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Thursday, August 30, 2012

So long, Amy!

I began working for Washington Wild at the beginning of the summer, after being selected for one of 47 paid internships through Teens in Public Service, a program which pairs teens with nonprofits in the Seattle area.

When I found out my TIPS placement for the summer, I pictured myself grappling with blackberry vines and carving out walking trails. You see, I’m a six-time survivor of Survivor Camp (through Wilderness Awareness School), so I was prepared for anything: thorns, bugs, dirt, bring it on.

Actually, my internship turned out to be an office job, so I learned how to work indoors to make a difference in the Great Outdoors.

Instead of traversing overgrown trails, I found myself navigating byzantine lines of HTML code. Mosquitos and horseflies were replaced by web bugs that could turn an entire page into Celtic-looking hieroglyphics. Rather than avoiding wild animals, I had to look out for Washington Wild’s office dogs, Callie and Moose (who were very friendly until they tried to steal your lunch).

And as my final project, I developed a social media plan which would increase WW’s Internet presence, a presence which is crucial in the digital age. A six-week endeavor, the plan necessitated extensive research, reading other Communications & Marketing Plans, analysis of search engine traffic and pageviews, a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, & Threats) Analysis, and website design.  

And I did even manage to get outdoors during my internship—to hikes in some of our campaign areas, conservation photography exhibits, and outreach events where Nick, the Outreach Intern, and I learned how to rattle off Washington Wild’s history and current campaigns in one breath.

At Washington Wild, I was able to see the forest for the trees—to focus on the future of conservation in Washington State. Because the threats to Washington’s wildlands are real and pressing: logging companies that would clear-cut old-growth forests on the Olympic Peninsula. A mining company that would drill at the base of Mount St. Helens. Just to name a few.

So thank you, Washington Wild, for a wonderful summer internship!

Amy Bearman recently completed her position as Washington Wild’s TIPS (Teens in Public Service) summer intern. She will begin her freshman year at Stanford University this fall. Hailing from Sammamish, Amy enjoys hiking, gymnastics, and Washington Wild’s office dogs.

Monday, August 20, 2012

In Search of Wilderness

Leaving Seattle on I-90 east, the gray clouds barely visible through the towering fir trees, I was lulled to sleep. I awoke an hour later to a cloudless blue sky stretching far over a flat, dry, dusty landscape. A sea of sage floods our view and our nostrils, and it becomes clear that the next few days will be hotter and dustier than what we were used to.

We journeyed to eastern Washington in search of wilderness. Our mission was to seek out two different expanses of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and take inventory of any “Wilderness characteristics” that these lands might possess. The goal of the mission was to document these “Wilderness characteristics” in hopes of demonstrating to the BLM that these expanses of land should be managed as congressionally designated, permanently protected Wilderness. Known as a “citizens inventory” in BLM speak, this process is sanctioned by the BLM. Washington Wild decided to conduct a “citizens inventory” of the BLM lands spread throughout eastern Washington on behalf of our 10,000 members and supporters. 

On this first trip, we ventured into two BLM-managed areas known as Beezley Hills and the Duffy and Douglas Creek Recreation Areas. These parcels of land were well over 5,000 acres of contiguous land, a requirement set by the BLM for lands that are eligible for a “citizens inventory”. The process of surveying these lands involved traveling previously marked roads within the land boundaries and taking photo evidence of their current condition. We found that more often than not the roads were hardly usable and, if anything, could be considered a hiking trail or a thruway. We also assessed the land for its “naturalness” and “potential for solitude.”  Both of these qualifiers relate to the properties of Wilderness and the experience one could have while enjoying these lands. Finally, we noted any human disturbances and potential for passive recreation (recreation that does not involve any use of mechanized equipment).
On day one, we visited the area known as Beezley Hills, which is located to the northeast of the town of Quincy, Washington. After some navigational confusion and roads that seemed to end too soon, we stumbled across a gate with BLM insignia upon it. The hilly geography of this area seemed to hold a huge amount of potential for hiking and other recreation, and most importantly, for solitude. There were several places deep in the sage brush where one would be hard-pressed to locate any sign of civilization.

Days two and three brought us to a new piece of land, the Douglas and Duffy Creek recreation areas. We found many challenges with accessing this area, and found our attempts thwarted on more than one occasion. We did successfully test the waters of Douglas Creek in a well-deserved swim break, as well as on another occasion when we found the creek to flow directly over the road, rendering it impassable. This area was clearly designated for recreational use, and it was understandable why. The presence of water brought shade trees and wildlife, and the surrounding hills brought an open expanse of untouched grassland, ideal for aimless wandering.

