Bliss, Panic and Love

Taking a departure from my usual work-from-home routine, I packed a small backpack, filled two water bottles and let the overjoyed hound dog jump into the car.  One quick stop to pick up a sandwich and we were headed east. Two and a half hours later, on the other side of the Ochoco Divide, I pulled up to the Blue Basin trailhead in the Sheep Rock section of Fossil Beds National Monument.  It was a little before 4pm.

As a precaution, I’d let my life partner, John, and my son know where I was headed and that I’d be back that evening.

The thick mud was nearly as slippery as ice, caking so thick it felt at times as though I was wearing concrete boots (not that I’ve ever really worn concrete boots, but it’s what came to mind).  A mile and a half of fairly steep climb and good cardio, and then, amazement.  Canyon walls that were in fact blue, interspersed with varying shades of red, mauve and green.  The tops of the tall, flat mesas beyond were snow dusted, a band of white matching the leisurely clouds rolling past through deep blue sky.

That late in the day, the low sun reached some of the walls, while others had already slipped to shade adding yet another layer of magnificent stratification and contrast.

Just as I reached the highest point, a voice said, “You have arrived!”  I jumped and damn near lost my footing in the slick mud.  Then I laughed, pulled the phone out of my backpack and turned off the GPS I’d forgotten about.   The only voice I want to hear out in Nature is Mother Earth and Spirit.  I sat down on a lichen covered rock to bathe in the beauty before me, and listen to the stillness.  Freya nosed me, tail wagging, and then set about exploring the hillside.

After a time, I fished out the phone and snapped a couple of pictures, noticing that my battery was nearly dead.  I pledged, as I’d done many times before, to get a real camera and return to that very spot.

On the descent, the canyon wall coloring become even more spectacular and the mud even thicker and slicker.  Halfway down, the trail bent left and I stepped into a warm ray of sun just setting on the ridge before us.  I opened to it like a solar panel or a worshipper.

Back at the car, left knee aching, hound dog fed and watered, I realized I’d forgotten that the phone charger in my car had stopped working.  With the tiny last bit of battery, I shot my son a text to let him know I was safe and headed home.

Three hours later, safely home after a lovely, peaceful drive, and freshly showered, feeling blissful, the plugged-in cell phone starts exploding, somebody’s banging on my front door and Freya goes ballistic with her gigantic bark in response.  Good grief!

It turns out the text I’d sent to my son hadn’t gone through and when they hadn’t heard from me, both John and he had panicked.  John was half a state away so he called my neighbor to check on me.  That’s who was at my front door.  I assured him I was fine and dialed up John.  Just as he answered with a huge exclamation of relief, “bang, bang” on the front door again, and Freya goes nuts again.  The police!  What?!

By the time it was all said and done, John had called the police in the county where I’d been hiking.  They had gone by to see that my car was at the trailhead and then later to see that it wasn’t.  They had sent me several texts but of course my phone was dead.  My son had called the local police.  They’d both gotten the neighbors involved.  John had packed up gear and was heading over toward the trailhead to try to find me.  Good heavens!

I spent the next half hour checking in with everyone, apologizing to the various police and neighbors.  My embarrassed was greatly outweighed by the feeling of being loved and cared about.  I was deeply grateful for the whole, crazy day.

I think it’s kind of funny that I was cruising along, all blissed out, feeling great, having no idea the ruckus I was causing back at home.

The miracles of Mother Earth and the human heart.  The gift of being cared about, looked after and loved.  And, like so many of our human mishaps and misunderstandings, a lesson learned, memories made and a story to bring a laugh.  The next day I bought a functional phone charger.       

Much Love,



Unplugging into the Now

One of the visitors to my campsite. Angels anyone?

I celebrated my birthday last week with our annual raft trip down the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River. Four solid days with no cell phone, emails, TV, radio or motors of any kind. Just flowing water, wild critters, dear friends, decent food, good beer and my journal.

There is no more calming, grounding therapy than getting unplugged from devices, and so-called news and plugging into Nature. Feeling the warm earth under my feet, rocking on the water surrounded by, immersed in, flow and cascading river song. At night, the brilliant display of truly dark skies pin holed by a billion bright cosmic lights.

There is a beautiful practice in A Course in Miracles known as the Holy Instant.

Loving my chaise lounge camping chair after a day of rowing rapids!

This is becoming fully present in the now, releasing any notion of past or future. In that space we remember who we really are, spiritual beings, at one with, an extension of, the Creator, Source. Touching that place, the Truth behind the illusions we regularly plug into, is one of this life’s most beautiful experiences.

I’ve stopped being surprised, but haven’t stopped being saddened, by how many of my clients, my fellow advocates, activists and social entrepreneurs, get so caught up working to protect the planet and change the world that they fail to get out there and actually experience it!

By the time I emerged from wilderness I was excited to reengage with business and life’s busyness, with texts and emails and errands. I’m happy to note that a little bigger piece of now is with me in the process.

