Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wild Women

I’m packing up and heading to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the Women in Wilderness conference! I’m excited to be able to meet and learn from other women involved with wilderness throughout the United States. I feel quite lucky to be a part of this event, as I was one of 60 women asked to participate. As I prepared to attend this conference, I began to question women’s involvement in wilderness conservation and their scantly referenced contributions. Were women part of wildland conservation in the beginning or is this a new trend?

When I think of iconic wilderness conservationists and leaders the first names to bubble up are Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, but where were the women? Prior to the 1970’s, recognition for women’s contributions to wildland conservation were almost completely obsolete, until historian Carolyn Merchant began to identify women’s real role in the wilderness movement. She found that women were able to transform the conservation movement from an elite male driven campaign into a mass movement, donating time, money and letters to the cause

Women’s longstanding history of charitable and reform work in the 19th century gave them all the skills needed to build on grassroots support for a conservation movement. Women’s clubs began to organize throughout the country in the 1860’s, encouraging women to improve themselves through study and social programs. These clubs became politically organized and started to rally around environmental issues, the first being in Yosemite National Park, when a stand of trees were in danger of being logged. The California Federation of Women’s Clubs stepped up and committed to providing assistance in making the timber sale stop. The club’s president Catherine White stated “it is better to have a living tree in California than 50 acres of lumberyard. Preserve and plant the trees and the state will be blessed a thousand fold in the development of its natural resources.” The fight for that stand of trees lasted over a half a century, and was successful in creating the Calaveras Big Tree State Park.

Flash forward a couple hundred years and we see that women are right alongside men in the fight for wilderness protection. Here at HCPC, the staff is half women and half men, all working together to protect the wilderness of NE Oregon, SE Washington and West Central Idaho. Not only do we guard over the biggest wilderness in the state of Oregon (Eagle Cap Wilderness), but six others including Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, Monument Rock Wilderness, North Fork John Day Wilderness, Hells Canyon Wilderness, North Fork Umatilla Wilderness, and Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. These wild places need continued protection so that we all have places that allow us free to be wild!

The opportunity to learn and share with women engaged in wilderness is a gift that is sure to inspire ideas for HCPC’s role in the future of wilderness for the Hells Canyon-Wallowa-Blue Mountain areas. What a great way to bid farewell to 2010 and look forward towards a wilder 2011!

By Renee Tkach, Development Outreach Coordinator

Photos courtesy of John Driscoll

Friday, November 19, 2010

Restoring Ladd Marsh

On a recent Saturday morning, sixteen HCPC volunteers showed up to make a difference for local wildlife. We planted native trees and shrubs to improve the habitat in the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.
This restoration planting is part of a long-term project to return the marsh to a more natural condition. Last spring, we planted native willow cuttings along the banks of Ladd Creek. The creek was re-constructed from a straightened ditch into a meandering stream channel. This November, we planted a variety of native plant species on a variety of restored landscapes in the wildlife area.

The Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area is located at the southwest end of the Grande Ronde Valley. At just over six thousand acres, Ladd Marsh is the largest remaining wetland in northeast Oregon. Unique and diverse plants grow in the area and it is a haven for wildlife. Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area is home for fish, frogs, salamanders, deer, elk and pronghorn antelope, and many different kinds of birds, insects and other animals.

Despite ominous weather forecasts, the morning was mild as planting volunteers arrived. We fortified ourselves with delicious quiche, muffins and fruit donated by Mary, Max and Sandy. Sipping on coffee and tea, we learned about the project from Winston Morton of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. We headed out into the Wildlife Area and began to plant seedlings. I’ve planted a lot of trees in a lot of different places and I can tell you that the Ladd Mash soil can be stubborn when you’re trying to convince it to open up a hole. Nevertheless, shovels opened holes for the seedlings and the planters placed the young plants in their new homes in the marsh. Quaking aspen, black cottonwood, red-twig dogwood, and black hawthorn plants soon dotted the landscape.

I checked on the willows that we planted last spring, and I was glad to see that almost all of them had sprouted new growth since we planted them. I know that when I visit Ladd Marsh in the future I will looking to see all of these new plantings grow up into a new ecosystem.

Story and Photo by Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fall Gala, Forests, and Carbon Storage

Thank you for coming to our Fall Gala to celebrate the incredible work that together we achieve, and the spectacular area that we call home. The food, music and company were wonderful. In addition we had a highly renowned speaker, Jim Martin, whose accomplishments are remarkable. Jim’s energy and call for us to get involved in the tough issues, “the center of the swirl,” was very inspirational. I want to touch on why HCPC’s work is so important in light of current and impending climate change.

Forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle and HCPC’s work influences millions of acres of forests across eastern Oregon. Through photosynthesis forests “fix” atmospheric carbon into biomass, and thus remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. U.S. forests currently offset about 12-19% of total U.S. fossil fuel emissions (see Ryan et al. 2010, Issues In Ecology: Through removal and storage of large amounts of atmospheric carbon, forests, such as the old growth hemlock stand in the Wallowa Mountains pictured above, are partially buffering us from increased warming of the climate system.

Old growth forest that HCPC recently saved from commercial logging in the Sugar Timber Sale, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

The Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision covers over 5 million acres of National Forest lands and will guide forest management activities for at least two decades. HCPC’s comments on the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision will result in the only alternative that explicitly maps out and protects old growth forests from commercial logging, thereby eliminating the heavy ground disturbance that results from the industrial logging machinery. This would protect the large stores of carbon in both the above- and belowground carbon pools. This is one example of how we are advocating for forest management on our National Forests that recognizes that climate change is one of the greatest threats to future generations.

As Jim’s talk reminded us, forests can only do so much. Without substantial reductions of our own greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. atmospheric pollution), we will simply overwhelm the climate benefit of forests and potentially shift forests to huge sources of greenhouse gases. We don't want to go there.

posted by David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Wolverine Way

The Wolverine Way, by Douglas H. Chadwick, 2010

Review by Linda Driskill, Grant County Conservationists

It’s interesting that it has taken until the 21st century for research to shed light on the charismatic creature known as the wolverine, perhaps pound-for-pound the most powerful animal in the entire warm-blooded wildlife community. And one of the most vulnerable species in the lower 48 states.

Author and wildlife biologist Douglas Chadwick joined a nearly all-volunteer wolverine study team in 2007 then later decided to write a book on both this remarkable animal and the remarkable research team members. Leading this effort in recent years in Glacier National Park was Jeff Copeland, a USFS research scientist.

Wolverines have long had a reputation among trappers as ruthless plunderers (“North Woods Devils”), difficult to catch or kill. Chadwick feels, however, reviling wolverines hasn’t been fundamentally about wolverines but rather about us. We humans have a spectacular ability, he thinks, to maneuver images and thoughts whereby our enemies become no longer ordinary beings but mutate inside our heads into evil things, flaws in the world’s proper order that deserve to be rooted out.

What is “the wolverine way”? Apparently the animals and the particular humans studying and trying to relate to them share an attitude…both have a chip on their shoulders with “no quit” in them. One tale tells of a wolverine with traps on three legs still lunging after bait! Wolverines come preloaded with what looks to us like an “insane amount of attitude” and the 30 lb animal will take on a grizzly bear. Chadwick sees them as living life as fiercely and relentlessly as it has ever been lived. Perhaps wolverines are the ultimate role models for not taking crap from anybody or anything. Wolverines roam mountain peaks at will, scale them, summit them, scavenge in their snow slides, hunt their cliffs and intimidate their largest inhabitants. Following them around in the wild guarantees, he writes, that you will never become one of those people for whom existence begins to feel stale.

Among myths that were shattered by the research team was the one alleging that the wolverine is an intractable loner even to the point of killing its own young. This team instead discovered that words like family ties, cooperation, and affection better describe these animals. They found examples of juveniles becoming independent of Mom’s care only to go off and spend a little time with Dad then maybe back to hang out with Mom - behavior that is virtually nonexistent among other mammals, including most primates.

My favorite wolverine/human story is one told by Copeland about when he and his family were spending the summer on an old sheep ranch in the Glacier area. He writes his youngest daughter was small and agile enough to go down in among boulders and report back to him on what she saw. Once, his slightly older daughter and he were sitting among some boulders after having lost the signal of an older female wolverine. Suddenly he realized there was a wolverine sniffing at his daughter’s leg!

Wolverine may be our subarctic “polar bear”, by having its very existence threatened today by global warming. Unlike most of the large carnivores who are generalists, these animals are cold and snow obligates – they must have these conditions to survive. As the planet warms their existence is threatened. Glacier Park in 1910 had 150 glaciers, it now has 25 and they are shrinking.

The wolverine population of Glacier is known among conservation biologists as a “metapopulation,” a group of a species separate from others but which like a network of villages stay interconnected by movements such as migration or dispersal. The way to manage them is to provide some landscape connectivity or corridors for predators, prey and others to be able to move. Copeland feels the idea can be summed up as “freedom to roam.” For centuries, Glacier to Banff was a corridor allowing animals such as the great predators the ability to disperse safely and survive. It is now filing up with logging operations, busy highways, backcountry roads and new subdivisions.

