On the Road in a Nutshell–Idaho

Two rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri) swim in a shallow stream above sunlit gravel. Photograph by Michael S. Quinton

I travel quite a bit because our family has migrated from our homeland to other parts of the country. Home is eastern Montana.   I migrated from Billings to Spokane to Bellingham.  So every year since 1970 I have made the pilgrimage back to my homeland.  This year is no different.  Along the way we stop and visit friends and family and catch up.  I also hear things that we do not see in the news and I thought I would share them with you.

Our first stop was the banks of the Little Coeur d’Alene River  just west of Kellogg, Idaho.  Our friends have camped at this spot with their neighbors for at least 15 years. These folks have mined and lumbered and owned businesses in the area for several generations.  Good salt of the earth common men and women, not looking for fancy houses with ocean views or 5 star restaurants.  A lawn chair, an easy flowing stream to get in when the day gets hot, children to watch playing in the water and a job for the weekday is all they desire.

From my lawn chair in the shade, this is what I learned about how our federal government is impacting the lives of the common man sittin’ on the bank of the river.

  • The grey wolf that has been introduced into their area was not a native species, it was a wolf that was native to Canada.  However, now that their streams are clean, rainbow trout will not be restocked because 500 years ago they were not a native species in their streams.   No fishin’ for the common man.
    Gray wolves once populated large portions of North America, Europe, and Asia, but were hunted to near extinction. Their numbers have rebounded due to conservation and reintroduction efforts. Photograph by Joel Sartore
  • A governmental report has gone back east stating that the streams in the region are running so hot that the fish are poached.  For years these folks have measured the stream depth during the course of the summer for  something to do with the slow moving time of no electronics on campsite.  So this year, the common man is also measuring the temperature of stream:  69 degrees, no poached fish or children. It is still a nice place to cool off on a hot July afternoon.
  • The story which gained the most derision was that the “experts now in the area” have decided that the logging roads need to be dismantled because elk will not walk across them.  The common man’s observation: elk are perfectly capable of walking across the roads and highways in front of their homes and wrecking their cars and trucks everyday.  Logging road crossing must not be exciting enough for the elk since there are so few logging trucks to dodge these days.
  • Common across North America hundreds of years ago, wild populations of elk are now concentrated in the western, mountainous portions of the continent.
    Common across North America hundreds of years ago, wild populations of elk are now concentrated in the western, mountainous portions of the continent. Photograph by Norbert Rosing

    There is always talk at camp of The Silver Valley during the mining days of good jobs. Now, they live on one of America’s Super Fund Sites.  The streams are noticeably running cleaner from the first time I drove through the valley in 1970.  And everyone is glad of that.  But it seems this has become an EPA project with no end in sight. The next 2 phases are listed to run for 20 years each.  They will run consecutively, well beyond the life expectancy of most of us sittn’ on the bank of the river.  While the Super Fund Site stays, no business will enter the Silver Valley.  The federal make work projects will employ maybe 20 people and all other jobs  in the Valley will eventually die.

They grow quiet along the river, you can feel a slight breeze whisper through the ponderosa pines as we contemplate how it was when the common man had good jobs and his children played there.  It’s time to reach into the cooler for a cool drink.

`Lorraine Newman

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