Landscape

The Last Stands – 9 Saved Places

In the past, I would participate in a year-end tradition among photographers where favorite photographs over the previous year are selected and then featured in a blog post. Rather than do that, I decided to do something different. In 2016, I focused solely on visiting remnant old growth stands in the Umpqua River watershed in Southern Oregon so I have decided to highlight nine old growth forests that I visited which were threatened with logging during the last 20 years but were saved due to the efforts of Umpqua Watersheds, a local conservation group based in Roseburg, Oregon. I felt that highlighting these public lands is important for a number of reasons but, first and foremost, I do believe that they will come under threat of logging once again in the near future.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has already issued a revised resource management plan and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is just beginning the process of updating the Northwest Forest Plan. The timber industry is looking to increase timber volumes from public lands under both plans (the BLM is already being sued by BOTH sides about their just release management plan) and it’s important to remind people about why these places deserved (and continue to deserve) protection. So, in no particular order..

1.East Fork Coquille (Umpqua Watersheds link)

This sale was issued by the BLM in 2003 and proposed clearcutting 600 acres of mature and old growth forests west of Roseburg in the Coastal Mountain Range. The oldest stands within the proposed units were more than 400 years old. The sale was finally stopped in 2006 due to a failure to protect Red Tree Voles (a food source for Spotted Owls).

East Fork Coquille Timber Sale, Unit 105
East Fork Coquille Timber Sale, Unit 108

2. Ragu (Umpqua Watersheds link)

Proposed in 1999, this BLM sale is also west of Roseburg near Camas Valley and sought to extract 5 million board feet of lumber from 177 acres. This sale was given a deferred analysis status in 2005 and then permanently scrapped in 2006.

Ragu Timber Sale, Unit I
Ragu Timber Sale, Unit E

3. Dickerson Heights (Umpqua Watersheds link)

A BLM sale proposed in 2006 located southwest of Winston near Ollala. These forests of Dickerson Rocks are home to the threatened Marbled Murrelet and also contain a diverse variety of trees including Madrone, Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine, Canyon Live Oak, and Incense Cedar.

Dickerson Heights Timber Sale, Unit A

4. Cow Catcher (Umpqua Watersheds link)

This BLM sale located within the town of Riddle’s water supply was initially proposed in 1999 but finally stopped in 2006. The BLM wanted to cut this old growth because “..aging stands that are declining in annual growth would be replaced with young, vigorous stands, which would more efficiently produce a sustainable supply of timber and other forest commodities.” (Cow Catcher Environmental Assessment, pg 21).

Cow Catcher Timber Sale, Unit C

5. Spam (Umpqua Watersheds link)

A Forest Service sale in the Tiller Ranger District, this 1999 sale proposed logging on 312 including at least one unit that had never been logged before. This sale was stopped due to legal challenges related to the Survey and Manage component of the Northwest Forest Plan.

Spam Timber Sale, Unit C
Spam Timber Sale, Unit B

6. Felix (Umpqua Watersheds link)

A 1998 timber sale in the North Umpqua Ranger District of the Umpqua National Forest that proposed logging 330 acres of old growth forest, sometimes right up to the edge of a roadless area. This sale also was stopped due to the Survey and Manage lawsuit.

Felix Timber Sale, Unit 5
Felix Timber Sale, Unit 8

7. Nita (Umpqua Watersheds link)

This Forest Service sale dates back to a type of sale called a Section 318 Sale (more info here). The sale was re-opened thanks to the Rider Act of 1995 and was physically part of a Late Successional Reserve. Thanks to legal challenges, the Court ruled that this sale did not qualify under the Rider Act and was once again spared.

Nita Timber Sale, Unit 1
Nita Timber Sale, Unit 2

8. Can Can (Umpqua Watersheds link)

This BLM sale from 2006 proposed logging 520 acres of mature & old growth forests near Canyonville. It contains a diverse mix of trees and is critical habitat and home range for seven Spotted Owls. This sale was also prevented thanks to the Survey and Manage lawsuit.

