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