So, friends, if you are feeling stressed, or sad, overwhelmed or worried, leave the devices behind and go get a hug from Mother Earth. She’s there for you whether deep in wilderness or at the corner park. Breathe her in. Listen. Remember you are an extension of God, ever supported by the spiritual substance from which you were created.

Unplug. Choose a different outlet. Plug into the present moment. Remember who you are.

One of my favorite campsites on the rogue River.




P.S. I just added A Course in Miracles coaching package to my store.

Also, this fall I’ll be offering a group Course in Miracles teleconference class. Please let me know if you might be interested in being part of it. I love sharing this life-changing set of teachings with friends and colleagues. I would love to share it with you.

#CylviaHayes  #Empowerment  #ResiliencyMuscles #ChangeMaker

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Real Costs of Fracking Plastic


In a free market economic system the cost of goods and services greatly influences consumer choices and behaviors. A significant problem with our current economic model is that it does not account for the actual costs of many products.

Read the full article at Huffington Post

The Price and Pricelessness of Caring

Once yCyl on Smith Rock hike w Kathleen Ackley -- 5-14ou walk through certain doors you can never return. Once you open your eyes or heart to certain things the course of your life is changed forever.

This happened to me in my early twenties. I had just taken the plunge to become a first generation college graduate and was attending courses at the nearest community college. One of the early classes was about environmental issues and in it I learned that we were hemorrhaging species from our planet due to human impacts like pollution, deforestation, destruction of habitat, etc. From the time I was a little girl I have felt an awe and love for the myriad of creatures we share this planet with. Knowing we were destroying them lit a fire in me that has guided my work and my life ever since.

There have been many, many times when part of me wished I didn’t know what was happening, wished I could stay ignorant. Sometimes I am brought to tears by the latest report of a species vanishing or a pristine wild place being torn apart. The worse part is knowing that I contribute to the damage by driving, flying and consuming certain products.

Allowing ourselves to know and care about something much bigger than we are is risky. It opens us to hurt and often leaves us feeling small and insignificant. But it also opens us up to magic.

I wouldn’t trade my love for our beautiful blue planet for anything because even though the caring comes at a price it also is a priceless gift. I am tremendously grateful that my calling found me early in life. I believe meaningful work is one of the most important requirements for happiness. The sadness of knowledge is easily outweighed by the sense of purpose, the richness of knowing I am using my life to try to make a difference. That is my True North, and in my darkest times it has always been something that has helped me pull through, stand up and keep moving.

There are so many good causes and so many brave people who take the risk of caring, stepping through doors they will never be able to close again and all are inspirational. But today, in honor of Earth Day, I wanted to share these feelings and give a shout out to all my fellow environmentalists who suffer the pain of opening their eyes and minds to the damage we are causing to this small, miraculous planet and are ridiculed for caring, called “Tree-Huggers” (as if that’s a bad thing) and yet continue to move forward with purpose.

Remember, though much remains to be done, we’ve had some huge successes when we’ve focused our collective minds and hearts. We came together and put a global ban on chemicals that were eating a hole in the ozone layer and now it is beginning to heal. Due to recovery efforts once-endangered gray wolves, bald eagles, and brown pelicans are now growing in numbers. Just last year the Oregon Chub became the first fish species to have recovered enough to be taken off the endangered species list. Nature heals when we give it a chance.

I hope all of you who open yourselves up to the potential pain of caring about and working on great causes that are far bigger than you find joy, satisfaction and hope and happiness in your decision to care and to love. Thank you for your courage.

As Dr. Suess’ pointed out in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Happy Earth Day!

Cylvia Hayes

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Living In, and Out, of Chains

Imagine being locked down in a tiny space your entire life, chained, 24 – 7, to a post. Your entire world is a tiny patch of hard ground. Standing, lying, pacing, always lugging the relentless weight of the chain.

The very image is appalling, yet sadly, countless dogs live their entire lives in those very lonely and unnatural conditions.

My heart always aches when I see these social, active creatures chained and alone. This past spring I decided to do something about it and signed up to volunteer with Fences For Fido, an all volunteer organization that raises money and supplies to build fences for dogs who are living on chains.

My first fence build was in March in LaPine. The goal was to free two Blue Heeler types and a young black lab mix. I dressed in fleece and layers as it was cold that day. The welcome, however, was warm.  Central Oregon Director, La Donna Sullivan, flashed her bright sunshine smile and guided me to Sue Wente, dark-haired, hard working and quiet, but with a delightful dry sense of humor.

A team of ten or so men and women pitched in, some pounding metal fence posts into the ground; some bending and stapling wire, others building gates and dog houses. Sue, in addition to training volunteers, also functions as the DJ providing an assortment of upbeat music. Many of us boogied down as we pounded stakes and fastened wire.

We built the fence right around the trees the dogs were chained to. Snow began to fall, heavily, covering everything in white. When the powdery flakes turned to driving hail someone shouted, “Well, we are having a hail of a good time with Fences for Fido!” We laughed and kept working.

