Local environmental organizations are dedicated to preserving Boise’s incredible wildlife

If you love something, you want to preserve it; that’s exactly what environmental organizations in Boise strive to do with Boise’s wilderness. From the beautiful sprawling mountain ranges to the roaring rivers and accessible hiking trails, there is a lot to love about nature in Idaho. 

A collaborative and welcoming activism community

Lisa Young, the director of the Idaho chapter of the Sierra Club, one of the nation’s oldest and most prominent grassroots organizations, shared that she has witnessed a shift regarding non-profit and progressive organizations increasing their efforts to prioritize inclusion and equality, something The Sierra Club is very intentional about.

The Sierra Club works to make some of the inaccessible jargon on websites for organizations like the PUC understandable to the general public and encourages community members to use their voices at public hearings.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) publishes crucial information regarding changes in energy sources, from new price points for energy bills to the creation of new power plants. 

“We’ve gotten more folks involved at the PUC,” Young said. “Our goal over the years has been to get more people to be aware of and feel empowered to participate in these public comment opportunities, whether it’s written comments, attending public hearings and testifying and reducing those barriers to entry.”

Young believes that at its core, activism work is about community. The Sierra Club works to unite people through a love for the planet and the future of Boise’s environment.

“In order for us to grow our movement, and to do so in a way that actually advances our real values, equity, inclusion and justice need to be at the center,” Young said.

As the Sierra Club is part of a national organization, Young feels a sense of community knowing that she is a part of a bigger movement. 

“Being able to link arms across the entire nation with sixty-four chapters is really impactful and makes us feel like we can do this,” Young said. “We’ve seen throughout history, this type of grassroots organizing and movement building. We can create change, it does create change, and it’s how change is made.”

The Sierra Club hosts a variety of events from outdoor movie nights to picnics and greenbelt bike rides. Young acknowledged that while on the surface these events don’t seem to be doing anything for the environment, they actually provide fundraising opportunities and establish a sense of community.

As far as the future of environmental activism in Boise is concerned, Young is excited about the different partnerships and opportunities for inclusion that are being established. Young has watched budding relationships occur between social justice groups, and environmental groups like The Sierra Club. 

“Being able to work together towards those goals, and open up what has been a very traditionally majority white majority, upper middle class, movement of environmental conservationists to a much broader range of people,” Young said. “We are all impacted by these environmental issues and particularly low-income folks of color more than anyone else.”

Young highlighted the Outdoors Idaho Program, which provides the LGBTQIA+ community with outings that strive to provide safe and inclusive spaces.

“In many cases, it is not a safe and comfortable space for folks to be openly out and queer in Idaho’s backcountry … so having that space where they can build connections with other queer folks, enjoy the outdoors together, and [are] able to show what it means and what it looks like to create more inclusive outdoor spaces in Idaho,” Young said.

Bas Hargrove, Senior Policy Advisor with The Nature Conservancy’s Idaho chapter, highlighted the organization’s environmental work, as well as what he hopes his work will accomplish. The Nature Conservancy’s mission for the last 50 has been to protect Idaho land and water sources and prioritize regenerative agriculture and climate action through its programs.  

Hargrove reflected on how Boise and its environmental organizations have changed and evolved over the 24 years he has spent at The Nature Conservancy. 

“Boise has changed a lot since I was a kid growing up here, but even before my time, I think we had a culture of collaboration and environmental conservation problem-solving,” Hargrove said. “You can look all the way back to the formation of the Greenbelt in the 1960’s in Boise to the first foothills levee in 2000-2001 … I think there are just some great examples over time, that have brought people together and made our community the kind of the place it is today.”

Environmental preservation legislation and education efforts 

Although one of The Nature Conservancy’s areas of focus is legislation and policy, the organization actively works with those involved in agriculture to ensure that their policy work is well informed by various perspectives.  

Working with people who are directly affected by the changes in legislation gives Hargrove and The Nature Conservancy the ability to do policy work with intention and credibility.

