Posts Tagged ‘Rogue River’

Apr11

Oregon Suction Dredge Hearing April 15, 2013 3PM

If you care about salmon and steelhead recovery in Oregon's most precious rivers like the Rogue, Umpqua and Chetco and want to protect these waterways from the harmful effects of suction dredge mining for gold, please come to Salem this coming Monday April 15, 2013 to have your voice heard.  Please speak up for the fish and for quiet on the rivers we all enjoy and cherish.  Public testimony starts at 3PM so come earlier and get signed up.  Be prepared to give thoughtful and respectful testimony for no more than 2-3 minutes. Email Josh Laughlin to carpool from Eugene.

What:

Hearing on Suction Dredging Moratorium

Where:

Hearing Room C

900 Court St NE  Salem, OR

When: 

3pm on Monday April 15th.

Oregon residents, if you cannot make the above please submit comments and spread this notice around.

For additional background please see:

Western Mining Alliance and Brain Surgery by Dentists

Ted Williams article on Suction Dredging in Fly Rod and Reel Magazine

Statements by the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society 

 

 

Apr11

Western Mining Alliance and Brain Surgery by Dentists

 

By Bob Ferris

Would you go to a dentist if you had serious head aches or needed a brain tumor removed? The obvious answer to that is: No, even though both dentists and brain surgeons are highly educated, work on your head and use drills. But that is basically what the Western Mining Alliance and their suction dredging allies are asking you to do by rolling out Joseph Greene and Claudia Wise as experts on suction dredge mining and the risks posed by that activity to our precious rivers and imperiled salmon and steelhead. Actually it is worse than that because the credentials of these two scientists in their own fields make it more akin to asking a senior and skilled dental technician to dig around in your brain pan.
  
Too harsh? Not really. While this pair of retired US EPA scientists—one a toxicologist (Greene) and the other a physical chemist (Wise)—have certainly provided some good science in their time and in their respective fields, they have aggressively inserted themselves in a debate where they lack credentials and stature; are behaving unprofessionally; and have serious conflicts of interest. While they are certainly entitled to have their say as private citizens and have said it, now they are acting a lot like uninvited and obnoxious house guests who were supposed to spend one night and ended up staying a week or more.
 
Wrong Field, Grounding, and Stature
 
Toxicology (Greene) and the physical sciences (Wise) are primarily test tube disciplines and though they share some methodologies and philosophies with field-oriented disciplines like fisheries biology and ecology there are many differences in terms of language, expectations, logic, and awareness.  All are valuable fields and their science meritorious but we also should acknowledge that they attract different minds, personalities and professional approaches.  In short, having skills and experience in one area does not always directly transfer into another.  
 
Now I could go into great detail here on degrees held—which Mr. Greene and Ms. Wise are pretty cagey about—and quality, quantity and thrust of work, but I will use a surrogate device: The New York Times editorial department.  Much has been made on the mining blogs of the fact that two PhD-level fisheries scientists—Bob Hughes and Carol Woody—wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times in January 2012 on the need for reform of the 1872 Mining Act which contained a sentence on suction dredging.  Mr. Greene and Ms. Wise wrote a rebuttal of sorts and were incensed—along with their cadre of supporters—that their piece was not accepted and printed.  The mining community saw this as another example of them not getting a fair shake, but the reality is more revealing. 
 
There are several elements at work here.  First is that while members of the mining community salute this pair and celebrate their self-manufactured stature, others do not.  Most see the supreme irony of a pair of mid-level non-fisheries scientists saying that two senior-level fisheries scientists are “fishes out of water.” The hard truth of the matter is that our intrepid pair simply do not meet the minimum entry level on this issue—i.e., they are not recognized experts in this field in spite of their self-labeling, not even close.  
 
Moreover, there is the writing.  The New York Times has very high editorial standards.  The piece written by Mr. Greene and Ms. Wise is simply not very strong or compelling and has typographical glitches and errors in grammar.  They are certainly entitled to grouse about this rejection but in the end their expectations were unrealistic and their execution wanting.
 
