Nature Spaces awards: 2014

Manja Warner's garden.

Manja Warner’s garden.

Every year in the house’s tiny front yard  a profusion of plants and flowers grow. It’s an old-fashion garden. It would be lovely anywhere, but it stands out here because it sits in the middle of a commercial strip on Hood River’s 12th Street.

This spot inspired me to start an award program for similar places: yards or gardens or farms where people are making an effort to create places for nature. Twice a month July through October I’ll be giving out a $25 cash or gift certificate.
The first award goes Manja Warner who creates the 12th Street garden. She receives a $25 gift certificate to Farm Stand grocery.

Manja says people often come up to her and say how much they like the garden. “The most frequent comment,” she says, “is that they love to watch the garden change from one season to the next and from one year to the next.” Some people ask for starts or give her a start from their own gardens.

Two bees in California poppy

Two bees in California poppy

In the back yard Manja developed a square foot garden. You step through a side gate and the busy street disappears into a lush landscape. Her gardens are popular with bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

This is the second award she’s won for her garden. In 2000 her garden won $2000 from the National Garden Association’s school garden program. At that time she had a preschool and the children developed a garden for the senses: taste, scent, texture.

If you’d like to nominate someone, email I’ll be looking for places with no or minimal lawn and giving preference for those using native plants.

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The Gorge Wilderness Areas: The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness

Eagle Creek Trail heading into Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Eagle Creek Trail heading into Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Jurgen Hess

The Columbia River Gorge is home to some of the most diverse and dynamic natural landscapes in the nation.

In it are  basalt cliffs,  grasslands at its east end,  temperate rain forests west,and holds a host of rare plants and animals.

Fortunately, its wilderness areas are just as distinct.

Gorge residents are spoiled with quantity – access to seven wilderness areas within close driving distance dappled throughout Washington and Oregon, mainly lining the Cascades. Washington’s gorge area wildernesses include: Trapper Creek, Indian Heaven, and Mount Adams. Oregon’s are: Mount Hood, Badger Creek, and Lower White River and Mark O. Hatfield.

Both states make the top 10 list of states with the most wilderness acreage. Washington beats out Oregon with 10% of protected land (4,463,093 acres) while Oregon contains 4% of its land in wilderness (2,476,115 acres).

Wilderness trail. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Wilderness trail. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Although acreage means more protected spaces of wilderness, it also means more places in which to feel truly detached from the industrialized world; helping to nurture an adventuresome spirit and provide true freedom and solitude in nature.

Mark Hatfield understood this better than some. He was instrumental in the preservation and expansion of one of Oregon’s most beautiful wilderness areas.

As an Oregon senator, he championed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act through Congress in the 1980’s. The Scenic Area is recognized as a national resource and protects rare plants, forests, wildlife, farmland, ancient Indian rock art, as well as cultural and historic sites.

He also pushed for the expansion of the Columbia Wilderness from 1978-1984 which since has been one of the largest wilderness expansions. In 1996, Congress renamed the it the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness in tribute to him.

Tripple Falls In the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul.

Tripple Falls In the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul.

President Obama further expanded the wilderness in 2009, by signing a new wilderness bill into law creating new boundaries–stretching from Larch Mountain and Multnomah Creek on the west to Mount Defiance on the east.

The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness is located east of Portland, Oregon and parallels the Columbia River. It features over 65, 822 acres of wilderness and some 200 miles of trails–including 14 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The trail system can be accessed from the south at the Wahtum Lake trail head, Rainy Lake Campground, or Indian Springs in the Mt. Hood National Forest; or from I-84 in the Columbia Gorge via the Eagle Creek Trail, Tanner Butte, Herman Creek and Nick Eaton Ridge trails.

Because of its proximity to Portland and stunning location, this wilderness is a favorite of Portlanders, gorge residents and visitors. It’s popular for hiking, camping, horseback riding, and fishing. A true legacy of Mark O. Hatfield, this wilderness is cherished by all and a gift to future generations.

At the top of Chinidere in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul

At the top of Chinidere in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul

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Get your float on with earth friendly gear

When it comes to the environmental impacts – and benefits – of paddle sports products, John Hart has jumped into the river and bobbed downstream with some of the most innovative manufacturers in the industry.