The most memorable sight of the trip for me wasn’t the potential wilderness characteristics of the BLM lands, of which there were many, but rather the areas that had already surrendered to large-scale cultivation of one or two crops, which brings with it many unintentional negative impacts, including topsoil depletion. As we drove through the flat land en route to our destinations, clouds of dust flanked the roads - massive clouds that evoked the smoke of a forest fire. These plumes of dust loomed ominously in the distance until we crested a rise in the landscape and saw their origin: a tiny tractor, putting along on its day’s work.

Some clouds, however, weren’t caused by intentional upset of the soil, but rather simply by the wind. Tall dust twisters were common, miniature tornados that stirred a mixture of fear and Wizard of Oz wonder. Lacking vegetation to keep the dirt where it belongs, the vulnerable soil lays exposed to the whim of the elements. One of our most precious resources, topsoil, is literally going up in smoke, and it is no wonder we need more protection of the lands located out here. We can’t afford to lose all of our future to the wind.

Washington Wild plans to conduct “citizens inventory” on at least four more BLM managed areas located in eastern Washington. After conducting the inventories, WW will send a report to the BLM documenting our findings. WW will make recommendations on which areas have enough “naturalness” and “opportunities for solitude” to be managed by the BLM as “lands with wilderness characteristics”. Eventually, these lands will be nominated for permanent protection as a federally designated Wilderness area. WW hopes that this work will help introduce our statewide supporters to the lesser-known public lands that the BLM manages and that hold tremendous natural beauty and opportunities for passive recreation. Please consider joining Washington Wild today and help us venture into this new territory and expand Wilderness protections to more areas in our great state. 

Phoebe Reid is an Education Intern for Washington Wild. She is currently pursuing a Geography and Environmental Studies degree at Dartmouth College and hopes to pursue a career in sustainable international development and food systems.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Beckler Peak Hike

Washington Wild completed our summer hike series with a trek up Beckler Peak, located just outside of Wild Sky Wilderness. We were fortunate to have Mike Town lead this hike on a hot, sunny, western Washington day! Check out the photos below, and be sure to check back for more hikes in the future with Washington Wild!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Through a Lens

Stepping into the 2012 International Conservation Photography (ICP) Awards exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle, one is overcome by the sheer beauty of nature.

But beauty can be deceiving.

Many of these photographs, while masterfully composed and brilliant in their conception, present a chilling warning behind their crystal-clear pixels and bright hues.

A kaleidoscopic swirl of colors darkened by the silhouette of a ship mast turns out to be an oil slick on the Puget Sound. Fog misting off the Willamette River in Oregon and shot through with sunlight is actually industrial pollution. A sea otter captured underwater looks playful, until you notice the fishing line ensnared in its flesh: a “necklace of death,” as described by the photographer. 

Some are more subtle than others—like an Icelandic landscape at morning, which hints at what may be lost if global warming continues unabated.  Others, such as a dilapidated shopping cart buried in the fetid water of the Duwamish River, scream out that something is terribly, terribly wrong.

And this is the very mission of acclaimed Seattle photographer Art Wolfe, the founder of the biennial ICP Awards. In addition to recognizing the talents of amateur and professional photographers, the competition is meant “to educate, inspire, and motivate the public through a photographic exhibition that will create a sense of urgency and move people to take action.”

Although the winning photographs hail from all across the globe and entries represent nearly all seven continents, some of the most poignant images strike closer to home. Among these: a shot of a crisp Tacoma evening marred by vapors streaming from smokestacks; a bifurcated image representing the clash between commuter highways and urban wetlands in Union Bay; and green rolling hills in the Palouse which are slowly being eroded by pesticides and fertilizer.

And some photographs even relate directly to Washington Wild’s current campaigns. “Circle of Life,” which won 1st Place in the Flora category, depicts the cool undergrowth of Mount Rainier National Park—an area that was threatened by an initial version of HR1505, a bill which would allow the Department of Homeland Security to waive 36 key environmental laws on federal public lands within 100 miles from the Mexican and Canadian borders and coastal areas. “Last Stands” portrays the loss of 75% of Vancouver Island’s old-growth temperate rainforests to logging, a tragedy that could be repeated in the Olympic Peninsula, lest legislation protects the area through new Wilderness and Wild & Scenic River designations.

Out of more than 1,500 images entered by over 300 photographers, only 75 spectacular shots were chosen for nine categories: Community at Risk, Documenting a Conservation Project, Flora, Landscape, Natural Environment at Risk, Puget Sound at Risk, Student, Underwater, and Wildlife. The exhibit runs from June 30 through November 25, 2012.
Go see the ICP Awards, marvel at the beauty of nature which is so exquisitely captured in art form, and support one of Washington Wild’s campaigns to make sure that beauty is preserved for future generations. 

Amy Bearman is Washington Wild’s TIPS (Teens in Public Service) summer intern. She will begin her freshman year at Stanford University next year. Hailing from Sammamish, Amy enjoys hiking, gymnastics, and Washington Wild’s office dogs.