Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project’s 2018 Annual Work Report

Don’t Mourn, Organize!

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Goshawk in the Glass sale, Umatilla National Forest

While Trump and his administration steadily mount new offensives against wild lands and the environmental regulations that are meant to protect them, the news of planned ecological devastation is overwhelming. Yet those of us working with Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project are organizing rather than just mourning. We are developing effective legal strategies, planning to increase our capacity as an organization to take on a greatly increasing workload, trying to reach more people in person and through social media, and engaging in movement-building.

For a small grassroots ecological protection organization, we must wear many hats per staff person, and utilize our amazing network of dedicated volunteers to make an impact. We are working to leverage our skills, and plan effective and long-term strategies. Our annual work report details our work during 2018, and highlights what we are planning for the future. We’ve included photos from this year’s field season that highlight the incredible beauty and biodiversity of these forests, and show what keeps us going.

Blue Camas, a First Nations’ cultural food

The forests, streams, high deserts, and wildlife need our help more than ever, particularly in the face of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and habitat destruction. Wild ecosystems are truly intricate webs of interconnected complexities, upon which people and all life on earth are directly dependent. Wild ecosystems, in turn, are directly dependent on all of us to stand up for their preservation and continued existence. We must act now to reduce the impacts of climate change and habitat loss, and stand up against corporate greed and dominance.

As many across the U.S. have already demonstrated, it is up to grassroots groups and individuals to organize. Only we can create systemic social change and protect the natural world that supports us and holds the mysteries of inter-connected life. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and dig in for the long haul as we work toward radical change—from the roots of the problem to flowering solutions. We hope you will join us in this struggle. Please donate funds or volunteer your time if you like what we’re doing. 

Wild lands advocacy: 2018 Field Surveying: 

Field surveying proposed timber sales is the backbone of our work, as it provides on-the-ground evidence of conditions that gives us greater credibility with the Forest Service, the courts, and the public. We know what we’re talking about and can prioritize sale units that need to be dropped, timber sales to litigate, and mismanagement practices to change. Groundtruthing, as this practice is sometimes called, also provides a useful means of deeper public involvement. Through immersion in the wild for weeks to months, people are able to reconnect with Nature, witness complex ecological interactions, feel a sense of place, and revel in the beauty of wildlife and wild lands. Field surveying also creates a political constituency for protecting an Eastern Oregon bioregion that has been a political sacrifice zone. We create community in the forest and train volunteers in forest and fire ecology, map and compass orienteering, wildlife and plant identification, and the legal process for defending public lands/Native treaty lands.

This past summer we field surveyed five timber sales and one livestock grazing allotment: the Willoughby, Glass, and Upper Touchet sales on the Umatilla National Forest; the Twin sale on the Deschutes National Forest; and the Cliff Knox sale and the Roundtop allotment on the Malheur National Forest. The largest of the timber sales is Cliff Knox, at a planned 17,000 acres of commercial logging, and the smallest is Willoughby at 1,877 acres, yet both suffer tremendous cumulative impacts from past logging and are equally important to the wildlife using these areas.

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Grace with elk skull found while surveying the Willoughby sale, Umatilla National Forest

The Glass sale was ostensibly planned to diversify misguided pine plantations, but unfortunately includes some lovely old growth mixed-conifer forest in mapped sale units. The Upper Touchet sale includes breath-taking magnificent forest along a hiking trail and creek, and high elevation moist mixed-conifer forest between unfortunate ski run clearcuts, with more mature and old growth forest along the boundary next to the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. Most of the sale units appear to have never been logged before.

The Twin sale targets a heavily used recreation area around North and South Twin lakes and Wickiup Reservoir (the Deschutes River) on the Crescent District of the Deschutes National Forest. At stake are beautiful old growth forest next to the lakes, needed forest cover for declining Mule deer next to Wickiup Reservoir, recreational values threatened by logging, and Northern Spotted owl dispersal habitat that would be lost to logging.

