Monarch Butterflies and Roundup

Due to the recent news on monarch butterflies, I’m re-publishing a post from last year on the subject. First, here are a few updates:

The bad news

Monarch butterfly population has plummeted to one-tenth of what it was historically. This coincides rather symmetrically to the ten-fold increase in the use of Roundup, thanks to the genetically-modified corn and beans I wrote about the post below.

The good news

The Natural Resources Defense Council has called for a curb on the use of Roundup.


I hope that the debate on genetically-modified products will expand beyond how nutritious they might be and include the effect they have on other species and the environment in general.

For more information, check out the most recent article in the New York Times on monarchs.


Here’s my original post published May 15, 2013


There might be a few good reasons for genetically modified food crops—increased nutrition or drought tolerance perhaps—but Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans were “invented” for one purpose.

You can spray the heck out of them.

Roundup Ready plants won’t die from heavy herbicide use—that’s their claim to fame. (Plus they encourage increased use of Monsanto’s other big product, the herbicide Roundup itself). But all other leafy life in Roundup’s way will shrivel and die, including one of agriculture’s most despised plants, milkweed.

But what Big Ag hates, butterflies love. Milkweed is the one and only plant that monarch butterflies use as a “host” plant. Without it, they cannot survive as a species.

This is a section of a large watercolor illustration I did for the State of Minnesota. The intent of the poster was to encourage prairie habitat preservation.

This is a section of a large watercolor illustration I did for the State of Minnesota. The intent of the poster was to encourage prairie habitat preservation. It shows an adult monarch and a larvae. The pink flowers are milkweed. Pretty, isn’t it?


Milkweed is a native grassland plant that used to thrive along with thousands of other grassland plants and animals in prairie regions of North America. Even before the introduction of Roundup Ready seeds, tallgrass prairie habitats had already been reduced to less than one percent of their extent prior to European settlement and agriculture.


The watercolor painting I did for a poster on native prairie plants for the State of Minnesota, educating people about preserving habitat.



Since most prairie land was converted to agriculture, milkweed grew only in remnant prairies, preserves, private gardens, or in between row crops—which actually added up to quite a bit of habitat, when you consider millions of acres of corn, beans, and other crops.

Not anymore, though, thanks in large part to Roundup Ready. Loss of milkweed habitat in row crops is thought to be the reason—along with extreme weather—that Monarch populations plunged dramatically this year. (note: this was published a year ago, new figures are much worse.)

Monarch butterflies are a marvel and a mystery. Their unique migrating behavior is still not fully understood. They migrate thousands of miles on a round trip between the U.S. and their wintering grounds in a forest in Mexico. But, how do they find their way? No single individual makes the entire round trip…there are never any older adults to show the young ones the way, as with other species. Are monarchs born with some kind of “map” of the route already in their brains?

Two days ago, Monsanto won a huge victory in the U.S. Supreme Court (in May of 2013). They were suing a farmer for illegally using their patented Roundup Ready soybean seeds. The farmer claimed the beans had (more or less) sprouted of their own accord, and were exempt from the patent, but the Court ruled against him and he ended up with an $84,000 fine. Justice Kagan rejected what she called a “blame-the-bean” defense.

She’s probably right about that. We can’t blame beans for sprouting, or farmers for wanting to save time and money by using new products at their disposal, or Big Chem for making Big Chemicals, or Big Ag, or even Big Politics.

If monarchs go extinct, it will be a tragedy. But, it will be our own fault. You, me, and most everyone else living in North America. We live the richest lives in human history. We vote with our ballots, and we vote with our dollars. We’re running the show.

Each migrating monarch makes individual butterfly-decisions that guide the whole species on one of the most amazing, most unlikely migrations of any lifeform. And they have a brain the size of a…well really, really small.

What can we do? Can we find better ways to live individually that added together will collectively guide our species to a more sustainable future?

What do you think?


So, what to do?

If you live in monarch range, plant milkweed!

Buy organic!

Vote green!

Go outside, enjoy nature, butterflies, birds…everything.

