Category Archives: HCPC Blog

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.


The Real Hazard to the Public? Forest Service Logging of Imnaha River Corridor

Guest Blog by Marina Richie (HCPC supporter, La Grande, Oregon)


Last week, I drove up to my favorite place, the upper Imnaha River, for two nights of camping among the glorious ancient pines, big firs, and larch.  However, from the junction by Ollokot Campground heading upriver toward Coverdale, Hidden, and Indian Crossing Campgrounds, I saw the aftermath of targeted logging on one of the rarest and most wildlife-important parts of the ancient forests: our huge, standing and stable dead ponderosa pines. The trees may be dead, yet they are filled with life, from nesting white-headed woodpeckers (a sensitive species, declining from loss of old growth ponderosa pine snags) to owls. The trees were solid in the center and could have stood for decades. Many were cut far from the road, and even those within 50 meters posed little risk to travelers. What are the chances of someone driving on that road at the exact moment a tall dead tree (that is decaying at a slower rate than a smaller tree) would then fall on that car? Maybe one in a billion?

I found out the logging had occurred in the aftermath of a winter windstorm that had snapped some trees, triggering the Forest Service to purposefully fell the big, standing wildlife trees. Here’s the part that makes no sense: I saw the windfall trees. Every one of the trees had green needles and none were large diameter trees. In fact, it would have been impossible to predict that those trees would fall down. None of them fell on anything of value, and simply clearing them away would have taken care of the problem.


One of the “hazard” trees.


This logging has gone far beyond the Road 3960 (upper Imnaha) to cutting huge trees, some as large as 40 inches in diameter, along the scenic 39 Road, a popular recreation throughway linking Joseph to Halfway.Instead? The Forest Service has closed the popular Hidden Campground during prime season as it cuts all kinds of trees that pose no threat. They have gone in without any notice to Hells Canyon Preservation Council or any public entity to log the biggest, best wildlife trees—without any documentation. There’s no paper trail, only the evidence now of the felled trees.

And now? A much larger project looms to remove “hazard” trees all along the upper Imnaha River corridor and in both designated campgrounds and primitive campsites next to the Imnaha River—a critical salmon fishery.

From the scoping notice, it’s impossible to know the extent of this project.  It could very well include logging live, green, ancient ponderosa pines, larch, and fir in the very places that people love to visit specifically to view those trees. After they’re cut, would we even want to go there? If we wanted to recreate in logged, second-growth, scarred forests, there are plenty of places, but very very few with centuries-old pines and an intact ecosystem.

I believe I’m not alone in stating I’d rather take a bit of risk and camp among ancient forests and experience their beauty and wildlife.  If the Forest Service needs to show responsibility for safety, then they should follow reasonable guidelines similar to those of the National Park Service (NPS). I read the NPS’s guidelines carefully and saw what was missing from the Forest Service hazard tree removal guide—a true assessment of actual risk of a tree falling, and falling on a person or a property (and including the value of the property).  Before cutting down a tree, there’s a protocol of photography, written documentation, and doing everything possible to keep a rare old growth tree standing.

Although the NPS sees millions of visitors each year, there are a very very few cases of people attempting to sue the agency for a tree falling on a person or personal property. The NPS has won in every case with the judges all agreeing on this point:

“Insofar as an invitee is concerned, the applicable general principle is that the possessor of the property is not an insurer of the invitee’s safety, but must use reasonable care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition and warn of any latent or concealed peril.”

(source: )

When we head into our national forests, we step into our cars to get there, taking the greatest risk of all. When we’re out recreating on our forests, we then take reasonable precautions. If there’s a big windstorm that comes in suddenly, we move out of the way or leave.  We accept some element of risk in the same way we do when we drive, yet of course the chances of a tree falling and hitting one of us or our vehicle are incredibly low. That risk is likely much higher at home where we have shade trees, whose coolness in summer and beauty we value.

HCPC founding father Brock Evans hugs a great old tree in the corridor.

HCPC founding father Brock Evans hugs a great old tree in the corridor.

Now is the chance to speak up for protecting the rare, big, beautiful old growth trees—living and dead—in the Hells Canyon NRA everywhere, and especially the upper Imnaha River corridor, the best remaining place in the region for easily experiencing an increasingly rare ancient forest.

We are seeing a barrage of felling rare old growth snags along forest roads and campgrounds across eastern Oregon’s national forests. It’s happening right now in your favorite place.

That’s why we need to support the efforts of Hells Canyon Preservation Council more than ever. The staff is working hard on multiple fronts to protect our forests, collaborate, and to take a visionary approach for a future in one of our wildest and most threatened ecosystems in the lower 48 states. They need your help!

We have an opportunity to comment now on the upper Imnaha proposed logging. Please send in your comments today to Sitka Pence, the planner for the Wallowa Mountains District, overseeing part of Hells Canyon NRA.

I urge you not to linger, and to let Sitka know that you want to see the big trees stand, the current cutting to halt, and that any “hazard” tree felling in the future take a reasonable, cautious approach that respects the high value of our rare old growth trees, especially the wildlife snags.  Meanwhile, tell her we want the Forest Service to drop the proposed project entirely and focus on carrying out the true mandate of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act that specifically states:

“…conservation of scenic…values contributing to the public benefit;”

“…preservation…of all features and peculiarities believed to be biologically unique, including but not limited to…rare combinations of…terrestrial habitats and the rare combinations of outstanding and diverse ecosystems and parts of ecosystems associated therewith.”

Here’s what you can do—submit either written comments in the mail, an email, or even a phone call as follows. Every comment will help, no matter how short:

Email comments to To submit comments by telephone, or for more information about the project, please contact Sitka Pence (541) 426-5689. Please submit your comments by June 17th, 2016.

You can also visit this link for more details:

HCPC’s Wildlife Watchers

 Our Wildlife Watchers program bridges several important aspects of our conservation mission. We work in partnership with the Forest Service, we connect volunteers with local forests and wildlife, and we provide important wildlife data to the Forest Service to help inform management decisions. If you are interested in becoming a Wildlife Watchers volunteer in 2015, please contact HCPC Restoration Director Brian Kelly at

2014 July 17 Wildlife WatchersThe Wildlife Watchers program tracks wildlife using motion-triggered wildlife trail cameras.  We are particularly interested in finding the American marten (“pine marten”) which is considered a “management indicator species” by the Forest Service.  (Here’s a video of the American marten captured by Dr. Audrey Magoun of The Wolverine Foundation.)  After scouting out a variety of forested areas, we install the cameras in locations showing the best characteristics for marten habitat. To attract martens to the cameras, we apply a smelly, gooey substance known as marten lure.  We also place chicken meat in a cage attached to a tree within view of each camera in hopes of attracting a marten to the area for a meal.  

The 2014 Wildlife Watchers program began on May 19 when HCPC Restoration Director Brian Kelly met with the local Forest Service Wildlife Biologist to coordinate and plan the upcoming field season of work.   Our overall strategy is to assist the Forest Service wildlife staff and their efforts to collect wildlife data in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon.

As the snow melted and the roads became accessible, we installed three cameras on June 12, 2014.  The cameras were installed in forests with high canopy-cover and down logs.  These forest stands tend to represent the best examples of aspects of old forest conditions that are available within a targeted geographic area.  These forests have the potential to be designated as valuable wildlife habitat.  Grand fir, western larch, Engelmann spruce and sub-alpine fir are the types of trees most commonly found in the forests where we installed the cameras in 2014.

2014 July 17 Wildlife WatchersWe serviced the cameras every two weeks.  This involved installing new bait and marten lure, swapping camera memory cards, downloading photos and checking the photos for wildlife species.  HCPC staff coordinated volunteers, purchased supplies, and communicated with Forest Service staff.  Nine field trip visits to the cameras were completed in 2014. We retrieved the cameras on October 20 shortly before the first snows of the season threatened to block access.  Seven volunteers participated in the Wildlife Watchers Program in 2014.

We are excited to report that in 2014 we succeeded in capturing a photo of an American marten. As a Forest Service ‘management indicator species’, this supports the need for protection of old growth forests and wildlife connectivity corridors.  Other interesting photos include cougar, bear, coyote, deer, flying squirrel, red squirrel, snowshoe hare, Steller’s jay, gray jay, and Rocky Mountain elk.

Coyote Bear

Notably, we consistently captured many photos of elk throughout the season at each of the three cameras.  Numerous photos of bulls, cows and calves were obtained.  One photo contained at least six elk within a single frame.  Elk are an important signature animal of the Blue Mountains and they are of great significance to the local ecosystems.

2014 July 17 Wildlife WatchersData collected through the Wildlife Watchers Program is provided to the Forest Service and it is used to help inform wildlife-related aspects of public lands management.

2014 was the fourth successful season for the Wildlife Watchers program.  Through the Wildlife Watchers program, HCPC has developed a positive cooperative relationship with the Forest Service and has provided an opportunity for volunteers to lend a hand while getting out into the local National Forest lands. 

Hells Canyon Preservation Council appreciates the efforts of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and of the HCPC volunteers who make this program possible.  We would also like to thank our funding partners— the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Cross Charitable Foundation, Jubitz Family Foundation, Mazamas, Patagonia, Wilburforce Foundation, and the Wildhorse Foundation.  Thank you!


Missing Tim Lillebo

Hells Canyon Preservation Council recently lost a great friend when Tim Lillebo passed away.  Tim went out to shovel snow at his home in central Oregon on Saturday, February 8 and apparently died of a heart attack or another sudden critical health problem.  Along with Tim’s family and many friends, we are mourning his loss and celebrating the bright spirit of Tim Lillebo.

In many ways, Tim was a living symbol of the forests of eastern Oregon.  He was born and raised here and he devoted his career to protecting and restoring old growth forests, clean waters, and habitat for fish and wildlife.  Back in the 1970s, Tim was hired by the Oregon Wilderness Coalition which later became Oregon Wild.  He worked there continuously until his recent death.  Tim was a man with strong principles and a deep land ethic.  He also had a unique ability to connect with people and work through difficult issues with people who disagreed with him.  And somehow, he was able pull this off with a twinkle in his eye.
In the early days, Tim successfully worked to gain Wilderness protections for some of the last remaining wild and roadless National Forest lands in eastern Oregon.  He also fought logging projects that were cutting down some of the last remaining old growth trees left on public lands.  Here at the HCPC office, we have a photo of Tim walking around the base of a huge old ponderosa pine tree marked with blue paint, indicating that the tree was marked to be cut.  This pine tree looks to be over five feet across at the base and it would have been centuries old.  I don’t know if Tim was able to save this particular tree, but he loved big old pines with thick, yellow plated bark and he devoted much of his life to saving them.
During the past several years, Tim worked to protect and restore the forests by working with collaborative groups for the National Forests of eastern Oregon.  Membership in these groups includes timber industry, logging interests, and local county commissioners.  As you may imagine, there are significant differences of opinion within these groups, but Tim was exceptional in his ability to sit down and talk respectfully with people of many different viewpoints. 
Tim grew up in John Day and La Grande and his grandfather was a logger.  These experiences helped him relate to people in the collaboratives, but I think that more importantly he was a genuinely caring person.  He worked to find solutions that would truly benefit the forests as well as the people and communities nearby.  He made sure that projects described as forest restoration would in fact restore forest conditions and reverse the effects of past logging and fire-exclusion.  He stuck to his principles but he gave respect to others and he received it in kind.
I really got to know Tim over the past several years while we worked together as members of the collaborative groups for the Umatilla and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.  I’m really grateful for the many conversations that we shared, for the time that we spent together and for the work that we were able to accomplish together in partnership. 
When Tim and I would speak on the phone he would greet me by saying, “How ya doin’, rascal?”  Well, right now, the honest answer is that I miss Tim terribly and it feels like there’s a hole as big as Hells Canyon left behind where he used to be.  Tim had the courage of a bear, a heart the size of a mountain, and the brilliant flash of a red-tailed hawk.  He taught me a lot about conservation work.  He left behind a legacy of accomplishments to benefit the public lands, forests and people of the Blue Mountain region.  All of us here at HCPC will use this legacy as an inspiration to motivate our conservation work into the future.
Tim and I attended a collaborative meeting together on the day before he died.  As I left the meeting and walked across the snowy parking lot, I heard him call my name and I looked over to see him smiling and waving broadly over his head.  I waved back.  Good-bye, Tim.  Well miss you. 

