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Like bears emerging from hibernation, we’re shuffling out into the sun and marveling at snowmelt, rising rivers, bird song, and those first buttercups winking up at us from the forest floor. We’re pulling out maps and plotting trips into this grand ecosystem with Hells Canyon at its heart.
If you’re a river rat daydreaming of rafting, fishing, or simply hiking, camping or picnicking streamside, maybe you’re already reciting the list of 20 rivers that our friend and longtime HCPC champion Charlie Jones compiled to illustrate what Hells Canyon Preservation Council works to protect.
I’m going to list them now. As you read, please pause whenever the river name triggers a memory. What is it that draws you there? Why do you love that place? Ready? Here we go…the great 20 river list goes like this:
Snake, Grande Ronde, Umatilla, John Day, Wallowa, Lostine, Minam, Imnaha, Powder, Burnt, Walla Walla, Wenaha, Tochet, Tucannon, Salmon, Rapid, Malheur, Silvies, Crooked, and Wildhorse.
I’m liking this exercise. It feels like stretching my limbs after the long, cold snowy winter and awakening a tingling desire to be right there above the “Blue Hole” of the Imnaha River looking down on immense chinook salmon idling in the depths; to be backpacking in April along the Wenaha River, noting the fresh, green and beautiful cycling of life after a wilderness fire; and to feel the spray of whitewater on a roller coaster ride down the Salmon River. As Charlie is quick to say, the river list can be much longer and inclusive when you begin to count so many tributaries. You might want to add your personal favorites.
Now, start to make a list of mountains, canyons, breathtaking views, and the names of hikes or horseback rides you’ve taken, the secret places off-trail you know for their wild mushrooms or wily elk, and, always, the family, friends, and lovers who’ve etched the experiences even deeper.
Our connections as people to this place are deep, personal, and ever growing. I could spend several lifetimes exploring the four million acres that span this precious ecosystem of Northeast Oregon that extends north into Washington and east across the mighty Snake River to the Seven Devils Mountains and Salmon River of Idaho.
One courageous grassroots group—Hells Canyon Preservation Council—is out there working hard every day to save the places we cherish. We can’t take protection for granted. Along with our memories of great personal joy in the wilds, I’m sure you, too, have experienced sorrow or anger upon returning to a favorite campsite to find raw, ripped up new logging roads and stumps; or to hike across a meadow you’d remembered for its tall, silky native bunchgrasses and delicate wildflowers to find it grazed down to the ground and trampled by cattle or mudded by ATVs.
As we all know since the November election, our public lands are in grave danger. The emphasis is to log, mine, overgraze, road, and even eliminate our precious Endangered Species Act and environmental laws. We’re not going to let that happen. Here’s why: We have a mighty source of power. It’s LOVE, as Brock Evans reminds us often. That love comes from our connection to place. And we have HCPC—the only group solely dedicated to this one fabulous part of the world. We also have partner groups like Oregon Wild and many more allies, including the Nez Perce and Umatilla tribes that know this place intimately as their homeland.
Thanks to the work of HCPC and allies, we still have intact roadless areas, like Joseph Canyon to protect. We have precedents to prevent terrible logging, because of HCPC winning the Snow Basin lawsuit, and we have what are called the “Eastside Screens” that prevent logging of trees over 21 inches in diameter to keep our remnant, precious ancient trees from the saw.
HCPC fights for the places we love, assures the laws are being followed, and keeps the bigger vision always in mind—of a great, connected and protected ecosystem that is more important than ever for our wildlife in a time of great climate chaos, and for ourselves. That’s why HCPC, in its 50th year of conservation, needs our support, whether that’s making a donation, standing up for conservation values in tough conversations, or calling your local representative to show your support for public lands.
This year as we daydream about summer trips and flip through our photos of favorite places, I’m challenging every one of us to do something more. Let’s go out there and bear witness. Take photos of big trees, waterfalls, or whatever draws us in, from an expansive view to a bird nest. Take photos of any desecrations we might find, too—whether it’s a fragile spring muddied by off road vehicles or even an incursion into the wilderness boundary (that happened last fall in the Eagle Cap Wilderness). By this morel season in early May, HCPC plans to unveil a new “eyes-on-the-ground” project for people to report damages. Stay posted!
I encourage you to share the photos of the places you care about with others, including HCPC. Our conservation group is always seeking beautiful photos to post on Facebook, to Tweet, and other ways.
We need many more eyes and ears out there on the ground, especially now. Sadly, we can’t assume that the places we care about so much are safe. Even the precious Lostine River corridor is at risk. Who would have ever thought the Forest Service would target this narrow canyon into the Eagle Caps for aggressive logging?
We live in precarious times. So much is at stake, but speaking up and taking action works. When you write to agencies and to our Congressional representatives, make sure you always include that personal connection. Attach your photos, too. Knowing a place well carries weight. The good news? We also have an excellent excuse to plan as many trips as possible on those 20 rivers and all the wilds we have yet to know. I’m pulling out my map today.
Marina is on the Board of Directors for HCPC. You can find more of her blogging here.
See the latest newsletter here!
Thank you to our members and supporters for making 2016 a success, despite the many challenges the year brought. Linked below are just some of the accomplishments we are proud to share with you.
Thank you again for caring about the Greater Hells Canyon Region!
Hello, all! Please find our January Hells Bells here!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
8:30 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.