Editor’s  note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years  ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was  the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in  Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.

Jane Alexander has a chapter titled "Idaho" in her wonderful book Wild Things, Wild Places. The chapter recounts her trip down the Selway River in 1994 with three wildlife biologists, all known for field work on big cats: Alan Rabinowitz, Howard Quigley, and Idaho’s Maurice Hornocker. Her many field trips to places on earth that still hold big animals are the spine of her story. They are why this actress, champion for the arts, wife and mother has become, in her fifth life or so, a global conservation leader.

The chapter has two black-and-white photos she took while on the Selway, looking upstream. The first shows a raft entering a rapid, with five men and a U.S. flag hoisted 8 feet or so high on a pole in the rear. The second shows only the flag above water.

I was struck by her naming. She uses River of No Return Wilderness, Bitterroot Wilderness, and other local names in ways that don’t quite match up geographically with where she is. You could say she’s not accurate. Or, that she is repeating what she was probably hearing from the river guides and the cat men: different names that all have claim on this wild and wildish place at the heart of our state.

Measurement by fingernail tells me that if you take a 140 mile-wide transect from the southern edge of the Sawtooth Wilderness 250 or more miles north to the North Fork of the Clearwater, up the irregular corridor between McCall and Salmon on the south, to Orofino and Hamilton, Montana on the north, you will frame this place, give or take and with fuzz on many borders. From a small plane out of McCall, from one of its wild rivers, from men who knew its cougars, Jane Alexander took in how big it is. Much of her book is about what being big in the natural and animal context means at this moment on a people-choked earth. How good it is for Idaho that Idaho can be part of the story of big places where people still tread lightly and sparsely.

People come to it from many directions, so it and its parts have many names. The Frank. The Selway-Bitterroot. Salmon River Country. The Salmon-Selway or Salmon-Clearwater. The Upper Salmon. Clearwater Country. I don’t know its Indian names. The Forest Service once called a large part of it the Idaho Primitive Area. The Idaho/Montana Primitive Area would not be a bad name for all of it today.

Whatever we call it, it is there, and I know my way to some of its parts. I am grateful to live in Idaho and be near it. I can’t be unbiased about its worth to our country, planet, and the future of both. I pray that we hold it, restore its salmon circle with the sea, stitch back its links with other parts of the Rocky Mountain cordillera, and better tune our human use and habitation nearby to its old and faithful rhythms.

– Pat Ford