MARK MADISON: Hi. Today is May 11, 2011, and this is Mark Madison at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and on today's Podcast we're very fortunate to have Lisa Mighetto, who is an environmental historian and currently the Executive Director of the American Society for Environmental History.
Welcome, Lisa. Thanks for coming out here.
LISA MIGHETTO: Well, thank you for having me.
MARK MADISON: Lisa, why don't you tell us a little bit about what the American Society for Environmental History does.
LISA MIGHETTO: We are a nonprofit organization of educators and scholars. We study the history of human interaction with the natural world over time.
Basically what we do is provide context for current environmental issues. For example, we have people who study natural disasters, the historical background for hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods. We have people who study public lands, fish and wildlife. We have people who study environmental justice issues, urban issues. Very broad interests.
MARK MADISON: If people wanted to learn more about ASEH, is there a web site they could go to?
LISA MIGHETTO: Yes, it's www.aseh.net.
MARK MADISON: Great. You're also an environmental historian. Could you give us a case study for environmental history that you might have worked on?
LISA MIGHETTO: Well, this could provide an example of what environmental historians do and how-- basically if you're interested in the environment, you're interested in environmental history, because it provides the background, as I said, for current issues.
I worked before I became director of ASEH as what's called a public historian, that's history outside the university, and I worked on many contracts for government agencies, such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Forest Service. And I did a lot of work on salmon issues since I live in the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest. That work basically assisted biologists who were looking at endangered species.
A lot of this work intensified in the early 1990s and late 1990s, coinciding with endangered species listings, and there was a need to research the many stocks of salmon in the Northwest in terms of their population distribution and their habitat, the changing habitat conditions. And historians often know where little-known records are that can help biologists document.
MARK MADISON: Were there some interesting things you learned about salmon and their history?
LISA MIGHETTO: Yes. This, again, gives an example of sort of the range that environmental history provides. When you look at salmon, you could look at commercially important species. You could look at planting records, that is, fish culture and how biologists try to propagate fish. You could look at policy issues and regulations. You could look at, for instance, how the so-called trash fish that were deemed inconvenient were removed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You could look at social history, even, user groups, from tribal fishers and Native peoples to sport fishers to government biologists to just people who are recreating on weekends and all these groups interact. You could look at the history of the importance of an animal like salmon, or fish, in terms of cultural history, how important it's been to Native peoples, to sport fishers in literature over time. So the history of ideas becomes important, too. But that's how wide ranging, just by looking at one example, like salmon, and if you expand that out into many, many species--
MARK MADISON: Are there other case studies you've worked on?
LISA MIGHETTO: Oh, well, yes, there are many, many. I used to research wolves-- well, because fish and wildlife was my specialty, that's what I--
MARK MADISON: That's good.
LISA MIGHETTO: Right. I thought that might be of interest here.
One of the things that interested me was I also did work on litigation support for large court cases, and the court often had a need in large litigation cases to establish the state of biological knowledge at a certain time. Environmental historians analyze that and study that. And I remember one biologist who I worked with who was very, very good in his field, in fact a leader in his field in the Seattle area, and we were talking about how this one area we were studying in terms of changing habitat conditions, they had removed all of the crud in the streams because they thought, well, we'll clear it out and make it nice and tidy for fish. Well, of course, now, when you look at that and you say, well, what about all that large woody debris that was there that we needed?
We also looked at the bounties on trash fish and how some of those trash fish had been removed and the repercussions, the consequences. And I said to him, jokingly, "Well, these mistakes had been made in the past." And he said, "Yeah, they didn't know what they were doing then." And I said, jokingly, "Oh, but we know what we're doing now, right?" And I was kidding, but he was serious, and he said, "Yes, now we're correcting the mistakes of the past." And I thought, well, this is why you need the historical perspective, because it shows you how the state of knowledge evolves over time. Scientific knowledge is not a static thing.
MARK MADISON: Yes, perspective is critical.
LISA MIGHETTO: Right.
MARK MADISON: Now, we have a journal. There is an environmental history journal. That's a great place to get an introduction to the field. Were there any environmental history books that influenced you?
LISA MIGHETTO: Well, I studied with Roderick Nash in the '70s. So that was quite a while ago. "Wilderness in the American Mind" was one of the books that founded the field. But ASEH was founded in 1977, so it coincided with the emergence of the environmental movement.
But we have lists of books on our web site, which again is aseh.net, if anybody is interested in looking at the most influential books in environmental history. I noticed just walking around NCTC all of the photographs of important people like George Bird Grinell, John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Ira Gabrielson, Ding Darling. The list goes on and on. Our members have written books, biographies, very good books, about these individuals and their impact. And those books are listed in these bibliographies.
MARK MADISON: Well, Lisa, thank you very much. Lisa Mighetto is the Director for the American Society of Environmental History. If you wanted to learn more about them, you could go to their web site, www.aseh.net.
You look like you wanted to add something, Lisa. Jump right in.
LISA MIGHETTO: Not only do we have a journal, but we have an annual conference that brings together not only academics but journalists and activists and government agency people.
MARK MADISON: Where's the 2012 conference going to be?
LISA MIGHETTO: In Madison, Wisconsin.
MARK MADISON: I like the sound of that. It's going to be right near Aldo Leopold's shack.
LISA MIGHETTO: We're going to visit Aldo Leopold's shack and we're going to visit John Muir's farmstead. So it will be an interesting conference.
MARK MADISON: Actually, before we let Lisa go, she knows quite a bit about John Muir. Tell us a little about your experience with John Muir and why he's important to us today.
LISA MIGHETTO: Well, at the time that I was writing about John Muir, I mean, that was many years ago, but I should mention that there's been a resurgence of interest in John Muir. So if you're at all interested in John Muir, there's a new movie coming out, "John Muir and the New World," I think it's called. There's a recent biography by Donald Worster about John Muir. So, very important naturalists. And I grew up on the West Coast, so, of course, he was a--
MARK MADISON: Kind of a founding philosopher of the Park Service ideology and the Sierra Club.
LISA MIGHETTO: And an important Sierra Club figure.
MARK MADISON: Great. Thank you-- go ahead, Lisa. I interrupted you.
LISA MIGHETTO: Thank you for having me.
MARK MADISON: Well, thank you, Lisa. And once again, it's Lisa Mighetto, Executive Director of the American Society for Environmental History, and thank you for taking the time to listen.
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