Rocky Barker is the author of Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America (Island Press, 2005). The book was a finalist for the Western Writers of America's Spur Award in nonfiction.
The story inspired a television movie, Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone on A&E Network in 2006 starring Scott Foley and Richard Burgi and co-produced by Barker. His first book, Saving All the Parts, Reconciling Economics and the Endangered Species Act, was published in 1993 also by Island Press. The book was cited for "excellence in achievement," by the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award judges. He co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic.
He is environmental reporter for the Idaho Statesman, where he was part of a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for the its reports on Larry Craig. He also was the primary researcher for an award-winning series of editorials calling for the breaching of four Snake River dams to save salmon. The series team was the first winners of the Dolly Connelly Environmental Journalism Award in 1998. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him with its National Conservation Achievement Award in 1999.
The newspaper also won the first Wallace Stegner Award along with nine other newspapers for coverage of western issues with Barker's work cited in its report. His unique approach to journalism was examined in the report released at the same time. "When you care about education, you're not accused of being pro-education or pro-children," Barker said. "But when you care about the environment, you become a lightning rod."
Barker has long been viewed as a maverick in the newsroom.
"Journalists are taught to write objectively, or at least to have objectivity as a goal," Barker said. "A separate set of journalism ethics has been developed to help journalists reach that goal and to keep themselves outsiders -- flies on the wall -- to the events and institutions we cover.
"I reject the erection of these false walls between the writer and his subjects. The ethics I follow are the same ethics I follow in life -- basically respect of human dignity and of the entire life community. The balance I use is the knowledge that no matter how comprehensively I have researched a subject, I may not understand the real truth. I may be wrong, so I have a responsibility to show my readers plausible alternative realities to those I present."
In 1996 he co-founded Writers on the Range, a syndicated news service of western writers that grew under High Country News to more than 80 newspapers. Barker is a regular contributor.
Barker also was the lead reporter for the Idaho Falls Post Register's award winning coverage of the Yellowstone fires in 1988. His moment in time came at Old Faithful.
"I shall never forget the sight of Barker bounding out of the forest in front of Old Faithful as a dense canopy of lodgepole pine erupted in flame behind him," wrote Todd Wilkinson, a Montana journalist and author.
His first big break in journalism came in 1977, when he was working at the Washburn (WI) Times, and covering a house-moving across the ice of Lake Superior to Madeline Island in the Apostle Islands. The house and truck broke through the ice and Barker's pictures of the event ran worldwide.
He has covered environmental issues ranging from mining in Wisconsin, acid rain in Canada, rain forest protection in Hawaii, village-based conservation in Africa to budding environmentalism in 1990s Russia.
The Sandwich, Illinois native holds a bachelor's degree in environmental studies from Northland College in Ashland, WI., which awarded him an alumni award for environmental achievement in 1994.