Even as he grudgingly limps into his 70th year, Glen Sheppard, editor of The North Woods Call newspaper, is still the environmental fighter he’s always been. Shaved head. Bull neck. A boxer’s wide stance. And attitude. Sheppard comes with plenty of attitude.
He has been spoiling for a fight most of his life—and certainly his entire 36-year career as crusading editor and principal writer of The Call. Small, feisty and pro-conservation, the newspaper regularly bloodies noses of anyone or anything that might sully Michigan’s Northern woodlands and waters. The paper’s mission statement, which appears each issue on the masthead, proclaims: “An admittedly biased newspaper. Dedicated to the proposition that there is only one side in any issue involving natural resources … NATURE’S!”
“I am as combative as I was 20 years ago,” says Sheppard as he sits in the kitchen of his woodland home-office south of Charlevoix. Maybe he’s even more combative, he says, “because I’m more sure of myself.” This from a man who has rarely seemed afflicted by self-doubt.
It’s not that Sheppard is always pugnacious. He isn’t. The man has great personal warmth. He can write lovely prose poetry about Michigan’s green-on-green North Country. And he can make you laugh. But he makes outdoor lovers really cheer when he sets aside the Marquis of Queensberry Rules and goes bare-knuckles against anyone, any government agency, any big corporation that might dare befoul a single stream or threaten a leafy copse anywhere from Clare to Copper Harbor.
“Shep has never been afraid to call them as he sees them,” says Tom Bailey, director of the Little Traverse Conservancy. “He’s a tough old, sonofabitch journalist … and God bless him.”
Because The Call is a small newspaper, it might be tempting to write it off as not very important. It comes out twice a month with only eight pages and a circulation of about 4,000. As a result, many people who’ve lived for years in Michigan’s North have no clue that it even exists. But The Call stands as one of the most important newspapers in the state when it comes to protecting those natural things that make the north, The North.
So says no less a political figure than Governor Jennifer Granholm, who has stopped by Sheppard’s house a couple of times to chat about conservation issues at his dinner table. “His insights are often right on the money,” the governor says. “And frankly when I was state attorney general and running for governor, he raised a lot of issues that found their way into my platform.” The governor’s office subscribes to The Call because “The Call’s impact goes far deeper than the number of readers,” Granholm says. “The people who read The Call are the makers of public policy.”
In addition to the governor, The Call’s readers include, along with hunters, fishers, cottage owners and just lovers of the North, the heads of the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality, many of their staffers, state and federal legislators and editorial and environmental writers for the state’s big newspapers.