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Grant Simonds is the Government Affairs Liaison for the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association. We caught up with him during a spring rafting trip in 2016 on the Owyhee River.
What is the role of outfitters and guides?
Idaho's professional outfitters and guides are experts at providing safe, fun, and memorable experiences for those who choose an outfitted trip. We take a lot of experience, as well as inexperienced, folks on excursions throughout Idaho.
The industry is attached directly to the Idaho rural economy providing significant input into Idaho's rural economy, and the industry is very diverse in Idaho ranging from float boating, jet boating, hunting, fishing, summer activities such as trail rides, guest-ranching, winter activities. That sets Idaho aside in terms of the diversity of outfitted activities.
Access is very important to the industry. If you can't get there, then you can't provide a trip for those that want to enjoy Idaho's outdoors. Outfitters contribute to maintaining that access through trail maintenance, their fees are also used to maintain put ins, takeouts, so that's very important for all of outdoor recreation.
You spoke of access. Talk specifically about whitewater rafting and desert access.
I was a member of the Owyhee Initiative work group that the Owyhee County commissioners convened back in 2001, and my focus on that group was appropriate access for not only the outfitted public but all recreationists.
And so we have maintained appropriate access to the Jarbridge, to the Bruneau, to the various forks of the Owyhee, and BLM has been good about maintaining these Class VI roads to four wheel drive standards.
What are the primary guided activities in Idaho?
Idaho is blessed in that we have over 3,000 miles of whitewater rivers, more than any other state outside of Alaska. And so whitewater boating is the largest segment of our industry, followed by hunting, fishing, and all the other activities that outfitters do. People ought to think about putting some of these Idaho places on their wish list or on their bucket list, because you don't have to go very far to enjoy something fairly spectacular, whether it's from South to Central to North Idaho.
Talk about how Idaho's guides are regulated. How many guides and outfitters are there in Idaho?
Guiding in Idaho is highly regulated both by the State of Idaho Licensing Board. There are requirements, specific requirements, for becoming a licensed guide. And guides are the employees, and outfitters are the owners, and so guides must work for an outfitter. That's how the state law reads, in essence.
There's about 380 licensed outfitters across the state. About 120 of those are attached to water, another 120 or so or more attached to the land base. By that, I mean big game hunting. And then there's a large segment of outfitters that are in what I call recreation. That would be summer trail rides, winter activities, guest ranching.
And then on the guide side, there's about 2,000 licensed guides that work for outfitters and provide these safe and memorable experiences. The key to a successful outfitting business is having highly trained quality guides. They are the ones that make the trip memorable for folks.
On the public land side where most outfitters operate in the State of Idaho, then outfitters must be special use permitted by the Forest Service and/or the BLM. We do have some outfitters that operate on private land, and most of them choose to be licensed, because they want that credibility, and so there are some magnificent private land outfitted opportunities in Idaho, too.
How many thousands of people do you think are guided through Idaho every year?
There's about 200,000 folks enjoying Idaho outfitted trips annually, and we estimate that that contributes about $100 million to the outdoor recreation/tourism economy, most of it related to rural Idaho.
I mean, we have 4.8 million acres of designated wilderness. We have a lot of roadless backcountry, and we also have outfitted opportunities right next to highways. And so outfitters provide that conduit to get out and enjoy a guided experience without needing to maintain all of the equipment, all the knowledge, where to go, why to go there, and that's what somebody who is seeking, say, a guided hunt is looking for.
Sum up how Idaho guiding is part of the legacy of the state. It's part of Idaho's fabric.
Outfitting and guiding in Idaho has a long history going back to actually Sacagawea was probably our first guide, if you will, and then the era of the mountain man, and then we get Captain Gulicke who took trips on wooden scows down the main Salmon River back in the first part of the 20th Century. And from there jet boating evolved and float boating, particularly after World War II, using surplus military rafting equipment, and on the hunting side people have been hunting big game with outfitters, since the late 1800's, and so there's a long tradition of outfitting and guiding throughout Idaho.