It seems we’ve finally stopped asking ourselves if we’ve reached peak podcast and just accepted that there are too many podcasts all the time and it is simply impossible to listen to all of them. But we keep them around because the really good ones are nice companions that could match any running buddy, keeping us distracted through the miles. These three new shows tell stories that will be familiar to some listeners, adding intrigue with a lot of surprising behind-the-scenes details and some very charismatic interviewees chiming in. They also ask pressing questions about conservation, climate change, and finding solutions in the face of crisis and conflict—can your running buddy do that?
From Oregon Public Broadcasting, the same folks who brought you Bundyville, here’s another deep look at a long-standing American culture and conservation clash. This time it’s loggers versus literal tree huggers, though that description doesn’t really do justice to the complex dynamics that play out over Timber Wars’ eight episodes. Host Aaron Scott reminds us just how recently forests were seen as simply tree farms for us to harvest and scientists who wanted to study majestic old-growth forests were viewed as massive nuisances. It wasn’t until the 1990s that a series of high-profile protests, wildlife protections for animals like the northern spotted owl, and court cases made the Northwest’s old-growth forests the center of a perennial conservation battle. The podcast presents a fairly comprehensive look at 25 years of forest management, with careful representation from all the main stakeholders. We meet loggers, forestry experts, and environmentalists, but there’s no clear hero or villain. The show identifies a surprising point of origin for a conflict that most of us now take for granted, while injecting a lot of fun, thanks to spirited interviews with all sorts of forest-adjacent characters.
Inherited producers Georgia Wright and Julianna Bradley, both sort-of-recent college grads, are part of the climate-change generation. In their words, “Our generation has inherited a flawed world and an unprecedented climate crisis. But we’re not just going to accept this world we’ve been given.” In their first four-episode season, which wrapped up in early October, they touch upon major themes for young climate activists: the formation of the Sunrise Movement, climate disasters, mental health, the Green New Deal, and how to remain hopeful despite everything. This is a lot to cover 25 minutes at a time! But Wright and Bradley make it seem easy, with plenty of production flourishes and energetic interviews with organizers. In their striking first episode, they talk to six members of the Sunrise Movement about the group’s first prominent action, a 2018 sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office. In the third episode, they point out how frustrating it is that many media outlets almost exclusively cover Greta Thunberg, while ignoring the work of numerous other young activists, before talking to Xiye Bastida, who, um, has been called the American Greta Thunberg. The podcast’s peer-to-peer interviews are its greatest strength: there’s not an ounce of condescension or astonishment that young organizers have built such a promising movement. In an urgent climate crisis, who has the time for that?
The greater sage grouse is a silly-looking little bird (males have puffy chest sacs and spiky tail feathers) with a grim future. Threatened by climate change, extractive industries, and other forces that are quickly shrinking their Mountain West habitat, the birds have come to represent the struggle for compromise and collaboration among a wide array of stakeholders. In Grouse, a new podcast from BirdNote Presents and Boise State Public Radio, we meet host Ashley Ahearn, a self-described city slicker who has left her NPR job to ride horses and report from rural Washington. She presents herself as the very personable guide to a species that has an outsize presence in the world of western conservation. Each episode is a tidy 20-ish minutes, starring individuals with a distinct perspective on the birds’ plight, including an elder Northern Paiute of the Warm Springs Reservation, a rancher, and a biologist. Whether or not you’re familiar with the long battle over habitat protections for this animal, Ahearn provides helpful on-the-ground context and thoughtfully discusses the sage grouse’s very shaky present.