Can Can Timber Sale, Unit M

9. Zinc (Umpqua Watersheds link)

This 1999 sale in the Umpqua National Forest’s Tiller Ranger District proposed logging 465 acres including large old growth (notably in Unit H). This sale was also halted due to the Survey and Manage lawsuit.

Zinc Timber Sale, Unit H
Zinc Timber Sale, Unit H

For 2017, I plan on heading back down to the Umpqua and continuing my project of visiting and photographing these old growth stands. I’ve recently processed some data which should help direct me towards the biggest tree stands, even in the large sale units so I’m hopeful that I’ll be even more productive. In the meantime, I welcome you to learn more and perhaps get involved in the fight:

My Interactive Map of Umpqua River Basin Old Growth Timber Sales
Umpqua Watersheds
Umpqua Watersheds 20th Anniversary Documentary
Cascadia Wildlands
Oregon Wild
North Coast State Forest Coalition

Christmas Over The Cascades

Hope everyone is having a happy holidays. On Christmas Day, I was flying over the Oregon Cascades in the mid afternoon and the fresh snow and low sun angle was really showing off the Cascade mountains in Oregon. I didn’t have much time to photograph them but here are three peaks from the central Cascade range in Oregon. Enjoy!

Mount Washington, Christmas Day 2016
Three Fingered Jack and Mowich Lake, Christmas Day 2016
Mount Jefferson, Christmas Day 2016

New Umpqua Image

Four months goes by fast! I spent last week down in the Roseburg area once again to continue exploring the old growth timber sales that weren’t cut. I’ve got a lot of work to do going through everything I photographed but here’s one that I was excited about when I saw it develop. This spot is located in a forgotten spot of the Tiller Ranger District in the Umpqua National Forest. In 1999, this was included as Unit C of the Spam Timber Sale. This 125 acre unit was on what the Forest Service called “Matrix land” but Umpqua Watersheds claimed was ancient forest that had not been logged before. This place was gorgeous and I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I wanted to in it. I will definitely be returning in the spring to walk it more. Anyways, as I focused on the scene in front of me, some of the valley clouds were drifting up towards my location. I just happened to turn around when these Crepuscular rays developed in the trees behind me. I only managed 3 or 4 photos before the effect was already fading away.

 
Spam Timber Sale Unit C, Tiller Ranger District, Umpqua National Forest

I’m hoping to have a whole new batch of photos posted in the next couple weeks so stay tuned!

Umpqua Preview

Things have been pretty quiet around here but I’ll have new photos to share quite soon. Rather than my customary spring trip to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, I drove a little further south to explore the Umpqua River drainage in southwest Oregon. I’ll explain more when I share my photos but here’s a quick preview. This spot is located in the upper North Fork Umpqua River drainage and is a grove of old growth that’s threatened with logging due to a timber sale proposal by the Umpqua National Forest.

Loafer Timber Sale Unit 35, Umpqua National Forest

2015 Retrospective

I almost did not write this post. My 2015 is actually just a “first 6 months of 2015.” Photography is (and remains) a passion but- it is not a “be all, end all.” I ended up taking a sabbatical from photography starting in June to focus on a variety of home repairs/remodeling work that became a high priority for me in my life. The extended break has actually been liberating and refreshing. I also didn’t feel that bad about it because the Pacific Northwest just came off a huge below average winter and right into a drought over the summer. Wildflower season was well over by the time July appeared. I didn’t miss anything.

Anyways, back to this concept/idea of “Best of” or Year in Review blog posts. What’s the point of these things? I won’t go all Guy Tal on you about it but let’s be frank- to a large degree, it’s about a desire for “exposure,” or validation for what we’re doing. Many photographers craft these posts and submit them to be included in Jim Goldstein’s annual “Best of ” compilation. Hell- I’ve done it for a number of years and I’ll admit that initially it was in large part due to the flood of visitation that happens once Jim’s post goes public and is reshared broadly across the internet. The lure of gaining new followers is strong when you’re just beginning to establish yourself. These days, however, I’m not concerned or obsessed with that side of the equation. My photography is what it is. And I’m ok with that.

