On May 17, I had the good fortune to attend for the first time the Idaho Conservation League’s (ICL) annual Wild Idaho! weekend at Redfish Lake Lodge near Stanley. For those who have not been, it is a multifaceted event encompassing talks on ICL’s accomplishments for the year, challenges it will address in the years ahead, brief field excursions, fundraising auctions and shared meals — all surrounded by the magnificent Sawtooth Mountains.
The atmosphere was like a super large family reunion where members who have worked together, in many cases for years, get together to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company. Over 130 people registered for the event, but by Saturday evening there were 188 folks eating dinner, attending the auctions and sharing a tribute to retiring executive director, Rick Johnson. The evening ended with twelve staff and young environmental leaders, including ICL’s new executive director Justin Hayes, jumping into the freezing lake as a reward for high auction bids challenging them to do so.
I am not an extrovert so I will admit I was a little anxious before arriving because I only knew three members. I had worked with two of them on the Payette Forest Coalition a decade ago when I worked for the Idaho Department of Commerce as the economic development specialist for North Idaho.
I have a front wheel drive car and was concerned about the possible condition of the roads from Boise. John McCarthy was kind to give me a ride up and ICL’s new board chair, Lori Gibson Banducci, gave me a ride home. A three-hour car trip gave me the opportunity to get to know them both.
John and I were sometimes adversaries over policies we wanted to see implemented in the Payette Forest Coalition, the first forest collaborative in Idaho which brought together members of the timber, environmental, ranching and recreation communities to work with the U.S. Forest Service to define a landscape scale project (100,000 acres) to improve overall wilderness health. Attempting this collaboration was no small task, since these communities had not been able to agree on much of anything pertaining to the wilderness for over a generation.
After a year of getting to know each other and defining issues which we might be able to find common ground, we worked to reach agreement on on a landscape scale project in the Payette National Forest. It encompassed road de-commissioning, forest thinning to improve forest health and resilience, and agreements to insure multiple uses, including recreational. The Payette Forest Coalition is still developing and implementing projects, as are nine other collaboratives in many locations around the state. Although collaboration is hard work, Idaho has shown that it can be successful. There were many skeptics in the beginning and fewer now.
I bring these successes to your attention because there is always more to be done and what can be done is determined by funding, member support and public and political support. I was very surprised to learn that ICL has grown to 11,000 members and its budget has grown from $250,000 a year to almost $2 million. It has professional staff that work together in amazing ways, which I observed at Wild Idaho! It mentors young people to be environmental leaders of the future.
Furthermore, Rick Johnson, the outgoing executive director, and the board of directors have developed a $3 million endowment that produces income every year. I have observed other nonprofits that have had to fire staff when a large grant or grants weren’t renewed. ICL’s endowment is an insurance policy that protects both staff and the integrity of their work.
During Wild Idaho! I began thinking about the work that ICL has done, is currently doing, and has committed to doing in the future. ICL and Congressman Mike Simpson recently committed to restore salmon to Idaho, back to their spawning grounds at Redfish Lake. I had no idea what that encompassed until I heard Pat Ford, Jim Norton and Justin Hayes describe the interrelationships of salmon to the polluted middle and lower Snake River and four dams administered by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) that uneconomically provide hydropower to much of the Northwest.
BPA has become uncompetitive and will likely continue to lose even more money based on rising costs, slowing electricity demand and high electricity rates. Many factors are intertwined and the salmon restoration project is a huge one that will require funding, grassroots education and political will. My thinking is that if ICL can grow its endowment, more funds could become available to do this important work which will take many years to accomplish.
I believe ICL can grow its endowment at a faster rate than it has in the past due to its growing and committed membership. Some of us who believe strongly in ICL’s work have included ICL as a beneficiary or contingent beneficiary in our wills. Another, and possibly easier way, is to designate ICL as a beneficiary in one or more of your IRAs. I’m not suggesting that you give all the money you currently intend for your children or other loved ones to ICL, but hopefully you will consider giving some amount through your IRA or your will. IRA beneficiaries are usually designated in percentages so you can have multiple beneficiaries receiving various amounts if you die before all the funds are used.
If you haven’t been to Wild Idaho! I hope you will consider going. It was an eye-opening and rewarding experience for me. I have rarely met a friendlier group of people — members, staff and board, who are so committed to preserving the beautiful wilderness of our state. If you want that legacy for your children and grandchildren, please consider a legacy gift to ICL.