Hargrove feels that one of the biggest environmental changes he’s seen has been the funding for the climate policy due to the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This funding and legislation will increase efforts geared toward climate change solutions nationally. 

“In terms of conservation and climate change in particular, addressing wildfire impacts and addressing water supply issues are like the [big] two,” Hargrove said. “Those are the key areas of climate impact where I see there’s more work to be done,”

The Nature Conservancy’s impact, events and job opportunities can be viewed on their website, but one event Hargove highlighted in particular was the conservancy’s partnership with Boise State in their public lecture series “Ideas of Nature.” Hargrove feels that inspiring college audiences to get involved in environmental activism is vital to ensuring there are continuously passionate people in these positions. 

“I think there’s so much energy in youth and working on an issue like climate change,” Hargrove said. “Younger people are just much more attuned. Look at polling, young people are much more passionate about it and so that gives me hope and energy.”

Boise State’s Student Involvement and Leadership Center provides students with a myriad of different environmental volunteer opportunities. Leo Mironovich, the service and volunteer programs coordinator for the center, is passionate about ensuring students have the opportunity to better Boise’s environment.

Mironovich has found that the volunteer events centered around environmental work result in more participation and generate the most positive responses from students who participate.  He also discussed a past partnership with Golden Eagle Audubon Society that allowed students to participate in restoring places along the Boise River.

“A lot of great environmental initiatives are already underway, and well executed throughout the city, and so it’s cool when we can kind of bridge their needs with our interests,” Mironovich said. 

Student Involvement and Leadership hosts many exciting events, from alternative breaks that occur during fall and spring break, with their upcoming break consisting of a camping trip to Hells Canyon to various partnerships with other organizations like the Idaho Trails Association.

As far as the future of environmentalism goes, Mironovich feels like it’s in capable hands, and is inspired by the students he works with and their passion for environmentalism. But that isn’t to say that there isn’t more work to be done. 

“The people that I have been fortunate enough to interact with are so passionate and dedicated to environmentalism,” Mironovich said. “That doesn’t mean the rest of us get a free pass, we still have a role to play.”

Leigh Ford, the executive director for Snake River Alliance (SRA) discussed that the inspiration behind the establishment of the organization in 1979 was in response to the Three Mile Island disaster, which was a malfunction at a nuclear power plant. Around this time it was uncovered that radioactive waste was being injected into the aquifer as well, prompting the establishment of Snake River Alliance. 

The Snake River Alliance just had a major breakthrough with nuclear waste prevention. NuScale Power had revised its plan to create six nuclear reactors in Idaho rather than the originally planned twelve, and eventually decided to forgo the whole project entirely due to high expenses. 

The Golden Eagle Audubon Society is a national organization with a local Idaho chapter that prioritizes the conservation of bird populations in Boise. Sean Finn, volunteer and manager for the Boise River ReWild Project, discussed the chapter’s program to “rewild” Boise rivers and restore habitats.

Finn emphasized the importance of putting effort into preserving outdoor spaces that see a high level of human recreation and noted the historical significance of the Boise River to Boise’s history. The Boise River has faced significant strain due to recreational overuse. 

“It’s a strange irony that everyone in the community loves the Boise River and very few people stop to think about what it takes to care for a place like the Boise River,” Finn said. “Since the very first days of human western encroachment into the Treasure Valley … people have been using the river. It’s not some environmental catastrophe like a volcano or oil spill, it’s repairable.”

While the national level of the Golden Eagle Audubon Society is dedicated to legislation regarding animal protection, Boise’s local chapter also prioritizes a hands-on approach to ecosystem restoration and education.

Providing students with opportunities in early education to get involved with environmental activism is vital to ensuring that future generations are inspired to take care of the planet. Finn noted that it is often difficult to garner the attention of the American public to focus on environmental issues. 

From getting involved in local legislation to volunteering at one of the amazing organizations in Boise, the best way to begin giving back to the planet is to simply take action. Real conservation and preservation can only be sustainable if we all work together to prompt change and remain dedicated to the work. 

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