A Job With A View
Bruce Reichert, Host:
No nine to five jobs for these folks. No time clocks, no air conditioned room, no corner office with a view. After all, they are part of the view. Their jobs are outdoors where the sky, the mountains, and the rivers comprise the work environment. And where their colleagues and clients are a bit out of the ordinary.
It's a really awesome responsibility to be out here and be the caretaker for this. And I wouldn't want to be any place else.
I come from a poor family. For me there's no such thing as hard work. During the lambing season we have to get up early to check them. We have to have a little more care, especially with the lambs.
I think if I sat in an office nine to five every day I would lose my mind. I'm too used to being outdoors and doing it my own way. A friend of mine said one time, "You're totally unhireable because you're so used to this fun lifestyle." No big fat job for me.
Outdoor Idaho introduces you to A Job With a View.
When the news magazines write about where the best jobs are to be found, they almost always mention the high tech industry or engineering or medicine; but there's some in Idaho and the West who might disagree with that assessment.
Hi, I'm Bruce Reichert and welcome to Outdoor Idaho.
These folks have found their niche working in the outdoors. They've traded in an air conditioned office for a job with a view.
It's a different way to live, and certainly not without its own set of difficulties. But at least you don't have to worry about changing those fluorescent lights above your cubicle.
Suzanne Connor, Glider Pilot:
The nicest thing about my office is that I have a wallpaper change every three months.
You know, free of charge. The seasons change and everything looks different all the time. It's great.
It's been decades since Susanne Connor gave up on the idea of a cushy desk job. She says high-heeled shoes and nylons never fit her personality. Instead, Suzanne tried her wings at the American Dream. In 1981, she started her own business. High above the panoramic views of Sun Valley.
I started this job initially actually because when I got divorced my son was a little bit over two years old, I didn't want to put him in daycare, so I started this business so I could bring him to work with me. That's how the whole thing began.
Twenty-two years later, with her son all grown, Suzanne's business satisfies her passion for flying. Her company, Sun Valley Soaring, offers rides to those who harbor a similar taste for aerial adventure.
Good afternoon, Healy ground glider 3-8 Whiskey is ready to take position on the taxiway.
Suzanne estimates she flies as many as 500 hours a year. During her career, she's dazzled more than 10,000 passengers with the thrill of riding in a glider.
Okay, Jennifer. Have you ever been for a glider ride before?
Well, wonderful. Okay.
I'm an outgoing person and I like to figure out what everybody wants to get out of going for a ride. And I like when people walk away with a big smile on their face and say, "That was the highlight of my trip." You know, so I really get off on trying to put a smile on people's face and show them a good time.
What we'll do is we'll hook up to the tow plane and we're going to tour up over Baldy over the ski area and then we'll release up there and fly off Baldy and glide home.
People have this misconception that airplanes fly because they have engines. And airplanes don't fly because they have engines or your car would fly. They fly because they have wings.
The wings on this particular glider span nearly twice the length of a prop driven plane. Once the glider is towed to a safe altitude, it's the wings that allow the glider to soar, sometimes for hours, on nothing more than air currents and wind.
There goes the tow plane.
Of course, it also helps to have an experienced glider pilot at the controls. Suzanne Connor says after all the years and all the rides, she still gets a charge out of her unusual job.
I love my job. It's great. It's great to be up in the air. It's great to talk to a whole bunch of different people and try to see what they'd like to do. It's a great job. I love my job.
The peak straight ahead, those are the Boulders. The highest peak in the Boulders is just over, just high 11,000. And then the Sawtooths are right there. That big white space you're looking at, that's a peak in the Sawtooths. And then you can see this tippy tippy tops of the Lost River Range right over there.
The thing that's hard is that a lot of hours are put in where there's zero pay. The days were slow that you have to hang out by the phone. The days that you have come on a powder day and go blow snow. The days that you have to do maintenance, you have a flat tire you have to change. And, yeah there is a lot of things that go on…
In spite of the difficulties, Suzanne says she wouldn't change a thing. After all, the view from her office can't be beat. And the reviews from her patrons keep Suzanne Connor flying high.
