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!