Soon, the fence was complete and it was time for unchaining. The dogs raced around the yard, sniffing, rolling in the snow, and chasing tennis balls. They were joyous as they moved freely, burned off pent up energy and interacted with one another free of chains for the first time in their lives. The family members thanked us again and again.

I was hooked. I knew I had played a part in making lives better that day – both for dogs and their humans.

Fences For Fido started in 2009 in Portland, when a small group of volunteers decided to do something to help a neighborhood dog in a desperate chained situation. Since then FFF has freed over 1,150 dogs and spread into southwest Washington and central and coastal Oregon.

Martha Nordbusch of Prineville and La Donna Sullivan of Bend founded the Central Oregon FFF crew. Both women have day jobs, sometimes more than one, and full and busy lives, and yet they devote significant time and talent to the Fences For Fido cause. La Donna explained why:

Because I believe dogs should have a yard, a safe place to run and play. I do it because I want the dogs to be able to stay with their families and dogs on the end of a chain are fearful sometimes causing them to get aggressive and jump up and make it hard for people to get really close to them. When a dog has more freedom it can better learn how to interact and be more part of the family. This way they receive the love they crave and the family gets to more fully experience the love from their dog.

The second build I volunteered for was even more gratifying. The crew met at a modest mobile home in Warm Springs. Two pitbull-type dogs and one chow mix were staked to posts by heavy, thick chains. All three were friendly, though the young black and white male was very shy. The red, shaggy-furred chow mix was overjoyed by our attention but could only move a few feet in any direction because his chain was twisted and knotted.

Over several hours we completed three contiguous fences, one for each dog. Within moments of being unchained the timid young dog was more confident and animated, approaching us through the fence for a sniff and a treat. When we released the big red dog, for the first minute or so, he moved like a gaited horse, lifting his front legs high into the air, in an exaggerated prance, as he adjusted to being free from the terrible weight of the chain he had dragged for years. Once his stride normalized, he settled into his new digs and tore around tossing his new rope toy high into the air. His joyous transformation brought tears to my eyes.

As co-founder, Martha Nordbusch explained, the benefits go far beyond the dogs and owners:

What we have found is that freeing a dog from a chain creates a ripple of positivism that expands well beyond that one dog. We received a letter from a member of the community who put it this way, ‘Those two dogs have been chained for a long time and have been breaking my heart every day. Their eyes seemed to be begging for my help. This afternoon we drove by and both dogs had new fences and they were both running and jumping around!! This makes me so happy!!!!! My eyes have been crying ever since because I am just so happy to see those dogs free from their chains. Thank you so much for helping our neighbor dogs. You have helped me too because my heart won’t have to break every day when I drive by those dogs.’

Central Oregon Fences For Fido recently celebrated their 100th build, and the release from chains of over 250 dogs.  As awareness of the organization grows so does demand for services. This presents a great opportunity but also a tremendous challenge gathering the woman/man power to make it happen.

If you’d like to help please sign up for a fence build. You do not need to be a skilled construction worker to fill an important niche. Each build requires simple tasks such as clipping wire fencing, twisting fasteners, loading and unloading supplies. Tools and gloves are provided.

And even if you are absolutely not the fence-building type, you can still fill an important role. Some of the most-needed volunteer jobs include:

Veterinary transport for spay/neuter and other health needs,

  • Community outreach, marketing and tabling at events,
  • Dog house delivery and/or assembly,
  • Making a financial donation.

Also, Fences For Fido asks you to let us know where help may be needed. If you see a dog living on a chain all you need do is visit the FFF website or call in and provide the address. A volunteer will confidentially and respectfully check to see if help can be provided.

We may never get to all the dogs that need help but the lives of each one we touch improves beyond measure. I have seen this in the dogs loosed from chains and the grateful families who loved them but were unable, without a little help, to provide the best for them. I have felt it in myself — each time the chain comes off and the dog’s world expands I am flooded with the warm feeling of giving, of making a life-transforming difference, for someone who needed a little help.

One fence. One family. One dog at a time.

For more information:

503.621.9225 or 503.314.7105

Building Trust in the Great Wallowas

For this issue of Issue I was going to cover the militia take-over and stand off at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. However after talking to some of the traumatized and frustrated locals there I decided I didn’t want to be part of the media feeding frenzy that was playing right into the occupiers’ hands. So, instead of southeast Oregon, I headed to the far northeast to check on developments in the magnificent Wallowa Mountains.

The Wallowas are truly one of the Northwest’s most beautiful places. Rugged mountain peaks and the remote Eagle Cap wilderness surround a spectacular glacial lake.   The quaint little town of Joseph boasts a nationally acclaimed community of bronze sculptors and artists.

My main interest was the innovative work being done by the Wallowa Land Trust to establish a uniquely collaborative approach to protecting this magnificent landscape. In full disclosure, the Trust’s Executive Director, Kathleen Ackley, is a dear friend of mine.

