office tried gently to break the news to me.

He emailed, “Local officials or residents generally don’t see trees as what they typically think of as ‘infrastructure.’”  My friend reassured me that “we mostly think of trees as wonderful and beautiful and necessary, but not as infrastructure.”

He’s right, unfortunately.

This reminded me of a hilarious response the editor of the now defunct Business 2.0 gave to me when I tried, in my former role, to explain that Durham and Raleigh are distinct communities and metro areas.

He quipped the oxymoron (contradictory terms appearing in conjunction) that until “Durham is better known,” his magazine would “continue to refer to it as Raleigh.”

No wonder the magazine went out of business in 2007.

Actually, opinion polls have long shown that Durham has nearly the same awareness level as Raleigh even though the latter has the advantage of being memorized as a state capital by nearly all school children.

But the role of the community marketing organization I led at the time was to raise that awareness, especially among prospective visitors for which Durham would be a good fit, while aiding those for whom it wouldn't, to seek alternatives.

Yes, community marketing is not missionary work, but I digress.

Likewise, the general public’s recognition of “green infrastructure” will take time and rely on awareness generated by local governments.

To be fair, it wasn’t until about two decades ago that the term “green infrastructure” began to be used in government circles, although it had been taught as part of planning and administration long before that.

EPA is working hard to further this understanding and I would think that Durham officials will soon catch on.  But more importantly, will they realize their responsibility to educate residents in this regard?

Equally pertinent, will they accept stewardship for not only government-owned trees here but the broader tree canopy?  Will they finally execute a study to quantify that value?

But as Washington Post science journalist, Chris Mooney, suggests, the quantification of ecosystem services (“blending concepts from ecology and economics”) may be missing the even greater benefit of trees and other forms of green infrastructure to public health.

Ecosystem services are things such as provisioning food, regulating services such as water purification, or cultural services such as sense of place or aesthetics.

National Parks, for instance, generate $10 into the economy for every $1 invested by taxpayers, including tourism, but they also pull or sequester $580 million of carbon out of the air annually.

As Mooney did in this week’s column about a proposal by Harvard’s Dr. E.O. Wilson to set aside for our own sake half of the earth’s land area and 70% of the ocean in the form of nature reserves, he often covers research that deepens the connection between health and nature.

I’ve always been healthy but I am arguably healthier now than I’ve been in more than 40 years.  Wherever I’ve lived in Durham over the last 26 of those years, I’ve been surrounded by forests, nowhere more than where I live now.

On the eve after my birthday this past July, new research was published that concluded, “Having 10 more trees in a city block, on average, improves health perception in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000…,” or “being 7 years younger.”

The lots where I split my time, one in Durham and one on a nearby lake each have more than 100 trees alone which obviously contribute to my feeling younger.

Lets see now, research has recently shown that tree cover, not just government-owned trees but the entire tree canopy of a community, has an impact on public health, public works, taxable property values, crime reduction, social services, economic and neighborhood vitality, mental health, air and water quality etc.

Maybe they aren’t a form of infrastructure which is defined as the basics needed for the operation of society.

They are much more important than that.

Friday, October 02, 2015

It Never Leaves You

You can’t grow up in the tiny Yellowstone-Teton nook of eastern Idaho that noses up between Montana and Wyoming as I did during my formative years on an ancestral cattle ranch, without being constantly aware that it will happen again.

There are 40 distinct geologic formations there, but dominant is a huge volcanic eruption that took place there 2 million years ago.

That was the largest in a chain-reaction of eruptions that began 17 million years ago in the southwest nook of Idaho near its borders with Oregon and Nevada.

Sweeping to the northeast, the eruptions worked their way up what became the 400 mile Snake River Plain, which widens from 30 miles to 125 miles as it reaches my native nook where in the shadow of the Rockies that stupendous eruption created an alpine bench above the plain.

A much smaller eruption in that chain created the Yellowstone Plateau just 600,000 years ago and a crater, or caldera, as large as Los Angeles.

Five miles below its surface is a volcano of molten rock the size of Mount Everest, one of 10 Super Volcanoes in the World.

It will blow again someday and the consequences will be felt globally.

But a far greater imprint on my youth was a river formed from springs that filter through the Yellowstone Plateau where it leans on my native nook of Idaho, called the Henry’s Fork.

