Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Unnatural History

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. p 64.

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One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. . . . An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

A desert, perhaps because to the uninformed it can be a perilous place, may appear at first glance to be a tough place that can withstand anything that humans try to do to it. In reality, this harsh desert is very delicate and quite fragile.

Humans have caused great damage to the Oregon Desert. It is down, but not out. It is natural enough to recover if we let it.

When most of us see a natural old-growth forest and a clearcut side by side, we instinctively know in our heart, if not our mind, that the forest is inherently good (alive, beautiful, verdant, diverse) and that the clearcut is inherently bad (dead, ugly, abused, simplified).

It is a bit different in the Oregon Desert. Often, to the untrained eye, an abused landscape can still appear beautiful. If the underlying geology is such, an eroded hillside can be aesthetically pleasing. A tree-free stream through a heavily grazed meadow can still look inviting if you don't know better.

Both because a desert is a much smaller, shorter ecosystem than a forest, and because ecological irritants such as domestic livestock have been pervasive for a century and a half, it is harder to see and understand the ecological damage. It is not impossible, however.