The Campaign for the Owyhee Canyonlands has gathered thousands of petition signatures in support of permanent protection for the most scenic and ecologically significant areas of the region. Last week, we began delivering the signatures to the staff of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden in his Portland office. Here, one volunteer for the campaign shares how empowering it felt to help efforts to protect a place he loves.
On June 18th, Chris Hansen and myself went to Portland’s political nerve center – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office – to deliver more than 2,000 signed postcards dedicated to the protection of the Owyhee Canyonlands. The stack represents just a chunk of the thousands of petition signatures gathered to urge lawmakers to action to protect this remarkable place.
On my way there, memories of my young adult life wandering in the canyons came back to me. When I was in high school back in the ‘70s, my parents joined a rock club … the gem-and-mineral type. The members would take off in a caravan to all the back roads of Oregon to seek out semiprecious stones that grace Oregon geology. While the rockhounds were digging, I was wandering. Alone, with water and a snack, I was free to explore, listen and observe, get lost and found again all day long. After a few days we’d pick up and move on to search another remote vista. We’d be gone for weeks.
Leslie Gulch, Succor Creek, McDermitt and the Rabbit Hills, among other places, come to mind. The wild and open land was my playground and my solace in those teen years. I cannot understate the profound value this had on my life. Words fall utterly short and, like the desert, my mind falls quiet as I reminisce.
Then, to my great fortune about 40 years later, I began actively helping rehabilitate the land out in the field while promoting its conservation in downtown Portland. It is thoroughly gratifying to see how many people are learning about the Owyhee Canyonlands and willing to speak out on the behalf of this natural treasure. And now I’ve had the opportunity to literally bring their voices to their elected officials through these postcards. Through the involvement of these thousands of petition signers, we have a chance of granting permanent protection to these magnificent lands. Without them we don’t have a chance.
Downtown, after going through tight security and finally meeting the people that work in Senator Wyden’s office, it occurred to me that they are everyday folks … people doing difficult jobs and trying to change things for the better. I quickly became aware that the staff had knowledge of efforts to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands and a real connection to the land, too. Through our letters, postcards, stories, pictures and volunteerism, they are beginning to know what is at stake in this fight to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands. And they need to hear more from us.
It was meeting the people in Sen. Wyden’s office, the human element, that convinced me that only through expressing ourselves will we get anything done. I realized that there are real people receiving, listening and counting our comments and stories. Indeed, it is only through expressing our experiences and desires that we can instill in our representatives the energy, evidence and passion it will take to be successful in Washington D.C.
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