The Wild Owyhee

May 26, 2016

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM

Far in the southeastern corner of the state, beyond the dry mountain shadows of the Cascade Range, past high-desert plateaus and cow-spotted ranchland, on the desolate fringe of the great basin, lies the Owyhee. Oregon is known for its forests, but its greatest wilderness is actually a desert. One of the last truly untouched places left in the continental United States, the Owyhee Canyonlands stretch for more than 2 million acres. And yet, the Owyhee is still not a federally protected Wilderness Area.

Deep within the Owyhee, there are no roads. This is one of the last places to encounter openness. Walk for days among the cliffs and the bunchgrass valleys, with both horizons stretched before you. The richness of desert rock shifts to sagebrush steppe and upland plains. In a place so enormous, it’s easy to believe that this is the entire world. Wade through fields of lupine and balsamroot in the evening air, and see, perhaps, a herd of pronghorn antelope shift by, tinted orange in the first few moments of sunset. All is quieted by distance and by wind. The stars filter in, and you see what ancient skies once looked like. The Milky Way, at first a ghost, rises higher. The vibrant end of it is neither matte nor hollow, somehow reminiscent of a reflection on water.


Photo by Bob Wick, BLM

This is how the world once was. Before light pollution. Before cars. Before cell-phones. The Owyhee provides a diversity of wild ecosystems. There are chiseled red cliffs that look like they belong in the southwest. There are blue-green shrublands that serve as home for sage grouse. There are grassy hills, and steep river canyons, and sandy soils where rare wildflowers bloom.

Opportunities for outdoor recreation have made the Owyhee an increasingly popular destination for adventurers. Hiking, camping, backpacking; hunting, fishing, rafting. The Owyhee offers something for everyone, including daredevils like stand-up paddle boarder Paul Clark.

The Owyhee River is just as wild as the rest of the Canyonlands. River-carved canyons form high walls around swift waters—including a class VI rapid in the upper stretches of the river. Until Paul Clark completed his expedition on March 31st, no one had ever ventured down the entire Owyhee on a stand-up paddleboard. Imagine that—balancing on a small, inflatable board, hauling a few extra pounds of gear down one of the wildest rivers in the country. The journey spanned 150 miles and took nine days. Along with his paddling partner Torrey Piatt, Paul braved narrow canyon walls, unpredictable water levels, and rapids with names like ‘Tombstone’, ‘Ledge’, and ‘Shark’s Tooth’. The two emerged from the lower river tired, victorious, and forever changed.


Photo by BLM

We’re lucky that there are still wild places fit for such adventures. But, although the Owyhee is wild, not all of it is designated Wilderness. The Owyhee is so large that it spreads over into Idaho. Our neighbor has declared their piece of the Owyhee as a Wilderness Area, which means that it will never be mined or developed, and it will forever retain its wild nature. The Oregon side of the Owyhee is currently vulnerable to ATV use, development, or other degrading uses of the land. The Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, in partnership with the Wild Owyhee campaign, is working to achieve greater protections for the Oregon expanses of the Owyhee Canyonlands, whether through Wilderness?National Conservation Area or National Monument designation.  You can help by signing the petition or volunteering with the Oregon Sierra Club.

The Owyhee is a spectacular, rare place. It’s far from all things we might call civilization. A place of open skies, of desolate cliffs tall enough to catch the sun, of elk herds, and big-horn sheep, and swallows, and eagles, of larkspur, and penstemons, wild rivers, and snow-cold waterfalls. Far off, on the other side of the mountains, beyond the ponderosa pine forests, in the southeastern corner of the state, you expect to find nothing at all, but you find just the opposite—everything.

Earth Day: Past and Present

April 19, 2016

In recent years, Earth Day has come to be associated with buying green. Earth Day is coming up; buy compostable bamboo plates for your next picnic. Earth Day is coming up; offset your airline miles by donating to rain-forest preservation. Earth Day is coming up; buy yourself a pair of athletic pants made from recycled plastic bottles.

