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State of Change by Bruce Reichert, Host, OUTDOOR IDAHO

"State of Change" airs Sunday, December 8th, at 7pm on Idaho Public Television.

Here’s your assignment: Create a one-hour TV show and try to answer the question, "How has Idaho changed in the past 30 years?"

This is a topic that some might argue is not in the wheelhouse of a show like Outdoor Idaho. And I'm sure there are others who feel just the opposite, that it's about time. I guess I have a foot in both camps. Anyway, back to the assignment.

I imagine most of us would tackle the show differently. But we'd probably all start with the state’s skyrocketing population that seems to be overwhelming infrastructures and widening the gap between urban and rural.

When Governors Brad Little and Butch Otter agreed to discuss how the state has changed from their point of view, the conversation quickly turned to growth.

Governors Brad Little and Butch Otter discuss some of the changes they've noticed as the State's chief executives. Photo on left by press secretary Marissa Morrison. Photo on right by Bill Manny.

“Everywhere I go, that’s what I hear about,” said Governor Little. “How do we cope with growth? What do we do?” Little said he asked folks at a recent statewide Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting what their concerns were.

“And I said, you get to vote once. What’s your biggest problem, too much growth or not enough growth? Everybody raised their hand on too much growth – except for my Chamber of Commerce in Emmett, Idaho!”

Usually our shows feature one area or topic – the Pend Oreille, Craters of the Moon, the Lost River Range, the Owyhee Canyonlands – and there may be 30 or so tapes, or digital cards, associated with the show.

One of many conversations Director/Editor Pat Metzler and I have had in the edit bay as the script for "State of Change" continues to, well, change. Photo by Peter Morrill.

For “State of Change,” editor Pat Metzler has spent hours tracking down specific shots from dozens of tapes, from the '80's and '90's and the 2000's, to cover the words of a script that, frankly, did not make things easy for him!

Not only did the video take us far afield, but so did the interviews we conducted for the program.

For example, the much-beloved former Idaho Statesman columnist, Tim Woodward, makes an appearance. In the 1990's he got a lot of mileage out of the apparent confusion between Idaho and Iowa. Seems hard to believe today, but back then Tim had enough examples to write a book: “The Dumbfounding Question: Is Iowa in Idaho?"

Longtime columnist Tim Woodward has written several books on Idaho. Images by Jay Krajic.

Organic farmer Karl Joslin spent the day with us, explaining how farming has changed for him over the years. He has one of the largest farms in the Magic Valley. We profile him for our show, and we also feature dairy farmer Darren Taber. What may surprise people is that dairy is now the fastest growing segment of the agricultural pie, outpacing potatoes, wheat, and beef.

Organic farmer Karl Joslin explains the value of humus in creating good soil. Photo by Jay Krajic.

The CEO of Idaho Power Company, Darrel Anderson, told us that a new generation of customers -- the millennials -- is pushing the energy company to quit its reliance on coal. Anderson says Idaho Power now has plans to be 100% clean by 2045. We interviewed Darrel at the Swan Falls dam, the first hydroelectric dam built in Idaho and on the Snake River. The dam was built in 1901 to supply electricity to the miners in Silver City.

Darrel Anderson at Swan Falls on the Snake River. Photo by Peter Morrill.

And water supply specialist Ron Abramovich noted that the melting ice cap is putting colder water into the ocean, which then affects the jet stream. And it’s the jet stream that determines how much precipitation the state receives each year. Sounds like Idaho's weather just got harder to predict!

Ron Abramovich above Mores Creek Summit checking the snow pack. Ron retired after 30 years with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Image by Jay Krajic.

Everyone it seems, had something interesting to say about changes happening in Idaho.

We caught up with retired Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore at his summer home near Cascade reservoir. Of all the issues he had to face as director, he says wolves were the most controversial.

The former Director of the Idaho Fish & Game Department believes it will take collaboration to solve the big resource issues facing Idaho . Image by Jay Krajic.

“Had we done with wolves what we are doing with grizzly bears,” said Moore, “and let them re-establish themselves naturally, we would have had a whole lot less social strife and more of an acceptance of their proper place. We're still getting that balance in place.”