Unprofessional Behavior
 
“I have reviewed the declaration of Toz Soto filed in support of the plaintiff’s summary judgment in the above-captioned lawsuit as well as the “Summary of Fishery Issues Concerning Suction Dredge Mining” prepared by Jon Grunbaum and dated April 20, 2005.
3.  The papers authored by Mr. Grunbaum and Mr. Soto are rife with qualifying statements. Examples are, “could”, “could be”, “appear to be”, “are quite possible”, “assume”, “may not be”, and “should be.” These are not scientific statements and in general represent subjective opinions.” From the declaration of Joseph Greene (2005)
 
The above comment by Mr. Greene is telling on a number of different levels.  First his criticism is unfair and demonstrates insensitivity to the challenges of field versus lab science, i.e., you can control variables in the latter and have to design around variables in the former.  He is basically criticizing them for being responsible in their comments and exhibiting prudence.  But there is more here because he is also being disingenuous.  To explore the depth and implications of this latter issue we have only to look at Mr. Greene’s own publications.  
 
In Mr. Greene’s co-authored 1996 paper on dye toxicity we see the following phrases:  Almost certainly exists…It probably is significant…is likely to result…this, in turn, suggests…may be a strong function…could be due…there is little reason to believe…is probably strongly affected.  These statements are very similar to those Mr. Greene snidely criticizes above.  But my all-time favorite from this paper is: it is not possible to rule out the possibility that…  
 
To be clear, I am not criticizing this paper nor am I criticizing Mr. Greene or his co-author for inserting qualifying language or speculating in the absence of testing or quantifying doubt about why certain effects were not observed or manifested during their laboratory testing.  All this is prudent and what we expect from experts.  What I criticize is his calling out other scientists for engaging in the same exercise and making this seem—at least to his “audience”—something unusual, underhanded or compromising of their expert conclusions.
 
64 See Email from Joe Greene, supra note 31. Greene erroneously relies on the Oregon State University study, stating that “Dr. Bayley’s study and other works confirm that even when analyzed from a cumulative effects perspective, there is no reason to believe that suction dredge mining is deleterious to fish.” Id. Bayley’s study did not actually test the cumulative effects of suction dredge mining due to the constraints of the experiment. Adrianne Delcotto Suction Dredge Mining: The United States Forest Service Hands Miners the Golden Ticket in Environmental Law Vol. 40 No. 3
 
Mr. Greene’s attention to detail is often lacking.  Whether this is just a question of lack of rigor or some larger issue is not completely clear.  He has made the above erroneous statement repeatedly in letters and other communications.  This and other easily verifiable misstatements have been brought to his attention, and I can see no evidence of self-editing.  As science is constantly evolving and becoming more complex, we all frequently adjust our comments in light of more current findings.  When one does not do so, there is a problem.  My sense is that Mr. Greene is driven much more by his hobby and politics than science.  
 
 “A lifetime of biological testing on toxicity and nutrient pollution in the aquatic environment provides a sound basis for appreciating the magnitude of impacts associated with the asserted environmental contaminants, and gives a quantitative perspective generally lacking in general biologists, which leaves them less able to ascertain which environmental effects are significant and which aren’t.”  Joe Greene Letter to Katharine Carter North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board March 23, 2010 
 
The field of science is full of egos, but rarely do you see them get as out of control as the above and with less reason.  Mr. Greene frequently talks about his 30-year experience and 14-page resume, but is very elusive about basic information such as where he went to school and what degree or degrees he holds.  In the world of science this is not normal.  We talk openly about our degrees and publications.  Perhaps Mr. Greene is unaware that since he entered college in the late 1950s that all sub-disciplines of the biological sciences have become more quantitative in their approaches.  Yes we still talk about “Physics envy” but that is not because we lack quantitative skills or understanding but rather that we have to work much harder and use increasingly complicated statistics and multivariate analyses to answer our questions in situations where we have little or no control over the variables.  Reviewing Mr. Greene’s body of work, I see scant employment of these higher order analyses, certainly nothing to justify his vaunted opinion of his skills versus those with more advanced credentials that he frequently criticizes.  
 
