Like this view of the Snake River from Craig Mountain WMA, the scenic beauty of most of the state’s WMAs is awe inspiring. Photographers will wear themselves out trying to photograph each one.
We spent the last 16 days getting to know most of the wildlife management areas in Idaho. We learned a lot about Idaho on this trip. For example, I think I have finally learned how to spell Coeur d’Alene and Pend Oreille (pronounced Ponderay). We have found a lot of areas where it would be fun to live and have fallen in love with a couple of them. We discovered that each WMA has its charms but sometimes you have to look to find them. To our chagrin, we learned not to trust just one source of maps, even if they come from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. We had our best luck when we used all the map resources at our disposal as no single map ever seemed to be completely up to date and electronic media was unavailable in many locations.
As for the WMAs themselves, we found them to be a remarkably diverse cross-section of Idaho habitat. A study a few years ago found that the wildlife management areas in Idaho provide habitat for about 92% of the state’s wildlife species. Not all the habitat they need by any measure, but at least something. We saw that for ourselves in the variety of habitats encompassed in the WMAs and it was astounding. From the depths of the Snake River canyon just north of Hells Canyon to the ponds of Boundary-Smith Creek, literally a stone’s throw from Canada to the winter ranges of eastern Idaho, you can find grasslands, forests, marshes, rivers, agriculture and mountains, foothills, steep canyon breaks and rolling prairies.
Through poor planning on my part, this trip turned out to be more reconnaissance than recreation. We were usually too pressed for time to really enjoy the recreational opportunities at each area, although we could see that there was plenty to do. Most WMAs have extensive hiking/biking/equestrian trails, hunting and fishing are generally allowed and some allow camping. Most are scenic enough to give photographers a workout. On more than one occasion, we found ourselves wishing we had brought the canoe as water seems to be a common theme among WMAs.
Undoubtedly, readers will be wondering which WMA was our favorite. That is a tough question, and one I asked myself repeatedly. I really found that to a large degree, my favorite was the one I was at. We enjoyed each and every one but there certainly were a few standouts such as Craig Mountain, Boundary-Smith Creek and our own Sand Creek WMAs.
It is a four-hour drive from Idaho Falls to Boise and another nine hours north from Boise to Bonners Ferry just south of the Canada line. That is certainly doable in a long day of driving. You can even shave off a few hours by driving through Montana to Coeur d’Alene. We weren’t interested in just getting from point A to point B though. We were looking for an adventure that would help us to really see Idaho, not just skip across like it was a flyover state.
We found that by focusing on a goal of seeing as many wildlife management areas as possible we tasted a great cross section of Idaho. We discovered the undusted corners, followed twisting rivers and gained a great appreciation for the state in which we live. In the process, we found that most WMAs could be a destination in themselves.
Is a reconnaissance trip for state parks or national forests or something else in the works? Maybe. However, I have about decided that I would rather spend the two weeks in a single area and sample the WMA recreation more thoroughly. After all, the purpose of this trip was to decide where to focus our attention and now we know.
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.
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. Go figure.
"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.
"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:
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