Posted tagged ‘coyote’

TAKING OVER MALHEUR

January 18, 2017

We “took over” Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for one beautiful late October morning when we were the only visitors. The photographs here were taken during those enchanted hours.

Coyote on Road in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Coyote trotting along the Central Patrol Road in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

The spicy scent of sagebrush fills the morning air. Mist rises from wetlands teeming with waterfowl. A Coyote trots across a meadow with a purposeful gait. In a burst of energy a cloud of thousands of dazzling white Ross’s Geese take to the air in a frenzy, only to settle back down a minute later. The quiet returns.

These are among my fond memories of Malheur, based on numerous trips to the remote wildlife refuge over the last 25 years. Malheur and its setting is a slice of the old West, quiet and sparsely populated and much loved by residents and visitors alike.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1908 by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.” This immediately followed an era in which plume hunters killed all the Great Egrets in the Malheur area in order to obtain feathers for a women’s hat craze of the era. Which, of course, illustrates why regulation of natural resource harvests came to be: if everyone has unlimited access to harvest what they want, the resource inevitably disappears. This has been true of virgin forests, Passenger Pigeons, whales, Beaver, and every other form of nature that has an economic value.

Foggy Autum Morning along Central Patrol Road in Malheur Nationa

Central Patrol Road on a foggy autumn morning

Prior to the refuge, Indians inhabited the Malheur region for 15,000+ years, leaving evidence of their camps and graves in what became the refuge headquarters area. Eventually, Malheur became a case study in mistreatment of Indians: a Malheur Reservation was created by the federal government in the 19th Century, but that was followed by a chipping away of the reservation to give land to settlers. Treaty hunting and fishing rights were abrogated. Eventually, the whole tribe was forced to march in snowy weather, without enough food, over two mountain ranges all the way to the Yakama Reservation in Washington. Many died along the march and in their years of exile. A sad and typical tale of mistreatment of our first peoples.

The Great Depression hit America with an iron fist. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt responded with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program to put young people to work on conservation projects all around America. Shortly after that, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge received three CCC camps, and over 1,000 young men worked on the refuge over seven years. They built dikes and dams and roads and fences. They constructed four fire towers, quarried the stone and built the beautiful headquarters buildings, and started Page Springs Campground. Every visitor today can see the dramatic results.

Mule Deer in Car Headlights in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Mule Deer crossing road, illuminated by my car headlights

For all its conservation accomplishments, the CCC also had a major economic impact upon Burns and other surrounding communities by spending $15,000 per month in those towns on supplies, rentals, and payroll. It was a win/win for everyone involved. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was in giving young men jobs at a time of near-hopelessness; this instilled a work ethic in these young men, who later became the heroes who won World War II.

In sum, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is one of the preeminent conservation success stories in America, with two of my favorite presidents–Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt–contributing to its success. Over the decades, Malheur became a legendary location for birders and other outdoor recreationists, including hunters and fishermen. I consider it one of my favorite landscapes in North America, blessed by its remoteness, beauty, silence, and wildlife. People of the region came to love it, and there was a good agreement on a management plan that was hammered out between ranchers, naturalists, hunters, and other stakeholders that was considered a model for refuges across America.

Female Ring-necked Pheasant at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Female Ring-necked Pheasant at Malheur NWR

Then came the Bundy occupation of the refuge in the first days of 2016. A group of armed state’s-rights zealots took over the refuge headquarters, and occupied the beautiful CCC buildings for over a month before finally leaving. Their occupation disrupted the good work of the refuge, created division across America, made a mess of the place, and included thefts of equipment. One occupier died while reaching for a gun at a roadblock. For all this, a runaway and misguided jury refused to convict the perpetrators on a single count–a travesty of justice that still makes me incredibly bitter.

There is a movement in rural parts of the West to give away our national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other federal lands to the states. Why? Because many people want local control of the land so that they can clear cut more timber, strip mine more coal, loosen environmental regulations, and hunt, graze, fish, and trap to their heart’s delight. I vehemently disagree.