The Roundtop allotment, in the Beech Creek and Magone Lake area of the Malheur National Forest, is a mix of cattle damage to creeks, aspen, alder, and willow, and over-lapping aquatic restoration efforts where cattle damage is less evident. The area includes grazing along streams that support ESA-listed species such as threatened steelhead and their designated critical habitat. While there has been some protection and rehabilitation of streams in the allotment area, many other creeks continue to suffer from severe degradation due to overgrazing and trampling. Damage from cattle trampling and overgrazing is prevalent throughout many areas across the Malheur NF and throughout public lands in eastern Oregon.

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Volunteers floating on North Twin Lake

The Highway 20 Public Safety Corridor project on the Deschutes National Forest is a result of irresponsible use of the toxic herbicide called Perspective by the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Forest Service along the scenic corridor near Sisters, Oregon. As a result of their failure to heed the warnings on the label of this chemical, hundreds of ponderosa pine trees have died or are dying along scenic corridors, including dozens and possibly hundreds of old growth Ponderosa pines. BMBP is very concerned that ODOT and the USFS are incentivizing logging of large and old growth trees without adequate analysis or public oversight along this and other corridors. Before volunteers arrived in early June, our Director, Karen Coulter, field surveyed the Milli Fire sale on the Deschutes NF, the planned logging along Highway 20 near Sisters of many herbicide-killed Ponderosa pines, and the felling of many green and old growth trees as hazard trees along Highway 126 along the Ochoco Summit in the Ochoco National Forest.

Volunteers: This year we were blessed by the assistance of 31 volunteers—16 new and 15 returning. Great thanks to: Grace, Sara, Cooper, Miles, Kristy, Simeon, Augustine, Relic, Brenna, Merlin, Mark, Nora (12 years old), Gambit, Thomas, Kris, Nora (older), Mary, Eme, Sophie, Liza, Peter, Cleo, Jeffrie, PJ, Sabina, Alex, Maria, Hannah, Ducky, Joey, and Drea. As always, our volunteers inspired us, energized us, and made our work possible.

Public comments and objections: We engaged throughout the year in the public comment process for numerous projects on public lands in eastern Oregon. We submitted comments or objections on 25 projects and are tracking over 30 projects in different stages of planning.

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Relic marveling at bear claw marks on sub-alpine fir in Upper Touchet timber sale, Umatilla NF

Objection to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision: Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Earthrise Law Center, and Friends of the Clearwater submitted an extensive objection to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision. We teamed up with multiple groups and individuals in order to mount a solid defense against the ecologically destructive direction of this new Forest Plan.

The Forest Service released the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision over the summer, with a 60-day objection period. This Forest Plan would guide management direction on approximately 5.5 million acres across three National Forests for at least a decade. It would cover the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests. The Forest Plan Revision proposes to double logging, remove current protective standards for streams and water quality, scrap the prohibition for logging large trees (those ≥21” diameter at breast height), significantly weaken environmental protections regarding livestock grazing, and fails to protect many ecologically important Potential Wilderness and Roadless Areas. The plan also fails to address climate change, and will exacerbate the negative effects on forests associated with climate change, such as increased stream temperatures and loss of biodiversity. We cannot overstate the importance of this plan, or how alarming the direction of the plan is for forests and streams in these National Forests.

Objecting to this sprawling and complex Forest Plan was a huge project that required many hours of research and writing. We could not have done it without help from several groups and individuals, and we want to give a special shout out to all those who contributed. We want to thank Tom Buchele and Lia Comerford at Earthrise Law Center for their extensive and detailed work on multiple ecological and legal fronts; Melissa Cain and Paul Ruprecht at Western Watersheds Project for their indispensable and knowledgeable work on the Bighorn Sheep and livestock grazing sections of our objection; Dr. Chad Hanson for his expertise and hard-hitting contributions on climate change and fire ecology; Marla Fox at WildEarth Guardians for her great work on road-related issues; Asante Riverwind (BMBP’s co-founder) for his dedicated attention to Wilderness and Roadless issues, and Philip Papajcik (BMBP volunteer) for his detailed and insightful work on the shortcomings of the Forest Service’s analyses regarding fire ecology. We’d also like to thank Spencer Harrison and Carolina Hood for their editing and transcription help. Thanks also to Doug Heiken at Oregon Wild for sharing his work on forest carbon emissions.

Other objections filed: We also filed objections on the Willoughby timber sale; the Walton Lake sale on the Ochoco on our behalf by the Earth Rise Law Center; Lex and Ringo timber sales (Deschutes NF); the Ten Cent sale re: prescribed fire management planned for the North Fork John Day Wilderness (Umatilla NF), filed with Gary MacFarlane of Wilderness Watch.

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Flying squirrel in a woodpecker nest hole, Twin sale, Deschutes NF

Comments on agency projects and plans: Our Co-Directors Paula Hood and Karen Coulter wrote comments on the following agency projects and plans: Scoping comments: Ragged Ruby timber sale (Malheur), Cliff Knox timber sale (Malheur), Upper Touchet sale (Umatilla), Austin sale (Malheur), Willoughby sale (Umatilla), Roundtop livestock allotment renewal plan (Malheur), Rattlesnake sale (Malheur), the Region 6 Aquatic Restoration Plan (OR and WA), and regarding public access to Wilderness Areas (Deschutes and Willamette NFs.) Proposed Categorical Exclusion comments: the McKay and the Milli Fire post-fire logging sales (Deschutes) and Highway 20 herbicide-killed Ponderosa pine logging (Deschutes). Draft Environmental Assessment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement comments: Ragged Ruby timber sale (Malheur), Sunrise and Willoughby sales (Umatilla), Emigrant Creek District Hazard Tree Removal plan (Malheur), Lex and Kew sales (Deschutes), and the Region 6 Aquatic Restoration Plan (OR and WA). We also submitted public comments on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s draft methodology for assessment of the 303d list.

Acres Saved!

We use the information we collect in the field with the help of volunteers as evidence in public comments, and in potential negotiations and litigation. Our on-the-ground work helps us stop or significantly modify timber sales and grazing allotments on National Forests in eastern Oregon.

Ruffed grouse in Willoughby timber sale in the Umatilla National Forest

In response to the objection filed by BMBP and Earthrise Law Center to the Walton Lake timber sale, the Forest Service withdrew plans to log hundreds of large and old growth Douglas-fir and Grand fir in the Walton Lake area on the Ochoco National Forest. The magnificent old growth fir forest in the popular recreation area around Walton Lake will continue to provide important wildlife habitat and beloved scenic views. BMBP has stopped each of the agency’s two attempts to log this old growth forest. We remain concerned that the Forest Service may yet try to log this beautiful area, and so we will continue to closely monitor any developments.

In response to our objection and field survey data on the Flat timber sale, the USFS agreed to drop all logging in 641 acres in connectivity corridors; modified logging to meet big game forest cover standards on 967 acres; dropped commercial logging in 1,807 acres of biomass logging units; and reduced temporary road construction by 1.87 miles.

BMBP’s objection to the Camp Lick sale, written in cooperation with Earthrise Law Center, detailed cumulative impacts to fish, wildlife, and habitat as a result of several back-to-back timber sales on the Malheur NF. As a result of our efforts, the USFS changed 360 acres of commercial logging within RHCAs to non-commercial logging. We remain extremely concerned about this sale, including USFS proposals to log within streamside corridors and to log large trees.

Following the objection submitted by Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project and Wilderness Watch to the ‘Ten Cent Community Fire Protection’ project, the USFS withdrew their proposal to use prescribed fire in the North Fork John Day Wilderness. We are relieved that this Wilderness area will remain untrammeled and dominated by natural processes. The high elevation, mixed-conifer forests in this Wilderness area historically burns infrequently and with relatively high intensity, and so are entirely within their natural range for fire regime and vegetation conditions. Wildfires burn differently than agency prescribed fire, and may have different ecological trajectories.

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Nora and her dog River in the Twin sale, Deschutes NF

Litigation: We filed a lawsuit against Walton Lake old growth logging last year with a subsequent objection to another Forest Service attempt to ram it through, which so far has resulted in a new Ochoco Forest Supervisor promising to consider other alternatives and the sale being on hold. Thanks to Tom Buchele, Jesse Buss, and law students of Earth Rise Law Center at Lewis and Clark College. There is also planned further litigation which we cannot divulge at this time, except for likely litigation to greatly improve the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revisions for the Umatilla, Malheur, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests. We had a promising win on the Ochoco Summit OHV (off highway vehicle) Trail, with Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project as a plaintiff for the lawsuit waged by Wild Earth Guardians, along with other plaintiffs: local landowners and the Oregon Hunters’ Association. We received a positive ruling by a Magistrate on inadequate consideration and protection of Gray wolf and Rocky Mountain elk habitat.

Updates on BMBP’s work to protect streams and water quality: We’ve been fighting hard to ensure that streamside logging does not gain a foothold on National Forests in our region, and to make sure that the Forest Service is following existing laws and protections. As part of our efforts, we have been closely tracking commercial and non-commercial logging projects along streams, field surveying dozens of creeks where the Forest Service is proposing streamside logging, and conducting ongoing research on existing water quality data and scientific literature. This summer, we also pressured the Forest Service into being more transparent and accountable regarding the reporting and sharing of their water quality data. The Forest Service finally submitted a substantial portion of their stream temperature data to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for the first time in at least a decade, largely due to our efforts. In addition, our field survey work this summer uncovered breaches by the Forest Service of BMBP’s written agreement with the agency regarding streamside logging along Bear Creek in the Big Mosquito timber sale (Malheur NF). The Forest Service had agreed to fell trees only for the purposes of placing them into Bear Creek, and to consult with BMBP in the field before the work took place. The Forest Service did not adhere to this agreement. We are working to ensure accountability regarding this and similar issues.

Forest Service & collaborative meetings: Meetings attended include an Ochoco Collaborative field trip to Walton Lake; the Cliff Knox timber sale Forest Service Open House in Prairie City; and a USFS Deschutes NF field trip to survey trees killed by herbicide use along Highway 20.

Public Outreach

Drea testing water depth in a pool formed by aquatic restoration large wood placement in the creek

Action Alerts: We keep the public informed and help them have their voices heard on issues affecting public lands in eastern Oregon. For example, we send out Action Alerts inviting the public to comment on specific timber sales and other projects with which we are engaged, and provide information and talking points. Since last fall, we have sent out Action Alerts on the Ragged Ruby Forest Plan amendments scoping period, the Lex and Kew timber sales, potential logging in the Walton Lake sale, the Ellis Timber Sale, and the Federal Farm Bill. We’ve also sent out Action Alerts on social media for the 2018 omnibus spending bill, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s decisions to kill wolves, the HWY 20 Public Safety Corridor Project, and pressuring the Forest Service to submit water quality data to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as required.

Speaking events, workshops, and other outreach: With the help of volunteers, Karen did a pilot project of expanding the range and number of her speaking engagements for both outreach and fundraising. She gave a speaking presentation entitled “Changing Environmental Policy Under the Trump Regime” at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She also spoke about Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project’s forest defense work with a slide show at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York and at New York University in New York City, as well as talking to a Sustainable Development Class and giving a workshop on Strategic Campaigning at Skidmore College. She gave speaking presentations on the interactions between forests and climate change at Humboldt State University in Eureka, California and at the University of Oregon in Eugene, as well as speaking to a class about the ecological protection work of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project at Humboldt State. Karen was also the keynote speaker on interactions between forests and climate change at the Heartwood annual convention in Pennsylvania in May.

