Monday, August 30, 2010

ATVs, Elk, Wolves & Hypocrisy

Friday was a big day in HCPC’s continuing effort to limit the effects of ATVs on the region’s landscape and wildlife: we filed our primary pleading in our lawsuit to stop the Sled Springs OHV Project. That project would turn 38,000 acres of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest north of Enterprise into a destination ATV trail area. It was a bad idea from the get-go, but for reasons that I fail to comprehend, the Wallowa-Whitman seems intent on pursuing the project even though it will cause irreparable harm to the area and the wildlife that live there – particularly elk – all for the benefit of a relatively small group of ATV riders.

In reviewing our pleading earlier today, it made me think about the current controversy surrounding the return of wolves. Many hunting groups are claiming that wolves are decimating elk populations, and therefore the wolf populations should be reduced. What’s the connection between this issue and the Sled Springs OHV Project? Why, ATVs of course.

In preparing our challenge of the Sled Springs OHV Project, we have reviewed a significant number of science reports showing the connections between increased ATV use and reduced elk populations. For example, Phillips and Alldredge (2000) and Shively et al. (2005) found a clear connection between human disturbance and reduced elk calf recruitment. And, Naylor et al. (2009) found that ATVs cause the greatest response in elk – or in other words, ATVs were the most detrimental form of human disturbance.

With the incredible increase we’ve seen in ATV use over the last decade, there can be no doubt that increased pressure from motorized vehicles is negatively affecting elk populations. In the Sled Springs area, there are two notable trends documented by the Forest Service and ODFW: elk calf recruitment is dangerously low, and elk are spending less and less time on the National Forest and more time on nearby private ranches. These two trends have been underway for some time, yet curiously enough, wolves have only just returned to the area (and so far, none have been known to frequent the Sled Springs area).

My question is this: what exactly are hunting groups doing to limit the impacts of ATVs and other motorized vehicles on elk herds? With the exception of a few groups like the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the answer is that they’re doing absolutely nothing. Where’s the outcry? Where are the attempts to ban ATVs from elk habitat? Where is the funding from Jeff Foxworthy and Karl Malone and other big-time supporters of anti-wolf efforts to start a “keep ATVs out of elk habitat” campaign?

The hypocrisy here is amazing. On the one hand, we have wolves MAYBE impacting a few select elk herds across the west although there is little to no evidence of direct cause and effect – yet there’s a HUGE outcry against wolves. On the other hand, it is PROVEN that ATVs and other motorized vehicle use are having a negative effect on elk, yet the response is SILENCE. If hunting groups want to be taken seriously on their targeting of wolves, they best step up and start dealing with the more serious impact to elk: ATV use in elk habitat. Until then, it’s hard to take their complaints about the big bad wolf seriously.

Photo: ATV damage in the Spring Creek area of the Wallowa-Whitman, another key elk area.

Greg Dyson, Executive Director

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hiking Deal Canyon

My favorite part of a hot summer day comes at sunset. As the sun dips below the browned hillside west of La Grande, a cool shadow creeps along the foothills. You take off your sunglasses and look out with un-squinting eyes. It’s a great moment to go for a hike.

Deal Canyon leaves the west edge of La Grande and heads up into the adjacent hills. Earlier this month, several local folks joined me on an evening hike up Deal Canyon sponsored by HCPC. We climbed up out of the valley and enjoyed a walk among the pines and Douglas-fir trees. We shared good conversation and nice views of the Grande Ronde Valley and the Wallowa Mountains.

Deal Canyon is a notch in the earth with steep grassy slopes rising up to each side. In spring, these slopes are covered with new bright green growth, but by August they are baked as brown as bread crusts. In contrast, the road up the canyon is lined with conifers and native shrubs. We stopped to look at these native plants and talk about their roles in the local plant communities.

These native shrubs included ninebark, ocean-spray, Rocky Mountain maple, bitterbrush, mock-orange, mountain-ash, rose and serviceberry. Native trees included black cottonwood, quaking aspen, black hawthorn, Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine.

Almost any hike in the area includes the sight of mule deer, and we saw a handsome buck poking his nose through the underbrush on the hillside. We also saw the unusual snake known as the rubber boa. At first sight, this snake resembles a really, really, large earthworm but of course it’s actually a reptile. This was the first rubber boa that I had ever seen in the wild.

Dusk was arriving by the time we hiked back down the canyon. It had been a fine evening to enjoy the natural world close to town. We said our good-byes and headed for home.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sugar Brings Bittersweet Victory for Old Growth

Hells Canyon Preservation Council has successfully protected 275 acres of beautiful old growth mixed-conifer forests from commercial logging on the backside of Mt. Emily on your publically owned National Forest lands. Originally the Forest Service proposed commercial treatments for over 400 acres of old growth forests. These treatments included cutting fire-resistant Ponderosa Pine and Douglas fir trees well over a century in age.

Large, century-old, Ponderosa Pine that was marked for cut (note blue paint) in the Sugar Timber Sale is saved!!

We succeeded in getting 149 acres of old growth on steep slopes completely dropped from treatment. A total of 126 acres were changed from commercial logging to a precommercial treatment that could include light mechanical removal of small trees and/or introduction of fire to the site. A total of 122 acres will be treated commercially as originally proposed. This is why it is a bittersweet victory.

