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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Snake crossing

A large bull snake crosses a country road near Elkton in rural western Oregon on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Bull snakes are non-venomous, but at times they can become aggressive when threatened. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Turkey time

A pair of male wild turkeys display for a group of nearby females in a pasture along a country road near Ekton in western Oregon on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

Lazy day on the river

A western pond turtle swims through the cool clear water of the Umpqua River near Elkton in western Oregon on a beautiful spring morning on May 27, 2018.
Western pond turtles can live for 50 or more years. Due to habitat loss and the introduction of invasive predators like bass and bullfrogs, western pond turtles are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of species.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Hungry, hungry starlings

An adult starling feeds its fast growing chicks as they peek out of their nesting spot inside the cavity of a crabapple tree in the front yard of a home near Elkton in western Oregon on Saturday, May 26, 2018.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Day old fawn in Oregon

A one-day old black tailed deer fawn lays motionless in a pasture on a farm near Elkton in western Oregon on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. 
Wildlife officials caution people to leave young fawns in the place they are found as the mother deer is likely nearby and will return when the humans leave the area. 
Folks mowing in fields should be extra careful during the fawn season.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Hungry Bumblebee

A bumblebee searches for nectar on a purple vetch flower growing along a roadside near Roseburg in western Oregon on Saturday, May 19, 2018.

Bordered plant bugs

A pair of copulating bordered plant bugs cross the yellow line of a country road near Elkton in western Oregon on Friday, May 18, 2018.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Baby starlings beg for food from their nest inside a small cavity in a crabapple tree on a farm near Elkton, Ore., on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Trump on a stump

A chainsaw art sculpture of President Donald Trump is displayed on a sidewalk along Fir Ave., in the small logging and fishing town of Reedsport in coastal southwestern Ore., on Monday, May 14, 2018. Reedsport is home to an annual chainsaw art carving contest. Trump took 66 percent of the vote in Douglas County where Reedsport is located.

A slightly smaller sculpture of the president is displayed a few blocks away in front of a carving studio.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fancy flight

A nest of wild turkey eggs.
A female wild turkey takes flight from her nest at the base of a hazelnut tree in an orchard on our farm near Elkton in western Oregon on Saturday, May 12, 2018.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Western tanager

It's a colorful male western tanager in a thicket near our home in western Oregon on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. According to the super cool Cornell Lab of Ornithology, while most red birds owe their redness to a variety of plant pigments known as carotenoids, the Western Tanager gets its scarlet head feathers from a rare pigment called rhodoxanthin. Unable to make this substance in their own bodies, Western Tanagers probably obtain it from insects in their diet.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Fighting for traditions in Unalakleet, Alaska

Last month I and a team from Our Children's Trust visited teenage climate change plaintiff Summer in her village of Unalakleet, Alaska on the Norton Sound of the Bering Sea in northwest Alaska. Summer is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by 16 youth against the state of Alaska. Learn more about Summer's ground breaking lawsuit here.

Summer comes from a line of strong women. Summer's mom is a commercial fisherman and Summer's aunt Rhoda, left, is teaching Summer to subsistence hunt in the forests, and on the tundra of northwest Alaska. 

Summer is an accomplished athlete. Below she practices the One Armed Reach in her high school gym before competing in the Native Youth Olympics last month in Anchorage.

Gathering wild blueberries and salmon berries on the tundra is a tradition in Summer's family.

Summer sits with co-plaintiff Esau at the attorney table during a hearing on her case in Anchorage last month.
Summer is a plaintiff in an important climate change lawsuit, but she's also a fun loving teenager.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Esau's story from Shishmaref, Alaska

Late in the day on June 2, 2007 Inupiak Eskimo Norman Kokeok died while returning home from a bearded seal hunt when his snowmobile crashed through rotted sea ice. In far northeastern Alaska the Chuckchi Sea is normally frozen solid for miles offshore through June, but not anymore.  

