Gifts, gifts, gifts

Langston Kriel and John Hart at Kayak Shed with gifts for water lovers.

Langston Kriel and John Hart at Kayak Shed with gifts for water lovers.

Check out our list of enviro-gift ideas. Last year we visited Gorge retailers for ideas. Those items from paper pads to cars are still sold. If you live outside the Gorge, see if the store ships or check out stores in your area.

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Quercus garryana: East Meets West in the Columbia River Gorge

Quercus garryana

Quercus garryana

Tradition has it that east and west can never meet. Turns out that’s not true. In the Columbia River Gorge east and west meet in a fascinating blend of ecological features, and there is one adaptable tree that thrives in both wet and dry Gorge habitats: The Oregon white oak, Quercus garryana.

Not only does the Oregon white oak take good care of itself wherever it gains a foothold, but it also provides a rich array of benefits for everything ranging from jays and squirrels to turkeys and truffles. The species’ modern range extends from Vancouver, British Columbia to near Los Angeles and on the eastern slopes of the Washington and Oregon Cascades. Oaks occur along the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean to about Goldendale, Washington.

In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon white oak is far better known west of the Cascades, especially in the Willamette Valley, large swaths of which were formerly covered with oak savanna. Today these areas are much reduced but can still been seen in parts of the valley, particularly around Salem amid rolling hills, fields and vineyards. In Salem, Bush’s Pasture Park maintains an elegant stand of the oaks, which also shelter native camas along the park’s eastern border. Before Europeans arrived, the Kalapuya Indians managed the oak stand and camas using controlled burns.

Oak in winter

Oak in winter

But if you go looking in the Gorge for oaks like the ones in Salem, you might not find them. Q. garryana is something of a shape-shifter. Where it is grouped together with others of its kind, it grows tall and develops a canopy reminiscent of a champagne flute. Where it is sparser, growing in more open areas of scrub and grassland, it takes on a mushroom shape. And in the Gorge’s more severe habitats like cliff-faces and ridgetops, it becomes gnarled and low-growing.

The Columbia Land Trust’s oak restoration project on the lower Klickitat River in Washington is a good place to see oaks in their various shapes, says Lindsay Cornelius, the Trust’s Gorge and East Cascades Stewardship Lead. Along Dillacort Creek there is a short hiking trail (although with a lot of poison oak, she cautions) and plenty of places on State Road 142 to pull over and survey the landscape.

Oregon white oaks have historically been something of a poor relation to trees considered more valuable. Douglas fir is probably the richest relation, being much more desirable for timber. On the east side of the Cascades, oaks have at times been specifically removed to grow conifers for this purpose. Since fire has been suppressed, many oaks in natural mixed

Douglas Fir is shading out the white oak. U.S. Forest services plans to thin the firs to release the oaks.

Douglas Fir is shading out the white oak. U.S. Forest services plans to thin the firs to release the oaks.

stands with Douglas fir have been stunted or killed because the latter grows much faster and cuts off the light. The difference in perceived value between the two species may have led people to discount the loss of the oaks.

Agriculture, development, and various uses for the wood have also contributed to the oaks’ decline throughout much of their range. Invasive plants like Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry interfere with oak seedling survival. Along the Columbia, oaks were burned to produce steam for sternwheelers in their heyday, says Cornelius, and people still burn Oregon white oak in wood stoves. The wood is also sometimes used for flooring and furniture.

But these days the virtues of Q. garryana are starting to be better understood. While west-side groups have been working to restore oak habitat for many years, it’s a relatively new idea for Gorge and east-side conservationists.

“A number of individuals and agencies are starting to have a general conversation, a growing interest and appreciation of white oaks,” says Dan Richardson, watershed resource technician for Washington’s Underwood Conservation District. Oregon white oaks are “just about our most important wildlife tree,” Richardson adds. “Insects, birds, even large mammals like bobcats will find places to den because oaks tend to lose a limb from time to time and open up a hollow. There is a lot of cavity nesting.”

Q. garryana is also hollow inside, says Cornelius, which means that in addition to providing “all the benefits of a living tree” –leaves, acorns, mycorrhizal fungi to supportthe roots, and insects – “it also functions as a snag would function” in the way Richardson describes. And speaking of fungi, the white oak is often host to numerous species including truffles, a favorite food of the threatened western gray squirrel, which prefers Oregon

Western gray squirrel

Western gray squirrel

white oak habitat, especially in the Gorge. Some 200 vertebrate species have been associated with oak ecosystems. Balch Lake, located in a mixed oak and pine savanna east of White Salmon, is critical habitat for one of two natural western pond turtle populations in Washington.

Mature trees that have room to spread out are particularly good for birds, including acorn woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers and scrub jays. Lichens and bryophytes on older trees host insects and other invertebrates favored by wrens, vireos and nuthatches. One bird that has almost completely disappeared along with the oak savanna is Lewis’s Woodpecker, but it has been spotted as recently as March 12, 2014 in Gorge oak habitat in Lyle, Washington by Lyn Topinka.

Oaks’ adaptability and hardiness bode well for their capacity to adjust to future disruptions, of which climate change is a major concern. Oaks are surprisingly drought-resistant, and the east end of the Gorge in particular is likely to become drier. Oaks’ deep taproots allow them to find groundwater other trees may not be able to reach.

They also tolerate fire well, another advantage in a hotter climate regime.

“If an oak is burned intensely and the whole top of the tree is killed, it will sprout back from the base quite profusely,” says Andrew Bower, a geneticist with the U.S. Forest Service. Bower is studying the genetic differences between oak populations on either side of the Cascades. “A fire may kill all the leaves from this year” he adds, but “a lot of times they’ll resprout from the trunk or branches next year.”

While projects to encourage white oaks in the Gorge may not actually be returning the landscape to a pre-European configuration, there is little disagreement that fostering healthy white oak habitat is a good idea. The multiple ways Oregon white oaks provide SONY DSCfood and habitat for many different species suggest that they can probably help stabilize ecosystems at risk from the stresses of climate change and further development.

“What I often ask,” says Cornelius, “is whether it’s important to go back to what it was, or is it [more] important [to know] what’s resilient, what’s likely to survive in the face of looming changes?”

If past evidence is any guide, Q. garryana will be able to blend the best of both worlds, east and west, wet and dry, to flourish in a future Gorge landscape.

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Methane Digestion: A Use for all that Poop

Growing up in Lynden, Washington, ensured that I spent most of my childhood nearly immune to the smell of dairy farms. Cow manure permeated the air throughout the entire town; anyone who couldn’t develop a resistance was doomed to rank misery. I did what children do, and adapted. The cow pies became part of the background scenery, only noticeable when the frozen dung bruised my bottom during the slippery parts of winter.

untitled-0122To my nose’s disappointment, I lost that particular skill after moving to the Gorge. Now, when I visit Lynden (or any other dairy community), I smell what any visitor would smell: thousands of pounds of poop.

It’s a mind-boggling amount of manure, far too much to throw into a compost bin. Because of this overwhelming quantity of dung, dairy farms face the same problem faced by all human communities: what to do with waste. Animal waste fills our sewage facilities and farm lagoons; trash waste fills our landfills, basements, and garages. It’s not difficult to imagine a WALL-E-esque future in which the world is overrun with human waste.

We live in a society that can split atoms, where everyone has cell phones that make the science-fiction Star Trek communicators look passe and sleek electric cars and solar panels give us hopeful images of alternative energy. Yet our households, our farms, and our factories still produce an embarrassment of waste.

Many facilities are looking to a much older bit of science to deal with this waste: anaerobic digestion, the breakdown of organic material into a burnable gas. In the coming months, Envirogorge will publish a series of stories on this lesser-known source of alternative energy.

Several facilities in the gorge area utilize “anaerobic digesters,” and we plan to explore their use at the Finley Buttes Landfill, the Roosevelt Regional Landfill, and Threemile Canyon Dairy Farm. We will be examining how effective they are as a source of alternative energy, as a cleanup strategy for very messy industries, and as a long-term money saver for all parties involved.

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Old Growth Growing, an essay by Bonnie New

Trapper Creek forestI meandered recently in a shady old growth forest of the Olympic peninsula and felt the awe of the BIG – the extent of forest, the size of the trees, the arc of time and biological process, the shaping forces of wind and temperature and water, the whole orchestral magnificence of life cycles and elements. At my feet was a world of a mesmerizing detail. Here were tiny slick mushrooms, furry banks of moss, splotchy leaves falling to the ground, insects scurrying and burrowing – vibrant pieces of the woodland orchestra.

I know the feeling of SMALL, even insignificance, in the presence of this BIG. I have wished to be more, to build with bigger blocks, to create a bigger impact, to leave a bigger footprint in this needy world. But the impressive universe of the forest is a working pile of pieces – little pieces – spent leaves, hungry decomposers, tailored enzymes, hopeful seedlings. There is a place for each, indeed a need for each. Remove one and the forest is less, and different, and moving forward into a changed future. So too for me and my kind. I should remember.

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Job opening: Land Stewardship Coordinator

The Friends of the Columbia Gorge has a job opening for a Land Stewardship Coordinator. The person taking the position will develop and implement the stewardship, restoration, and general maintenance of the land trust’s holdings. To apply send cover letter, resume and reference to  with the subject line “Land Steward Position.” Position closes Dec. 1, 2014.


Salary: $23,500 to $27,000 based on experience
Hours: 30hours per week
Location: Hood River, OR office
Status: Exempt
Supervisor: Land Trust Manager
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Gorge Wilderness Areas: Mount Hood Wilderness

Every wilderness has a story.

Mt. Hood. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Mt. Hood. Photo: Jurgen Hess

This story is told from many perspectives: those of the rocks and their movement within the earth, of trees’ rebirth and growth, animals, human use, and ancient legends.

Native legend tells of Wyest, Klickitat and Loo-wit. Two brothers: one, Chief of the Multnomah, the other, Chief of the Klickitat people, quarreled over a beautiful woman. The Great Spirit, angered with the fighting brothers and tribes, turned the brothers and the beautiful maiden into mountains.

Wyeast now looks over the land and people from his snow capped peak. He is known as Mt. Hood. The powerful volcano stands as the pinnacle of the Mount Hood Wilderness.

Life of the Volcano

Legend says the two brothers hurled rocks, spewed fire and continued to fight long after their punishment. The volcano waits dormant–for now. Wyeast’s last eruption occurred around the time of Lewis and Clark.

Mt. Hood has had three major eruptive periods over the last 2000 years. These eruptions buried trees in ash causing some to become fossilized. Luckily, erosion has uncovered some of these forests. Wyeast’s rage can be traced through these prehistoric buried forests throughout the Mount Hood Wilderness. Prehistoric buried forests help explain the past and show the far-reaching effects of volcanic activity.

USGS photo

USGS photo

The buried forests can be seen at six  locations:

  1. Illumination Ridge’s south side, north of Paradise Park, also known as the Stadter Buried Forest.
  2. On the Zigzag River near Twin Bridges campground, two forests are found here.
  3. White River canyon near Timberline Lodge.
  4. Along the Sandy River from Old Maid Flat to Brightwood.
  5. In the bed of the Zigzag river near Tollgate Wayside
  6. Along the lower Sandy River, downstream of Marmot Dam.

Revival of the Forest

While vegetation was all but destroyed during Mt. Hood’s eruption, rich soil deposits left after the volcanic upheaval created a prime environment for new plant life.

The new rich soil combined with moisture and time made for robust and prolific plant life. Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine, along with mountain hemlock and spruce grow tall. Lush coverage of Oregon grape, huckleberry , wild Oregon strawberries, twinflower, vanilla leaf, kinnikinnick and a range of other plant species, make up the forest today.

One key wilderness values is to provide untouched areas for animals and plants. A recovering population of wolves, the red fox and rare western honey bee, are just a few endangered species protected in the wilderness area around Mt. Hood. Frogs, salamander, loon, duck, eagles, hawks, butterflies, beetles, shrews, bats, foxes, bear, elk, bobcat and more make the bounty of Wyeast’s wrath their home.

Visiting the Wilderness

Mt. Hood. Photo by George Wuerthner,

Mt. Hood. Photo by George Wuerthner,

Congress created the Mount Hood Wilderness in 1964. Since then, it has been a popular location for outdoor enthusiasts and weekend adventurers looking to enjoy its 63,177 acres.

In 2009, President Obama expanded the Mt. Hood Wilderness by adding lands around Mount Hood and in the Columbia River Gorge. Several areas including Boulder Lake and Salmon River were promoted as inclusions in the expansion by conservationists, but did not receive protection in this amendment.

