Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Circling back to Wallowa County with HCPC

After three wonderful years in La Grande, I recently moved back to Wallowa County for the summer. Now that I’m back, it’s very rewarding to see the many ways that HCPC’s work, past and present, helps to improve the lives of many people here in Wallowa County.

I recently bumped into a friend of mine that I haven’t seen for about three years on the streets of Joseph. I used to work for him when I was a naturalist/guide for Wallowa Resources Elderhostel program some years back. We were catching up and he told me that he was working as a Wilderness Ranger in the Eagle Cap and was on his way up to check Wilderness signs at a few remote trailheads. I knew that HCPC had been able to direct some money to the Forest Service in order to fund a Wilderness Ranger position in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. If you like that kind of work, it’s hard to find a better job.

There used to be a lot more Wilderness Rangers than there are today and they are sorely needed to help maintain trailheads, clear trails, and to help with restoration and invasive plant removal. HCPC was able to fund this position, with the potential to last for a decade, as a result of our settlement agreement on the Boardman Power Plant. The Boardman Power Plant burns coal and pollutes the skies of the Eagle Cap and Hells Canyon Wilderness areas, not to mention our own communities. I even heard that mercury has been found in the fish in some high elevation Wilderness lakes. HCPC’s work has helped to result in a reduction and eventual stop to this coal-burning plant’s pollution of our environment, while leveraging good jobs in our community.

It’s very inspiring and eye-opening to see how HCPC’s historic work of preventing the damming of Hells Canyon continues to change lives and create new opportunities for people. Some of my neighbors are hard at work this time of year guiding dozens and dozens of people down the areas many beautiful rivers. It amazes me to think of all the sustainable jobs generated through the rafting industry, and all the people that connect with the awesome Hells Canyon ecosystem by floating through it on the Snake River. And the river rafting industry seems more vibrant today than ever, attesting to the sustainability of rafting and the desire of people to be out in nature.

The fundamental accomplishment of saving Hells Canyon forever changed Wallowa County and it’s nowhere more evident than in the composition of the local communities. I know many of these remarkable people would not be in Wallowa County today were it not for the work of HCPC. I am really thankful that they are here.

David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator, Hells Canyon Preservation Council

Friday, June 8, 2012

HCPC welcomes summer intern Joshua Axelrod

My family moved to La Grande in the late summer heat of 1988, rounding the bend out of Ladd Canyon and catching our first glimpse of Mt. Emily’s iconic profile dominating the distance.  Though my parents were moving to take jobs at EOSC, it was our first time in Eastern Oregon, our weary eyes looking out across the Grande Ronde Valley at the end of a cross-country adventure that took us from the rolling, humid hills of Southern Ohio, across the Great Plains, over the Rockies, and into a piece of the world we had yet to know.  Over the next 13 years, I came to know and love the hills and mountains of Eastern Oregon in ways I cannot imagine knowing any other place.  Spring was spent wandering in search of morels, summer was spent discovering the high places deep within the Wallowa Mountains or tramping through the woods in search of the ever-elusive “large” huckleberry, in fall we waited for the snow, and in the winter we slid around on skis through the silent, frozen woods near Spout Springs, around Anthony Lakes, and near Salt Creek Summit.  By the time I graduated from LHS in 2001, Eastern Oregon had left a deep imprint on my understanding and view of the world.  It had instilled in me a deep desire to protect the natural world so that future generations might be able confront it with the same sense of wonder that all of us who grew up with the Blue Mountains out our backdoor were able to do without even realizing what a gift we had so easily within our reach.

Josh (red bandana) and his dad crossing a snow bridge above Hurricane Creek, July 2011.
After high school, I spent four formative years at Middlebury College in central Vermont.  There, surrounded by the entirely different beauty of the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks looming just across Lake Champlain, my feelings about the importance of preserving the few remaining wild places left in this world occupied more and more of my thinking. Since that time, life has taken me back to Oregon where I lived and worked in Portland for two years, back across the country to Boston where I lived and worked for three years, and finally, south to Washington, DC where my wife and I decided to take the graduate school plunge together.

Josh (right), his younger brother Ezra, and his dad in the hills above La Grande, Christmas 2011.
At the Washington College of Law at American University, I am trying my best to honor my rationale for returning to school to pursue my legal degree.  I am a member of the editorial board of the Sustainable Development Law and Policy publication, a member of the Environmental Law Society, and hope to continue to focus my studies on environmental law and policy.  It is hard to believe that my legal pursuits have brought me back to Eastern Oregon to spend the summer as a legal intern with the Hells Canyon Preservation Council, but I suppose life is full of these wonderfully unexpected twists and turns.  This is the first professional experience I have ever had in a place that I feel a passionate connection to, and I hope that in the next two months I am able to make a positive and substantial contribution to HCPC’s ongoing conservation efforts in what is truly one of the most remarkable corners of the world.