The wolverine has been designated a “focal species” by the soon-to-be-released draft of the new Blue Mountain Forests Management Plan. Many of us have worked long and hard to convince the USFS management team to include a credible plan to connect wilderness, roadless, recreation areas, etc. into a strategy for landscape connectivity. I personally have submitted maps of how it could be fairly easily done. But lip service is about all we seem to be getting so far. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife with their Oregon Strategic Plan and others such as the Hells Canyon Preservation Council and The Nature Conservancy are much more serious and advanced with maps and proposals to connect key conservation areas. These entities have been well aware for quite some time that the disappearance of a top, or apex, carnivore ripples all the way down the steps of the food pyramid. Each loss skews the balance between other meat eaters causing considerable instability and out-of-balance conditions. Those of us reading of the amazing resurgence of beaver populations and aspen in Yellowstone following the return of the wolves have been following a tale of pure inspiration. Wolves keep elk and moose populations moving and allow the regrowth of willows and restoration of aquatic habitat.

The Wolverine Way is a great read with good photos and lots of adventure and inspiration and is available at local libraries and bookstores.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

From the Canyons: Fall Musings

I live on the breaks between the Grande Ronde and Minam-Wallowa rivers. From here, I watch the seasons roll by - September warm fall days to October's seemingly endless rain. When it's not raining, the dampness in the air settles into fog nestled along creeks and rivers.

In October our masonry stove gets dusted off, cleaned out, and fired up in the evenings to take the chill off. It's a time for laying in firewood on the front covered patio and stapling plastic on the wrap-around porch. Settling in and hunkering down before winter's cold.

Most of the migrating birds have left; no more meadowlarks or house wrens or bluebirds until next spring. Chickadees, pine siskins and nuthatches still raid the sunflower seeds, but I only need to fill the birdfeeder every week now instead of every day.

Deer are back now that hunting has diminished, and grouping together in larger herds. "Wild" turkeys have reappeared and increasingly large flocks sometimes block the road on our morning commute. I'm seeing and hearing more owls at night.

Fall is also the time for gatherings of people - cider pressings, annual meetings, and the HCPC fall Gala. The question raised by this year's speaker was what are we doing about the coming catastrophe of climate change. Good question to ask. The way I see it, everyone will have (and should have) a different answer - dependent on where and how we live, what our resources are, what resources we use. If we care for where we live, the exact places we see every day, that seems like a good place to start. Caring for our neighborhood, our watershed. Bringing resilience back to the lands we inhabit, whether pulling invasive weeds, planting native species, creating wildlife habitat, buying local foods, protecting local wild areas, or supporting those who do the same.

It seems that, as the Gala speaker pointed out, we must think globally and act politically. I believe we must also act locally. Inspired by the places we know and love, we can change where we live, and be a contributing part of a bigger watershed.

Hope to see you at the Ladd Creek restoration planting on Nov. 6th. And please don't forget to vote.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Litigation Update: Sled Springs OHV Lawsuit

Last winter HCPC filed suit to protect the Sled Springs area and the wildlife that inhabit it (particularly big game species like Rocky Mountain elk) from the damage and disturbance that will result if the proposed 38,000-acre section of the Wallowa Valley Ranger District becomes a designated OHV park. (See Blog posted on December 28, 2009).

This August, HCPC filed its opening argument (available at:

HCPC’s argument states the Forest Service failed to conduct the proper level of environmental analysis and adequately consider the environmental consequences of transforming the area from currently one of relatively low OHV use to an advertised and promoted destination riding area for OHV enthusiasts. Because the 2005 nationwide Travel Management Rule requires all national forests to prohibit unconfined cross-country OHV use, the Sled Springs area would already have to come under this new management direction in the very near future. Yet the Forest Service failed to consider the option of simply complying with this national direction—prohibiting current OHV users from traveling off designated routes—and identifying a modest level of OHV trail riding opportunities on currently open roads/trails. Instead, the agency only considered options that call for the construction of several miles of new OHV routes and the creation of a large-scale designated OHV trail system with formal staging areas. The final decision authorizes motorized use on 144 miles of roads and trails! HCPC argues that the establishment of such a colossal OHV trail network will inevitably give rise to increased motorized use—both legal and unauthorized.

Last Friday, the Forest Service filed its response argument, once again alleging its decision properly accounted for the negative effects to elk and other wildlife. The case is set for oral argument this December in Pendleton before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan.

