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:  http://www.dnr.wa.gov/BusinessPermits/Topics/OtherLandTransactions/Pages/amp_teanaway.aspx

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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Mother Trees

Most of us love to watch birds, especially in springtime when they’re busy nesting and rearing their young. They work so hard for their babies, feeding them, teaching them how to be birds. Observing bird behavior gives us that warm fuzzy feeling…it makes us feel connected to them. In many ways, they’re like us.


But, do plants also care for their young?

We tend to think of plants as lifeforms that don’t really do much, spending their lives “planted” in a “vegetative state”. But scientists are discovering that plants are a lot more complicated than we ever suspected. Even though they have no brain, they can send signals to “communicate” with friends or enemies, they can recognize their own kin, and even wage war.

It’s part of the fascinating field of experimental plant ecology. Last night, I watched the breathtakingly beautiful episode of Nature called “What Plants Talk About”. (if you missed it, you can stream it from PBS here). In it we learn of the work of Professor J.C Cahill of the University of Alberta , who is researching what he calls “plant behavior”. That’s right: behavior. He and other researchers show plants hunting and foraging, tricking enemies, and most amazingly (at least to me), caring for young.

Douglas firs can live a thousand or more years. Most of the really old ones in Washington were cut down, but you can still find Doug firs 700 or 800 hundred years old in Pacific Northwest forests.


Mother Trees

My favorite part of the program was the segment (starting at minute 42) on the work of Professor Suzanne Simard and her research on Mother Trees in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Her work was published in the journal Nature, and focuses on the relationships of fungi with trees, and trees with each other and the larger forest community. She has found that trees use fungi—hairlike networks in the soil—not only as a way to get nutrients for themselves, but also as a way to shuttle nutrients to each other, particularly to young trees that need it most. She sees this as a way for the oldest, most mature and established lifeforms in the forest to help the younger, most vulnerable trees thrive.

Mothers taking care of their young.

The next time you go to the forest…

…look for the really massive Douglas firs. These are the oldest trees, the ones likely to have more of these complex connections to other trees and plants in the forest. These are the Mother Trees. Imagine…they might be actively “feeding” the younger trees—even trees and plants of different species. The mother trees help the forest community thrive.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Forests are so much more complicated than we ever knew, and the more we discover, the more amazing the story gets.


(I used this illustration of an ancient Doug fir and seedling for my New Years Post, but it works well here, too!)


And, don’t forget…Mother’s Day is just around the corner!



Watch the full episode of What Plants Talk About (if you don’t have a full hour, Suzanne Simard starts at minute 42 and lasts 15 minutes or so)

Watch Prof. Suzanne Simard discuss her research on Mother Trees

Read an article in Canadian Geographic about Prof. Suzanne Simard’s work

Read more about the What Plants Talk About Episode of Nature


What do you think? Leave a reply! And don’t forget to subscribe if you like this blog, and connect with me on Facebook.

(If you have trouble leaving a comment, please let me know via email. I may have a bug in my WordPress commenting)

Happy Earth Day!

To celebrate Earth Day, I’m recycling this post (originally from last June)

It’s a beautiful day. Go outside and hug a tree!



Have you ever looked at one of those massive, towering Douglas firs or western red cedars—the kind with roots that grip the forest floor like giant toes and crowns that disappear high in the sky—and wondered to yourself…what stories could this tree tell?

(A forest sketch I did while pondering my novel “The Hollow Cedar“)


Vulnerable new life

Every tree has its own story to tell. A new seedling faces a thousand dangers every day in the wild, unpredictable forest.

A Douglas fir seedling and beetle I painted for a signage project at Federation Forest.


The few who make it

The true forest giants—the ones that live for hundreds of years—have something to tell us about success in life…about being a survivor, and about beauty and strength in old age.

Six hundred years later, the seedling and its neighbors tower over a bull elk.


It all fits together

Life in a mature forest seems to go on forever, with layer upon layer of living beings—from the teeming soil to the bustling canopy. Some life-forms are tiny, ephemeral, nearly invisible. Others seem impossibly big. It’s a study in contrasts.


Where do we fit in?

I may be biased, but the forests of the Pacific Northwest are the most beautiful, fascinating places on earth. In any season, they are enjoyable—but when I’m in an old-growth forest on a bright summer day, I want to grow roots, sink them deep into the forest floor, and stay there forever.

A snippet of a working sketch for “The Hollow Cedar“.


What are you doing to celebrate the Earth today?

