Directing Change

Luray Virginia autumn

Near Luray, Virginia. The Eastern US is no longer the natural paradise it was before European settlement. Whether or not the West follows suit will depend upon decisions we make today.

I spent four long days last week in the cab of a rental truck helping my son move from Virginia, 2,850 miles to Graham, Washington, south of Seattle. On this long, near coast-to-coast trip, I reminisced, and told my son more than once how much I was going to miss visiting them in Virginia. We have grown to love Virginia’s deciduous forests, wetlands and coasts, and the wildlife diversity there. We now can get to know Washington state, but without an excuse to go to Virginia, we may never make it back there, a place where one lady I met while hiking at Virginia’s Mason Neck State Park declared to be the most beautiful place in the nation.

I know that to many Idahoans, and Westerners in general, it is blasphemous to even suggest that there is anything, anything at all, positive about the East, meaning anyplace east of the Mississippi River. Westerners tend to have a holier-than-thou attitude towards the East and Easterners, poking fun at the silly way of life that they tolerate—traffic, noise, crowds, rules and regulations. Indeed, when we think of what is wrong with this country, we point our collective western fingers east. Well, and to the west coast too.

However, everything that we despise about the East and the west coast is coming our way. We are not immune from the maladies of the more developed areas. If you have lived just about any place in Idaho for the past 30-40 years, you know what I mean. Development has been and is occurring at a phenomenal rate and wild places 20 years ago are now subdivisions. And Island Park, in many ways, is leading the charge on development. The only thing in which we differ from our eastern brethren is in the vast amount of public land we are surrounded by. Easterners are not blessed with a lot of public land on which to recreate and to provide the open space Westerners love. And even then, there are those who would take our public land away too, in the name of short-term profits.

Of the ten fastest growing states today, six are western states: Utah is number 1, Idaho is number 2, Nevada is number 5, Colorado is number 6, Washington is number 8 and Arizona is number 10. Since 2010, Utah’s population has grown 23.88 percent and Idaho’s population has grown 22.52 percent ( Those numbers are somewhat arguable, as other references place Florida, not Utah, first and Idaho second.

The U.S. Census Bureau population estimate for Idaho on July 1, 2022 was, 1,939,033 ( Idaho had a population of 500,000 people in about 1935 and the population doubled to 1,000,000 by 1990, a 55-year span. Our next doubling point will likely be this year, a 33-year span. Following that trend, Idaho will have 4,000,000 residents about 20 years from now.

West wide—the West is usually considered the 11 westernmost states, excluding Alaska—the 1910 population was just over 7,000,000. The 2020 census put the population of the West at 78,588,572. Granted, much of that is on the west coast with California having a population of 39,000,000. However, California’s population has actually declined since 2020 by 600,000, one of three reasons given for the decline being California residents moving to other states ( That is over a tenfold increase with the doubling points being 1940, 1960 and 1995. The West is growing at an average of 23.7 percent annually ( and as places like Los Angeles become intolerable, it is easy to guess where those people will continue to emigrate to.

What we westerners too easily forget, is that the East was not always as it is now. Neither was the west coast. At one time, they were just as wild as the furthest corners of Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness are today. The forests were primal, and species long since gone—elk, cougars, wolves, passenger pigeons—stalked the land and the air. The bounty seemed limitless and development proceeded with no forethought, leading to what Westerners scorn today.

While continued development and population growth are inevitable, how that growth is directed doesn’t have to be haphazard, wanton or totally incompatible with the lifestyle we treasure. If we do not want to become the next “East”, we need to take action now and insist on appropriate planning, even when it is painful or profits are not as high. We need to make sure our voices are heard by federal and state legislators, county commissioners and even town mayors. How we deal with what is coming will make all the difference.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho