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.