Owner since 2000 of the Kayak Shed in Hood River, Hart once worked in product design and development with Patagonia. That brand earned early props for its work sourcing organic cotton, reducing waste and avoiding harmful chemicals.

Shortly after Patagonia bought Lotus Designs, a maker of paddle sports life jackets, Hart headed north, while the former Lotus owners three years later started Astral Buoyancy in North Carolina. They wanted to make water-play products with low environmental footprint.

John Hart shows off some recent shoe designs from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

John Hart shows off some recent shoe designs from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

These days, Hart is happy and proud to stock Astral life vests and shoes. He has watched as the company aggressively worked to move its vests away from polyvinyl chloride foams, which kick out toxic chemicals during production, and as they degrade.

Cheap, flexible, functional, PVC products often incorporate phthalates to impart flexibility. But pthalates have been implicated in a variety of health problems. The Centers for Disease Control, for instance, notes that phthalates can affect human reproductive activity, and developmenet of reproductive systems in children.

If you want the micro-detail, check out this summary from the Environmental Protection Agency about the different types of phthalates . Tests continue to assess possible carcinogenic properties.

Hart notes that Astral loops backward and forward in its design efforts. For instance, it moved from PVC to the natural fiber, kapok, in its vests. Kapok was the standard for shipboard life vests for most of the 20th century.

Although it molds well to the body, the supplies of kapok proved of inconsistent quality, so Astral moved on. Research led Astral founder Philip Curry to a Taiwanese company, Winboss , which makes Gaia NBR (nitrile butadiene rubber) foam.

Old-school foam vest (left) and the latest (right) from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

Old-school foam vest (left) and the latest (right) from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

Gaia contributes far fewer volatile organic compounds to the atmosphere, and doesn’t involve the chlorine and phthalates associated with other foams.

“We are constantly working to find new methods and materials to make outdoor products more sustainable, so we can enjoy the outdoors for generations to come,” said Yonton Mehler, general manager at Astral Buoyancy.

We wouldn’t want to leave the impression that Patagonia and Astral are the only innovators and that the Kayak Shed is the only retailer celebrating earth-friendly design REI educates its consumers about flotation options), as does Mountain Equipment Cooperative.

Hart says the Astral folks are also evolving the materials used in their footwear. Next up? Use of recycled tire treads. Huaraches, anyone?

Stu Watson worked for more than 20 years for several Northwest newspapers and magazines, before starting freelance work in 1997.

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Wilderness Act. The 50th Anniversary

In 1964, the Wilderness Act was signed into law, creating one of America’s greatest conservation achievements and paving the way to provide 109 million acres of unspoiled lands for future generations.

Hiking in Badger Lake Wilderness looking at Mt. Hood Wilderness.

Hiking in Badger Lake Wilderness looking at Mt. Hood Wilderness. Photo: Jurgen Hess

While the word ‘wilderness’ may describe any undeveloped, wild or remote land, the word is defined in specific terms by Congress. Only federal land determined to meet certain standards can become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System–from

  • The land must be in natural condition: unnoticeable influence by humans.
  • It must contain above average opportunities for unconfined recreation and solitude.
  • It must be at least 5,000 acres of land.
  • It must contain “ecological, geological, of other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.”

Securing areas with these qualities provides future generations with places of freedom, solitude and an escape from industrialized society.

While the Wilderness Act has preserved over 750 wilderness areas from Alaska to Florida, there are also benefits to preservation such as habitat for threatened species, clean air, protected watershed, and outstanding natural recreation.


2014 marks the 50th anniversary of this historic achievement in wilderness protection.  Click the links: for more information about the Wilderness Act or The Wilderness Society.


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Green chemistry initiative: a slow build

What if fuel had so few pollutants that cleanup and recovery of a spill never made the news? What if waste water was so clean it took minimal processing to become drinkable? What if pesticides were stripped of dangerous chemicals so produce could be eaten without cleaning?

Green chemistry aims to do just that.

Gov. John Kitzhaber

Gov. Kitzhaber

The Oregon Green Chemistry Executive Order, signed by Governor John Kitzhaber in 2012, is a step forward in fulfilling the need for clean air, soil and water in the State of Oregon. The executive order intends to strengthen the demand for and use of products that have the lowest amount of toxic chemicals.

