A robust conversation at the Owyhee Town Hall in Adrian, Oregon

November 9, 2015

Rafts on Owyhee River, Photo Credit: Leon Werdinger

By Borden Beck, Oregon Chapter High Desert Committee


On October 29, I attended a Town Hall meeting in the small town of Adrian, Oregon, to share opinions and information about protecting the Owyhee Canyonlands. Adrian is the last small community before heading south into the vast expanse of the so far relatively undeveloped landscape that makes up the Owyhee. The meeting had been organized by state Rep. Cliff Bentz and was attended by about 500 people, including a slate of local officials and representatives from both Sen. Wyden’s and Rep Walden’s office.

While the majority of the attendees were undoubtedly locals from Malheur County, a good number of people also came from Bend, Boise, and even Portland, like me. I came as an individual, but also as one participating with the Sierra Club in the Owyhee Coalition, a group of nearly a dozen environmental and recreational organizations spearheading the effort to gain permanent protection for Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands.

The Owyhee Coalition has come up with a proposal to protect up to 2.5 million acres of this landscape with a mixture of Wilderness and National Conservation Area designations (see map of the proposal here). We are proposing this to be a legislated action, although similar protections could be achieved through a National Monument proclamation by President Obama’s administration in the event of congressional inaction.

The Owyhee region is perhaps the largest unroaded and undeveloped – and yet still unprotected – landscape in the lower 48 states and contains stunning geological formations, native cultural resources, critical wildlife habit, and unsurpassed recreation opportunities. It is also a long way from the rest of Oregon.

Adrian town hall; Photo Credit: Borden Beck

Adrian town hall; Photo Credit: Borden Beck

The Town Hall began with officials sharing their views briefly, and then Brent Fenty from ONDA (Oregon Natural Desert Association) presented the bones of the wilderness/NCA proposal that the Coalition has put forth. In addition to sharing reasons for protecting the landscape such as the very real threat of oil and gas exploration, he concisely tried to dispel misinformation about the proposal such as the notion of imagined road closures and grazing restrictions. The Coalition presentation was followed by a long session of brief public comments alternating between opponents and proponents of additional protection.

Those opposed to protection in general could be said to view the land as best protected by people living in the area – the “locals” – and that the region does not need any additional protection or government interference. They also are very fearful that some protected status will change their lifestyle and livelihood by restricting use, or “locking it up,” as they like to say.

Those in favor shared the benefits to some form of protection, such as the economic boost that increased recreation will provide (and has provided elsewhere with protective status), and of course we shared concerns about mining and increased off road vehicle use. We also shared the notion that these are in fact public lands that belong to everyone, not just the local community. I live in Oregon. I have all my life. I care deeply about the Owyhee region and am in love with it too. I deserve a say in how it is managed.

West Little Owyhee River Canyon; Photo Credit: Tim Neville

West Little Owyhee River Canyon; Photo Credit: Tim Neville

In general it is fair to say that this issue highlights the urban/rural divide we so often encounter in our state and elsewhere. It also highlights differing perceptions as to who should be allowed to make decisions about public lands management. And last, it brings out the deep disdain for the federal government that exists in some communities. There is clearly a lack of trust by local residents for both the federal government, as well as environmental organizations and those of us who advocate from Portland or Bend.

Where this lack of trust originates is complicated, but it does rest both in different values and experience, as well as misinformation spouted and believed. To go forth with this proposal, we will need to find a way encourage dialogue with local officials and residents who have been reluctant to do so, to engage in a process that will find some common or negotiated ground, something other than an all or none attitude. I stumbled into being the last person in favor to get called to speak and that was my attempted message – that we need to work together and that those unequivocally opposed to any form of protection will be left out of the conversation.

You can be part of this process by stepping up to take the time and call our U.S. Senators and ask him to take leadership to provide permanent protection for our Owyhee Canyonlands. We (the Owyhee Coalition) believe the time is NOW to encourage our senior Senator to act. Let him know you care enough to take action and that you believe we all have a say in how our public lands are managed. This landscape of the Owyhee deserves protection for future generations. Click here for our Senators’ phone contacts and a few talking points.

 The next day, Oregon Chapter Conservation Director Rhett Lawrence and I were able to accompany some of the Owyhee Coalition members for a short visit to Leslie Gulch in the Owyhee country to unwind (see photo below). If you have not been there, put it on your bucket list!

Owyhee Coalition at Leslie Gulch; Photo Credit: Borden Beck

Owyhee Coalition at Leslie Gulch; Photo Credit: Borden Beck

Clearcut 70% of our State Forests? Not the best idea!

