In July the Outdoor Idaho crew will travel across two of the nation's largest wilderness areas, for a show examining what wilderness has meant to the state and the West.
It's certainly one of the most complicated programs we've attempted – to report on every wilderness area in the state. The logistics are proving to be thorny and time-consuming; but we figure a 50 year anniversary comes around only once. Besides, we're not getting any younger!
My colleague John Crancer will join an outfitted river trip down the Selway River. The five day journey cuts through 1.3 million acres of unspoiled land that confounded the Lewis & Clark expedition in 1805. This is the third largest roadless area in the lower 48, surpassed only by Death Valley and the Frank Church wilderness. A Selway river trip is the most restrictive in the country, since the Forest Service only allows one group per day on the river during July.
Also in July former IdahoPTV GM Peter Morrill will trek across the length of the Frank Church wilderness, a journey of more than 50 miles. He will be accompanied by my colleague Jeff Tucker. The two of them will document a journey that starts at Big Creek, drops down to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, then ascends more than a mile up to the rugged Big Horn Crags and Ship Island Lake.Right away you're probably thinking, “That's nuts!” And you would be correct. The normal route should be the other way, from Ship Island Lake down to the Middle Fork and out to Big Creek. But the guys wanted the Crags to be the payoff, and so they're willing to make the climb, just for us. I guess what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!
In August we'll join some trout fishermen on a backpacking trip into the Gospel Hump wilderness, to explore a part of the state that most Idahoans know little about.
We have already spent time, in April, with the group that hiked 60 miles across the Craters of the Moon wilderness, to re-trace the journey of explorer Robert Limbert. You may recall that Limbert was the one who convinced President Calvin Coolidge to declare Craters a national monument.
Other wilderness areas already visited for the hour-long show include Hells Canyon wilderness and the wilderness areas in the Owyhee canyonlands. And in September we hope to re-visit the most popular wilderness in Idaho, in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
This program will also explore the challenges of wilderness, as exemplified by the Boulder-White Clouds Monument proposal and the desire of groups like mountain bikers and motorized users to have a say in what happens to Idaho's special places. Included in the show will be interviews with old timers and others who have played a role in Idaho's wilderness story. We'll also look at proposed wilderness areas, like Scotchman Peak, in north Idaho.
Oh, and just for the record, our wilderness filming permits are in order. We worked closely with Andy Brunelle and Dave Olson of the U.S. Forest Service, and we appreciate them running interference for us. Without their efforts and that of a few other folks, this examination of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act probably would not have happened.
I have my eye pressed up to the bars across the window of a trap. I see a large, furry silhouette inside the trap. I put my camera up to the opening just as a paw larger than my head hits the bars. I jump back three feet. I can't help it. I keep telling myself the grizzly is as good as caught, but the strength and determination behind that one punch makes me rethink my desire to be at a bear trapsite. I gather myself, continue the talk of courage in my head and get my camera back in record mode for a serious mission. “I don't take risks around bears,” says Bryan Aber, Idaho Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. “We try to avoid that at any cost. It's not worth it.”
Aber is trapping grizzly bears for research in Island Park, Idaho. I'm at the trap site with him because he's part of the new Outdoor Idaho show ‘Helping Henry's.’ Covering the Henry's Fork watershed for Outdoor Idaho is an honor I relish with motherly pride. The Henry's Fork is my office and my playground. The Henry's Fork is where I teach my kids about big bug hatches while we fish. The Henry's Fork is where we count stars at night in camp. I don't go to my head when I want to daydream. I go to the Henry's Fork. “People who come to this river are just in awe,” says Brandon Hoffner, Henry's Fork Foundation executive director. “It's just a great place to live. To hunt and fish, you can't beat the Henry's Fork.”
‘Helping Henry's,’ debuting on Idaho Public Television in spring 2014, is a seasonal look at a magnificent place rich in resources and recreation.
Graceful trumpeter swans swim the Fork in the winter as the snow piles high for snowmobilers. “I'm not intimidated. It's fun,” says Deanna Dye, snowmobiler. “You feel like you're out surfing in the snow when you're playing the powder.”
I'm wading through all of that powder playing chase with snowmobilers for the winter season of the show. There is more blow than snow, but both are hitting me sideways and staying warm is impossible. Photographer Jay Krajic and I are covered in white when we climb in the cab of a snowcat to ride with the power line crew keeping all of the Island Park cabins heated in the winter. “Up here when it gets 20 or 30 below, someone could freeze up in a hurry,” says Tim Jenkins, Fall River Electric Journeyman Lineman. “Do everything right and you'll go home at night with all your fingers and toes.”
All of my fingers and toes make it through the shoot, but I'm still shivering a few months later when winter starts to melt in May. The watershed is a brilliant green, the animals are bounding through their migration routes with zeal and I'm wading again. This time it's through water instead of snow. I'm with researchers who are tagging trout in Henry's Fork. It's a blue ribbon fishery known worldwide by fisherman seeking dry fly action. The research done on the water is for the fishery, but the priority on the water goes to farming. “Without water the desert doesn't blossom and that's what we need,” says Dale Swensen, Fremont-Madison Irrigation District executive director. “Without the Henry's Fork, there would be no irrigators.”
It's high season for fishing and farming in the summer when I start swimming through the negotiations that bring so many entities to the table for one fork, the Henry's Fork. I know water wars reached a boiling point two decades ago, but as I talk to those interested in the management of Henry's, I realize compromise is what keeps this place so pristine. “The Henry's Fork Watershed Council while at one point the different diverse stakeholders did not get along and see eye to eye, has led to a great relationship and actually become a model across the country,” Hoffner says.
As the summer season fades to fall, another reason the nation shines a spotlight on this watershed presents itself. It's a 440 pound grizzly bear. The first grizzly bear caught for research in Idaho. That was back in 1994. Grizzly #227 helped get the recovery ball rolling for the endangered species and he's just hit the window of the trap I'm peering into.
There are more than 700 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Many of them spend their summer vacations in the Henry's Fork watershed. Idaho Department of Fish and Game collars as many bears as it can to keep tabs on the recovering population in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Just as the bears finish collecting bugs and berries for hibernation, another show takes the final act on Henry's. I'm in Harriman State Park before sunrise. The sky is the kind of deep, dark blue that my eyes and lens can't use, but my ears can. I hear the thrash and snap of branches in the forest then a bugling elk breaks the treeline. I'm as still as the log providing me cover as the sun comes up. The camera rolls as the elk chorus continues. Once again, it's cold, but, beyond bugling elk, it's quiet.
Nine months and 23 tapes later, it seems there are a lot of cold and quiet moments along the Henry's Fork, but from bears to birds and farming to fishing, the connection is the water. That wet line drawn in the desert sand is what keeps people, including myself, interested in helping Henry's.