Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I remember days when smog obscured the views of the San Gabriel Mountain foothills only a few miles away. But I connected with the outdoors on family vacations. We hit the big national parks in the summer -- Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Crater Lake -- but the place I most strongly connect with a love of wild country is the eastern Sierra Nevada near Mammoth Lakes. The area is a wonderland of geology -- earthquake faults, dormant volcanoes, cinder cones, rocks that float, as well a soaring granite peaks -- and a place of tremendous beauty. Some of my fondest memories are associated with these family trips; my dad the engineer building little dams in creeks and lugging giant "book-end" rocks back home in his army surplus pack.
After college, I worked in Washington, DC, where many of my friends gravitated to environmental issues. I did too. In law school, I started backpacking on spring break and in the summers, and managed to get summer jobs in the West with conservation groups. More than anything, I wanted not only to indulge my passion for the big, empty wild places but to try to help protect those places too.
After graduating from law school, I worked for two years as a junior attorney at the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund's (now Earthjustice's) Washington, DC, office, on public lands issues, as well as environmental justice issues related to developments proposed on the Anacostia River. I was inspired by the tremendously skilled attorneys there, also by the people we represented. Some of my biggest heroes and inspirations are the people whose love of the land and desire to preserve it are evident in everything they do.
When my then-girlfriend (now wife) landed a job in Denver in 1995, I was eager to follow. I wanted to be back in the West to work on, and play in, the big mountains and the big empty. I worked for a regional environmental law firm, the Land and Water Fund (now Western Resource Advocates), in Boulder. At the LAW Fund, my proudest accomplishments were helping stop timber sales in roadless areas on the White River National Forest near the Flat Tops Wilderness, and being part of the team that successfully pressed President Clinton to protect the nearly half-million-acre Sonoran Desert National Monument.
After nearly eight years at the Land and Water Fund, I heard the Denver office of Earthjustice was looking to hire an attorney, and was excited to come back to the fold. OK, so the job was working on an obscure 19th century highway law. No matter. The landscapes we are working to protect are some of the most iconic in the West: Bryce. Zion. The Grand Staircase. Dinosaur National Monument. They are places where one can feel small, buffeted by nature, humble, but also exultant at the fantastic variety and beauty created by time and nature. And Pam and I are trying to inflict my passions on our kids, the way my mom and dad did to me. They haven't complained too much so far.
Ted Zukoski works in Earthjustice's Denver office, where he has worked since December 2002. After graduating from Harvard College in 1985, he did research for a political campaign in Colorado, followed by two years in Washington, D.C. as a junior aide to U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1992, he worked as an associate attorney in the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund's Washington, D.C. office. From 1995 to 2002, he worked at the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies in Boulder, CO as a staff attorney.