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  • Writer's pictureRocky Barker

Retirement Reflections

I have finally gotten over my long journalism career.

I retired in 2018 after 22 years as an environmental reporter-blogger-columnist for the Idaho Statesman. I left after having done nearly everything I ever hoped to do. In 1998, I went to Africa to write about villagers who were protecting their elephants, leopards, lions and other game because they controlled the wildlife. I compared it with the conservation of grizzly bears in the communities around Yellowstone. I went back in 2019 to write about how Greg Carr help restore Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. There he built schools and health centers in the surrounding communities, lifted up the lives of girls, fed thousands of flood victims and helped settle a war.

I worked with my partner Susan Whaley on the series of editorials she wrote that called for the breaching of the four dams on the Snake River in Washington to save salmon in 1997. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt told me Susan's series kick-started the river restoration movement, and more than 1500 1,000 dams have come down since. In 1999, the Idaho Statesman sent me to Maine to watch the 160-year-old Edwards Dam come down, the first big dam ordered removed by federal regulators. I got to canoe the free-flowing river the day after, which was a spiritual event. I returned six years later to find the Kennebec River reborn. My editors sent Pete Zimowsky, Katherine Jones and me down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River at the end of the devastating 2000 fire season to see how much of Idaho's most loved river trip would change. "Team Wilderness," as we called ourselves, paddled past still-burning stumps in October and what has become a familiar sight for Idahoans everywhere. I have put myself and photographers like Jones, Darin Oswald and Joe Jaszewski in harm's way to cover fires across Idaho. After my own close call in the firestorm at Old Faithful in 1988, I sought to stay away from the fireline but several times I got close enough to have to dodge the falling embers and hear the jarring scream of a crown fire. I went to China with Gov. Butch Otter in 2010 to watch him do what he does best, sell Idaho and its groceries. The Idaho Statesman sent me back to the Columbia, Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers in 2017 to re-examine the salmon and dam issue. This time I went with videographer Ali Rizvi to tell the story using video, and we were nominated for a regional Emmy. I am proud that I retire having spent my entire career as a journalist. I have watched my colleagues here and at other newspapers be forced to leave and move on to other careers, first for simple economic reasons, and then because of the digital disruption of our industry that has undercut the business models of traditional news outlets. But I have survived to have the choice of retiring when I want. I left dedicated hard-driving reporters, videographers and editors who will hold accountable the people we elect or have a right to expect to meet a high bar of trust. I am also confident that the journalism that has grown under the protection of the First Amendment of the Constitution will survive and thrive in the face of its economic and technological challenges, as well as the attacks of those who fear and ridicule the truth.

I also covered extremists like Ammon Bundy and the shift of the far right toward hate and attacks on LGBTQ students and Librarians. But I no longer few the need to write to live. But I will do at least some writing on my blog, “Letters from the West.”

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