All posts by Kirsten Johnson

Keepers of the Door by Brock Evans

This piece was written by one of our founding members, current board member, and conservation hero Brock Evans nearly 15 years ago.  The piece is as relevant today as it was then.  Take heart, fellow Keepers of the Door!

Keepers of the Door

I find much to be happy about, living in these times. Our unparalleled instant access to information about everything and every idea, the ease of travel to beautiful places. The closeness of friendships and loved ones, the spirited interchanges with good minds. Here in Washington, the feeling of making a difference, standing up for the things we believe in.

But there’s a deep ache, a sadness inside, at the same time. These are NOT happy times to be alive in if one loves the natural world in all its variety and beauty – are they? The call of a wood thrush deep in an ancient forest, the roar of the surf on a wild beach, the flash of a fish in the shallows of a pristine brook, even the simple pleasure of passing still-open fields in a sprawling strip-mall landscape… all these precious things and sensations, the places they come from, and the web of life-forms they have supported for millennia, are melting away in front of our eyes. The knowledge of these daily losses sears my heart.

Daily headlines ram home the pain of it all in a mournful threnody: the extinctions, the deforestations, the decimations of whole ecosystems, record demand for SUVs. Strip malls gobble up and transform landscapes with a seemingly unstoppable, ever-metastasizing force.

The political scene is no better. “Energy Plan to open up pristine Western lands… new policy to speed up public forest logging…. Administration cancels ESA listings…” Many of our national leadership would like to make the Endangered Species Act itself an endangered species.

So the inner anxiety runs deep inside me, an aching counterpoint to the daily joys. Often I have wondered: “Is it all worth it? Can we really succeed? Won’t it all, in the end, be overwhelmed by the forces of rampant over-consumerism, destructive technologies, greed and political malaise all around us?”

My answer us always NO. NO, it is not hopeless, not at all. And YES, keep going. We can succeed; we are doing better than we may realize.

I know this is so, because I have seen it. I have fought in most of the land-use/species protection struggles of the past four decades, and I have witnessed many wonderful victories protecting wonderful places. Places, habitats that would have surely been lost otherwise. I know we can rescue much, because I have seen it happen, and I have lived it.

Our record is outstanding: over 220 million acres now protected by law, almost always saved against big odds from opponents just as powerful as they are now. An ESA, still standing tall despite 30 years of determined attacks mounted against it –because we fought to keep it. To those who sometimes feel despair I say: “Imagine what this beautiful land would have looked like by now had there been no laws, and no defenders – no us.”

Sure, it’s tough. Many with political power do not feel the way we do. They oppose laws and policies to protect nature. I wish this was not so. But since it IS so, we just have to go forward anyhow. This battered but still-beautiful earth can’t wait.

A metaphor sustains me, guides me every day. It gives comfort, because it so clearly explains what we must do.

I call it the Metaphor of the Door; and I call us who defend this earth, the Keepers of the Door.

I see this Door in my mind. On one side of it is Now: the Present, with all its strife and its cacophonies, its noise and its bulldozers, its music and lovings too. That’s where we are—in Now, the Present.

On the other side of my Door is the Future.

We don’t know what that Future holds for us or for the things we love. We only know that it might be a better, more benign, world than this turbulent Now.

So, the answer to What Must Be Done is simple. Our job, as Keepers of the Door, is to shove every acre and every species through that Door. Pass them on into that Future time, where they will have another chance to survive. Rescue them from the Now.

I am optimistic that the Future will be better than our Now. I say this because I have seen so many positive changes in our attitudes and perceptions about the value of the natural world since 1960. Changes that have been translated into strong political support: for the ESA itself, and for every one of those 220 million acres. These successes  – won in circumstances just as difficult as our own—tell me there is no reason to believe that we cannot also do the same.

Just hang on, fellow Keepers of the Door. It is still a beautiful little planet, and it needs us.

Holiday Open House December 9th

Open house for members and supporters at our office on Friday, December 9th,  7:30 p.m. through 9:00 ish.  Feel free to bring cookies, refreshing beverages, etc.  We will have food, wine, hot mulled things, and good cheer!  (We may need a little extra this season!)

Who: You and HCPC members

What: Holiday Open House

When: December 9th, 7:30 – 9:00ish p.m.

Where: HCPC Headquarters, 105 Fir St (Sac Annex) Suite 327

Why: Because it’s nice to mix and mingle and talk environmental ADVOCACY!

See you there!


How the Greater Hells Canyon Region Will Help Species Suvive Climate Change: Connectivity Is Key

Guest Blog by Marina Richie, HCPC’s newest board member.  Welcome, Marina!

