Mike Houck has been urban naturalist for the Audubon Society of Portland since 1982 and is a cofounder of the Coalition for a Livable Future. He also sits on numerous city and regional natural resource advisory committees, and is coeditor of Wild in the City.

3:30 a.m.: Woke up, wondering what was amiss. I had been waking up abut this time for the past couple weeks because I had picked up a couple of parasitic bot flies during my month-long change of scene in rural Cost Rica. I probably picked them up at the Palo Verde biological research station in the dry forests northwest of San Jose. So, I guess out of habit, it’s time to get up.

By the way, for the biologically curious, there are some fascinating websites you can visit to find out more about the human bot fly. Having studied zoology at Iowa State and looked through microscopes at these critters 30-odd years ago, I have to admit to a morbid curiosity.

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge with Portland skyline in background.

Photo: Mike Houck

Having my laptop at home comes in handy for sleepless mornings like this, so I put on some tea and decided to write my responses to Metro (Portland’s regional government, the only directly elected regional government in the U.S.). The topic for today: How can the region’s storm-water managers and sewer providers do their job with at least a modicum of respect for riparian corridors, wetlands, and streams? Past abuses are undoubtedly why chinook salmon and steelhead trout are listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service as threatened throughout the Pacific Northwest.

7:30 a.m.: Meeting with young, energetic transplant to the region at the Bijou Cafe, where virtually all of Portland’s business is conducted between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m. Are there any job prospects? I tell him his facility with Spanish might put him in good standing, given the Portland minority population is predicted to balloon to 41 percent by the year 2020, and most of them will be Hispanic. At this time, the environmental community has virtually no contact with the Hispanic community in this region. Turns out he had gotten a bot fly as well, probably from the same region in Costa Rica I had visited. Portland really is a small town.

Me, with Robin and Mary Jane Cody.

8:30 a.m.: Corrections to our new book, Wild In The City. It is both expected and surprising that our 433-page book about nature in Portland must be reprinted after two months on the market. Wild In The City is the No. 1 bestseller at Annie Bloom and Lookinglass bookstores and No. 6 at Powell’s City of Books. More than 60 people contributed to this watershed-oriented natural history of the Portland metropolitan region. Even more amazing is the fact that my old high school sweetheart, Mary Jane Cody, her brother, Robin, and Bruce McCullough collaborated on the book, 41 years after we met at Estacada Union High School.

9:30 a.m.: Staff meeting. The Audubon Society of Portland has 23 staff and, though I hate the weekly ritual, it really is necessary to get together to discuss coordination of our disparate programs.

10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Strategy with my colleague and friend, Ron Carley; polish my input to the regional utility input, and respond to 85 emails … a task, but far better than the 50 voicemails I used to get.

1 p.m.: A virus hits! This one swept the nation today. Ron, my tech support, is out to lunch. Having to get across town for the Metro utility meeting, I leave yellow post-its on my computer screen asking for help cleansing my computer of the virus, which sends multiple emails to my contact list.

1:30 to 4 p.m.: WRPAC (pronounced War Pack) meeting at Metro to iron out our differences. Turns out we are all amicable and agree to compromise language that ensures that local jurisdictions retain their autonomy, while securing regional assurances that the storm-water agencies will not screw up our stream corridors when they build or repair sewer lines.

4 to 5:30 p.m.: Portland Parks System Development Charge (SDC) meeting. SDCs are a way to charge developers money to provide parks for areas that are experiencing rapid development. We decide the next priorities should be neighborhood parks, trails, and natural areas.

Kayakers near Ross Island.

Photo: Mike Houck.

5:45 p.m.: Met with Tommy, aide to Mayor Vera Katz, at the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub, home of Lucky Lab Stout and Portland’s favorite brewpub and environmental meeting place. Tommy and I meet to discuss the pending donation of over 100 acres of islands, the four-island Ross Island complex, to the city of Portland. This would be a major realization of the 1903 John Charles Olmsted (adopted son of Frederick Law, Sr.) master plan for a “comprehensive, interconnected” Portland park system. Ross Island Sand and Gravel, after more than 80 years of gravel extraction, has decided to move their operation and dedicate Ross, Hardtack, East, and Toe islands to the city. Ross Island, along with the adjacent 160-acre Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, represents an amazing natural area system that sits literally in the heart of downtown Portland. On reflection, this is probably what got me going this morning, not bot flies.

Monday, 12 Feb 2001

PORTLAND, Ore.