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Monte Harris: Help save Willamette River island being threatened by infestation of English ivy

This July, I thought back to New Year's Day, when I was filled with hope that 2021 would be far easier to deal with. 2020 was packed with unknowns, a time of the pandemic, lockdowns, restrictions and living in fear. The year brought climate extremes of polar vortexes in the East and Midwest, and drought and massive wildfires in the West. Instead of 2021 being an improvement, so far the weather events seem more frequent and far more extreme.

COURTESY PHOTO - Happy Valley resident Monte Harris pulls out a big root of invasive English ivy while saving trees at Gladstone's Meldrum Bar Park.Oregon had an ice storm so intense it left a trail of destruction and power outages statewide. Parks and greens spaces are still cleaning up downed trees and branches months after the storm. Some people were left without power for almost two weeks. In late June, we had the highest temperature ever recorded in western Oregon, 117 degrees. Portland broke its record of 107 degrees on June 26, breaking it again on June 27 and 28.

As I was pondering the events of the last 15 months, I thought back to July 4, 1976, the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence. Fourth of July celebrations seemed to mean a lot more back in those days. That summer day was about so much more than fireworks, family gatherings and picnics. It was a huge day for America, a celebration for the ages. It was an extreme celebration of 200 years of being free from the oppression of British rule. This Independence Day celebrated a different kind of freedom. We have freedom from COVID restrictions, and the freedom to show our smiles. We have freedom to do so many things we all used to take for granted. It is a time of relief and people returning to some sense of normalcy.

For me it has been a time for reminiscing, contemplation and a new way of looking at life. One minute I was 16 and then the next thing I knew I woke up to my 50th birthday. I thought about that day so long ago in 1976. Life has passed in a fast blur of moments. I thought about how I had lived my life up to that point. I had spent the last 35 years just passing through, living a very ordinary life. I worked, I played, ate my meals, slept and basically just existed. There was nothing extraordinary to show for my time on Earth.

Were it not for a major life event that happened in 2010, that's probably how my life would have ended up. I went to visit my father one day, and the hue of his skin was bright yellow. My brother and I took him to be seen at the local hospital emergency room. After some testing, he was diagnosed with third-stage liver cancer, and given two weeks to live. During those two weeks I saw a man full of regret that he had not done more with his life. He had spent his time working, reading a huge amount of books, doing crossword puzzles and watching the evening news. He was also a very dedicated atheist and critic of Christianity. Those two weeks had a very profound effect on me. My father was 88 years old. I realized just how fast life can pass us by. On the day after my 50th birthday, I made a commitment that I was going to change the way I live my life. I wanted to make an impact.

I decided then and there, that when I faced my last moments, I would have no regrets. I would pass to the next dimension knowing I had done my part to help our planet, nature and humanity. In the almost 11 years that have passed since that day, I've helped a huge amount of people, picked up a lot of plastic and saved over 2,500 trees in 12 parks in Clackamas County.

I have created a website called earthontheedge.org. This year I also am launching a nonprofit by the same name. My intent is to help the planet and slow down the effects of climate change. There are so many gloom-and-doomers out there who tell me that my attempts are futile. My intent is not to save the world, but rather to make a huge difference in my corner of the world.

Regardless carbon saturation and global warming, there is always something each of us can do. This year I have joined the Grove Collaborative and am working on moving towards living a more sustainable lifestyle by using more eco-friendly products. I have faith that the future is not yet decided.

My favorite quote of all time comes from the famous author Mark Twain: "The two most important days of your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why." We all have profound purpose, but finding out what that purpose is can take some work.

On this Independence Day, instead of shooting off fireworks, I kayaked out to Goat Island, home to over 30 mating pairs of blue herons in the middle of the Willamette River. Their rookery is being severely threatened by an infestation of English ivy that has been allowed to take over the entire island. The island is also critical habitat for eagles, Canada geese and various other species.

The first Independence Day was a celebration about being free from the oppression of British rule. English ivy comes from Britain and is suffocating trees in our midst. So in some ways, it feels like I am doing similar to what the American Revolutionaries did. I am freeing our trees from the oppressive nature of English ivy.

Taking ivy off of trees is a way to put more oxygen in the air, and absorb and store more carbon. Unhealthy trees that are having sunlight blocked from them by ivy cannot do their job. Ivy is also a breeding ground for mosquitos and has many other dangerous effects on forest health. It chokes out native species, and creates a ladder effect during wildfires. The potential for hundreds of pounds of extra weight can bring the tree down. When a tree is inundated with ivy, the added weight of snow or ice can have devastating effects. Taking ivy off trees can be easy, but it is also hard work. If I could get people to understand how satisfying it is to save a tree, maybe more people would get involved.

People seem to be looking past the hundreds of thousands of trees in just Clackamas County alone that are being suffocated by ivy. When I see a tree where the ivy has not reached the top, I see a tree that could be saved.

To this point, I have been a one-man army, and now I am asking for help! Steve Miesen, the steward of West Linn's Burnside Park, and I are to hosting a SOLVE Oregon event on Goat Island on July 17 and 18. Please go to Solve.org to sign up. These are two separate events.

We are reaching out to the communities of West Linn, Milwaukie, Oregon City and Gladstone to help save this natural resource. We are in need of hardworking volunteers and people with boats to help transport them.

Urgency and action are what the world needs now. Tomorrow will be too late. Please find ways to help today. Donate your time, your money or your creative solutions. We all have a stake in this. Complacency, convenience and comfort zones are what have brought us to this place in time. It is time for a new set of the three Cs. We need to create community climate coalitions in our neighborhoods and communities.

Monte Harris, a Happy Valley resident, can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by calling 503-406-8223 or 503-660-6389.


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