The Grande Ronde Model Watershed is one of Oregon’s oldest watershed councils. The organization works to improve watershed health and protect the salmon and the steelhead that were once prolific there. The Best Country tells the story of how one river in the watershed, the Wallowa River, was restored by the community that loved it.
In northeastern Oregon, the Wallowa Valley is ranching country. Families have raised cattle there for five generations. This tight knit community enjoys hosting rodeos and keeping the old traditions of ranching alive. For Liza and Craig Nichols, who live on the same ranch her great grandparents founded, keeping the rivers in the watershed healthy is also vital–part of the legacy her ancestors left them.
The Best Country takes us through the process of returning the Wallowa River to its original channel. Like many rivers, it was straightened out to better fit through the town; that stretch of the Wallawa was functioning more like a canal than a living river. The fishing wasn’t as good. That was a big motivator for Doug McDaniel, who along with the Nichols family was integral in the restoration project.
One of wonderful things about this short film is that it portrays a different demographic in the role of the river restorationist. All too often environmentalists are pigeon holed into a specific aesthetic and political image, and it’s refreshing to see that image shattered. Take for example James Nash, a fifth generation Wallowa Valley rancher, now a young adult. Nash explains to us how the Wallowa River has been such an integral part of his life. He’ll miss it, he explains, when he reports to the Marines. He has signed an eight-year contract and is headed for officer’s candidate school. Speaking of his work restoring the river he loves, Nash explains: “Every curve that we put in this river gives something else a chance at life. It makes the ecosystem better. It makes the world better. It makes a tremendous difference. What we are doing is promoting life.”
The Best Country is directed by Rolf Meyer and Karen Anspacher-Meyer. It screens Friday evening and Sunday morning at Wild and Scenic 2011 in Nevada City.