The brazen takeover of public lands by the Malheur occupiers was just the latest in the ongoing controversy about public lands and whether or not private ranchers, logging and mining companies ought to be able to use those lands. With that backdrop playing out at the other end of the state I was interested in learning more about a different way of protecting important landscapes especially in regions containing a lot of public land.

In Wallowa County over 50 percent of the land base is owned by the federal or state government. During the logging boom of last century these lands generated jobs and revenues. But logging and mill jobs have been sharply curtailed due to environmental regulations and replacement of manual jobs with machination. This has taken a heavy economic toll on formerly timber-dependent communities in which vast tracts of public lands are excluded from the property tax base. One could reasonably expect the people of Wallowa County to have no interest in tying up any more land but something extraordinary is taking place in this remote community.

The Wallowa Land Trust is working to permanently protect one of the most unique and iconic landscapes in Oregon: the Moraines of Wallowa Lake.  A moraine is a mass of rock, soil and gravel carried down and deposited by glaciers.   The glacial moraines cradling Wallowa Lake are not only visually stunning, but also of great ecological and cultural significance.  They are among the most classic and complete examples of Pleistocene moraines found in North America, offering unparalleled education on glacial history and climate change.

For local residents the undeveloped crest of the East Moraine is the iconic visual image of present day Wallowa County and an underpinning of the vastly important economic engine of tourism. The entire permanent population of Wallowa County is just under 7,000 but as many as 700,000 tourists visit the region each year. The moraines also have special significance to the Nez Perce Tribe.  Located on the terminal moraine is Old Chief Joseph’s gravesite, part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park. This is the starting place for the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) National Historic Trail. Finally, there are the non-human residents to consider. The Oregon Conservation Strategy ranks the moraine’s pine woodlands as one of 11 highest priority wildlife habitats in the state.

When faced with the breathtaking vistas surrounding Wallowa Lake, most visitors and many locals assume that Wallowa Lake and the moraines are protected.  However, despite being adjacent to protected areas including Wallowa Lake State Park, the moraines themselves are almost entirely privately owned.

In 2011, one of those landowners voiced their desire to sell or develop their 1,790-acre property which encompasses almost 60% of the East Moraine. As many as 26 homes could be built on the moraine, including three on the iconic crest above the lake.

Due to concern about the future of the East Moraine, the Wallowa Lake Moraines Partnership was formed in 2011 and includes Wallowa Land Trust, Wallowa Resources, Wallowa County, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and The Trust for Public Land. Wallowa Land Trust plays a lead role in the Partnership.

From a conservation perspective, a land trust is typically a non-profit entity that works with private landowners to protect conservation values on private land. The landowner voluntarily commits to permanently limiting the uses of their land (such as agreeing not to build a housing development) for the benefit of the environment, the community and future generations.  Sometimes the landowner donates those rights. Other times the landowner sells those rights to the land trust. The land trust assumes responsibility of ensuring that the agreed upon restrictions are upheld. The landowner continues to own the land and there are often tax benefits from transferring land to a trust agreement. The landowner can even pass the land on to heirs or sell it. However, the conservation agreements stay in place even if the land changes ownership.

The Moraines Partnership is now in conversation with all nine East Moraine landowners, all of whom have expressed interest and desire to work to protect this landscape.  Owner Jacob Hasslacher has put 40 of his 100 acres into a conservation agreement. He says, “The moraine is a sacred place to me and I’m fortunate to have property on it. I wanted it to remain open and undeveloped in perpetuity. I thought it was a good thing to do for the community and wildlife.”

Remarkably, in addition to placing private land into conservation agreements most Wallowa residents also support putting another chunk of East Moraine land under governmental ownership!  The Partnership has been awarded a $3 million grant from the USDA Forest Legacy program to acquire a portion of the largest East Moraine parcel.  However, the grant requires that the land pass to a state or local governmental entity.  Wallowa County has agreed to take ownership, with management of the land falling to Wallowa Resources.  As Ackley explains, “Generally speaking, more land in government ownership is frowned upon here in Wallowa County.  But this is a unique project in that not only is it going to keep one of the state’s most spectacular landscapes undeveloped, it is going to create a community forest that generates revenue for the county, supports local jobs and protects sensitive habitat.  It’s a win-win for our community, both ecologically and economically.”

This collaborative, community-based approach to conservation is remarkable in providing a way for landowners to exercise their property rights and maintain local ownership in a way that benefits the community and protects one of the Pacific Northwest’s natural treasures.

Nine Ways to be a Better Friend to the Planet

We focus a lot on relationships — relationships with our lovers, our brothers, ourselves, our gods. This article is about another, often overlooked relationship — our relationship with our home. I don’t mean our house, where we store our things and hang our pictures. I mean our home in the big sense, as in Earth, this planet that supports us.

