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Pipe Fork Creek

by Diana Coogle, From the Mountains above the Applegate River

I have lived here, on this piece of land in the mountains above the Applegate River of southern Oregon, since 1974. My property is nestled among blocks of land owned or managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service, and Josephine County. An old mining ditch runs from Pipe Fork Creek to my property and straight through it.      

The ditch trail to Pipe Fork became a favorite walk almost as soon as I got here, and then on up the creek, walking on the steep banks or in the creek itself when the banks were too steep or further access was blocked by downed trees or thick vegetation. 

I found small waterfalls tumbling into pools or sliding over long, slick rocks. I found the Siskiyou salamander and fish in the pools. I found a bigger waterfall, where water fell over the lip of a rock eight feet above the pool. I could submerge in the cool, forest-shaded water of the pool. The waterfall splashed into it with therapeutic music.

I knew at once how special a place this was. There was no other such waterfall that I knew of in this area.    For years few people, if any, seemed to know about the ditch, the upper sections of the creek, and the waterfall. I sometimes took visitors there, but the waterfall was difficult to get to, so they had to be hearty folks. The last time I was at the waterfall, earlier this summer, I was with my son, who, because he had grown up here, remembered well the creek, the difficult access, and the waterfall itself. He remembered fishing on the creek, the waterslide falls, the mosses and ferns, the giant cedars and pines, the steep canyon walls.

I have seen fishers scampering around a tree in these woods. I have seen a cougar walk her majestic pace in these woods. I have seen bears run from me up the hills as I approached on a trail, and I have seen a ringtail cat, at my house, in these same woods. I hear the call of a barred owl almost nightly, sometimes close, in the woods just above my house, sometimes far away, as though at Pipe Fork itself. I know the skinks and skunks, the salamanders and lizards that scurry under rotten logs. I know the moist and rampant beauty of Pipe Fork.

Five years ago Josephine County cut some timber along Pipe Fork, some beautiful tall trees along the old logging road that winds up the mountains above the Pipe Fork canyon. That was bad enough, but now the county wants to clearcut 140 acres in the Pipe Fork drainage, right on the banks, the steep canyon banks, of the creek. 

I cannot bear this. I talk about Pipe Fork in personal terms because I have lived so long in its ecology, so of course, I don’t want to see it logged, but Pipe Fork is now recognized by others, too, as a gem, a rare treasure of Williams, an ecological niche important for the purity of its water that feeds the Williams watershed, the variety of its flora, the health of its fauna, and the big trees still standing that keep the canyon full of water.  Even more important is to pull our vision to a greater height, from which we can see the 140 acres of Pipe Fork the county wants to clearcut as an ecology we can no longer squander, a tiny part of a larger whole that is being fragmented too fast, a part of the larger environment of nature of which we are a part. We do not live on this earth, in our personal habitats, alone. Thomas Berry, in The Dream of the Earth, says, “Any progress of the human at the expense of the larger life community must ultimately lead to a diminishment of human life itself. A degraded habitat will produce degraded humans. An enhanced habitat supports an elevated mode of the human.” 

This is no time in our nation’s history to be clearcutting a forest, degrading a habitat. We need everything we can find and keep to support an elevated mode of the human, which is so much under fire these days. For my sake and for the sake of human life itself, it is my fervent hope that there will be a way to prevent the degradation of the larger life community of Pipe Fork.

(All photos by Kevin Peer)