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Making Waves — Idaho

November 27, 2023

Climate problems may seem too big to tackle, yet people all around this great nation are taking action. This is a state-by-state review of how some are responding.

This week’s column looks at: IDAHO and the question is: Can National Conservation Areas be protected in the face of climate change?

Idaho is a state that many people associate with potato farming (over 1/3 of US potatoes are grown in the state) and silver mining (almost half of all mined silver in the US comes from Idaho). The state is known for its blue-ribbon trout fishing. No wonder, with over 100,000 miles of rivers! Many river miles flow into the Columbia River and its tributaries, once forming one of the most productive salmon runs on the continent. We’ll leave for another day the discussion of the salmon crisis in this same watershed, and controversial proposals for dam removal in rivers of the Pacific Northwest.

A whopping 62% of Idaho’s area is public land. Compare this with 51% public lands here in Forest County, and 40% public lands in the US overall. In Idaho, there is a lot of focus on natural resource management, wildlife protection, water and mineral rights, public access for recreation (fishing, boating, and hunting), and the intermittent tension over land use issues among ranchers, farmers, municipalities, and even the military, sometimes with interests contrary to each other and to those who would fully protect the wild open spaces and ecosystems from human encroachment.

Today we’ll focus on the Snake River Canyon, a 50-mile geologic feature widened and deepened in southern Idaho by a catastrophic mega-flood event – the Bonneville flood – during the last ice age. This stretch of the Snake River, situated just south of the state capital of Boise, is an ancient, culturally significant area where petroglyphs abound: on boulders deposited by the flood, images were drawn by native peoples as far back as 10,000 B.C. and as recently as the 1600s. Beyond this, it is also part of the historic Oregon Trail that brought European settlers to the West in the mid-1800s, with multiple old gold mine sites on the National Register of Historic Places.

However, the impetus to federally protect this area came not from its cultural significance but took flight from the mind of one Morley Nelson whose vision was to protect its unusually high concentration of raptors – the hunting bird group that includes falcons, eagles, hawks, osprey, owls and vultures. Morley was a man passionate about Prairie Falcons, the only large falcon endemic to North America. He partnered with any and every willing person, even Walt Disney. The Morley Nelson Birds of Prey NCA is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Department of the Interior.

This week’s recommended podcast is a real gem. It’s a series, entitled Common Land. Try just one of the Birds of Prey NCA episodes; you won’t be disappointed! The series traces the history of the conservation area and how it grew out of a young boy’s passion for falcons that would later involve his whole family. It lays out the challenges in defining and maintaining this critical wildlife habitat; the evolution of science research as biologists, zoologists, and botanists adaptively learned from the birds; and, the many pressures along the way as hydro-power dams were built and even military operations and politics spilled into the NCA.

The Common Land podcast series brings us right up to the present with all the complications brought by climate change and invasive plant species, not to mention human threats to this sacred land. I offer it up because it illustrates how hard the work and how difficult the decisions are in putting our shared environment to right.
Podcast: Common Land, Season 1 (Jan-Mar 2020)
Episodes 1-10 run roughly a half hour each

Let me know if you have a podcast to recommend, or have a comment about my column or have trouble finding a particular podcast I’ve mentioned. Happy listening!
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Note: This column, part of a series looking at examples of positive climate action, state-by-state, first appeared in the Forest Press 07-13-2022. If you are interested in this state’s topic, check online for updated news, as a lot may have changed in a year.

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