Cattle Grazing on a Ranch near Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Cattle grazing on ranch lands adjacent to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

If states were given the land, they would sell off much of it to private companies, and access by hunters, hikers, fishermen, and other recreationists would be either denied or made expensive. For example, on Weyerhaeuser land in Washington State, access that was once free or low-cost has now become expensive, with a family camping permit for a year costing $300: Weyerhaeuser Fees 2016. If land was sold off by the states, we would end up with a patchwork of permit systems that would be costly for families to access the land. I can understand the position of Weyerhaeuser: before the permit system, they had a lot of cases of illegal dumping and vandalism on their land–just as we would have in the national forests if there were no rangers on patrol.

Mule Deer at Deep Dusk Lit by a Headlamp

Mule Deer doe at deep dusk lit by my headlamp

I also have concerns about potential subdivisions in the forest. If land was sold off to developers, many of our beautiful forests and lake shores would become housing developments–nice for those who live there but a blight on the landscape for those of us used to the expanses of natural beauty we now enjoy–and that we now own. Who would pay for fire suppression for all these new developments? The federal government? I can’t see the states doing it and I certainly don’t think that the owners of these forest homes would want to pay the thousands of dollars per year for each home to have special fire insurance to fund large scale firefighting efforts. So I suspect that the Forest Service would end up providing free firefighting services to save homes all across the West.

These lands represent our national heritage, and belong to all of us. We paid for them and have cared for them for over 100 years. When people say that local people could manage the land better than professional rangers, foresters, wildlife managers, and other biologists, what they are really saying is that they want to make money by taking timber, minerals, and grazing at little or no cost to themselves.

Foggy Autum Morning along Central Patrol Road in Malheur Nationa

Central Patrol Road near P Ranch on an October morning

For example, Cliven Bundy has grazed his cows on federal land for years and refuses to pay the over $1 million in fees that have accrued since the 1990s. He thinks that he should be able to graze his cattle on public land for free. Anyone who has been paying attention to the conservation battles of the last century knows that where there are limited resources–in Bundy’s case, grass for his cattle–unlimited and unregulated use will inevitably ruin the resource. That’s why we have grazing allotments that ranchers pay for, and why we have professional grazing managers to determine how much grazing the land itself can allow.

This is a sad new chapter in our history; anyone who wants to read more about it can refer to the links at the bottom of the weblog. I, for one, intend to stand with our finest conservation presidents, Republican Theodore Roosevelt and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, to preserve our shared national heritage.

Mule Deer Doe in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Mule Deer doe wet with heavy morning dew

But enough about armed thugs and their bad ideas. Malheur is still there, with its vibrant beauty ready to overwhelm visitors. We were heading home from an extended southwestern trip in November of 2016, long after the occupation had ended but before the headquarters reopened to visitors. Unarmed, except with cameras, we took over the refuge for a morning, as we were virtually the only people enjoying its silent vastness. The photographs here are all from that brief time in a Shangri La of the old west, during our enchanted takeover.

To view more work by photographer Lee Rentz, go to Lee Rentz Photography. Photographs are available for licensing.

To learn more about Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, go to Malheur NWR, Malheur Occupation Aftermath, Conservation Setbacks, Bundy Grazing Controversy, and Portland Audubon: Malheur.

Coyote on Road in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Coyote crossing Central Patrol Road

Buena Vista Ponds in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

View from Buena Vista Ponds toward an escarpment and mesa

Autumn Textures in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Textures and colors of grasses and willows

View from Buena Vista Overlook in Malheur National Wildlife Refu

View from Buena Vista Overlook across the expanse of Malheur

Road through Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Road near Buena Vista Ponds

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, USA

Vast seasonal wetlands in Malheur NWR

Coyote Hunting in Meadow in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Coyote in a wet meadow, alert to the intruder

Foggy Autum Morning along Central Patrol Road in Malheur Nationa

Storm clouds in the distance, with sunlit meadows in the foreground

Coyote on Road in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Coyote pausing to look back along the road

 

 

June 1, 2008 On Edge on the East Side

November 28, 2008


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Spring in the Seattle area alternates between dark, rainy days and bright, sunny ones.  When a spell of bad weather descends, we enjoy hiking and camping on the east side of the Cascade Range, where the skies are usually sunny.  On this trip we headed east, leaving behind a wall of ominous skies at Snoqualmie Pass.  There were three of us: my wife Karen, our friend Sue, and me.

