Letters From the West

Freemuth finds insights in his place above the fray

John Freemuth

John Freemuth

Boise State University professor John Freemuth will talk about science, democracy and Boise’s environmental future Oct 17 at the Jim Hall Foothills Learning Center, 3188 Sunset Peak Road.

Freemuth will speak from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Admission is free to the Boise 150 sesquicentennial event.

Freemuth, a professor of political science and public policy, has taught many of the region’s resource policymakers who went back to school to get a masters in public administration. I have quoted him often in my coverage of environmental issues in Idaho over 20 years in part because he doesn’t have a dog in the fight.

Freemuth has the ability to hold himself above the fray, in part because of his graduate school professor in political science Phillip Foss. Foss, who also taught former Yellowstone National Park superintendent Bob Barbee — one of the most gifted bureaucrats I ever met — told his students to look at an issue dispassionately.

If they look at forces and ideas that strengthen conflicting views in a debate, they understand it better, Foss taught. Freemuth teaches the same thing.

Barbee told me this way of looking at an issue doesn’t divorce you from your values, but helps you to find the best solution that can be done. Freemuth, a former park ranger at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, doesn’t deny his values either.

He’s tough on scientists who move beyond professional analysis to advocacy. He recently completed the foreword titled “Thoughts on the Role of Science in Making Public Policy” in “Ecology and Conservation of Greater Sage-Grouse: A Landscape Species and Its Habitats”

But he is just as hard on politicians who replace that analysis with political judgments and suggest it is “good science.” He was chair of the Science Advisory Board for the Bureau of Land Management.

I worked with Freemuth on several conferences with the Andrus Center for Public Policy. He is the author of 10 Andrus Center white papers based on Center conferences.

If you haven’t been in one of Freemuth’s classes or heard him speak I would recommend you attend this talk. Even if you have heard him before you can bet he will be provocative and entertaining.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West