Into the (Idaho) Wild
Environmental attorney Murray Feldman on the book that anthologizes the state’s natural history
Published in 2017 Mountain States Super Lawyers magazine on June 12, 2017
In September 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act, which protected more than 9 million acres of federal land and defined wilderness in the United States. Its first sponsor was Idaho Sen. Frank Church.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary, the Idaho Humanities Council, in 2015, published Idaho Wilderness Considered, an anthology of essays and photos from 25 contributors on how wilderness has shaped the state. Murray Feldman, an environmental attorney and nature enthusiast in Boise, co-edited the book.
“The Idaho Humanities Council put on a reading and conversation series, and that’s how this Wilderness Considered project started,” he says. “We sent out invitations to a bunch of people who write, think and talk about wilderness in Idaho. The idea was that everybody [involved] would be an Idahoan or have some connection to wilderness in Idaho.”
The anthology is a sampling of perspectives on Idaho’s wilderness from academics, activists, journalists, photographers and others. There are personal stories, legislative histories and a photo gallery, but the book is held together by common reference points, including nods to former Sen. Church and former Gov. Cecil Andrus, who worked with Idaho’s wilderness in some capacity for nearly 50 years.
Idaho Wilderness Considered kicks off with an overview of the history of the Wilderness Act from Lisa Brady, and ends with a personal remembrance from Nicole LeFavour—a writer and teacher at The Cabin, a creative writing center in Boise.
“She was a state legislator for a time, and she used to work as a back-country fire lookout in Central Idaho and The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area,” says Feldman. “So, she wrote about what it was like there—lugging her pack and, you know, being present; breathing in, and breathing out.”
During the making of Considered, Congress passed legislation that permanently recognized Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds area as wilderness; former President Barack Obama signed the law in August 2015.
“It literally changed the map,” says Feldman. “It was the first Forest Service land designated as wilderness in Idaho in 35 years, and it was a big deal.”
Congressman Mike Simpson, who introduced the legislation, “was gracious enough to prepare a contribution [to the anthology], as he was the prime legislative mover behind it,” Feldman adds.
The attorney was inspired by everyone’s willingness to contribute, and contributed a chapter himself: “Wild By Law.”
“This was a case of ‘write what you know,’” Murray says of his chapter. “We had contributions drawing on the idea of wilderness in literature, historical reviews, political retrospectives, personal remembrances and experiences. What we didn’t have was an exploration of the legal framework and source of federally designated wilderness areas.”
And what does Murray wish his fellow Idaho attorneys knew about the state’s rich wilderness?
“That they know it’s there, and what a unique part of Idaho it is—in its expanse and scope, in how it shaped state history, economy, politics and more,” he says. “As Wallace Stegner wrote in his ‘Wilderness Letter,’ ‘We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be … a part of the geography of hope.’ And at the center of that is the law. Wilderness is an excellent example of the power of the law to achieve a larger societal good that would be very, very difficult, if not impossible, to have otherwise.”