Rick Johnson- Retired Executive Director, The Idaho Conservation League

Rick Johnson’s story starts with a river, the Hudson River. While growing up on the opposite side of the country in New York, Rick experienced firsthand the environmental degradation of the Hudson River. His first experience with environmentalism was getting involved to help clean up the river. Following college, Rick moved to Idaho for what he thought was going to be a few months to a year, but he never moved back. Since then, Rick has had an extensive career in environmental work from being the Northwest Representative of the Sierra Club to Executive Director of the Idaho Conservation League for 24 years, and has worked with Idaho Representative Mike Simpson—a central advocate and lawmaker fighting for dam breaching—for over 20 years now as well. 

Rick has spent his entire career fighting for environmental protections and conservation in Idaho and the greater Northwest region. He came to see the remarkable natural beauty and importance of Idaho and the surrounding region, noting that Idaho has the largest protected ecosystem in the lower 48 states; however, it is increasingly devoid of Chinook and Steelhead. Those on the Washington coast and throughout the Snake and Columbia rivers may not think of it this way, but Idaho provides the headwaters and the spawning grounds for many of the fish that provide the ecological foundation for so much, particularly orca. 

When discussing what the current situation and path forward looks like, he paints a difficult, yet optimistic picture. He recalls Vice-Chairman Shannon Wheeler of the Nez Perce Tribe words, “it is time to speak truth.” This truth is fundamental to the survival of Chinook salmon and Southern Resident orca. He says that we are seeing a robust and comprehensive movement to restore salmon populations and thus save orca, but points to policymakers as the key individuals who must now take action: “We’ve done what we can do, tribes have done what they can do. We’re really now in this historic moment where these forces are coming together of citizens who care across the entire Pacific Northwest.” Policymakers’ decisions, now more than ever, will determine whether or not salmon—as well as a number of other species that depend on them for food and nutrients—go extinct. 

Rick recalls the story of when he first met Rep. Simpson, a staunch republican. In his first conversations with Simpson, Rick noted that they agreed on little, but what they did have in common was their shared love for Idaho. He states that we must come together and create a solution that works for everyone, concluding that there are no winners or losers here when we work together, “this is not only good for orca and salmon, but this is good for democracy.” 

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