Well, how did you like that?
Oh, it was awesome.
I think if I sat in an office nine to five everyday, I would lose my mind. I'm too used to being outdoors and doing it my own way. A friend of mine said one time, "You're totally unhireable because you're so used to this fun lifestyle." No big fat job for me.
If you're looking for a job with a view, you can't get one much prettier than this.
Idaho is home to about 360 different species of birds. For birdwatchers, Idaho is a treasure trove. For Poo Wright-Pulliam, bringing birdwatchers to Idaho is how she makes her living. Pulliam is an outfitter, specializing in bird and wild flower tours. But more than that, Pulliam is an artist. She's found a way to combine what she loves doing with where she loves to be.
Poo Wright-Pulliam, Artist:
Because of my artwork I had decided to study the wildflowers. And every time my husband and I would go traveling I'd always be yelling at him to stop. And then I started identifying the bird and everywhere we went I made him stop. So, he had suggested that I should be showing this to other people because I would just go so crazy over the different flowers and the different birds.
In search of a rare black tern or a brilliant camas lily, Pulliam takes her guests to places others overlook.
I think with Centennial Marsh and Carrie Lake and Silver Creek Preserve, everybody is so used to just driving right straight by them, and not, all they see is the sagebrush. But then you turn down one little dirt road and all of a sudden you find this expanse and then you put up the binoculars and you see, just there's so much out there to be offered between the flowers and the birds. Everywhere you look there's something going on.
And they have the, they look like they are from the 30s or 40s when the guys used to do their, part their hair in the middle and go like this, they've got this little whoop up here.
That's a lot of the fun of it too is you keep going back and you'll see the different birds or you'll see the different wild flowers. So it's not like the same trip every time.
Although bird watching is her passion, Pulliam makes more money as an artist.
I can go out and start birding and just all of a sudden become joyful. This one sometimes I have to be in the mood to be able to sit down. And it's all come around to where I've always done the wildlife as art, always, and but it was always the big game and regular stuff like that, aside from the dog portraits and cat portraits. But it just kind of like kind of all evolved into no matter what I do, I can play.
What's their call like?
One's a mellow too, too, too. Her the songbird singer here. And the other one is like a peck noise that can be in unison.
Each trip Pulliam learns more about nature. And that in turn is reflected in her art.
This is where we just have to study real hard and hope they…yeah, we think it's a female too…and that's where I think the challenge lies is trying to find out what the bird is. So now I learn something all the time and with the birds and the wild flowers you never stop learning.
Although leading tours and crafting works of art are how Pulliam pays her bills, they're not her only reward.
Over the years, she's hooked her guests on bird watching. And that she says is the best way to earn a living.
To look at the same bird over and over and still enjoy it tremendously, there is just so much beauty in all the different birds. So, and the wild flowers too, when you get right down on a wild flower and really look at it close, and sharing that with people. Yeah, it's a great job.
Randy Townsend is a condor biologist at the World's Center for Birds of Prey in Boise. A lot of his work is done without much of a view, under drab fluorescent lights. But the work is important. Without it we might never get to view this.
Randy Townsend, Condor Biologist:
Basically it's one of those jobs where if you're successful you're fired because there's no more, you've raised them, you don't need production anymore, which is pretty much what we're aiming for, is try to eliminate our jobs.
His sights are set high above the desert terrain the raptors call home. Seeing the birds on the wing in the wild is the goal, the end of a long process that starts here in the lab. Eggs are taken from the parents as soon as possible. Eggs moved to these incubators have a high success rate for hatching, higher than if left to the parents.
With only 160 condors left in the wild each egg is priceless.
Randy becomes almost like a nervous parent himself. Each egg is painstakenly tended to around the clock for nearly two months, until the chick is ready to hatch or pip. It then goes from the incubator to the hatcher, and then the real hand-wringing begins.
