Methow Valley

Meet Our Speakers: Vic and Carrie Stokes

Vic and Carrie Stokes arrived for dinner in a plume of dust on the dry road leading up to camp. Carrie is an administrator for the Okanogan School District, and her husband Vic is a fourth-generation rancher in the Methow Valley. After joking and storytelling over dinner, they discussed the of ranching in the Methow. Vic encouraged us to be wary of the nostalgia that surrounds ranching, a complex and demanding line of work. Cattle grazing on public lands is an especially fraught topic due to the environmental impact grazing has on water and ecosystem health. Vic and Carrie believe that collaboration is the most useful mindset a rancher can adopt. Recognizing the competing interests of the public, of land owners and of the government agencies involved, Vic is invested in continuing a civil dialogue with anyone who cares to have it. No matter who he’s talking with, Vic holds to the principle, “it’s not how we agree on issues, it’s how we disagree that matters.” 

By: Grace Butler

Meet Our Speakers: John Rohrer

John Rohrer began working for the U.S. Forest Service in 1991 as a wildlife biologist, but his current position is Program Manager for Biology, Weeds, Range, and Wildlife; a title which betrays the decreasing budget that has been allocated to the agency in recent years. After growing up and attending college in the Southwest, Rohrer worked as a seasonal biologist near the Grand Canyon before moving north to work in the Methow Valley District of the Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest. During his career with the Forest Service, Rohrer has trapped wolverines and conducted wildlife surveys, but a large portion of his work these days revolves around dealing with conflicting interest groups and land users in the forest. For instance, when the cattle grazing on forest land need a drink, they often plod into the clear waters of nearby creeks, inadvertently trampling salmon spawning habitat in the stream bed. In deciding how to respond, Rohrer balances his responsibility to protect salmon under the Endangered Species Act with the agency’s mandate to facilitate multiple uses of the national forests and the significant pressure from local ranchers trying to preserve their livelihood. When asked about his drive to continue taking on issues like these after 25 years on the job, Rohrer referenced Aldo Leopold, saying, “Some people can live without wild things, some people can’t. For me, personally…I can’t live without wild places.”

By: Evan Romasco-Kelly

Meet Our Speakers: Alexa Whipple

On an early Thursday evening, Alexa Whipple rolled into the Semester in the West Camp in an old, white Toyota pickup. As she got out of the truck carrying a box of organic pears, she greeted everyone with smiling eyes. The pears came from 12 Moons Farm, a 6-acre plot of land that Alexa runs in the Methow Valley, Washington. Whipple started her farm after graduating with a degree in wildlife biology from Virginia Tech and bouncing around the West until she found her place in the Methow, and she visited the group to educate us about sustainable agriculture and its environmental benefits. She addressed the concept of regenerative grazing, in which public lands are selectively grazed in order to promote the growth of native bunchgrass. Whipple also explained the use of human range-riders to ensure proper grazing practices and livestock-predator relations on the range. Alexa also emphasized the importance of soil health in agriculture. Her farm uses organic, pesticide/herbicide-free practices to maintain the health of the bacteria within the top layers of soil. She tills as little as possible so as not to damage the fragile soil structures, and is currently researching organic, no-till farming methods in order to make her operation even more sustainable than it already is. Alexa’s clear and concise explanations of these practices showed us that sustainable agricultural practices do exist and that it’s possible to produce food in a manner that is better for and gives back to the environment as a whole.

By Fields Ford

Meet Our Speakers: Jay Kehne

Jay Kehne is an advocate for wolf recovery and adaptive grazing management for Conservation Northwest. His work draws from over 30 years of experience working for the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and networking with the community and local ranchers. As wolves—an endangered species in many regions—repopulate, they are venturing into Washington from Idaho and British Columbia for the first time in 100 years. Wolves are another danger for livestock beyond the persisting threats of bears, cougars, and coyotes. Despite general distrust of environmental interests and conflicting foundational values, Jay strives to engage ranchers to support livestock management techniques that simultaneously ensure ranchers’ economic security and wolf survival. After Jay was selected to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the community was concerned Jay’s contributions did not represent the interests and people of eastern Washington. Despite these challenges, Jay works tirelessly to find strategies for wolf management that support ranching, ecological, and environmental interests. For example, once wolves recover and are no longer listed as endangered, future policy could enable removal of wolf packs if they cause excessive cattle loss past a threshold. Fundamentally, Jay believes wolf recovery will happen in Washington and looks forward to working on the challenges associated with a stronger ecosystem containing wolves.

By Elizabeth Greenfield

Meet Our Speakers: Mike Borowski


Since 2014, Mike Borowski has worked for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Methow Valley District in northwestern Washington as a forester and timber sale administrator. The National Forest Service’s goal is to leave each acre better than when they found it, using methods of treatment such as fire attenuation through tree felling and prescribed burns. Mike specializes in the administration of timber sales to private logging companies, a large source of revenue for the forest. Each contract for a timber sale takes into account both the proper trees to cut for fire attenuation and stewardship of the landscape whole, not to mention profit for the logging company. Because of the rigorous standards of these contracts and lack of funding, the acreage of treated forest is much less than needed to accommodate for a changing climate: a fact not lost on Mike and his coworkers in the Service. The Forest Service strives to service many times more area in the face of the hotter and bigger fires of this century and stewards like Mike Borowski are dedicating their time and energy to better the forest, one acre at a time.  

By: Amanda Champion

Meet Our Speakers: Kent Woodruff

Kent Woodruff believes that a freight train is coming, and it’s coming fast. Climate change is altering our world to a point beyond precedent, and Kent need not look far past the front door of his Methow Valley home to see the consequences. As he guided us through a whirlwind tour of the Methow Valley’s public land, Kent brought the impacts of an increasingly warm and dry climate here into focus. Moreover, he urged us to take the lead on softening these effects.

Kent Woodruff is a wildlife biologist for the Okanogan District of the U.S. Forest Service, based in the Methow Valley on the eastern slopes of the North Cascade Mountains. A man of unabating energy and resolute enthusiasm for conservation and restoration of the forest, Kent’s enterprises are diverse and his vigor palpable. With great reverence for the forest he loves, Kent’s work is driven by his mantra that “ecosystems are not more complex than we think- they are more complex than we can think”. To bring focus to the complexity of his vocation, Kent views dealing with climate change as twofold; climate mitigation refers to taking actions to slow the rate of climate change, and climate adaption is the softening of the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Kent devotes himself everyday to achieving the latter in the Okanogan National Forest by advocating for wildlife as part of an interdisciplinary Forest Service decision-making team. He also runs a beaver relocation program, bring them back to their natural habitat, works with recreators to minimize impacts on the land, and helps to spot forest fires before they become calamitous, among other endeavors. In order to effectively undertake climate adaptation, though, Kent needs help, and lots of it. Climate change is having such a great impact on this area, he says, that we can no longer look to the past to forecast the ecology of this landscape in the future. We must form a team of writers, storytellers, and climate adaptation specialists to convey that the climate change freight train is coming, and while the rumble can already be felt in the Okanogan National Forest, it will not be long before places across the country find that they too are standing on the tracks. When it comes to climate adaptation, Kent says, we cannot be too bold.

By: Abby Popenoe

And We're Off!

The 2016 Westies, ready to depart from the Johnston Wilderness Campus in Walla Walla.

The 2016 Westies, ready to depart from the Johnston Wilderness Campus in Walla Walla.

Today was a day of firsts.  First time packing up the trailer, first drive, first time setting up camp.  This post will be short and sweet, because it's late and I'm posting from my phone (we weren't able to get the satellite dish up tonight) but we just wanted to let you all know we made it!