Remembering Doug Christensen, a friend and river hero

Doug Christensen, right, passed away Jan. 25 at the age of 87. A longtime advocate for the rivers and fish of Idaho, he will be missed. He is pictured here with his wife, Ann, and IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy. (Photo by Kevin Lewis)

By Andy Munter, IRU Board Member

Last week, on Jan. 25, Ketchum resident Doug Christensen died at age 87, and Idaho’s rivers and salmon lost one of their most ardent and influential advocates—as did conservationists throughout the Pacific Northwest.

When Doug and his wife, Ann, bought the Circle A Ranch just west of Stanley back in 1978, they could look out their windows and see chinook salmon spawning in the nearby creeks. But as the story goes, they were also horrified by what they saw on moving day—salmon stranded in the irrigation ditches near their home.

Acting with characteristic decisiveness, Ann grabbed the empty moving boxes, and called to her two young daughters to help carry the fish back to Valley Creek, conducting a rescue operation.

That story helps illustrate Doug and Ann’s deep connection with the Sawtooth Valley, their passion for wild places and wild creatures, including Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead.  Those connections grew  stronger with each passing year since 1987, when they became full-time residents of the Gem State.

Both Doug and Ann—individually—deserve recognition from river lovers everywhere,  conservation groups, and the people of the Wood River Valley.   As a couple, they inspired and taught dozens of river advocates, helped jump start and fund critical river conservation campaigns and have nurtured many other Wood River Valley-area philanthropists to support the cause of river conservation and effect broader social change.

But more important than the financial support for a host of organizations–Idaho Rivers United, the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Idaho Conservation League–the Christensens have been roll-up-the-shirtsleeves, down-in-the-dirt, well-informed and tireless environmental activists.

  • They were at the table when Idaho Rivers United was formed—seeing and promoting the need for a statewide river conservation group, and reminding its founders that the work of a new group needed to serve the interests of all people who respect the importance of rivers—not just those who like to kayak them.
  • Doug was a member of IRU’s first board of directors, and also served on the boards of the Idaho Conservation League and Sawtooth Society, and co-founded Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth.
  • Both Doug and Ann have testified at hearings, written letters to the editor and traveled to Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore. to lobby on behalf of salmon and steelhead recovery in Idaho.
  • They hosted fund-raisers and informational meetings.
  • They have pushed politicians, pushed fellow activists, and pushed other donors to support the cause of salmon recovery, river restoration and protecting clean, free-flowing rivers.
  • They hosted former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt at their home in August 2003, when Babbitt espoused the virtues of lower Snake River dam removal.
  • They worked to educate their community — setting up booths at a local grocery store with information, petitions and posters.
  • And in 1999, they worked with Dr. Steve Pauley – a former IRU board member and fellow Ketchum resident – to help develop and see through to publication a powerful New York Times advertising campaign that helped IRU bring national attention to the plight of Idaho’s endangered salmon and steelhead runs.

Doug and Ann have made a real difference for Idaho’s rivers  They have inspired many river advocates and helped shape the future of local and statewide conservation.

They have been at once both candid and encouraging supporters of our work. Doug was never afraid to say, “hey gang, get back on track!”

The Wood River Valley, Idaho’s conservation community and, in particular, Idaho’s wild rivers and salmon, lost a friend and champion last week.

Andy Munter is on the board of directors at Idaho Rivers United and is owner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum.