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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Paradise Revisited on the Lower Salmon River

There is nothing like a multi-day river trip with family and friends to rejuvenate the soul! This year my family and I chose to revisit the Lower Salmon River for a 5-day raft trip, an area I once used to be a raft guide on and now have returned as an HCPC staff member and fan. As a raft guide I always appreciated the beautiful scenery and inviting water, but I never took the time to really think about how the river and its ecosystems were doing. On the surface, it appears to be unaffected by the multiple uses, but once you scratch the surface to learn about the health of the ecosystems you will find it is a fragile place that needs your help for continued protection.

Prior to this float, I had just learned of HCPC’s recent victory in their efforts to protect Bighorn Sheep in Idaho! The Payette National Forest released their decision to close almost 44,000 acres of domestic sheep grazing allotments over the next 3 years. We successfully closed a substantial portion of the Payette NF to domestic sheep grazing with our past litigation. Now, after full implementation of the Payette’s current decision, only 31,592 acres out of the entire 2.3 million-acre forest will be open to domestic sheep grazing equaling just 1.4% of the entire forest. Knowing that the Bighorn Sheep numbers were low, I was excited to see how many we could spot throughout the trip and had the whole float party on active alert to capture any photos or information on them.

On our third day we had yet to see a Bighorn Sheep. Bighorn have a long way to go before they can be considered recovered in Hells Canyon the Salmon River Canyon. At one point there were about 10,000 in the area, and now they’re at about 10-15% of that population level. But with each successive victory, we remove more of the threats to their survival. Those of you in the canyons this summer, remember that for every Bighorn you see there should be roughly 10 of them.

Why do domestic sheep disrupt the success of Bighorn? Domestic sheep carry a mortal disease that spreads to the Bighorn herds and causes large mortality rates. In 1996 HCPC was integral in stopping domestic sheep grazing on the Oregon side of Hells Canyon, but if you have ever witnessed a whole herd of Bighorn swimming across the Snake River, you would have to wonder how protected the Bighorn were from the disease crossing the river. Now, with the Payette’s decision the entire area will become a safe haven against lethal diseases for the Bighorn Sheep.

On our last day of floating through 70 miles of beautiful, clear water, four stunning canyons, all the fun rapids and endless sandy beaches we had yet to see a single Bighorn Sheep. As the Salmon River merged with the Snake River, we could see both the Idaho and Oregon sides of Hells Canyon. After a few miles we looked up on the Oregon side of the Snake River and had our first glimpse of a Bighorn Sheep herd! The herd consisted of about 14 Ewes and several lambs, all grazing on a steep canyon wall. We floated another mile and came upon another herd, this time with four rams, all perched precariously on the cliff walls above our heads. As we floated by they seemed as curious about us as we were about them, watching us from high above. What a regal sight to see, and a wonderful ending to another amazing trip down the Lower Salmon River. I look forward to returning in a few years to see more Bighorn roaming the cliff sides of the Salmon and Snake River systems, and take pride in the fact that I get to work with the organization that helped that happen!

Renee Tkach, Development Outreach Coordinator