Most articles on taking care of the environment include things like turning off the lights when you leave the room and recycling your pop cans and beer bottles. These are good things and everyone should do them but the bigger bang for the buck actions are less politically correct.

They may make you uncomfortable but, surprisingly, many of the actions we can take to stop trashing the environment may also bring pleasure and peace into our lives.

  • Stop buying crap you don’t need. It is very difficult in this culture not to base our sense of self worth on how much stuff we have. But all that stuff comes out of the Earth one way or another. It is mined, logged, mixed up in toxic chemical plants, etc.

Not only does it take a toll on the planet, but the constant drive to buy, buy, buy also keeps us in debt and struggling even harder to pay bills and make ends meet. It may surprise you how liberating it is to simplify and reduce the amount of stuff in your life. It may also surprise you to learn the beauty and peace in valuing who we are instead of what we have.

  • Get a grip on reality. The reason we are bombarded with messages to buy stuff we don’t really need is because big business, mainstream economists and politicians tell us that the economy has to keep growing all the time to be healthy. This means constantly increasing our consumption of natural resources. But here’s the part of reality they gloss over — we live on a planet of finite natural resources! Right now humans are consuming 1 and ½ Earths-worth of natural resources every year, basically overdrawing our natural resource bank account.

Rascally western novelist Edward Abbey once pointed out, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” What good is the economy if we don’t have a habitable planet? A colleague of mine has written an important book titled, What’s the Economy For Anyway? The book is great. The question is critical.

There is a burgeoning New Economy movement striving to create muscular healthy economic alternatives. You can learn more at

  • What you do buy, buy local. Products made locally usually require far, far less fossil fuel to reach store shelves, which means they produce far less pollution. This is especially true of locally produced food. Many communities, including Central Oregon, have growing Locavore

In addition to being gentler on the Earth, buying local creates jobs for people right in our communities and provides opportunities to build community as we get to personally know the farmers growing our food, the sewers making our clothes and the brewers crafting our beer.

  • Eat less meat. According to some sources, production of meat, especially beef and pork, is contributing to global warming even more than driving cars. For you big-time meat lovers I’m sure this feels like a major sacrifice but cutting meat just one day a week is good for the Earth and for you – reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
  • Drive less, consume less electricity and purchase renewable energy. Plain and simple we are going to have to commit to moving beyond fossil fuels.   It’s doable and many entrepreneurs are already making lots of money creating and providing post-fossil fuel alternatives. As a side benefit reducing energy consumption will save you money on energy bills and perhaps give you a bit more exercise.
  • Have fewer children. I know this rankles some, but the truth is we have both a human population challenge and a resource consumption problem. Each new person adds to both problems. Another uncomfortable truth is that on average each child born in the U.S. does far more environmental damage than a child born in a developing nation because of the huge rate of consumption in the U.S.
  • Just think you’ll be doing something great for the planet and you’ll spare yourself immeasurable hassle, heartache and expense! OK, OK, just kidding – I couldn’t help myself!
  • Get ‘em outside. For the vast majority who feel children are just to magical to forego, be sure to get them outside early and often immersed in the miracle of Nature so that they can learn to love rivers, and forests and wild creatures. Then they too will want to help protect and restore the richness and beauty of our natural world.
  • Kids are naturally enthralled with the wonders and adventures of nature. Making the commitment to give them those opportunities will keep them more active and physically fit, which is a growing challenge in our sedentary, video screen-saturated lives. It will also get parents out moving and exercising.
  • Show a little humility. We humans like to think we are the be all and end all. It is startling to consider that all humans could disappear from the face of the planet tomorrow and the planet would go on just fine, probably even better given how we’re treating it. However, if bees or earthworms were to disappear, taking their pollinating and soil conditioning services with them, Earth’s food web would crash and countless species would vanish. We push back against racism and sexism. Why are we so blasé about speciesism.
  • Broadening our sense of community to include other species doesn’t diminish us as human beings. Just the opposite. It adds rich new layers of connection and wonder. We see beauty in new places.
  • Celebrate our successes. It’s easy to feel that environmental problems are too big for us to do anything about but in fact we’ve had many huge successes when we’ve focused our collective minds and hearts. We came together and put a global ban on chemicals that were eating a hole in the ozone layer and now it is beginning to heal. Due to recovery efforts once-endangered gray wolves, bald eagles, and brown pelicans are now growing in numbers. Just last year the Oregon Chub became the first fish species to have recovered enough to be taken off the endangered species list. Nature heals when we give it a chance.

It’s a lovely planet. It’s our home. Instead of a battle it could be a love affair.

An Explosive Issue: Oil Trains

Ticking time bombs are rumbling through the Pacific Northwest. Nearly overnight the railways of the west have become primary transport routes for trains filled with highly flammable crude oil. Studies report a 5000-percent increase in oil by rail in North America since 2008. With this rapid increase in traffic has come an enormous uptick in derailments, spills and explosions. It is likely a matter of when, not if, one of these trains spews crude into the Deschutes or Columbia Rivers or explodes in someone’s neighborhood.

