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Ed Cannady Interview
Ed Cannady has been with the Sawtooth NRA for more than twenty years. He was a wilderness ranger for nine years and is now the backcountry manager for the Sawtooth NRA. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
Have you seen a lot of changes on the Sawtooth NRA?
The constants have been the landscape, of course. These mountains stand outside of time as we know it, because they don't change. The trees change; a lot of them have died in the past 15 years; but they come back. And it's amazing, too, how constant my affection for the mountains is. It has never varied from that first moment I saw them in June of 1971 to today. I still get just giddy every time I drive into the Sawtooth Valley; and I know so many people who have the same experience.
Some folks have called this area the heart of Idaho.
So I like the heart because of the headwaters of five major rivers; we provide the lifeblood for the rest of the state. But it's really where people can come to feed their souls and meet those needs that maybe they didn't even realize they had, and to reconnect to the natural world. It's a lot easier, I think, in a place like this, where the drama is in your face, and the beauty and peace and serenity are in your face; and you can realize it a lot more easily; and hopefully people come here and have that experience and take that home with them, and realize that where they live may not be as dramatically beautiful as the Sawtooths or the White Clouds, but they can have the same kind of experience there if they just slow their pace and think about it in a different way. So I'm hoping we provide that opportunity for people.
"I think you lose a lot of the opportunity to have that really basic, almost primordial, connection with a place that you can here. I think you lose that in a lot of national parks. You go there to look. You come here to really truly experience."Compare this national recreation area to the national parks that you visit.
Over the 40 years, how closely has the Sawtooth NRA hewed to the original concept written into the law?
We try really hard to preserve the fish and wildlife values because we do have the chinook and sockeye salmon that still come here; and their numbers are up and down depending on a lot of other factors; but we work really hard to provide them with optimal spawning conditions. It's the longest salmon run in the world —over 900 miles — and we take that very seriously. And I think we do a pretty good job of balancing use of the river with the fish being able to spawn, unmolested. So I think we've adhered pretty closely.
Where I think the greatest challenge lies is in the future. When Public Law 92-400, which designated the National Recreation Area, passed, it had a minimum square footage for houses. The worry then was shanty towns and shacks. That was what was happening at Obsidian. But now, of course, it's just the opposite problem — the monster homes that people want to build. So we've made that huge dramatic swing from people having small quarter lots and building 500 to 600 square foot structures on it, to building 10,000 square foot monstrosities. That's a little harder, because we buy the conservation easements; we have fairly limited enforcement authority, so we do the best we can to control that. And most people who move to this area get that, and they don't want to destroy the character of the area. But occasionally you have people who just want to build that monument to themselves, and it's really hard to stop, but we fight really hard to do that, and I think we've done a pretty good job of maintaining the character, the western ranching atmosphere that we shoot for.
What efforts do you make for the salmon?
It is so easy to forget how magnificent those fish are. When you watch a female dig a nest in the gravel of the Salmon River, she's going to lay her eggs there, and the male is going to fertilize them, and the next spring those fry are going to emerge from the gravel and spend a year maturing to the point that they can get carried to the Pacific ocean, tail first by the spring run-off, and spend three years in the ocean, maybe swim as far as Japan and come back and swim upstream 900 miles. A Herculean effort that no human could do, to return to the same spot, to repeat the cycle. It's just one of the most amazing stories in nature, as far as I'm concerned.
So for us and for me, specifically, the privilege of doing what we can to give those fish the opportunity to spawn successfully is amazing. Just knowing that we are doing that for those fish is one of the most gratifying parts of my job.
"The people who really want to see wilderness for the White Clouds have very specific reasons for wanting that, and the people who don't want to see wilderness have very specific reasons for not wanting it, and I think they are both valid."What's your take on whether this area would get more funding if it were managed by the National Park Service?
I think you lose a lot of the opportunity to have that really basic, almost primordial, connection with a place that you can here. I think you lose that in a lot of national parks. You go there to look. You come here to really truly experience.
What does the Sawtooth Wilderness provide the Sawtooth NRA?
How does it compare with other Idaho wilderness areas?
I think we have all the classic qualities that people think of when they think of wilderness: great opportunities for solitude and deep solitude. You can go to the front country or the front range lakes — Alice Lake, the Sawtooth lakes — and have a good experience and not see many people. And to some people, that is real solitude. But to others like myself, I like having the opportunity to go into the deep back country where I know I'm not going to see anyone else, and just have that for days if I wanted, for the entire season if I wanted. It's unlikely I would see anyone else for an entire season. And that is really important to a lot of people. I think that the White Clouds and the Boulders provide that same opportunity. It means it costs you more in terms of calories because they are harder to get to, and that's why there aren't a lot of people there, but the opportunity there is that deep solitude that we so rarely find.
Why has it been so difficult to secure wilderness in the White Clouds?
What is your personal connection with the White Clouds?
It's a different geology, different substrate, a lot more limestone, richer in nutrients, and so the fish are bigger, the meadows are more verdant and great aspens stands and not quite as austere as the Sawtooth wilderness. So it's a different experience there, but it provides the same experience as the wilderness with that richness that you don't have in the wilderness. And Castle Peak. What more can you say that wasn't said in Life Magazine in 1970 and so many other publications. Castle is maybe the most iconic peak in the state, but it's invisible, unless you spend the effort to go into the heart of the White Clouds. It's where my ashes will be spread, hopefully. It's my favorite piece of rock in the whole world. It's just this big, glorious chunk of rock that grabbed my heart and has held it ever since. And a lot of other people feel the same way, I know. And it looks different from every angle. It will persist in Idaho's imagination for as long as it stands.
So what does the future hold for the Sawtooth NRA?
I think that it is important enough to this state that we remain what we've always been, that they will make sure that we meet the intent of the Act. That doesn't mean there won't be challenges; there will be, but I think the people of the State of Idaho have our backs.