A Newbie’s Perspective of Wild Idaho!

ICL celebrated the 30th anniversary of Wild Idaho!, our annual membership conference, this past weekend. While some in attendance had been to all 30, others were enjoying their very first experience at Wild Idaho! Read about this first-time experience by our newest staffer, Austin Hopkins.

Since joining ICL last October, I’m often asked what got me into conservation work and what motivates me to continue. I usually find myself recalling stories of first experiences—my first time rafting a river, hiking a trail, spotting elusive wildlife and even resolving an ethical dilemma. There’s something special about approaching new experiences with an open mind.

So I come to you now, the “newbie” recently returned from my first Wild Idaho! with a story to share.

My experience began weeks before, with seasoned ICL staff organizing speakers for Wild Idaho! (our annual membership conference), registering guests, and occasionally reminiscing about past—often funny—stories. They inevitably smiled and began their stories with, “Remember that one Wild Idaho! where…” These stories—generally about a certain pink coat, colleagues risking hypothermia by jumping into Redfish Lake, and other intriguing topics—were followed by laughter.

While others laughed, I looked quizzical. Seeing my confusion, fellow staffers patted me on the shoulder and affirmed, “This will all make sense soon.” I realize now that, to fully understand Wild Idaho!, one must experience Wild Idaho!

Still curious, I arrived at the sold-out 30th anniversary Wild Idaho! on Friday. Not only was the anniversary worth celebrating, but ICL also had major victories to share—the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness designation, our nationwide win on CERCLA bonding and the public kick-off of our It’s My ID campaign. Participants were also treated to great talks about dark sky programs, public land collaboratives, potential wilderness designation for Scotchman Peaks, BSU public opinion polling results on environmental issues, and Wolf Land and wolves throughout the Pacific Northwest. I picked an awesome first year to attend Wild Idaho!

What was truly amazing to witness as a first timer though was how groups typically opposed to one another’s ideas came together to talk openly about conservation issues. One might imagine, as I erroneously did, that only environmental activists would attend Wild Idaho! Instead, the audience was diverse, with environmentalists, land managers, government employees, local officials, loggers, ranchers and mining interests.

Among the greatest testaments to this diversity was the presence of keynote speaker Congressman Mike Simpson, who worked for over a decade with Executive Director Rick Johnson and others to secure wilderness designation for the Boulder-White Clouds. I’m told that, at one time, Simpson hesitated to admit to a reporter that he had given a small charitable gift to ICL. Well, Saturday night, Simpson provided champagne and everyone toasted the Boulder-White Clouds. Not even a Bob Dylan song could predict that sort of change! But building relationships with diverse people who care about Idaho’s special places, as I realized over the weekend, is what makes Wild Idaho! special.

Leaving Wild Idaho! Sunday was bittersweet. One could not ask for a better weekend, but a full night’s sleep was very appealing after late nights spent chatting in the Redfish Lake Lodge bar. The long drive home allowed me to reflect on two lessons I learned about why ICL is successful:

  • One of ICL’s mantras is “endless pressure, endlessly applied.” To protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the special places we love, we simply have to do the work we do, no matter how long it may take.
  • Those of us working on conservation stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Listening to the presentations on current work and learning about past work—by staff, board, members and partners—left me humbled. When I attend meetings, I’m afforded a level of respect because of the solid work done by ICL and our supporters and because of our reputation for being pragmatic, persistent and successful.

I also reflected on other stories I could now tell. I had led an afternoon field trip to talk about the amazing geology of the Sawtooths. And yes, somehow I had been convinced, along with four colleagues, to jump into a frigid Redfish Lake to raise money for ICL’s water program. I was no longer a newbie!

As for the pink coat—I now understand that reference. If you’re still wondering about it, well, you’re just going to have to come to Wild Idaho! next May 19–21!

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