Idaho Environmental Forum Discussion Celebrates Morley Nelson, Birds of Prey Area's 25th Anniversary 

click to enlarge Morley Nelson (above) was one of the most well-known raptor activists in the United States.

Lex Nelson

Morley Nelson (above) was one of the most well-known raptor activists in the United States.

When he took the podium at the Idaho Environmental Forum meeting June 6, past Idaho Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco told the story of an uphill battle: the fight for the designation of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Then-President Bill Clinton eventually signed the bill into law in 1993, 25 years ago this summer. That anniversary inspired this month's IEF panel discussion that featured three speakers who touched on different aspects of the area's history and importance.

click to enlarge Morley Nelson poses with his dogs and one of his beloved raptors. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Morley Nelson poses with his dogs and one of his beloved raptors.
Speaking second in the panel lineup, LaRocco walked attendees through the legal tangle of passing the legislation, beginning with the special circumstances of his appointment to the House Committee on Natural Resources in 1990. Then-Speaker of the House Thomas Foley added a seat to the table—literally—just for him.

"They had this dorky little seat there, and that was mine, but I had the broadest smile on my face because this was where I would be able to do our work," said LaRocco, who arrived in Congress eager to tackle public lands issues.

LaRocco said that as a Democrat, his biggest fight in getting the national conservation area approved was on the home front: convincing the farmers, ranchers and hunters that setting the land aside to protect the hunting and raptors' nesting grounds was not part of the "liberal agenda," and wouldn't lead to land grabs. With the assistance of Morley Nelson, a local birds of prey activist who passed away in 2005, and the support of Democratic Governor Cecil D. Andrus, among others, the bill eventually worked its way through two sessions of Congress to Clinton's desk.

Following LaRocco, fellow speaker and author Steve Stuebner focused on Nelson's life and accomplishments. While working as a reporter for the Idaho Statesman, Stuebner spent time in Nelson's "hawk house" and went on to write his biography, Cool North Wind: Morley Nelson’s Life with Birds. At the podium, he described Nelson's accomplishments as eightfold: Over his lifetime, Nelson mastered falconry, helped stop the killing of birds of prey for sport, rehabilitated raptors, made more than 30 films and TV shows with the likes of Walt Disney, rescued birds of prey from power lines, brought the The Peregrine Fund to Idaho, guided hundreds of bird-watching boat tours of the Snake River Canyon and even raised a family. 

click to enlarge Local author Steve Stuebner spoke on the life of Morley Nelson, a passionate, enthusiastic raptor activist he described as "the real deal." - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Local author Steve Stuebner spoke on the life of Morley Nelson, a passionate, enthusiastic raptor activist he described as "the real deal."

"When I see a golden eagle or a bald eagle flying above, I salute, because I know Morley's spirit lives in them," Steubner said, emotion coloring his voice.

click to enlarge Morley Nelson started working with peregrine falcons as a young boy after seeing one kill a duck in mid-flight. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Morley Nelson started working with peregrine falcons as a young boy after seeing one kill a duck in mid-flight.
Amanda Hoffman, the Snake River Birds of Prey Manager for the Bureau of Land Management, brought the conversation to present day. She described the sanctuary, which is home to more than 200 pairs of nesting raptors, as a "living laboratory," and detailed its ongoing slate of scientific studies and outreach programs.

Hoffman said more than 6,000 people participated in Morley Nelson Birds of Prey National Conservation Area events this year, including a 25th anniversary party that took place June 2. The rest of the summer will also be rich in workshops and events featuring live birds.

"Sometimes we think a designation is enough, and our special places fall victim to benign neglect," Hoffman said, rounding out her remarks on the sanctuary.  "... My hope is that we spend the next 25 years making sure that this designation means something."
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