Meh- now I’m starting to ramble. Anyways, looking back on my year, there’s obviously not a lot to draw from but I am excited that timing and conditions finally came together and allowed me to photograph the Aurora Borealis over the North Cascades (something I’ve tried in vain for years to do) and I also started working on a video project I’ve been thinking about.. So, in no particular order, here are my personal favorites:

1.) Falling Behind – Mount Baker Wilderness

Falling Behind - Mount Baker Wilderness

I shared this photo on 500px when I still had an account but never made it into a blog post. When you can visit this location relatively easily in winter, there’s a problem. Our massive lack of snowfall last winter facilitated access to Boulder Ridge on Mount Baker. This conversion to black & white using Nik’s Silver Efex 2 worked well.

2.) Heybrook Ridge – Skykomish River Valley

Heybrook Ridge - Skykomish River Valley

One spring morning, I was on my way to Leavenworth to photograph the spring wildflowers when I came across these clearing clouds just east of Index, Washington. I was shooting almost into the sun so converting to black & white using Nik’s Silver Efex 2 worked well.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

3.) Winter Green – Mount Rainier National Park

Winter Green - Mount Rainier National Park

Every year during the winter I visit Green Lake in Mount Rainier National Park and I always seem to come away with a photo that I love. This one is along the trail just prior to reaching Ranger Falls.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

4.) Mount Shuksan & Aurora – Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Mount Shuksan & Aurora - Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

A photo I’ve visualized and wanted for several years. Everything came together just a few days after the summer equinox.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

5.) Deep Forest – Clackamas River Wilderness

Deep Forest - Clackamas River Wilderness

A photo from my first visit to a beautiful grove of old growth forest in the upper Clackamas River drainage. I only learned of this place literally two weeks before my trip. I can’t wait to go back.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

6.) Salmon River – Salmon River Valley

Salmon River - Salmon River Valley

Visiting the Salmon River during my spring trip south to Mount Hood and the Gorge has quickly become a tradition an mandatory. This day I spent nearly 4 hours along the river and only hiked a mile, at best. It’s just that good.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

7.) Picture Lake Stars – Heather Meadows

Picture Lake Stars - Heather Meadows

This is a photo I actually never shared. It was from a failed outing so I never got around to a blog post about it. This is a snow and ice free Picture Lake on a New Moon winter’s night. I loved the reflection of all the stars on the water’s surface. I took this using the new Sigma f1.8 18-35mm lens.

8.) Tye Spring Snow – Tye River Valley

Tye Spring Snow - Tye River Valley

This photo was also taken on my way over the Cascades to Leavenworth this spring. The fresh snow up and down the Tye River valley and hint of blue sky was too good to pass up.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

9.) Corydalis Sea – Salmon River Valley

Corydalis Sea - Salmon River Valley

I really love this photo, as well as the challenge to take it, but that isn’t immediately apparent. This sea of Scouler’s Corydalis covers a wide area (each individual plant is about 4-5′ tall and several feet wide). The trail here was slightly above the plants but I had to hand hold my camera’s tripod above me like a color guard member would hold a flag during a procession. A lot of trial and error using the time function on the camera.

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

10.) Spring Tidings – Leavenworth, Washington

Spring Tidings - Leavenworth, Washington

Spring wildflowers at a quiet spot I know about. Hopefully it stays this way for many years to come..

More photos from this trip can be found in my blog post here.

So there ya have it. 2016 is already here. I don’t know what will happen but I’m really looking forward to getting back to the photography I know and love.

Gorging 2015

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) atop Dog Mountain
Relatively speaking, my time spent in the Columbia River Gorge during my recent spring trip was short. Of all the things I “wanted” to do during my time in the Gorge, a return trip to Dog Mountain during the balsamroot bloom was at the top of the list. It’s been about 6 years since my last visit up Dog Mountain and, although I intended to return much sooner than this, something always happened to thwart my plans. To recap for the uninitiated, the wonderful meadows of balsamroot on Dog Mountain are reached after a 3 mile hike with a 2,500 foot elevation gain. The views don’t come easy!

