The Ted Trueblood Chapter of Trout Unlimited has come a long way in its 15-year existence, but its focus has never wavered. Now, as then, it's all about improving the sex lives of Idaho's underwater denizens.
"We were founded by a bunch of guys interested in trout sex back in 1991," recalls current chapter president James Piotrowski. "There were no more than around 100 members back then. There are currently over 800."
And those 800 have been busy. While other conservation groups may focus on fighting their good fights through changing environmental policies, enforcing rules and lobbying, lobbying, lobbying, TU holds a card that is just as crucial in restoring and protecting western waterways: A standing army of enthusiastic volunteers, willing to spend weekends building fences, carrying around buckets of gravel, planting trees and whatever else needs to be done.
"Where I put most of my efforts is, 'What is going to make a difference to fish in this immediate area this year, and next year, and the year after,'" Piotrowski says. "We like to think of ourselves as the grease that keeps the wheels turning for on-the-ground conservation work."
That grease has been in high demand lately. After announcing their plans in 2005 to construct Alta Harris Creek, a new side-channel of the Boise River meant specifically to improve spawning opportunities for wild trout, volunteers from the chapter have been a regular presence along the banks east of town. They've received support--financial, material and physical--from everyone from the Harris Ranch developers to city, county and state agencies. They get trees donated trees from Lucky Peak Tree Nursery and student labor from nearby Riverstone Community School.
Earlier this year, the chapter thought even bigger, and hired a Watershed Restoration Coordinator to take the same model of grassroots stream improvement to mining-marred stretches of Mores, Grimes and Elk creeks around Idaho City (See: BW, "The Six-Million Dollar Watershed," June 14, 2006). This summer, Trueblood Chapter volunteers are also working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Forest Service to restore sections of the Boise River at the Monarch Mill site near Atlanta, where the government agencies are cleaning up long-abandoned toxic mining tailings along the bank.
But for all their accomplishments, Trout Unlimited also remains the most non-controversial conservationists around. Developers, private landowners, sportsman and other conservation groups consistently form unlikely alliances in support of the chapter's projects, and for one simple reason.
"We're nonpartisan," Piotrowski says. But what he means is that everyone likes what comes after all that fish sex.
"It's all about good fishing," he adds. "We know how good our fishing in Idaho is, but it's got some problems, and one of those problems is a limited amount of spawning habitat. In this era of development, you don't maintain the kind of opportunity we have without paying some attention to it."