Posted tagged ‘Theodore Roosevelt’

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

 

 

YOSEMITE: X Marks the Spot

February 2, 2010

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Contrails over El Capitan..

Yosemite National Park is a place of American dreams and legends, where the most beautiful landscape in the land has inspired countless people to create art and preserve wild places.

I have a framed photograph in my home, purchased years ago by my parents in an antique shop, showing President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir on horseback, with Half Dome rising majestically in the distance.

John Muir (L) with President Theodore Roosevelt (R) riding an early road in Yosemite Valley, Half Dome rising in the distance

This photograph captures a significant moment in American conservation history, when Muir convinced Roosevelt to add Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the young Yosemite National Park.  That was 1903, when Muir and Roosevelt camped together in the Mariposa Grove, where they had heated conversations around the campfire–conversations that dramatically shaped the American conservation movement.

Roosevelt and Muir with an armed Secret Service detail (detail of the 1903 historic photo above, photographer unknown)

Roosevelt went on to create some of the iconic national parks in America, including Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde.  He also set aside many national monuments, several of which later became national parks, including Grand Canyon and Mt. Olympus (which is close to where I live).  He created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, which now administers 155 national forests.  He created the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903, a system that now includes 551 preserves across all 50 states.  With Roosevelt’s hearty love of the outdoors and his scientific mind, he was the right president at the right time to take action to conserve America’s endangered natural resources at a time when the frontier had just closed and the need for limits to logging and hunting and other activities had become crystal clear to those who love the land.

Our trip to Yosemite was brief by any standards.  We entered the park on an October morning, camped overnight, then left for the long drive home early the next afternoon.  But what a fine visit we had!

Under sunny skies, we drove through Tuolumne Meadows, stopping to see stunning granite domes and viewpoints.  Towering Sierra Red Firs and Jeffrey Pines cast shadows across the road; we stopped to hop from rock to rock across Yosemite Creek, not realizing that it would soon plunge over cliffs over 2,400′ into Yosemite Valley below.  On we drove, under contrails zooming for miles across the blue sky.  Sleepy, sleekly muscled climbers from France aired their sleeping bags in brilliant morning sunshine at Lembert Dome.

Autumn colors lit up spaces between the pines.  The clean and beautiful granite reminded me of Mt. Rushmore, where Theodore Roosevelt’s face looks powerfully out at the western landscape.  Yet Roosevelt wasn’t the only figure on Mt. Rushmore to figure prominently in Yosemite’s history.  In a break from fighting a war, Abraham Lincoln actually set aside Yosemite as a park in 1864.  His action deeded the land to the State of California; it was only later in the 19th century, when Yosemite was threatened by grazing and other concerns, that this great land became a national park.

On we drove, stopping for a long time to photograph the bare granite of Olmsted Point, named for the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who had a strong hand in designing how Yosemite National Park was to be managed.  Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture in America, designed Central Park in New York City, as well as park systems in Seattle, Portland,

The stark landscape of granite and pine of Olmsted Point

Boston, Chicago, and numerous other American cities.  From Olmsted Point, the mountains rolled on to the horizon.  The foreground of cracked granite, punctuated by boulders and bonsai conifers, made for some wonderful pictures against the vivid blue sky.  Once again in an American western national park, we observed that German tourists were more plentiful and willing to walk than the natives.

Driving on, we left our mark on the land by creating a tiny, happy snowman atop a lingering snowbank from the snow that fell a couple of days before.  We had been in Lee Vining at the time, hoping to drive across the Sierra to enter Yosemite National Park.  But a flashing sign on US 395 said that California Highway 120 was closed and that we couldn’t go over Tioga Pass.  That delayed our trip, and when we stopped at a US Forest Service information station, the attendant said that he didn’t know if the pass would reopen before the winter.  But it did, a day later.  The road over this 9,943′ pass was largely built in the 1930s, but even with today’s technology, snow keeps the road closed during a very long winter that can stretch in some years from sometime in October to sometime in July.

