Friday, February 11, 2011

Local nonprofit groups are river guardians


As the longtime owner of a fishing outfitting business in the valley, I make my living on our area's rivers, as do my guides. We've spent countless hours in support of The Nature Conservancy, the Wood River Land Trust, Idaho Rivers United, Trout Unlimited, the Wood River Legacy Project, the Yellowstone Coalition, the Henry's Fork Foundation, Idaho Salmon and Steelhead, and other nonprofits. We worked with Russ Thurow, senior fisheries biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, on the first comprehensive study of the Big Wood River, which resulted in helping to create a sustainable fishery there. We are always grateful for the efforts and accomplishments that the area's nonprofit organizations put forth.

I agree that the city needs to enforce existing setback regulations and encroachments on its riparian zones. I have found myself calling the offices of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission, Fish and Game, and even the Wood River Land Trust for lack of anyone else to whom I could report gross encroachments.

But I disagree with the implication of a guest opinion in the Feb. 2 issue that "notable nonprofits" were not taking a stand for the river because of potential retribution from wealthy donors. The Wood River Land Trust has been the leader in protection and enhancement of the Big Wood for a great while. The land trust promoted greater riparian zones to protect the city of Ketchum in 2007 and it was the leading voice at Blaine County hearings in 2005 to create greater setbacks from the river at the county level.

The land trust has been the leading proponent of the Trout Friendly Lawns program to bring awareness of the benefits to the river of reducing irrigation and the use of herbicides and pesticides on area lawns.

The land trust has also helped to provide miles of public access with the Draper Preserve, the Howard Preserve and Boxcar Bend, just to mention a few. They've been involved with many restoration projects like the Lion's Park project in Hailey, which used to be the Hailey dump. There are more projects proposed and in the works.

In an area such as ours, river management is a process. It takes educating. The Wood River Land Trust has stepped up to the plate in this effort. We've come a long way from where we were in the 1970s and '80s when river management involved snagging log jams from the river, diking and rip-rapping the Big Wood to make it a "free-flowing" waterway.

The Big Wood River's health is important not only to local guide shops, but to everyone, from resort owners to waitresses and plumbers. Without healthy rivers and fisheries, many of our visitors will opt for Montana or Mongolia. A healthy Big Wood River is a real case of "trickle-down" economics. I applaud the nonprofits for their efforts to protect, enhance and restore the streams and rivers that nurture our bodies and souls.


Scott Schnebly is owner of Lost River Outfitters in Ketchum.

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