Have you ever watched the play of light and shadows on the bunchgrass shoulders that pitch down into Hells Canyon? Have you savored the summit of Eagle Cap on a cloudless morning with dizzying views of alpine lakes and peaks in all directions? Have you heard the elk bugle, the spawning chinook salmon leap, the wolves howl, the rapids thunder, red-tailed hawk scream, or the wind ruffle across a wildflower meadow?

You probably have your own memories but you’re undoubtedly like me: smitten by both the grand views and the intimate scents, feels, tastes, and sounds of this incredible Greater Hells Canyon Region. I treasure Hells Canyon Preservation Council as the guardian and visionary conservation group for this part of the world I love like no other.

view from top Eagle Cap

On the top of Eagle Cap this summer looking out over Oregon’s largest wilderness on a flawless day, I stood in the hub of three great eco-regions—the Northern Rockies, the Great Basin, and the Pacific Northwest. When taking in the big view of this sweeping wildlands ecosystem, the role of HCPC becomes even clearer as pivotal to the future of western wildlands and wildlife, especially in an era of climate change.

Recently, The Nature Conservancy released a “migrations in motion map” with arrows flowing northwards or up in elevation to represent the predicted routes wildlife will need to move as the heat rises and conditions change. (Warning. It’s a little dizzying to watch.)

When you zoom in on the Greater Hells Canyon Region, something amazing happens. A whole lot of those arrows converge on the wildlands and wild rivers that HCPC works to protect, connect, and restore. The arrows funnel together and show this ecosystem as a great artery of life for birds, mammals, and amphibians.


Elizabeth Kolbert, climate change correspondent for the New Yorker, wrote last month, “the fluidity –or if you prefer, chaos—that’s approaching doesn’t make parks and national monuments irrelevant; it makes them more essential. In a rapidly changing world, plants and animals need places to move to and they need places to move through.”

The Hells Canyon region is still big enough, still wild enough, and still connected enough, and is positioned just right to serve both as a wildlife haven and as a funnel to connect birds and animals to other big wildlands.  The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative embraces this area as part of the Salmon-Selway-Bitterroot region. We’re part of a gigantic 502,000 square mile series of wildlands that stretches north into Canada.

We’re incredibly lucky to have so many wildlands, corridors, and connectors intact. That said, we all know it takes vigilance, passion, vision, knowledge, and leadership to keep our roadless areas roadless, our ancient forests standing, our restoration efforts honoring the complex ecology of this place, and our salmon fisheries thriving in wild rivers.

While we can celebrate close to a million acres of designated Wilderness, we have more than a half-million acres of potential wilderness that’s unprotected, yet vital for the corridors, connections, and wildlife habitats that are predicted to help species to survive climate change. Beyond wildlands, many parts of our national forests harbor precious ancient forests, salmon fisheries, and critical wildlife habitat. Management choices matter. How we apply the terms “restoration,” “resiliency” or “public safety” matters, as I’ve learned after attending a Lostine River Corridor proposed logging field tour last summer, and earlier discovering the felling of magnificent big pines on the Upper Imnaha River corridor.

We live in an era of rapid climate chaos. While we clearly need to drastically reduce our human footprint, it’s equally important to step up efforts to keep our wildlands and wild rivers wild. This badly fraying, tattered world is the result of our own undoing. Yet the Greater Hells Canyon region harbors some of the most beautifully woven tapestries of wild forests, canyons, peaks, and rivers remaining. Follow the woven threads and we can connect and even re-weave the strands of hope.

“In wildness is the preservation of the world,” wrote Henry David Thoreau more than 160 years ago. The words ring true more than ever. Please be a wildland champion. Here’s one easy step: Support Hells Canyon Preservation Council in their work on behalf of this place.

See some of you at the fall Gala!

Fall Gala on October 22, 2016!


Saturday, October 22, 5 – 9 pm

Catholic Church Parish Hall

1002 L Avenue, La Grande, Oregon 

Please join us for a special night of socializing, celebrating, fundraising, and getting energized to protect, connect, and restore our wonderful corner of the planet.

Tickets are $25 for adults; $10 for youth ages 5 – 12; and free for those 5 and under. Please email or call Jen at 541-910-4833 to reserve. Tickets will also be sold at the door, but we do sell out.


5:00 pm—No-Host Social Hour

Beer and wine available, silent auction begins, music by Elwood Folk & Soul

6:00 pm—Local Foods Dinner

6:45 pm—Keynote Speaker

Ric Bailey returns to Eastern Oregon to talk about the past, present, and future of conservation.

8:00 pm—Dessert

8:30 pm—Silent Auction Closes

9:00 pm—Farewell and Goodnight

*This event is for HCPC members.  If you would like to become a member, please do so here.




