By Michael Lanza
Two weeks after getting married, my wife and I loaded our few possessions into a car with seven times more miles on it than the circumference of the Earth, and drove from New Hampshire to start a new life in Idaho.
We wanted to live in the West. As an outdoors writer, I’d spent time in most Western states, backpacking, climbing, and exploring the wilderness.
We considered other places to live but we fell in love with Idaho’s incomparable mix of mountains, rivers, desert, canyons, local trails, and high quality of life. Idaho has wild country as beautiful as anywhere I’ve been in America and around the world. So we became part of a community and turned regularly to the outdoors to remind ourselves of what’s most important to us.
We soon joined conservation groups doing important work in Idaho. I began volunteering for trails committees and campaigns to preserve public recreation lands. We thought we were doing our part to help protect the place we called home.
One of those groups we eventually joined was Conservation Voters for Idaho. CVI is unlike many non-profits, because it not only advocates to the public on issues, it also directly spends money to elect pro-conservation candidates to public office.
This organization has enjoyed huge successes, replacing some of the most extreme elected officials in Idaho with moderate, reasonable, intelligent people who recognize the vital importance of protecting what we have in Idaho.
CVI’s vision is to “build the political environment to protect the natural environment.” Who we elect today affects the kind of place Idaho will be tomorrow.
Why does this matter so much to my family?
Our kids, now 16 and 13, are more fortunate than most of their generation, in my opinion, because the Idaho outdoors is a having a formative influence on the people our children are growing into. They are backpackers, climbers, skiers, and whitewater kayakers. Enjoying Idaho’s vast wilderness areas, world-class rivers, and beautiful mountains is routine to them. From our door, they can head out on an extensive system of local trails and parks. Most Americans cannot even imagine what we have in our back yard.
Motivated by the knowledge of how good we have it, a few years ago, my wife and I decided we needed to do more. So we became monthly givers—pledging a regular donation every month to CVI. It’s something you can do by clicking here.
But as we paid closer attention to the issues affecting Idaho and the growing threats to our public lands, we again began to question whether we were doing enough.
By many measures, it seems we live in dire times. But for anyone who believes that public lands should remain public, and clean air and water are essential to our survival, and that ignoring the steady accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere threatens the stability of human civilization, today’s political environment can seem absolutely terrifying.
The forces arrayed against protecting our water, air, and lands seem more emboldened than ever. They successfully elect politicians who vow to support unconstitutional state takeovers of federal lands in Idaho and across the West—with a clear and unabashed agenda of selling off those lands to private interests that would likely close off public access. They stage armed takeovers of preserves that belong to all of us. And now they have as their champion an incoming U.S. president who calls climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese—even though a large majority of Americans support action to mitigate global warming.
Earlier this year, my wife and I decided to more than triple our monthly giving, at the same time that I did something I never would have predicted 20 years ago: I joined CVI’s board of directors.
We’re not one percenters—not by a long shot. We just feel a growing imperative to do as much as we can, and we believe this organization’s work is that important.
In the wake of national and state elections that seem to bode dark times for conservation, it’s easy to feel hopelessness. At CVI, we are not immune to that feeling.
But I find reasons for optimism in the good, talented, and committed people on CVI’s staff and board and throughout Idaho, and the electoral victories we are able to achieve in this hostile political climate. I find solace and a sense of necessary mission thinking about the beautiful places I’ve seen in Idaho.
And I look at my son and daughter and I’m reminded that, no matter how I feel about the future, it will come. We have no choice but to accept our responsibility to the next generation to try to create as good a future as we can.
The work of Conservation Voters For Idaho matters because that future is bearing down on us rapidly. We don’t have the luxury of mourning the present.
Almost two decades have passed since my wife and I drove that old car to our new lives in Idaho. Our kids were born here. They’re natives, but my wife and I are now firmly rooted Idahoans too.
How can any of us know when we’re doing enough?
Perhaps the best answer to that question is that we must constantly ask ourselves what more we can and should do.
The enemies of conservation have been emboldened. It’s time for those of us who care about our world to feel emboldened, too.
CVI board member Michael Lanza, of Boise, is an author and outdoor writer.