THE PRODIGAL SONWHEN YOU'RE CHAIRMAN OF GAME AND FISH AND YOUR FAMILY IS IN THE TIMBER BUSINESS THAT'S HOW YOU FEEL
Klondyke, Arizona, is little more than a dot on the map west of Safford, a general store on a dirt road that passes a few hundred yards from the middle of nowhere.
On a lonely September evening, Gordon Whiting stood in the kitchen of his ranch house there, drinking beer, cooking beans and pan-frying elk and mule deer he'd shot himself. The venison was as smooth as fine veal, the elk strong and rangy, "rutty, because I took it during rutting season."
His business partner in the ranch, a twangy-voiced cowboy named Kenny, sat at the kitchen table, legs stretched out, and the two talked about their conservative neighbors.
Whiting was running for sheriff of Graham County in the recent elections, and the fact that he drinks beer had come up in his campaign. Tongues wagged about his not being a practicing Mormon, though that didn't hurt him as badly as his stand on Senate Bill 1053, the private property protection bill devised to hamstring environmental regulations (Give Me That Old-Time Constitution," November 4).
Whiting is chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, and he spoke out against the bill, concerned that every time his department tried to enforce wildlife regulations against extractive industries, they'd declare it a "taking," and make the agency back down or pay compensation.
"I've got my friends and enemies here," he said casually. To prove it, hanging on the back wall of his campaign office is a poster bearing a photograph of himself looking "real cowboy" in a white ten-gallon hat. Someone had taken a piece out of the photograph with a blast from a .410-gauge shotgun. Where the right eye should have been was a quarter-size gap edged by a perfect aureole of bird-shot holes.
"My boy found it while he was riding his bike," Whiting drawled, and he wasn't sure whether or not it bothered him. He'd circulated a long letter to the voters explaining his position as Game and Fish Commission chairman, but it didn't convince them, and he lost the election for sheriff. Graham Country, after all, is a paradigm of the extractive industries in Arizona--mining, logging, ranching, cotton farming. Folks there don't want to run those businesses any differently than their daddies did.
"The old days aren't here anymore," Whiting said as he dished up the fresh meat. "Sometimes, when you talk about bringing Arizona into the 90s, you're talking about the 1890s."
@body:Last spring, Gordon Whiting and his older brother, Bruce, sat side by side in a House of Representatives hearing room. Gordon wore a Western-cut jacket, boots and bola tie; Bruce, a lawyer, wore a gray business suit. They were opposites right down to their mustaches--Bruce's trim and black in contrast to Gordon's voluminous blond cowboy sniffer. Though both were there to testify on Senate Bill 1053, the private property bill, their intentions were as contrary as their appearances.
Bruce, 43, is president of the timber company Kaibab Industries, and leads ACCORD, a coalition of extractive-industry lobbies. He had lined up a string of witnesses to testify in favor of the bill because they thought it would make it easier for them to conduct business without being held back by costly environmental safeguards imposed by state agencies.
Gordon, 40, as chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, came to testify against the measure. It's a Whiting family trait not to hold a man's beliefs against him, just so long as he stands up for them himself, and so the brothers remain close friends despite their political differences.
"It makes for some interesting conversations across the Thanksgiving dinner table," says Gordon, and even while sitting in the House hearing room, he and Bruce were able to joke about the serious opposition that brought them there.
The 1053 debate was not the first environmental question the Whiting brothers came down on opposite sides of. In 1990, Kaibab Industries launched a massive freedom-of-information search against the Game and Fish Department, trying to prove that the agency was in collusion with "radical" environmentalists, as most of the extractive industries view such mainstream organizations as the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.
Gordon stuck by his department, and if feelings were strained, he was still able to look his family in the eye and keep their respect. There are no clear-cut good guys and bad guys here. Business is business, and truth lies somewhere on a sliding scale of perceptions. Both brothers are good, honest men clinging to strong beliefs. Gordon, however, is the prodigal son, and Bruce the dutiful brother who toiled hard in his father's field. But if Gordon strayed from the family path, those who meet him come away with the impression that he is even-tempered and fair-minded, his father's son despite his politics.
@body:Bruce and Gordon Whiting are sons of an old pioneer Mormon dynasty, and the Whiting family finances have been tied into Arizona's natural resources for four generations. Their name has appeared on gas stations and motor inns across the Southwest. They've made that name in farming and ranching and retailing, much like the Babbitts and the Goldwaters and the other founding families of Arizona.
But the family has been embroiled in the dispute over natural resources for at least 100 years.
