BY JOAN TUPPONCE
It doesn't matter whether it's hopping on a sea plane to visit the wolves of Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior or hiking along the Blue Ridge to find one of the world's rarest plants, Steve Nash is always ready to investigate a good environmental story.
His passion for the environment coupled with his interest in science and public policy as it relates to environmental issues is evident in the pages of Nash's two books: Blue Ridge 2020: An Owner's Manual and Millipedes and Moon Tigers: Science and Policy in an Age of Extinction.
An associate professor of journalism at Richmond, he was an editor and police, education and general assignment reporter at several newspapers while earning a master of journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley. After graduation, instead of heading to another newsroom, Nash moved to the classroom.
"I liked to write, and I enjoyed talking about, researching and thinking about journalism," he says. "I thought I would try teaching on a trial basis. I figured I could keep writing while I was teaching."
He began at Eastern Illinois University and found that he loved the profession. The only drawback: At first his busy schedule left little time for writing. On the plus side, the university's rural location was surrounded by hundreds of square miles of corn and soybeans. He learned all he could about the crops and used that research in a number of articles. He continued writing about science and the environment after accepting a position at Richmond in 1980. His articles and commentaries on the environment have appeared in numerous publications, including BioScience, The Scientist, The Washington Post Sunday Magazine and The Christian Science Monitor.
"Steve is one of our excellent freelance authors," says Timothy Beardsley, editor-in-chief of BioScience. "In his most recent article for us on the bio-fuels boom, he handled a difficult subject remarkably well, with flair and imagination."
He became interested in the outdoors growing up near the mountain ranges of Oregon and Southern California. And by the eighth grade, he had also joined a friend to start an "underground" newspaper. "It was a silly kid thing," he recalls. "But I liked to write, and it was a way to get an audience."
Those two threads of interest—journalism and the environment—spun together when he was working as a general assignment reporter. "Whenever I had the chance to do an environmental story, I would ask for the assignment," he says.
After moving to the East to teach at Richmond, Nash and his wife began hiking the Southern Appalachians. "It was natural that I began to see things we learned on those hikes as a basis for new stories," he says.
His articles have covered everything from the wilderness areas in Virginia to one of the world's rarest plants-the Peter's Mountain Mallow-found along the New River. His reporting of science and environmental stories along the Blue Ridge led to Blue Ridge 2020: An Owner's Manual, published by the University of North Carolina Press. It took about three years to write and appeared in 1999.
"Scientists consider the 17,000-square-mile Blue Ridge ecosystem a unique place," Nash says. "The climate, soils, plants and animals form a singular natural tapestry, and a lot of fascinating research has examined how environmental pressures are affecting its future."
Blue Ridge 2020 looks at how human-caused problems, such as sprawl, air and water pollution, and out-of-control logging, can destroy nature's balance. "I've tried to translate what science is telling us about the coming decades and what they mean for our mountain wilderness areas," he explains.
Compiling the information was an arduous but fun task. During the process, Nash was able to perfect his technique for interviewing scientists and writing about their research in an easy-to-understand manner. "The process provided a lot of material for my teaching," he says.
Blue Ridge 2020 won the Southern Environmental Law Center's Philip D. Reed Award for "outstanding journalism about southern environmental issues."
"I was just pleased to know that somebody was reading the book and liked it," Nash says, laughing. He also has received the University's Distinguished Educator Award "for outstanding contributions to excellence in education."
During the last several years, he has written about a variety of subjects that relate to science, the environment and public policy. Many of those articles can be found in his newest book, Millipedes and Moon Tigers: Science and Policy in an Age of Extinction, published by the University of Virginia Press.
Boyd Zenner, acquisitions editor for the Press, was already familiar with Nash and his writing when he called her about his idea. "I was delighted to hear from him," she says. "I liked his first book very much."
Zenner describes Nash as a "smart, affable guy who is interested in everything." Everybody at the Press "found him delightful to work with," she says, adding that Nash doesn't shy away from constructive criticism. "He took my suggestions into consideration as well as the suggestions of the outside readers. He executed the suggestions he thought made sense. We are very pleased with the book and hope he is as well."
Pursuing the stories that went into the book was an educational experience, Nash says. "I learned more about the environment, of course, but just as important, I learned more about how journalism works-and that enriches my teaching, in both journalism and environmental studies."