Staff Attorney, Jennifer Schwartz

Photo credit: Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Bounties of Fall, Fishing and Gala

Fall has arrived with cool nights and amber-lit days. This has always been my favorite time of the year, memories of rolling in piles of leaves, searching for chanterelles, carving pumpkins and fishing for steelhead. This year I have another fun activity to add to my Fall favorites, HCPC’s Gala! Now that Summer has faded, it’s time to get out and enjoy bountiful opportunities to enjoy this time of year.

October is the time to hunt for delicious edibles, including the elusive steelhead. As the rain returns to the NW the rivers begin to cool, raise, and the water levels invite the steelhead and salmon to return to their native waters. Not only does this time of year encourage the steelhead to migrate, but it also calls to my family who follows and heads to Troy on the Grande Ronde river for camping, fishing and story-time around the campfire. Troy sits at the confluence of the Wenaha and Grande Ronde rivers and offers great fishing drifts and opportunities to catch yourself a big ol’ steelhead. When I get tired of fishing and not catching, I take off on the Wenaha Trail that heads up the Wenaha River for some great scenery and wildlife spotting. Turkeys, elk, bear and now wolves can all be spotted in this area, along with numerous other species.

October als
o brings HCPC’s Fall Gala on Saturday, October 23, 2010, from 5:00PM-9:00PM at Lady of the Valley Catholic Church Parish Hall. As the new Development Outreach Coordinator, I am excited to throw a party that has been in the planning over the last 6 months. The Gala Committee, including Jen Schemm, Juanette Cremin and Katie Perez have outdone themselves in putting together a great event with local foods, Kupenga Marimba band, Terminal Gravity beer, wine and a silent auction filled with incredible items! This would be a great place to pick up some xmas gifts while supporting HCPC! Being new to HCPC I am looking forward to meeting more of our members, my favorite part of this job is getting to know all of you!

The guest speaker for this year’s Gala is Jim Martin a 30 year veteran of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
and a Conservation Director for the Berkley Conservation Institute, a branch of Pure Fishing. During his career with ODFW, Jim spent six years as Chief of Fisheries and three years as Salmon Advisor to Governor John Kitzhaber. Jim led the team that developed the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, a state conservation plan to address Endangered Species and Clean Water issues in Oregon. Now, Jim is Chairman of the Board of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. He is also a science advisor for the Doris Duke Foundation and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Assn. In 2005, Jim was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin. Jim’s presentation is called “A Great Wave Rising: The Coming Crisis in Conservation in the Pacific Northwest.”

In November, I get to share the Grande Ronde river with Jim and Dave Perkins, Vice Chairman of The Orvis Company, as a thank you for speaking at our Fall Gala. It will be fun to introduce both of these river conservationists to one of the best fisheries in the Pacific NW and to the work HCPC does to preserve it. From mountaintops to river bottom, HCPC is there to guard over the Hells Canyon-Wallowa-Whitman and Blue Mountain ecosystems.

This Fall is sure to be a bounty of fun, fishing, spending time in a favorite wild place and celebrating HCPC and our members at Fall Gala!

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Treetop Perpective

By Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator

Last week, I got to see the world from the top of an old growth Douglas-fir. It was a spectacular view from up there, as you might expect, with vistas of forests, mountains and ocean spreading out toward the horizon. The view up close was more unique, however, because it’s a rare experience to leave the ground and ascend two hundred feet in the air right next to a four-hundred-fifty year old tree. I got a bird’s eye view of the canopy of an old growth forest.

I should explain that I did not actually climb this tree. A collection of ropes, pulleys, and devices to protect both me and the tree made the ascent possible. After strapping on a climbing harness, I was attached to the rope that lifted me airborne with the assistance of several experienced, professional arborists. These professionals are completely dedicated to a “leave no trace” approach and they take great care to protect every branch, the bark, and all living organisms associated with the tree. An arborist ascended the tree on a separate rope a few feet away from me and acted as a guide as we rose up into the canopy. The guided ascent of the tree was offered as part of a conference entitled “Life in the Trees”.

Big, old trees are awe-inspiring, impressive, living things. Beyond their power to impress us, however, they also are home to birds, mammals, amphibians, mosses, lichens, fungi and vascular plants. Researchers have discovered sizeable hemlock trees growing out of the broken tops of ancient redwoods. We are learning that there are airborne ecosystems in tree canopies. We are learning that there is a lot going on in the treetops that we do not know very much about. To me, that speaks clearly toward the need to protect the remaining giants of the forests.