While mindful purchases do make a difference, the greater meaning of Earth Day is often drowned in a puddle of consumerism. Shouldn’t Earth Day be about activism? When it first began, Earth Day was a revolution, one intended to question our values. It wasn’t about buying things; it was about demanding change.

Proxy Falls Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon, USA

Proxy Falls
Three Sisters Wilderness,
Oregon, USA

It’s been 46 years since the first Earth Day. April 22nd, 1970 was a day of nationwide rallies, protests, demonstrations, and environmental activism. College students, environmental organizations—including the Sierra Club—and political groups joined together to build awareness around the many environmental ills they had witnessed; pollution, sewage dumping, toxic waste, oil spills, and declining wilderness.

The man behind Earth Day was Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. The 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California inspired him to host a national teach-in on the environment—which ended up becoming the extensive mass of activism known as Earth Day. He recruited Congressman Pete McCloskey and Harvard graduate student Denis Hayes—an activist against the Vietnam War—and a staff of 85 people to help him plan events all over the country. Their work paid off; the public outcry of 20 million people and an influx of awareness led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, which continue to uphold the environmental values of those original protestors.

As we all know, Earth Day didn’t stop there. It became an annual event, serving as a celebration of the Earth’s beauty, a kindling of hope for a greener future, as well as a tool for building movements and amassing support for the environment.

Rather than remaining an American holiday, Earth Day went on to become globally recognized. Thanks again to organization by Denis Hayes, 141 countries participated in Earthy Day 1990. Efforts were focused on promoting recycling and halting rainforest destruction. Restoration, tree planting, and community works caught on as new ways take action. Earth Day became a chance for different cultures to band together, and to unite over something we all care about—the well-being of our shared planet.

In the new millennium, much of the focus has been on climate change. Protestors have demanded swift action, a transition to

Getting kids outside is hugely important to public health.

clean energy, and an end to fossil fuel use. Both 2000 and 2010 were big years for Earth Day. The international approach was upheld and broadened to over 180 countries. Hayes has continued to organize awareness events worldwide, including a campaign to plant over 1 billion trees. With another milestone year coming up in 2020, more big events are in the works.

Earth Day 2016 may not be a milestone by number, but it will surely be remembered for years to come. On April 22nd, China and the U.S. will band together to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. By taking early initiative in signing the agreement, both countries hope to set a precedent for the remaining 55 countries who need to sign on. With climate change accelerating, this action is crucial. Public support, as well as a demand for further solutions to climate change, will play an integral part in developing a clean energy future.1384381_10151988737616213_1384143042826289730_n

The history of Earth Day is proof of its power—Earth Day allows us to grab the world’s attention. It gives us a stage on which to demand change. It should not be an opportunity to ease our guilt. It should not leave us saying, we ate locally today; we bought organic socks, so we’ve paid our penance for the year. We should be making environmentally friendly choices each and every day, with Earth Day serving as a magnifying glass and a microphone; it should be the spurring point of action, the rapids before the waterfall, the point of coalescence for all those who care. Earth Day is a powerful tool; let’s use it.

You can help put the activism back in Earth Day (and every day) by getting involved in your community or volunteering with local environmental groups, like the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club.

Volunteer Spotlight: Dian Odell

March 25, 2016

SI Exif

Dian Odell has been volunteering with the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club since August 2014. She comes in twice a week to help out in the office. “Usually entry of donations and event attendance into Helen (the central Sierra Club database), preparing for mailings, research, procedure documentation. But also computer support, ‘cleaning’, optimizing, [and] upgrading,” Dian said.

When she saw a posting for the Sierra Club on a local volunteering website, she knew it would be a good fit for her. “I certainly support the work of the Sierra Club, and the work they wanted done was certainly within my skill set,” Dian said.