Despite the legitimate workout it provides, this hike has become increasingly popular. Locals have almost swore off visiting on weekends due to the steady stream of people on the trail. This year, there were well over 50+ cars at the trail head at noon on a weekday (a far cry than my last visit in 2009). After two hours of slogging up hill, I finally made my return to the meadows. I’d like to say I felt inspired upon my overdue return to the meadows but…..I wasn’t. The flowers were in fine shape and any breeze was fairly manageable but I was obsessed with what time it was. You see, this day (the third day of my trip) was the first day where a reasonable chance for sunset was present. I planned on shooting sunset over Mount Hood and that required me to be mindful of what time it was and when I needed to leave Dog Mountain in order to make it to my sunset destination in enough time.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) atop Dog Mountain
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and Small Flowered Lupine (Lupinus micranthus) atop Dog Mountain
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) atop Dog Mountain
The end result of being so preoccupied with the time was feeling pressured or rushed when I finally did pull the camera out of my backpack. Whenever this happens, your odds of coming come when great photos is quite low. To be fair, this was self induced pressure so I won’t beat myself over this. As I’ve come to learn, visits to some locations just require more time to properly explore.

One location in the Gorge that is more amenable to a quicker visit is Wahclella Falls. All told, my visit about about 2 hours total from car to car. The falls are reach in just over a mile of trail and only 250 feet of elevation to gain. The parking area at the trailhead is small and unluckily for me, it was completely full. I ultimately discovered why on my hike in as dozens of elementary aged kids and their chaperones passed me on their hike out. Bad timing for parking at the trail head but good timing for my time spent at the falls.
Wildflowers at Puppy Point on Dog Mountain
Wahclella Falls, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Wahclella Falls, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Despite the occasional sunshine, it really didn’t impact my photography at the falls thanks to the high canyon walls which shaded the falls from any harsh, direct light. Spray can be a problem here if you’re shooting directly in front or towards the left of the falls but it’s not really apparent how much that threat is. I did happen to notice the indicators of a spray zone so I was pretty vigilant about keeping the front of my lens wiped dry and covered when not in use. I should have explored the creek downstream of the falls a little more but I was thinking about getting to my chosen destination for that evening’s sunset.

My last Gorge-ish destination was a return to Panther Creek falls over on the Washington side. I had a potential idea for a slightly different composition that I wanted to check out in addition to it just being a cool place to hang out. Well, my composition idea didn’t quite pan out and for whatever reason, the cliffy downclimb to reach the base of the falls just seemed different this time around. Maybe it’s age but I swear that there were more handholds to use the last time I was there. Oh well. I was still able to take a few photographs from the viewing platform by balancing my exposure with a graduated neutral density filter. I think I might visit Dry Creek falls instead next spring. I have a line on something interesting in that area that I’d like to check out…
Panther Creek Falls, Wind River drainage
Panther Creek Falls detail, Wind River drainage

Oregon’s Old Growth

Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
I recently returned from my annual spring trip down to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood area. As it usually happens, my plans changed during the trip based on weather during my visit. During my trip, I did spend about a day and a half exploring two of Oregon’s old growth forest stands, both of which are located in different parts of the Mount Hood National Forest.

Big Bottom
I only learned of this location two weeks before I made my trip (thank you, internet!). Included in the relatively recent declaration of the Clackamas Wilderness in 2009, the Big Bottom area is one of five tracts of land located along the Clackamas River. An old logging road provides easy access to a grove of trees that are part of the Western Hemlock zone. Large tree diameters of 4-7 feet are common and diameters of 8-10 can also be found. It is also rumored that the largest Western Red Cedar in Oregon (approximately 13 feet in diameter) can be found in Big Bottom.

At almost 80 miles up the Clackamas River drainage, it’s location is near the crest of the Cascades. In fact, the forests begin to have much more pine trees only a few miles to the southeast of Big Bottom. Although the hike into Big Bottom begins in one of the last clearcuts before the designation, that doesn’t last long and soon enough, the forest surrounds you. Despite the relative proximity to a major Forest Service road (Road 46), the forest was fairly quiet and peaceful, save for the sound of the breeze moving through the canopy.

