Slipping Baseline

Good, bad or indifferent, wind towers have dramatically changed the landscape east of Idaho Falls. However, anyone who moves here or is born after 2010 will accept them as just part of the landscape, as natural as the farm fields that preceded them or the sage-steppe that preceded the farm fields.

Most of August has had a hint of autumn in it with cool temperatures, pleasant breezes and even some leaves changing early. I love autumn, but more than that, I think I love change, that edge where I can live with a foot in each of two worlds.

But a recent birthday has left me feeling a little old and I am noticing some changes that only those who are well past mid-life can see. These changes aren’t as pleasant as the transition of the seasons.

For instance, last week I visited a wild place near and dear to our family. For many years we held our week long family camp there. After a bit of trial and error, we settled on a campsite up a bone jarring road with a marvelous view of Old Hyndman Peak and a quiet fishing stream in front. We hiked and swam and fished in relative seclusion even though we camped alongside an open road.

Since the kids have grown, we have only been back to that campsite a few times, but it has never been the same. While the view of the magnificent peaks hasn't changed, at some point, managers felt compelled to remove about half the trees in the camping area. ATVs have churned the site to a fine powder and about two miles of the old road have been closed. Even the bumpy gravel road that led almost to our canyon is no longer an impediment to crowds as it is now covered in smooth asphalt.

It is the same place, but it isn’t. And these are just small things. As a friend of mine puts it, the entire baseline is slipping. Each new change on the landscape becomes the new normal against which all new alterations are measured.

I can remember counting deer from a helicopter just east of Idaho Falls as part of my Master’s thesis 30 years ago. As memory serves, in winter we could count up to 200 mule deer in Black Canyon that overlooks the city. Today, houses and ATV trails occupy the same ground and the deer are all but gone. That is the new normal.

Five years ago, the eastern skyline of Idaho Falls was nearly free of wind towers. Today, there are about 250. For old-timers, this is a change. For youngsters and newcomers, this is just the way it is. A new baseline—good, bad or indifferent—has been established and is a part of every new decision and is as accepted as the farm fields were that preceded them.

A friend recalled excellent pheasant hunting where the Grand Teton Mall now stands. Other pheasant habitat has been converted from small fields with fencerows and ditchbanks to large single crop center pivots. This is the new reality for pheasants and for those who like to hunt them. Part of that new reality is that pheasants no longer thrive around Idaho Falls.That is just the way it is.

All this might be rather morose, but it is a reminder that the way it is now isn’t the way it has always been. We truly will shape the future with the decisions of today. And the wild things we care about may die a death of 1,000 cuts if we aren’t thoughtful in how and where we create the new baseline.


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