It surfaces at the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide just 10 miles from the headwaters of the Missouri River on the other side: the waters of the former destined for the Pacific and the waters of the latter to the Atlantic.

It is impossible to describe how beautiful this area is, especially the first 70 miles of the river’s 127 mile length, so I’ll just link to this video. This is the part my parents crisscrossed when they first brought me home from the hospital.

We crossed it to provision in Ashton, to and from school and church, to watch my dad play softball in the evening down near Chester and for Sunday family dinners along with my with my aunts, uncles and cousins down at my grandparent’s house in Saint Anthony.

The Henry’s Fork is where I learned to wade and explore, catch frogs and fly fish, as well as experience the transformative, spiritual influence of nature.

I rarely return, maybe every 20 years or so, but the Henry’s Fork never leaves you.

It is really more like five different rivers in that first half of the river from where a huge spring turns to a river within a hundred feet, through forests, winding across the pastures and native grasses of a caldera, down through steep canyons creating three huge water falls.

Along that stretch it collects creeks such as Buffalo, Elk and Robinson and rivers such as Warm River and Fall River which cascading out of the southwest corner of Yellowstone known as Bechler Meadows.

Herds of Elk “summer” in the meadows there and further up the Henry’s Fork, migrate just above and below the ranch my great-grandparents settled to “winter” at wildlife refuges at Camas and along Sand Creek.

Just beyond Saint Anthony, the Henry’s Fork breaks into channels becoming more like a large, inland delta as it collects the Teton River west of Rexburg and before joining the South Fork as it flows down out of Palisades to form the Snake River north of Idaho Falls.

The portion of the river so important to my formative years is between its headwaters and the Vernon bridge north of Chester.

Most of that time was spent exploring a half mile of riffles and runs located in the tail waters between the Ora bridge and the Ashton Dam.

We crossed the Ora bridge almost daily for one reason or another.  It is near there that my parents first met when my dad stopped to pull my mom’s family out of the gravel roadside’s roadside borrow pit.

When it was erected in 1911, the reservoir created by the Ashton Dam and the Ora bridge installed below it shortened the route to town for my rancher paternal great-grandparents and grandparents.

In the 1940s, its owner the Utah Power & Light Company brought my maternal grandfather and his family there for a few years to operate the dam.

The Henry’s Fork earned a reputation in the west for fly-fishing among enthusiasts in the 1930s but in 1975 I just may have had a hand in gaining it worldwide renown.

Before, during and after the Expo ‘74, a World’s Fair for the Environment in Spokane, I worked to help start a community destination marketing organization to leverage and build on the success of the event.

Part of our job was to interest outdoor writers in story ideas and pre and post trips related to the event as well as laying the groundwork for hosting the Outdoor Writers of America national convention.

Spokane, Washington hosted the six month affair, in part because of its proximity within a day’s drive from so many the Pacific Northwest’s great rivers, lakes, national forests and parks, including the Henry’s Fork.

Who knows? The effort may have even planted or germinated the seed for an article written in Sports Afield magazine in 1975.

The article appeared during my first year as the DMO’s chief exec entitled, The Best Dry Fly River in America—The Henry's Fork, written by Ernie Schwiebert.

Schwiebert, who passed away in 2005, was already a legend and respected author and illustrator.

As an architect, he took advantage of his business travels to scout fly fishing streams.  He had also influenced the founding and growth of a conservation group called Trout Unlimited.

Now 150,000 members strong with 400 chapters including one named for Ernie, this past year alone Trout Unlimited protected 1,400 stream miles and 7.8 million acres of land while reconnecting over 570 miles of spawning and rearing habitat and restoring over 140 miles of river.

But within a few years of Ernie’s 1975 accolade, worry spread among residents along the Henry’s Fork about its sustainability and by 1983 they coalesced in the formation of the Henry’s Fork Foundation.

Watershed organizations such as this were extremely rare back then and unheard of in eastern Idaho.

A relatively short river, the Henry’s Fork watershed still generates an incredible 2.8 million acre-feet of water supply each year including shallow groundwater.

For us lay folks, an acre-foot of water is 325,900 gallons.  About 59% of that flows downstream into the Snake along with 29% in the form of groundwater outflow.

The remainder is consumed for irrigation, expanded for domestic, commercial and industrial use or lost through evaporation.

One of the major economic drivers of this nook of Idaho is tourism and recreation including fishing, which relies on consistent seasonal flows along the river.