I first became concerned about oil trains in 2011. As a long-time energy and climate expert and at that time the first lady of Oregon I began researching the logistics and dynamics of oil by rail as well as the options available to states to regulate oil trains. My findings were troubling.

How We Got Here:

The reason for the massive expansion in oil train traffic is due to breakthroughs in drilling technology that make it possible to extract crude and natural gas from shale deposits that were previously inaccessible. Through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking) highly pressurized fluids are forced deep underground to crack rock and allow trapped gas and oil to be pumped to the surface.

The rapid increase in production outpaced the infrastructure for transporting the crude. Lacking sufficient pipeline capacity to handle the enormous uptick in supply, the oil industry’s default option has been to ship the crude by rail in miles’ long chains of black tanker cars.

Prior to 2008 very few crude oil tank cars passed through the Pacific Northwest. Today, it’s estimated that 25 trains a week travel to refineries in Washington State. Each train consists of approximately 100 cars carrying 700 gallons of oil a piece for a total of 30,000 gallons per train. That’s three quarters of a million gallons each week, yet only a fraction of what’s being planned.

Until recently the oil coming through the Northwest has been destined for domestic markets. However, in December 2015, the U.S. Congress removed a forty-year ban on exporting oil. This means, the Pacific Northwest, given its proximity to Asia via shipping channels, stands squarely between the most voracious energy markets in the world and huge North American fossil fuel deposits including Powder River Basin coal, Bakken shale oil and the Alberta tar sands.

Oil Train Derailments and Explosions:

The massive expansion of oil by rail has led to numerous crashes and spills. According to records from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration 2014 saw a six-fold increase in “unintentional releases” from railroad tankers compared to the average number of spills between 1975 and 2012. In 2013 the 1.4 million gallons of oil spilled in train incidents was more than the total for all oil by rail spills since record keeping began in 1975. These incidents are especially dangerous because most of the crude coming from fracking is far more volatile and flammable than conventional crude sources.

The most sensational and tragic incident occurred in July 2013 when 47 people were killed in an oil train inferno in Lac Megantic, Quebec. Other spills sparked a fireball in Virginia, contaminated groundwater in Colorado and poured across acres of ground in Montana. Based on railroad industry data, more than 25 million Americans live within a one-mile blast and evacuation zone of a potential oil train fire.

Moving Forward from Here:

Despite the clear risks associated with oil by rail there are currently plans for massive expansion throughout the Northwest.

According to Eric de Place, Policy Director, for Sightline Institute, “There is currently enough built capacity to handle 300,000 to 400,000 barrels of oil per day. What we know is the industry wants to build the capacity to handle over one million barrels of oil per day, which is way more than we can consume in this region.”

There are approximately a dozen proposed fossil fuel export projects in the Northwest. The Tesoro Savage’s Vancouver project with a capacity of 360,000 barrels per day, is the largest proposal of its kind in North America. According to some calculations this facility alone could increase oil train traffic through the region five-fold.

Last year the federal government did take some steps to increase the safety of oil trains. This incudes a scheduled phase out of older tank cars with newer models that have stronger shells, valves and protective shields to withstand a collision or derailment. The new regulations also require that tank cars on long trains be equipped with an advanced braking system to cut the time and distance needed to stop.

The Inconvenient Bigger Picture

Preventing a massive oil spill in the iconic Columbia or Deschutes rivers or ensuring that neighborhoods don’t blow up in raging firestorms are worthy goals in and of themselves. However, even if rail transport of oil becomes safe there is still a terrible threat.

Research using detailed data and well-established economic models, shows that in order to avoid overshooting the 2 degree Celsius rise in Earth’s temperature that would bring cataclysmic consequences we have to keep a lot of the remaining fossil fuel in the ground, unburned.

Research published in the journal Nature builds on these findings by not only explaining how much fossil fuel would need to be left unburned but also showing regional variations. The study reports that meeting the 2C target would require keeping 82% of today’s coal reserves in the ground. In major coal producing nations like the US, Australia and Russia, more than 90% of remaining coal reserves would need to remain underground. For natural gas 50% of global reserves must remain unburned. And, a third of all remaining oil must be left belowground. The study suggests that keeping the necessary reserves of fossil fuels in the ground through the most economically viable scenarios would require leaving Canada’s tar sands oil virtually untouched.

This means the oil and coal trains plowing through the Pacific Northwest are carrying fossil fuels from the very places that most need to remain un-mined to prevent catastrophic levels of global climate change. Infrastructure isn’t a sexy topic but it is one that is crucial to our futures. Just like the baseball stadium in Field of Dreams, if we build it they will come. In this case, they will be more trains carrying more of the fossil fuel that needs to remain in the ground.

Our Crossroads

The Pacific Northwest, for many good reasons, claims to be a leader in clean energy and climate change action. However that claim is incompatible with allowing our region to become the Gulf Coast of oil train exports. A growing movement is stepping up to this dichotomy.