October 29, 2015

On October 19th, a subcommittee of the Board of Forestry met to discuss alternative management plans for the Tillamook & Clatsop state forests.  Any new plan needs to improve conservation AND make the Department of Forestry financially viable. This ongoing process has been dominated by a timber industry proposal to manage the forest as two zones: 70% for industrial clearcutting and 30% for conservation.

The Board directed the Department to model this proposal and the results are…not good.

Conservation: Under the current plan, 51% of the forest is open to clearcutting, 18% is thinned to create complex forest habitat, roughly 27% is not logged because it buffers streams, provides habitat to endangered species, or is too steep. The remaining 4% is roads, campgrounds, rock quarries, and power-line right-of-ways.

Photo by Francis Eatherington

Industrial Timber Land (photo by Francis Eatherington)

The new model shows 69% of the forest open to private industrial style clearcutting, and 27% of the forest protected. This alone is a drastic reduction in conservation acres. On top of that, the private industrial model would have very negative impacts on habitat compared to the current plan, which leaves more standing live trees, standing dead trees, and downed wood. The industrial model also involves more aerial pesticide application.

See what the model looks like on the Tillamook district and on the Clatsop forest (Astoria district).

Financial Viability: 
It turns out that when you liquidate your asset by intensive clearcutting, the returns don’t last long. The model showed that the plan would pay for itself for about 25 years, after which costs far outpace revenue, leaving the Department worse off than it is now.Revenue vs. Costs

There are additional concerns. Based on district level groundtruthing, Department staff hinted that implementing this plan would result in less harvest than predicted. Moreover, there is a likelihood that counties and forest district would face drastic boom/bust cycles rather than steady, predictable income.

What’s next? Some timber industry modeling experts hope that there is more inventory than is currently assumed and that the forest will grow faster in the future with better stocks of wood. However, there is also reason to be pessimistic as the recent modeling didn’t account for likely forest disturbances such as wind storms or floods.

The Department is moving forward to refine their model, but so far it seems that a 70/30 fails to improve financial viability and drastically reduces conservation on our state forests.

Wilson River 2

#salmon, #orforest, #steelhead, #Tillamook, #Clatsop, #logging, #clearcut

Speak up for Oregon’s wolves!

September 21, 2015


You may have already heard the news: California is now home to its first known gray wolf pack, dubbed the Shasta Pack, in nearly a century! While biologists are working to determine the origin of the Shasta Pack’s breeding pair, the most likely answer is that they traveled from Oregon. With successful recovery in California dependent on wolves dispersing from Oregon, and the future of Oregon’s own wolf population up in the air, it is vital we make sure Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission isn’t eliminating crucial protections for wolves.

There are currently 81 known wolves in Oregon, with only one pack residing in the Cascades – OR7’s own Rogue Pack. Despite this fledgling population, special interest groups are hard at work trying to convince the Commission that it needs to be easier to kill Oregon’s wolves. In the coming months, the Commission will be considering changes to how Oregon manages its gray wolf population, including whether to remove wolves from the state endangered species list.

Oregon’s current wolf management plan, emphasizing non-lethal management practices, is actually considered one of the most successful in the nation. But it is in danger of being disassembled before wolves can make a true recovery. It is not time for the Oregon Fish and Wildlfe Commission to declare “mission accomplished” and walk away from its commitment to Oregon’s wolves!

We need you to speak up for Oregon’s wolves!


  • Attend the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Wolf Delisting Hearing

When: October 9th, 8am

Where: Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center, 88416 1st. Ave, Florence, Oregon

  • Send Comments to odfw.commission@state.or.us.  Be sure to include “Comments on Wolf Delisting Proposal” in the email subject line.

For further information or talking points for comments, contact Sierra Club volunteer Joanie Beldin (joanibldn@gmail.com) or Oregon Wild’s Stephanie Taylor (stephanie@oregonwild.org).

Gray wolves here and in California are counting on you!

Applaud the Clean Power Plan: Release

August 3, 2015

August 3, 2015
Contact:  Andy Maggi (503) 238-0442 x301

Oregon Sierra Club Statement on Release of the Clean Power Plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The EPA and the Obama Administration released the final version of the landmark Clean Power Plan. The plan will give States the opportunity to craft their own plan to reduce carbon emissions based on their existing energy portfolio.

As the U.S. moves towards cleaner energy with the Clean Power Plan, Oregon can continue to lead on clean energy and climate change by pursuing  Coal to Clean legislation and supporting a ban on coal exports.

In response, Sierra Club Oregon Chapter Executive Director Andy Maggi released the following statement:

“The Clean Power Plan is the most significant single action any President has ever taken to tackle the most serious threat to the health of our families: the climate crisis.

“Today marks the end of an era for dirty power plants that have spewed dangerous pollution into our air without limits for too long.  It signifies a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities.  Today is a victory for every American who wants clean air to breathe, and for the millions of activists and concerned citizens who organized to make sure this day would finally come.

“As we celebrate this national milestone, here in Oregon we see more opportunities for our state to regain its position as a nationwide climate leader. State lawmakers  recently adjourned after failing to pass key Coal to Clean legislation, which would have reduced our reliance on dirty, out-of-state coal plants, as well as other environmental bills. Combined with  tightening bans on coal exports coming through Oregon and state carbon pricing, this legislation would have been a step forward for Oregon  towards cleaner energy and a more sustainable future. We hope the Clean Power Plan will give our leaders the confidence to continue reducing our use of coal and develop the renewable energy that Oregonians want.”

Willamette River Revival

July 31, 2015

With unseasonably hot temperatures in Portland, lots of people are taking to the Willamette River for recreation and relief.

Although the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality states that it “is safe for swimming and other recreational uses” except when combined sewer overflow conditions are present, the portion of the river from the Broadway Bridge to Sauvie Island is a Superfund site that is currently under review for clean up by the EPA.

Read the pdf report here: WRR-newsletter-1-draft6

Willamette Blog Post

Years of industrial use have polluted the river with heavy metals and other toxins that have settled in the sediment and endanger fish and wildlife. The pollution is a serious risk for communities that have traditionally fished in the river.

Portland Harbor Community Coalition (PHCC) and others have been working to help communities get access to information about the clean up, give input on the EPA’s plans, and share stories about why the river is important to everyone. Read the latest bulletin from the PHCC and the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group to learn more about the EPA plan and how you can get involved:And help the PHCC celebrate the progress and vision for a clean and healthy river at the Willamette River Revival party this weekend at Cathedral Park.


A Day in Owyhee Country

July 28, 2015

The day is decidedly HOT. There is no shade save for the occasional cloud. The view is expansive to say the least. The Owyhee Canyonlands offers up unexpected surprises as well for the intrepid explorer. Pick a point on the map and say “Let’s go here”! Walk cross country past lizards, sparrow nests, sego lilys, a rattlesnake surprise… and suddenly the uplands open up to a deeply carved canyon, seemingly impenetrable. Vertical walls lead down to turquoise green pools, tempting the imagination, yet a world away if you do not have the wings of a swallow. Photographing this landscape is hard to do justice to because the camera does not accommodate 180 degree views; you simply can’t fit it all in.

bb Rattlesnake

It is not hard to hike someplace in this remote landscape and feel that you may be the first person to have visited this spot in a decade; there are no footprints. The scenery is so stunning, so wild, that you wince at the notion that this landscape still has not received the recognition and the protection it deserves.

bb West Little Owyhee hike 5 (1)

A little farther toward the end of the hike, a pause for a rest, and a short walk to a small rim and what looks on the map to be a tiny seasonal wet spot, just out of curiosity and some compelling message to explore further. Upon approaching the rim, the magic  reveals itself as a panel of petroglyphs, certainly almost unknown to modern adventurers.

This kind of stuff is not in the guidebook which makes it all the more special. You feel as if you have stumbled upon some sacred site that has withstood time. A particular petroglyph portrays two people holding hands with energy waves emanating from their head, enclosed by the sun perhaps. It is easy to let the imagination run wild with speculation of meaning, both of this place and events.

bb petroglyph 2

Do I want more people to visit this spot. Of course not and it is remote enough to still withstand time. Some say that protecting this landscape will lead to it being over run by people, but leaving it unprotected will also over time lead to more dangerous development, mining, fracking, off road vehicles, wind farms, etc.

bb West Little Owyhee 7

If you believe in protecting the Owyhee Canyonlands, cherish the remote opportunities to explore, value intact ecosystems for wildlife, then join me and the Sierra Club in advocating for permanent protection. Please sign this petition and check out the Club’s efforts to work with other environmental and recreational groups to advocate for the Owyhee. It is a special place indeed!

Borden Beck

News from Salem: Can we just adjourn already?

