Protecting the Oregon Bioregion

Oregon’s year-round green, with its abundant coniferous trees, stole my heart a year ago when I contemplated a necessary uprooting from my comfortable life in Southern California. How could it be that the sense of place I discovered in the Pacific Northwest was so immediate? I felt so at home and so at ease.

Having spent 27 years in Palm Springs and San Diego, surrounded by palm trees, creosote, sage, and scrub, I had become accustomed to bone-dry weather and brown landscape, much of it hacked up by highways. I yearned for green. There was a longing; it felt like my very physiology needed the vibrancy that so much green offers. And that’s probably why the rain makes me smile. It’s a reminder to me of our temperate rainforest region.

In the nine summers that followed my college graduation, I found myself on the coast of Maine. It was there that the seeds for my craving were planted.

My friend took me out late one night. With flashlights, we knelt down by her family’s spring-fed pond and searched for thumb-nail sized chorus frogs, known as Spring Peepers. The Spring Peeper is a strong indicator of warmer days to come and we could hear their distinct peeps from the back porch.

Many nights I walked out my bedroom door to the wide expansiveness of her backyard and stood in awe of the pitch blackness of the night sky, the chilled air against my cheeks, the star patterns sprinkled across the open. My breaths were deep and full. I promised myself that I’d find that vivaciousness soon. Little did I know that I would find it on the opposite coast on nearly the same latitude. The same smell of the crisp night air in Maine would hit me at the base of Forest Park’s Lower Macleay Trail, my “backyard.”

It was as though I was being reintroduced to myself as a child. My childhood was peppered with hikes and camping outings with my dad. That sense of wonder I had as a kid had become buried and it wasn’t until I spent all of those years in Maine that I realized how much of a city girl I had become.

During my studies in Maine, I remember agonizing over a bioregional quiz. I was embarrassed by how little I knew about the history of my region, the water, the soil, the flora, and fauna. As a staunch activist at the time, I dismissed the idea that knowing one’s bioregion is a passive form of conservationism. I wondered how knowing all of this information would benefit an ailing planet. Over time, I would come to realize just how precious that wisdom is and how much it would feed my spirit in the coming years.

When we acknowledge the mystery of this complex planet we inhabit, that reverence opens the door to respecting our sense of place and taking responsibility for actions that collectively affect our environment.

As environmental pioneer Rachel Carson stated,

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’”

If we could ask ourselves those questions every day, how would the quality of our lives and the well-being of our planet transform?

Here are a few notable organizations in the Portland area working tirelessly to protect our precious bioregion:

The Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) has reached more than 100,000 participants with its unique discussion courses on simple living, food, sustainability, and climate change for small groups. Courses take place in homes, workplaces, centers of faith, universities, or any place where people naturally gather. The courses provide an enjoyable, supportive setting in which to examine personal values and habits, engage in stimulating conversation, create a meaningful community, and consider ways to take action towards creating a more sustainable future. Anyone can organize a group in their community, with the role of facilitator rotating among group members with each meeting.

One of their seven-session courses, Discovering a Sense of Place, focuses on the Pacific Northwest and is dedicated to knowing and protecting our bioregion. Topics include a sense of place, the responsibility to place, knowing your bioregion (watershed, soils, climate, plants, animals, and history), living in a place, mapping your place, and building local community and empowerment (individual and group). Visit the web site at www.nwei.org or call 503-227-2807 for more information.

The Forest Park Conservancy’s mission is to enhance Forest Park’s value as an irreplaceable asset for wildlife habitat and for the use and enjoyment of the public. Their primary areas of focus include land acquisition, habitat preservation, trail and trailhead projects, and public outreach. Each year, the Forest Park Conservancy hires and trains a full-time seasonal trail crew, the only staffed crew dedicated solely to Forest Park. The crew concentrates on maintaining and rebuilding the 70-plus miles of trails in the park. Contact them through the web site at www.forestparkconservancy.org or by calling 503-223-5449.

The Willamette Riverkeeper is the only organization dedicated solely to the protection and restoration of the Willamette River. The river, one of the major geographic features in Oregon, runs nearly 200 miles along its main stem, from forested foothills to the open bottomlands of the Willamette Valley. Here the river pushes past strongholds of floodplain cottonwood forests, flows through cities large and small, and past grass seed farms that cover the valley floor. The majority of Oregon’s population—more than 70 percent—lives in the Willamette River watershed. Their strategy focuses on four primary areas: habitat restoration, education, water monitoring, and legislative advocacy. Visit www.willamette-riverkeeper.org or call 503-223-6418.

No Oregon Child Left Inside (NOCLI) (HB#2544), a visionary piece of legislation supported by Freshwater Trust’s Healthy Water Institute, addresses a large number of youth disconnected from the natural world. Today, children spend far less time outdoors than their parents did. The legislation will help youth develop the knowledge and skills they need to devise creative solutions to complex natural resource challenges. NOCLI aims to build a framework to support youth reconnecting with local forests, backyard streams, local landowners, and nearby rivers, as well as a state environmental literacy plan that will ensure that every student will graduate as an environmentally literate citizen.

With a growing list of more than 80 organizations representing over 90,000 Oregonians, the NOCLI Coalition is comprised of a wide variety of groups—from those concerned about education and the environment to organizations with health and business interests. For more information go to www.nocli.org or call 503-234-3326.

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