As a retiree, Dian enjoys having a schedule and a routine, and maintaining structure in her days. “My objectives are to be useful, learn new things, and work with nice people,” Dian said. “I certainly have all those working with Hilary and the others at the Ankeny office.”

Dian grew up in Oregon, attending primary school in La Grande. “[It was a] small town, in the 1950’s—idyllic for kids,” Dian said. In middle school she moved to Portland and, aside from four years of college in California, and two years of the Peace Corps in South Korea, she’s been a Portlander ever since.

Dian keeps active in her daily life; she takes swimming and yoga classes; she’s an usher for Portland’5 and Portland Center Stage; and she spends ample time with her friends and grandchildren. These days she said she does “more ‘walking’ instead of ‘hiking’”, but she still loves being outdoors. She enjoys traveling to Central Oregon “for the different weather and smells there”, to the mountains for downhill skiing, and to the Columbia and Willamette for water skiing and sailing.

Each week Dian spends 10-12 hours donating her time and talents to the Sierra Club. Volunteers like her breathe life into the Sierra Club and make our accomplishments possible. Thank you for your dedication to the environment, Dian!






Revolutionizing Oregon: the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan becomes law

March 24, 2016

SolarPanelsBy Francesca Varela

Nearly every day I hear news about climate change, and usually it’s not good. Just the other day I read something about how temperatures are rising more quickly than predicted; how the rate at which the seas will rise has probably been underestimated. I’ve been reading about water rationing, and superstorms; stagnant weather ridges, and marine life migrating north; shells disintegrating off the backs of sea snails, and mass extinctions rivaling the end-Cambrian. I read all these things with a sense of urgency and a sense of loss, but also with a sense of hope. Because, in the midst of these warnings, something good has emerged—a solution; one that will hopefully inspire others to follow our lead.

On March 11th, Governor Kate Brown signed the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan (Senate Bill 1547) into law. The bill’s supporters included environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Oregon’s two largest utility companies, PGE and Pacific Power, who were well aware of the economic threat of coal decline and eager to prioritize clean energy.

WindFarm.jpgBy 2035, these utility companies will be completely coal-free. The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan is an incremental process that allows the companies to ease into things while still maintaining a sense of climactic urgency. Improving upon existing Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), the Plan mandates that the companies derive a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources—27% by 2025, 35% by 2030, 45% by 2035, landing eventually at 50% by 2040.

This increased use of renewable energy and the eventual elimination of coal will allow Oregon to reach its goal of reducing carbon emissions to 75% below 1990 levels by 2050, and with no threat to consumers. The RPS can be temporarily suspended if meeting the requirement would interfere with grid reliability. Fair rates for customers are guaranteed long-term through the dispersion of renewable energy tax credits. And, if using more renewable energy would mean a rise in price of more than 4% for customers, the companies can postpone doing so. Considering the decreasing cost of renewables, however, they likely won’t need to.

Customers can also look forward to new opportunities, like a community solar program; a co-op of sorts in which you can invest in solar projects and claim ownership of them, reducing your electric bill while also making a positive environmental and social impact. 10% of the solar power generated from these programs is intended for low-income customers.

The Plan also includes a requirement that more energy come from small, local projects, including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Local green energy means local green jobs, and a boost to Oregon’s economy.Powerlines

Some of this clean energy will be used to expand electric transportation, decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels even further. Charging stations for electric cars, electric buses, and expanded public transportation can be expected as Pacific Power and PGE work on plans to build up our electric transportation sector.

The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan is revolutionary in its total commitment to eliminating energy from coal, but there’s still more that can be done. The Healthy Climate Bill (Senate Bill 1574)—a “cap-and-invest” plan that would fine polluting industries and use the money to fund green initiatives and to support communities threatened by environmental injustice—didn’t pass this legislative session, but the Sierra Club and its allies plan to resurrect it during the 2017 session with the hope of deepening Oregon’s commitment to a clean, just future. You can help by reaching out to your local representative and reminding them that the transition to a green economy is a high priority—and make sure to thank them for the work that has already been done on the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan.

News of Oregon’s new law has spread far and wide, making headlines in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, ABC News, and international newspapers like The Guardian. Oregon has become a world leader in the climate movement.

Haystack_Rock_Oregon.jpgThe sooner we do away with fossil fuels the less the oceans will rise, the less the water will acidify, the fewer animals will go extinct from habitat loss. Oregon will be coal-free by 2035. Only five years after that, at least half our energy will come from renewable resources. The passage of this act shows the rest of the country—and the world—that transitioning away from fossil fuels is positive and necessary. It’s without a doubt one of the most important things we will ever do as a society. Hopefully more states and countries will pass their own initiatives. Ours is a good beginning, and, hopefully, just that—the beginning.





Victory! Jordan Cove LNG Pipeline Denied

March 18, 2016

By Francesca Varela

How does this sound for a bad-news proposal? Stretch a 232-mile pipeline across forests and backyards, old-growth cedars and mushroom-sided streams, halfway across the state. Gouge the forest. Scar it. Fill said pipeline with natural gas—one of the dirtiest fuels available to us. Build a terminal in Coos Bay. Convert natural gas to liquid—AKA liquefied natural gas (LNG). Ship LNG to Asia. Stand at the edge of the wide Pacific and know that, across from it, the fuels will be burned and the greenhouse gases will rise and glisten and warm, and the entire world will be altered by it, perhaps beyond all of the gas pipeline

This proposed export facility (at first intended to be an import facility) was named the Jordan Cove Energy Project, and for over a decade its impending construction was fervently opposed by environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club. Activists held protests and raised awareness, collaborating with landowners whose properties would have been intersected by the adjoining Pacific Connector Pipeline. Their hard work paid off when, on Friday, March 11, the project’s application was denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Salem LNG Rally-May 26 2015

According to the FERC report, the denial has been issued “because the record does not support a finding that the public benefits of the Pacific Connector Pipeline outweigh the adverse effects on landowners.” And because the Jordan Cove export facility would be useless without the Pacific Connector Pipeline feeding it natural gas, FERC denied that application as well.

This is a victory for the many volunteers involved, for the communities who would have been impacted by eminent domain, and, of course, for the environment. Had the pipeline been approved, its construction would have led to expansive clear-cuts, denuding streams of important riparian shade that salmon and other fish rely on, and reducing habitat for endangered species like the northern spotted owl. Had the oceanside export facility also been approved, the Coos Bay estuary would have been dredged and degraded, negatively impacting already fragile marine life.

LNG tankerThe FERC denial is a good sign, but it’s not the end; there’s still a chance that the proposal could be reconsidered if the companies behind it—Veresen Inc. and Williams Partners—are able to convince officials of the market value and economic need of their project during the rehearing process. In fact, the entire approvals process is a complicated, many-stepped ordeal involving multiple permits and regulating agencies, both state and federal.

There are still many permits pending with various agencies of the State of Oregon, and it is not clear that those processes will be halted just because of the FERC denial. In order to ensure that the Jordan Cove Energy Project is killed, officially and completely, we need to continue voicing our own disapproval by contacting Governor Kate Brown and asking her to support the FERC decision and shut down the project for good. See volunteer leader Ted Gleichman’s blog post for more info!


The Hardesty Wildlands need your help!

February 5, 2016

View from Mt. June

What’s happened to all the wild places?

While once the whole world was wild, now we’re left only with dark pockets. Again and again we return to these hidden, mossy stream-sides, because we intrinsically feel better there. There’s something about the wind circling through high hemlock canopies, and the impacted delicacy of wet soil that makes us unmistakably happy.

Despite the scarcity of wild places, they remain threatened, primarily—and unsurprisingly—by logging interests.