The fading black writing imprinted on Kokeok’s stark wooden grave marker, in the windswept snow-covered graveyard of the Shishmaref Lutheran Church, reads,"Beloved son, brother, uncle, father.” Esau Sinnok, 21, is the nephew Kokeok left behind. 

On a bright and cold morning in April of 2018 Esau visits his uncle's grave. The day Norman died was the day he realized the climate had changed.

Because of the warming climate, Esau hasn’t seen or experienced the different types of ice and snow talked about by his elders. He said each type of ice had a different name. For example, the Inupiak have a word for the ice a walrus or seal would stand on or ice that was rotting and not safe for transit.

Esau Sinnok is one of 17 Alaska youth who filed the groundbreaking lawsuit Sinnok vs. State of Alaska in 2017. The suit alleges the state is violating the constitutional rights of the youth by prioritizing fossil fuel extraction and production over the well being and safety of their lives. 

The case is similar and takes inspiration from the better known federal climate change lawsuit Julia vs. United States filled by the Eugene, Oregon based nonprofit law firm Our Children’s Trust. The federal case is currently pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Esau’s lawsuit against Alaska is currently fighting its last stand as the case is pending before the Alaska state Supreme Court.

The 550-person village of Shishmaref perches precariously on a gravel island 5 miles off the mainland of the Seward Peninsula, 35 miles south of the Arctic Circle and about 90 miles from northeastern Russia. The island is about four miles long and a quarter mile wide at its thinnest point. When flying into the village from Nome, the pilot points out a far off fog bank to the left and says on a clear day you can see Russia from here.
The population is about 95% Inupiak Eskimo with some non-native teachers from off island who work under contract at the school. The island was settled permanently about 100 years ago when the government built the school and post office. The Lutheran church came next and the formerly nomadic people, who previously roamed the interior and coastal areas, settled onto the island.

Shishmaref is the poster child for the Climate Crisis. It’s on the front lines of the battle for survival and is considered one of the most endangered places on the planet. Each year erosion takes 10 or more feet of its precious land. With melting permafrost and less sea ice providing a buffer, late season storms sweep off the Bering Straight and eat away the rocky shore. 

Not only did the ice provide a buffer, but it also allowed for hunters in the village to travel by ice to their traditional hunting grounds in search of bearded seals and walrus. The loss of the ice is not only causing erosion of the land, but also the loss of the people’s subsistence lifestyle. 

In the not so distant future the residents of the remote village will abandon their homes and become some of the world's first true climate refugees. In 2016 a slim majority of the residents voted to relocate the village to the mainland. According to the Alaska Corps of Engineers the cost of relocating the village would be about $180 million. The funds are not available and the move is pending.
During a presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2017, Esau said,“We can not wait 10 years from now, five years from now, one year from now, or even tomorrow. We have to work on climate policy and climate change today. If we do not do something today than within the next two decades Shishmaref will be under water and I won’t have a home.”

Back home on the island, Esau looks out from a small eroding cliff facing the churning Chuckchi Sea. He says the land he is standing on now is what remains between his grandparents' tiny home and vast open ocean. Now says Esau, “My papa's house is the last one standing.”

During a storm the previous winter, Esau says, the waves actually splashed and reached over this cliff and hit the top of his grandparents' house. As a stopgap measure, many of the nearby small homes have been moved to the sheltered leeward side of the gravel island. 
After a recent hearing before the Alaska Supreme Court in Anchorage, Esau, who is currently majoring in Alaska Native Studies at the University of Alaska, said climate change is not just a political issue for him, “It’s my lifestyle. It’s what I face every day." 

In a strong voice, Esau told the assembled media that Shishmaref is the one and only place he can call home and “it’s being eaten by the sea. Future generations of people will not be able to live on the island any more.”

In a press release issued by Esau’s law firm after the hearing, Esau explained why he is fighting. He said, “I am here for my people and for the animals and the land that give so much to us. I am here because the animals and land do not speak English and I am here to give them voice. We are in the court to protect our very existence and our future.”