Conservation issues in Oregon (student guest post)
This month I am highlighting some entries from the journals of EES-28 students. If students put together a particularly well-written and thoughtful entry, they are given the option of editing it and putting it here for others in the class (and the world) to see.
Given our recent focus on current conservation programs and ways people can get involved (in EES-028, Biodiversity & Conservation), I decided to look up news related to ecology and conservation in my home state, Oregon. I’ve always thought we were a fairly sustainably focused state, and other people I know share this opinion. We were one of the earliest states to implement recycling programs, and the first to pass a bottle recycling bill. Many people I know hike and spend a lot of time outdoors, and because of that many of us are invested in the environment around us. We tend to take a lot of pride in our abundance of evergreen trees, and are even fond of the drizzly rain. But I admit that I have not looked too deeply into the actual issues that concern my state, so I investigated what is happening right now. There were two recent stories that caught my eye, partly for their prominence and partly for their opposing tones.
Selling a portion of the Elliot State Forest
Recently, a controversial decision was made by the state to sell a 788-acre parcel of land in the Elliot State Forest to a timber company. In the past, the state has used money from selling timber rights on the land to fund state programs such as K-12 schools. However, environmental lawsuits put an end to that logging, and so with a budget shortfall, officials decided to test the feasibility of selling and privatizing parcels of the large Elliot State Forest. Very recently, the winning bid to Seneca Jones Timber Company was announced, although the papers have yet to be signed. Already environmental groups have launched a lawsuit against the sale of the land, citing a 1957 law that protects land that was state forest in 1913. Two more parcels were also sold, but no lawsuit has been leveled against those. Aside from the general desire to preserve habitats from the vagaries of timber company clear cutting, there is a specific population at risk. The marbled murrelet is a globally endangered species of bird and the Elliott State Forest has been classified as a critical habitat for the species, so reducing the forest may have extremely harmful effects on its population. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, some of the groups opposing the land sale are hopeful that the results of this sale will discourage the State from selling more parcels. The recently sold parcels went for almost a fifth of their determined value, so perhaps state officials will not sell more land at such a poor price. But if looked at with a cynical eye, this sequence of actions could be interpreted as warning from the state land management that if environmentalist lawsuits make managing public land too expensive, the state will respond by selling it off to timber companies who likely have even less motivation for conservation.
Youth Ecology Corps
While the above story highlights struggles to protect the environment against degradation, this second news story focuses on some positive action being taken. As part of Portland’s 2013 parks and natural areas property tax levy, a new conservation initiative was begun in the form of a youth ecology corps. The main goal of this program is to get young people excited about nature and conservation. It especially focuses on underprivileged youth, with the assumption that poverty often prevents opportunities for activities like hiking and camping. Once accepted into the program, participants receive an education in botany, bird identification, wildlife tracking, salmon spawning, geology, and wilderness survival. Another facet of the program is that the students are also paid to participate in a youth conservation work crew, which is important because it gives the students the funds and freedom to participate. So not only does the program foster enhanced environmental education, it will also positively impact the environment through habitat restoration, trail maintenance, invasive species removal, and larger projects like side channel restoration to help spawning salmon. I really hope this program succeeds, because I believe that fostering a love of nature at an early age is critical to a lifetime of environmental awareness and engagement.