OCTOBER 1998

 

OCTOBER 1998 FULL ISSUE

A WILDERNESS EXCEPT BY NAME: SODA MOUNTAIN IS A RARE LAND OF CONTRASTS

By ELIZABETH GROSSMAN 

In the soft air of the last hour of day­ light we walk out to a rocky ledge overlooking a stretch of private timberland. The canyon wall is steep, the trees sparse. As my guide, Dave Willis, explains, much of Soda Mountain is too steep and rocky for logging, but there have been timber cuts in the area, and the private in holdings are not off limits to future logging. Over the next two days, I will begin to get a feel for this country with its great contrasts in elevation and changes in terrain, but even on first sight, it is clear to me that Soda Mountain is unlike anywhere I've been.

 Here, southeast of Ashland, Ore., on the Oregon­ California border, where the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains and the Rogue and Klamath valleys converge, is the 38,000-acre roadless region known as' Soda Mountain. This remarkable overlap of ecosystem, sustains montane wildflowers, ponderosa pine, Douglas- fir, sugar pine, mountain mahogany, incense cedar, juniper and a significant tract of old-growth  oak-both Oregon white and California black oak.

 In early summer, from the grassy shoulders of the area's highest points, one can see the snow-covered peaks of Mount Shasta, the Marble Mountains, the High Siskiyous and Mount Ashland.  There are sage and lupine, paintbrush and penstemon, larkspur and the wild blue onion known as ookow, all flowers which begin to bloom as. early as March. There are rare lilies, among them Green's Mariposa Lily, Calochortus greenet, which grows nowhere else, and several rare fritillaria, as well as phlox, wild rose and balsamroot. Waterfalls rush down the steep canyons to the creek bottoms. A remarkable outcrop of volcanic basalt forms the distinctive landmark of Pilot  Rock, likely used by natives to the region for thousands of years.

 For more than a dozen years, a local group, the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, has worked to protect this area, which forms a vital ecological link at the juncture of the Cascade and Siskiyou forests, the  Rogue River Valley, the Oregon high desert and the Mediterranean zone of  California's Shasta Valley. Slowly but steadily, the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council is working, with broad-based public support, alongside various agencies and landowners to get significant portions of the area covered by protective administrative designations. The Soda Mountain council is working to "keep the trees up," to close primitive roads and jeep trails, co reduce and eliminate grazing impacts, and to transfer private in holdings to public ownership. Its long term goal is co position Soda Mountain well for permanent protection as congressionally designated wilderness.

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Paul Koberstein