Vested Parties and Conflicts of Interests
 
And now we come to what brings our two retired scientists to the dance in the first place—they are both officers in the Millennium Diggers organization.  In addition, Mr. Greene, his wife and partners owned mining claims in Oregon totaling several hundred acres of federal public land.  So they are participants and at least one of them was financially vested in the outcome of this debate.  That for me and many others raises red flags about their participation in this debate and the relative value of their input.
 
Now I understand as a fisherman and one who frequently uses waterways for other forms of recreation that I have a vested interest in this issue and therefore a conflict.  I freely admit that my views are colored by my recreational activities, that said, I think my situation and that of other anglers in the conservation arena differs.  How?  I think it is a matter of our relationship with those waters and our attitudes towards what I would call mitigating stewardship.  I do fish, raft, and kayak but I spend more of my spare time restoring and caring for those resources than I do utilizing them.  My wife and I, for instance, have been on more weekend river clean-ups or riparian tree plantings than we have been on fishing trips.  When I lived on the Chesapeake I planted way more oysters than I ate and when we lived in Santa Barbara we dedicated more of  our free time to habitat restoration or other actions that raised public awareness than we did enjoying our past-times. 
 
 
 

Yes, suction dredgers like Mr. Greene remove some fishing lead from waterways but that is a byproduct of materials movement and gravity, not proactive stewardship.  Mr. Greene’s version of proactive stewardship appears to be his lobbying actions to make sure that cars, trucks and OHVs are still allowed to drive through the waters of the cherished Chetco River.  

“There is no science supporting the claims that vehicular traffic crossing the river is damaging it.” Joseph C. Greene Research Biologist USEPA Retired
 
He argues for this—as he typically does—via a misleading statement about documentation of damage.  Yes there is likely no specific science indicating that vehicle traffic is harming the Chetco.  That is very different, however, than saying vehicles driven through the river are not compromising water quality or harming fish habitat.  There is a body of science with sufficient scope of inference to conclude that driving vehicles through most waterways impacts fisheries.   As humans we would hope that we would be able to learn from the missteps and mistakes of others rather than having to do the same ill-advised actions time after time.  
 
“There is no science showing oil and other chemicals washed off vehicles harm the river any more than that of chemicals that wash off roads.  The State Fish and Game [sic] Department has never investigated industry along the river because fish survivability has never been impacted.” Joseph C. Greene Research Biologist USEPA Retired.
 
The above is a novel, school-yard argument, but how is it in any way biologically defensible?  Something does not have to be worse than something else to have an impact.  It is biologically prudent to minimize road runoff just as it is biologically prudent to keep vehicles out of waterways wherever possible.  The two are not in conflict nor are they mutually exclusive.  Further the state agency is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife rather than “game” and it looks like Mr. Greene has failed to notice the general decline in native salmon fisheries over the last fifty years which happened during the time that vehicles were driving through the river.
 
“This issue is best left to the local residents of Curry County.  Please vote no on House Bill 3251.” Joseph C. Greene Research Biologist USEPA Retired.  
 
This last section is also interesting.  Perhaps Mr. Greene forgets that he lives in Philomath which is Benton County not Curry.  Further this bill deals with Oregon state lands not Curry County’s, and we have fish that are of concern nationally and internationally.  All of this demands a broader public involvement.  
 
