Rumble in the watershed

  The goal was to form a group to manage Idaho's South Fork of the Snake River watershed. But when environmentalists and locals met on the issue last month, things turned sour fast. Hostilities began after a citizens' group, led by Republican state legislators JoAn Wood and Cameron Wheeler, packed the meeting in Ririe and voted to form a Watershed Council without any representation of area environmental activists.

Big mistake. Now, members of the new council realize they have little credibility without environmental representation. But the activists, outraged at their treatment, aren't going back without an apology.

What prompted the dispute was tension between local people who live within the watershed and environmentalists from the Idaho Snake River region who have organized to protect the area from industrial and agricultural pollution. When a vote was called, the activists were outnumbered and "physically intimidated," said Marv Hoyt, a local resident and Greater Yellowstone Coalition member. He said he was told to "shut up" when he tried to make a point.

Rep. Wood denied the charge. "We followed strict parliamentary procedure," she said.

Meanwhile, the council has decided to become a watershed advisory group, which has power to set pollution levels for the watershed. But the group needs environmental representation to satisfy federal regulation, and activists have been slow to volunteer. "We're in a cooling-off process right now," says Jon Ochi, an Idaho Falls environmentalist. "It will take some time to rebuild the trust."

*Jamie Murray