At December’s annual meeting of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association held in Lewiston, I had the pleasure of sitting on an industry panel, reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, listening to Idaho Governor Brad Little address the conference, and learning from everyone there.
Guides discussed the importance of storytelling at a workshop led by former outfitter and yarn-spinner Jerry Myers. Guides from the Middle Fork of the Salmon to the Clearwater also shared how stories help them lead trips and connect with their guests.
Jerry had us cracking up as he told us about his wife, Terry, getting a friend at the local police department to pull his rig over when he tried to go steelheading without her. I found myself nodding when a Whitebird-based fishing guide made a comment along the lines of, “The point of our work is to help our guests be the heroes of their own stories, not only tell our own.” That thought would stick with me.
I was given the opportunity to attend this conference and sit on stage as an industry panelist, representing my outgoing role as Director of the Redside Foundation. At the foundation, I’ve worked directly with Idaho guides for the past three years to connect them with physical, financial, mental and community health resources. I now wear the hat of Campaign Outreach Assistant for the Idaho Conservation League’s Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Campaign.
Throughout the afternoon, as we listened to scientist Jim Fredericks of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Dave Johnson of the Nez Perce Tribe’s Fisheries Management Department discuss science, and Danielle Cloutier of the American Sportfishing Association talk about the economic impact of the fishing industry to our state (over $1 billion in direct and indirect spending in 2018 alone!), I thought of that guide’s comment. How can Idaho’s guides be the heroes of our state’s salmon and steelhead recovery process?
That question stayed with me the entire day and still resonates now. The Lewiston Tribune conveyed much of what was said throughout the afternoon about the grim situation facing many, if not all, of my colleagues. We’ve already heard about the governor’s comment regarding dam breaching. His closing remarks, though, were not what I walked away from the day with.
Instead, what I saw happen in that packed ballroom is that guides and outfitters continued to turn towards each other as collaborators rather than competitors. Hunting and rafting outfitters sat side-by-side with their fishing colleagues, alarmed and concerned at the current state of our fishery. Guides were able to ask scientists and industry experts about their questions and answer their guests’ questions, from barging to gill netting.
I know from years of working with Idaho’s guides that it’s hard to get us to agree on just about anything. But just because we disagree about some of the details of salmon/steelhead recovery, just because our politics are different, doesn’t mean we don’t stand together on wanting fish back to Idaho.
Gov. Little addressed our Industry Panel and a room of over 150 guides, outfitters and community members. Yes, the governor gave us what felt overall like a natural resources stump speech, unaware of what had been discussed over the previous four hours. But that doesn’t mean we don’t applaud him for showing up to address IOGA on a busy day. We thank the IOGA leadership for bringing him in for the first time to an Annual Meeting. We appreciate the governor for giving Idahoans the opportunity to send their stakeholders to the table as part of his Workgroup on Salmon Recovery. Despite not wanting to begin with a discussion of dam breaching, all solutions are being discussed during those meetings, as they have been throughout this year and as I hope they continue into 2020.
One of my favorite parts of being a river guide has always been the way guides and outfitters are willing to help each other. Even as business competitors with political and personal differences, we show up for each other again and again. Almost never does a guide pass someone’s medical emergency or refuse to lend a missing cooking staple for dinner.
In any given year, there are more than 2,000 licensed outdoor guides working in the state of Idaho. How do we leverage this 2,000-strong industry base to create a stable, thriving resource for our fishing guides? How do we commit to showing up for each other the way we do every day on the river or out on the trail?
These aren’t rhetorical questions, but they also aren’t easy ones.
This conversation was pushed forward during this year’s Annual Meeting, and I look forward to watching the leadership at IOGA continue to gather who they represent for tough conversations and action. I encourage Gov. Little to continue to include guides and outfitters as he considers the salmon and steelhead issue, and continue to show up in rural communities, from Challis to Kooskia, that are most affected by this diminishing resource.
While guides and outfitters can help lead the way, we need all Idahoans to remind their policymakers of the importance of salmon and steelhead to our state. Whether you are a guide or a concerned member of your community, you can contact me directly if you’d like to write a Letter to the Editor, submit a public comment to the Gov.’s Workgroup, or become more involved with this issue.
Working together, we can all help write the story of salmon and steelhead recovery in Idaho. We can all become heroes for Idaho’s fish and tell the collective story of how we all came together to recover not just a precious natural resource, but one of the few species that make Idaho — its public lands, wildlife and waterways — and its people truly special.