IRU recognizes outstanding volunteers at annual Auction for the Rivers

The work of protecting and defending Idaho’s rivers is bigger than any one organization or person can accomplish. For this reason and more, Idaho Rivers United leans on an extensive network of citizens, business volunteers and partners.

In addition to all of our members and supporters, these people are the backbone of the organization and make all of our successes possible.

At this year’s annual Auction for the Rivers, IRU recognized eight people who have gone above and beyond in their defense of Idaho’s rivers and fish.

Conservation Partner of the Year: Nate Ostis

Nate Ostis is a lightning rod for engagement in west central Idaho and beyond for rallying citizens to protect the South Fork of the Salmon River from mining.

Ostis is a influential whitewater kayaker, swift-water rescue instructor and a respected neighbor and friend in McCall. Through his natural gifts for communicating clearly and capturing river magic though the lens of his camera, he has selflessly raised the bar of engagement nationally and helped bring people to the defense of the South Fork.

Notably, he helped execute an IRU project featuring people who know and love the South Fork of the Salmon River, called People of the South For,k, as well as helped achieve national designation of the South Fork as one of the Most Endangered Rivers in America in 2018.

Salmon Advocate of the Year: Gary Gadwa

Gary Gadwa knows about Idaho’s endangered wild salmon as well as anyone and has been working for more than three decades to bring more attention to their plight.

Gadwa retired in 2005 after 31 yeas as a senior conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. He’s also a Central Idaho history buff and past president of the Sawtooth Interpretive and Historical Association ( also known as the Stanley Museum), an organization that celebrates and educates about Central Idaho’s history.

“My interest in salmon goes back to moving to Stanley in 1973 when I was a trainee for doing redd counts,” he said. “So, yea, it’s been a while.”

In his role as an educator at the Stanley Museum, Gadwa organized a partnership with IRU that continues today. Each summer IRU helps educate the museum’s staff about salmon so that they can, in turn, educate the public at large. And each year since 2011 IRU and SIHA have partnered to host the annual Sawtooth Salmon Festival, an event that gets people out on the banks of the Salmon River to see wild salmon spawning in the streams of their birth.

Clean Water Partner of the Year: Rain Salon and Spa

For each of the the past six years IRU has partnered with Aveda Salons throughout Idaho. The salons rally each April to support clean water.

Of the salons IRU has worked with, Rain Salon and Spa in Meridian consistently leads by example in its quest to promote conservation. Has gone above and beyond. The salon’s entire staff has pulled together to create creative ways of supporting IRU. For example, they’ve worked with local kids to put on a clean water art show, have created a raffle, and made videos to promote water conservation.

Business Partner of the Year: Idaho River Sports

IRU has numerous business partners that support the organization’s work in a myriad of ways. Tasks include hosting events, donating staff as volunteers, participating in a pass-through program that raises money, carrying IRU merchandise and hosting IRU informational days. Idaho River Sports in Boise does all of those things and more and has a long history of showing up and speaking up for Idaho’s rivers.

Idaho River Sports owners Jo Cassin and Stan Kolby have deep roots in the Idaho river community and support an array of Idaho conservation work in an ongoing way. IRU is grateful to all of our business partners for everything they do, and this year is honored to recognize Idaho River Sports for its outstanding contributions.

Member of the Year: Wil Wilkins

IRU is only as strong as the hands that hold it up. Those hands belong to members: the people who afford us the time to dedicate to the issues that face Idaho's rivers and the people who speak up when called upon. North Fork resident Wil Wilkins has two essential hands in promoting the IRU mission.

Wil is not only a major donor, he uses his incredible talents and profound voice to speak the IRU mission in the space and time of his own life. Last year he built and erected on his property on Highway 93 a sculpture drawing attention to the plight of wild salmon and steelhead and graciously donated a sign with IRU's website and logo next to it.

Wil puts sparks of inspiration into the IRU office. The work of protecting and restoring Idaho’s rivers is more often than not arduous. Wil, with passionate eloquence, can remind you in a few short minutes why this is all so important.

Volunteer of the Year: Ty Hafen

An avid outdoor enthusiast, Walla Walla, Wash. native Ty Hafen has a passion for environmental issues.

Every Wednesday for six months or more Hafen put in long hours helping manage IRU’s database of members, volunteers and the river community at large.

“Ty afforded me the ability to focus on a broader scope of work,” said Membership Director Rickey Minder. “He did a good chunk of monotonous work, but it was more than that. He cleaned up our records so that we can communicate more effectively with the river community.”

Hafen graduated with a degree in biology from the University of Idaho in December 2017.

Educator of the Year: Danielle Warnke

Danielle Warnke finds her work gratifying when it goes beyond financial rewards. A native of Snoqualmi, Wash., Warnke graduated from Boise State University’s environmental studies program in 2017 and has been volunteering at IRU to shape its volunteer program and implement a service learning program in partnership with BSU. What can get lost in describing her curriculum vitae, however, is that she’s exceptionally passionate and consistently goes above and beyond. She creates her own projects and programs and makes them work with very little oversight.

Warnke said her passion for the environment began when she was younger and began studying animal welfare. “I’ve committed myself to wanting to better the environment and for future generations, and to do that I start with myself,” she said.

She also said IRU’s focus on rivers is a good fit.

“Rivers have a larger impact on so many other issues, from salmon, oceans, drinking supply,” she said. “This one particular facet of environmental advocacy affects every other part of the ecosystem.”

Wild and Scenic Advocate of the Year: Bureau of Land Management

For at least the past 15 years the Boise district of the Bureau of Land Management has stepped up as a Wild and Scenic river manager. The agency’s work ranges from development of river management plans to protection of valuable federal water rights to ensure that Wild and Scenic rivers continue to flow.

In 2018 the BLM partnered with IRU during the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by sponsoring film festival and participating in public forums to elevate the conversation about Wild and Scenic values.