- Brian Kelly, Restoration Director, Hells Canyon Preservation Council


Wildlife Watchers Field Report for 2013

From HCPC Restoration Director Brian Kelly:

We were hoping that by the middle of last June that we’d be able to drive up to Dunns Bluff.  The bluff is an impressive rock outcrop near the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness.  But as we climbed higher and higher on the rough Forest Service road, we found ourselves busting through deeper and deeper snowbanks.  The back of the four-wheel drive pickup truck was loaded with wildlife cameras, meat for bait, trapper’s lure for attracting wildlife, cables, locks, tools and an assortment of hardware.  All of this bounced around in the back of the pickup making enough racket to scare away just about any wild animal within a mile.  At the time, it seemed like a strange way to attract wildlife, but we knew that once things quieted down, we’d get some good wildlife photos.  Finally, we had to accept the fact that there was just too much snow for us to drive to our destination.  And it was too far to walk.  We turned the truck around and retreated for the day with a promise to return.

meat (bait) was placed inside metal cylinders  

Within a week, the weather turned hot and the sun made short work of those persistent snowbanks.  Soon the road was clear and we were able to drive near Dunns Bluff and then hike into the Castle Ridge Roadless Area.  Before too long, we had installed eleven motion-activated cameras in strategic locations in old growth forests of mountain hemlock, Engelmann spruce, sub-alpine fir, grand fir, lodgepole pine and western larch.

At Hells Canyon Preservation Council, we actively work to protect the important lands and waters of the greater Hells Canyon region.  Fragmentation of habitat from roads and logging can be a significant threat to the connectivity of important habitats such as old-growth forests.  During the past few years, we’ve advocated to protect the habitat of the Castle Ridge area and worked with the US Forest Service to achieve protections for habitat connectivity in this important landscape.  Castle Ridge is an 8,790 acre roadless area on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest located between the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the Grande Ronde Valley.  Through the Wildlife Watchers program, we collaborate with the US Forest Service to monitor wildlife in important habitats that are essential to the connectivity of the region.  Hells Canyon Preservation Council staff, volunteers from our membership, and Forest Service wildlife specialists work together to accomplish the many tasks that the Wildlife Watchers project entails. 
Volunteer Allan Gorthy sets up trail camera

The first order of business to start the field season was to review the available data and maps for likely habitat.  This was followed by field reconnaissance.  Then we hiked into the backcountry while packing in a variety of equipment and supplies.  When we found a good location for a camera point, we set up the camera, strapped it to a tree and locked it in place.  We set up bait in bear-proof cylinders and we applied lure to attract wildlife close to the cameras.  After installation, the cameras’ sensors snapped photos when wildlife came into view.  The cameras were programmed appropriately for each site and then they were revisited every two weeks for maintenance.  The memory cards were checked, the photos were viewed, stored and filed, and the wildlife species were identified.

The eleven cameras captured photos of northern flying squirrel, bobcat, mountain lion, black bear, mule deer, white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk, Douglas squirrel, bushy-tailed wood rat and coyote.

 Three wildlife species of particular interest in the Castle Ridge area are the American marten, wolverine, and the wolf.  We were disappointed that we did not capture any photos of these species with our eleven trail cameras during the field season.  However, it’s important to note that the absence of photographs does not necessarily mean that these animals are not present or traveling through the area or utilizing the habitat during certain seasons.  
Wolverines were recently documented in the Eagle Cap Wilderness just to the east of the Castle Ridge Roadless Area.  DNA analysis of one of these wolverines showed a genetic relationship to the wolverines of Idaho and we assume that their travel corridor was through the connected habitat of the greater Hells Canyon region.  American martens were also photographed in the Eagle Caps during this recent wolverine research.  The American marten is considered to be a management indicator species because it is associated with old growth forests in northeast Oregon and so it has been a species of particular interest for the Wildlife Watchers program.  Wolves have entered Oregon from Idaho through the Hells Canyon region as well.  Since wolf recovery in Oregon is an important recent development, there is much interest in their whereabouts in the local landscape.
When wildlife travel into the Pacific northwest from the Rocky Mountain region, they often enter through the wild lands of northeast Oregon.  Moose, wolverines, and wolves have all come into Oregon this way over the past few years.  This is not surprising because the Wallowa Mountains, Blue Mountains, Hells Canyon and the Seven Devils are rich with interconnected lands and waters providing an amazing diversity of quality habitat.
The snow returned to Castle Ridge in October.  After hiking in through a few inches of fresh new snow, we removed the cameras for the season.  It had been a successful field season of collaboration with the Forest Service and volunteers.  We collected valuable wildlife information that will be used to inform future decisions that affect the land management of the area.  Through the Wildlife Watchers project, we are connecting people to the land while we work to protect the connections of important habitats across the landscape. 
Hells Canyon Preservation Council appreciates the efforts of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and of the HCPC volunteers who make this program possible.  We would also like to thank our funding partners—Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Mazamas, and Patagonia.
If you are interested in becoming a Wildlife Watchers volunteer in 2014, please contact HCPC  Restoration Director Brian Kelly at