Applicable Standards and Thresholds of Proof
 
Section 7 (2) Each Federal agency shall, in consultation with and with the assistance of the Secretary, insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency (hereinafter in this section referred to as an ‘‘agency action’’) is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species which is determined by the Secretary, after consultation as appropriate with affected States, to be critical, unless such agency has been granted an exemption for such action by the Committee pursuant to subsection (h) of this section. In fulfilling the requirements of this paragraph each agency shall use the best scientific and commercial data available.  Section 7 (2) of the Endangered Species Act (1973)
 
The Endangered Species Act and other similar pieces of legislation are rightfully designed to give the benefit of the doubt to species that are on the list because they require special protections.  The Act does not say that all actions can take place unless they are proven to cause harm—there is an element of the precautionary principle (i.e., first do no harm) explicitly woven into the Act.  This is a thread or theme that seems to escape Mr. Greene and Ms. Wise which is interesting given that so much of what the USEPA does unfolds in a similar fashion—i.e., proceed with caution and require reasonable proof of safety prior to use.  
 
Certainly they and their colleagues in the mining sector have provided studies that indicate minimal or temporary harm.  Fair enough, but there are also many studies that indicate actual harm to individuals within an imperiled population, their supporting food cycles, or the variety of habitats they need to survive.  Fisheries scientists and other toxicologists (when it comes to the release of sequestered mercury) are simply exercising the same prudence and commendable caution exhibited in the above cited paper on fabric dyes or the cautionary wording included in Ms. Wise’s work with Douglas firs and elements of climate change. 
 
This above caution should also be anticipatory.  Suction dredging permits in Oregon have doubled recently.  And there are groups in California and elsewhere such as Gold Pan California and The New 49er’s that are looking to maximize the number of permits through schemes to put multiple permit holders simultaneously on claims—sort of a condominium scheme that seems hardly legal or ethical.  Should not the most responsible action of any legislature or agency seeing a rapid rise of any activity with negative or unknown consequences be to say “time out” until more is known?
 
And then there is the Western Mining Alliance
 
“THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT- they [Gold Pan California] want you to sign in as joe public and NOT AS MINERS. Create a name like "naturelover2" or "fielddreamer" or "soccermom" or something that makes you sound like you are the public and NOT MINERS. They want you to make pro-miner comments, but not to the point that you sound like miners- they want it to sound like you are the common public standing up for the miners. 
There needs to be a lot of buzz on this so it gets picked up by bigger and bigger press. The more buzz we create about the topic, the more exposure it will get.” E-mail by Rick Solinsky suction dredger and co-founder of Western Mining Alliance
 
The Western Mining Alliance itself is a castle of deceit. Its “.org” designation makes one think that it is a benign 501(c)3 non-profit organization though it is not registered as such. Its president goes by the moniker of Molon Labe which is an alias. Molon Labe is the phrase reportedly uttered by the Spartan king Leonidas to the Persians at Thermopile. It basically means “come and take.” It seems in poor taste that this modern day small force that aggressively promotes bad science, loopholes and subterfuge like the above has elected to use this phrase that is associated with one of the most straight-forward and courageous acts in history.  But I suppose in all of this gold fever and greed often bring out the worst in mankind. 
 
Needed Actions:
 
 
 
Other Documents:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Mar04

Protecting Oregon’s Rivers from Suction Dredge Mining

Editorial by the Register-Guard
March 4, 2013
 
Nearly a quarter century has passed since Oregon last updated the State Scenic Waterways Program, which increases protection for the state’s most treasured rivers and limits destructive activities such as suction-dredge mining.
 
The program, overwhelmingly approved by state voters in 1970, is long overdue for an update — especially in light of a recent surge in suction dredge mining on the state’s waterways, including the Rogue, Chetco and Illinois rivers.

State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, has introduced a bill that would expand the inventory of rivers in the scenic system to 30 from the current 19. It’s a modest yet strategically important proposal that would provide protection for one-half of 1 percent of the state’s rivers and streams, up from a current one-third of 1 percent. That’s hardly a conservation overreach, especially given the threat posed by suction-dredge mining.