June 26, 2015

Well, we’re nearing the end of the 2015 session of the Oregon Legislature, and I think it’s fair to say it’s going to shake out as a disappointing session for the environmental community. Sierra Club staff have been closely tracking bills and meeting with legislators in Salem to advocate for clean, renewable energy, wildlife protection, our state forests, and more.

state capitol

But in short, it’s been a lot of work, with not much to show for it in terms of real conservation accomplishments. We’ll have a full rundown post-session, but here’s a quick summary of some of the work we’ve been doing in our state capitol:

  • Clean Fuels Program: If you’ve paid any attention at all to the news recently, you’ve likely heard the saga of the near-repeal of the Clean Fuels Program. Extending the sunset on Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program – which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Oregon’s transportation sector by 10% over the next decade – was one of the Oregon Conservation Network’s Priorities for a Healthy Oregon. Though it was the subject of much contention, the bill finally passed earlier this session and has been one of the few environmental victories in 2015. Unfortunately, it got wrapped up in partisan squabbling over a transportation package and was very nearly snatched away from us. While it is not a perfect program and is merely a first step toward solving our climate crisis, having it repealed would have been a real setback for the environmental community. Luckily, as of today, that effort appears to have stalled and the Clean Fuels Program is likely safe for now.
  • Toxic-Free Toys: Senate Bill 478, the Toxic Free Kids Act, will protect kids from exposure to toxics in children’s products by requiring manufacturers to notify health officials when children’s products sold in Oregon contain chemicals of concern, and then to phase out those chemicals for three product categories. The bill passed out of the Ways and Means Committee just this week and the prospects seem good for its passage.
  • Coal to Clean Energy: One of our biggest priorities coming into session – and another of the Oregon Conservation Network’s priorities – was our Coal-to-Clean package. Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 2729 would have moved Oregon’s investor-owned electric utilities – Pacific Power and PGE – off coal by 2025 and required that the replacement power for coal was largely renewable energy like solar and wind. And even though Oregonians overwhelmingly support the idea of getting coal out of our energy mix, and even though many legislators were initially on board with the proposal, the legislation died in committee. We were quite disappointed with that outcome and hope to bring these concepts back in the future, as we are committed to finding the right path to reach the broader goals of transitioning off coal to clean energy.
  • Solar and other clean energy: We’ve also worked on a number of other bills related to clean energy that remain alive in the 2015 session. House Bill 2447 will extend the very successful Residential Energy Tax Credit for home solar energy. HB 2632 would help to incentivize the creation of utility-scale solar power in the state. These solar energy bills are currently still moving through the legislative process and have the potential to be positive steps in the right direction if they can pass.

In addition, several bills relating to limiting or putting a price on carbon were introduced this session. House Bill 3470 – which would create a “cap and delegate” program similar to California’s – is the only one that remains alive. We’ll continue to monitor and support this legislation.

  • Elliott State Forest: The Sierra Club played a leading role in the coalition that got the Elliott State Forest designated as an OCN priority. As a process within the Department of State Lands (DSL) plays out to determine the ultimate future of the Elliott, we were working in the legislature to set up a process by which such a solution could be implemented. But the trust land transfer program we and Rep. Tobias Read were working to establish with HB 3474 died in committee on the bill deadline day. On the bright side, we were pleased to see the demise of HB 3533, which would have given the State Land Board and DSL license to sell off parcels of the Elliott to the highest bidder. We hope to be able to bring legislation in a future session to help reach a good solution for the Elliott.
  • Defending Wildlife: Just two weeks into the 2015 session, we saw renewed attacks on Oregon’s wildlife. House Bills 2050 and 2181 were two of the many introduced bills that would have allowed counties to opt out of a statewide ban on the practice of hunting cougars with dogs. Thankfully, those bills – along with a bill that would have prohibited the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission from including the gray wolf on the list of threatened or endangered species – died in committee and we seem to have mostly escaped any mischief on wildlife issues.
  • Suction Dredge Mining: One other bill we were supporting was Senate Bill 830, which would have taken steps to improve the regulation of suction dredge mining in our state. In addition to putting a cap on the total number of suction dredge mining permits, SB 830 would have placed limitations on mining – both in-river and on uplands – where it would undermine Oregon’s investment in habitat restoration for salmon and other critical species. The bill seems to have died late in session, but we plan to work with partners to bring back similar legislation in the 2016 session.

We’ll keep plugging away these last few weeks in Salem and will see where we end up. But we can’t do it without you, so stay tuned for ways to get involved and help pass good legislation to protect the Oregon we all love.


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