The Forest Connection

An excerpt from Michael Pollan’s  recent New Yorker article “The Intelligent Plant.”

The most bracing part of Mancuso’s talk on bioinspiration came when he discussed underground plant networks. Citing the research of Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia, and her colleagues, Mancuso showed a slide depicting how trees in a forest organize themselves into far-flung networks, using the underground web of mycorrhizal fungi which connects their roots to exchange information and even goods. This “wood-wide web,” as the title of one paper put it, allows scores of trees in a forest to convey warnings of insect attacks, and also to deliver carbon, nitrogen, and water to trees in need.
When I reached Simard by phone, she described how she and her colleagues track the flow of nutrients and chemical signals through this invisible underground network. They injected fir trees with radioactive carbon isotopes, then followed the spread of the isotopes through the forest community using a variety of sensing methods, including a Geiger counter. Within a few days, stores of radioactive carbon had been routed from tree to tree. Every tree in a plot thirty metres square was connected to the network; the oldest trees functioned as hubs, some with as many as forty-seven connections. The diagram of the forest network resembled an airline route map.
The pattern of nutrient traffic showed how “mother trees” were using the network to nourish shaded seedlings, including their offspring—which the trees can apparently recognize as kin—until they’re tall enough to reach the light. And, in a striking example of interspecies coöperation, Simard found that fir trees were using the fungal web to trade nutrients with paper-bark birch trees over the course of the season. The evergreen species will tide over the deciduous one when it has sugars to spare, and then call in the debt later in the season. For the forest community, the value of this coöperative underground economy appears to be better over-all health, more total photosynthesis, and greater resilience in the face of disturbance.
In his talk, Mancuso juxtaposed a slide of the nodes and links in one of these subterranean forest networks with a diagram of the Internet, and suggested that in some respects the former was superior. “Plants are able to create scalable networks of self-maintaining, self-operating, and self-repairing units,” he said. “Plants.”
As I listened to Mancuso limn the marvels unfolding beneath our feet, it occurred to me that plants do have a secret life, and it is even stranger and more wonderful than the one described by Tompkins and Bird. When most of us think of plants, to the extent that we think about plants at all, we think of them as old—holdovers from a simpler, prehuman evolutionary past. But for Mancuso plants hold the key to a future that will be organized around systems and technologies that are networked, decentralized, modular, reiterated, redundant—and green, able to nourish themselves on light. “Plants are the great symbol of modernity.”

