Longtime Spokane Hook-and-bullet Writer Retires, But Will Continue Reporting

The Northwest hook-and-bullet world is losing another important voice in a key market, though one that fortunately won’t entirely disappear into the Palouse behind his faithful bird dogs either.

Last Friday afternoon, Rich Landers retired as the outdoor editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, where he’s been writing since before I even could scrawl my A-B-C’s.


Across 41 years, thousands of deadlines and countless words, Landers has covered hunting and fishing, wildlife and water issues, along with a host of other outdoor subjects such as skiing and hiking for much of the Inland Northwest.

And he’s going out on a high note as this year’s winner of the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s 2017 Jade of the Chief award, the organization’s highest conservation honor and which “represents an affirmation of OWAA adherence to, and support of, the principles of conservation.”

He will continue to freelance for the paper, but in the meanwhile, Eli Francovich, who’s been covering schools, youth and breaking news at Spokane’s daily, has been named the new outdoor editor.

There was an outpouring of appreciation late last week on Facebook where Landers publicly announced his retirement, but his final Sunday column wasn’t about himself or a compilation of greatest hits more vainglorious writers might have self-assigned.

Rather, it was on efforts to save the critically endangered South Selkirk caribou herd, which occasionally wanders into Washington.

He wrote that volunteers are gathering lichen to feed pregnant cows that will be herded into a 19-acre maternity pen built in southern British Columbia to protect them during calving from resurgent wolf populations, as well as other predators.

It’s that sort of crossover story that Landers has been writing for ages, while also providing plenty of pieces on hunting and fishing prospects and more, making his space an important bridge between user groups.

You could see that in the comments on his farewell post, as well as in the response from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Rich Landers’ coverage of all things fish and wildlife has been most significant to us at WDFW because his readership includes everybody who recreates in some way in the Northwest’s great outdoors; that means those who don’t hunt or fish are exposed to hunting and fishing stories, and vice versa,” notes the agency’s Madonna Luers, a 33-year veteran of its Public Affairs team and based in the Lilac City. “Rich has kept us on our toes and helped us be responsive, serving as both a watchdog and a scientific ally. I am grateful to have worked with him all these years.”

Dave Workman’s been writing about WDFW and hunting for about as long as Landers, and says he particularly enjoyed Landers’ recent pieces on working with his gun dog Ranger and a profile of an elk hunting partner.

“We haven’t always agreed on fish and game management issues, but he’s managed to turn a passion for the outdoors into a paying job. Can’t beat that!” Workman says.

Over the years Landers and I have traded emails on each other’s work, commiserated on WDFW’s proclivity for 4:55 p.m. wolf news press releases, and the best way to prepare Bolivian llama, among other topics, and finally got to meet each other above the Ronde in the state’s southeastern corner in May 2015.

I’ll readily admit that I’ve also ruthlessly stalked him, checking in on him multiple times a day to see what he’s writing and blogging and Facebooking and tweeting about.

Beyond the competition for scoops and stories — mostly won by Rich, occasionally by me — I’ve paid particularly close attention to his level-headed reporting on wolves.

For this blog I’ve shared more than a few cogent quotes from Landers as he’s given the howling fringes the what-for while accurately and honestly covering wolves’ recolonization and all that comes with it. (And if he’s provided inspiration for a little levity with the overwrought subject, more power to him.)

Indeed, he might as well be secretary-treasurer of the Cooler Heads Club.

Not that members are in demand much in these modern times. Or us.

If Landers and fellow pens were as furry or had fins like some of the critters they write about, they’d be a candidates for Endangered Species Act protections themselves.

True, Mark Freeman’s going strong at the Medford Mail-Tribune, but while Bill Monroe and Wayne Kruse are still freelancing for The Oregonian and the Daily Herald of Everett, they along with Alan Liere at the Spokesman-Review are getting up there in age.

And in recent years we’ve seen Mark Yuasa move on from The Seattle Times and Jeff Mayor from the Tacoma News Tribune, Al Thomas retire from The Columbian, Henry Miller from the Salem Statesman-Journal and Tony Floor from his monthly Northwest Marine Trade Association fishing newsletter, while Scott Sandsberry left the Yakima Herald for health reasons and Greg Johnston and the Seattle PI parted ways long ago.

Last spring the Bellingham Herald discontinued Doug Huddle’s column in favor of outdoors coverage along the lines of:

The wild road to Crystal Mill, a photographer’s dream;
Call of the wild: Minnesota women explore public lands, by bicycle;
Three basic stretches to help you do the splits
Colorado’s Waldo Canyon, a place for serious adventure;
Washington’s Lopez Island in the fall: Hikes, farm stands and fine dining

I’m not going to sit here and say that topics like those don’t have a place, because this no longer is 1957, papers are struggling to catch readers’ eyes, variety is the spice of life, and Landers has done his share of writing those pieces or scanning the AP wire for similar because the press — it needs to be fed.

But our ranks are increasingly as thin as the hair on our heads. The days when a magazine like Fishing & Hunting News could spawn an entire generation of outdoor writers are further and further back.

When one newspaper in a very important location for people like us recently looked to replace their veteran outdoor reporter, they got fresh-out-of-college kids who couldn’t tell the difference between a springer and a summer-run and who equated the job title to mean writing environmental stories.

The latter in itself is not a bad thing, because as Landers recently wrote, “Regardless of the politics, a sportsman who isn’t an environmentalist is a fool, or at least uniformed.”

But more and more, that particular style of reporting aims to tear down fish and wildlife agencies rather than thoughtfully challenge or detail the thinking and methods behind biologists’ and managers’ decisions.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen the expansion of radio and forums and blogs and pages, where sportsmen, experts and bios — retired and otherwise — can debate things.

And all is not lost on the print side.

Amidst our ranks there’s Jordan Nailon — he of the fine coverage of Southwest Washington poaching and Cowlitz steelhead issues — at the Centralia Chronicle, Eric Barker at the Lewiston Tribune and Ralph Bartholdt at the Couer d’Alene Press. Replacing Al Thomas at The Columbian is a Northwest Sportsman alumnus, Terry Otto.

It’s great that local newspapers and editors still put an emphasis on coverage of hunting and fishing. I do appreciate that.

But at the same time, 20 percent of all salmon and steelhead anglers in the state of Washington in 2015 lived in Fairview Fannie’s hometown and backyard, King County, pointing to the importance of a landed hook-and-bullet reporter in major metro dailies.

According to The Seattle Times’, the end of everyday fishing and hunting coverage “was not an easy decision, but one that was necessary considering our evolving readership and limited resources.”

The editors there haven’t done much to show me they still consider our brand of outdoors relevant, however, and that’s disappointing. They’ve been running a steady diet of ski stories this fall instead.

Skiing’s great; I love to ski and haven’t done enough since getting Real Jobs. And I love hiking and photography and mountains and all things outdoors too.

But what I like most of all is an outdoor writer with their head screwed on straight, who knows his or her way around a rod and reel, shotgun and rifle, who has longterm, institutional knowledge of the Northwest fishing and hunting world, and who can see the big picture and transmit that to the masses.

That’s where Landers shines.

Enjoy your retirement, Rich, but don’t let those pups take you too far from the keyboard.

CORRECTION 10:30 A.M., DEC. 7, 2017 Previous reports of Greg Johnston’s “long gone” status were incorrect. While his former paper, the Seattle PI, is a shell of its former self, Johnston is very much still alive and recently published a book coastal anglers may be interested in.

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