The Idaho Conservation League lost a dear friend on Saturday, May 2, with the passing of Dr. John Freemuth. He was the Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Cecil Andrus Endowed Chair of Environment and Public Lands at Boise State University. The contributions Dr. Freemuth made in his life and through his work to enhance Idaho for everyone encompassed so much more than the positions he held. Our hearts go out to his family.

Photo: Boise State University

John has been involved with the Idaho Conservation League for decades, sharing his knowledge with staff and expertly moderating discussions at numerous meetings, conferences, and all across our community. His passion for America’s public lands was central to his studies and scholarship, and he authored several books and dozens of papers on the topic. In particular, his work on collaborative restoration efforts helped germinate the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership and numerous local groups across the state, which continue to successfully navigate public land challenges.

He was appointed to the Bureau of Land Management’s Science Advisory Board by then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, providing strong support for scientifically-informed management of our public lands. John was a well-known and respected voice in Idaho public policy and land management circles, from the Idaho Statehouse to his classroom, and from Washington D.C. to the public lands that he held so dear. His perspective helped inform ICL’s collaborative approach to public lands issues including the Owyhee Initiative and Boulder-White Clouds, among other successes. 

Over the years, Dr. Freemuth taught and mentored thousands of students. Several members of ICL’s family worked with him through Boise State’s Masters in Public Administration program, with a focus on environmental policy. Such was the case with ICL’s North Idaho Director Brad Smith, who connected with ICL through John. 

At John’s invitation, public lands experts spoke to his students on a regular basis. Former ICL Executive Director Rick Johnson spoke at one of John’s classes in 2005, and was introduced to a student named Brad Smith. Within a month, Brad had accepted an internship with ICL, and 15 years later, continues to lead ICL’s efforts in North Idaho. Many other conservationists and leaders across Idaho, and across the world, emerged from Freemuth’s program at Boise State. His influence will continue to elevate discussions around public policy and our natural world for decades to come.

His legacy continues in many other ways as well. John helped kickstart renewed momentum on salmon and steelhead recovery efforts. At the Andrus Center’s conference on energy, agriculture, and salmon in April 2019, Freemuth organized and moderated discussions that became the backdrop of two resounding announcements. Idaho’s Rep. Mike Simpson announced at the conference that he wants salmon recovered in his lifetime. Gov. Brad Little also stated his willingness to create a workgroup to bring back Idaho’s fish to abundance. 

John possessed a rare quality. He was able to attract diverse stakeholders, solicit their opinions, ensure that all were heard, and in the end, his leadership has helped Idahoans to craft lasting solutions to some of our thorniest public land disputes. As the national publication Greenwire put it, “Part of Freemuth’s appeal was his ability to tackle complicated issues in an even-keeled, nonpartisan manner.” 

His leadership will be missed, but his legacy lives on. Thank you Dr. Freemuth.