Big Win for Wildlife

Antelope Ridge Energy Project Has Been Stopped
The proposed Antelope Ridge wind power project has been stopped.  Citing current market conditions, developer EDP Renewables withdrew its application with Oregon Department of Energy to build wind turbines and a new road system in important wildlife habitat adjacent to the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.  
This is very good news for local wildlife.  Hells Canyon Preservation Council strongly supports energy conservationand responsible renewable energy development.  However, it’s essential that renewable energy projects must be located on appropriate sites and that wildlife and their habitat are protected in the process.   
The Antelope Ridge project proposal certainly presented significant threats to local wildlife.  Hells Canyon Preservation Council actively worked to address these concerns through advocacy, education, and collaboration.  We testified at a public hearing and submitted detailed comments to Oregon Department of Energy on behalf of wildlife and their habitat.  We received sign-on in support for our comments from Oregon Natural Desert Association, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Audubon Society of Portland.  We met with Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Energy, EDP Renewables, and the local grassroots group Friends of the Grande Ronde Valley as part of our efforts to protect wildlife and address the negative impacts of the proposed project.     
EDP Renewables had proposed to build 164 turbines over 47,000 acres of private land in the hills just south of the Grande Ronde Valley.  Antelope Ridge would have been built immediately north of EDP’s existing Elkhorn Valley wind facility where four golden eagles have been found dead since May 2009, presumably killed by wind turbines.  Since Antelope Ridge would be larger and located closer to eagle nesting areas, the likelihood of more golden eagle deaths would be high, according to US Fish & Wildlife Service.
According to comments from Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, “The Project is one of the first wind power projects in Oregon proposed to be sited in critical big game winter range and very productive wildlife habitat, resulting in the construction of a large industrial structure that negatively affects Oregon’s wildlife.”
Burrowing owls, Swainson’s hawk, and red-tailed hawks nest within the project area.  Four species of bats were identified within the proposed project area.  A potential sage-grouse lek is located near the southern end of the project.  The sensitive plant species Douglas clover and Oregon semaphore grass grow in the project area as well. 
Antelope Ridge would have been constructed just south of Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, northeast Oregon’s largest remaining wetland.  It would have been built about a dozen miles west of the Eagle Cap Wilderness.  Forests, sagebrush /grasslands and wetlands provide key wildlife habitat in the project area.  Wildlife travel through the project area, and it’s an important wildlife connectivity corridor.  In fact, the Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group has identified the area as an important habitat link between the essential habitats of the Wallowa Mountains and the Blue Mountains.  A new road system would have fragmented habitat, and birds and bats would have been killed by the blades of the turbines.  Locating a large wind power project in critical big game habitat would be harmful to elk and deer and would set a terrible precedent for future projects.
The Antelope Ridge project has been more or less on hold for the past year.  While the withdrawal of the application is welcome news, it’s worth noting the following statement in the letter from the developer:
“Although current market conditions do not allow us to proceed with the application process at this time, we look forward to building upon the strong precedent that has been set in coordination with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Governor’s Office to potentially restart project permitting in the future.”
So while the recent withdrawal of the application is very good news, it’s possible that a new application may be developed sometime in the future.
For the time being, however, this is very good news for eagles, elk, bats, hawks, owls, deer, and other wildlife species.  It’s also good news for the protection of the Ladd Marsh wetlands and the important wildlife connectivity corridors found within the project area.  And it’s good news for people who care about wildlife.
Renewable energy is a very good thing.  The earth’s future hangs in the balance over how well we are able to conserve energy and develop clean energy production.  However, renewable energy projects must be developed on appropriate sites.   And it’s essential that we protect wildlife and their habitat in the process. 
Story & photo by Brian Kelly,
Restoration Director

Update on Bighorn Protection from Darilyn Parry Brown

Hells Canyon Preservation Council is a member of a regional Bighorn Advocacy Group whose primary aim is to see wild bighorn sheep herds in eastern Idaho, northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington gain the permanent protections they need to thrive in their native habitat.  HCPC has been a key advocate for bighorn herds in the greater Hells Canyon area for nearly a decade.  Though again and again, we’ve won our battles to protect bighorns in the courts, these victories are still not secured.

When I first came on as HCPC’s Executive Director early 2012, I took the lead on HCPC’s work to ensure lasting protections for wild bighorn herds in the Hells Canyon Country.  Most recently these efforts have focused on urging the Forest Service to follow their own Record of Decision released in 2010 that closes certain domestic sheep grazing allotments in the Salmon and Hells Canyon bighorn herds’ habitats and mandates deliberate risk reduction measures be put in place on open allotments.

