National Geographic : 1994 Feb
Making it in Salmon is only getting harder. The American public has lately come to realize that it owns most of the land hereabouts, and people from the outside world now take a proprietary interest in what used to seem like Salmon's private kingdom. Outsiders tend to be outraged that traditional rural industries pay little to use public lands and often leave behind environmental problems. In Salmon the pressure to reform is com pounded by the town's namesake fish. Until mid-century, chinook and sockeye salmon choked local streams near the end of their 900 mile spawning migration from the Pacific. Their recent listing under the Endangered Species Act could inhibit many economic activities in the area, though rural industries bear far less blame for the plight of the salmon than do hydroelectric dams downriver. All this makes the upper Salmon River Val ley ripe for fire-breathing rhetoric. "Compro mise is a dirty word," a logger named Joe Fraser told me one afternoon as we sat in his backyard. Fraser, a trim 41-year-old, is a member of the local pro-industry group, Grassroots for Multiple Use, and he wore a T shirt declaring, "Just when you think you can make ends meet ... they move the ends." He blamed the scarcity of jobs in Salmon on envi ronmental restrictions putting land off-limits to industry. "The only way I'm willing to go now is the other way, where we take some Bureau O" 'i- of the land out of restriction," Fraser said. I asked if wilderness designation wasn't bringing new money into the community from recreationists -generally regarded by envi ronmentalists as the best hope for both the fed eral lands and towns like Salmon. "We don't want their money, and we don't want their attitude," Fraser said. It was a notion I heard everywhere in the rural West: Recreational visitors were a threat rather than a new and more sustainable leg for the economy. The locals girded themselves against a mythical tourist who "comes with a $20 bill and a pair of shorts, stays for a week, and doesn't change either one." To Fraser the tourist industry meant flipping burgers instead of harvesting timber. "We've got some pride," he said. "We used to lead quality lives here, and now we don't." Timber sales were becoming scarce for small operators like Fraser. "My son wants to work in natural resources. Instead, he's turning wrenches for Sears Roebuck in Boise." "It must be a little like the Indians felt," his wife, Debbie, interjected. "They were mind ing their business, and then these people start ed to show up. The Indians compromised, but the new people kept pushing and pushing." She raised her eyebrows. "The Americans regret what they did to the Indians. Maybe they'll regret 150 years from now that they destroyed the industry here." Forest Service Idaho' of Land Management federal land Department of Energy SWest of the Continental Private or state land I SDivide, where Lewis and Camping ax caping Clark crossed into Idaho in Mining f^ S 1805, the headwaters of the Salmon River trace fingers of fertile range Through the S state's central wilderness. Enclaves of private and o a state land dot an overwhelmingly federal landscape. The Salmon, dubbed the "river of no & return"by local Indians, Crosses the nation's largest \ wilderness outside Alaska.