Popular activities like hiking, mountain climbing and snow sports bring visitors eager to enjoy the wilderness. Mt. Hood holds 12 glaciers. The rough terrain left from glacial movement can make for a technical and dangerous climbs. The mountain has claimed the lives of over 100 people, yet it remains one of the most visited peaks in America. Mount Hood also hosts the largest glacier cave system in the contiguous United States.

Just outside the wilderness Timberline lodge, Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt Hood Skibowl and a handful of X-County skiing and snowshoeing trails make for a range of winter time recreation.

Lewis' monkey flower. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Lewis’ monkey flower. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Summer means hiking parts of the Pacific Crest Trail or the popular Timberline trail which encircles the mountain. With over 30 main trail systems, hikers have a ranges of options:   forests, glacial stream beds. to cliffs and rocky mountain trails.

If you are more into relaxing and enjoying the scenery, fly fishing for trout in one of the many stocked lakes is a must. While you are at it, make it a night and camp out underneath the stars.

A wilderness permit is required to enter the wilderness area from May 15 through October 15. Permits are free and are self issued at trailheads and wilderness boundaries. Climbers must have a permit year round when on the south side of the climbing route. Climbing permits are available at Wyeast Timberline Day Lodge

For more information visit




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Farmers Fish Screens

The idea of fish screens seemed simple enough. Fish and debris get into man-made diversions on waterways (like canals and irrigation ditches), ruining the water for hydroelectric generators, drinking water, irrigation, and any number of different dedications. Why not, people thought, put a vertically metal screen at the intake to protect fish and provide water clean of debris?

Photo: Blayne Eineichner, CTWS

Photo: Blayne Eineichner, CTWS

The reality of fish screens proved less than perfect. Although in fewer numbers, fish were still being killed or seriously injured by those screens. Screens also needed cleaning often as water trapped debris against them. For the people who had to clear the debris that meant going out–at two in the morning, sometimes to remote locations or during winter snows or a combination of the three.

And occasionally floods washed away fish screens.

That’s exactly what happened to Hood River’s Farmers Irrigation District in February 1996. Flooding washing away all but one of the 34 fish screens installed only the year before. Without money to replace screens—that hadn’t worked all that well in the first place—the District reached out to potential allies in local fish agencies, who were unhappy with the damage fish screens did to fish.

Craig DeHart, General Manager, Middle Fork Irrigation District, at their Farmers Screen on Coe Creek (Mt. Hood).

Craig DeHart, General Manager, Middle Fork Irrigation District, at their Farmers Screen on Coe Creek (Mt. Hood).

That’s when cool things started happening. Engineers, farmers, district staff, agency personnel, and tribal leaders pitched in to help create a better design. They hit on a new idea: What if the fish screen was horizontal instead of vertical? Water would drop through the screens into the diversion while fish and leaves, twigs would travel in water over the top. The non-profit FCA now markets the screens.

This meant no more cleaning off debris in the middle of the night, no more shutting down hydro plants, more water for farmers, and hundreds of thousands of dollars saved per year (currently $479,200 saved per year, according to the FCA website). It also meant protecting endangered fish.

Not enough for you? Okay, there’s more.

In 2005 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was trying to put fish screens in at Badger Creek, two and a half miles into the wilderness. The plan called for 75 yards of cement in a location unreachable by heavy equipment.

For seven years the project remained in limbo – until ODF&W contacted the FCA, who told them about a modular Farmer Screens made of pre-fabricated steel sections and components that bolt together onsite. Modular Farmer Screens are made of pre-fabricated steel sections and components that bolt together onsite.Using a bed of compacted gravel and a back-fill of native materials, the project that was considered impossible was completed quickly, safely, and relatively inexpensively.

The Farmer Screens allow for installation of a hydro system by removing debris and fish from the system and meeting state and federal requirements. While the screens themselves don’t actually generate energy, there are incentives and programs to help develop in-conduit hydro-power (using water already diverted for another purpose). An example of this would be putting a turbine in water used for irrigation before it reaches crops, using the energy of the current to generate power. The FCA currently has nine screens that feed hydro-power systems.

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Nature Space Award: Oak Street Apartments

Photo by Jerry Giarraputo.

Photo by Jerry Giarraputo.

The vegetable and flower garden at the corner of Oak and 6th Streets is a big part of what makes downtown Hood River so appealing to visitors and residents.