In 1891, Bruce and Gordon's great-grandfather, Edwin M. Whiting, and his sons were logging near St. Johns when they were approached by uniformed men on horseback, members of the newly formed National Forest Service, who told Edwin that he'd have to pay for the right to cut timber in the national forest reserves. Whiting is said to have responded in disgust, "The first thing you know, the government will be telling you exactly which trees can be cut."
The conflict that started that day in the woods continues today. Kaibab Industries is under grand jury investigation for cutting more than exactly those trees the Forest Service allowed it in the north Kaibab National Forest. The company claims innocence, but sources close to the investigation feel strongly that indictments will be made.
The Whiting forebears migrated westward from New England with the original "saints" of the Mormon church. They weathered plagues and religious persecution and Indian wars and finally settled in Utah. In the late 19th century, the church asked Edwin M. Whiting to take his wives and children to St. Johns, Arizona, to spread the teachings of Mormonism to that unsettled country. To earn a living, he and his sons followed the construction of the railroad across northern Arizona, cutting timber for railroad ties and shooting game to sell to the work crews. Two years later, he built his first sawmill near St. Johns. It was little more than a portable shack that he would set in the forest until the timber supply was exhausted in the area. Then he would simply pack up the mill and move it to the next area.
Edwin's sons went in and out of the timber business for the next 50 years, building an empire of gasoline franchises, farms, ranches and other businesses, and only geared up to do serious logging because of the all-out demands of World War II. Conservation was not remotely a concern: The bulletin boards in the Whiting mills in Holbrook and Flagstaff bore signs that read "Log Like Hell." Some would say they lived up to that slogan.
Young Arthur Milton Whiting, who was nicknamed Mickey, was born in Holbrook. During the summer and after school, he pumped gas in one of the family stations, which was still the family's principal business. Like a good Mormon, he went to Brigham Young University, but then he transferred to Arizona State University so he could be with his high school sweetheart, Lorana Randall.
Lorana grew up on a ranch near Joseph City, just west of Holbrook. Her father used to brag that his eight daughters could outrun any man or woman in three counties, and he'd invite all comers to take them on at the county fair. Mickey watched from the grandstand one summer as Lorana won a race, and decided right there to chase after her himself.
Mickey's mother died in the late 1940s, while he and Lorana were at ASU; shortly after that, the manager of the family's Holbrook sawmill suffered a heart attack and Mickey's father asked him to come home to run the mill while the manager recuperated. He settled into the position of "boss's son," and never went back to school. He went from Holbrook to Flagstaff as the company expanded, and in 1952 to Fredonia.
Until the widespread use of the diesel-engine long-haul truck after the war, timber supplies and markets were limited to where the railroad traveled. The trucks made logging more mobile, and consequently the Whitings extended their operations into the Kaibab National Forest, north of the Grand Canyon. Bruce and Gordon were born by the time Mickey set up shop in Fredonia, just south of the Utah border, and a younger sister, Janice, was born there, as well.
Mickey and his cousin Jay eventually bought the timber operations from their fathers and the other Whiting brothers, who kept the gasoline side of the business. They named the new company Kaibab Industries, and in 1957 moved their headquarters to Flagstaff, then, as it grew, to Phoenix in 1968. Here Mickey and Lorana adopted a third son, Barry, whom they named after Barry Goldwater. While in Flagstaff, they had also taken in a Navajo boy named Henry Redhouse as part of an educational exchange program of the LDS church. Henry, who was the same age as Gordon, would live with the Whitings during the school year and then return to the reservation each summer to live with his real family. When the program was over, Henry stayed with the Whitings, and moved to Phoenix with them. Mickey took him in as a fourth son, paid to send him on mission for the church and even put him through college. Henry now works for Kaibab Industries as a computer technician, and remains part of the family.
While the younger Whiting children live their lives quietly, Bruce and Gordon stepped into the public eye.
@body:Mickey Whiting once started an address to the Game and Fish Department by joking, "My one son became a lawyer and the other became a Game and Fish commissioner--where did I go wrong?"
Though their mother, Lorana, claims they were raised exactly the same, though they worked the same summer jobs stacking lumber at the mill in Fredonia, pumping gas or working on the family ranch, Bruce's and Gordon's personalities ran in opposite directions, in that way of brothers who choose different paths so they won't be forced to compete with each other.
