Restoration work on Jackknife Creek near the Idaho-Wyoming border.
The first time I worked with Louis Wasniewski, Caribou-Targhee National Forest forest hydrologist, was mid-current in Jackknife Creek in 2012. The last time I worked with Louis was mid-currrent again, but in Curlew National Grassland five years later. Between those two events, a new Outdoor Idaho show bubbled to life right along with the rivers Louis spends his days restoring.
Catching and releasing native Yellowstone cutthroat trout on a stretch of Jackknife Creek that used to be void of spawners.
Jackknife was my first exposure to river restoration in action and I shot a pile of footage and photos. I knew I was documenting a monumental shift in societal priorities and I was thrilled. Natural resources were no longer going to be just about what we get out of them. They were starting to hold value for being left as is, or in some cases put back together. I could see it coming in the construction zone at Jackknife.
His intensity for what he does runs as obsessively high as my motivation to make movies. I saw a new show for Outdoor Idaho on my first day with Louis, but it took a few more years of refining my pitch before Idaho Public Television agreed with me.
By the time production of Restoring Rivers started in 2017, Jackknife was done. It's now a healthy, restored waterway. I know this because I fish it with my little boys and find native Yellowstone cutthroat trout in upper stretches that fish couldn't access for decades before the restoration of 2012.
Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate's truck is her office, bed and transportation.
Outdoor Idaho videographer Jay Krajic looking for fish with an underwater camera.
Louis has moved on to Curlew National Grassland near the Idaho-Utah border. This time he's restoring waterways for a declining population of sage grouse instead of native fish. He's making sure farm and ranch gets what it needs too in this private-public initiative. Matt Lucia of Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust spent many hours with Louis and I as we camped in the Curlew with Outdoor Idaho videographer Jay Krajic. We documented resource change from the water up. Fortunately, I'm just short enough to comfortably sleep in my truck, which doubles as my office when I'm on the road. I slept in it a lot while chasing the Curlew's story of collaboration.
Trout Unlimited Central Idaho project specialist Cassi Wood and Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate on location at Yankee Fork of the Salmon River.
There's collaboration in Pocatello too. City folk want the Portneuf River for more than just the cement chute it's trapped in as flood control. In the panhandle, sturgeon are more than enough inspiration for improving the Kootenai. And in the Gem State's heart, central wilderness between Challis and Stanley, the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River is turning right side up after a gold dredge turned it inside out 7 decades ago. Cassi Wood of Trout Unlimited is leading that effort. It's a multi-year, multi-agency, multi-million dollar project that should help Chinook salmon swimming 850 miles for the ocean to Idaho to spawn.
From salmon to sage grouse and from cattle to cutthroats, this is the age of the comeback. Our natural resources need us to let them recover, and in some cases help them recover. We've taken for centuries. Now let's put back. River restoration is a fine place to start. I can't wait to see what's around the next bend. Neither can Louis.
Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust executive director Matt Lucia, Outdoor Idaho producer Kris Millgate and Caribou-Targhee National Forest forest hydrologist Louis Wasniewski on location at Curlew National Grassland.
You can cover a lot of territory in 35 years and still just barely scratch the surface. I'm reminded of something the writer Ernest Hemingway once said: "A helluva lot of state, this Idaho, that I didn't know about."
And with more than 60% of it public land, there's a good chance none of us will ever visit all of the state's impressive landscapes. It's just that vast.
If Outdoor Idaho ever does fold up its tent, it certainly won't be because we've run out of story ideas or places to visit. Just the public policy challenges alone - wolves, wilderness, weeds, water, timber wars, wild fires - could keep us busy for a couple years.
In our hour-long "35th Anniversary Special," we focus on some of those issues.
We also take you behind the scenes, as every Anniversary show must do. My colleague Sauni Symonds has been working on that segment. In many ways, it will be the heart of our program, giving my colleagues behind the camera a chance to shine.
They also get to recap some of their favorite interviews out of the 300 or so shows we've chronicled over the years.
Last month we asked our viewers on social media to comment on what the show has meant to them, and they responded. Talk about a fascinating and humbling experience! We made that a part of our show also.
I'm often asked why Outdoor Idaho has survived and thrived for so long. I think there are several factors, including strong support from our general managers over the years and a willingness from our development folks to search out grants and underwriting.
Couple that with a close-knit group of people who still enjoy working together; a commitment to only tackle shows that someone on staff really cares about; and an attempt to populate each program with real Idahoans, who can help shine a light on their part of the state. "We tell Idaho's stories" is actually in our Mission Statement; we take it seriously, but we get a lot of help from the ones we interview.
And then there's the state itself. Geologically, Idaho is so impressive! The influence that her mountains and valleys and rivers exert on our staff hopefully shines through every episode. I know our team works hard to capture that natural beauty; and I think viewers appreciate the extra effort, especially when we climb to the top of a 12,000 foot peak, or descend hundreds of feet into a limestone cave, or hike 20 miles into the wilderness, just to get the shot.
The show has always been willing to re-invent itself. Everyone who has worked on Outdoor Idaho has brought something new to the mix, and it has allowed the show to grow and change for 35 years. But it has always remained essentially a labor of love.
There aren't too many things that can unite a complicated state like Idaho. (The joke is that we have three capitals: Boise, Spokane, and Salt Lake City.)
Maybe that's what Outdoor Idaho has been doing best of all these past 35 years… helping to connect our geographically challenged state. At least, that's what many viewers zeroed in on when we asked them what the show has meant to them.
I guess that's not a bad peg to hang your hat on. Thanks for watching.