Learn More:

High Country News article about Monsanto

New York Times article about Monsanto

New York Times article about monarchs

Yale 360 post about Monsanto and monarchs

Monarch Watch – an organization dedicated to studying, tracking, and preserving monarchs


You might also like these previous posts:

Leave it to Beavers

Frogs in Peril

Puget Sound – Our Inland Sea Needs Help



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Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Wilderness

The Wilderness Preservation Act

This year the Wilderness Preservation Act turns 50. It’s worth remembering that Wilderness Areas were not a given—they were hard-won by a few passionate and determined people.



Mardy and Olaus Murie – Voices for Wilderness

This week’s post is about two people, Margaret (Mardy) Murie and her husband Olaus Murie. Their love of nature—especially the arctic wilderness—drew them together to share a life of adventure and activism. And they both played key roles in the passage of the Wilderness Preservation Act and the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The main source for this story is the book “Arctic Dance”, The Mardy Murie Story.” 


Love and Adventure

It all started in the wilds of Alaska nearly a century ago…

In 1916, In the frontier town of Fairbanks, Alaska, a fourteen year-old girl was saying goodbye to her mother. She was excited and a bit nervous to be taking her first journey on her own, a trip on the Valdez Trail to her father’s home in Southeast Alaska.

Mardy and her fellow travelers were bundled into enormous wolfskin robes for the trip across the Alaska Range in an open, horse-drawn sleigh. Mostly, they traveled at night when the snow was easier, and they stopped to rest in roadhouses along the way.


Horse and Sleigh on the Valdez – Fairbanks Trail, 1911-1920. Photo Library of Congress.


After what seemed like weeks in the sleigh, she transferred to a wagon, then train and steamship, finally arriving at her father’s island home in Southeast Alaska.

It was there, during a summer of exploration and outdoor life in the remote inlets, bays, and forested islands, that Mardy’s love of wilderness was born.

To most fourteen year-olds today, spending a summer roaming free in the wild would probably be the adventure of a lifetime. But for Mardy, it was just the beginning. While still in college, she met an arctic biologist, Olaus Murie, a tall, handsome blue-eyed arctic biologist who worked for the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). He was doing research on caribou and other wildlife.

Olaus was a strong and gentle man who had spent most of his life in wilderness and was an expert in arctic survival, wildlife, and the native language. His interests were scientific, but he was a gifted artist as well, and spent much of his free time in the backcountry drawing and painting his observations of nature.

Olaus Murie

Olaus Murie. Photo U.S.F.W.S


While they were becoming acquainted, Mardy and her mother went to visit Olaus near Mount KcKinley where he was working. It was there that their friendship deepened into love as they spent five days “tramping about in a rosy haze in those enchanted mountains.” The two of them realized they were perfectly matched: a shared love of adventure and wilderness life.

Mardy completed her business degree and was the first woman graduate of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (now the University of Alaska Fairbanks). She and Olaus married in 1924 in a log chapel in Anvik, a remote village on the Yukon River. Mardy’s mother and the rest of the wedding party arrived to the wedding by sternwheeler.



Mardy and Olaus shortly after their wedding in August 1924. Photo U.S.F.W.S


For their honeymoon, the two of them set out on a three-month, 550-mile riverboat and dogsled trip up the Koyukuk River to the Brooks Range, above the Arctic Circle. Mardy, dressed in furs and skins from head to toe, had to learn how to mush her own sled pulled by seven Siberian Huskies.


Olaus and Mardy wearing their trail furs. Photo U.S.F.W.S



Mardy and her dog-team mushing on the trail. Photo U.S.F.W.S.


They camped in a canvas tent warmed with elk hides or stayed in shelter cabins. Olaus conducted caribou research and did sketches and paintings, and Mardy wrote in her dairy and fell in love with the arctic wilderness.

Mardy wrote of a day on the trail as they approached a shelter cabin:

“…the sky is midnight blue and fully spangled with stars, and the moon is rising brighter and brighter behind the pointed trees. In the north, a flicker of green and yellow; then an unfurled bolt of rainbow ribbon shivering and shimmering across the stars—the Aurora. The dogs begin to speed up; we must be nearing a cabin; yes, there it is, a little black blotch on the creek bank. The air is cold and tingling, fingers are numb…


A little later, when warmth and light and food and our few possessions had made the tiny cabin our home for another night, we listen to that ‘whoo, hoo, hoo-hoo’ from the forest; it makes a day on the arctic trail complete.”


Margaret (Mardy) Murie, “Two in the far North”


As their epic honeymoon ended, they each felt they had found their perfect life. From then on, they spent as much time as possible together in the wilderness. The next year, Olaus was sent back to the Arctic to explore the remote headwaters of the Old Crow River. By this time they had their first son, Martin, who was just ten months old. But Mardy had no intention of being left behind, so she packed up the baby and the three of them went on another wilderness adventure.

This time it was summer, a season that can be even tougher on arctic travelers than winter, with hordes of mosquitoes, and the warming weather turning the ground to a soggy sponge-like mess below their feet. Instead of mushing a dog-team for transport, they poled up the river in a tiny scow—their crankshaft having broken on the third day of their trip. Mardy made a little tent on the deck of the boat for the baby, where he was tucked securely into a wooden box.

In “Arctic Dance”, Mardy is quoted describing her daily routine in their camp:

“I used empty five-gallon gasoline cans for the dishes and for clothes, where the cans would be cut down through the center and the sides rolled back to make a handle. You can put in on the fire and warm some water for the diapers. And the diapers you just hang over the willow bushes. And in the other tin you prepared food and did all of the next day’s preparations.”


But the little family was undaunted by the hardships and challenges of the wilderness. They sang, grew closer, and reveled in the expansive, unspoiled world that teemed with wildlife.

“At my back…stretched the limitless tundra, mile upon mile, clear to the Arctic Ocean…we threw off our headnets, gloves, and heavy shirts, and stood with the breeze blowing through our hair…We could see, far out over miles of green tundra, blue hills in the distance, on the Arctic Coast, no doubt. This was the high point; we had reached the headwaters of the Old Crow. After we had lived with it in all its moods, been down in the depths with it for weeks, it was good to know that the river began in beauty and flowed through miles of clean gravel and airy open space.”



Mardy in camp. Photo U.S.F.W.S.


Olaus in later years, sketching on the deck of a boat. Photo U.S.F.W.S


At the end of their second trip together, Mardy felt as comfortable with wilderness life as Olaus, and they continued to travel and have adventures—something they would do their whole lives.

In 1927, Olaus was offered a position in Wyoming, and the growing family moved to Jackson Hole. Olaus continued his work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and he and Mardy became key players in the early conservation movement. Among other things, they helped found the Wilderness Society, and had a hand in the passage of the Wilderness Act and the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They both authored books and won prestigious professional and environmental awards.



Olaus and Mardy in later years. Photo U.S.F.W.S



Olaus died in 1963, but Mardy continued to be active in the wilderness preservation movement until her death at age 101 in 2003. She wrote articles, gave speeches, testified before Congress, and was invited to the White House when President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act in 1964. She worked until late in her life, and was dubbed the “grandmother of the conservation movement” by the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.


Mardy Murie, left, as President Johnson signs the Wilderness Act. Photo U.S.F.W.S


Today, the Murie ranch in Wyoming operates as an Environmental Center.

Without the passion of committed people like Mardy and Olaus, today our Wilderness Areas might be developed, asphalted, and choked with traffic.

The fight for Wilderness is not over. Today, our federal lands are under increasing pressure for oil and gas development, as well as other high-impact uses such as motorized recreation.


Do you have any thoughts about wilderness, adventure or preservation? Please leave any thoughts or comments. I love hearing from you!


References and Links

Olaus and Mardy Murie: Alaska’s Passionate Protectors

Arctic Dance, the Mardy Murie Story, by Charles Craighead and Bonnie Kreps

The Wilderness Society

The Murie Center

The Wilderness Act and the Preservation Movement

The Wilderness Act turning 50

Two in the Far North, by Mardy Murie


Wild Home


This week, I’d like to share a special interpretive signage project I recently completed.

Last summer, my clients at the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council near Bend, Oregon, contacted me with a specific request: they wanted an interpretive sign on the topic of stewardship, and they wanted to use student-created artwork and poetry.

I’ve discovered over the years in my business that using student work for an interpretive project—or any design project—requires a special touch. Sometimes, people are surprised to find out such projects often involve more time and can end up costing more in the long run. They are not merely design projects, they are learning experiences as well.

But, if done right, it is most definitely worth it.