Well you're waiting for 72 hours to see if it's going to hatch and you're trying to decide whether it needs assistance or not.
Helping the bird hatch is tricky.
The eggs in the wild, the parents are still moving around during pip, but part of the time they seem to be enlarging the hole and helping the chick hatch. And we can't really do that. For some reason it seems like a wild bird can get away with a lot of things that if we try, would kill the chick almost immediately.
When the chicks finally emerge from their shells, they're hungry and ready to eat. In the wild that means the adult opening its mouth and letting the chick feed from regurgitated food. Here in the center, it means something a bit less organic.
And during feeding we use a condor puppet to feed them so they can concentrate on the puppet. And the puppet looks like a relatively like a condor. So that they're learning what a condor looks like.
The idea is not to let the young condor see or hear people. In the wild they do better if their fear of humans is firmly intact. Randy and the staff keep a close eye on them with the use of closed-circuit cameras. It's as close to face-to-face as things will get.
From these areas they are placed in pens where they can view adult condors. It helps socialize the birds. Finally, it's time to go. Ironically their first major flight is aboard an airplane. They're headed to Arizona where they will be released. It's a day for last minute preparations.
Everything I've done has been successful and they're off to Arizona now.
His job with these birds is over, but there are more eggs back at the center and more young ones for him to raise. You may be wondering what effect this is having on wild birds, after all, the point of this is to let these condors fly on their own wings, to let them raise their own young, to live wild.
Late in March of 2001 an egg appeared in this condor nest in Arizona. Just one, but it is a sign. It is a veritable billboard that proclaims success. And if it continues, Randy Townsend may be the happiest person ever to be fired from his job. It would mean the big picture is complete, and that the view is better than ever.
For most people floating the Selway River is a once in a lifetime experience. Flowing through the heart of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, the Selway may be the most pristine river in the nation. Strict limits on its use help keep it that way. Only 78 float permits are issued per season.
That means fewer than 1500 people get the chance to run the river each year.
So getting a permit to float the Selway is a little bit like winning the lottery.
Some people are just lucky. Barry Miller wins the lottery every year. In fact, he gets to float the Selway several times each year.
Barry Miller is the Selway River Ranger. His job is to patrol the Selway, giving advice to other river users, hauling forest service personnel and gear into the wilderness, and making sure rules on the river are followed.
Barry Miller, Selway River Ranger:
Well I think the one of the advantages of the river patrol programs, all of the river patrol programs in north Idaho is that with the Forest Service presence we have people on the land and in the rivers that know what's going on.
That's really important with our funding cuts, there's lots of places on the land that are not covered anymore by the Forest Service. We just don't have the manpower for the funding. At least in the river corridors you have personnel that are really present and know what's happening.
Joe Hudson, Selway District Ranger:
And the primary objective of the river patrol is to monitor the use on the river, and the impacts that occur as a result of that use. So it's also used for shuttling equipment and people into the wilderness and out of the wilderness. It's one of the three primary modes of transportation we have, which is foot, boat, and stock. So it's also a key program.
On this trip the rangers took Forest Service Fishery Biologists down the Selway so they could survey a major tributary of the river.
Wearing dry suits, masks, and fins, they snorkel through a deep hole searching for salmon and steelhead heading upstream to spawn.
Katherine Thompson, Biologist:
We wanted to kind of get an idea what the wild fish were doing and these are all wild fish in this stream, they've never been supplemented by hatcheries. We saw some muscle cutthroat trout. Some of them had some size to them. We saw some smaller ones, and we saw some juvenile steelhead trout that probably ranged in age from yearlings up to three year old fish.
On the main Salmon, like the Selway, river rangers do a lot of what they call wilderness landscaping, removing noxious weeds, fire rings, and litter left on the beaches.
Linda Walton, Salmon River Patrol:
Well, we just stop and make sure that they look as natural as they are meant to look. And hopefully people will find them as they should be, clean and untouched, and nothing but footprints.