The forest isn’t a manicured park; the understory can be barren or a monoculture, and windfall is everywhere. It’s not my idyllic “vision” of what a Pacific Northwest old growth forest would look like but it’s still awe inspiring. It’s hard to imagine what it looked like when the logging road was still active but time has slowly started reclaiming the road. It really is an interesting area and one that I will surely return to in the coming years. Here’s a rough Forest Service Map of the Big Bottom area. I also found this blog post by Matt Reeder very valuable as well.
Fairy Slippers (Calypso bulbosa) in the Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old growth scene, Big Bottom Tract, Clackamas Wilderness, Oregon
Old Salmon River
I have visited this spot before, although it has been a few years. Even with my first brief visit, I knew that I needed to return and devote much more time to explore this area properly. This year, I spent nearly five hours wandering the Old Salmon River Trail but *still* only managed to travel about a third of a mile! The Salmon River old growth IS quite close to my ideal old growth. Despite being the same Western Hemlock plant association as the Big Bottom grove (Western Hemlock / Swordfern), the understory is far more diverse and lush. A likely contributor to this is the 20 inches of additional rain that falls in the Salmon River area.

It’s incredible that this gem has managed to survive wedged between tracts of homes and a popular recreation road. I have read that this has deterred some from visiting. Please don’t let this be you! Accessing and hiking the forest is easy and well worth it..
Old growth scene, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Old growth scene, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Nurse log, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Scouler's Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri) and Salmon River, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Old growth scene, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Scouler's Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri) and Salmon River, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Sea of Scouler's Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri), Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Canopy Opening, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Salmon River, Old Salmon River Trail, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Leavenworth 2015

Balsamroot and Lupine, East Van Creek drainage outside of Leavenworth, Washington
I traveled over Stevens Pass last weekend to photograph the spring wildflowers around Leavenworth. In the past, there’s usually a good correlation between the condition of wildflowers in Leavenworth at the Ski Hill and of those found in the surrounding hills. This year, however, was different; at the ski hill, the flowers were in prime condition but elsewhere the flowers were stunted or still coming up in wide open spaces but looked fine in sheltered or edge environments. I have no way of knowing for sure but I wonder if our pitiful winter had a hand in this.

Speaking of winter, it actually made an appearance in the mountains for our trip across! In the morning, the storm that hit the mountains overnight was beginning to break up. Out in the vicinity of Index, the mix of clouds, sun, and fresh snow on Mount Index was too good to pass up. Nearing Stevens Pass, the fresh snow from overnight reached all the way down to the Tye River valley (2,400 feet). It was too pretty to not photograph so we stopped along one of the pullouts on Highway 2 for some quick photos.

Forecasts for the east slopes called for possible thunderstorms and it held true. They did stay away from our location but that was in doubt for about a half hour in the afternoon when it looked like they were headed in our direction. Once again, we spent our whole day in the Van Creek drainage chasing down a locations that ended up being a bust. This always sucks but it does help with time management for future trips. My next stop will be a much needed return trip to the Gorge and Mount Hood!
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Clearing storm clouds and Mount Index
Spring snowfall blanketing the Tye River valley, west of Stevens Pass
Spring snowfall on Lichtenberg, east of Stevens Pass
Young Ponderosa Pine growing out of rock outcrop, Van Creek drainage, Leavenworth, Washington
Balsamroot and Lupine, East Van Creek drainage outside of Leavenworth, Washington
Mount Index and clouds at sunset near Index, Washington
And a couple of quick time lapses from the weekend:

Leavenworth Wildflowers – 2015 from Steve Cole on Vimeo.

Carbon River Old Growth

I recently made the laughable decision to hike the Carbon River old growth forest in Mount Rainier National Park on a rainy day. This is a very special place for me and despite the difficulties of visiting it, I always seem to find something new to see. Here’s a small set of photos from that wet day:
Carbon River valley old growth, Mount Rainier National Park
Carbon River valley old growth, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park
Green Lake during rain showers, Mount Rainier National Park
Weathered stump, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park
Old growth and young trees, Green Lake Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

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