WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Eric Pfeifer, a Whitman College senior from Kirkland, Wash., is one of 80 students from around the nation recently honored as Morris K. Udall Scholarship recipients for the 2001-2002 academic year.

Pfeifer, praised by his Whitman professors as a future leader in America's environmental conservation movement, receives a $5,000 Udall Scholarship to help defray his educational expenses.

Pfeifer, a politics and environmental studies major, is the third Whitman student to earn the title of Udall Scholar. In early August, he will travel to the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, located at the University of Arizona, for a scholar orientation weekend.

Established by Congress in 1992, the Udall program honors the late congressman and his legacy of public service and concern for the environment. Udall represented Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years, retiring in 1991. He died in 1998.

Udall's lengthy record of legislative achievement includes the Alaska Lands Act of 1980, which doubled the size of the national park system and the size of the national wilderness area. Other significant Udall legislation ranged from the control of strip mining to nuclear waste management and the welfare of Indian children.

The Udall scholarship program is open to college undergraduates (excluding first-year students) who have demonstrated outstanding potential in environmental studies or related fields, and to Native American and Alaska Native undergraduates who have shown similar potential in the study of health care or tribal public policy.

Eric Pfeifer (right), a Whitman politics-environmental studies major, is spending his sunny summer days on the backroads of the Umatilla National Forest, assessing the effectiveness of environmental safeguards aimed at protecting water quality within several watersheds. Pfeifer, a summer intern with the U.S. Forest Service, spent part of one day touring forest roads with Terry Warhol, one of the agency's civil engineers.

Described by one of his professors as a "whirlwind of environmental activity," Pfeifer is working this summer as an intern for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

Associate professor of politics Phil Brick notes that Pfeifer is highly committed to the concepts of integrity and balance in environmental public policy, a stance that exemplified the political life of Morris Udall.

"Working with Eric, it takes only a few encounters to realize he is destined to be an environmental leader of the future," Brick said. "His passion for the environment is strong, but these passions are tempered by an openness to alternative approaches, especially those involving collaborative problem-solving. . .

"I expect Eric will be running an environmental non-profit group by the time he is 30, if not earlier."

The Umatilla Forest Watch (UFW), a community-based organization that seeks to protect forest ecosystems, is one of the local groups that has benefited from Pfeifer's commitment to the environment. His association with UFW began during the spring of 2000, when he served as an intern through the Whitman Environmental Studies Program. He worked full-time for UFW that summer, and he continues to assist the group as a volunteer in its public outreach program.

Despite his relatively young age, Pfeifer has already made a definite impact in local environmental politics, notes Bill Gaffney, coordinator for the UFW and its 300-plus members. "Senior conservation activists in the Walla Walla area often seek his perspective on issues regarding land management, forest ecosystems and the politics of conservation," Gaffney said. "One of the reasons Eric is making such an impact is his ability to evaluate complex situations and find solutions or explanations that bring people together."

In one situation, Gaffney said, Pfeifer was instrumental in helping the UFW work with local USFS ranger districts on fire issues in the nearby Blue Mountains. Based on his science studies, Pfeifer recognized that the USFS was changing practices in a positive direction and lobbied the UFW to support those actions.

"Eric also realized that the traditional culture of forest environmental groups would make this difficult," Gaffney said. "He arranged meetings between key local environmentalists and the agency (USFS), wrote technical summaries on issues and organized field trips designed to create a dialogue. After nine months of his efforts we are now enjoying more productive working relationships with our agency counterparts, and the public is much better informed about the issues."

In working this summer for the Forest Service, Pfeifer is involved in a pilot project aimed at monitoring the effectiveness of environmental safeguards (including what are known as 'Best Management Practices') placed on timber harvests and road projects in the Umatilla National Forest. Those safeguards are aimed at preserving water quality within several watershed areas.

"The primary question is not only whether the safeguards are being implemented," Pfeifer said. "Another important point is the extent to which they are effective in protecting water quality. Our intent is to develop a workable monitoring strategy that can be used for years to come."

He also remains active this summer with the Blue Mountain Land Trust, a non-profit organization that assists landowners in protecting the conservation values of their property. He has worked for the Land Trust as a staff intern since the fall of 1999.

Pfeifer has yet to set any specific post-Whitman career goals, although his overall "professional aspirations revolve around enhancing public perceptions of natural resource issues," so that policy decisions are based on "accurate information, cooperation and mutual understanding." His possible career paths, he said, are not limited to working for a non-profit or public environmental agency. Another possibility he's considering is working as a free-lance writer/reporter for a variety of publications.

Whichever path he eventually follows, Pfeifer said, his studies at Whitman have prepared him well. His classes have ranged from the natural sciences (Environmental Chemistry, Plant Biology, Environmental Geology) to the social sciences (Human Communities, U.S. Environmental History, and Water Resources). He also has taken two classes in environmental writing and literature, and he plans to take three more writing classes this fall from visiting professor Donald Snow, an environmentalist and writer who publishes Northern Lights Magazine.

Last fall, as part of a class titled "Politics and Environment in the New West," Pfeifer spent a week traveling through rural northeast Nevada, talking with people actively involved in such environmental issues as livestock grazing on public lands, water quality, wilderness areas, local needs vs. national priorities, and gold mining.

While at Eastside Catholic High School in Bellevue, Wash., Pfeifer served as editor of both the school newspaper and literary magazine. He has continued his journalistic pursuits at Whitman, working as a writer/reporter for the campus newspaper and as an intern in the Whitman Office of Communications.

Pfeifer has earned Academic Distinction in each of his six semesters at Whitman, maintaining an overall grade point average of 3.88 on a 4.0 scale. He is a member of the Whitman Conservation Committee and serves as coordinator of the Student Alliance to Reform Corporations. He also plays the vibes in the Whitman Jazz Ensemble and is a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Pfeifer, a 1998 graduate of Eastside Catholic, is the son of Jean and Robert Pfeifer of Kirkland, Wash.


Dave Holden, Whitman News Service, (509) 527-5902
Email: holden@whitman.edu