“The State has a big footprint in purchasing,” said Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Toxics Coordinator, Kevin Masterson. “Using the States purchasing power to influence the marketplace with the demand for greener, safer products means prices may drop and supply may increase.”

Oregon and Washington states jointly spend over $20 million on janitorial supplies annually. Organizations like the DEQ and Oregon Environmental Council (OEC) along with the governor’s office are focused on green janitorial spending to encourage market shift.

The State of Oregon also includes electronics, furniture and building materials in their green chemistry purchases.

Creating environmentally safe products is not the only goal of the executive order: Gov. Kitzhaber also hopes to boost the economy by creating demand for green products and design, as well as lower the cost of health care by decreasing chronic disease brought on by chemicals.

While state agencies are the main target of the executive order, local governments and public schools may also take advantage of the state’s price agreements.

Two years after the signing of the initiative, where is the state on implementing green chemistry?

Progress is being made, but slowly.

Kevin Masterson

Kevin Masterson

Business outreach is still in the beginning stages, says Masterson. The first effort out of the gate is state procurement. The DEQ, Department of Administrative Services (DAS) and Business Oregon are aiding purchasing managers from all state agencies in buying products that abide by the executive order guidelines.

Guidelines in the executive order for green chemistry include products which: avoid the use of hazardous chemicals, minimize toxicity to health, use renewable raw material or feedstock, break down into harmless substances, and minimize chemical releases, explosions and fires.

Officials hope to see lowered prices of green products and an increase of demand over the next few years.

Promoting green chemistry may lead to a future where toxics concern is a thing of the past, but for the present, Oregon leadership in green legislation furthers the goal of a cleaner state and a cleaner safer environment for all of us.

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The Gorge Big Year

Miko Ruhlen and husband Zed own Hood River Hobbies. But Miko is also a wildlife biologist (an ornithologist in fact) who leads birding walks in the Gorge. One of the 2014 events will be to count how many different species of birds you see 2014. Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson did a zany version in the movie The Big Year. Kick-off is Mon. Feb. 10, 5:30 p.m. at Hood River Hobbies.

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Bald eagles at Waucoma Park

In mid-January, two Bald Eagles flew over Waucoma Park and landed atop firs at the edge of the park. They perched for some time then soared off (slide show below). Waucoma Park is a small park in the center of the City of Hood River. This shows how important large over-story trees, even in small areas, benefit the wildlife that lives with us. Right now some 40 Bald Eagles are roosting and fishing at the Balfour-Klickitat near Lyle, WA.


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Mt. Adams views

Why we love Mt. Adams.

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Learn about financing home energy upgrades

This time of year heating bills carve into most people’s budgets.  Gorge Owned and Clean Energy Works think they can help some of us lower those energy costs. The two non-profits are hosting an informational meeting about home energy upgrades: Monday, Jan. 20, 6:30 p.m. at the Hood River Library.

HouseIf you live in Hood River County and own a home built before 1993, you’re eligible for low interest loans to make your home energy efficient. Clean Energy Works connects qualified homeowners with: local lenders for low-cost financing, local utilities for cash incentives, and local certified energy efficiency contractors who perform the work.

An advantage of CEW is that a number of energy upgrades can be done simultaneously. It can include: high-performance attic, wall and floor insulation; energy efficient windows; high-efficiency home heating; air and duct sealing; and efficient water heating systems.

About Clean Energy Works Oregon
Clean Energy Works is a non-profit, public-private partnership that fast-tracks total home performance upgrades in Oregon.



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Yesterday & Today: enviro-gifts

untitled-0002-2Mark Thomas took a life-long interest in music and started Yesterday & Today in downtown The Dalles 24 years ago. The store sells both new and used LP’s, CD’s, and DVD’s. He is a huge Beatles Fan. A artist friend created the drawing of the Beatles’s Yellow Submarine on the wall.

“Why buy used ones?” we asked him.

“Why not?” he said. “If I sell them, they’re going to be in perfect condition. If handled properly they’ll last forever. They get a second lease on life.”

In case you want to get a LP, but don’t have a record player, he has a selection of used ones.

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