The ancient ponderosa of the upper Imnaha River bears a ring of blue paint on the front and a number sprayed on the back: 58. It’s the mark of death by chainsaw. This is the biggest and most stunning of all the numbered and blue-painted pines–103 of them along a road corridor beloved for its magnificent pine and larch forests.
All 103 pines are slated to be cut any day in a fast-track logging travesty, ignoring a legal obligation to notify and involve the Greater Hells Canyon Council and Oregon Wild before going forward with plans that could involve cutting down trees.
For those of us who know the upper Imnaha River, we come for many reasons — to camp, picnic, hike, hunt, fish, birdwatch and revel below the great pines and larches of the West that have become a rarity in a logged landscape of second growth. We come for all these wild forests support–from the elk tracked by wolves that howl in moonlight to the goshawks nesting in a broken top of a ponderosa snag that has stood for decades after its death.
Is it a coincidence that I am 58 years old? The number keeps finding its way to personal significance. I was born in 1958. My marathon time this past June was 3:58. And now? Here it is. This magnificent, centuries-old tree bears that number. Can I save this tree, and all the others too? I’m sure going to give it a try. And I hope to honor its home within the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area of my beloved Northeast Oregon.
After burrowing my nose into the vanilla scented, furrowed bark of tree 58, I walked to the edge of the Imnaha River singing its wild salmon song below pines, larches and cottonwoods glowing ember orange and buttercup yellow.
Right away, a belted kingfisher called as if to say in every staccato phrase, “I am with you. You are with me.” I gave a silent thanks to this bird and the Imnaha River that I first met in the early 1980s. How can I return this gift? I’ll tell the world and we’ll raise our ringing cry in tune with the kingfisher, the wild currents, and the winds that sift a dazzle of larch needles into the crisp air.
It’s time for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest to stop logging our ancient pines of the upper Imnaha– the living, the dying, and the dead. It’s time for this agency to honor the strict protections of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act that mandates a preservation priority for wildlife across the entirety of the 1,020 square miles with the deepest gorge in North America at its heart.
This latest move is not the first, nor will it be the last unless we stand up. This is the third time in two years that I and others have called foul to the Wallowa Valley Ranger District (that oversees the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area) for logging in the upper Imnaha River corridor.
Each time the chainsaws fire up to log the Imnaha pines under the guise of hazard or disease, the integrity of the ecosystem frays. Each time, the public trust is violated. We are never asked, never consulted, and regularly dismissed.
When it comes to western pine beetles, I am familiarizing myself with the science and consulting experts. I do understand the premise of removing clusters of pines with this year’s beetles and preventing a hatch in the spring. However, it’s questionable in its efficacy over a large forest area and it’s a cut-it-down silviculture approach versus an ecological one. I’m suspect of chasing the beetles around with a saw, never really eliminating them, and instead destroying the habitat for the first defenders in the forest–woodpeckers and predatory beetles.
What’s happening here on the upper Imnaha seems small compared to the massive scale attacks underway in the Trump administration, including legislation to allow clearcutting without laws on public lands. Yet, I believe you have to start with one tree, or one bird, or one place you love that is under siege. Then you feel your pulse quicken, your resolve harden, and your passion ignite to do what needs to be done. That’s how we’re wired as human beings. I’m no different. We start with our favorite place we know and then take it to the next level to stand up for the entirety of our public lands under assault.
I’ll start my action with tree “58” that should never be defaced with a blue ring and a number like a criminal.
This pine knows its own name along with the wisdom of its long life. Listen long enough and I might come to know it–even as in death it continues to preside for decades within a living, breathing forest, the kind so eloquently documented in the book I’ve now read and marvel at always: the Hidden Life of Trees.
These are OUR public lands and we must have a say in their future. We will not be left out. We will not be silent. Below are two ways to help,. You can scroll down for more photos of other marked trees of the 103 condemned to the saw..
- Donate to the Greater Hells Canyon Council –the grassroots organization taking the lead to protect, defend, and advocate for one of the wildest, most spectacular and at-risk part of the planet.
- Contact Oregon’s congressional representatives (emails and phone #s below). Let them know you need their immediate help to stop the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest from logging of our precious ponderosa pines of the upper Imnaha River of Northeast Oregon. Add your own message and if you want to include more, here are some suggestions:
- Honor the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act of 1975. The staff of the Wallowa Valley Ranger District went around environmental review and broke a legal agreement to involve the Greater Hells Canyon Council and Oregon Wild. This District is repeatedly violating the the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act by failing to honor a mandate to preserve our rare, wild forests as well as its bunchgrass grasslands, rugged canyons, wild rivers, and wilderness that includes parts of the beloved Eagle Cap Wilderness.
- Save wildlife trees. Stop the recent and increasingly rampant practice of cutting our high value wildlife snags here and everywhere on the national forests of the Pacific Northwest.
- Stop using hazard trees as an excuse to log the roadsides and instead take a lead from the National Park Service that takes a reasoned approach to roadside tree hazards, and in campgrounds and picnic areas too.
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden at 202-224-5244. Email: Senator_wyden@wyden.senate.gov
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley at 202-224-3753. Email: Senator_Merkley@merkley.senate.gov
U.S. Representative Greg Walden at 202-225-6730. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is SO Beautiful! Perfectly capturing the essence of what is feels like to camp in, hike through — and, just plain enjoy — savor– these ever-too-rare, and getting rarer, ancient pine giants.
The Forest Service seems embarked on a plan to exterminate ALL of these magnificent ancient trees that still survive in the HCNRA . That is not “forest management” — it is plain and simple destruction of irreplaceable natural treasures belonging to the whole American people.
Given the long history of such “nibblings away” of our forest treasures in this “Death of a Thousand Cuts” which seems to never end … perhaps it is high time to think of turning over the guardianship of this prized area to a real Stewardship Agency, which we can trust to take care of it as we had originally intended.
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Thank you so much Brock! I agree.
With a heavy heart, I’m reporting that I learned yesterday every one of those trees we so hoped to save crashed to the forest floor–logged. We failed to save tree #58 and all 103 of them. What can we do now on their behalf? In mourning, I seek to find strength. I can still feel my arms stretching around tree 58, leaning into the bark of the ancient one that should have stood for many many more decades–becoming a wildlife snag and home and pantry to woodpeckers and so much more.
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