As we stated in our comments on the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision (see “Old growth forests are simply one of the most important ecosystems to preserve on Earth.The reasons for protecting old growth forests continue to accumulate, indicating the life-giving and supporting nature of these complex, interconnected ecosystems. Recent findings have shown the immense value of old growth forests for protecting carbon stores (Smithwick et al. 2002, Luyssaert et al. 2008, Hudiburg et al. 2009, Keith et al. 2009) and for continued accumulation of carbon in soils (Zhou et al. 2006). Unfortunately, old growth forests have been heavily targeted for logging in the Blue Mountains for over a century.”

The vast majority of our old growth forests have already fallen to the chainsaw. The remaining old growth forests are an irreplaceable part of our natural heritage and should be carefully protected based on the best-available science. There should be no commercial logging incentives attached to the scientifically defensible restoration needs of old-growth forests.

Please join us in defense of the magnificent remaining old growth forests. Contact your elected officials, write to the Forest Service, and talk to your neighbors, friends, and acquaintances about the reasons why you value old growth forests. Tell them that management of old growth forests should only be based on the best-available science with no commercial logging incentives.

Post and photo by David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator, HCPC

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Ghosts of Salmon

As a new resident to the state of Oregon, a frequent observation that strikes me as remarkable is the connection between Oregonians and fish. The people of Oregon have a relationship with fish that mid-westerners (like myself) do not. It is as though the essence of being an Oregonian is essence of salmon. I decided to do some research and find out why. What I uncovered is a sad story (likely familiar to any Oregonian) about the abundance, relatively rapid depletion, and initiation of a slow recovery of one of Oregon’s most treasured resources.

It makes me wonder . . . Was it only the near loss of this treasured resource that created this connection to the salmon? Do modern people need to be within emanate risk of losing something to be willing to work together to save it? Can’t we learn from the example of the Native Americans and trade our lust for excess and profit, for the luxuries of solitude and sustenance? Why can’t we understand that money is just paper, economic wealth is imaginary, while water, air, soil, animals, and plants are the only things that truly sustain life? Can’t we learn from our mistakes and work together to save our natural resources before they are threatened? Or worse yet, before we are gathering together to mourn what’s been lost?

Organizations like HCPC have not lost sight of what is truly essential, and more importantly, have not given up hope. On a daily basis, they fight not only the battle to protect the resources we have, but also the battle to restore what’s already been lost. I feel honored to have spent the summer at HCPC, working with these people who do not do it for personal gain, or wealth, but simply because they know in their hearts it is what’s right.

“But look at the falls now and tell me what you see.

Look at the falls now if you can see beyond all the concrete the white man has built there.

Look at all of this and tell me that concrete ever equals love, Coyote.

These white men don't always love their own mothers, so how could they love this river which gave birth to a thousand lifetimes of salmon?

How could they love these falls which have fallen further, which sit dry and quiet as a graveyard now.

These falls are that place where ghosts of salmon jump, where ghosts of women mourn their children who will never find their way back home.

Where I stand now and search for any kind of love, where I sing softly under my breath, alone and angry.”

-- Sherman Alexie, from The Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump

Story by Meghan Dutton, HCPC summer intern

Sunday, August 1, 2010

From the Breaks - The Dry Season

I live on the breaks between the Grande Ronde and Minam-Wallowa rivers.

Right now we're in another in-between season ... not quite fall, but it's not exactly summer either. It's the season of seeds instead of flowers. Green is turning to brown, and the soil is dry even with the soaking rain earlier this week. It is also the season of the earliest fruit in this higher and drier elevation - serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.). Serviceberry is certainly a lot seedier than blueberries, but I've read that in northern Canada varieities of serviceberry have been selected and are grown as a commercial fruit crop. What would our region look like if we all had serviceberry bushes in our yards rather than other imported fruit varieties? Could we have learned an agri-culture that was indigenous to this area, in harmony with our climate and rainfall and plant species? If we grew camas instead of potatoes, biscuitroot instead of wheat?

What does it mean to be in harmony with our ecological neighborhood? As part of the seasonal change, I start thinking abut firewood for the fall. Last year's firewood stash became home to a series of packrats that terrorized our house. I decided to deprive the packrats of their habitat by taking out the pallets, digging down to level dirt, adding gravel and paving stones for drainage and a packrat resistant floor. As I excavated down through layers of bark and straw and leaves and into the dirt, I ended up disturbing frogs and a salamander - both species I try to protect and nurture. Unexpected consequences. Packrats and salamanders - both prefer undisturbed and damp soil with layers of bark mulch. Turns out trout and salmon do better where there are wolves - the linkages John Muir spoke about exist but are not always comfortable or convenient.

Swallows are flocking already. Nestlings have fledged and a new generation of kestrels rock back and forth on the electric wire. Frogs and the salamander are relocated under our deck - with it's undisturbed abundance of organic material. I start laying in firewood in between snacking on the serviceberry bushes that volunteered in my orchard, protected by the 6' deer fence. They are doling much better than the trees I planted.

Learning to be a good neighbor takes time.