By Jerry Myers
The Salmon River country of Idaho lost a great friend recently when Hans Koenig passed away suddenly. Hans was the project director for the Upper Salmon Basin Watershed Program, and he was a “collaborator.” Collaboration is where two or more people or organizations work together creatively to realize shared goals, by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.
Most collaboration requires leadership—and Hans Koenig was an outstanding leader.
In the Salmon River valley, those of us who had the pleasure of working with Hans understood that leadership and collaboration were built into the fiber of the man. He combined rare skills, experience and commitment to conservation to create a better future for our communities.
Central Idaho is certainly not exempt from the economic stresses that face our nation. We are confronted with our own unique challenges as we work forward to a more hopeful future. Small, rural communities tied to land- and water-related resources have relatively little political clout. There just aren’t a lot of us voters living on this huge, beautiful and remote landscape—exactly the reason most of us choose to live here. National leadership is embroiled in partisanship, neutralizing good legislation. While this stagnation of leadership is frustrating and potentially harmful to our nation, it has compelled us in the rural West to create our own leadership. Those of us who want to keep moving forward are building our own pathways. We are forming partnerships with other stakeholders to pound out our own management plans, resolve our own problems, address local challenges with home-brewed solutions and continue working from the bottom up.
Hans understood the value of working with competing interests and championed the collaborative process. He raised the bar during his too brief a time at the helm. The Upper Salmon Basin Watershed Program will continue to provide a prime example of how that process is bringing together ranchers and fish restoration partners to get commonsense conservation done on the ground.
It wasn’t always so. Historically these two seemingly diverse interest groups were often at odds. Too often in the past, it was cattle vs. fish. Confrontation and defensive posturing were getting us nowhere, and we were slowly losing control of our local resources. Two decades ago, leaders in Lemhi and Custer Counties representing both of these important economic interests decided to work together and attempt to stay out of federal court. Collaboration was not easy nor was it quick but it was, and is, a process that more and more Westerners are beginning to use to design their own homegrown futures.
The collaborative process is working, and it will continue to work because many of us have lived the success. Head shakes are now more often giving way to handshakes. Having spent my entire life in the fish arena, I smile as my adult kids return to the valley to attempt a livelihood in agriculture. Wow!!
Hans, we will miss you. Your wit helped remind us all that this blessed area is about much more than cows and fish. People that created the problems can also remedy the conflicts. You taught us to listen to one another. In your memory, we will all attempt to do more of that.
Jerry Myers is Upper Salmon Project Manager for Trout Unlimited.