Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BLM Revises Resource Plan: A look at Areas of Critical Environmental Concern

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is revising its Resource Management Plan for approximately 428,425 surface acres in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. In order to make the best decisions for the future of these northeast Oregon BLM lands, they must be viewed in the larger context of our Public lands including the Wallowa-Whitman, Malheur, and Umatilla National Forests, and other conservation lands such as Tribal lands as well.

One of the important areas that will be impacted by this plan revision is the “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACEC). ACECs are “areas within the BLM public lands where special management attention is required to protect and prevent irreparable damage to important historic, cultural, or scenic values, fish and wildlife resources, or other natural systems or processes, or to protect life and safety from natural hazards.” This plan revision will determine how existing ACECs are managed and if new ones are established. HCPC will be working to protect these vital conservation lands and to protect new areas worthy of designation.

Joseph Creek and Grande Ronde ACECs

The BLM land that comprises the Joseph Creek and Grande Ronde ACECs is part of an incredible conservation landscape that is still being fully realized. The various federal and state agencies, Tribal lands, private landowners, and NGO’s involved in protecting this area is very impressive and testifies to the region-wide importance of this area (see map below). For the BLMs part, they have done a good job of establishing ACECs in this important area and increasing the size of the Grande Ronde River ACEC from 9,715 acres when designated, to its current size of 16,958 acres.

The Joseph Creek ACEC (mapped in bright green) was established to protect the natural riparian plant communities of Joseph Creek, and to protect wildlife habitat, high scenic qualities, and outstanding geologic system values for education and recreational purposes. The Grande Ronde ACEC (mapped in dark red) was established to protect the area’s unique natural, scenic, geological, ecological, and cultural resource values, and to protect wildlife habitat and enhance recreation opportunities. Geologic system values (i.e., regional uplift and forced entrenchment of the river) of the Goosenecks National Natural Landmark ( are also protected and included within this ACEC.

The Grande Ronde and Joseph Creek ACECs provide protection of a well-connected hydrological system that is in good condition and supports ESA listed fish; Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. As the map illustrates above, the Grande Ronde ACEC overlaps a large portion of the Grande Ronde Wild and Scenic River including lands within the Grande Ronde Roadless Area. This ACEC also helps to enhance connectivity between the Wenaha River as it flows from the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area, and Joseph Creek and the Snake River. The Joseph Creek ACEC provides a direct link to the Nez Perce Precious Lands (mapped in bright red) which are managed for a very high conservation purpose including no livestock grazing. The Precious Lands tie in with other BLM lands on Joseph Creek and with the over 40,000 acre Joseph Canyon Roadless Area on Forest Service managed Public Land (mapped in yellow). The Joseph Canyon Roadless Area is the largest “unprotected” core habitat area remaining in this area. Moreover, the Nez Perce Precious Lands also form a bridge connecting to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and the extensive roadless wildlands therein.

The Joseph Creek and Grande Ronde ACECs play a vital connectivity role in linking these priceless wildlands. It is important that the BLM increases protection for these incredible ACECs through the ongoing Resource Management Plan revisions.

post by David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator, HCPC

Friday, February 3, 2012

Listening for the first red-wings, Looking for the first buttercups

It's early February already, although you wouldn't know it from the lack of snow.

Up on Cricket Flats, it's time to start listening for the return of the first red-wing blackbirds on the ponds. This week-end I'll start checking the rocky southwest-facing corner where the first buttercups appear. Soon the spring calendar of flowers and migratory birds will unroll. It's my favorite time of year, welcoming back these old friends who come to visit the breaks.

In town, I'll be more prosaically watching for the first dandelion to bloom in the orchard.
In the years to come I will be doing my best to encourage wilder flowers to bloom.

In both places I watch finches return to the bird feeders and listen to the bright songs of chickadees. In both places, I worry about the lack of snow and wonder how best to foster and encourage nativ
e plants and wildlife. In both places, I look to science to help me understand more about how everything is connected, how changes ripple through the ecosystem.

I've been reading about some of the research that's being done on the impacts of climate disruption - several studies now show that elk and deer are browsing at higher elevations with the reduction in snow pack, especially browsing down vegetation long streams and creeks. In the spring, this means there is less cover along the streams for migrating songbirds, to hide, feed and nest, so songbird numbers are plummeting in these areas. Oh for a wolf pack to keep the elk and deer moving! More and more studies by a range of researchers show the long term beneficial effects of the presence of top carnivores, especially wolves and cougar, on keeping the herbivores from grazing down the streamside plants. Songbirds need wolves...

Writers such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir have spoken eloquently of how everything in nature is truly connected to everything else - a web of relationships. Break a strand, and the web is more vulnerable, shredding and unraveling along that break. Poets tell us of the heart of that, but scientific research can tell us how the strands are connected, and which strands we are missing. We are just beginning to understand how complex and interconnected nature is, and how inextricably our welfare is wrapped up in the integrity of this web. Whether it is understanding more about how mycorrhizal soil life affects fruit tree production or how climate disruption and lack of top predators affects songbird populations, the information we gather can help direct our choices for the integrity of the web, and, consequently, our own well-being.

Part of what I respect so much about the work HCPC does is that it is directed by what science can now tell us. Whether it is protecting key fishbearing streams from damage or protecting key elk calving grounds from disruption; speaking out for the return of native species including wolves and wolverines, bighorn and bull trout; challenging the lack of analysis in categorical exclusions and travel planning; HCPC works with the best scientific research available.

HCPC's mission is simple at it's heart - protect, preserve, and restore - but the issues we tackle are complex. HCPC brings scientific knowledge and understanding to these issues, promoting more informed choices.

So here's to the turning of the year, the very beginning of spring, and another year protecting, preserving and restoring this place I call home.

- Danae Yurgel