"As soon as they were born, my father presented each son with a pair of cowboy boots," says Lorana. "Gordon never took them off." Even when he was 6, he always wore a toy six-gun, and would tail after his paternal grandfather, a rancher and cattle inspector. Gordon, she says, took after the cowboy side of the family, while Bruce "is more of a Whiting, organized, methodical." Compared to Gordon and his thoughtful drawl, Bruce seems to speak in italics and exclamation points. He's as conservative in his lifestyle as he is in his politics, and lives frugally in a middle-class suburban house in Mesa with his four kids and his wife of 21 years. Growing up, Bruce was the disciplined student, the nerd of the family. Where Gordon starred in sports at Camelback High School, Bruce was drawn to music and scouting. While Gordon is an avid hunter, Bruce would rather shoot photographs of animals. Bruce is a devout Mormon. When he finished his degree at BYU, he went on mission for the church in Mexico. He lived in a squalid hut in Chilpancingo, south of Mexico City, slept in a hammock and traveled from village to village knocking on doors and preaching the gospel. He learned to speak Spanish flawlessly, which later helped him to manage Kaibab's holdings in Mexico. When he returned from his mission, Bruce went back to school and graduated with BYU's first law class, then went right to work as Kaibab Industries' first in-house counsel.
Gordon's path was different, and more difficult. "You know when they say someone was in sports it means his grades ain't worth a shit," Gordon says now, in his characteristic self-deprecating manner. He partied his way out of two colleges, then worked construction jobs in Alaska and Hawaii before finally finishing an agriculture degree at ASU and going to work for a ranch outside Tucson.
After a couple of years, Gordon approached his father about going into partnership and buying a ranch in Aravaipa Canyon, 60-some miles east of Safford, and Mickey agreed "to help Gordon find his dream."
@body:Just last year, Gordon and his wife, Nanette, bought a house in the booming metropolis of Thatcher, Arizona, population 3,763, so that their three kids could take part in extracurricular activities after school. They'd spent 12 years living far up the canyon, and they still run the ranch and keep the ranch house, and Gordon's heart is still there even if he has to venture into civilization to make a living. Nowadays, he manages some real estate holdings for Kaibab to add to the meager income he gleans from the ranch.
As he cooked dinner in the ranch house that evening, Gordon told a story about working on a crew repaving an airstrip in Bethel, Alaska, 400 air miles from Anchorage. It was the early 1970s, and he was filling a co-worker's ear with marvels about a manned space flight that had just landed on the moon.
"Why'd they want to go to the moon?" asked the co-worker, an Eskimo named Henry. "Because it's important," was all Gordon could say.
Henry was not convinced. "Do they have walrus there?" he asked.
"Do they have seals? Or caribou?"
"Then why do they want to go there?"
Gordon waited a moment before continuing. "In his mind and his world, that was of more value to him," he said. Then Gordon talked of his own need to live up Aravaipa Canyon, 37 miles from the nearest paved road, 55 miles from town, in wide-open country with no one next door. He'd get up in the morning and have to decide only if he should saddle a horse or fix fence. He'd turn on the radio while he made coffee and laugh at the traffic report.
"I didn't go anywhere for years, because what I needed in life was right here."
The county sheriff deputized Gordon so that he'd have someone on call up in the canyon in the rare case of an emergency. Gordon went through the police academy and worked occasional shifts in town, though he never took a paycheck.
Six years ago, for reasons he can't explain, he came out of the canyon to lobby for a seat on the Game and Fish Commission. He attended meetings for a year. Bruce and Mickey pulled what strings they could to make the appointment go through, and Gordon ended up the only Evan Mecham appointment that year that wasn't protested.
It's not a paid position; the commission was set up in the 1920s to insulate the department from the direct influence of politics. There are five commissioners, by mandate from different parts of the state, one of them replaced each year, with the senior commissioner serving as chair. The commission, then, oversees the director and the business of the department. Gordon has also served for the last two years as chairman of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which comprises the game and fish departments of 13 states and four Canadian provinces.
"I've learned there's more than one side to every story," Gordon responds. "There's more than two sides."
No one in the family anticipated the battles to come. "I didn't even know there was a Game and Fish Commission," Bruce says. "We had very few dealings with the department back then. Gordon liked to hunt and fish, so it sounded like a great idea."
Mickey told Gordon the five-year term would be "just enough time to piss everybody off." By all accounts, Gordon served an exemplary, fair-minded term. And in the end, only Kaibab Industries--and his family--were pissed off.
@body:In the morning, a pair of roosters called from the fields outside the ranch house, each trying to outdo the other. Four horses grazed in a field bordered by cottonwood and chestnut trees. The canyon walls rose dustily from just across the dirt road.
