A tribute to John Barker, an Idaho river hero

By Bill Sedivy, Executive Director

On Feb. 7, 2011, Idaho’s river conservation community lost a dear friend.

John A.K. Barker, a retired theater professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston and long time river outfitter and conservationist, passed away following a long bout with cancer.

The entire IRU family, along with other members of Idaho’s conservation and river running communities, will miss John terribly.

John was an incredible advocate for Idaho’s wild rivers and wildlife. And his passion for our wild salmon and steelhead runs, for Hells Canyon, for the Lower Salmon River, and for the Clearwater River Basin has been inspirational to me — and many others.

A member and supporter of Idaho Rivers United for most of our organization’s 20-year history, John served as an important adviser, teacher and volunteer for our staff. He was also an eloquent citizen spokesman for our organization and for protecting our rivers and fish.

In 2005, John was recognized as one of IRU’s ‘Volunteers of the Year.’ While he may well have deserved that recognition for many years of service, John’s speech in support of Lower Snake River dam removal during a contentious Congressional hearing in Lewiston earned him the honor in 2005.

Speaking out for dam removal has never been an easy thing to do in Lewiston. Such talk might offend a neighbor, a business colleague or a political ally. But John believed that saving wild salmon and steelhead from extinction was too important an issue to remain silent. That speech is how I’ll always remember John — strong, clear, well-reasoned and passionate.

I had a chance to visit with John this past December, during an Idaho Outfitters and Guides meeting in Boise. We talked about salmon recovery, the Megaloads, and our attempt during 2010 to persuade Rep. Walt Minnick to seek Wild & Scenic River designation for the Lower Salmon River.

As we continue to fight those battles, I know that John will remain with us in spirit and in passion. — but I sure wish we could still have his physical presence and his voice by our sides.

John is survived by his wife, Marye, and three grown children, Jacques, Devon and Jon.