In this case, it worked out great. The Watershed Council staff and their partners spent a lot of time working with the students, and they generated spectacular results. It was my job to take their finished work and tie it all together, designing a sign to feature the artwork—adding one illustration of my own for context—and to make the topic complete.

The basic design was done to coordinate with an earlier series of signs I did for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. Click on the sign for a larger view.

The basic design was done to coordinate with an earlier series of signs I did for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. Click on the sign for a larger view.


To give a background and context for the more imaginative student work, I painted a watercolor of the mountains and the headwaters of Whychus Creek.


Peaks from left to right: Broken Top, South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister.


The other illustrations were done by high-school and middle school students.I particularly liked the center mandala. If you look at it closely, you will see it is amazingly intricate, with gorgeously designed elements pertaining to the river and the life it supports.



And the salmon! Each one has its own wild design within the contour of the species—truly an artistic expression of the concept of Wild.


Equally compelling were the poems.


“This place is a home,

to the fractured

and the ones who

never had

one of their own.”


-Alaina Todd, Sisters High School.


For me, this poem is deeply affecting. It really says it all—why we so desperately need to preserve the wild places left on earth. The Wild is our home.

Our only home, in so many ways.



If you’re ever in the vicinity of Bend, Oregon or Sisters, Oregon, be sure to visit the Whychus Creek Area and the Three Sisters Wilderness.



Wild Things


“There are some who can live without wild things

and some who cannot.”

-Aldo Leopold













I’ve been keeping a sort of Wildlife Life List over the years, and it has become fairly complete with local species—with one notable exception: Gray Wolf. This is not surprising, they were extirpated from Washington in the 1930s and only reappeared a few years ago. Since then, I’ve kept track of their surprising progress, and I’ve wondered if I’d ever get to see one. More than any other animal, I’ve wanted to see a wolf.

This nation once exterminated wolves with such extreme prejudice, it feels symbolic of the broader disregard for nature that has landed us in our current environmental mess. Now, we’re on a planet facing serious trouble. But, the return of wolves feels like a hopeful sign, a small step toward a more balanced state. I may be a dreamer, but I think if we can learn to coexist with a species as challenging and controversial as wolves, there might be hope for wild nature after all.

And maybe for us, too.


A watercolor sketch of a wolf I did for a previous post, Gray Wolf. Nature is messy, inconvenient and unpredictable. Can we learn to live with wild things?


Last weekend, when my family and I had a possible wolf sighting, I was thrilled. And it wasn’t just one wolf, but three of them. A pack.

In all honesty, we’re not one-hundred percent sure it was a true sighting. Wolves look a lot like coyotes—except they are twice the size—and at a distance it’s hard to tell the two apart. Still, we had a pretty good look at them, and they just didn’t look like coyotes. There was something about their behavior and the way they moved—not slinky like the familiar coyote, but smoother, straighter, and more powerful-looking. Even more compelling, the next day we found 5-inch tracks nearby that were undoubtedly wolf, scat that was possibly wolf, and the kicker: Washington’s newest pack, the Wenatchee Pack, had an official Washington Department of Wildlife “Confirmed Sighting” a few months ago in Pitcher Canyon, just several miles to the south. There is no doubt…wolves are in the ‘hood.

So, there you go. Whether it was a true sighting, or just my own dreamer-self needing wild in the world, I’m adding Gray Wolf to my List.



I painted this coyote for a project. Coyotes are half as big as wolves, have a narrower snout and larger, pointed ears. To me, the animals we saw didn’t look coyote-like.



This is an unretouched photo of one of the tracks we found. It measured about 5 inches from the bottom of the pad to the top of the claw marks. Click here to see a comparison of wolf vs coyote vs dog tracks.

















The following story is a short sketch of our suspected wolf sighting last weekend. It’s all completely true…except for the obviously imaginative parts.




He was expecting us, of course—wild animals are far more in tune with the world than we are. He probably knew the moment we stepped out of the cabin door—all four of us talking and laughing, thoroughly enjoying our weekend-getaway in the Eastern Cascades.


A quick watercolor sketch I did of the meadow as viewed from the cabin. Those are the Three Brothers in the distance.


