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.
"In the river again. The tug of the current against my waders and the routine of cast, step, fish it out, retrieve, and cast again were good. My fly touched bottom occasionally, and hope was in me. The thin clouds that the sun had set to blushing earlier were thicker now and more soft overcast was drifting in out of the west.
Good. Everything was good."
This is Ted Trueblood, writing in 1981, about fishing for salmon in the Weiser River in 1954.
Yes: salmon in the Weiser River. It was not that long ago. In my granddaughter’s lifetime, Idaho could invite them back. But my topic here is different: memory in conservation.
In 2017, Idaho salmon and steelhead are fighting for their lives. How does it matter that 70 years ago Idahoans fished for them in many more places, close to year-round, with lives far richer in moments like Ted’s on the Weiser than we have now? You can ask this kind of question across a lot of conservation terrain.
Historian John Lukacs has part of an answer: "We are responsible for what we remember." If we can remember back before our own lives began, we are likely to be more accurately and wisely responsible during our small span.
I first saw the watershed repair Tom Page has underway in the Pahsimeroi Valley in 2014. It’s large-scale work in a high valley whose waters have been broken up. Tom has searched old maps, journals, and photographs for clues to where and in what relations Pahsimeroi waters once coursed. When we walked his lands, he saw two scenes deeply where I saw one thinly. He saw old water traces, ghosts of a sort, still moving beneath and around what our eyes saw. I bet the traces grew less ghostly as he learned how to look, and no doubt they are instructing his work of reassembly. Tom has taken the Pahsimeroi’s past into his own remembrance, and thereby made it his own responsibility.
What do Idaho’s conservation-minded people remember? The answers much determine what we seek, and can achieve.
– Pat Ford