So the rub, even where there isn’t a drought, is to calibrate use of the river over the course of the year so that it is healthy, bio-diverse and economically viable for all uses.

At issue is irrigation, not because of overall consumption for that purpose, which has been stable since the 1970s, but because of the way it has changed technologically.

Rather than relying on snowmelt, it now relies primarily on groundwater recharge and discharge.  Officials everywhere often make the mistake of thinking of surface water and groundwater as different but it is all related.

Actually, rivers are crucial to groundwater and groundwater outflow is crucial to rivers.  They are inter-related.

Along the Henry’s Fork, about 24% of the groundwater is recharged by rain and snow.  Another 9% comes from stream seepage and 38% from seepage from canals.

Another 29% seeps back into groundwater when the irrigation is applied.  But irrigation technology has challenged areas along the river, resulting in too much in low areas and not enough in others.

Idaho, as well as North Carolina where I live, are very conservative states.  But unlike a regressive wing of conservatives in North Carolina,  lawmakers in Idaho, part of the more arid west, seem to know better than to tamper with water quality provisions.

Idaho also better understands, out of necessity, the importance of collaboration.

This includes close collaboration between federal and state agencies as well as collaboration between non-government organizations such as the HF Foundation, water users, landowners, businesses and other stakeholders working together as the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council.

Over the last few years, state and federal agencies have re-worked a management plan for the Henry’s Fork watershed.  They have distilled of more than 50 options in the areas of surface storage, groundwater recharge and water conservation, down to 12.

None of the options involve rolling back water quality standards as we apparently just did in North Carolina to please special interests.

The final product is a tactical plan for achieving strategic objectives in the future.  It is well worth reading and emulating.

There is a bright future for the Henry’s Fork River.  The river continued over the last four decades to rack up accolades for fly fishing.

But as noted in a recent overview by Trout Unlimited, fishing there is “indeed not what it used to be.  It is better.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Feeding Frenzy Lesson for Community Image

Some of my former peers in visitor-centric economic and cultural development seemed relieved to learn something that became clear to me nearly a decade ago.

Less than four years before I retired after nearly four decades in that profession, a year-long firestorm of negative news coverage erupted.

Fortunately, the community marketing organization (DMO) I led at the time was already far more savvy than most about reputation management.

More on that lesson learned later but some of my colleagues seem to be drawing a mistaken conclusion from visitor surveys that negative news obsessions - even when local - are harmless to a community’s potential to draw visitors.

A few clarifications are in order:

  • There is no such thing as local news.  News outlets measure audience by huge swaths of counties including dozens and dozens of cities and towns, based on where they hope to have influence.

Durham, North Carolina, where I live is part of a so-called media market that stretches over 22 counties and parts of two states.

It is an archaic, obsolete model in a digital world where businesses and consumers now have truly hyper local alternatives.

  • Even when periodic resident surveys show a community’s self-image is high and relatively immune from negative “local” news, there is another consideration.

It can still contaminate the views of not only potential daytrip visitors from surrounding communities but if, like Durham, a community generates so many jobs that 2 in 3 are held by commuting non-residents it results in the perpetuation of negative water-cooler myths.

When these non-residents hold hospitality-related jobs and interface with visitors at airports and in hotels, restaurants, stores and features, the impact can be hugely negative.

So management of a community’s reputation and defense of its brand or personality is broader than just what populations of potential visitors think or how immune they may be to negative “local” news.

Of course, all of this requires a DMO to continually monitor the opinions of residents, commuters and nearby, statewide, regional and national populations.

There are other uses of this information.  Local stakeholders, including businesses owned or operated by non-residents and especially elected officials and local governments, often fall under the misconception that a community can build its way to prominence.

There are a lot of good reasons for a community to continually augment its visitor-related product, especially if it freshens place-based assets that truly differentiate a community without selling its soul to generica.

Regular opinion surveys such as those I mention above will not show any linkage of opinion to new developments.

I say “any” because after studying scores of these, there is little or no linkage to perception.  Buzz created around new developments, even when and if sustained, just can’t reach enough people to dent misimpression, which are fueled by much more pervasive influences.

The DMOs I led used image surveys dating back to the very early 1980s so I’m not basing these observations on just one community or a particular building splurge or series of developments over time.

I was always intrigued that new development had little or no impact on perceptions but, as I promised, I will delve into what we learned from that year-long news frenzy from March 2006 until April 2007.

