Brandon Loomis first moved to Alaska when he was 5. His parents drove him across the continent in a yellow Ford F-150. They camped on a Kodiak Island beach while his dad sought work on a fishing boat. Loomis caught a Dungeness crab with his bare hands and boiled it over an open flame. They slept in the truck, wary of bears.

His family left and came back when he was in fifth grade, this time settling in Ketchikan, truly one of the most beautiful places on Earth, with glacier-carved fjords and unspoiled rainforests. He caught, smoked and pickled salmon with his family. He helped restore a pulp mill, worked in a salmon processing plant.

Alaska is where Loomis learned to love and appreciate our natural resources.

Arizona is where he’s dedicated his career to researching and reporting on them for you.

Loomis is The Arizona Republic’s environmental reporter. And now, thanks to a three-year grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, he’ll be going in-depth on the resources that matter most to Arizona: our water, our air, our land, our wildlife.

Loomis will be joined by two journalism fellows as well as dedicated photojournalists. We’re also launching a social-media campaign to support and spread their work. (Follow OurGrandAZ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.)

Arizona’s biggest environmental questions 

This grant, this team, allows The Republic to explore the biggest environmental questions in Arizona.

  • How do we sustain our water supplies as our population continues to grow?
  • Can our native species be saved from extinction? 
  • How will drought impact the future of our forests?
  • Can our fragile ecosystems survive rising temperatures?

Journalism can tell the story. Find the answers.

Grant-funded journalism is becoming more common for media organizations. Foundations provide the resources, but newsrooms retain editorial independence.

“In virtually every discussion over the past two years, national and local environmental experts stated that the lack of understanding of the critical role environmental quality, management and viability play in our future is one of the biggest impediments to implementing change,” said Gene D’Adamo, president and CEO of the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. “These experts stressed that leadership through education and advocacy is one of the most important roles for the Trust to consider.

“Ultimately, we want people to be moved to action that balances economic realities with protecting Arizona’s precious and limited resources.”

An enormous task

The ongoing work will be guided by longtime environmental journalist and editor Shaun McKinnon. McKinnon grew up at the base of Willard Peak in northern Utah, where he and his childhood friends would hike up into a canyon on weekends to wade in a cold, rocky creek.

“Everything was so beautiful,” he said. “But at the same time you always got the feeling, and you heard people talk, about how fragile it all was.”

He has spent much of his professional life exploring that balance between beauty and fragility.

He remembers touring another mountainside a few years ago, after the Wallow Fire had swallowed half a million acres in eastern Arizona. On the slope above the town of Alpine, land managers had spent years thinning the forest carefully to protect the natural balance. After the fire, the line was clear: Where they had worked, the fire had stopped, and the town and forest were both saved.

Next, he visited an area outside Show Low. Forest officials there had plans to thin and protect a million acres across the state, twice the size of the Wallow Fire. But the job would take 20 years.

“The enormousness of the task was never clearer,” he says.

Now, our task is bigger than ever, too.

How far we’ll go 

Between them, Loomis and McKinnon have decades of experience covering environmental issues in the West. They’ve won armloads of awards. But here’s what you really want to know about them: how far they’ll go for a story. How hard they’ll work to bring you the truth.

Loomis can tell you about the time he rode atop a heap of frozen bison slabs on a mule-drawn sleigh to watch rangers feed transplanted wolves in Yellowstone’s backcountry.

He has followed the Colorado River to where it sinks prematurely in the Mexican sand, where he took a pole-boat ride in a salty marsh.

To bring you today’s special report, Running Wild, Loomis and photojournalist Pat Shannahan traveled to seven states to see where America’s wild horses run the range or have been contained in captive care.

They witnessed the controversial helicopter roundups that are the government’s most efficient method of population control at present, but which also result in injury and occasional deaths. They visited places where horses have damaged critical wildlife habitat, as in the Oregon range of the dwindling sage grouse, and places where cattle ranchers incur the expense of keeping horses alive.

McKinnon has traveled the length of the Colorado River, starting in the high Rockies where it begins as a stream, for a series about the difficulties of finding agreement among water users of the West’s lifeline.

He went to the headwaters of seven of Arizona’s own rivers to report on the risks facing those waterways.

He trekked to the highest elevations in the White Mountains to research the impact of bark beetles and wildfire on our ponderosa pines.

And now, thanks to this journalism grant, these two are focusing their considerable expertise on Arizona’s future.

Their hope for the work?

“You can’t live in Arizona without caring about the place we live, the mountains, the water,” McKinnon says. “But I want people to care about the future of this.”

And for Loomis?

“I want people to pay attention. What we do matters. What we all do together matters.”

Nicole Carroll is the editor and vice president of news at The Arizona Republic and Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter and Facebook.

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