In British Columbia, Washington and Oregon Native American Tribes, environmental groups, firefighters unions, sports fishers, doctors and public health advocates have all joined the effort to stop the advancement of oil train infrastructure. Sightline Institute has begun calling the region the Thin Green Line. Approximately 20 organizations have formed a coalition called Stand Up to Oil.

There is evidence that this opposition is causing change. Both the Portland and Seattle City Councils recently passed resolutions opposing and restricting oil train transport through the cities. These actions are largely symbolic because, due to interstate commerce laws, cities and even states have little regulatory control over railways. However, the combination of citizen and governmental actions combined with artificially low oil prices is having an effect. Port Westward, the major oil export facility in Oregon has switched back to exporting cleaner ethanol and a facility in Gray’s Harbor Washington has decided to stay with ethanol rather than expanding to crude oil exports.

In the volatile world of fossil fuel extraction, export and addiction the next several years will be a defining era for the Thin Green Line of the Pacific Northwest. This is a time for vigilance and action.

Birds and Bees

Do you think that humans are more important than bugs? Before you scoff consider that we are at risk of losing flowers, fruit trees and much of the global food supply because we are wiping out bugs. We are losing our pollinators. Bees, butterflies, bats and numerous pollinating bird species are all in decline in the U.S. and globally.

According to an important study by the United Nations, 2 out of 5 species of invertebrate pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, are headed toward extinction. Of vertebrate pollinators, such as hummingbirds and bats, 1 in 6 species are facing extinction.

This is no trivial matter. It has enormous environmental, economic and food security implications. There are approximately 20,000 species of pollinators on the planet and they are key to hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of crops each year — from fruits and vegetables to coffee and chocolate.

There are many reasons for these declines although not all are well known. At the top of the list is pesticide use, including the sprays and various poisons people use in our backyards. Another factor is that industrialized agriculture has switched to growing huge monoculture crops that have eradicated plant diversity and wild flowers that pollinators use as food. Paving over paradise has led to massive destruction in habitat in urban settings. Finally, global warming appears to be adding to the pressures by reducing habitat, especially for some species of native bees.

Both the cultivated European honeybee and indigenous native pollinators are struggling. The latter is particularly serious. While honeybees aid in pollination the native species are much more effective. Scientists studied pollination in dozens of crops in every populated continent and found wild pollinators were twice as effective as honeybees in producing seeds and fruit on crops such as coffee, onions, almonds, tomatoes and strawberries.

In 2013 one of the biggest recorded single event bee die-offs took place in Wilsonville Oregon. A landscaping company had sprayed a neonicotinoid pesticide on linden trees in a Target Store parking lot. The trees were in bloom, which attracted bees. At least 25,000 mostly native bumblebees died as a result. In an attempt to reduce further bee kills, workers wrapped protective netting around 55 trees. Visiting the site was disturbing. Looking at the plastic-covered, chemical-soaked trees poking out of an asphalt parking lot left me with a deep sadness and sense of bearing witness to apocalypse. (get photos of this for article).

Although native pollinators may be more efficient, cultivate honeybee hives are critical to large-scale food production and aid with native pollination. And honeybees are facing serious challenges of their own. A variety of factors including an invasive varroa mite are hammering honeybee populations. According to the USDA, just over 40% of commercial honeybee colonies collapsed in the 2015 survey, which was down slightly from the 45% loss of two years earlier!

Growing awareness of the demise of our pollinators has led to a growing movement of hobby and urban beekeeping. In 2012 I joined the buzz, when I had honeybee hives installed at the Oregon Governor’s residence known as Mahonia Hall. The Willamette Valley Bee Keepers Association approached me with the idea and took care of the basic maintenance. I, with the help of my First Lady assistant, created a “brand” called Mahonia Gold, Political Pollen. It was delicious and a highly sought after little gift.

Shortly after that I installed a hive at my personal home in Bend, Oregon. (include photos of my hive, me in bee suit). It was something of a neighborhood affair since my good friends, Jason and Marla Jo Hardy, also got a hive. As with so many things in my life, they have been incredibly helpful me care for the new addition. We were immediately hooked. I put a little stool next to the hive and also had a little Plexiglas window installed so that I could peek into the hive’s inner workings. Throughout the summer I watched them do their work in my yard and my flowers, veggies, raspberries and strawberries thrived.

But sadly, like so many others, my first colony didn’t make it through the winter and one of the Hardy’s colonies failed as well. It was like losing a beloved pet and disturbing in its ramifications. We started over.

Just about a month ago, here in Bend, we had a bout of relatively warm weather and I checked our neighborhood hives to find the bees alive and abuzz. They made it through the winter. When I posted this happy news on Facebook many of my fellow bee enthusiasts reported that their hives had not survived.