Protected by a ludicrously outdated and environmentally indifferent 1872 federal mining law, miners have descended on some of Oregon’s wildest rivers with motorized suction dredges to search for gold and other minerals. The dredges suck up rocks and gravel from stream bottoms and dump them in a floating sluice. The gold sinks and is trapped, while the remainder is returned to the river or its banks.

Suction-dredge miners insist they’re merely rearranging the river bottom and are improving fish habitat. The opposite is true. Dredging fills spaces that oxygenate the water and provide habitat for insects that fish eat. Mining clouds normally clear rivers with fine sediment and unearths mercury deposits buried on the river bottom.

Several years ago the California Legislature wisely imposed a moratorium on suction dredging to give state fish and wildlife officials time to study the effects of mining on fish habitat and to devise new regulations.

Oregon lawmakers should have done the same to protect the state’s rivers and fish stocks. They failed to do so despite the urging of lawmakers such as then-state Sen. Jason Atkinson, a Central Point Republican and avid outdoorsman who minced no words in describing the damage caused by suction dredge prospectors: “They ruin — destroy — spawning habitat,” he said.

With California’s rivers off-limits to suction dredging until 2016, miners have turned to the rivers of Southwest Oregon, which feature some of the finest runs of salmon and steelhead in the lower 48 states. Miners have staked out claims along the Chetco, South Kalmiopsis, Illinois and Rogue rivers. A few have ventured as far north as the Metolius and John Day, as well as Quartz Creek, a tributary of the McKenzie River.

Bates’ bill would protect the Chetco, Rogue, Illinois and other Southern Oregon rivers that have been at the center of the dredge mining debate. It would also protect other waterways, including the Metolius, John Day, Grand Ronde, Sandy, Middle Fork Willamette and Yachats rivers, as well a portion of the upper McKenzie that is not already listed as an Oregon Scenic Waterway.

If these and other rivers proposed by Bates are added to the scenic waterways system, protection would extend to land a quarter mile on each side. Mining, logging, road building, construction of new buildings and other activities in those corridors would be subject to review by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (existing development would not be affected and property owners would retain the right to use land outside the corridor).

Suction dredge mining has no place in Oregon waterways, and Bates’ bill is on target. The Legislature should give it careful consideration, reviewing the rivers proposed for protection and considering additions, and then take the necessary action to protect the state’s rivers.

 

Feb19

Press Release: Legislation Introduced to Protect Water Quality and Wild Salmon in Oregon

For immediate release
February 19, 2013
 
Contact
John Ward, Rogue Flyfishers (Medford), 541.482.2859
Frank Armendariz, River Trail Outfitters (Eugene), 541.228.4084
 
Salem, OR — Local businesses, outdoor enthusiasts, and conservation organizations applaud the recent introduction of Senate Bill 401 by Senator Alan Bates (D-Medford/Ashland) which would protect 30 rivers as State Scenic Waterways in recognition of their outstanding scenic vistas, value to fish and wildlife, and importance as sources of drinking water.
 
“Safeguarded rivers attract river enthusiasts, which means more business and more people enjoying them for the long term,” says Frank Armendariz, owner of River Trail Outfitters in Eugene. “As our population grows so will demand for river access, and that underscores the critical need to protect these special rivers.”
 
SB 401 would protect segments of the Rogue, Illinois, South Umpqua, Grande Ronde, Sandy, Molalla, and other renowned rivers across the state. A State Scenic Waterway designation maintains free-flowing waters in their natural state, and protects water quality and quantity at a level necessary for municipal sources, recreation, and fish and wildlife. Inclusion in the system also means these rivers would be protected from damaging suction dredge mining, a practice involving the use of gasoline-powered vacuums, mounted on floating rafts, to suck up riverbed sands and gravels in search of gold.
 