Summer Potluck 2017

It’s August again, and time for our Annual Summer Potluck!  This was one of our favorite events last year, and we can’t wait to see you at it again!
Who: You and any new friends you care to bring!
What: A casual potluck packed with amazing food and great conversation about conservation in the Greater Hells Canyon Region today.  All of HCPC staff will be hanging out and willing to talk about our current work, your favorite band, the meaning of life, etc.  If that and the free beverages we provide aren’t enough, maybe thelive Irish Session music will tempt you?
When: Thursday, August 25th, 6:30 p.m.
Why:  Because it’s seriously fun to get together!  Our local environmental community is full of awesome people, and we love hanging out with you, learning from you, and sharing our work.
Please bring a food item (appetizers to dessert all welcome) and a plate.  We’ll provide the silverware, cups, napkins, etc.  Email Kirsten if you have any questions at all.

Sign Up for Summer Hike July 30th

Hey Nature Lovers—join us for a hike on Saturday, July 30th in Wallowa County! We’ll hike up the beautiful Hurricane Creek Trail to the Slick Rock Creek crossing, for a total of 6.5 miles.

HurricaneLast summer, a wildfire burned in parts of the Hurricane Creek drainage. We’ll get a look at it one year out, and enjoy good company and the spectacular flora and fauna that abound in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

We’re asking that folks RSVP to help us plan for the day. Even if you’re just interested, please submit this form, so that we can reach out to you with more details as the day of the hike approaches.

We’re planning to meet at the trailhead at 9:30 A.M.; hikers should be prepared with plenty of water, a sack lunch, and sunscreen. Also, we expect to have a couple of video storytellers along with us on our way out to Slick Rock Creek, so this could be your chance to be a star! (Or stay out of the shot, if you prefer.)

If you have any questions, please email Kirsten.


East Face Vegetative Management Project Review

The East Face Vegetative Management Project. Those of us who live in Union and Baker Counties have probably heard this name kicked around, but might not know the details of this timber project, especially as the details have changed over time. This blog takes a look at what East Face has become and how Hells Canyon Preservation Council has been involved with it.

The East Face Project is big. Many of us are familiar with the project area from recreating in the Elkhorn Mountains, especially at Anthony Lakes Recreation Area, included within the project area. Located mostly on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, it covers around 46,000 acres within the North Powder River watershed, and will produce about 16 million board feet of sawtimber.

HCPC is a founding member of the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative, and as such thoroughly participated in the review of the East Face Project. The Collaborative was unable to come to consensus regarding logging in moist and cold forests (approximately 78% of the project area), road management, and other important issues. At this point, HCPC turned to the traditional public comment process to help shape this project. Working with the Forest Service we were able to resolve the majority of our concerns.

A wonderful snag providing wildlife habitat.

A wonderful snag providing wildlife habitat.

While the project isn’t perfect, it has many positive aspects including a focus on protecting and connecting important wildlife habitat within the project area; dry forest restoration that aims to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic fires; and treatments that promote the imperiled whitebark pine.

The East Face project occupies an important area for wildlife; it borders three important Inventoried Roadless Areas: Beaver Creek, Upper Grande Ronde, and Twin Mountain, and lies between the Eagle Cap and North Fork John Day Wilderness Areas. Right from the beginning, HCPC advocated for maintaining wildlife habitat connectivity in the project area.

The Forest Service’s response was great. They identified a need “to maintain and enhance connectivity of ecosystems by providing corridors that will promote resilient and sustainable landscapes,” mapped out corridors within the project area that connect old forest to adjacent watersheds, and modified their original treatments to avoid fragmenting these corridors. We very much appreciate the Forest Service’s prioritizing habitat connectivity within the project area!

East Face is also a pilot project for the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and enhancing the forest’s resiliency to wildfire is a central goal. We support the project’s directives for prescribed burns in addition to the dry forest thinning treatments, and strongly support related efforts to educate and involve private landowners in creating defensible spaces on their property.

We’re also pleased by the Forest Service’s efforts to protect snags and other wildlife trees within the project; their leaving trees with a diameter at breast height of 21” or greater on the landscape; and their agreement to stay out of Inventoried Roadless Areas, those rare spaces on the map that still have wilderness characteristics, and which are so important to wild flora and fauna.

As stated above, this project isn’t perfect. There will still be extensive commercial logging in moist and cool parts of the forest, which hasn’t been proven to positively influence fire behavior or provide ecological restoration benefits. Furthermore, some of the logging units are remote and require building temporary roads and reopening closed roads to reach them. All roads, even those that are temporary or closed, cause soil compaction and sedimentation that is nearly impossible to mitigate, and negatively impact Elk and other species sensitive to noise from motorized travel.

Once the valuable logs have been taken out of the forest, only time will tell if limited budgets will keep the Forest Service from following through on the restorative aspects of the project. We hope they do follow through! This project has the potential to be a win for local economies, forest resiliency, and wildlife. We appreciate the considerable efforts to find common ground shown by the Forest Service and other members of the Collaborative during this project’s development.