My husband and I and my brother and sister-in-law were heading out for a sunset stroll to the old pioneer homestead where there’s a good chance of spotting the elk herd. Dusk and dawn are the best times for wildlife-watching, and the herd often comes out of the forest for an evening graze. Just that morning we had watched a bull elk with a magnificent rack of antlers saunter across the meadow like a king. At night, we’d hear the bulls bugling their love-calls to the females. It was a haunting sound, a little plaintive for such a regal animal. “Please, baby, pleeeease baby, pleeeee-eeeee-eeeee-eeee-eeeeese!!!”



A detail of a watercolor illustration I did of a bull elk. At full size, the large males are eight feet tall.


We didn’t know it then, but we wouldn’t be seeing any elk in the meadow—they were hesitant to leave the forested cover. It was a good decision, because three of Nature’s supreme top predators were on the move, and they’d love nothing more than killing and devouring an elk. Gray wolves had not been seen in these parts for the better part of a century, but they were here now, and the elk were naturally nervous.

I imagine the scene…

…the wolves were bounding up from Pitcher Canyon, adrenaline and anticipation fueling their almost-flying gait. They knew the elk were nearby, the mountain air was saturated with elk-scent, and the constant bugling was like a beacon. The leader realized it was a long-shot—dangerous even. After all, an eight-foot bull elk deep in the frenzy of the rut would be a poor choice for prey. But still… there might be a sickling or a young one from the herd they could take.


Anyway, even if the hunt failed and they resorted to scrounging for mice or carrion, it would be worth it, just to feel like a pack. For most of his life he had run solo, existing on nothing but his wits, luck, and smaller, easier prey like beaver, rabbits and occasionally a deer. Then one day not long ago, a female had appeared, a straggler from a pack whose territory ran to the west, closer to the Cascade peaks. The two had forged the bonds of a breeding pair, ideally a partnership that would last their whole lives. Soon another female joined them, a younger sister to his mate and not yet fully mature. Now they were a pack of three. It was an important accomplishment—as a pack, they could support each other while they scouted out territory, a place with good prey where they could raise up new generations. Plus, now they could really hunt.  Since time began, wolves have practiced the art of cooperative hunting: assessment, strategy, and teamwork. It was high time to hunt like wolves.


But as the three wolves scrambled up from the forested canyon and trotted into the open expanse of grasses, the leader paused. Deep in his awareness, an alarm was being raised. He scanned the distance and, about a half-mile away he could see five or six dens, the kind used by only one species. Uprights.


He signaled to the others to take cover while he went to investigate. Following his nose, he found a good spot and took position, holding his head high and letting his nostrils flood with hundreds of the incomprehensible scents that always exuded from Uprights. The wind shifted and now he could hear them, and he perked his ears to capture their vocalizations, rising and falling from chirpy to booming and back again. None of it made sense, but still, he took note of every detail.


He stood stock-still with all senses on full-alert as they rounded the bend and came into view. Ah. Just as he expected: four Round-Headed Uprights. Adults. Two male, two female.


The four of us strolled from behind a grove of ponderosas into the open. The rutted road led to the old pioneer homestead, now just an aspen-ringed clearing on a small rise above the meadow. I was lost in thought, imagining pioneer life in such a place. What would it be like, coming outside on a frosty morning to milk cows or hitch up the wagon and facing such a landscape: meadow, mountains and forest, all arranged like a carefully composed oil painting. It was almost too beautiful to be fully natural. How did they focus on chores with such a view?

I felt someone grab my arm.  Ralph was pointing to a spot straight ahead in the grasses.

“Coyote!” he whispered.

We all froze, and someone whispered, “who’s got the binos?” Each one of us —even though we knew better—had forgotten to pack decent binoculars. All we had was a flimsy loaner pair, shared between the four of us. We had been kicking ourselves all weekend for being such idiots, since we knew full well the cabin is a terrific place to see wildlife. The large camas meadow, with grasses, wetlands, and aspen groves, is ringed with ponderosa pines and Douglas fir forests—all just a hop and skip from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Usually, we saw elk, sandhill cranes, coyotes, bear, deer, owls, hawks, songbirds, snakes…you name it. A weekend at the meadow was like a mini-African Safari, Northwest-style.

And yet, we had forgotten binoculars.

