Living within mom’s natural ecology — or not

By Dr. M. Keene Hueftle

Idaho’s governor is now intending to ask his state legislators to budget new millions of Idaho tax payers’ dollars to artificially inject the natural Snake River surface water down into our once-abundant, natural, precious aquifers.

Same old, same old.

When in Idaho, it comes to sacrificing the biological needs of our natural world, the natural environments of native waters, native soils, native plants and native animals, the majority of people who get sent to Boise to make our laws redundantly choose “the economy” (incomes) over the natural environment — ecological values.

I came to Idaho in the late ’60s to be the director of one of the largest federal grants in America  for children with learning disabilities. In my travels up and down the Snake River, and along the smaller native creeks and streams and the headwaters of the Snake, there were still thousands and thousands of acres of unplowed soils with native plants, and the native, ecologically healthy seeps, springs, creeks and streams with their relatively healthy native riparian systems, which once were primary values of this region.

Over the years, I learned from people within Idaho Fish and Game, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service — all professionally trained people with Ph.D.s  most of whom came here from other states to teach and do science-based research — that these professionals and their knowledge about riparian systems, as well as the critical needs of all native plants and animals — including sage brush obligate species like the sage grouse and the pygmy rabbit — were not being called upon for their knowledge.

In fact, for the most part, they were not being relied upon at all for their natural sciences-based knowledge by the legislative decision-makers before they made their budgets and their laws for Idaho’s environmental needs, let alone for all of Idaho citizens’ well-being, including public-supported, high-quality education.

The “economics” versus science-based ecological history of Idaho shows that while a vast majority of people — regardless as to if they were born and raised in the state or came here to live and work in the Rocky Mountains’ wonderful natural environment — want to follow Fish and Game’s creed  of“Protecting; Preserving; Perpetuating’,’ their wants have continually  taken a back seat to “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Likely, you never heard of G. Wayne Minshall, Ph.D., (now retired from Idaho State University’s Biological Sciences Department) who produced  in 1965 a very outstanding film called “The Changing River’’.

The film depicts our once high-quality Portneuf River, which starts on the Fort Hall Reservation and makes its way down through mostly private ag lands, through Lava Hot Springs, Inkom and Pocatello  before becoming part of the Snake River — again on the Fort Hall Reservation bottoms.

“Idaho Famous Potatoes!” Idaho phosphate mining and other mineral mining. Forests /timber. All the hydro-power dams on the Snake for cheap electricity. All these are one category of values.

Surely you are aware that those four Snake River dams are the cause of the major losses of highly valued native anadromous salmon species and the Steelhead.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, when I would be driving across the open, rolling sagebrush steppe to Arco and beyond, on both sides of the highway just about all one could see was a sea of sage brush and their healthy, native understory plants — well, except for all the damn invasive cheat grass. These are the very kinds and amounts of plants that provide the native habitats for endangered sage grouse; the antelope; mule deer; black-tailed jackrabbits; ground squirrels; the little endangered pygmy rabbits; all kinds of hawks and the mighty golden eagles; native reptiles; and of course all the many local and migrating passerine birds.

How has it been that acre by acre by acre so much of those precious native sage brush steppe habitats have been killed off for “It’s the economics, stupid!”

And all because of pump/pivot irrigation sucking up the Snake River aquifer — the precious-to-all-of-us aquifer.

I grew up in Nebraska. Yes, the home of sprinkler/pivot irrigation. Valley, Nebraska.

Dad was born in a sod house and had a relative who was the Secretary of Agriculture under George Bush Sr. He repeatedly lived by, and taught me, to “live within one’s means.” To “Waste not, want not.” To see the “gestalt’.’ To “respect Mother Earth’’ To be grateful for what one had from Mom Earth. To be honestly conservative and conservation-minded. And, finally, to not be greedy for financial wealth, nor to be dishonest in the way one lives their life. To live by the “Golden Rule.”

In those days, “conservative” was meant as an adjective, not a noun/a term to be hiding behind — as opposed to not sinfully being “liberal” with other people’s money either.

My dad and his six brothers and two sisters and darn near every farmer and rancher in Nebraska — and the entire Midwest — voted Republican.

Back then.

Last spring, here in town, the local Audubon folks invited two representatives to present what they had in mind for restoring the healthy ecology of our Portneuf River — as well protecting our native underground sources of fresh culinary water.

Former Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase — who Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter appointed to now be the Chairman of the Idaho Department of Water Resources — made a presentation explaining where all the Snake and tributary dams that impound the river’s waters — primarily for ag irrigation — are located and how many acre feet of water they can each impound.

Then he told the 60 some folks there, he wants to promote during the non-agriculture growing seasons artificially reinjecting Snake River waters down into the depleted aquifers.

When Chase finished his presentation, I raised my hand. “Yeah?”

I complimented his presentation. Then I asked him about what would ecologically happen to the riparian plants, the invertebrate life, fish, oxygen levels, etc., by taking Snake River waters and injecting them down into our depleted aquifers?

I asked him just how far out into what used to be native sagebrush ecosystems he wants to see agriculture keep going and killing off the vital sage brush habitats for so much of not only Idaho wildlife but the wildlife?

As I recall, I mumbled something about the wisdom of  “robbing Peter to pay Paul.’’

The almost chronic smile on Roger’s face disappeared.

He sat back in his chair. “ Well, I’ll have to think about that.”

So, Idahoans, what are your values?

What do want for our native habitats?

How much longer do you want to sacrifice our native waters, even air, soils, plants and animals, for ‘‘It’s the economy, stupid!”

Dr. M. Keene Hueftle of Pocatello holds degrees in counseling psychology, neuro-psychology, biology, zoology, ecology, chemistry, professional education and linguistics. He has been a professor affiliate at Idaho State University and has a private practice in counseling psychology. For the past several years he has been the chair of the South East Idaho Environmental Network.