September 2013 - Conserving Idaho's Land and Water

Sep 5, 2013

Captain's Log 1XE, Day 19 in the month of July in the Earth Calendar Year of 2013.


Idaho is right up there with the last best place. It's downright enchanting looking down from 1XE into steep canyons, and steeper mountain ranges bisected by raging tributaries of the Salmon River... and even a bit intimidating, as I fly from Montana's last best place of Wise River, gold medal trout river, SW of Butte, and make a beeline straight over the River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. For a change, the weather is clear of smoke and I can look down into the dark, narrow river bottoms and make note of the myriad of backcountry strips sprinkled about that are a bush pilot's dream. Every year pilots from around the world come to this wild country to try their skills at these rough, small, narrow runways that look more like dead-end roads in the middle of nowhere.


Our mission today is to support the Idaho Conservation League in their excellent efforts to render balance and conservation to the wilds of this incredibly beautiful state, in an extremely difficult political climate. Idaho is a state with 33 million acres of federal lands, and where the Governor wants to transfer control of these lands to the state (even though Idaho cannot even take care of its own state parks).


Our flying starts over the Teton, Boise and Weiser Rivers, all tributaries of the great Snake River, as we suss out the possibilities and concerns of dams that are being proposed. Then up and out of the beautiful little town of Cascade in the central Idaho mountains, into the River of No Return Wilderness, climbing ever so slowly as we wind our way up the valleys and finally fly over some of the most remotely situated mines imaginable. Our passengers include reporters to help disseminate information about the potential repercussions of the new mining proposals at the headwaters of the Boise River, and the threats to the surrounding wildlands and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.


As we wend our way north to Lewiston, Idaho, we are using the latest gps digital technology to document salvage timber sales as the landscape changes from staccato spires to extremely rugged granite peaks, interspersed with high altitude meadows gashed open by the Snake River. All these rivers that I have flown over in the past month - the Salmon, the Clearwater and the Clark Fork flow together to form the mighty Snake which originates in Yellowstone.


Our last series of flights are in the Lewis and Clark country of North Eastern Idaho just over LoLo pass. This is where the Nez Perce tribe literally saved the Lewis and Clark expedition. They came across the explorers on their last gasps, and nursed them back to health. I understood the explorers' challenges as I gazed down on this rugged landscape. On our overflight of the region the reporters interviewed the county commissioners, loggers and the Nez Perce who discussed how they are working together on the Clearwater Basin Collaborative (CBC). The Collaborative is pushing for an inclusive land use policy that will create new wilderness, while providing for logging in other areas, together with promoting tourism.


Our next flight is out of the old logging town of Orofino from a small landing strip that is as challenging as it is beautiful tucked into a tight curve of the Clearwater River, at the bottom of a deep canyon. Orofino is a town that might benefit from the proactive kinds of ideas, concepts and land use policies that CBC is promoting. Charmed by this little northern Idaho town, EcoFlight's videographer Jonathan was enjoying the sights of downtown, and instead of friendly collaborative locals, he was harassed not by one, but two, of Orofino's police staff. They did not care for a new face in their town. This was probably not in Orofino's best interests, as our next flight took the most popular reporter in the state and a local county commissioner over the region - both of whom were promoting and publicizing this area. I only hope the politics of Orofino can learn to emulate their neighbors in Clearwater Basin with their progressive inclusive approach to community.


This magnificent state with abundant natural resources of unparalleled clean water and wild landscapes, is beset by political and social challenges, but is worth all the efforts of the Idaho Conservation League and other groups who are trying to balance the debates over the differing ideologies and opinions, conceptions and misconceptions that make up the populace of this state.