“A road is a dagger placed in the heart of a wilderness” – William O. Douglas

Look at a map of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon’s largest at 355,548 acres, and you’ll note something strange – a dagger into its heart, in the form of the Lostine River Road, a corridor extending 18 miles to Two Pan trailhead, leading into the popular lakes basin.

Until recently, that sword has not proved life-threatening to the integrity of a magnificent wilderness that fills my memories in the depths of winter. On this cold, gray day with wind blowing and snow falling, I particularly savor  last August’s Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking trip that started at Two Pan, headed up the East Fork Lostine, and into the lakes basin. I let my thoughts drift and linger on a very special morning ascent of Eagle Cap itself.  If I close my eyes, I can hear the sweet, yearning melody of the white-crowned sparrow at dusk. I can hear the splash of the osprey plucking a trout from Mirror Lake. I can feel the heat of the sun on bare skin as I bask on a boulder like a marmot.

view from top Eagle Cap

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas summered in a cabin on the Lostine River, starting in 1939. The environmental champion of wilderness saw firsthand this road, the dagger into the heart, and likely the dangers of its presence. He also saw the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the designation of his beloved Eagle Cap Wilderness.

What would he say if he were alive today of the proposal for aggressive logging over a project area of 2000 acres within the Lostine corridor? What would he say to churning up delicate mosses, wildflowers and the woven tapestry of a fir and larch wet forest where thrushes sing and pine martens scramble that’s as wild as the Wilderness with the big W, with the misfortune to being just outside the boundary?

I  believe he’d be speaking up with so many of us  – with  landowners of cabins in the private inholdings of the corridor and all those who respect and honor its fragility and wilderness legacy.

Delicate forest floor of the Lostine River corridor, within one of the sites slated for a 2-acre clearcut, part of a series planned.

Speaking up makes a difference. After a flurry of letters  and calls to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and to our Congressional representatives over the last 10 days, we have a reprieve, for now. A speeded up record of decision slated for as early as next week is delayed.  The facts are out that here in the Lostine Wild & Scenic River corridor into the heart of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the agency has planned to circumvent a critical environmental review under NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) to go forward with logging that’s at great odds with the wilderness character.

Action matters. Action makes a difference. Speaking up on behalf of the places we know and love matters. Reaching out to others to understand their concerns matters, too, and to find a solution that keeps the wildness intact. In this case, the logging is proposed in the name of “public safety” in case of wildfire or falling trees. To address concerns about actual public safety, I’m all in favor of a fire evacuation plan and small footprint actions, like fire truck turnarounds.

Since 1964, the Forest Service has honored the integrity of the Eagle Cap Wilderness by trying its best to protect the wilderness character of the Lostine corridor. I believe they can still do what’s right for a national treasure. When we speak up, our voices do matter.

The flagged tree on the left would remain and everything else cut down of all trees you can see in this photo. (from a field trip to the Lostine last summer, offered by the Forest Service to inform us of their initial plan.)

What can you do? I offer three actions.

  1.  Take action for the Lostine River corridor and the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Write a note opposed to logging in the Lostine River corridor to: Sitka Pence, Eagle Cap Ranger District, 201 East Second Street P.O. Box 905, Joseph, OR, 97846 Email:  sitkapence@fs.fed.us .
  2.  Take action where you live on behalf of a wild area. Check to find out if a place you know and love is at risk. Often, we take  protection for granted. We skim through our gorgeous photos of wildlife and birds in wild settings we’ve visited and assume the habitats are safe from development, logging, mining, or other hazards. Even in our own neighborhoods, we might frequent a vacant lot where songbirds gather, but not know what’s in store. For a  fine resource on how to save a piece of this precious earth, from a pocket parkland to a vast wild land, buy this book: Fight & Win, Brock Evans’s Strategies for the New Ecowarrior.
  3. Take photos of the wilds you know and care about, the birds that come to your feeder, the latest native plant you’ve added to your yard, and of people appreciating the wilds. Share them. Share stories.  Bear witness. Encourage small and big actions. Gain inner strength from the wildlife and wildness that sustain us. And be ready to be called upon, or to lead the way to save what’s precious.
Look at the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the center of the map, next to the camera icon, you can see the long dagger of a road that is the Lostine River, and why it is so critical to keep that corridor as wild as possible.
Do kingfishers fly the Lostine River above the salmon-filled currents? You bet they do! Their chattering, rattling calls remind us what it is to call out with all our heart on behalf of birds and wilds. (Kingfisher by Robert Bateman)