|Centennial Mountains overlooking Henry's Lake. Photo ©Ken Miracle|
I blame everything on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. I am now almost five months into my tenure as the Conservancy’s new East Idaho Conservation Manager and my family and I are still living out of boxes, loads of laundry long overdue, the front lawn ten inches high. What on earth, you might ask, would possess a young couple with a three-month old baby (their first) to uproot everything, leave behind jobs, a pleasant Seattle neighborhood, and a well-organized existence and move their entire lives to an unfamiliar neighborhood in Idaho Falls? Well, it was the Middle Fork that did it.
The Middle Fork was my first window into Idaho’s natural landscapes and my amazement upon first seeing its crystalline waters as a young college kid never wavered through the six years that I spent guiding commercial rafting passengers down the canyon. From wet year to dry, high water to low, the ecological processes that unfolded before my eyes on the Middle Fork made my childhood experiences in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains seem downright tame by comparison. Hillsides ravaged and regenerated by wildfire, trees toppled by microburst winds, whitewater rapids both created and destroyed by landslides and creek blowouts; every year and in fact, every week, there was something new and amazing to witness. Off days and shoulder seasons spent exploring the Sawtooths, the Beaverheads, the Tetons, and Craters of the Moon quickly revealed to me that the Middle Fork was just the beginning of the incredible natural experiences that Idaho has to offer. No matter how pretty they made the foam in our lattes, Seattle just couldn’t compete.
|Taking in the rugged beauty of the Middle Fork. Photo ©Kate Hestwood-Reeves|
As I learn more each day about the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, the Centennial Mountains, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem here in East Idaho, what continually astonishes me is the incredible scale of the wildlife migrations that pass through this landscape. Grizzly bears, wolverines and Canada Lynx all pass through East Idaho on their journeys between Yellowstone and North Idaho, Montana, and Southern Canada. Pronghorn antelope roam across the landscape into Southern Montana, while elk, deer, and bighorn sheep migrate seasonally from the high country to lower elevation winter habitat. Tundra swans, trumpeter swans, many song bird species, and up to fifty thousand ducks pass through the Camas National Wildlife Refuge each year as they travel from as far north as the Arctic to warmer climes and back. Not to mention the long-billed curlew and sandhill cranes that pass through The Conservancy’s own Flat Ranch Preserve and the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout spawning in nearby cool water streams. A wildlife migration map of East Idaho reads like a Seattle traffic map at rush hour.
|Pronghorn traversing the Flat Ranch Preserve. Photo ©Ken Miracle|
As the Middle Fork revealed to me many years ago, Idaho is an incredible place to be, with an abundance of natural resources for wildlife and humans alike. Just as my family chose to migrate here from Seattle on I-84, many more will come in future years from all directions, making The Nature Conservancy’s work to protect habitat and migratory wildlife corridors vitally important.
Unpacked moving boxes and laundry piles aside, I feel very privileged to now live here in East Idaho with my family among abundant and spectacular natural beauty. To be ensuring through our work that future human migrations can coexist with East Idaho’s intact ecosystems and incredible wildlife migrations, well, that’s a pretty amazing feeling too. And I blame all of it on the Middle Fork.