I loved climbing trees when I was a child. Thinking about it now, I remember pulling myself up through the branches and challenging myself to make it higher up in the canopy. I remember the rustling of leaves, the smell of the bark on my palms, shafts of light through the branches and the thrill of seeing the ground from new heights. Most of all, I think that I just loved being up there in a special, secret world near the top of a tree. I’m here to report that it’s still a wonderful place to be.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Joseph Canyon Roadless Area Hike

HCPC led a hike into an incredible potential Wilderness Area, the 40,000 acre Joseph Canyon Inventoried Roadless Area, on September 5th, 2010. We started at the historic Chico Trail, hiked down to Davis Creek, and then climbed up to Starvation Ridge where we enjoyed incredible views of the Wallowas and Seven Devils Mountains, and the Findley Buttes. We explored along Starvation Ridge and found a wildfire burn area from 2010 (pictured below). From our final vantage point, we could see Joseph Canyon in the distance.
Viewing wildlife, exploring wildlands with beautiful scenery, hiking, and experiences in undeveloped lands are huge attractions for people across Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest, helping to sustain rural economies and natural ecosystems.

The Joseph Canyon Roadless Area is well known, largely because of its proximity to State Highway 3 and popular Joseph Canyon viewpoint that overlooks the 2,000-foot depths of Joseph Canyon. The Joseph Canyon Roadless Area is a key part of a unique and critical wildlife connective corridor providing high quality habitat between the remote Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

View from Starvation Ridge looking to the other side of Swamp Creek....and the Seven Devils in the background. Note the scale by the size of the Ponderosa Pine that is alone in the grasslands (center of image).

The Joseph Canyon Roadless Area contains numerous streams that are used by anadromous fish and provides spawning habitat for salmon and steelhead. The area includes Swamp Creek where it is designated as a Wild and Scenic River and the ODFW’s Oregon Conservation Strategy has identified it as a Priority Conservation Opportunity Area. The area is renowned for wildlife and includes Ponderosa Pine Woodlands and old growth forests now rare on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The Joseph Canyon Roadless Area has significant historical value that embraces all of the major peoples that have shaped the region; the Nez Perce Indians; pioneers and settlers, the Forest Service, and backcountry hunters and hikers. The trails have been used since time immemorial and are currently frequented by backcountry hunters and horse-back riders and hikers. One of the historic names of the Canyon was Condor Canyon, for the Condor that used to fly above Joseph Canyon.

View from Starvation Ridge to Joseph Canyon and the wild country beyond.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

From The Canyons - Neighbors

I live on the breaks between the Grande Ronde and Minam-Wallowa rivers. That is, I live there most nights and week-ends, and a little in the morning (before 7 am). I value the scraps of time that I am there.

Yesterday morning I heard elk bugling before getting in my car to drive into work. Correction, I heard the bugling of elk and the buzzing of a small private plane, the chattering of pygmy nuthatches and the rattling of a pick-up truck on the road, the clear heart-stabbing song of a meadowlark and a chainsaw starting up.

Life where I live is on the continuum of the wild and the human, as it is everywhere now. I’m beginning to understand that wildness extends into our cities, and we extend our influence into the wildest areas. I'm beginning to understand that every action of mine impacts the wild somehow, and the wild affects every part of my life. Often these are unintended consequences – most of which are unknown by me.

The windows of our house at night, bright with light in a dark world, concentrate the moths in our vicinity. The bats follow the moths, zipping around our porch. The pots of kitchen herbs and greens I keep watered on my back deck are assertively inhabited by the little frogs known as spring peepers – the only place I see them any more. Mule deer graze close by, knowing we do not have dogs or hunting rifles, knowing the coyotes keep a distance from our house.

We are neighbors – us and the coyotes and deer and rambling bear and occasional cougar and on and on. From not-so-wild turkeys to very wild grouse, owls to house mice, we live in each other’s vicinity, some closer than others, some (like the house mice) too close for my comfort. They are part of my world, and for better or worse, I am part of theirs.

I mark my calendar as much by the birds I hear in the morning and the schedule of wildflowers blossoming, what stars are visible in the night sky, and the shape of the moon as by dates and months.

Now I have decided to move to town, aware that I will still be part of this continuum, aware that all my actions still will impact the wild around me, aware that I will still be struggling to learn how to be a better neighbor.

Warning to my human neighbors – I intend to plant native shrubs and wildflowers along my fence lines, tolerate any deer that wander by, put up bat boxes and bird boxes, and in every way I can imagine encourage the wild to continue co-habiting with me on this glorious, beautiful earth.

- Danae Yurgel, HCPC Office Administrator