To the people of Wallowa County, Oregon: My dictionary says an environmentalist is "a person working to solve environmental problems such as air and water pollution and the exhaustion of natural resources." Andy Kerr and Ric Bailey are true environmentalists (HCN, 11/14/94).
If you in Wallowa County are not yet concerned about the conservation of the scenic, diverse natural resources of the area, you should be. For a hundred years, generations of you in Wallowa County have overgrazed public and private land, overcut public forests, and destroyed high public meadows in the Wallowas with nearly 200 bands of sheep at the turn of the century. How can you afford not to be involved in a strong movement to prevent further damage to our public resources?
Surely you understand that public land is as available to me, or a New Yorker, as it is to a resident of Wallowa County. Somehow the belief that local residents "own it all" must be revealed for the lie it really is, especially in a county made up of large public land holdings. Such thinking has to change. Public land is in public trust: We all own it. Our mutual responsibility is to protect it for future generations.
In my work as a fishery biologist in Wallowa County from 1948 to 1957, I saw it all - the indiscriminate use of steelhead streams as logging roads in the lower Imnaha, the complete denuding of the Hobo Lake Basin by sheep in the summer of 1949, the stupidity of the Lostine City Council who refused to allow salmon passage through their city intake dam, and the bulldozing of Little Sheep Creek "to straighten the channel," that is: create more cow pasture.
When will county residents ever discover that cows are environmental liabilities, especially along streams? Destruction of riparian vegetation by grazing removes cover, exposes streams to higher temperatures, erodes banks and impairs water quality.
When will ranchers make the connection between poor land practices and fish losses? From 1948 to 1957 we in the state game and fish department tried hard to screen, at state expense, irrigation ditches in Wallowa County to save salmon. But even the 2-inch bypass pipe that carried migrating salmon fingerlings from the ditch safely back to the river was often plugged by some small-minded land owner whose greed or meanness prevailed, to the detriment of future salmon runs.
There are lots of us outside of Wallowa County who come back often to hike, fish, camp and hunt in what's left of the Wallowas. We are going to work even harder to create large public reserves where logging, grazing, mining and road-building are abolished for good. Protection of land and natural resources in the Snake River Canyon and the Wallowas will be a great benefit for those of you with enough vision and guts to make it happen.
Homer J. Campbell
The writer belongs to the Oregon Natural Resources Council, the Hells Canyon Preservation Council, and several other environmental groups.
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