“World-class rivers like the Illinois, Rogue, and South Umpqua have become ground zero for destructive suction dredge mining in our state, and this practice is impacting imperiled wild salmon runs,” says John Ward of Rogue Flyfishers. “This designation will benefit salmon recovery as water quality and fish habitat get protected.”
 
California placed a moratorium on suction dredge mining in 2010 due to its impacts on imperiled salmon. With the moratorium in place and gold prices near all-time highs, many California suction dredge miners have moved operations north to target Oregon rivers, including the Rogue, Illinois, and South Umpqua.
 
Increases in suction dredging in Oregon on places like the Rogue River have led to complaints from nearby landowners of illegal trespassing and noisy engines running in the river, as well as river damage to salmon habitat.
 
If successful,  SB 401 would represent the third addition to the State Scenic Waterway system. In 1970, Oregonians voted by a two-to-one margin to create the system, following a successful citizens’ initiative petition. The program originally contained all or part of six rivers but has grown through additional initiatives to include 19 rivers as well as Waldo Lake.  The system was last updated in 1988.
 
                                                                        ####
 
Click here to read SB 401.
Click here for more information on the impacts of suction dredge mining.
 

Sep18

The Impacts of Suction Dredge Mining

Oregon Coast coho salmon continue to face a myriad of threats, including suction dredge mining. (Jeremy Moore)

Suction dredging harms fish and other wildlife. Suction dredging reduces the ability of fish to see, feed, and spawn. Additionally, the turbidity and increased sedimentation caused by suction dredging can clog fish’s gills. These impacts further threaten Oregon’s fish and other aquatic wildlife, including endangered salmon species.
 
Suction dredging decreases water quality, which harms the environment and decreases recreational use of Oregon’s rivers. Suction dredging causes increased turbidity, which decreases the clarity of the water. Additionally, it can cause riverbed sediment to released toxins, introducing mercury into the food system. Many of the rivers mined by suction dredge operators are popular sites for fishing and whitewater rafting. The harm to fish and increased turbidity caused by suction dredging makes these rivers less ideal spots for recreational activities.
 
The practice of highbanking, where suction dredge operator mine riverbanks, heightens the environmental risks of suction dredging. Highbanking harms vegetation, increases erosion, sedimentation, and turbidity, and can increase river temperatures. This creates further negative consequences for fish and other aquatic species.
 
Suction dredging operators often camp at the riverside for weeks at a time. This encampment can also have serious consequences for wildlife and for the environment. Noise and lights associated with these encampments can disturb aquatic wildlife, land animals, and birds. Human waste may make its way into the river. Operators often do not leave clean campsites when they leave. Additionally, their encampments may conflict with other recreational uses of Oregon’s rivers.
 
Suction dredging provides no measurable benefit to the state of Oregon. In addition to these harms to wildlife and the environment, the state of Oregon must pay significantly more to cover the costs of suction dredging than it brings in from permit fees. Suction dredge operators pay only $25/year for their permit to mine recreationally. Many operators have set their sights on Oregon’s rivers after the state of California banned suction dredging because of the environmental consequences. The environmental and economic costs don’t add up. Suction dredging in Oregon must be banned.
 

Sep17

Suction Dredging…Sucks

By Bob Ferris
 
My access point to my career in the conservation field came originally from fish.  I caught my first trout on the Eel River in northern California while my family was on their way to visit the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle.  As we were on our way north, my mother grudgingly allowed me to fish for 15 minutes—no more.  And on my premier cast with my older sister’s telescoping metal pole and an ancient JC Higgins reel, I felt that first electronic jolt that changed my life.  (Yes, this was a salmon egg catch, but I did not know any better at the time.)
 
That memory is golden to me and the thought of anyone taking any action that would rob someone of a similar moment rankles me no end.  That’s why the notion of some yahoo sticking a 4”-6” inch motor-driven suction hose into the hard bottom or gravel of a trout or salmon bearing stream and muddying the water literally makes me just a little angry.  And that ire only rises a little higher when I learn that these “modern 49ers” seeking flakes of gold in the silt they are spraying around are being egged on and legislatively supported by some modern day equivalent of snake oil salesmen hitting the KA-CHING button with each $8900 suction dredge they sell.  
 
