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We’re Back in the Field, and it Sure Feels Good!

With a fully vaccinated staff and most of the Greater Hells Canyon Region qualifying as “low risk”, we are cautiously beginning to operate with the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror. While we still don’t know what the “new normal” will look like in the longer run, we have finally started to return to the field work that is so critical to our mission. And, yes. It feels good!

After a year-long shutdown of any in-person meetings, gatherings, or outings, the thought of resuming field work seemed impossible to me only a few months ago. Yet, in the blink of an eye, it’s happening! And, it has been wonderful seeing our staff getting out in the field and working alongside our partners over the past month.

On south-facing canyon slopes, the spring plants and flowers pop early, signaling to traditional gatherers and wildlife alike that the season of abundance has begun. In April, Connections Coordinator Christina deVillier and Indigenous Relations Liaison Tiyana Casey, joined their Camas to Condors partners along the Grande Ronde River near Troy for mutual education, native foods gathering, and conservation action planning.

Photo by Christina deVillier.

This month, Christina is teaming up with Rich Hatfield, Senior Conservation Biologist at Xerces Society, to survey and monitor bumblebee populations.

After bumblebee surveys were disrupted by the pandemic, we eagerly signed up to support Rich’s effort to complete surveys in priority areas in our region where data is needed for the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas. Surveys were conducted on Starvation Ridge in north Wallowa County, and last week, staff and volunteers joined in the effort by surveying on private lands in Grant County. Next month surveys will occur in the Greenhorns of Baker and Grant Counties. (Keep an eye out for more information on that one.)

Photo by Jared Kennedy.

Jared Kennedy, who leads up the Blue Mountains Trail, joined the Bitterbrush Chapter of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness for a campout at Bates State Park along the Middle Fork John Day River and on the Blue Mountains Trail. He led a short hike on the trail and joined the Great Old Broads at Camp Creek to volunteer with a riparian tree planting project that’s being managed by the North Fork John Day Watershed Council.

Photo courtesy of Laurie Eimans.

A return to the field also means a return for a key part of our core protections work of evaluating and providing public input on proposed actions and projects by the U.S. Forest Service. GHCC’s Veronica Warnock and Brian Kelly recently attended a field trip to tour and learn more about the upcoming Morgan Nesbit Forest Resiliency Project which covers some 87,000 acres on the Wallowa Valley Ranger District and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Having their eyes on the ground, talking to the agency decision makers and other stakeholders, is invaluable for our ability to advocate on behalf of native species, intact natural systems, and the sound legal management of public lands. If you want to weigh in on this proposed project, pre-scoping input is being accepted now.

Additional monitoring, or "ground-truthing," is planned for other Forest Service logging projects, like the Lower Joseph Creek project, which is already underway.

In addition to our return to in-person field work, our Gala Committee has started making plans for this year’s Fall Gala. I am so excited to announce the plan - the tentative plan - is to see everyone in-person back at the Catholic Church Parish Hall in La Grande on October 16, 2021! Of course, we’ll continue to monitor the CDC and Governor’s guidelines around holding gatherings. For now, please save the date! While we all hope to see you and the GHCC community for a night of celebration after a challenging year, the Gala Committee and I would love to hear your thoughts about our 2021 Fall Gala (click here to complete our one-question survey). Please, let me know what feels most comfortable for you.

Just before the pandemic hit, GHCC completed a five-year strategic plan. A major part of that plan included making more ways to connect with you, our members and supporters. We envisioned hikes, camp-outs, trail maintenance outings, potlucks, presentations, and even dance parties! And, while none of us knows what the months ahead will look like, I am holding hope they will include many more days in the field and numerous opportunities to be together. Thanks to you, GHCC has held strong through this tough time, but we have truly missed seeing each other. We’ve missed seeing you.

Until soon - Darilyn


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