Taking Care of Our Forests

Eagle Creek Fire, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon - Charlie Riter Photo

Here on Mount Hood we are literally surrounded by forestlands. Our homes touch the edge of the Mount Hood National Forest and with increased recreational usage, and in light of the recent Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge, concerns about wildfires and overuse are increasing. Many people aren’t aware that our local village is less than 20 miles from the Columbia River Gorge and the Eagle Creek Fire boundaries. A wind in a different direction was the only thing that prevented that fire from becoming a direct concern to our community.

In this day and age recreation is increasingly becoming the purpose and primary use of the forest. The amount of people using trails and camping areas has increased dramatically on public lands especially in areas such the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area and the Mount Hood National Forest. Local and Federal governments are trying their best to develop and to promote these areas to increase the usage and with this increased usage comes an increase in the impact on these areas. This makes our personal responsibility to and the assumption of stewardship of these lands important. We can’t have the attitude that it’s just the outdoors and that it will grow back or that the government will just repair or rebuild it. We must take care of it or lose it.

Most all of those who are coming out to use the forests are prepared, capable and aware of the responsibility involved in the use of these public lands, but there’s also an increased chance of having someone that’s not aware making mistakes or bad decisions that could prove costly or dangerous. There are many people who haven’t had the opportunity to live or to be taught the outdoor experience during their childhood. We can’t assume that everyone that is visiting the forest is aware of responsible forest use.

Eagle Creek Fire, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon - Adrian Blair Photo
Eagle Creek Fire, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon - Adrian Blair Photo

There are some basics that anyone that’s going to spend time in the forest should be aware of. These basics should be understood by anyone that goes out into the forest to recreate. The US Forest Service website has a wealth of information such as this that can be used to raise your awareness or of that of your friends and family before they go to play. They call it Responsible Recreation.

Camp responsibly. Use existing campsites or use an area without vegetation if possible. Keep the site small to minimize your impact. Don’t chop down or into trees. Camp at least 200 feet away from lakes, streams or wetlands. Use biodegradable soap or plain just water to wash with.

Answering nature’s call. Human waste can cause all kinds of problems if it’s introduced into the water. When you must go find a place that’s at least 200 feet from any water source. Dig a hole at least 6-8 inches deep to bury human waste. Pack out your toilet paper etc. Carry ziplock backs for this purpose. It’s kinda icky, but you’ll get used to it.

Be fire safe. First and foremost check with the ranger station in the area that you will be about any fire restrictions. Have a shovel, axe and a bucket of water available before starting the fire. Use existing fire rings. Remove flammable material from a ten foot diameter area around the fire. Keep fires inside of the fire ring. Don’t feed large logs into the fire. Never leave a fire unattended. Keep fires small and bring your own firewood. If you must collect wood from around your camp collect downed and dry wood only. Extinguish your fire properly. Poor water slowly into the coals while stirring with your shovel until the area is cool to the touch. Do not bury the fire as it can smolder for days. Never bring fireworks into the forest no matter the conditions.

Keep the forest creatures wild. Don’t approach wildlife. Don’t feed wildlife. Keep your dog completely under your control or on a leash to keep wildlife safe.

Don’t erase the traces of America’s past. Archaeological and culturally significant sites are protected and must be preserved for future generations. Anyone disturbing such areas can be dealt a substantial penalty if caught.

Be considerate of others. This should be a given in this society but unfortunately some folks don’t consider how their action affect others. Be courteous on trails and in the backcountry. Yield to others on trails. Take breaks and make camps away from trails and others who may be wanting to experience the solitude of the area. Keep noises down and let nature's sounds and noises dominate.

And last but not least, don’t forget to take your camera.

It seems like a lot of do not do’s but trust that the do’s far outweigh the do not’s, so go out and enjoy the outdoors.

The photos for this article were provided by Adrian Blair of Adrian Blair Photography in Portland Oregon and Charlie Riter of Big Tree Photography in Hood River Oregon.

Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship

Columbia Gorge
Oneonta Gorge Landscape Photography Ethics
Oneonta Gorge Crowd
Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship of our public lands.

