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As I fly out of the Portland, OR airport, in route to a meeting in Adrian, a town I have never heard of before, it’s pretty easy to see the human footprint upon the landscape. Below me are miles and miles of asphalt, houses and infrastructure interspersed with small patches of greenspace for whatever purpose those fragmented habitats provide. I’m heading to a meeting to show support for the Owyhee Wilderness in eastern Oregon, where the deer and the antelope roam. Adrian High School, where I am currently writing this, ironically, is “Home of the Antelopes.” I’m amongst the traditional stand-off, rural Oregonians vs. Urban “Tree Huggers.” And yes, I just saw a gentleman come into the auditorium wearing a T-shirt saying “Tree Huggers Suck!”

I don’t know if this divide will ever close and as a matter of opinion, it seems to be widening. I’m not a quick study on the human race but there seems to be a lot of animosity for those who aren’t residents, even though we don’t know each other. My experience is that when they do come to know each other, and understand why each is motivated to be at this meeting, tempers calm and friendships take root but barriers have to come down and I’m not sure our policy-makers even foster this type of environment. The scene is all too predictable; super-sized Boss Hoggs stirring up the crowd to curry favor for the next election. The information that has been disseminated in the community is a perfect example of this. It’s not too often you see an online petition to stop a monument designation.

I can’t pretend to know how challenging it is to make a living out here in what I still have to call the wild, wild west. Farm equipment around every corner and a cowboy hat on nearly every head; this isn’t my world but I’m pretty sure no matter what you’re wearing on your head, no one wants to see the destruction of productive fish and wildlife habitat but we all need to make a living.

I was kind of an environmentalist before I became an extractive user (fishing guide). When I was younger, I wanted to run through the woods during hunting season and scare away all the deer so they wouldn’t be shot. When I discovered they wouldn’t hold still long enough for me to pet, I decided the best way to appreciate them up close was to hunt them and with that decision, came the responsibility to protect the lands and waters for the fish and wildlife I decided to pursue. I seem to spend more time protecting them than I do pursuing them these days. I think it’s only fair.

I typically don’t like to bring up a problem if I can’t propose a solution but I do know what a community should and shouldn’t do in order to accomplish something, whether it’s for the betterment of the human race or to the detriment of it. Priority one should be to foster an environment where all the stakeholders can have a civil and productive conversation about the issue at hand. The meeting is about to start and so far, the conservation community is disadvantaged. I think I can predict how the next two hours is going to go but I’ll be sure to report back to you before the night is done.

Yep, as predicted, although the moderator did a fairly good job at running the meeting, none of these rural politicians missed the opportunity about “the crowd from Portland” or “those people,” only further exacerbating the problem. Of course they want local control and the environmental community struggles to have their voice heard, this is their playground and they want it protected, into perpetuity if they had any say in it.

One of the stark facts that stood out to me in the forum was the fact that Oregon only had about 4% of its lands designated under any sort of conservation measure, FOUR percent! When you look at the vastness of this state and the diversity of bio-regions encompassed within the state, this becomes alarming. It’s pretty disappointing knowing that population growth in Oregon, coupled with climate change are going to be real stressors on our natural resources within the next 50 years and beyond. Are we going to adopt the same stifling policies of we’ll fix it when it’s broken instead of being proactive in the face of these future threats?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the banks of the Owyhee River on the Oregon/Washington boarder or 20 miles out to sea, or even in Bhutan for that matter, we’re all stewards of this earth and we all have a responsibility to protect the lands and waters that enabled us to inhabit these lands in the first place. On this Pacific Coast, management decisions upland, will have impacts, whether negative or positive, on the watersheds downstream and yes, these decisions should be made by our communities as a whole, not in the fragmented style that we’re used to.

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