Because it a DMOs role to deal with news coverage, promoting and facilitating stories and making clarifications as well as serving the needs of journalists and editors whether they be “local,” state, regional, national or global, a byproduct of this event is that a lot of local stakeholders became more cognizant and appreciative of our role.

The coverage was regarding allegations of rape by some lacrosse team members at Duke.

Both the Durham Police and truly local news media were confident the allegations, while troubling, were without merit.

But then the newspaper in nearby Raleigh began to fan the flames which in turn reignited listserv chatter, especially among well-meaning social justice activists.

I happened to be on one such listserv during that re-ignition.

Thanks to amplification by the state AP office based in Raleigh, we were soon besieged by news trucks and a feeding frenzy of inaccurate information, innuendo, pejorative and speculation.

The Durham Police were forced to reopen the investigation and a lot of individual reputations and careers were ultimately destroyed by the time the Attorney General’s office came to the same conclusion made initially by investigators.

The experience has forever made me skeptical that during news frenzies we are really getting full and balanced information.

Well-meaning chamber types here, failing to understand or respect roles and always eager for a parade to lead, called meetings and began to reinvent the wheel about Durham’s image.

This gave us the opportunity to explain what was being done by the Durham DMO and an innovative coalition it created and facilitates called the Durham Public Information & Communications Council.

Made by those unaware that advertising has long been proven ineffective when it comes to reputation management, the suggestion was made to place full-page ads in national newspapers to set the record straight.

The Durham DMO responded that first we should probably see if perceptions had changed due to the intense and frenzied coverage and ran one of its periodic surveys.

We learned that nationwide, Durham’s positive rating was up and its negative rating down but that some people who didn’t know before had moved to neutral.

By the year after the frenzy, Durham’s image was higher than ever and its negative rating at an all-time low.  Awareness was at an all time high.

The community’s image as a place to visit reached an all-time high with a 16-to-1 positive to negative ratio.  Its image as a place for new business and growth potential was also higher than ever.

Many credited the opportunity Durham’s DMO took during the crisis to better familiarize reporters and editors and lay the seeds for future stories still being reaped today.

The lesson, of course, is not to go out and manufacture negative news frenzies as a means to boost awareness. 

The take-away is that reputation is the product of a lot of very subtle but manageable influences, not just the news.  Covering news is a very difficult profession but at its best a blunt instrument when it comes to getting the “full story” about something.

This is especially true, now that so many national news outlets, rather than take time to investigate, often just quote other news including reporters and editors.

It has been made even more difficult by the fact that as a nation we seem to expect every issue to be viewed as scripted, reality television, even, it appears, our elections for higher office.

I still shake my head at how many communities when faced by a similar frenzy, push their DMOs into wasting millions in advertising not just because ads have long been shown ineffective but because they haven’t even benchmarked perceptions through scientific polling.

Ads, by the way, are scientifically proven to be ineffective because they far too blunt a marketing tactic.  Studies show that they merely harden existing perceptions both negative and positive.

Yelling about yourself as a community, which is what ads are, is not the way to build credibility with external audiences although they may give boosters and officials a false but expensive sense of solace.

Being authentic, honest and persistently earning the respect of national news channels over time is far more effective.  Standing up to inaccuracies and injustice is better done one on one and by equipping grass-roots movements to intervene.

This isn’t to take news media off the hook.  Time has proven the validity of Dr. Barry Glassner’s research in his excellent book entitled, The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, something lost on a business journal tactic of stirring up what we should fear from restaurants with an A health rating.

As traditional media collapses, except for those with steadied and principled news management, we will see more and more news outlets manufacturing fear and ruining reputations, if not to stir up ratings, then to blackmail reluctant advertisers.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Imprinting Values - Hope From Another Era of Regression

Only in retrospect am I able to pinpoint when I was imprinted with the value of conservation.

It was during my early years as the scion of five generations of Idaho ranchers.  In the early 1950s, horse and cattle ranchers not only practiced - but were respected - as conservationists.

But it wasn’t until my mid-20s in my second year as the CEO of my first community destination marketing organization that I learned from a sociologist and marketing professor how values are formed.

In 1976, Dr. Morris Massey of the University of Colorado was giving presentations on his theory of values formation entitled, What You Are Is Where You Were When.

