Here are three of the many things I learned in my first two Oregon Master Naturalist Willamette Valley ecoregion classes (well, it’s hard to stick to just 3, and also it has been more than a week since my last post, but it’s just the end of this week so I’m sliding in):
1. Even with a long cultural history of death and devastation, people still find ways to work in useful, collaborative ways to move life forward
This is the second time I have been to a fascinating talk by a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. David G. Lewis, PhD, Tribal Museum Curator/Cultural Liaison, shared a lot of information about how the tribes of western Oregon lived on the land.
The story of white settlement in North America is always a sad one. What would become western Oregon held 60 tribes and tribal bands during the pre-settlement period. There were around 100 languages spoken in Oregon when whites began to settle here.
In the mid-1800’s Indian leaders saw that they had no chance of keeping their traditional hunting and harvesting lands, and requested that they be allowed to live on a reserve “between the forks of the Santiam River”. Whites refused to give them their chosen place, and the Indians refused to leave. During the stalemate no treaty was ratified, but eventually a treaty was negotiated by Joel Palmer (a local historical personage in whose mansion in the town of Dayton, an upscale gourmet restaurant currently resides).
There are lots of interesting details about the treaties and subsequent ramifications, but what sticks in the mind is this: under 7 different treaties, all the Indians in the valley were removed in 1855-56 because they were in the way of full exploitation of the land by whites. This was a “trail of tears” march for those from southern Oregon especially, separating them from the land and their source of food and shelter, in the winter, when people were most vulnerable to starvation and sickness, which of course, happened.
The area ceded to the U.S. government comprised more than 14 million acres. In return, the Indians received 61,440 acres. All tribes were lumped together on a small area down the road from us where Highway 18 cuts through the coast range – the Grand Ronde reservation. Through a series of events, including the sale of some land by individual Indians, and “surplussing” (read: stolen a second time) of 30,000 acres by the US government, the tribes eventually were left with no property whatsoever. As late as 1954 (when the confederated tribes owned 400 acres of land) all treaties and tribal status and rights were TERMINATED by the US government, essentially wiping out what remained of a community and culture base. In 1983 the tribes owned about 11 acres of forest land and 7 acres with a grave yard on it. Finally in the 1980’s, congress had what David called a “change of heart” – tribal restoration occurred, including restoration of 9811 acres of land.
The good news: currently the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community own 11,000-12,000 acres of valley floor and upland timber property. There are several staff positions devoted to cultural affairs, heritage education, and archeological preservation. The tribes are planning a museum and David is working with many government agencies all over the state to restore and bring life back to the streams and traditional harvesting grounds on public and private property as well as tribal lands. The Confederated Tribes just received 100 acres of land purchased and donated by several US agencies and the Nature Conservancy, and more land is being acquired to manage for conservation.
In many places in the world, this history would fuel a long-simmering guerrilla war against the dominant group and government. In this case, Indians have embraced relationships that benefit everyone and although the process is long and complicated, it is moving on positive paths. We can learn a lot from their example.
2. Wildlife see landscapes differently than humans do
Our next speaker was Dave Vesely, a wildlife ecologist who has trained dogs to sniff out endangered plants, among other species. He recounted a story to illustrate item #2.
He was asked to look at an open meadow to document how many dark-eyed juncos were using it. He discovered that the birds, which forage on the ground, were actually avoiding this meadow that had been created for them. They were in the trees and shrubs around the meadow instead. This particular habitat was not being used by these birds because the grass was too long. Juncos forage in the open, and they couldn’t see their surroundings or even penetrate the tall grass.
His conclusion: “habitat type” is an ecological unit classified by vegetation and/or abiotic features. However, classification can get in the way of understanding how wildlife actually use habitat. We have to understand how wildlife view habitat to get the results we want. Harder than you might think, AND it’s more than just plants.
3. Geology is everywhere
At Silver Falls State Park we had a great time looking at the geology around us and learning about how it shaped the Pacific Northwest. We learned that all you have to do to see rocks and learn about geology is walk around – the gravel in parking lots, the stones in buildings, and any number of everyday elements tell the story of local geology.
We enjoyed looking at these beautiful stone buildings constructed during the depression by the CCC. The walls were constructed of blocks of fossiliferous sandstone (sedimentary rocks that hold fossils created when the Willamette Valley was a shallow sea, or embayment). Rocks in the low wall to the right of the steps our instructors are standing on are 25-million-year-old volcanic tuff (cemented volcanic particles and rocks). The steps are younger basalt from Columbia basalt lava flows that began15 million years ago. All were quarried locally in the park.
The falls cascade over three visible flows of Columbia basalt, separated by thin layers of paleosols (old or fossil soils) – accumulated in the time between lava flows. It’s a Columbia Gorge in miniature, complete with amazing water falls and enormously tall trees.
- Geologic processes create landforms
- soil weathers from rocks with different chemical composition
- vegetation is product of those soils and landforms.
The temperature was comfortable and the air moist, up here in the trees and cool gorges – when the valley was baking in the upper 80’s – and it can all be explained by big GEOLOGY.