Ed Chaney has demonstrated courage in his fight to protect salmon and their habitat. He describes what it means to face tough opposition and how all environmental advocates must muster their personal power wherever it lies.
Ed Chaney is the founder and director of the Northwest Resource Information Center in Eagle, Idaho. Through this organization, his consultancy work, and in collaboration with many nonprofits and Native American Indian tribes, he has championed the survival of salmon in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest. Like this determined, resilient fish in the face of constant resistance, Ed fights back with lawsuits and directs the media’s glare to force government to follow its own laws to protect salmon and their interdependent ecosystems, particularly along the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Ed grew up fishing and hunting in the Missouri Ozarks, and spent much of his time on rivers. He worked within resource agencies in Indiana and Oregon. He then became the Information Director at the National Wildlife Federation in Washington, D.C. in the early 1970s, following the adoption of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Over the past 40 years, Ed has authored numerous plans, reports, and articles about the perils facing salmon; consulting with the sovereign nations of Native American tribes, and non-governmental organizations in Ireland, Scotland, France and Mexico. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Conservationist of the Year by the Idaho Wildlife Federation.
Huey Johnson: Ed Chaney is a person who has dedicated his life for 30 or 40 years now to helping or trying to bring back the salmon in the Columbia River drainage in Idaho Snake River and other rivers. He has been as intense and bulldog like in his tenacity in the process. He has challenged the opponents no matter how large they were. He once was in state service but found the willingness to compromise that the state governor at the time wanted him to undertake was something he couldn’t do. So he left government and became independent and has been this activist fighting all these years.
He reminds me of a lot of reading I’ve done in the past, the term “mountain man,” was used when the early settlers, often individuals wandered around the Rockies as fur trappers or one thing or another, but they learned to survive on their own year round and they were mountain men, Ed is one of them.
Ed Chaney: If you’re going to get into the business, think about you want to be a token, you want to play the game or do you want to change the game? And that’s a tough decision. But I would never get into it again if I were just going to play the game.
I threw a dart at a map, there was a green spot in the northwest and I’d never been to the northwest or to Oregon and so I drove to Chicago, got on a plane, flew to Portland. Came in about daylight, perfectly clear day in the fall, all the snow covered mountains were sticking up and I said, I walked into the Department of Fish and Wildlife and I said “I’ll take the job.” And they said “No wait a minute, you have to have to have an interview and then take the test.” I said “Okay, but then I’ll take the job.” And I’d never seen a salmon except in a can, in my life, but I was interested in fish of course and little did I know that I was going to run into the salmon killing machine called the Army Corp of Engineers.
Genetic heritage has taken millions of years to develop it, 50 years these yahoos using our money and against our laws, can drive them to the edge of extinction. And if that can’t outrage you, then you need to get a blood transfusion. I mean it seems clear to me and I think we learn this over and over again that nothing big is going to happen, no real change is going to happen if you’re not prepared to get in the face of the people in the agencies and their political enablers who are responsible for this kind of injustice.
It’s no fun being under attack by, you know major multi-zillion dollar lobbying groups and powerful government agencies. It doesn’t pay the bills when they can buy all your clients and make you untouchable. And so those are the kinds of things young people need to think about. You’ve got to get some personal power first, get the expertise that you need so you can have the wherewithal to stand up to the bad guys, but you’ve got to have the spine to do it. Being smart, being well intentioned is not good enough to make change happen. A good place to start would be how other cultures who have had to live more closely with other animals and with nature in general. There’s a really kind of universal common denominator there and that’s a respect for these other creatures and it seems like only with civilization have we come to view nature as something to be conquered or other animals to be totally exploited without any respect. And that’s the key, without any respect but actual physical distance as well as mental distance between your obsession with what you’re trying to do. To me, it makes a big difference.
Floating a river, a wilderness river for 6 days, it’s a great mind clearing activity just as like taking my dogs out and camping out in the high desert for a week. It’s amazing how it improves my point of view on the world. We need to rethink about how we manage those lands so that without a statutory protection, just out of a desire to have these kinds of places. The places I go out in the high desert country, none of them have any statutory protection except purportedly against overgrazing. But they satisfy my desire for wilderness nonetheless and I’m not sure that unless we start thinking now about how we have a second layer of defacto wilderness, that some of these areas will survive over the long term. But I think they’re going to become increasingly valuable and in demand because they’re very accessible to anybody who wants to just get away, but that’s part of an attitude as much as it is passing a law.