Paula and Brenna organized BMBP’s Celebratory Campout to Walton Lake in early June. Members of the public joined us to learn about this ecologically important area, and to celebrate that the forest around the lake is still standing. Karen led a walk to enjoy the scenic views, and discussed how BMBP and our attorneys Tom Buchele at Earthrise Law Center and Jesse Buss stopped the timber sale. Other outreach included Paula leading a stream ecology and macroinvertebrate hike with Bark to two creeks in the Clackamas in Mt. Hood— it included netting stoneflies, caddisflies, mayflies, and tailed frog tadpoles, as well as a discussion on water quality impacts from roads and logging. Paula’s outreach work has also included managing BMBP’s social media and email accounts, and our website. Paula has been training Brenna Sahatjian, a long-time BMBP volunteer who has recently started doing part-time staff work, in social media and public outreach work. We are thrilled that Brenna has been helping with events, outreach, and social media– thank you Brenna!

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Sabina surveying the Roundtop allotment

Media Interviews: Karen’s media work included interviews on the Forest Service collaborative group process with two independent journalists; an NPR radio interview on the problems with the collaborative process in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; an interview on the Air Cascadia news program of KBOO Community Radio in Portland about threats to Eastern Oregon National Forests and announcing our benefit event in Portland; providing information on our objection positions to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision to a reporter from the Baker City Herald; and work on the Walton Lake press release regarding our objection filed by Earth Rise Law Center.

Other Outreach: In October, BMBP tabled at the Radical Mycology Convergence in Mulino, Oregon. Long-time volunteers Brenna and Cooper tabled at the event. Earlier in the spring, Paula tabled at the Public Interest Law Conference in Eugene, and attended a town hall on Clean Energy and Jobs legislation. Volunteers Lloyd Velasco and Amy Balint tabled at the March for Science in Portland. Our table included macroinvertebrates and a dissecting scope.

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Cleo hiking on a trail in the Malheur River Inventoried Roadless Area and Wild and Scenic River Corridor, an area planned for commercial logging and non-commercial size small tree thinning. Cliff-Knox sale, Malheur NF

Movement-building: Finally, BMBP and other long-term public lands protection activists have launched a new regional public lands (and Native treaty lands) protection network called Public Lands Activists Network (PLAN). We had our first strategy meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in March and our second meeting in Moscow, Idaho in November. The network represents groups and individual activists in the Interior Columbia Basin bioregion. Participants so far are from Eastern Oregon (BMBP), Idaho, and Montana. We had been isolated from each other and losing ground for the past decades due to the with the loss of regional and national forest networks. We are hopeful that we can regain momentum and rebuild a vibrant public lands defense network across the region. A national forest protection network effort may also be germinating separately. Karen attended the Protect Mother Earth Conference organized by the Indigenous Environmental Network and other Native activists in Nisqually Nation territory in Washington state in late July. She also participated in an anti-Trump protest and a Climate Action Coalition meeting in Portland. Karen is actively engaged with the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy (POCLAD), and is currently focusing on the threat of climate change and on transforming US society away from ecologically destructive capitalism.

Paula is participating in alliance-building with several groups to develop a national forest movement of allied biocentric groups; the group is currently planning a 2019 North American Forest Conference near the Shawnee National Forest. Paula also spearheaded coordination with several groups and individuals in Oregon, as well as Friends of the Clearwater in Idaho, for our objection to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision. She has been coordinating with local environmental activists in eastern Oregon in opposition to sales such as the Kew and Lex timber sales on the Deschutes NF. She also attended meetings with the Pacific Wolf Coalition.

Internal structure:  We’ve made great strides in increasing our work capacity and organizational stability this year. We’ve utilized a few of our long-term, returning volunteers to help coordinate events such as our annual benefit and our Walton Lake Celebratory Campout. They have also provided part-time support in the field, filing and organizing paperwork, and helping with public outreach and social media on key issues. Paula has been spearheading efforts to streamline and restructure administrative tasks and roles at BMBP. 

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Karen presenting at the 2018 annual benefit at Leaven Community in Portland, OR

Fundraising: We are very grateful to everyone who has donated to support our ecological protection work. We could not do our work without your support— thank you! Donations both small and large are crucial to funding our work. Many heartfelt thanks to the Astrov Fund; the Bill Healy Foundation; Burning Foundation; the Charlotte Martin Family Foundation; the Clif Bar Family Foundation; the Faegan Donor Advised Fund of MRG; Fund for Wild Nature; Millis Fund through Oregon Community Foundation; Vanguard Charitable, and the Tirdof Fund for their support. Thanks also to Japanese Auto Repair for ensuring the maintenance and safety of our vehicles.