A burr-covered white tomcat ran out of the bushes and rubbed between Gordon's legs as he got into his pickup truck. He's a lonely cat since the family moved, and his former companion, a dog who looks like a cross between a pit bulldog and a javelina, got exiled to town for killing chickens. Gordon jammed a straw hat on his head and climbed into the truck and steamed along the dirt roads, slowing only to open fences and to avoid the cattle walking sullenly along the roadside. There are a couple of ranches in Aravaipa Canyon, though the town of Klondyke is nothing more than a general store that doesn't have enough inventory to fill a telephone booth and a hunting lodge that the Whitings built and then sold.
Gordon talked about a mountain-lion study that Game and Fish is conducting on his land. Before the election, he made television commercials arguing against Proposition 200, the antitrapping measure that failed. Ironically, he doesn't believe in trapping, but worried about the law's implications for hunting and fishing in general. When he first moved to the canyon, some animal, probably a lion, was killing his cattle and he set a trap for it. He caught a black bear instead and had to shoot it.
"That was the last trap I set, and it didn't sit well with me," he said. Then he set out to change the depredation laws.
At that time, ranchers could legally trap or shoot bears or lions preying on their livestock, and what Gordon noticed was that the ranchers would kill any predator that came through their property, often trapping the animals and leaving them to starve to death in the traps. He had the law rewritten to force the ranchers to prove depredation before such killing, and then requiring the ranchers to kill in a more humane manner.
"A lot of people thought I'd sold the cowboys out on that one," he says.
More important, he and other commission members asked department director Duane Shroufe to look for sources of revenue above and beyond what was gathered by hunting and fishing licenses. The result was a guaranteed $10 million a year from Arizona Lottery's Heritage Fund.
The money has made Arizona Game and Fish Department the envy of all state wildlife agencies, a target of the extractive industries and an antagonist of the Forest Service, because it gave Game and Fish the funds to aggressively fight for habitat for nongame species of animals. House Majority Leader Mark Killian, an ardent antienvironmentalist, tried this past spring to divert monies out of the fund.
@body:The first antienvironmentalist attack on the Game and Fish Department, however, came from Kaibab Industries.
In April 1990, honchos at Kaibab sat down with representatives from the Forest Service, the Game and Fish Department and the Sierra Club and signed an agreement. Nine timber sales were grandfathered into the settlement. Despite the agreement, the Sierra Club appealed four of the sales and the Game and Fish Department appealed one by the end of that September. Though the Sierra Club points to a clause near the end of the document that allowed it to further scrutinize the terms of the agreement, Kaibab saw the appeal as a betrayal. Then, when the Game and Fish Department published a "white paper" critical of timber practices in Arizona, tempers blew.
Bruce Whiting and Mickey Whiting invoked the Arizona Public Records Law and demanded access to the Game and Fish Department's files. The white paper, they felt, was based on "bad science," or, rather, not on their science.
Kaibab employees, six at a time, descended on Game and Fish Department offices in Phoenix, Flagstaff and Pinetop and walked away with copies of more than 4,100 documents, more than 60 photographs and six audio tapes. Kaibab sued to obtain transcripts of staff meetings, as well, but the judge ruled against them. Ultimately, the search turned up little more than a few letters to and from staffers at the Wilderness Society, scant proof of collusion with "radical" environmentalists, but it had cost the department more than 475 man-hours.
Gordon resigned from Kaibab Industries' board of directors during the fray to prevent apparent conflict of interest, and took himself out of all Game and Fish matters that dealt with the timber industry. And though he claims he harbors no anger about the incident--and would be unlikely to admit it even if he did--he was caught awkwardly in the middle.
The resentment still burns brightly "out on the ground" between Kaibab and Game and Fish employees. Ever the diplomat, Gordon apologizes for his father by saying, "You spend 40 years of your life building something and someone threatens it, it goes right to the quick. I don't blame him, and I respect him for it."
But in the end, he had to stand behind the professionals in his department.
@body:Gordon's pickup roared along the graded dirt road that runs the ridge line out of the canyon, headed back toward town. Turkey vultures circled slowly over the range, as if contemplating the carcass of his public career. He lost the sheriff's race by 1,200-some votes, a worse showing than he'd hoped for. His term as Game and Fish commissioner ends this winter, and he has no intention of being reappointed. These are hard times for ranching. When asked if he could go back to Kaibab Industries, he says, "There's no back to go back to. Never worked for em.
"I guess I've got to sit down and think about what I'm going to do with my life." And so he wanders off on the path of prodigal son, collecting opinions to bring back to the family's Thanksgiving dinner.
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