South Fork of the Salmon Wild and Free
An On-line Book by Jerry S. Dixon
Published by the Idaho State Univ. Outdoor Program. Designed & edited by Ron Watters.
Text and photographs © 2001 Jerry S. Dixon and used by permission (see permission notes).
JERRY DIXON'S BOOK, South Fork of the Salmon Wild and Free was first published in 1979. It was written not long after he had completed research work on a master's thesis in biology at Idaho State University. His research work which took a period of seven years, was part of a busy and active life which included attending graduate classes, building a cabin in McCall, and fighting fires as smokejumper for the U.S. Forest Service.
During those years, he scoured the South Fork canyon, collecting and identifying plants, observing the interrelationships of its natural world, and noting man's influence upon its ecology. As a part of his work, Jerry discovered a disjunct of the blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) and put together some of the first plant lists of the canyon.
While a graduate thesis by its nature concentrates on small pieces of a puzzle, it was the larger whole which drew Jerry's interest. Jerry was not satisfied with just identifying plants; he was irresistibly drawn to the canyon itself: the scent of the sun on granitic soil, the glow of the red bark of douglas firs clinging to precipitous hillsides, the flash of a salmon in a deep pool, the no-nonsense advice of George Fritser, the canyon's longest living resident.
For Jerry, a simple graduate thesis turned into a holistic study of the South Fork country: its plant and animal life, its ecology, climate, geology, and natural and human history. That pretty much sums up what South Fork of the Salmon Wild and Free is all about. Using his own term, it is a pastiche, a patchwork quilt of land and life. Chapters include information on South Fork soils, fisheries, climatic events, wildlife and, of course, vegetation including rare and endangered plants.
But the book is also about man's excesses and greed. The South Fork of the Salmon is the site of one of Idaho's greatest ecological disasters which resulted when poor timber cutting and road building practices caused severe erosion and nearly destroyed the South Fork's fisheries. In his book, Jerry warns of future disasters if we don't take better care of the canyon's environment now.
The first edition of Wild and Free is long out of print. It's for that reason, we are pleased to make this new edition of the book available on the Internet as an on-line book. In the new edition, Jerry brings himself into the book. We go along with him on fire fighting missions and journeys down on the river and through its backcountry. We meet some of river's residents and learn of a bit of its history. Jerry updates us on what has happened between the late 1970's and the turning of the new millennium, and he admonishes us not to forget the mistakes of the past.
"After seven years of work," Jerry wrote in the preface of the first book, "it has become obvious that the river I am studying is the one that flows through me." Thankfully, it has also flowed through Jerry's pen, giving us a personal and insightful view of one of Idaho's treasured canyons. --RW March, 2001
Fork of the Salmon River Wild and Free
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