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Public support for environmental spending hinges on White House

Erik Johnson.

WSU sociology professor Erik Johnson has what looks like a surefire way to hurt support for government spending to protect the environment: Elect a Democratic president.

While the finding may seem counterintuitive, Johnson said Democratic administrations appear to mobilize Republican opposition that is less volatile when the GOP controls the White House.

Johnson teased apart the opinions of more than 20,000 people over more than four decades and saw that support for environmental spending consistently plummeted during the administrations of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Democrats all.

Johnson made his discovery using a statistical analysis that looked at poll respondents in terms of their age, the time period in which they were surveyed and the cohort of similarly aged people. Support for environmental spending consistently declines as people get older and one’s cohort has only a modest effect on his or her environmental views. But one’s relative support for the environment changes dramatically depending on which party is in the White House.

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WSU Insider

Why water matters

From cities to rural and wild areas, Kevan Moffett wants to better understand the role of water on the planet.

Kevan Moffet.

On the southern slope of Mount Adams in Washington, Moffett and her students are working to learn how soils recover moisture following wildfires so that trees and plants can sprout again. The field area has suffered three fires in the last 14 years — the McDonald Ridge fire of 2004, the Cold Springs fire of 2008 and the Cougar Creek burn of 2015.

“With three fires in overlapping areas, we can study field sites that have overlapping fires or just one,” said Moffett, an assistant professor of environmental hydrology at WSU Vancouver. “That’s the whole point of this project: These repeated fires are becoming more common. Finding a special spot to study them that’s really convenient is a unique opportunity.”

The research is supported by a National Science Foundation grant Moffett shares with Andrés Holz of Portland State University. They are studying “short‑interval reburns” to better understand the effects of repeated wildfires on Cascades forest ecology and hydrology. Over the next few years, Moffett, Holz and their student research teams will examine whether an altered hydrological cycle and changes in soil moisture may change how plants regrow after a fire and also make them more vulnerable under some conditions to repeated fires in the future. They will also help identify whether, and over what time scales, reburns might mitigate or worsen the downstream flood risks that often follow fires.

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WSU Insider

Student‑composed Cougar ‘Fight Song’ tops the charts at 100 years old

Sepia-toned photos of Zella Melcher and Phyllis Sayles as young women are foreground to the hand-annotated sheet music for the Washington State Fight Song.
Zella Melcher and Phyllis Sayles composed the Washington State Fight Song as WSC students in 1919

A century ago, as the patriotic fervor from World War I began to subside, students at Washington State College found themselves uninspired by the songs associated with their school, according to university archivist Mark O’English. Two senior music majors, Zella Melcher of Spokane, Wash., and Phyllis Sayles of Lapwai, Idaho, took on the task of writing new music to energize the student body.

Soon to be 100 years old, the Washington State Fight Song is the Cougar Nation’s familiar and much‑loved anthem. A new exhibit at WSU’s Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections celebrates the iconic song as well as the two women who wrote it.

“When you think about the things that make WSU unique, the fight song is certainly one of them,” said O’English, who is the exhibit curator. “It has gained a place in popular culture and been used as wakeup music for space shuttle astronauts.”

“Win the Day for Crimson and Gray: Celebrating a Century of the Fight Song” opens with a reception 3–4:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, at MASC in Terrell Library. The exhibit is open for viewing during MASC’s regular hours, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Monday–Friday, and will remain up through the final full week of April.

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WSU Insider

A WSU researcher lived with grizzly bears in Alaska. She came away convinced humans and grizzlies can coexist

Woman tending to a sedated bear in a meadow surrounded by mountains.
Joy Erlenbach takes a blood sample from a bear in Alaska.

A small seaplane drops her off and flies back toward civilization, leaving Joy Erlenbach there among the bears and the wild.

Erlenbach looks for a place to set up camp as she hikes through Alaska’s Hallo Bay. Swarms of bugs fill the salty air. On one side, miles of sandy beach stretch along the shore undisturbed. On the other, towering, snow-covered volcanoes poke into the sky as dozens of grizzly bears graze below in an open meadow.

This is grizzly country — with no signs of humans, no roads and no trails leading into it. Erlenbach knows that if anything goes wrong, she could be days from help.

Erlenbach, a bear biologist and Ph.D. candidate in environmental studies at Washington State University, is there to study the bears. Yet before that first research trip in June 2015, she had never lived with formidable, 1,000-pound predators in the wild before.

“All of the sudden,” Erlenbach says, “my life revolved around getting along with bears.”

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The Inlander

Cornell W. Clayton: Universities must face new free speech challenges

By Cornell W. Clayton, professor of political science and director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at WSU

Cornell Clayton.

After decades of student apathy, university administrators suddenly find themselves struggling with messy political speech controversies on their campuses.

Here in Eastern Washington, Gonzaga is in the news for denying a platform to Ben Shapiro, the right-wing provocateur whom College Republicans invited to speak. Administrators say Shapiro’s hateful rhetoric runs contrary to the Jesuit school’s mission and they worry protests will create safety concerns. Gonzaga faced a similar public backlash two years ago when it attempted to limit the audience for another speaker, the conservative conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza.

Meanwhile, WSU College Republicans constructed a mock “Trump Wall” on campus in 2016, angering fellow students and prompting demands that administrators do more to prevent hate speech at the school. The club’s president, James Allsup, subsequently participated in a white supremacist rally at the University of Virginia, spurring calls for his expulsion (calls rejected by WSU). Now the campus Republicans plan to repeat the wall stunt this spring to show support for President Trump, and, according to the current club president, “own the libs mercilessly.”

As these and similar incidents around the country demonstrate, there’s a new dynamic governing speech controversies at universities. For those who remember the 1960s, such controversies usually involved liberal anti-war and civil rights activists muzzled by conservative administrators and legislators. Today it is conservative agitators often denied campus platforms.

University leaders are not just concerned that today’s conservative agitators purposely offend groups like gays, immigrants and ethnic minorities. They also fear liability when events turn violent, as they did recently when a man was shot during a University of Washington talk by Milo Yiannopoulous, the pugnacious editor of Breitbart News.

Let’s be clear, many of these conservative provocateurs are less interested in a meaningful debate over ideas than in weaponizing and commodifying culture war issues. Right-wing groups like Turning Point USA train undergraduates to provoke fellow students, film the angry reactions on smartphones, and then post them to conservative media. Unlike earlier conservative literati like William F. Buckley or George Will, today’s popular conservative speakers—the Shapiros, Yiannopouloses, Ann Coulters or Tomi Lahrens—are not erudite intellectuals. Their talent lies more in earning millions for themselves by turning offensiveness into entertainment, complete with Hollywood-style marketing.

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The Spokesman-Review