If you haven’t noticed lately, our public lands have become quite popular in the last decade. Many of the folks that are visiting them are inspired by the photos posted on social platforms such as Instagram or Facebook.

We have all seen that epic photo of someone standing on a hill in the foreground with their hands up in the air as if victorious after an epic journey. Behind them you see a sweeping view, idyllic light and a towering snow capped peak in the distance. These photos inspire those who yearn to express the human spirit of adventure and exploration. It also causes an increased number of people trekking to these locations. When I post a photo online the most asked question is usually, “Where is that?”

No longer is there an attitude that you should go out and explore the world and find these places. In this day and age it’s about the image and not the adventure. The location that’s easy to get to and to take a striking photo of especially. The result of this is that these iconic, beautiful and many times environmentally sensitive locations are being overrun by folks that may be inexperienced in the outdoors. Many that I have met seem to have the attitude that they are in a landscaped and maintained city park or, with some, an amusement park for extreme outdoor sports. At the end of the day it really is but a way to make an awesome photo to post online in attempt to feed their own vanity.

This may sound harsh, but as a professional outfitter and guide as well as a photographer and social media practitioner I experience this frequently. You may think that this is about me railing against the virtues of humility but it is not. The purpose of this is to point out that this activity on public land is causing it harm. With the increase in use of the trails and facilities it is more important than ever before to realize our effect on the land. Therefore I feel compelled to make a list of suggestions that will help to minimize the effects of this increased usage. This applies to us all, not just photographers.

Opal Creek
Opal Creek

Don’t create new trails in established trail areas. Stay on the existing trails. If you can see that someone has already been to an area, look for a trail to it before you cross virgin territory. I was at Elowah Falls one day and observed two photographers looking down and over the embankment to a spot in the creek below. As I approached I could tell that they were considering trailblazing their way to it. I walked up and started a friendly conversation about how beautiful it was there. I told them that there’s a great little trail just behind us that will take them there. They thanked me and took the trail. They were unfamiliar with the location, but if they would have taken just a few more minutes looking they would have found the trail.

Pick up other’s trash. We’ve all heard the saying, “Pack it in. Pack it out”. In this day and age it should be, “Pack it in, pack it… and other less considerate people's trash, out. I always carry a kitchen trash back and some ziplocks in my backpack. They can come in very handing for this and other purposes. If you’re hiking with a dog pick up the poo with a plastic baggie and do not leave it along the trail with the intent of picking it up on the hike out. Put it in it’s plastic bag and then put that into the trash bag. If you’re still worried about getting poo in your pack, double bag it.

Don’t pose in sensitive areas. I have seen people standing in or erecting their tents in places off trail just for a photo. This sends a message that this location is fine to walk to which will cause damage in time. Choose a location that a trail already accesses.

Be original. With the sheer amount of people accessing these areas think about why you would want to go to the same location to get the same photograph. This mindset creates a herd. And with any herd it causes a swath of wear to these places. I’m not saying not to go but think about all of the other less photographed areas left to explore. If we as photographers seek out new locations it will scatter the herd and at the same time you will create more unique photographs.

Columbia Gorge
Columbia Gorge

Buy trailhead or commercial use permits. There’s a purpose to purchase forest passes or commercial use permits beyond paying another tax. It’s also a way to help regulate the use of these areas. If you’re hiking frequently consider a season pass. It’s convenient because you don’t have to buy one every time that you go hiking, and it saves you a lot of money. I’m one of a mind that this land is ours to use freely, but in the 21st century we have a few harsh realities that a permit system addresses.

Volunteer. The Forest Service or many social or civic clubs have ways for one to volunteer to clean trails and trailheads. This gives you a chance to give back all that our public lands provide. Contact the US Forest Service office to inquire about how you can help. Join a meetup group and go out for a walk with new friends and teach by example how easy it is to clean a trail as you hike.

None of these points are abstract or obscure concepts. This was how my parents raised me as we hiked on Oregon trails as a boy. I’m not one to claim that we’re doomed in this day and age because of the deterioration of society. Even when you toss that out of that argument there’s one glaring fact that can’t be ignored. There are more and more people coming to these places and just that fact alone dictates that we treat our trails and public land with even more respect.

Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship should be all of our responsibility.

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