Celebrating Idaho

SF boise Rivre

South Fork of the Boise River is just one of many places we have not explored thoroughly in Idaho.

As the first winter snow of the year fell on Island Park, we were camped in our trailer on the South Fork of the Boise River below Anderson Ranch Dam, northeast of Mountain Home. There, it was still late autumn, and although snow covered the higher peaks, we enjoyed colorful cottonwoods and aspens. Our purpose was specifically as support for sons and grandkids who were hunting mule deer.  We did a little birding though when time permitted, seeing lots of wild turkeys, bald eagles, osprey, and cedar waxwings, among other birds.

We have camped in this region before, but this particular area was new to us. We love to discover new places and this certainly qualified. It made me realize just how lucky we are to live in Idaho, a state that seems to have it all.

Well, there one thing you can’t find in Idaho. Idaho is the only Western state, and one of 22 states, without a national park. Yes, we do have a sliver of Yellowstone’s western border, but there are no official access points so it doesn’t count. We also have Craters of the Moon, but that is a National Monument, not a national park.

Not having a national park may be a good thing. We have witnessed firsthand what being a bedroom community to West Yellowstone means in regards to traffic, development, and crowding. We may not appreciate what a national park would do for us as much as what it does to us. Personally, I don’t mind not being “on the map” like Moab, Utah is, when it comes to recreation.

We have traveled most of Idaho, poking our nose into many corners and peeking under a lot of rocks, but last week showed us that there is still much left to see and do in Idaho despite having tramped here for 40 years. For instance, in autumn 2017, we took a trip across southern Idaho then north to the Panhandle photographing wildlife management areas for a special project. In three weeks, we covered about 15 of the 32 wildlife management areas in the state. It was fabulous to see the state in the fall and going from south to north we extended the fall season dramatically.

Extending the fall season by going north? That may take a bit of explaining. Although North Idaho is a higher latitude it is also lower in elevation. Bonner’s Ferry, the northernmost city in Idaho at a latitude of about 48.7 degrees (Idaho Falls is at about 43.5 degrees), sits at an elevation of 1,896 feet above sea level (a.s.l). Sandpoint, to the south, is at 2,096 feet, a.s.l. The highest point in Boundary County (next to Canada) is 7,710 feet a.s.l. Compare that to southern Idaho where Idaho Falls sits at an elevation of 4,705 feet, a.s.l., and the 19 tallest mountains in Idaho, including four over 12,000 feet, are within spitting distance of each other, all in central Idaho. So, despite the irrationality of it all, the climate in Idaho moderates as you go downhill to the north. I still have to reconcile the fact that up—north—on a map doesn’t mean uphill or upstream.

If there is one word that describes Idaho wildlands, it is diversity. From the Owyhee Desert in the extreme southwest to the temperate rainforests in the extreme north, to the rugged mountains in the center of the state, Idaho can satisfy just about any adventurer.  We may not have a national park, but we do have 4.8 million acres of public land so remote, so untouched, so awesome that it has been decreed wilderness—more than Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, or Utah. Idaho has 107,651 miles of rivers, with 891 miles designated as wild and scenic, more than twice that designated in any of other western states except California and Oregon. And getting there can be just as enjoyable with 2,405 miles of designated scenic byways. In this one state, there are literally thousands of places to go and experience nature at its best.

The purpose of today’s column is to remind us how lucky we are to live in Idaho. Growing up in Salt Lake City, I was always under the impression that Idaho was pretty much just farm ground. I’m glad I was wrong, and I am thrilled that our natural resources can remain at least partially hidden behind a giant Idaho potato.

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 Nature-track.com!

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