We also want to thank all the generous folks who contributed to our 2018 Annual benefit. We had a lovely evening filled with great music, raffle prizes, food, and wonderfully friendly community and great conversations. Special thanks to performers Dolphin Midwives, Butoh dancer Min, and Richie and Preston from Na Rosai; Leaven Community Center for sharing their space; and KBOO for their sponsorship of the event. We are very grateful to all of the folks who donated to the raffle for our benefit. Huge thanks to volunteers Brenna Sahatjian and Isobel Charle for organizing the benefit with Paula, and to everyone who helped staff the event!

Plans for 2019

Upcoming outreach and program work:

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Happy volunteers Sara and Grace in the Willoughby sale, Umatilla NF

Timber sales we will be surveying in the summer of 2019 include the Austin sale on the Prairie City District of the Malheur NF, the Rattlesnake sale on the Emigrant District of the Malheur, and likely the Pataha sale on the Umatilla NF, as well as any new sales on the Deschutes or Ochoco National Forests, and the South Silvies livestock allotment on the Emigrant District of the Malheur, which is up for renewal.

We will be following up with timber sales and livestock allotments surveyed in 2017 and 2018 with comments, objections, and possible litigation, including the following timber sales: from 2017: Black Mountain (Ochoco NF); Green Ridge and Kew (Deschutes NF); Ragged Ruby (Malheur NF); and from 2018: Glass, Upper Touchet, and Willoughby (Umatilla); Twin (Deschutes); Cliff Knox (Malheur); and the Roundtop allotment (Malheur).

We need to attract more volunteers than ever for this field season. The Ellis sale on the Umatilla National Forest proposes more than 56,960 acres of heavy commercial logging, including clear-cutting, over a 114,834 acre area. This is far larger than our largest commercial logging sale field surveyed so far.

We hope to hire a staff attorney in 2019 in order to develop and implement strategic litigation plans in response to increasing and unprecedented threats to forests on public lands. We are excited to have more strategy meetings with both attorneys and long-time volunteers, and to work with allies to protect public lands in eastern Oregon. We continue our ongoing stream monitoring efforts started into 2019. We are also looking forward to continuing our participation in the Public Lands Activists Network and the National Forest Convergence.

Through our Action Alerts, we will continue to keep the public informed and engaged on ecologically destructive federal projects such as timber sales and grazing allotments that threaten ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. We will continue and expand our ongoing public outreach work regarding threats such as climate change and habitat loss. Possible speaking engagements in the spring include Chico, CA, Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA, and other venues. Karen plans to give workshops at the national Earth First! Rendezvous in Utah in the summer. Our 2019 Annual Benefit will take place in Portland in early spring.

You Can Help Us Make All This Happen!

Please donate:

$10,000-$20,000 helps pay for our two staff members or helps us hire a badly needed staff attorney
$5,000 helps cover transportation costs, including gas, truck repairs, and insurance
$2,000 to help cover legal expenses for a lawsuit to stop a timber sale or toxic herbicide use
$1,000 helps cover telephone communications
$500 helps pay for photo printing or copying
$250 helps cover postage costs
$100 pays for field surveying equipment
$25-50 subsidizes food for volunteers

In-kind donations are also needed, such as working cameras, binoculars, compasses with clinometers, diameter tape measures (flexible, with hooks on the end), and food and tea for volunteers.

Please volunteer! Volunteers are needed to survey proposed timber sales from early June until late September. Lawyers and law students are badly needed to help with our growing number of potential legal cases. We also need periodic help with social media tasks, science literature research, office organizing and filing, and comment writing in response to our action alerts. Call (541) 385-9167 to volunteer.

Send $ donations or in-kind donations to:

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, 27803 Williams Lane, Fossil, OR 97830

You can donate online by visiting our website at https://bluemountainsbiodiversityproject.org Thank you!

 

 

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