Up to the age of 7, I was imprinting values such as conservation from my parents and grandparents, especially my paternal grandfather with whom I spent a part of nearly every day doing light chores on the ranch, until I reached school age.

That’s when we “learn a sense of right and wrong, good and bad,” and in the Mormon culture of my native Rockies, reach the “age of accountability.”

Massey believed that people modeled not only family members but other people between the ages of 8 and 13, including teachers.  There is then a “socialization period” between 13 and 21 when we turn more to peers and the media.

This is why experts note that people rarely change much after age 15 or 16.

Coincidentally, people born after 1976 when Dr. Massey laid down those three periods of value formation, are likely to have imprinted controversial and partisan notions of conservation, especially the now-politicized label of environmentalist.

My first DMO was formed by grants from Spokane Unlimited and the City of Spokane in hopes of leveraging the community’s notoriety from producing Expo 74, a World’s Fair for the Environment.

It is mind-boggling to most people when I explain today that the origins of that theme came from the local business community.

Being concerned about the environment and being business friendly like being an environmentalist and a rancher weren’t considered mutually exclusive values back then.

My very conservative ancestors would seem moderate by today’s standards, not because they would have changed their views but because conservatives in general seem to have moved so far right.

It is probably why, as an Independent, I am called liberal by my friends on the right and conservative by my friends on the left.  I even get holiday cards from both former governor and Republican Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush and President Barack Obama, a somewhat liberal Democrat.

Conservation as a movement long pre-dates President Teddy Roosevelt who gave it prominence when he declared it a national duty in 1908 in a speech delivered on my grandfather’s 10th birthday and well into that second phase of values formation.

By necessity, before and after that time nearly all ranchers considered themselves conservationists, because it was just good business, something that had impressed Roosevelt during the time he spent ranching prior to his political career.

So the value my grandfather imprinted on me prior to turning 10 had been imprinted on him too by that age.

A second era of conservation began in 1948, when eight days before I was born, Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act which was then broadened in ‘56, ‘65, ‘72 and ‘87 as it was this year by President Obama in implementation.

North Carolina, where I’ve lived most of my life, appears to have dodged a bullet this month when conservatives, moderates and progressives in the General Assembly rejected a proposal by construction special interests and regressives in the Senate to narrow vegetation buffers along streams and creeks.

By the way, the term regressive is not a pejorative.  Today it is most often used to describe those few who, when disguised as conservatives, seek not to merely tap the breaks on progress but roll it back.

But regressives have long existed at both ends of the political spectrum.

This includes a wing of progressives.  While giving regressives power is almost always a mistake, it is important to listen to them because so-called progress in some instances turns out to be problematic when taken to extremes.

This crossed my mind as we took our old runabout for a spin up Mayo Lake this past weekend.  Experts have remarked at how clear that lake is, the clearest in North Carolina, they claim.

Some credit is due to a unique vegetation buffer that is protected between homes and the lake shore.  But even more important is that wetlands at the mouth of the primary stream that fills the lake are fully intact and ecologically functional.

Wetlands such as this scrub the water of pollutants including sediment which is the number one source of pollution in our state, impairing the overwhelming majority of our waterways.

North Carolina passed a law to control sediment in 1973 and defined it as “solid particulate matter, both mineral and organic, that has been or is being transported by water, air, gravity, or ice from its site of origin.”

For the first time, I noticed a pasture of cattle along a stretch of shoreline on spin around the lake last weekend, north of the Triple Springs boat ramp.

It was primarily, but not totally buffered by trees, and was probably grandfathered as an exception when the lake was created in the late 1970s/early 1980s. 

Cattle can be a source of contamination to waterways too, even when pasture-raised and especially when nitrogen is over applied and then washes into waterways.

But don’t jerk that knee quite so fast.

A technique called holistic management of pastures has shown that cattle grazing actually helps the land store 25% more carbon, and that for “each 1% of carbon stored in the soil, an additional 60,000 acres of water per acre can be retained on the land.”

Click here for an excellent video on why soil is so critical to solving our climate change threat.  Click here for an excellent Washington Post essay on the issue of “grass-fed” cattle and whether they are good for you, the animal and the planet.

Grass-fed is a form of regression, a roll-back from today’s massive feedlots where cattle are “finished” using anything but grass.  When I was coming up in the 1950s it was the predominant way cattle were raised, including our 500 head.

