I took a break from posting this last two weeks. I thank my employer for the time off, I thank the editor for the respite, and I thank my wife for the adventurous time we shared.
By the time you read this the nail-biting Idaho primary election will be over. I’m not going to make any predictions about the outcome of the races. Such would be foolish. But I can confidently predict the direction Idaho will be headed in the coming few years. We will continue in about the same direction. Our state will continue to grow with lots of folks moving in, looking for their own Private Idaho.
And these transplants will want more “freedoms” and less taxes. Don’t we all?
And they will look longingly at our public lands, thinking private ownership is the answer. I respectfully disagree.
You see, that was the adventure we took these last couple weeks. We explored some western public lands.
I’ve fixed up a 1985 Volkswagen camper. It climbs the grades at a modest pace. But it sleeps us warm, keeps the beer cold, and makes good coffee in the morning.
Our first stop was on Idaho’s beautiful Salmon River. Then we stayed in a Forest Service campground on Brownlee Creek amid some old growth red firs. Then, while visiting our daughter in Caldwell the first weekend we toured the Owyhees. There was a chill wind and snow on the peaks, but it’s an arid land. The ranches there are pretty far apart.
But our goal was to visit the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon, outside Burns. We had been there before, but this time we took binoculars and the bird book.
The natives found the place friendly, with food and water enough to support their small population. But with white settlement the natural corrals of the Blitzen valley walls were recognized by an enterprising cattleman in the 1850’s. By the late 19th century, it became the largest cattle ranch in the US, 160,000 acres. The cattle baron acquired some land by federal programs, some by purchase and some through legal battles. There must have been some bitterness since the ranch manager got shot by a disgruntled evicted homesteader.
The water flowing into marshes was key to the millions of migrating birds, but private property demands productivity, and water was diverted for fields and pasture. The marshes dried up and ducks died. And the surrounding farms were barely sustained.
Teddy Roosevelt was persuaded to make the area a wildlife refuge in 1908. Water rights were finally purchased for the Refuge in 1934.
Ammon Bundy chose to make a stand here a few years back. He called for the privatization of the federal lands and expected local ranchers to rise up in support. Like Putin misread the Ukrainians, Bundy got no groundswell of local support. His Sagebrush Rebellion fizzled.
But it’s still a stump speech dog whistle in this public land dominated state.
Martha and I enjoyed the birds; some we have never seen before. A quiet morning walk along the riverbank was memorable.
On the trip back up to the Palouse we passed through three National Forests. We pulled off a forest road and dispersal camped by the North Fork of the John Day River.
It’s a beautiful place up here in this sparsely populated corner of our country.
I own land. I do my best to maintain it and improve it. I expect the same for our publicly owned land. I don’t mind paying the fee for USFS or BLM campgrounds, and I appreciate that you can camp, hike, fish, or hunt on public lands. I can’t imagine the West without them.