Monday, October 14, 2013

A Lesson in Collaboration

Fall has always been my favorite time of year, anchored in my psyche during my early years.  On the ancestral cattle ranch of my family, chores seemed to taper off as the air grew thin and a haze settled in as the snow line drifted lower and lower along the Rockies.

Thanks to his generosity, with permission I have included in this post an image taken by Glenn Oakley from the ranch side of the Henry’s Fork showing the view of the Tetons framed by sagebrush and Lodgepole pine forests.Henry's Fork in North Fremont County, Idaho by Glenn Oakley

This time of year, the forests there are ribboned and blotched with yellow bursts of Larch and Aspen trees.

Fall is also when the water level made it easier to wade the river fly-fishing and when the trout, including native Cutthroat and Rainbow, grew more aggressive.  There was also a hell of lot less competition from insects.

It occurred to me streaming Foyle’s War recently (remember, a year ago I cut the cord on subscription television entirely so I now surf Netflix and Hulu) where the lead character in this crime drama set along the coast of England during World War II often fly-fishes, that during my lifetime, I’ve tended to compartmentalize activities to certain places I’ve lived.

Even though fly-fishing fulfills my need for solitude and regeneration, I never picked up a fly rod again after college even though there was more than enough opportunity during the three decades I lived in Alaska and here in North Carolina.

Same with downhill skiing, which I left in Spokane when I went to Alaska and cross country skiing, which I only did during my decade there, even though there are places enough to do both in North Carolina.

While I’ve lived now in Durham, North Carolina much longer than I did in my native state and it is so heavily forested and I can “leaf-peep” from the nook where I write, it is much more difficult to see the “forest for the trees” here.

The Henry’s Fork flows a mile from the ranch as it dissects Fremont County, Idaho north to south in that Yellowstone nook of Idaho about 40-50 miles above where the river finally merges with the South Fork in Madison County to form the incredible Snake River just south of Rexburg, at 25,000, the only “big” town along the Henry’s Fork.

Ranchland including that used to raise forage also divides the northern part of Fremont County from the rich potato farmland down in the southern half, as does the type of fly-fishing.

But growing up we didn’t have any idea the Henry’s Fork was famous.  It was just the river.

Its fame wasn’t brought to my attention until I was in my 20s as I was forging a now–concluded forty-year career in community marketing that began in Spokane, nearly 500 miles further north along the Rockies.

I was working to land a future annual convention of the Outdoor Writers Association of America for that community when the local OWAA contact working with me on the bid learned that I had grown up along the Henry’s Fork.

He pulled out the May 1975 issue of the now 125-year-old Sports Afield, to show me an article by Dr. Ernest Schwienbert.  Prounounced SHVEE-bert, the author was already known to me by then as one of the founders of the now 140,000-volunteer Trout Unlimited, a conservation partnership founded when I was 10 or 11 years old.

In the article, Dr. Schwienbert declared the Henry’s Fork one of the best fly-fishing streams.  It was news to me but the river was already legendary to enthusiasts worldwide.

Protecting this north source of the Snake River had also been part of the rationale for setting aside the 1.8 million acre Targhee National Forest in 1908.

It’s all part of what is now known as the 12-million acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which is centered around the world’s first national park established in 1872.  The ecosystem protects the source of three of the nation’s mighty river systems emptying basins that cover 80% of America.

Also unknown to me until an excellent article appeared in the Fall issue of Trout Magazine was that three years after Schwienbert’s article the Idaho Fish and Game Department (IDFG) started to change its approach to managing Henry’s Fork trout moving from fish hatcheries to wild fish management.

Dams were built on the Henry’s Fork beginning a hundred years ago a couple of decades after my great-grandparents and grandparents began to homestead ranches along the river.  This was also about the time the Idaho legislature first authorized the use of fish hatcheries as a work around to dams used for irrigation and hydroelectricity.

A decade after I was born IDFG started to conduct in-depth research, and by 1978 as I left Spokane to head community destination marketing for Anchorage, Alaska, Idaho was taking a different approach with a “wild” trout management policy along the Henry’s Fork.

By the new millennium, Idaho ceased using hatcheries to manage fish populations in the Henry’s Fork.  About the same time, the US Bureau of Reclamation began began establishing agreements with irrigation districts such as the one jointly for Fremont and Madison counties.

Conservation interests were included at the “table” where policy was calibrated among the various interests along the river.  People who call themselves “power-brokers” fear cooperative approaches such as this where everyone is at the table as equals.

Feeling they have unique vision and insight, they fear “collaboratives” as a place where “anyone can say no but no one can say yes.”  But as you can read at this link to an article in Trout Magazine, it has worked along the Henry’s Fork.

The river today is as healthy and abundant as it has been since settlement began in the late 1800s.

Too important for any one user group’s vision alone, according to the updated Henry’s Fork Basin Study, the river provides irrigation for 280,000 acres, $100 million in ranch and farmland sales and drinking water for tens of thousands of Idahoans.

The river’s tiny basin generates about 20% of the state’s productivity.

It also annually sustains $29 million in tourism/recreation spending such as fly-fishing (potentially, $49 million with proper management of the river) including jobs, before ultimately contributing approximately one-third of the Snake River’s flow in eastern Idaho as it archs toward the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.

Makes me almost want to pick up a rod, get off the shoreline and wade in with my grandsons.

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