Does no one care about wildlife anymore?
From Portland's showing at its Park Board meeting on April 3, where it discussed the future of Forest Park, it does not seem to.
The only thing that apparently mattered was that mountain bikers get new trails in Forest Park for their sport — that is, more than the 30 miles already available to them. Wide trails are not to be preferred by cyclists; what is desired are narrow single-path trails, now used by pedestrians.
If Forest Park were a different kind of place — if it were a sporting venue or even a natural area that did not have the sterling qualities that Forest Park evinces — I would be less concerned.
I get it: Every sport has advocates and rightfully needs a venue. The problem is, in Forest Park's case, wildlife needs a place too, not just to exercise a sport, but to live.
But wildlife also has no voice. And if we, as human beings, don't stand up for it, no one will.
Former Governor Barbara Roberts stood up for Forest Park wildlife on April 3. She wrote a letter to the Park Board:
"Forest Park is facing the most serious threat in its 75-year history. Biologists — locally, regionally, and across the country — are in agreement that Forest Park is unique for its ecological value to an urban area. It acts as a refuge for hundreds of species of native wildlife. Scientists concur that this extraordinary park deserves protection for these highly unusual values, which are unknown in most, if not all, major cities in the nation."
She then addressed the problem:
"Land use law in 1995 (has the) goal to preserve and sustain these outstanding features for future generations. (It has) specific requirements for the study of Forest Park wildlife to try to preserve the remarkable number of species. Unfortunately, none of these action items have been funded by parks."
The governor concluded:
"Until these recommended studies have been conducted — increasing the number of trails in Forest Park ... or changing trail uses, should not be considered. The risk, as determined by wildlife biologists and foresters who have researched Forest Park, is too great."
Yet after the letter was read aloud to the Park Board, it was the last time the word 'wildlife' was ever heard in the two-and-a-half-hour hour meeting.
Rather, what happened at its conclusion, the board voted to accept the discussion draft off-road cycling master plan, written by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, for Forest Park. In the draft's summary, the document said two important things about the proposal to allow single- path mountain biking, on what are now pedestrian-only trails, in Forest Park:
"Trail recommendations for Forest Park seem to have overall support from all but a vocal group of Forest Park neighbors." And "The Off Road Cycling Master Plan process represents an opportunity to ... undertake a wholesale revision of this 1995 document."
That document, the Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan, is the only thing protecting the wildlife of Forest Park. It requires studies to be done to try to determine the carrying capacity of the park, which is currently unknown. It states that research must be conducted to assess the effects of increasing recreation on Forest Park's wildlife. It requires establishing permanent wildlife-monitoring stations. It states that there will be periodic nighttime wildlife censuses.
But as Governor Roberts said, none of those action items have been done in 23 years. Therefore, we have no idea if the wildlife and habitat in Forest Park are being sustained, improved, or degraded over time. This is truly regrettable, as the top priority for this park, its highest stated goal, is "The protection of Forest Park's natural resources."
After a quarter of a century, that seems not to matter anymore. And, after being a professional wildlife biologist for over 30 years, who has studied and loved Forest Park with its plethora of wondrous native birds that cheer my soul, I feel deeply saddened by what I observed yesterday.
I guess Portland is a different place than the city where I grew up, when people valued these attributes. Wildlife does not matter anymore.
Or does it?
Frankly, I can't help having still a glimmer of hope... I can't help thinking, if people only knew ... if citizens only realized how close they are to losing this amazing bit of wilderness that graces our city, they would speak out.
They would give wildlife voice.
Marcy Houle of Portland is a wildlife biologist and author of "One City's Wilderness: Portland's Forest Park." Email: firstname.lastname@example.org