“Oh, well…it’s better this way,” Fran had said as we started our walk. “It’s always when you forget your good binoculars that you spot something really cool.”

“Yeah, and at least we remembered the beer,” my brother Mark had added.

And sure enough, in the tall brown grass a hundred or so yards in front of us, we all saw him: a large grayish canine body standing with ears perked up and aimed straight at us like little radar dishes. He was obviously assessing us, reading our scents and our postures.

“Give me the binoculars!” Ralph hissed.

As I blinked to focus my naked eyes, I was struck by something about him I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

“Strange coyote,” I said.

“I don’t think that’s a coyote,” Ralph said, his voice quavering just a bit. “Look at the size of him. Oh man…it’s gotta be a wolf.”

“A WOLF! Oh, let me see!” I squealed.

For the next few moments, the four of us fumbled around, passing the binoculars, and whispering as if to not give ourselves away. It was kind of silly since the animal was already fully zeroed-in on us.

“Do you think it’s really…”

“I can’t quite tell…”

“Oh geez, he’s looking straight at us…”

Suddenly, as if distracted by something in the distance, his head swiveled sharply sideways. Then he bounded off through the grasses.

“Darn, he’s gone…he ran off into those trees…I lost him…”

“There he is! He’s right there! Oh my god, here comes ANOTHER one! Look, they’re nuzzling each other!” The two wolves were sidling up against one another, brushing their bodies and faces together.

“Look! I see a third! There’s THREE of them!”

When it was my turn with the binoculars, I saw a smaller wolf run up to join the larger two.

“The third one looks playful, like a pup,” I said. “He’s…bouncy!” I was so excited I couldn’t think of the technical term and reverted to Pooh’s descriptor for Tigger.

The three wolves congregated for a few moments, then the leader took off, heading north toward the far end of the meadow.

“Look at that stride,” Ralph said. “Coyotes don’t move like that.”

It was true. There was something distinctly different about the posture and gait of these animals—they didn’t slink like coyotes, but ran smoother and straighter.



The male had decided: the pack would move on. With Uprights here, this was not the time to go after elk, especially since there were only three of them to work the hunt. They would head north into the forest, and if they were lucky, they might be able to catch and kill a deer.


As he ran, all thoughts receded from his animal mind until there was nothing but the sensory input of the world and its creatures. He took it all in, instinctually searching for his own place in the midst of it all.


Now that they were a pack, he had a better chance of finding it. They all did.



Seeing the wolves head north, we raced back to the cabin and settled ourselves out front where we’d have a good view—if the wolves continued on their trajectory they’d pass right in front of us.

As the sun sank deeper the gold sky seemed to dissolve, slowly revealing the blackness of infinite outer space. The meadow became drained of color until it was a silver expanse surrounded by shadowy forest. It seemed like the perfect place for wolves to hide in wait for prey to appear.

We waited in silence and I noticed that the birds and other wildlife seemed to have vanished—it was suddenly dead-quiet. I began to feel chilled from the light wind blowing down from the mountains. It had been a while…had we missed the wolves? Or, were they maybe in the forest taking cover for an ambush?

“Just think,” I whispered to Fran. “Maybe we’ll see the wolves take down an elk!”

She looked at me with widened eyes, and I couldn’t tell if she was intrigued or horrified by the thought. The scene started to play out in my imagination… the terrified screams of the elk as he struggled against the snarling hunters. I shivered. Did I really want to witness such a thing?

“There he is!” Ralph whispered as we watched a wolf dart across the meadow and into the woods on the north side. “That looks like the young one catching up—the other two probably went ahead. I think they’re gone now.”

Thirty minutes later it was pitch dark, the sky steadily filling up with stars. I got up and walked back up to the cabin and started getting things ready for dinner. Mark and Ralph got the fire going.

“Where’s Fran?” I asked as I set the table.

“Still out there,” Mark replied. He chuckled. “If we let her, she’d stay out there looking for wolves till the moon comes up.”

“Well, go tell her that her pack needs her to come inside,” I said. “It’s feeding time.”




Here is the link to the rental cabin at Camas Meadow. Click here for info.

Wreckreation in the Teanaway?

Another Update, 12/3/2012

Check out this Guest Editorial in the Seattle Times for another view on the Dam Project.