Upon entering the national park, we had asked the entrance station ranger where we could camp.  He said that Yosemite Valley was out of the question unless we had long-standing reservations, and instead suggested Hodgdon Meadow near Big Oak Flat.  We took his advice, got there in the afternoon, and set up camp beneath towering Sugar Pines, where we found several of the huge cones (they grow up to 26″ long!) of this species.

In camp we had to take all our food and cooler and cooking gear out of our car, and place it inside a national park-provided steel locker at the back of the campsite.  Bears have a long history in Yosemite, and they have grown more and more brazen about getting food from campers.  Lately, they have been breaking into cars–especially family minivans–by either peeling back the metal doors like a tin can, or by smashing a window and crawling inside.  Campers are warned to never store their food inside a car.  Backpackers have to

Black Bear in Yosemite Valley with an orange ear tag for identification

store their food in bearproof containers that they carry with them, because bears have learned to snip off ropes previously used for hanging food.  The National Park Service’s ongoing battle with bears is entertaining; visitors can see bear traps and signs everywhere. Later in the day, in Vosemite Valley, we saw a cinnamon-colored bear that sported a stylish orange ear tag, identifying the bear to the Big Brother rangers watching his habits.  Actually, the bear appeared at the same time that we smelled a delicious aroma of French fries cooking, which was either emanating from one of the valley’s nearby restaurants, or from a vehicle powered by biofuel from a fast food restaurant’s waste grease.  Either way, it attracted bears and hungry visitors.

French fries are a popular food in Yosemite Valley

But back to my narrative.  After leaving camp, we drove on a twisting mountain road toward The Valley.  Almost immediately, we noticed that the forest had been recently burned, and this huge scorched area continued for miles.  It

Aftermath of the Big Meadow Fire, a prescribed burn that escaped

turned out that this fire had just recently stopped smoldering.  The Big Meadow Fire, begun on August 26 as a 91 acre prescribed burn to enhance meadow habitat, escaped its enclosure and ran wild and free through the surrounding forest until it was recaptured on September 10.  During that time the hungry fire consumed 7,425 acres of pine forest, leaving much of the forest as dead as charcoal dust after a steak barbeque.  Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men … but really, all was not lost.  Fire is as natural to the California’s pine forests as bikinis are to its beaches.  The scorched pines will give way to chaparral, which will eventually give way to a pine forest, which will then burn.  That’s how this landscape cycles through time, and there’s not a whole lot that we humans can do to affect it, except to postpone the inevitable.

El Capitan in sunset glow reflecting on the Merced River

Into Yosemite Valley, that glorious place that looks like a magnificent painting of our idea of what American wilderness was like before the coming of white settlers.  Above the monolith El Capitan, which towers over the valley, two jet contrails made a big X, as if showing us that X marks the spot of the most beautiful place you’ll ever see.  Which might be the case, were it not for the contrails.  Actually, the contrails have been a problem over Yosemite all day; I think that the national park must be on the flight path for a lot of jets heading to and from San Francisco.  Under certain weather conditions, the vapor trails make long-lasting streaks across the sky.  It is a darn good thing that Ansel Adams did most of his work here before the advent of jet travel, or his iconic photographs of Half Dome and El Capitan would have white streaks marring those magnificent black skies he created in the darkroom.

Speaking of Ansel Adams:  if there was a Mt. Rushmore of nature photography, Ansel Adams’ bald pate would be carved of solid granite and would share the cliffs with Eliot Porter and Ernst Haas.  Adams’ black-and-white monumental works, printed in the darkroom, helped excite me about photography years ago, during my time as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.  At that time, the Sierra Club sold magnificent posters of wilderness areas captured in Adams’ stirring photographs.  When Adams died in the 1980s, I felt a strong sense of loss.  Adams lived in Yosemite Valley for a time, and had a studio in the valley that continues to this day under his name.  To honor the great photographer, there is an Ansel Adams Wilderness that we saw from a distance as we drove up the road to Tioga Pass.