But for anyone dismayed by the havoc regressives have created the last few years in the legislature, it may give hope to look back two hundred years to another era when they held sway in North Carolina.

Following the American Revolution and creation of a new system of government, North Carolina spent the first four or five decades of the 1800s in the control of regressives.

Throughout the nation, as other states perpetuated the progressivism upon which America was founded, North Carolina earned a reputation as the “Rip Van Winkle” state.

As a result, land values plummeted as more than a third of North Carolinians moved away.

Between 1830 and 1840 alone, nearly half of the counties lost population according to a superbly documented book entitled North Carolina Through Four Centuries.

The 1850 census revealed that 31% of all native North Carolinians then living in the United States resided in some other state.”  Backwardness had driven away more than 400,000 Tar Heels, two-thirds of whom were white.

This was equivalent to half the state’s population in that census.

For the first half of the 1800s, the legislature was controlled by less than 10% of the population, including slave-holding planters living down east who were adamantly opposed to public education, roads, government in general and taxes.

Fast forward two hundred years.  Sound familiar?

The thing to remember is that during much of that period of regression, a handful of deeply concerned and resilient North Carolinians were persistently advocating progressive ideas that would put “the state on a totally new course,” following the Civil War.

They were named Yancey, Caldwell, Fisher, Swain, Gaston, Morehead and Graham.  But their architect was Judge Archibald DeBow Murphey who was born in Red House, which is now called Semora, a crossroads just northwest of Hyco Lake, a twin lake just west of Mayo Lake.

It is now a part of Caswell County, but when Murphey was born it was a part of Orange County.  He eventually practiced law down in Hillsborough a few miles west from Durham and established a residence in Hawsfield (southwest of Mebane.)

Here Judge Murphey crafted his plan for North Carolina’s salvation including “establishment of a public education system, construction of canals and turnpike roads, as well as a general public welfare system,” and eventually railroads.

In fact, North Carolinians weren’t paying much attention to succession leading up to the Civil War.

Instead they were focused on constitutional reform and a struggle over ad valorem taxes as a means for wealthy plantation owners to pay their fair share to fund Murphey’s vision.

Many of Durham’s founding generation were heavily influenced by Murphey’s ideas including his close friends the Camerons, who encouraged others in what would become Durham to push for statewide progress such as railroads and a strong banking system.

They were living proof of Dr. Massey’s theory of value development that “what you are is where you were then.”

My value for conservation was obviously imprinted by my family but I am also a product of a twenty-eight year period when conservation, ecology and environmentalism were bipartisan values.

The partisan demonization of those values over the past 40 years has taken a toll, and yet polls today show that 77% of Americans support stricter environmental protections including 58% of Republicans, the party primarily responsible for their demonization.

People who point instead to another recent poll showing that 49% of Americans view government as an immediate threat, need to read more closely the reasons given. 

Too big 19%, gun control 12%, law enforcement 4%, surveillance of citizens 4%, overregulation 3%, taxes 3%, illegal immigration 3%, and environmental regulation just 1%.

You sure wouldn’t know it from the obsessions in news headlines or by partisan statements by lawmakers.

There are even more Americans who are concerned that government isn’t doing its job.  Inconvenient to journalists and reporters and bloggers for that matter is that people can hold contradictions.

In fact, news stories miss an important point.  When people disagree, it usually isn’t about a specific issue, such as being for or against billboards or trees.

They just hold different values.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Scraps From an Old Portfolio

Before he died, my maternal grandfather gave me a vinyl portfolio, the kind popular as promotional giveaways in the 1980s with the spring loaded closure.

It was filled with personal papers that had been retrieved from his youngest son’s apartment after he was killed in 1973 while flying near the border of Mexico as a special agent for what is now the DEA.

We called him by his middle name, Ferd, and just seven years apart, we grew up more like brothers, similar in interests and appearance as well as temperament including a way of minimalizing how we express emotions in order to mask how strongly they are felt.Ferd White at time he crasheded

My grandfather hoped I could make sure my uncle was remembered which, in part, is the purpose of this and similar posts.

If they are interested, he would want me to also pass these papers along to his two children should they ever be located one day.

His daughter would be in her mid-50s by now and his son by a different mother, in his early 40s.

I’ve continued to add items to the portfolio as I’ve come across them including his wallet retrieved from when he was killed, along with some details of an arrest, which were found among my mom’s papers when she died earlier this year.