One of these threatened beauties is the Hardesty Wildlands area. Two mountains—Hardesty and June—reside in this temperate rainforest containing over 7,000 acres of roadless, wilderness-quality lands. Only 30 miles southeast of Eugene, the Hardesty Wildlands are unblemished by the close proximity of the city; this is a forest free of roads, and rich with mature and old-growth trees.

A number of animals find refuge here among the ferns and the fallen logs, among the huckleberries and the giant Douglas firs, including spotted owls, elk, and eagles. Humans, as well, seek refuge on the 20 miles of hiking trails. In spring visitors may find wildflowers here, wild ginger and calypso orchids tucked along pathways to great mountain ridges, to wide views of the snow-struck cascades, to the blue haze of the coast range. In fall they may find mushrooms on the back side of a rotting log, or tucked at the base of a vine maple, the air cold and quiet except for the blustering song of a raven.

Old-growth forests like those found in Hardesty also help store carbon and decrease the effects of climate change. Hardesty’s forest-filtered, pristine streams provide clean water, eventually serving as the domestic water source for the nearby town of Cottage Grove. Although the Hardesty Wildlands are a priceless resource for all Oregonians, this is especially true for those in nearby cities like Eugene and Springfield who relish having this wild place in their backyard.

The movement to permanently protect Hardesty has been underway since the 1970’s. Through the combined efforts of the Sierra Club, Oregon Wild, and Cascadia Wildlands, the campaign continues today as groups seek to make the Hardesty Wildlands a federally designated Forest Conservation Area.

But recently, a major problem has emerged: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has opened up over 800 acres for commercial timber sales on the east side of Mt. June in what is known as the Lost Creek timber harvest plan. Two parcels of this plan have already been sold to the highest bidder. The Anthony Access parcel would see 108 acres thinned and 52 acres lost to clear-cutting—or what is euphemistically called “regeneration harvesting,” in which only six to eight trees are left standing per acre—in the Lost Creek Drainage, while the John’s Last Stand parcel would entail a loss of 49 acres to clear-cutting using helicopters. This proposed cut, sold at auction for just over $100,000, represents a modest short-term profit for the logging company, but poses a long-term impact to our publicly owned forest.

With less than 10% of the original old-growth forests remaining in Oregon, we must recognize that these last fragments of roadless forest hold incalculable value as a living complex of interrelated species. The Hardesty Wildlands must be saved and restored as a place for scientific study, and as a last holdout for wildlife habitat, water and air quality, recreation, and renewal of the human spirit.

Wildflowers on Mt. June

Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, and the Sierra Club filed a protest against the logging proposals in December 2015. The BLM is currently reviewing that protest and may make a decision to award, modify, or cancel the sale within the coming days. If they decide to approve the logging, these conservation groups may have to file an administrative appeal.

Take action today to help!

We can all share our voices with the BLM by signing these petitions by the Sierra Club and Cascadia Wildlands. For more information about the Hardesty Wildlands, or to volunteer, you can contact the Sierra Club Many Rivers Group.

The mountaintops and forests of Hardesty, like all public lands, belong to everyone and to no one. This is one of the few wild places left to us – one that, as we venture into it, makes us content with an instinctual, inexplicable nostalgia. This is one of the few places left where, even as we enter the forest for the first time, we feel that we’ve returned to some long-lost place, a place we’ve been before, and, as we stand still and listen to the warbles of songbirds, and as we hear the crunch of needles beneath our boots, we somehow have the sense that, among the old trees, we have rediscovered something, some part of ourselves that’s been missing, and at long last we feel whole; at long last we have come home.

Investing in the Future: The Healthy Climate Bill and the Coal Transition Plan

February 4, 2016

2167696800_4dedae718d_oWhen I was a kid, teachers always gave us the same piece of environmental advice: reduce, reuse, recycle. The emphasis was always on what we could do as individuals. We could pick up litter. We could recycle cans and bottles. We could donate our old clothes. If everyone did these small things, they would add up and make a difference in the world. Reduce, reuse, and recycle, and everything would be okay.

