Growing up in Birmingham and Bloomfield Township, Jimmy Tobias spent time getting acclimated to the outdoors while fishing and hunting with his father, Paul. That time, as he would later discover, served as a foundation for much of his writing interests as a columnist and journalist.
Currently a contributing writer for Pacific Standard, a bi-monthly magazine published by the non-profit Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy, as well as a contributor to The Nation, the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, and Outside Online, Tobias focuses on conservation, civil society and cities. His work also has appeared in The New York Times, High Country News and other publications.
His experience also includes time as a crew leader with the Montana Conservation Corps and work with the U.S. Forest Service, which he did after completing undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
"For about three years, I spent a lot of time in the woods and that got me interested in working in that realm, but I was always into the outdoors – fishing and hunting. That's what drew me into that work, and I focused on the West," he said. "The trail crew is what is an immersion trail crew, and we spent about three or four months out at a ranger station or a camp in the wilderness. It's a couple days' walk from the nearest road. We would be out there the whole summer maintaining trails, building bridges, cutting brush back and trees and working in the wilderness. It was such beautiful open space. There was so much solitude and beauty. It was a totally life-altering experience in many ways."
Tobias had worked at his high school paper while attending Cranbrook Schools. He earned his degree in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania before finishing his master's degree in 2016 at the University of California, Berkeley.
"My grandmother was an English teacher and writer," he said of what helped to spark his initial interest in journalism. "She wrote the church newsletters. It was different, but she was always interested in journalism and writing."
In his own work, Tobias uses his research and experience to focus largely on opinion and activist pieces intended to sway readers on environmental issues and political issues, often focusing on where the two issues intersect.
"I have pretty strong political opinions on the state of our society and the state of our political establishment," he said "Journalists in the older era said you had to put on a cloak of objectivity, but many of the journalists that I admire are more forthright about their political views and values. Whether it's old school muckrakers, or those doing really good investigative work or hard-hitting reporting while being clear about their political values – that's where I come from, and that has allowed me to embrace more columns and have more of a voice and narrative in opinion writing."
Those viewpoints have come out in an opinion piece decrying the transfer of public lands to private entities in March that ran in the New York Times, his call in November for the government to stop the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and other columns that are some of the perspectives Tobias feels are important to share.
"We are seeing, right now, an all-out assault on the public sphere, and the public lands are just a piece of that," he said.
Photo: Jake Ratner