On October 11, I received an email from Michael Garrity, Washington State Conservation Director for American Rivers about this post. I followed up with a phone call to him. He said his email was to reassure me that new lands would not be opened to off-road vehicles. Actually, he said, the new agreement would protect lands that are currently closed to ORV. The new agreement would better manage lands that are currently open to ORV. When I asked him if the organizations in the letter cited below—Sierra Club, etc— were on board with the new agreement, he said yes.

This is a complicated project, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on it. I know that we cannot protect all lands from any possible human disturbances, and that “working” landscapes—forests, farms, and recreation areas—are part of the mix in planning a sustainable future with a healthy environment. So, I’ll be watching this to see how it plays out. Hope you will be, too.

Here’s the meat of the email:

I wanted to reassure you that the former American Forest Land Company land in the Teanaway that was acquired by the state will see improved management and an emphasis on conservation, recreation, and sustainable forestry rather than the unsustainable forestry and largely unmonitored recreation that have occurred there in the past.  There will be a public process to inform the management of the land.  More info is available here:

The Sierra Club report you refer to is critical of a National Conservation and Recreation Area plan for adjacent National Forest land that is unrelated to the state’s purchase of the AFLC land, which the Sierra Club supported.  That said, even the National Conservation and Recreation Area proposal has been mischaracterized by some of its critics as opening land up to off-road vehicles that is not already open to it – the fact is that is sought to allow some continued ORV use on public land where they were already used, but to manage them better and do a better job of keeping them out of places they shouldn’t be, while also adding new Wilderness designations and Wild and Scenic River designations.  More recently (and thanks in part to some of the criticism you read whether or not one thinks it’s warranted or unwarranted criticism from a conservation perspective), that proposal has been put on hold pending the completion of the National Forest planning process (still a few years from completion) in order to allow the public to weigh in on the details of management of the National Forest in the Teanaway region as well as other parts of the Wenatchee National Forest.


Here’s the original post:

The Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resources Management Plan proposes new and expanded dams and reservoirs near Ellensburg in Central Washington. A recent article in the Seattle Times Article made it sound like a wonderful compromise: farmers would get water, the tribes fish, and the rest of us 50,000 acres of “protected” land in the gorgeous Teanaway.

Wow! I love the Teanaway area – it is prime Eastern Cascades habitat and gorgeous country!

Plus, the plan is supported by Forterra, Conservation Northwest, American Rivers, the Wilderness Society, and the Bullitt Foundation. All great organizations.


I wondered what “protected” meant. There is quite a push in many rural Washington communities to develop public land for high-impact motorized recreation—the kind that really tears up the landscape, like ATVs, motorcycles, and 4x4s. Is this what they have in mind for Teanaway?

The Sierra Club report indicates it does.

A closer look showed that the recreation portion of the plan is strongly opposed—on the basis of increased off-road vehicles alone—by a slew of environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Seattle Audubon, Friends of the Earth, Washington Native Plant Society, Alpine Lakes Protection Society and many others.

Plus, the plan calls for destroying 1000 acres of old-growth forest near Bumping Lake,  and I certainly can’t support that. We need all the old-growth we have left to remain intact.

Bottom line: I cannot support anything that would threaten to turn the beautiful, serene Teanaway into the gouged-up mud pit that other off-road vehicle sites have become. The “protection” could end up ruining one of the greatest treasures of the Eastern Cascades.

What do you think?


An acrylic painting I did while perched on a boulder in the middle of the North Fork Teanaway River.

An acrylic painting I did while perched on a boulder in the middle of the North Fork Teanaway River, near Beverly Campground (US Forest Service).


















Can we really afford to lose more old-growth forest? We have so little left.

A child alone in the woods...almost never seen anymore.

(A watercolor I did for my Federation Forest State Park Project)









You also might be interested in reading one of my posts from last summer about a different—but no less dubious—dam proposal:


If you want to study a single topic to help you understand history, the environment, politics and the economy…choose rivers.

Read more….

This sketch shows the Skykomish River, one of the last wild rivers in Washington State...close to where a new dam is planned.

This sketch shows the Skykomish River, one of the last wild rivers in Washington State…close to where a new dam is planned.


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