It took me until college to question this. In fact, it was in one of my very first college classes—intro to environmental studies—that my professor brought it up. I can still remember what he said: our lifestyle decisions as consumers are important, but they also distract from larger issues. What we need is not just for individuals to change, but for the entire infrastructure of our society to change. We need movements, protests, political change. And I remember him saying something about how there was “no free lunch”, how even just sitting in that lecture hall we were taking part in the dirty energy economy, what with the lights and the heating system, and if we went to the library, or the city hall, or anywhere in town, really, we would come upon the same problem, because it wasn’t just us—it was the way things were set up.

I always thought that part was particularly unfair. coalThis isn’t our mess. None of us in that lecture, none of us who went on to graduate in 2015, are responsible for the way things have been set up. We’re the inheritors of greed and chaos. I mean, look at what they’ve left us: heartbreaking mass extinctions, an ocean full of plastic garbage, an economy dependent on polluting fossil fuels that threaten the existence of all life.

But I also saw this beautiful possibility—this vision of change, of the sustainable society we could create. This isn’t our mess, but we can be the ones to fix it.

I’m not the only one with such a vision, of course. The quest for positive change is one of the main tenets of the Sierra Club. They’ve long been champions of clean energy, environmental justice, and conservation. In a way, they’re the embodiment of that big change, that infrastructural shift that my professor was talking about. I’m honored to be interning with them, especially at this moment of climactic urgency. With the hottest year on record behind us, and all this evidence of widespread droughts, reduced snow-packs, and crazy weather events—well, climate change is progressing right before our eyes. We have a small window here in which we can prohibit catastrophic warming.

Now is the time to make those big changes, and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club is taking action. During the 2016 legislative session, the Sierra Club is promoting two bills that work together to revitalize Oregon’s energy system.

windmillsThe Healthy Climate Bill, Senate Bill 1574, proposes a “cap and invest” system. This means that polluting industries would actually pay the true price for the environmental havoc they impose upon us, and for their disastrous contributions to climate change. The money would then be invested in the clean energy sector. We’d have reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a proliferation of local, well-paying clean energy jobs. Not only that, but investments would be targeted towards those who, today, are most threatened by environmental injustices—low-income and rural communities, as well as communities of color.

The other bill—the Oregon Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan (House Bill 4036—also seeks to reduce emissions, but does so in partnership with PGE and Pacific Power, Oregon’s two largest utilities. Under this bill’s provisions, Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard would double to 50% by 2040. Though Oregon’s last coal-fired power plant will close in 2020, PGE and Pacific Power still source much of their electricity from coal-fired plants in other states, such as Montana. This plan would make them completely coal free by 2035 and enable them to transition to renewable energy projects, like community solar programs that prioritize low-income communities. New infrastructure would be created to encourage green transportation, such as charging stations for electric cars, thereby lessening our dependence on gas and oil. I mean, imagine that: driving an electric car powered by 100% solar or wind power. Or going into almost any building in the state and knowing it’s powered mostly by clean energy.

These two bills complement each solar farm. 1st pictures. September 2012 30192Dother in that they have varying timelines and methods to achieve a shared vision. This is way more than reduce-reuse-recycle. This is the big stuff; the big changes that need to happen if we want a better future. These bills make clean energy more affordable than dirty energy. They lift disadvantaged communities into positions of climate leadership. They create new jobs for local community members. And, of course, they reduce carbon emissions. Oregon could serve as a model of justice and sustainability. We could provide the rest of the country—and even the world—with the glimpse of a promising future. These bills work because they address our issues at the source. They not only fix old problems but they lead us on to better things, to a cleaner, healthier, healed future, in which the next generation can look back, smile, and say, look at what they’ve left us.

Take action today by contacting your legislators in support of these bills!