Our goal on this trip was to explore Black Canyon and Bear Canyon in the general area of the Tieton River Canyon, which features dark basalt formations in hexagonal columns, and open Ponderosa Pine and Big Sagebrush landscapes.  Most of this area lies within Wenatchee National Forest and the Oak Creek Wildlife Management Area, though there is also some private land.  The Nature Conservancy has played a key role in buying and preserving this extraordinary landscape.  And it is beautiful in spring to the eyes of a sun-starved Washington mossback.

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This region is known for ticks, so we took the dorky-looking precaution of tucking our light-colored long pants inside our white socks.  Then some of us also sprayed with a DEET-based repellent.  It seemed to work, since we didn’t pick up any ticks all weekend.  Plus we applied sunscreen and wore hats so that our fishbelly-white Western Washington bodies wouldn’t be damaged by the glaring sun.  But there were other hazards …

After the long drive, when we first emerged from the car to look at some Bitterroot flowers (genus Lewisia, named for the discoverer, Meriwether Lewis), Sue spotted a snake looking limp and dead on the basalt.  But it wasn’t dead, only cold.  We prodded it awake with a stick and saw the rattles as it slithered into a hole between the rocks: it was a Western Rattlesnake!  This discovery reminded us to remain vigilant.

Our first hike was into Black Canyon.  The trail lead steadily upward, leading past Trembling Aspen groves and an old settler’s cabin. The cabin was in a pretty setting near a stream, and we could 2008_wa_3844wpimagine the sounds of horses and cows and chickens and children in the clearing a hundred years ago.  The aspens wore evidence of more recent visits.  The bark on every tree was covered with marks from the ground to roughly head high.  But this graffitti wasn’t made by vandals or lonely shephards:  2008_wa_3836wpit was made by Elk using their teeth to scrape deep into the bark to get nutients and sugar from the bark’s inner layers.  The marks then last for as long as the tree.  On the trail itself we saw a scent post used by a Coyote.  This is a spot along the trail where a Coyote or Coyotes had deposited scat over time, one layer after another.  Interesting stuff, that poop.  

The trail led higher, through scattered Ponderosa Pines and hillsides covered with sagebrush and scattered late wildflowers.  While walking along the edge of the trail, Karen was startled by a dry rattle within a few feet of her boots.  It was another rattlesnake, this one coiled and ready for battle with the towering intruders.  At first it rattled almost continuously, but by the time I got there it had quieted down, deciding that Karen wasn’t such a big threat, after all.  I photographed the rattlesnake, the thought briefly crossing my mind that I would like to reach down and remove a blade of grass in front of its face.  I thought better of it, and decided that Photoshop would be a safer way to cut away the grass.  It struck us how well the rattlesnake’s skin blended in with the natural brown and subtle green tones of the landscape.  If the snake hadn’t rattled, we would have never known it was there until …

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Higher still, we came into open hills, where we examined wildflowers and covered up, because the sky had darkened and big drops of rain sputtered down.  At that point we decided to head back down, and drive back to our campsite at the Wenas Campground near Naches.  By the way, this is a terrific campground that is also known variously as the Boise-Cascade Campground and the Audubon Campground (there is a yearly spring gathering for birdwatchers here).  BYOW (bring your own water) and be prepared to share the campground with ORV users, but the Ponderosa Pine grove here is gorgeous.

The next morning, we packed up our gear and drove to the Bear Canyon trailhead.  The trailhead showed promise, with towering Ponderosa Pines framing basalt cliffs.  This was a beautiful place, and we learned from another hiker that the Nature Conservancy had preserved this canyon.  That hiker 2008_wa_3780wplater asked if we had seen the scratches at about eye level on a tree along the trail.  I had seen the marks, but the source didn’t register until he mentioned that the scratches had been made by a cat–specifically the big cat known variously as Cougar and Mountain Lion.  And the scratches were fresh, as if the Cougar had come through just before us.  This was a reminder, if another was needed, to be wary and alert in this back country.  Unfortunately, we never saw the Cougar, but just knowing it was in that canyon added a whole new dimension to the hike.

 

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To see a variety of my photographic work, including photos for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

Click on the photographs below for versions with captions.


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