Linda Hagedorn, Salmon River Patrol:
It's a wonderful river to be on. It's a wonderful resource to the American people. It's a really awesome responsibility to be out here and be the caretaker for this. And I wouldn't want to be anyplace else.
It's that feeling of responsibility that brings the river rangers back year after year. Although their job sounds ideal, the pay isn't great, the hours are long, and rangers have to be away from home for weeks at a time. But for Barry Miller it is all worth it. The irresistible pull of the river has brought Miller back to patrol the Selway 18 of the last 20 years.
Oh yeah, my job is interesting because I've gotten to learn the river over so many years and you never know it enough. So it's definitely a big part of my life, pretty much built my life around this particular river. I mean if I have a career, this is it.
Career or not, most of us can leave our jobs at the end of the day. But a sheepherder's day is never done.
Margaret Soulen Hinson, Soulen Livestock Company:
It's like camping 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Margaret Soulen Hinson is a third generation sheep rancher. Her family's livestock graze more than 400,000 acres between the Snake River Birds of Prey area and McCall. But the operation would not exist without the sheepherders who tend to the flock.
We're totally dependent upon them. They either make or break our business.
Once it was the Basques who walked these hills. But they've moved on. Their place taken by Peruvians in search of a better life.
Ramiro Ayllon, Sheepherder:
I come from a poor family. For me there is no such thing as hard work.
But the work is hard, especially during lambing season. The herders often have to help a ewe give birth. And once a lamb is born, the herders also have to make sure it suckles.
When a sheep has triplets, too many for one animal to feed, the herders take the lamb in search of a mother replacement.
Francisco DeLa Cruz, Sheepherder:
During the lambing season we have to get up early to check them. We have to have a little more care, especially with the lambs.
The majority are wild and if you went to grab them, to help them, to cure any kind of defect, you have to struggle to get them.
All this has to happen regardless of the weather.
They deal with all the elements as far as, you know, sleet, snow, rain, hail. They deal with all of the cold temperatures, the hot temperatures.
Ever since I was a child, my parents have raised livestock. So I was raised in this and I always liked it. My children are different. They don't like this.
Nor apparently do Americans. The livestock company employs only Peruvian sheepherders.
I think our society has become so affluent that it's difficult for people to want to put up with the isolation, the loneliness, and the tough conditions that you deal with. You know, our society is used to a very different lifestyle and so they are not willing to take that on.
And it's a lot to take on. After the lambs arrive there will be more than 16,000 animals to watch. Seven bands and 20 men will make their way 200 miles to McCall with no maps or compasses. Most of these herders are from one area in Peru. They come on a three-year work permit, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. At the end of their contract they go home for three months and then return leaving their families behind. For their services they are paid about $700 a month.
It's not much but it's more than Peru. You can save some.
That's because the men also receive room and board, although it's certainly close quarters. At dusk the herders make their way back to camp, leaving the animals to be guarded by the dogs.
Before dinner the foreman brings them their mail, often their only contact with family, and with their beloved soccer teams.
Around the candlelight they chat in their native Kechua language. But even while they are resting they are still on duty.
At night we hear the coyotes cry and we're worried about them eating the lambs. We're always thinking about the job we are doing. We're never at ease.
At dawn, the men are already on their way back up the trail.
Soon their tents will come down and their supplies will be packed up for the next campsite.
We like to be with the sheep, taking care of the sheep. We came to do that and we have to do our job.
It makes it a joy. I mean it really is. It's a wonderful industry and always has been, but it's especially wonderful when you have people like that to work with. And I feel like they are our family.
They give us all their trust. And because of that trust we work more willingly. We feel that the animals are like our own. We try to produce, to plant the seed so that we can go back to our country and our brothers can come here to work.
As you can see, a job outdoors can be hard work, and you're always contending with the elements.... but one nice thing...you can't knock the view.
Thanks for watching. See you next time.