As the Hybrid.Pedal riders cross the border between Oregon and Idaho, I thought it would be a good time for a history lesson. The team spent last night in Frenchglen, a small town on the west side of Steens Mountain. Steens is often called the "crown jewel of Oregon's High Desert", and I won't argue.
In 2000, The Conservation Alliance gave $20,000 to Oregon Natural Desert Association (http://www.onda.org/) to support the group's effort to secure permanent protection for Steens Mountain. In the waning days of the Clinton Administration, ONDA generated the public support necessary to help move legislation through Congress to designate 170,000 acres on Steens Mountain as Wilderness. In addition, through the legislation, ONDA won the first-ever legislated "cow-free" Wilderness on 100,000 of those acres. (Grazing is allowed in Wilderness unless otherwise prohibited). The protections ensured that Steens Wilderness remains roadless and closed to resource extraction forever.
Tomorrow, the riders will pedal along the North Fork Payette River, which holds a special place in the lore of The Conservation Alliance. In our very first funding cycle, back in 1989, The Conservation Alliance made four grants, one of which was to the Friends of the Payette. It was a little group of paddlers that banded together to halt a proposed dam on the North Fork Payette. Those of you who paddle, will recognize the NF Payette as one of North America's premiere whitewater runs. This ragtag group of kayakers decided to take on JR Simplot -- Idaho's largest landowner -- who wanted to dam the NF Payette for hydropower. Friends of the Payette -- which morphed into Idaho Rivers United (http://www.idahorivers.org/) -- stood up to Simplot and rallied enough public outrage to halt the dam proposal. The victory proved to The Conservation Alliance that supporting passionate, local organizations was the most effective way to preserve the special wild places that we need for habitat and recreation.
As Hybrid.Pedal continues through Idaho, the riders will visit more places that need protection. It's important to pause and remember the people who worked hard to save places we now enjoy, and occasionally take for granted. Thanks ONDA and IRU!
Conservation Alliance Executive Director
(still chained to my desk)