I recently attended a “Bee Academy” in Tumalo Oregon to learn how to best care for my colony of pollinators. For anyone interested in keeping bees and supporting pollinators (and getting some delicious honey in the process) there are many resources to help get started. For a general starting point to find resources in your area check out the Pollinator Resource Center at Xerces Society (

And for general rules of thumb for protecting pollinators and therefore our food supply think about the following:

  • Avoid using pesticides in your own yards and gardens. There are many safe, healthier alternatives.
  • Fill your gardens with plants that attract and nourish bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • Support local and state bans on neonicotinoid pesticides that are particularly destructive to pollinator species.
  • Buy organic food whenever you can and demand it more, and more affordably, when you can’t find it.

Pollination is needed for approximately three-quarters of global food crops. It’s really insects, not humans, who have the ability to protect global food security. The next time you think about swatting that buzzing insect think about how important she might be.

The Delta 5: Ordinary People Taking Extraordinary Actions

On July 24, 2014 at 2am a train carrying 100 cars of highly explosive crude oil went off the tracks under the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle. Each tanker car held 28,000 gallons of oil. Fortunately the train was moving very slowly and none of the oil spilled or exploded.

All of this took place within a mile of where Abby Brockway’s daughter goes to school. For Brockway, that was a defining moment, “After that day, I realized that I couldn’t wait any longer – I needed to take action.”

Two months later Brockway and four others — Michael LaPointe, Patrick Mazza, Jackie Minchew, Elizabeth Spoerri — erected an 18 foot tall metal tripod over Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway tracks at the Delta Rail Yard in Everett, Washington in protest of oil trains and inaction on climate change. Petite Brockway climbed to the very top of the tall structure and the other four locked themselves to the foot of the poles. Eight hours later, with the help of a fire department ladder truck and the jaws-of-life, they were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and blocking a train. They were dubbed the Delta 5.

In January, I travelled to a small courthouse tucked between strip malls north of Seattle to attend the Delta 5 trial. For four days the typically quiet courtroom was overflowing with observers, supporters, reporters and television cameras. It was so packed that many times many of us had to sit on the floor. From the beginning I sensed I was witnessing something historic.

This was to be the first time the necessity defense was argued in a U.S. climate or fossil fuel-connected civil disobedience trial, and only the second climate necessity trial in the world. The necessity defense makes the case that any crimes committed were necessary to avert greater harms from climate change and fossil fuel pollution. After hearing the entire necessity defense arguments, Judge Anthony Howard determined that the defendants had met most but not all of the requirements to have the jury consider it and instructed jurors to make their decision based solely on the legal definitions of criminal trespassing and intentionally blocking a train.

The jury eventually delivered a surprising decision, finding the defendants guilty of second degree criminal trespass but not of intentionally obstructing a train. Ironically, the railroad said that the specific train the Delta 5 had blocked was not scheduled to leave until later that night.

The final two hours of the trial delivered extraordinary moments. One took place during a break after the jury had delivered their decision. The Delta 5 and their legal team were huddling in a narrow hallway outside the courtroom. Three of the jurors joined the group. As reporters and photographers crowded around the jurors and defendants addressed one another.

The jurors expressed remorse for ruling guilty on any charge. Sixty-one year old truck driver Joe Lundheim wiped away tears when Abby Brockway said, “I’m actually really pleased with what you delivered to us, because we have options now and there’s more we can do with this, and this was probably the best verdict that could have been returned to us.”

Lundheim went on to say, “That was huge in itself, that you guys were able to bring this matter to a jury trial. … There’s this very narrow window of time when traffic is going to exponentially increase on this toxic product coming through our neighborhoods to make a buck—while a buck is able to be made—before it closes … And I know this because I’ve been listening to this stuff all week long, so thank you for that.”

“We don’t want to be the corridor,” juror Sue McGowan added. The jurors and defendants hugged and then, through a big smile Delta 5 defendant LaPointe said loudly, “May I say welcome to the movement?” The crowd erupted into laughter and applause.

Shortly after Judge Howard delivered extraordinary closing comments:

Frankly the court is convinced that the defendants are far from the problem and are part of the solution to the problem of climate change . . . they are tireless advocates that we need in this society to prevent the kind of catastrophic effects that we see coming and our politicians are ineffectually addressing. People in the courtroom learned much, including the guy in the black robe.

The defendants were sentenced to 90 days jail with credit for one day already served and 89 suspended provided they did not violate a two-year probation period.

There will be more to come. At least three of the Delta 5 defendants have filed an appeal. Their goal is to have the necessity defense considered by a jury.

When I asked Patrick Mazza why he had decided to complicate his life by crossing the line to direct action civil disobedience he said,

My day on the rails was the day before my daughter’s 18th birthday, the last day before she became a full adult. By the time she’s my age it will certainly be hotter, more storm tossed and troubled. She knows it too. A few years back I was sitting on the porch late on a sunny afternoon, she came up and asked, ‘Dad, is there hope for the world?’ That’s the kind of question for which a parent needs a positive answer. When I sat down on the railroad track, I did my best to supply one.The