Forecast: Winter and back to work

Snow on the hills in the headwaters of the Walla Walla River in NE Oregon

For those of you who have been following my hiking adventures this summer and fall as I work to revise and republish Wendell Wood’s 1991 “Walking Guide to Oregon’s Ancient Forests”, welcome to the latest installment. This will also be my last post on this subject for a while, as my sabbatical is at an end I will be returning to my regular job as Western Oregon Field Coordinator for Oregon Wild next week. That doesn’t mean the book is done, though! There’s still plenty of writing and research to do to complete this project between now and spring before it gets sent to The Mountaineers to prep it for publication.  

 

Since I last blogged in late September, a lot has happened! 

  • I made a trip back to southern Oregon and hiked my way from the northeast corner of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness down to the Oregon Caves National Monument, over into the Applegate valley and past a Bigfoot trap, and then into the Soda Mountain Wilderness for some great viewpoints along the Pacific Crest Trail. (View over the Applegate Valley to the right)
  • I also made it back out to Northeast Oregon, not quite beating the first snows of the season (see photo up top).  I hiked in the upper reaches of the Umatilla watershed in the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness, and hiked the part of the South Fork Walla Walla Trail I was able to access. This latter trail held a fun surprise (see story below)! 
  • I got to some places closer to home too - on the lower end of the North Umpqua (though much of this corridor is still closed from this summer’s fire activity), Larrison Creek near Oakridge, and a few more. 
  • And… I made it to the Upper Rogue River at Union Creek and the South Fork Rogue River thanks to a bit of warm rainy weather to melt some of the snow.  

Stats on the project to date: 

Miles hiked: About 375

Areas explored and hikes completed: About 110

Best wildlife sighting: Moose! (see story below)

Best tiny ancient forest grove discovery: Oxbow Regional Park on the Sandy River (Photo on left)

 

 

I also had a few really enlightening experiences worth sharing: 

 

- Post-fire logging is devastating, forest fires are not. 

One of the hikes I did in southern Oregon was to Babyfoot Lake, on the east side of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. This area burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire, and the landscape surrounding the trailhead, and most of the trail, is covered in standing, fire-killed trees. Logging areas that burned in the Biscuit Fire was a huge controversy in the mid-2000s. The Forest Service proposed “salvaging” nearly 20,000 acres of burned forest, including within inventoried roadless areas that would otherwise have been protected from logging. Citizen outcry and litigation were ultimately unable to stop the logging, despite mounting scientific and economic arguments against it, and some of the forest around the Babyfoot Lake trailhead was logged. What was very obvious to me as I hiked down to the lake (which is protected from logging as Wilderness, and still stunningly beautiful after the fire) was how much better the unlogged portion of the forest looked. Ok, “better” may be a subjective term… What I mean is that there was a marked difference in how the forest ecosystem was recovering in logged versus unlogged areas. In areas left alone to recover naturally, there were a lot of standing dead trees (snags), casting shade on the forest floor. The soil, which hadn’t been disturbed by logging equipment or roads, was growing a diversity of shrubs and young trees from lasting seed banks and the remaining live trees in the canopy. Fallen logs were decomposing and returning nutrients to the soil. In stark contrast in the logged areas, no snags remained, and the replanted trees were smaller and the shrub component was nearly nonexistent. There were no down logs, and no shade. I saw all of this with my own eyes, but scientific research has also made similar observations.

 

Some might see this hike as sad, imagining (or remembering) what it was like before the fire. But the really sad part?: Not learning from examples like this. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me in our current anti-science government atmosphere, but it’s really disappointing to see this come up all over again. After this summer’s fires, the timber industry and its supporters in Congress are pulling out all the stops to try to expedite logging in burned areas - despite the science and best interest of these delicate ecosystems. Organizations like Oregon Wild are speaking out, but we’re going to need a lot of help, and understanding of how fire works in forests by the public, to push back these terrible ideas that will turn recovering forests into wastelands like the areas that have been logged on the edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. 

 

- Wildlife just need a little space. 

About 4 miles up the South Fork Walla Walla Trail outside of Milton-Freewaser in early November, I saw two moose. Yup, moose! There is a small (a few dozen) moose living in northeastern Oregon, having wandered into the state a decade or two ago from Idaho or Washington. These creatures are reclusive, and the area they live in one of the most remote in the state. I bet that’s why they’re there… These two (a mother and calf) and most of the Oregon population can be found in the vast wild forests of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness and adjacent roadless areas like the Forks of the Walla Walla. It’s no coincidence that the best habitat for many wildlife is where there are no roads, few people, and natural forests, meadows, and streams. Wolves, elk, deer, mountain goats, wild sheep, cougars, lynx, bobcat, and many others would likely agree. I feel incredibly lucky to have shared a moment or two, at fairly close range, with these magnificent and rare (in Oregon) animals. It pays to get off the beaten path!

 

- It pays to take a step back.

As I wrap up this portion of my work on this book project and return to the job I’ve been doing for 14 years - advocating for sound forest policy and engaging Oregon Wild supporters to do the same - I’m left with some interesting perspective. Over the summer and fall of hiking all over Oregon in some of its most beautiful forests, I was really able to step into the shoes of the  average outdoor lover going for a hike. Most times, I set aside my experience with politics, policies, agency management, and advocacy campaigns and just enjoyed the forest. Now, as I put my “Oregon Wild forest advocate” hat back on, it will be all the more meaningful to wear it, because I know what went and goes into ensuring that all those forests I’ve enjoyed for months are still there. Reengaging with the Forest Service’s planning and implementation of timber sales and other management, with efforts in Congress to gut environmental laws and protections for these forests, and ways to engage citizen forest lovers to protect these forests and ecosystems will mean more than ever - because I know they are essential to ensuring these forests are still standing for centuries to come. It is my hope that if every person out hiking in one of Oregon’s ancient forests has a bit more understanding of the same, they will be more likely to help save them. When Oregon's Ancient Forests is published in 2019, it will get us closer to fulfilling that goal!

 

 

Yours for our ancient forests,

 Chandra