Between deer hunting in North Idaho, fishing in Mexico and restoring classic cars, Bill Goodnight hasn't slowed down much since his retirement in 1995 from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, where he served as the North Idaho regional fisheries manager and later as the chief of education and information at the Boise headquarters. Goodnight was part of IDFG when the department was in its 1970s heyday and the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return was established. At IDFG, Goodnight worked alongside my grandfather, Martel Morache, and, like my grandfather, belongs to an era of high- caliber outdoorsmen. A lifelong recreationalist, Goodnight has had his share of experiences in the wilder parts of Idaho.
Why are so many Idahoans disconnected with the wild areas of our state?
No. 1 is that Idaho is a very conservative state, very exploitation-oriented in terms of timber, agriculture and mining. During my time at IDFG, we always felt that population growth would bring with it people seeking the type of outdoor experiences and the love of fish and wildlife we all enjoyed. Well, that hasn't necessarily been the case. Idaho has seen a primarily urban immigration, and I think the new people do have an attraction to the outdoors, but they don't have that heartfelt connection of longtime residents. A lot of the urbanites just have plenty to do in town and don't participate in the outdoors.
What did things used to be like?
I remember when it was a common sight here in Boise to see kids streaming out of the North End with fishing rods on the back of their bicycles. It's rare to see that today. It used to be that in North Idaho, you didn't own a pickup truck without a gun rack in the back. You'd have been ostracized. I remember my friends would bring shotguns to high school to go duck hunting later. The percentage of the population that hunts and fishes has continually gone down.
Do you think people are not interested in wildlife or are they just not aware of what's out there?
There's still, I think, a strong support for the maintenance of fish and wildlife in Idaho. People don't want to see our abundance of fish and wildlife change. We are fortunate here in Boise that we do have some interface between our city limits and wildlife, and that maintains a contact with the public. We've had a bull elk spend the whole summer down off of Warm Springs road, and we have skunks, raccoons and deer in our yard. But that gives people a distorted view of wildlife. If people see deer wandering the streets of Boise, they lose track of the real habitat needs for deer and other wildlife.
In your time at IDFG, what did the department do differently?
The department used to showcase our resources more. Magazines like Idaho Wildlife and television programs like Outdoor Idaho and Incredible Idaho profiled the resources and the work that IDFG was doing to protect them. Now it's rare to see any images of Idaho, other than in the outdoor page of The Idaho Statesman that's stuck in the back of the sports section. Those IDFG projects are all gone now, so I guess they suffered the budget axe and the philosophic axe, so to speak. I think a lot of philosophies have changed and a lot of politics became injected into the department and caused the demise of those projects.
What is the philosophy of IDFG?
There has always been a strong feeling among IDFG people that it's the role of the department to preserve, protect and perpetuate the fish and wildlife of Idaho. That's always been the motivation behind most of the workers. It's never been monetary, that's for sure. Most of the biologists have college degrees and training equivalent to civil engineers or other professions that they could make a lot more money at. The philosophy that's driven most people is standing up for fish and wildlife and making sure that development did not impede their survival. The inclination and interest is still there in employees, but now there is intimidation in the department due to politics.
You've gotten into restoring hot rods in your retirement?
I restored a '49 Oldsmobile Coupe, a car from my youth. Later, I did a '31 Ford Roadster. There's a picture of it in Street Rodder magazine this month. My wife and I regularly travel to car shows like Hot August Nights in Reno and Speed Week in Columbus, Ohio. I enjoy the driving more than the shows. It's enjoyable seeing people respond, seeing them grin when they see the roadster. In that sense, I'm an entertainer. I also started a parts company called RetroRodz. We manufacture hard to find Oldsmobile parts, which we sell on our Web site and eBay. I'm more of a producer. I find people for welding and fabrication, since there is a lack of parts for restorers.
Do you have any stories about my grandfather?
Yes, I certainly do. Back in the '70s, every day at noon, Ping-Pong was played in the office. This got so serious that an entire room was dedicated to Ping-Pong. The walls were lined with plywood to guard against overzealous leaping players. Out of everybody in IDFG, the most competitive were your grandfather, Martel Morache, and Monty Richards. When those two played Ping-Pong, people came out of the other offices to watch. There is a strong bond in the agency and I hope the agency never loses that.
What's your advice for Boiseans looking to get more involved in the outdoors?
There are a rich variety of organizations in the valley for outdoor activities, from fly-fishing to backcountry horse riding. Sportsmen love to tell stories and share information, so association with people of similar inclinations is a great way to get started. Of course, there is always the thrill of discovery of wandering off on your own. Idaho is still in a condition that, if you are adventuresome enough, you can find places that others have never seen. Take a drive 20 miles into the Owyhees and you can be somewhere no else has been for five years. Out there, you can see forever and know that you are alone.