In covering feature stories, my goal is to find unique content that deviates from the standard approach. One thing that differentiates me from other media outlets is that I like to cover stories "first hand," talking to people face to face. I find it provides a deeper and richer experience that enables me to tell a better story. In each of the stories listed below, that personal connection was part of what made them stand out for me in 2016.
The fact that this site, an ancient archaeological site in Eastern Oregon about 30 miles from Burns, could contain the oldest evidence of mankind in the Western Hemisphere is mind-boggling. Holding a tool found on the site made by man 16,000 years ago was a special moment for me. Who made it? What was that person like? What was their life like?
Archaeologist Scott Thomas from the Bureau of Land Management was a treasure trove of knowledge for this story, regaling us with tales of ancient volcanic eruptions from Mount St. Helens that served as a timeline to determine the age of life of the ancient man who roamed the rugged landscape.
Years ago I was fishing Crane Prairie Reservoir. I was traveling back past Wickiup Reservoir when two large black dogs ran across the road. They were about 100 yards in front of me with one in the lead and the other just a step behind. My instinct was these weren't dogs.
These were wolves, and I was witnessing a scene that most would not believe. I reported the incident to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and biologists just smiled at me and basically told me I was crazy. Later, I got a call from a biologist who told me that perhaps I wasn't crazy after all.
That was about a decade before wolves were officially observed and documented moving across the Snake River into Oregon. At any rate, one of my favorite stories of 2016 was documenting the wanderings of a wolf known as OR-25.
What amazed me was a part of his journey—from the Mt. Jefferson area to an area just north of Klamath Falls—took only a few days. They can range far and wide quickly! Our story entitled "Lone Wolf Walking" was a fun one to write. It's an intriguing story and one the Source Weekly will continue to follow.
Why would a former archaeologist and scholar spend the past 20 years of his life watching fish from May to early December? Watching fish?! We had to ask the man himself.
Lee Spencer is 65 years old. During the winter months he packs up and heads south to watch over his aging mother in New Mexico. When spring beckons he returns to Oregon where he lives in a small trailer in the woods next to Southern Oregon's Steamboat Creek, watching native steelhead returning to their home waters.
Lee is there to protect them from poachers. The Steamboat basin is a major tributary to the North Umpqua River, considered one of the last remaining hotbeds for wild steelhead in Oregon. Each summer thousands of these fish return and pool next to Lee's trailer, waiting for cooler rains so they can swim upriver and spawn. The cycle has been ongoing for thousands of years.
The pool where Lee watches and protects these creatures is called the 'dynamite hole' because poachers once used dynamite to stun and kill the fish by the thousands. Not now—thanks, in part, to Lee's efforts. A catch-and-release fisherman, Lee happened to mention a spot he had just discovered and was excited to try. As a fisherman, I knew better than to ask where his secret place was...
In 2016 it was my honor to meet four women making Central Oregon a better place. In May, several of us at the Source Weekly met to select our "Woman of the Year." I had met Alice Elshoff last January when she helped organize a rally at Crow's Feet Commons in downtown Bend, labeled "Grannies against Bullies." It was a protest against the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Elshoff was a teacher, a conservationist, and had even lived on the refuge with her husband working to restore and protect it. I nominated Alice Elshoff for the Woman of the Year and the team at the Source Weekly heartily agreed.
Another extraordinary woman I met was Sally Russell. Russell was recently re-elected to her position on the Bend City Council and serves as mayor pro-tem. She hopes to be mayor.
Meanwhile, if the Source Weekly had a "Conservationist of the Year" award, I would suggest two women. Gail Snyder and Kim Brannock have worked tirelessly to protect the upper Deschutes River which has deteriorated into a sad state.
Each winter, water flows are cut back from Wickiup Dam and others to store water for the following irrigation season. As a result of the changes in flow, thousands of fish die and the Oregon spotted frog's habitat is compromised. We need water for agriculture, but these two women have drawn attention to the need to conserve water at the irrigation level for the sake of the river and its wildlife. Hundreds of miles of outdated water canals are leaking precious water, and irrigation practices could be updated to avoid "flood irrigation," and wasteful seepage.
Modern updates such as piping the canals will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but through the work of these two women and others there is progress. The spotted frog and fish—and all of us—will be the beneficiaries of their ongoing work.
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