Preserve the Best and Conserve the Rest

Rick considers the personal memoir of retired U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist and former ICL board member Hadley Roberts.

Hadley Roberts, in Salmon, Idaho, was one of the first federal agency staffers I really got to know on a professional basis. It was the mid-1980s and I was a newly minted ICL public lands staffer, idealistic to a fault. Hadley was then a newly minted U.S. Forest Service retiree, fresh off the staff of the Salmon National Forest and a 30-year career.

They say “scrape a Forest Service lifer and the blood runs green”—all that time in the uniform, I suppose. But with Hadley, it was true green, as in conservationist green. His career with the Forest Service was as a wildlife biologist, much of it in Idaho—and for much of his career that was an uphill path. Hadley was on the ICL board of directors for many years, and he brought an important perspective we all learned from. Hadley was skilled at talking ‘agency,’ and at the time I surely was not.

Preserve the Best and Conserve the Rest, by Hadley Roberts, is a personal memoir and no small tribute to the daily boots-on-the-ground work of a Forest Service employee.

A nice review of Hadley’s book is on the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics website. (As an aside, I remember when FSEEE was founded, during a very challenging time for conservationists who were speaking up within a timber-dominated agency. I remember well the pressures Hadley worked under. They were immense and could have been career-ending.)

As the review describes:

The book offers an inside glimpse into the ways in which the agency’s pro-timber and pro-grazing culture manifested itself in day-to-day operations.

He describes, for example, a group outing to inspect a grazing allotment on Idaho’s Salmon National Forest. A district ranger proposed spraying a sagebrush-covered hillside with herbicides to encourage the growth of grass for cows to eat. Roberts and another wildlife biologist pointed out that the sagebrush was an important winter food source for mule deer in the area. Besides, there was already ample grass for grazing, they said. The district ranger grew increasingly agitated.

“How dare somebody question his authority and give equal consideration to both deer and his cows?” Roberts writes. “Then he pointed at me and screamed, ‘And you’re a preservationist!’”

This was one of his victories; no spray was applied.

Later in the review:

Roberts describes the tensions between himself and members of the old guard—the “dinosaurs.” He writes that he never sacrificed his principles, even though his points of view didn’t always carry the day. He wasn’t afraid to speak out or to blow the whistle.

“Because I took such a tough stand on wildlife issues, the dinosaurs often said that I was not a ‘team player,’” he writes. “To them, I explained that I was indeed a team player. The difference was that I was on the ‘wildlife team’ and they were on the ‘Forest Service team.’ I went on to explain that the teams should be playing together, not against one another.”

Over the years I lost touch with Hadley Roberts, so it was a pleasure a couple years back to see him at a very well-attended gathering in Salmon, Idaho, hosted by the Lemhi Regional Land Trust. Seeing Hadley was one highlight that night. The other highlight was seeing so many other people—over a couple hundred, I suspect—a terrific showing in a community where conservationists once couldn’t fill a small living room. The Land Trust, frequent partner Salmon Valley Stewardship, and others have worked hard to make collaboration work. And it is working.

Around the holidays, the Los Angeles Times wrote a story on collaboration between conservationists and timber interests. The story highlights work of ICL and the Idaho Forest Group. Thinking about Hadley Roberts’ career, the crowd of conservationists in Salmon, and the article in the LA Times, we really have come a long way. As Hadley points out in his book, there are now 15 biologists working on the Salmon and Challis where it was once only him.

But as Hadley would quickly remind me, progress is slow and must be guarded. Especially now.

Preserve the Best and Conserve the Rest by Idaho conservationist Hadley Roberts is available from Amazon.

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