C. J. Wertgen owns Oak Street Apartments at that corner. Around the perimeter of the building she created a garden filled with roses and peppers, lilies and artichokes, nasturtiums and carrots, squash and mums, sage and lemon mint and more. Steve Frazier, who has one of the apartments, helps garden and is part of the reason the roses are so successful.

C. J. Wertgen

C. J. Wertgen

C. J.’s daughter Lori Martinez nominated her garden for our Nature Space award.  We liked the garden and the fact that unlike other businesses C. J. even planted the area under the grating beside the street. It’s those extra things that make a place stand out. She wins one of Envirogorge’s $25 awards for places where people are creating places for nature.

This urban garden is open to all who drive or walk along the town’s main street. “I like the green,” C. J. says. “I like to see things grow. It’s my pleasure to share it.”

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Fire at Indian Creek site burns an acre

Aug. 22, 2014. Hood River. Saturday a fire burned about an acre on the east side of Tucker Road just north of Pacific Avenue. The blaze burned within 50 feet of Indian 3

The fire was quickly put out by Hood River and Westside firefighters.  A police spokesman said that at this time it is thought the fire was started when a kite hit nearby power lines causing them to arc and shower sparks down into vegetation. ODOT owns the land. This site is of special significance to Envirogorge as it our “Adopt a Landscape” site, a program of ODOT where businesses or citizens take care of section of ODOT’s land.  Envirogorge publishers Susan and Jurgen Hess began work on this site in 2000, planting the site with native plants for wildlife habitat and shading Indian Creek, which crosses the site midway. Indian Creek Trail, popular with walkers and runners traverses the site’s lower edge.
Fire remediation planning will start immediately–focusing on erosion control and re-vegetation. Photo Jodi Ashley.

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Rosauers’ solar power 3 years in

Owning a business is expensive and energy is often a big part of the cost of doing business.

Hood River Rosauers solar panels. Mt. Adams in background.

Hood River Rosauers solar panels. Mt. Adams in background. Photo: courtesy of Rosauers Supermarkets.

Three years after installing solar panels on the roof of their Hood River, Oregon store, Rosauers Supermarket is on its way to saving money, providing sustainable energy, and maintaining customer approval.

In 2011, Rosauers installed a 15,000-square-foot solar panel system—enough to cover three small city lots. The panels cover about 60 percent of the store’s roof. The Hood River store was first of Rosauers 22 stores to install solar panels and first in the Oregon to use Oregon’s Solar Incentive Program.

“The local reaction has been incredible!” said Rosauers Supermarkets Director and Facilities Manager, Ken Groh. “Positive comments about the solar panels during our re-grand opening have continued to the present time.”

Positive feedback may be attributed to how Rosauers keeps customers informed about the system’s performance.

The dashboard. They installed a large in-store solar dashboard on a flat screen monitor near the checkout area. A dashboard, like a car dashboard, gives performance information. Rosauers solar dashboard gives updated information on how much energy the solar panels produce hourly, weekly and monthly – and with historical comparisons. “Our customers enjoy looking at the dashboard,” said Groh. Customer satisfaction is just one of the benefits.

How much energy. On average, U.S. grocery stores use 52.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per square foot annually and pay upwards of $200,000 in energy costs, Energy Star reports. The Rosauers Hood River store is just over 50,000 square feet. Groh says the solar panels currently produce about 98,000 kWh per/year.

We can guess that the panels generate around 4 percent of supplemented energy, which amount to around $80,000 per year savings.

Solar power is one of the fastest growing alternate energy sources available. After all, sunlight is free and will continue to be so until the sun burns itself out.

The payback. Groh declined to say how much the initial investment was, but he says the panels will pay for themselves in 10 years. To some, that may seem like a long time to wait for return on investment, but as electricity prices increase, solar electric systems will save the store more money over time.

Federal tax incentives in tax credits help pay for commercial systems. Solar panels are likely to maintain their value. Once they purchased, the operation and maintenance costs are low.

Solar Nation installed Rosauers system. Solar Nation is no longer in business. Hire Electric in The Dalles now does any maintenance on the solar panels.

More energy saving. Besides solar panels, Rosauers recycles paper and plastics, has energy management systems in their stores, and recycles their deli and produce waste. The store buys energy efficient lamps and LED lights.

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