When red gates started blocking dirt roads in central Idaho in 2018, sportsmen took note.
Turns out Texas billionaires had bought private holdings from timber companies and were now blocking access to some favorite hunting and ATV and snowmobile areas.
The timber companies had granted access to sportsmen, but the Texas billionaires were not so generous.
Almost overnight, groups that seldom talked with each other had a reason to start talking.
Public lands feature prominently in our "State of Change" program. It's where so many Idahoans go to recreate, to contemplate, to explore. Brad Little may have gotten his start as a sheep rancher, but the Governor knows that public lands and outdoor recreation are a gold mine for the state.
University of Idaho fire scientist professor Crystal Kolden notes that wildfires “are starting two weeks, four weeks, sometimes even six weeks earlier in the year. They also burn much later in the year, into the fall.”
BSU professor Jen Pierce of the Department of Geo-Sciences says there’s no question what’s going on. “The earth is warming and humans are the cause. End of story.” She argues that there’s more scientific consensus on that point than on whether cigarettes cause lung cancer.
We do cover a lot of topics in "State of Change," from the new Dark Sky Reserve to the plight of our birds. Unfortunately, all is not well on this front. According to the Audubon Society, the United States has lost a quarter of its bird population in a single human lifetime. Even the goofy-looking sage grouse is in trouble. Desert wildfires are destroying the sage brush these birds need to survive the winter months.
But there are some bright spots. Bald eagles and peregrines are doing quite well in Idaho. "The peregrine falcon was extinct in Idaho in the 1970's. They were gone, literally gone," explains falconer Norm Nelson. "Now they're living in urban areas and in Swan Valley. In fact, we have an urban aerie in Boise."
"The bald eagle is one of our best success stories," says Nelson. "Once DDT was taken out of the ecosystem and the fisheries and the water quality improved, their populations have increased dramatically. They're doing really well."
I guess my take-away from working on a show like this -- aside from the fact that it's a heck of a lot more time-consuming than other shows we've worked on! -- is that Idahoans should plan for a bumpy ride. We’ve been discovered, and folks are flocking to Idaho because they like what the state has to offer. Can't say I blame em.
As Governor Little commented to us, “We visit with a lot of governors from a lot of other states. It may not be perfect here, but it's better than it is almost everywhere else.”
Still, people who have lived here most of their lives are understandably concerned that Idaho could be losing the very things that make it special.
Traffic is getting worse, affordable housing is harder to find, and many favorite places are now overrun with people.
But there are some things working to lessen the blow. One is our complicated geology, with all its challenges, including mountains and rivers and millions of acres of public lands. It has frustrated several generations of newcomers, and it will continue to do so. None of these barriers are going away any time soon.