Guest Opinions

Idaho outfitters can be leaders in stopping sexual harassment in the guiding industry

Rafters prepare for a Middle Fork Salmon River trip at the Boundary Creek put-in.
Rafters prepare for a Middle Fork Salmon River trip at the Boundary Creek put-in.

The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association meets in Boise this week, and we all will be discussing a topic that has long been a grizzly in the room. That bear is sexual misconduct in the outfitting industry.

Lets face it, there are a number of issues here. Some are legal, some cultural and some reflect a male-dominated activity with a “good ol’ boy” history. We’re not talking about sitting around a campfire, having a couple of drinks and sharing stories about sex, sports, money and fishing. We’re talking about sexual predation, threats and retribution, incidents intended to coerce a co-worker into sex.

We have no doubt that this type of behavior takes place in outfitting and, unfortunately, as outfitters we have long ignored or pretended such things didn’t happen on our watch. It’s time to admit there is a problem and do something about it.

Jayme Moye, a widely published national outdoor writer, will be the lunch speaker at the IOGA meeting on Thursday, Dec. 14, at the Riverside Hotel. She will be talking about sexual harassment in the river-guiding industry as well as incidents involving National Park Service employees. We need to pay careful attention to what she has to say.

We don’t profess to know everything about outfitting, but here’s something we know for sure: Our company’s trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River wouldn’t be as successful or in as much demand if we didn’t have female crew members. And we wouldn’t have such a talented group of women working with us year after year if we didn’t pay attention to harassment issues, pay disparity and other aspects of equality. We are a better company for the efforts we have made, and yet we have to do better.

Like a lot of outfitters, we’d long felt that we were doing an exemplary job dealing with crew issues, including sexual harassment and discrimination. In January 2016, that complacency was shattered when Moye queried us about the topic. Our first response was annoyance, but that reaction soon morphed to awareness that a serious problem existed in our industry.

With help from Grant Simonds, the Middle Fork Outfitters Association’s executive director, and the Redside Foundation, a nonprofit support organization for guides, recommendations pertaining to sexual harassment were developed for Middle Fork river outfitters. Those guidelines brought awareness of the issue to outfitter members and provided suggestions on how to help staff members who experience sexual harassment from co-workers or clients.

In coming weeks, the issue of sexual harassment in the outdoor industry will garner an even greater deal of attention at the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver. Outside magazine and REI are at the forefront of demanding changes in the industry. Idaho outfitters, already known as exemplary outdoor guides, have the chance to be leaders.

Let’s be proactive and evolve in a positive way that makes women feel empowered, respected and proud to be an equal partner in our industry.

Bob Volpert and Mary Papale own Idaho River Journeys in Salmon. They’ve operated on the Middle Fork since 1978.