Why We Need Monuments, National and Otherwise


The Value of Unspoiled Nature

It is a fact that daily access to nature makes all of us happier and healthier. In urban Seattle we are lucky to live surrounded by spectacular nature, and perhaps we take it a little for granted. But with population growth and a bad economy, the pressures to exploit nature are almost irresistible, and it’s only going to get worse in the future.

Unless the unspoiled fragments of nature and the landscape are protected, they will eventually get used up—developed for one reason or another that seems to make sense at the time. Just last summer, our cash-strapped Parks Department proposed to install a private, for-profit zip-line into the canopy of one of Seattle’s few remnant mature forests.

The plan was shelved when 250 angry citizens protested, but if this type of thing can be a serious option…what next?

Nature needs an upgrade, a promotion. Maybe something like a Local Natural Monument, a community-level designation that could be proposed for intact areas of more “ordinary” nature. It isn’t just the spectacular that needs protection. Everyday nature is in some ways the most important of all (at least to humans), because it sustains us in our daily lives.


Spectacular and Protected

San Juan Islands National Monument

On Monday, the Pacific Northwest got a new National Monument, one of the most unique, varied and beautiful places on earth.

Thank you Mr. Obama! (It’s about time, though.)

Bureau of Land Management photo of the San Juan Islands.


I remember my Geology professor at the UW many years ago describing the geology of the San Juans as a mystifying and confusing jumble. “Picture a stack of dinner plates,” he said, “each one a different color, style, size, material, and from a different part of the world. Now imagine someone took a hammer, broke them into pieces, mixed them around and then glued them back together.”

(That’s all I remember off the top of my head, but if you want a more scientific description, click here.)

The San Juans are special because they provide many different types of habitat together in one place, surrounded by the protective moat of Puget Sound. Forests, grasslands, wetlands, beaches, and bluffs all work together to sustain an amazing variety of life.


Marbled Murrelet

Marbled Murrelet.


The marbled murrelet is officially listed as a threatened species, mostly because of habitat loss. These seabirds need big trees in coastal areas to build their nests. When the old-growth forests were cut, murrelets nearly died out. The new Monument has small areas of old-growth forest, some of which are used by nesting murrelets.

In contrast, last fall the Obama administration proposed to do away with 4 million acres of protected seabird habitat.


Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcon raise their young on cliff ledges called eyries. I did this illustration for a signage project for the Mountains to Sound Greenway.


Peregrine falcons were once threatened by agricultural pesticides and were once among the most contaminated of all birds. In the 1970s, the worst chemicals were restricted, and with the help of conservation groups—particularly falconers and raptor experts—the birds rebounded. The cliffs and bluffs of the San Juans support over 20 eyries.



I did this illustration of oystercatchers for one of my projects for the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, on the fabulous Oregon Coast.


Oystercatchers don’t really eat oysters. They eat mainly mussels, chitins and limpets, which they find in abundance in Puget Sound shorelines. A single pair may re-use the same nesting site for many years, usually built on the open sandy or rocky beach. Beach development, unleashed pets, or clueless beachcombers can threaten these birds.


Western Bluebird

Western bluebird, a snippet of a larger illustration I did for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Western bluebirds were recently reintroduced to the San Juans with the help of the San Juan Preservation Trust.

And, since any mention of songbirds brings to mind the devastating effect of free-roaming cats on bird populations, (more than one billion each year) I’ll leave you with this plea:

PLEASE…keep your cats indoors!



What do you think?

Does your community already have something like a Local Natural Monument? Have you been to the San Juans? Do you wish the Obama Administration was greener? Do you think Obama should designate more National Monuments? Would you be willing to keep your cats indoors if it meant having a future with songbirds?  (Cats are just as happy, or happier, indoors)

Go ahead and make my day! Leave a reply, rant, rave, or random thought.



Nature’s Chaos

In winter, the complexity of the forest is laid bare.


Forest fractals

Without the distraction of spring’s leafy dress, you can see right through to the forest skeleton. I am reminded of endless, intricate labyrinths—repeating patterns of wildness all the way down to the microscopic.

There is something reassuring about this winter view—a relief from the sterile, plastic world we are busily building. It’s nature’s chaos, and I find it hugely inspiring.



Yesterday, I did my annual garden cleanup getting ready for spring. I’m not a tidy gardener, but in early spring, my postage-stamp yard looks a little more ordered and less like a wild jungle. It doesn’t stay like this for long, though.


My garden in spring...the only time of year it looks orderly.

My garden in spring…the only time of year it looks orderly.


I like my little garden, but I would not want to live in a world without wild, chaotic nature.

Chaos is wildness, and wildness is life.

A snippet from the illustration I did for the Mountains to Sound Greenway.