Wild bighorn sheep are extremely susceptible to a pathogen carried by domestic sheep. Bighorn sheep die-offs have been on-going in Hells Canyon for over twenty years.  In 1991, the Forest Service publicly acknowledged one of the first documented die-offs in Hells Canyon when ninety percent of the Seven Devils bighorn herd was wiped out.  Other documented die-offs in the region date back even further.  In 1986, a massive bighorn die-off was discovered in the nearby Wallowa Mountains within the Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeast Oregon.  This was not the first die-off, but was the most devastating.  The discovery of the diseased carcass of “Spot,” the largest bighorn ram ever found in the continental United States, and the loss of over two-thirds of the herd (66 animals) to disease in a period of a few weeks, was a tragedy that attracted substantial public attention.  The cause of the die-off was determined to be pneumonia linked to Pasteurellabacteria.  In 1992, there was another massive bighorn die-off, this time in the Hells Canyon NRA in the Sheep Creek drainage on the Idaho side of the Canyon.  The culprit was again verified as pneumonia symptoms tied to Pasteurella bacterial infection.  Other die-offs have followed since, in herds within Hells Canyon as well as other nearby areas. 

Unfortunately, the Forest Service is not implementing or enforcing meaningful risk reduction measures. During the past two grazing seasons there were numerous instances where herders and/or herd dogs were not evidently present with their bands, animals were scattered and not recovered, and observers noted sheep outside allotments – in the areas with the greatest likelihood of domestic sheep and bighorn contact. Scattering events and sheep unaccounted for contribute to increased risk of contact between wild bighorn and domestic sheep. 
In September 2012, a foraying ewe was sighted on three different occasions by hunters on the Grassy Mountain allotment that was just vacated that season due to the 2010 decision to close allotments.  Had we not challenged the Payette National Forests’ interpretation of the Simpson Rider intended to stop the implementation of grazing allotment closures just a few months earlier, there would have been domestic sheep on the allotment where the ewe forayed. This was a very narrow miss that could have proven disastrous to an entire herd of wild bighorn.     
Due to a lack of adequate “contact risk reduction” action on the part of the Payette National Forest, in March HCPC submitted a letter to Payette National Forest Supervisor Keith Lannom urging him to adopt recommendations drawn up by the Bighorn Advocacy Group that outlined a realistic set of tools for reducing risk to the Salmon and Hells Canyon bighorn sheep herds. On June 10th, Supervisor Lannom hosted a meeting in response to ours and other members of the Bighorn Advocate Groups’ letters. However, domestic sheep had already been turned out on the allotments of concern (on June 1st).  Half an hour prior to the meeting, we were provided with a hard copy of the Forests’ Response to our recommendations. 
The Forest chose not to adopt any substantive portion of the recommendations; instead, they chose to use the following rationale to comply with the 2010 ROD: “The Forest Service sets permit requirements and allows the permittee to establish the management context…”  I think it is accurate to say, HCPC and our allies in attendance, which included representatives from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Nez Perce, Western Watersheds, and The Wilderness Society, are extremely discouraged by the Forest Service’ response.
Bighorn protection is not a popular idea among the small number of permittees who utilize our public lands to support massive domestic sheep operations in Idaho.  These powerful few have lobbied hard and continue to put tremendous pressure on the Forest Service to place their interests above those of threatened bighorn sheep.  Due to this heavy pressure, the victories we’ve worked so hard on over so many years for wild bighorn are not yet fully realized and we know we have to dedicate elevated efforts to the cause. 
Since the June meeting with the Payette, Veronica Warnock, HCPC’s Conservation Director, has taken the point on HCPC’s bighorn work. HCPC remains committed to saving wild bighorn herds.  Veronica and the Bighorn Advocacy Group will keep the pressure on the Payette Forest Service—and the heavily subsidized grazing permittees—as long as it takes to gain lasting protections for these magnificent animals of the canyons.
 - Darilyn Parry Brown
Executive Director, Hells Canyon Preservation Council

Snow Basin Update

HCPC is seeking a Preliminary Injunction to stop the release and logging of two timber sales in the Snow Basin Vegetation Management Project.  The Skull and Empire sale areas within the project contain thousands of old growth trees and Bull trout habitat.  

On July 8th, HCPC Executive Director Darilyn Parry Brown testified in federal court to the fact the Forest Service WILL cut large old-growth trees, particularly on the Skull sale, if an injunction is not awarded.  
HCPC staff and volunteers visited old growth trees and stands in Skull in May and July provided proof the Forest Service is planning to remove many more ancient trees than it originally disclosed through the NEPA process, thus violating many environmental laws and its own decision.  
Judge Hernandez’s decision on the injunction is expected by July 18th when the Skull sale is scheduled to be released.