Deeper into Yosemite Valley we drove, joining the line of other cars coming to see a place unspoiled by humans.  We drove past vast parking lots, past

The granite of Half Dome rises dramatically above Yosemite Valley

hundreds of dirty white tents known as “Housekeeping Camp,” where you can rent an unheated tent for a night for $109, linens extra.  On past the campgrounds, where campfire smoke fills the clean valley air.  Past the Ahwahnee Hotel, where wealthy visitors can enjoy an elegant experience for $525 per night in the high season.  On to Curry Village and Yosemite Village, with their attendant wilderness sprawl of shops and cabins and motel rooms and tents.  Past the colorful tents in the climbers camp.

By then I had taken scores of beautiful pictures despite the crowds.  For a last photograph, I joined a dozen other serious photographers at a bend in the Merced River, all of us taking the same beautiful picture of sunset light reflecting off El Capitan and into the river.  Stunning!  Then back to camp.

National Park Service map of Yosemite National Park

If it seems like I am being a bit hard on the messy human developments of Yosemite Valley, it is because I want it to be as beautifully wild as when Teddy Roosevelt accompanied John Muir on horseback through a still mostly wild valley.  That is just a dream, of course, and we will continue to get eroded riverbanks and problem bears and air pollution.  I had hoped that a 1997 flood, which wiped out campgrounds and buildings in the valley, would have been an opportunity to rethink development in the valley, but the subsequent changes were minor, as Park Service planners have to deal with long-entrenched and powerful political constituencies that want to maintain the status quo.  If it was up to me, I’d take a bulldozer to all the lodging and stores and attendant structures here, leaving just the access road.  Let people sleep and dine outside this sacred place.  But I won’t hold my breath waiting for that fantasy to come true …

Back in camp, we watched a Williamson’s Sapsucker working on a tall pine–the first time we had ever seen this species (and that’s a big thing for a birdwatcher!).

The next morning we packed up camp, then returned to the valley, stopping along the Merced River to photograph reflections of morning light on El

Autumn Black Cottonwood leaf on the Merced River

Capitan.  It was a lovely morning, with mist rising off quiet stretches of the stream.  Morning is a wonderful time in a national park, as campers tend to rise late and quiet is preserved until mid-morning.

Our schedule required us to leave Yosemite early, but we still wanted to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is located several dozen miles away.  We stopped along the way for a last look at Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, where a big white tour bus unloaded its passengers.  Everyone walked to the edge of the viewpoint and was stunned by the view, which takes in the valley, with El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, and Half Dome, plus several waterfalls.  It is among the most beautiful viewpoints anywhere, and it has been recently renovated to enhance the experience.  Ansel Adams’ magnificent “Clearing Winter Storm” was taken from this point.

Upon reaching Mariposa Grove, we ate a quick lunch, then walked up the path.  The park kiosk was out of brochures in English, but there were brochures available in a rainbow of languages.  Alas, we are language-challenged, except for the language of nature.

The Mariposa Grove was just as pretty as when Roosevelt and Muir camped there just over a hundred years ago.  Biologists have since learned that trampling by too many humans damages the shallow roots of these immense trees, so people are now confined to the asphalt trails.  No more joining hands with several dozen other people to circle a tree for a photo.  Biologists also realized that Giant Sequoias need fire in order to maintain a Sequoia grove; in fact, a prescribed burn had taken place in this grove earlier in the year, so there were fire-blackened stretches of forest floor and charred lower trunks.  We were pleased to see that young Sequoias were growing among the immense trunks of their ancestors, so the forest appears healthy.

After our walk in the sacred grove, we climbed into our car and began the long drive home, immensely rejuvenated by our all-too-brief visit with the most beautiful place in America.

Stoneman Bridge, an example of the rustic park architecture in Yosemite

Giant Sequoias in the Mariposa Grove

An impressionistic view of El Capitan reflected in the Merced River

Autumn oak leaves in the Mariposa Grove

Black Cottonwood leaf in the Merced River

Yosemite Valley on a crisp autumn morning

El Capitan, monumental in morning light

Giant Sequoias

Grove of California Red Firs along the Tioga Pass road

I mentioned the work of three photographers who were pioneers in the area of nature photography.  To see more of their work, go to:

http://www.cartermuseum.org/collections/porter/collection.php?sec=comp

http://www.anseladams.com/

http://www.ernsthaas.com/

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website


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