It’s an old game where the “pick and pan” salespeople make the real money preying on the suggestible and greedy.  And part of the pitch seems to be that mucking up rivers flowing through public lands is an honest-to-goodness, Don’t-Trend-On-Me, All-American right.  Poppycock!  Suction dredging sucks and the sooner we all gravitate to that point of view, the better for all concerned.  (Okay so the dredge dealers will not be happy, but I can live with that quite comfortably, Thank You.)
 
Doing the “gold fever” math: Proven placer claims yield in the vicinity of 0.025 ounces per yard of material processed or roughly $45 per yard.  Recreational suction dredgers can move up to 25 cubic yards per year before being classified as commercial operations.  So if they are lucky and gold prices hold they can gross $1125 annually in Oregon.  When the cost of the machine and gear as well as other costs such as permitting, trailer registration, gas, and maintenance are factored in it becomes crystal clear that the “gold strike” here is for the equipment sellers rather than these hopefully prospectors.   
 
Suction dredging is not a “right” nor is mucking up the water for the rest of us—particularly in streams and rivers that run though public lands or hold imperiled species such as Coho and Chinook salmon or bull trout.  We and many others who have worked hard to clean up and protect waterways throughout Cascadia see only one solution to this issue:  An all-out ban on suction dredging in the salmon-bearing water systems of Cascadia.  The practice is banned in California and restricted in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Idaho.  We think it is high time that all of us who would like to see the return of vibrant salmon and steelhead speak up on this issue with one voice.  
 
Please check out our suction dredging and high banking page, sign our petition to the governors of Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Idaho, and pass this all along to others 
 

Jun12

Alone in the Rogue

         

Have you ever felt like you were being watched? All logical sense reassures you that you’re alone but an eerie feeling persistently creeps in that you’re not. I had that eerie feeling a dozen times this week while I backpacked through the Rogue River area. When you spend three days in solitude, it is easy to let your mind wander to unsettling places. Just before dusk on the second day I got that feeling while making dinner so I looked up as I had done many times already. This time, I wasn’t alone. I saw two sets of eyes reflecting my headlamp beam; it wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me again, as it had done all day. I could easily see my new companions were deer. Though they ventured close to camp, they were always aware of my every move. I am sure they knew I was there long before I saw them.

They weren’t the only deer I encountered on my trip; thirteen miles down river from the Grave Creek trail head. I went to this area to explore the proposed wilderness area that Cascadia Wildlands, among others, is working hard to protect. Because of the spring rains, the tributaries were flowing at full force. At every crossing I would try to look as far up the creeks as I could. They carve pathways into the unknown forests too thick to explore.

The dense forest and steep terrain don’t offer a lot of overlooks or vistas into the woods other than looking down the main river corridor, so it is hard to know what actually lies in the proposed area. On the second day, I decided to venture off the main trail, to truly experience the wilderness. It wasn’t easy going uphill through dense forests or trying to navigate up a rushing creek, but I made it away from the main Rogue River valley and stumbled onto an undocumented trail.

As I hiked through the woods, I couldn’t help but wonder why this trail was built, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. That question was answered after about a mile when I came out, through the dense forests, into a large meadow. It was completely unexpected considering the density of forest that defines the area. Lush green grasses painted the gently rolling hillside. As I made my way to the middle, I finally had a vista of the proposed wilderness. Again, I wasn’t alone; about two-dozen deer were grazing and spooked when I came out into the open.

Even though I went on this trip unaccompanied, my brief but frequent interactions with wildlife provided re-assurance that I was never truly alone. It is miraculous wilderness and I am glad groups are actively trying to protect it as such.

Andrew Van Dellen
 

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