It was in 1994 — right after President Clinton’s first mid-term election brought Newt Gingrich’s power shift to the U.S. House — that I applied for the job of executive director of the Idaho Conservation League. I was offered the job on a rainy December evening and moments later Roberta and I went to see the Rolling Stones in the Kingdome.
At the time, I lived in Seattle and worked for the Sierra Club — a job that had me in Washington, DC, 100 days a year — working on some of the biggest conservation battles of the day. Protection of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest (aka the spotted owl) occupied most of my time, but my work also included things like protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling, campaigning for wilderness in Idaho, Montana and the California desert, working on the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act, and much more. In my office right now I have the vial of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill I was holding up on the front page of the Seattle Times. It was a remarkable professional experience, but Idaho was home and the ICL opportunity brought me back — back to Idaho and back to ICL.
I was 37 at that time, with my first traces of grey. Today, working the same job, what hair I still have left is white. ICL’s changed a bit, too. I like to think we’re the same, however, and when it comes to hope for the future, confidence in the power to make change, and a love of Idaho, well, we are. I am the same person who first volunteered for ICL in the early 1980s. And ICL is still a fantastic place to work as every day the organization advances pragmatic, commonsense conservation in one of the more challenging states in the U.S.
But it’s time to write a new chapter. The following letter was sent to ICL’s members on Nov. 28.
Friends of Idaho and ICL,
In June 2019 I will step down as the Idaho Conservation League executive director. I began with ICL as a volunteer in my early 20s. I became ICL’s public lands director in 1985. After time with the Sierra Club, I’ve been director going on 24 years. We’ve done many good things together, because it’s been a group effort all along. As a leader, stepping forward when thousands have your back is humbling. You have had my back for decades. I am very grateful to you.
Together we watched a president sign bills to create nine new wilderness areas and over 300 miles of wild and scenic rivers. We helped ensure the state of Idaho adopted a measure to protect roadless areas across our national forests. Together we stopped the largest source of airborne mercury, creating protections for the entire U.S. We kept coal-fired power plants out of Idaho, and created a professional team engaging every single air and water permit in Idaho. Together, we created a credible and growing Idaho voice for the challenge of global climate change as well as backyard measures for the Boise Foothills and the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail. And a whole lot more.
We completed a campaign together in 1999 to firmly establish the ICL endowment. We purchased ICL’s home next to the Statehouse. In 2017, we completed an effort to secure commitments of over $5 million, an ambitious promise to the future of ICL.
More than a job, ICL has anchored my life, creating an extended family of lifelong friends. At ICL I met my wife, Roberta. I’ve also met presidents, worked with some of Idaho’s greatest leaders, and work daily with truly remarkable colleagues. Thinking about what you’ll leave behind is different than thinking about what you are building up. ICL is as strong as it ever has been. ICL’s professional staff has deep, well-rounded experience and a powerful dose of youthful energy and passion. ICL’s board of directors is well-led and moving forward. They will hire my successor.
I’ll be running ICL through June 2019, but it’s time to share this news. Meanwhile, we have more to do, together. Looking to the future, I thank you for your support of ICL and ask, especially now, that you give generously. We have more to do — as our founders challenged us — to “Keep Idaho Idaho.”
Rick Johnson, executive director