It’s still cold but the spring and summer vacation seasons are fast approaching. That’s left many wondering how the rampant wildfires of 2017 might affect their 2018 vacation plans. Phillip Elden, a conservationist and natural landscape and wildlife expert, answers a few questions about common landmarks in relation to the fires.
Q: What is the status of Mount Jefferson?
Phillip Elden: The Whitewater fire was one of the first to trigger panic throughout the state. It torched more than 11,500 acres of prime hiking and backpacking trails. The fire, which was started by lightning, has not caused any long-term damage to Jefferson Park, though Mount Jefferson remains closed until late spring to early summer.
Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are abundant just off Oregon’s 363 miles of coastline, says Phillip Elden. However, these underwater wonders rarely draw public interest. Here, Elden opens up about some of the largest mammals in the state.
Q: How many grey whales live off the coast of Oregon?
Phillip Elden: Throughout the summer and fall, Oregon boasts a population of around 200 resident grey whales. However, during migrations – winter and spring – more than 18,000 of these massive creatures crowd Oregon’s waterways. Gray whales can grow up to 50 feet long and can weigh more than 80,000 pounds. Whale sightings are reported year-round but peak between Christmas and New Year, with an estimated 50 sightings each day during Whale Watch Week.
Phillip Elden has spent a lifetime studying local wildlife in his native Oregon and has always held a cautious fascination with snakes. Here, the conservationist answers a few common questions pertaining to these slithery serpents.
Q: What are the most common species of snake in Oregon?
Phillip Elden: There are more than a dozen of poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes throughout the state. The black racer is perhaps one of the most abundant and is found in a variety of habitats from meadows to sagebrush flats. Racers typically avoid high mountain tops and forests in favor of rocky slopes and dense low-lying shrubbery.
Q: What do snakes eat?
Phillip Elden: The majority of snakes eat insects, amphibians, and even small mammals. The ringneck snake, which thrives in moist microhabitats in both woodland and rocky areas, makes its primary diet out of earthworms, frogs, small lizards, and salamanders. Larger varieties, such as the common king snake, may also dine on birds and turtles. Some of the more aggressive serpents will go after gophers, scorpions, and rabbits. Snakes are not only predators; they are prey for mid-sized mammals such as foxes, coyotes, and badgers.
Cougars are native to Oregon and an important part of the local environment. However, they are known as fierce and territorial creatures, says Phillip Elden. It is only through education, awareness, and diligence that humans can safely and humanely cohabitate with these large cat-like creatures.
Q: How many cougars currently live in Oregon?
Phillip Elden: The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that there is greater than 5,000 cougars living in the state. They are most common in the Blue Mountains, Cascade Mountains, and the northeastern part of the state.
Nearly two decades after the deadline, Oregon submitted a revised – and rejected – coastal pollution plan. NOAA and EPA have now threatened to withhold federal funds if not adequately amended by summer. Phillip Elden explains:
Q: What is the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program?
Phillip Elden: This is a federal program required in 29 states. It essentially says these states and territories must more closely regulate nonpoint pollution sources. Nonpoint pollution refers to pollutants from things such as agricultural runoff or wind-born debris.
Q: What actions may the government take against noncompliant states?
Phillip Elden: According to federal law, noncompliant states such as Oregon can lose 30% of funds they receive from the Coastal Zone Management Act and Clean Water Act. Currently, Oregon receives approximately $4 million from these sources. Many environmental groups, including Northwest Environmental Advocates, believe that reducing funds does nothing but perpetuate the problem and have lobbied the government to postpone financial withdrawal. However, many of these same groups acknowledge that the threat could jumpstart state environmental agency leaders into action. Continue reading
Phillip Elden is the Conservation Director and co-founder of Native Oregon, a conservation group committed to protecting Oregon’s native wildlife and forests.
Q: Why has Seattle enacted a law that imposes fines on residents for putting food in their trash?
Phillip Elden: A Seattle ordinance requiring curbside food-waste collection was passed in 2005 with a ten year goal to recycle and compost sixty percent of waste. With the dawn of 2015, Seattle was falling short of its goal. Seattle officials decided it was time to take measures to ensure the public complied with the regulation.
Q: But a fine for putting dirty napkins and food boxes in the trash, isn’t that a little severe?
Phillip Elden: Not when you consider the consequences not enforcing the regulation has for environment and taxpayers. The amount of refuse the city delivers to landfills is costly and the greenhouse-gas the waste discharges into the atmosphere is detrimental to the environment. This new ordinance is an attempt to reduce both. The fines levied are done so as an added incentive to citizens who aren’t complying with the rule. Continue reading
Phillip Elden is a longtime member of the Mazamas, a Portland based nonprofit that offers more than 900 hikes and 350 climbs annually for over 13,000 participants. According to Phillip Elden, the Mazamas offer a variety of classes and activities for every skill and fitness level, which are open to both members and nonmembers. Through his association with the Mazamas, Phillip Elden has climbed several mountains and volcanoes, including Mt. Hood, Mt. Washington, and the Three Sisters.
In 1894, an Oregon newspaper announced a meeting to organize a mountaineering club on the summit of Mt. Hood. The 105 organizers decided to name their club the Mazamas, Spanish for mountain goat, says Phillip Elden.