The image above shows his appearance when he was killed.

The arrest record gives a hint of his personality and sense of humor as well as the fact that profiling by law enforcement isn’t new or exclusive to ethnicity.

Six years out of high school in Montpelier, Idaho, Ferd had already completed undergraduate pilot training for the United States Air Force by December 17, 1964, a year after completing enough credits to graduate the previous summer from Utah State University.

His papers include his seat time in T-37s and T—33 Shooting Stars, a lengthened version of the Korean War-era F-80, scale models of which we had built together a decade earlier around our kitchen table on the ranch.

After some seat time in F-105s, Ferd qualified to fly F-4 C Phantoms by October 14, 1965, a state-of-the-art, twin-engine combination jet fighter interceptor and fighter bomber.

This was during a three month period that his 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) was flying out of Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.

Flying fighter jets along with the altruism of serving his country were his passion.  He had found his calling at age 23, coincidentally, about the same age I would be when I found mine the year he was killed.

But by the time I was recruited to Anchorage in 1978, it was F-15s I was watching take off and land from my office overlooking Ship Creek near its mouth into Cook Inlet and I had forgotten I wasn’t the first with my DNA to live there.

It was the month after the 389th TFA returned to Hollomon AFB, a few miles outside Alamogordo, New Mexico and two months before it began operations over Vietnam that Ferd was arrested.

Alamogordo was just over 20,000 people back then and hot-shot fighter pilots were conspicuous, especially one in a brand new, sky blue Mustang convertible.

Today places that size have about 40 police officers on patrol but I’ll be it was half that number in January 1966 when a Sgt. Baker observed my uncle driving along a street and then suddenly stopping to back up and accelerate down a side street 10 miles over the posted speed limit.

When the officer pulled Ferd over and asked about his actions, my uncle quipped “I was in a hurry.”  When the officer noted that he would have to cite Ferd for reckless driving, my uncle quipped “Well go ahead and write the ticket I’m still in a hurry.”

Probably enough smart ass to go around on both parts, but the officer escalated the situation by saying that he would then have to take my uncle into the station as “a good object lesson.”

After being reprimanded by his commander, Ferd appeared in court the next morning where he apologized, pled guilty and paid a $50 fine.

Less than 60 days later, Ferd was flying missions over South Vietnam out of Phan Rang Airbase in support of ground troops.

By October, after flying home to attend my grandmother’s funeral, Ferd was flying out of Da Nang Airbase on what would be more than 300 missions (sorties) over heavily defended North Vietnam.

Combat fighter pilots were limited to 100 “out-of-country” missions over North Vietnam per tour.  His personal life troubled, Ferd kept “re-upping” for additional tours, where he excelled in combat flying.

Flying a fighter plane, no matter how hazardous the conditions or how many friends were shot down, was what he was meant to do.

Highly decorated with a Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with 26 oak leaf clusters, and even a Bronze Star, Ferd was discharged from active duty on December 18, 1968.

It was brought about the month prior when President Lyndon B. Johnson placed North Vietnam off limits to U.S. fighter aircraft.

While he could never understand why I repeatedly tried every avenue I could to follow in his footsteps between 1967 and 1971, but was turned down, he admitted that he had never felt as alive as he did in combat over North Vietnam.

For 10 months he flew for Thompson Air Service in Utah which did business as Interwest Inc. but it didn’t feel like flying.  His kindred spirit would have been its founder Tailspin Tommy, a stunt pilot who was killed piloting a United Airlines DC-3 when it crashed into San Francisco Bay in 1937.

During his time at Interstate/Thompson, Ferd was repeatedly turned down by commercial airlines due to a combat injury he received while crash landing in Vietnam.

Dejected, he even worked a year in marketing for Mountain Bell Telephone Co. in Salt Lake, but he felt numb.

Then in January 1972 Ferd got on with the DEA as a special agent.  He could fly again with a purpose.

It was dangerous undercover work along both sides of the Arizona border with Mexico, infiltrating and disrupting the notorious Dominguez Family.

Fifteen month later when he was killed, he had just turned 31.

This was a few months before my daughter and only child was born.  It has been more than 40 years now but I still think of him often, as does my younger sister, especially.

The portfolio spans much more of his life than the 9 years from when he discovered his passion in life and his death.  Every time I go through it I learn something new about Ferd as well as myself.