An ‘evangelist’ of Idaho wilderness retired, but he’ll still share his stunning photos

See Ed Cannady’s favorite photos from the Idaho wilderness

Ed Cannady, who recently retired as the backcountry manager of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, is an avid outdoors photographer. Here are some of his favorite wilderness photos.
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Ed Cannady, who recently retired as the backcountry manager of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, is an avid outdoors photographer. Here are some of his favorite wilderness photos.

For decades, one Idahoan served as the link between the public and some of the state’s deepest wilderness. Though he recently retired, he’s not yet done sharing the beauty of Idaho’s outdoors.

Ed Cannady, 62, worked for the Forest Service for 30 years, many of them spent as backcountry manager for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. He retired on Feb. 28.

“When I arrived on the SNRA, I thought I didn’t need to learn anything,” Cannady said. “That was the big lesson — how little I did know.”

But in his time with the Forest Service, Cannady came to know the remote Central Idaho wilderness perhaps better than anyone. And what’s more, he helped others experience it, too.

“I’ve tried to be, if you will, an evangelist for the wilderness,” Cannady said.

That wasn’t a hard role for him to emulate — Cannady’s father was a preacher.

“I try not to be too preachy,” he said, “but I’m not above that.”

According to Rick Johnson, director of the Idaho Conservation League and Cannady’s longtime colleague, Cannady takes an ideal approach to spreading the good word of the wild.

“(Ed) brings not just that pastoral sense, but the sense of ‘how do I bring someone along?’ ” Johnson said. “Because he’s not always talking to a believer. He’s looking for converts, and he’s found many, many, many of them.”

Ed Cannady, backcountry manager for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, has retired after 30 years with the Forest Service. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Sharing the Wood River Valley

Under Cannady’s management, the trail system around rugged mountain pass Galena Summit flourished. He also spent years maintaining stretches of the Upper Salmon River, educating rafters on the best ways to coexist with endangered steelhead and salmon.

For Cannady, those tasks embodied what the job was all about.

“The greatest compliment I can pay a Forest Service employee is to be a public servant, not a bureaucrat,” Cannady said.

Johnson’s happy to extend that compliment Cannady’s way.

“Ed personifies what government service is about,” Johnson said.

And when Cannady wasn’t finding ways to share the wilderness with the public, he was helping the public figure out how to share the wilderness amongst themselves.

In the late ‘90s, Cannady helped carve out a key winter recreation agreement that eased tension between the Wood River Valley’s skiers and snowmobilers, while allowing both to enjoy one of the premier backcountry spots in the country.

“We have peace on the snow when we almost had bloodshed on the snow,” he said.

Andy Munter, owner of Ketchum’s Backwoods Mountain Sports equipment store, has known Cannady for years. He said Cannady’s guidance “really kept us from butting our heads” on the winter recreation agreement.

“What I’ve really appreciated about Ed’s time with the Forest Service is he’s been really community-minded,” Munter said. “He’s honest, he’s straightforward, he has a lot of integrity.”

That takes hard work, Cannady said, but it’s worth it.

“Sometimes it’s really difficult,” he said. “The public rarely sees eye-to-eye on what they want from this place. ... It’s not always possible to get it right, but it’s always possible to try.”

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The White Cloud Mountains, by Ed Cannady a Forest Service ranger and photographer who helped Simpson draw the maps for his Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill approved in 2015. Photo courtesy of Ed Cannady photography

Cannady’s role in the Boulder-White Clouds

Cannady also served as a vital — though perhaps not visible — component in the creation of the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness, a trio of Central Idaho backcountry areas covering more than 275,000 acres.

“When Congressman Mike Simpson started working on the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness initiative, he needed a liaison with the (Forest Service), and Ed was the logical choice,” said ICL’s Johnson, who was one of the most vocal supporters of the wilderness initiative.

Simpson began championing the initiative in 2002. In 2004, Simpson hiked into the Chamberlain Basin alongside Cannady.

“When Simpson started doing trips into the White Clouds, Ed would be the person who led them,” Johnson said. “A lot of how Simpson got to know this landscape was with Ed nearby.”

Cannady took Simpson into the wilderness eight times over the years, forging a friendship with the legislator and earning his respect and admiration. On Feb. 26, Simpson issued a statement in appreciation of Cannady’s work from the House floor.

“As far as I know, there is only one person alive who has been through and over every acre of those mountains, and it happens to be Ed,” Simpson said.

Simpson spent a long time lobbying for the wilderness (which was designated in 2015) alongside advocates like Johnson. But as a steward of the Forest Service, Cannady’s role wasn’t in lobbying for either side.

“I could always count on Ed to give me both sides of the issue in an impartial manner that was fair to all parties,” Simpson said in his statement.

Then-President Barack Obama signed the Boulder-White Clouds bill into law on Aug. 7, 2015. Cannady called it “one of the seminal moments of my life. It was a dream come true.”

“The day after the bill was signed, I hiked into a high remote ridge and spent three days alone,” Cannady said. “On Sunday morning, the most amazing sunrise happened. I thought, ‘God approves.’ ”

Though Cannady was alone while he watched that sunrise, true to form he found a way to share it with everyone else: by creating what he calls the best photo of his life.

“To the degree that it was fitting for me to be in the Oval Office (when the legislation was signed), it was fitting for Ed to be on that ridge making a photo,” Johnson said.

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Ed Cannady

Sharing the outdoors through photos

Cannady had been honing his outdoor photography skills for years before capturing that 2015 sunrise. He picked up the hobby as a young man after moving from Parma to the Alaskan bush, where the remoteness of the landscape meant a slow learning curve.

“It might be two or three months before I could send a photo (to be developed) and two or three months before I’d get it back,” he said.

These days, his images are on sale through Ketchum’s MESH Gallery, and he published a book of photos, “Ed Cannady’s SNRA,” in 2016.

In retirement, Cannady said, he’ll be able to dedicate more time to chasing golden hours, those moments in the day when the lighting is just right.

But he won’t leave the wilderness behind. Cannady said he plans to continue working for salmon and grizzly recovery — something that doesn’t surprise those who know him.

“In all of the time I’ve known him, what’s really clear is his love for and connection to the wild,” Munter said. “He’s never lost that direction.”

For Cannady, pursuing that connection was a career well spent.

“I got to work doing things I loved in the place I loved more than any place on Earth,” Cannady said. “Why would I change that?”

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