Anglers will be casting pale morning dun flies on the waters of Last Chance this weekend in Island Park. Kids and parents will be lining up for square ice cream cones at the Swan Valley Store in Eastern Idaho.
Paddlers will be canoeing across Redfish Lake in the afternoon sun. Rafters will be bouncing off rocks on the South Fork of the Payette. Boaters will ski the refreshing waters of Palisades Reservoir on the Wyoming state line, of Lucky Peak and of North Idaho’s Priest Lake, where an afternoon thunderstorm might get everyone wet.
Families will sit around campfires, from Henry’s Lake to Baumgartner Campground on the South Fork of the Boise to Pine Tree Campground on the St. Joe. Four-wheelers and motorcyclists will ride the roads and trails of the Caribou-Targhee, Salmon-Challis and Payette national forests.
This is why we live in Idaho.
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Salmon fishermen will be getting in their last casts this weekend on the Upper Salmon River around the Pahsimeroi River, after another year of cherished bounty. In 1997, Pacific Ocean conditions turned productive after two decades of poor conditions in which Idaho’s salmon found many predators but little food when they reached the sea. Since then, Idahoans have enjoyed the success of past policies that built lots of hatcheries to make up for the dams that hindered the passage of young salmon from their spawning grounds.
We’ve also benefited from the lawsuits and the listing of wild salmon stocks, because that forced dam managers to spend billions of dollars on conservation and improved dam passage. The increased spilling of water over the dams, which speeds the migration of the young salmon to the ocean, has helped wild and hatchery salmon — but not enough for recovery, fisheries managers say.
But now Pacific Ocean conditions are changing again, and in a way scientists have never observed. The ocean is getting remarkably warmer and marine biologists are finding far fewer salmon than they usually find in the places where they thrived.
We might be entering another long cycle of low productivity in the Pacific, and that could mean the end of these bountiful salmon fishing seasons. It also could threaten the survival of our wild salmon that soon will be arriving to spawn in places such as Stolle Meadows near Warm Lake and Marsh Creek near Stanley.
The 25-year effort to save salmon has brought them back into our lives. They are one of the reasons we live in Idaho.
Other Idahoans will be picnicking under the cool shade of trees on their ranches across Southern Idaho, surrounded by the sagebrush sea. That will come after a morning ride to check the irrigation ditch in the hay field, followed by the grandchildren.
Sage grouse hang out in sagebrush, but their numbers have dropped dramatically to as few as several hundred thousand across 11 states due to human encroachment and the loss of the sagebrush steppe habitat on which they and 300 other desert species depend.
Ranchers have joined Idaho conservation groups, industry and Gov. Butch Otter in working with federal officials on a plan that can reverse the downward trend for sage grouse and avoid eventual restrictions that could ruin future picnics. Otter hasn’t been happy with an added layer of protection added late by federal land managers in an effort to keep sage grouse off the endangered species list.
Other people, especially in Utah, are trying to stop the conservation plans because the oil and gas industry doesn’t like the measures scientists say are necessary to preserve the ecosystem. Federal authorities need to give Otter something to keep him and Idaho on board with the plan.
One place to look is the 325,000 acres of state endowment lands that lie in grouse strongholds. Land trades, along with the money and authority to make them happen, were proposed by the Idaho Land Board, and would help the bird and the state.
When push comes to shove, Idahoans have stepped up to protect the places they love and the creatures whose home they share. That’s why hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers will climb trails into the alpine country of the White Clouds, the Sawtooths, Gospel Hump and the Mallard Larkins, smelling the lush wildflowers and perhaps cooling their feet in a turquoise lake.
That’s why conservationists such as Cecil Andrus have worked for more than 45 years to protect these places and why Rep. Mike Simpson hopes he can get to the finish line on his wilderness bill for the Boulder-White Clouds and Jerry Peak. We will celebrate our freedom in these wide-open spaces this weekend.
That’s why we live in Idaho.