A lone wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Image by Jay Krajic. Sockeye salmon near Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains. Image by Aaron Kunz.

Moore spent much of his career in the fisheries division. While many biologists figure wild salmon have maybe 20 years before they're extinct in this part of the world, Virgil is still optimistic about salmon recovery. What gives him encouragement is the collaborative relationship that Governor Little and Congressman Mike Simpson have recently forged.

Meanwhile, he said, a warming Salmon River has allowed smallmouth bass to move many miles upstream, all the way to the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Apparently, just a few degrees can make a difference with some species.

Salmon returning to Redfish Lake after spending several years in the ocean. Underwater image by Pat Metzler.

In fact, “collaboration” became one of the unplanned themes of our show. The “Timber Wars” of the 1980’s and ‘90s seem to have given way to a “Thousand Cups of Coffee,” at least in Owyhee County.

Who'd a thunk it... that cowboys and enviros could actually sit down together to hammer out something that would work for everyone!

North Fork of the Owyhee River, and a sign explaining Little Jacks Creek and Big Jacks Creek Wilderness areas. Photos by Shari Hart.

“It was fascinating for me to watch because these folks started learning about each other,” said environmental reporter Rocky Barker. “That was really the most important thing, learning about each other. And they found, gosh, you know, we really do have a whole lot of things in common.”

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.

Andrus Center professor John Freemuth pointed out that this incident got a lot of people wondering what might happen, if public lands were actually sold off to the highest bidder.

One of the No Trespassing gates posted in 2018 that blocked access to favorite public lands in Valley County. Gate photos by Jay Krajic.

“You may be an ORV guy," said Freemuth, "and I may be a traditional hiking guy, but the one thing we agree on is we can go there. Those are our public lands. It's a 'commons' that we cherish. Even though we fight over it, at least we get to fight over it. At least it's ours to fight over, not somebody else's who's saying this is private land. And that's what brings people together."

When Leo Hennessy suggested that the Sawtooths will one day have a permit system, I was appalled. Our crew had hiked into Alpine Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness with a group of folks to get their take on Change. That's where the retired trails coordinator for the state informed us that he's been shut out of a popular wilderness in Washington for years because he hasn't drawn a permit.

Leo Hennessy being interviewed at Alpine Lake. Photos of Leo by Bill Manny.

“And what's going to happen eventually is what's happened in other parts of the country, especially the West Coast. You start doing a permit system. The nice thing about the Sawtooths now is you can come from any place in the country, drive right up here and go wherever you want.”

A permit system in the Sawtooths? Seems hard to believe. Unworkable even. Almost un-American!

Of course, permit systems on the Salmon River and the Middle Fork have helped make those rivers a vacation of a lifetime.

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.

Rebekah Cain of Mystic Saddle Outfitters, near Hell Roaring Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Photo by Peter Morrill.

"We used to just take it for granted," said the Governor during our interview. "But if you don't have good, vital, vibrant outdoor activities, our advantage over those other states goes down. We have to monetize the advantage that we have, with great outdoor recreational opportunities."

It’s not a topic we’ve ever addressed before, but one thing that has definitely changed in the past 30 or 40 years is an increased awareness about a warming planet. This is an issue particularly troubling to young people.

Wildfires are a natural phenomenon, but their size and intensity in recent years have land managers concerned. Photos by Kari Greer.

University of Idaho fire scientist 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.

This crazy-looking male sage grouse is ready to impress a female. Sage grouse numbers in Idaho have taken a dive, primarily due to wildfires and loss of habitat. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

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."

A Bald Eagle... and a fish. Photo by Ken Miracle.

"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.

Sunset on Priest Lake in northern Idaho. Photo by Bruce Reichert.

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.

Afternoon traffic heading into Meridian. Photo by Forrest Burger.

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.

This waterfall is just one example of the state's complicated and intriguing geology. Photo by Peter Morrill.

Also, one can certainly hope that, for all those moving into the state, just as surely Idaho is moving into them, informing and influencing their perceptions.

Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho and a meadow near Driggs in eastern Idaho. Photos by Jay Krajic.

Idaho can do that to a person. That's because this state has something most other states can’t claim. A wild heart, that remains unchanged and free.

(Cover photo by Terry Lee)

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