Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Beekeeping: How Sweet It Is

Friday, February 27th, 2015



Bees work on a honeycomb. Beekeeping dates to 6,000 B.C., based on a rock painting found in Spain. There are an estimated 115,000 to 125,000 beekeepers in the United States. Those with five or more colonies produced 149 million pounds of honey in 2013. iStock/Grafissimo

Threatened honeybees important to economy, agriculture

By Victoria Hampton

Small clouds of smoke fill the air as Clint Carl uses a smoker to calm a box of bees before his inspection. Once the buzzing of the disturbed bees becomes a relaxed hum, he lifts up the lid, exposing a world 50,000 bees strong.

Honeybees land on Clint’s exposed shoulders and hands. His fingers gently lift one frame after another, searching for the bee responsible for this catacombed colony.

“There she is,” Clint says as he spots the queen at the bottom of a frame, nestled in a bed of bee larvae.

Clint is just one player in an industry vital to crop production and, by extension, the nation’s economy. However, the future is uncertain because of challenges such as mysterious bee die-offs that have researchers and beekeepers searching for answers.

Clint says the best part of his job as a beekeeper for his family’s business, Mt. Adams Honey in Zillah, Washington, is caring for the hives.

“I like to get inside the hives and manipulate their world to make it better,” he says.

His family has been in the business of beekeeping for more than 40 years. Clint picked up the trade from his grandfather and mother.

As he became invested in beekeeping, he traveled to California to learn how to breed queen bees.

“I learned a lot of new practices while there that I use with our bee business,” says Clint.

Mt. Adams Honey is a migratory bee company, which means it moves its bees to pollinate crops on the West Coast year-round. From November to March, Clint’s bees are stationed in California. They then are moved back to areas in Washington, such as the base of Mount Adams and Spokane.

Among the crops Clint’s bees help pollinate are almonds, vegetables, snowberries and apricots.

Mt. Adams Honey harvests the bees’ honey in August. It is processed for two months and bottled. It is sold at several fruit stands, and the company has its own website and eBay sales.

“Beekeeping is a huge world,” says Clint. “There’s a lot to it. It’s hard to put it all into a nutshell.”

Modern-day beekeeping businesses are products of the honeybee’s propagation in the United States.

“Humans have kept bees for thousands of years for honey,” says assistant horticulture professor Ramesh Sagili. “Honeybees were introduced by the Europeans in the 1600s. They knew how to keep bees, and that is how bees were populated here.”

Today, honeybees are responsible for $20 million worth of pollination a year, says Ramesh, who researches honeybees at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.

“They pollinate 90 different crops,” Ramesh says. “In California, they pollinate 900,000 acres of almonds. Blueberries and pears in Oregon wouldn’t be possible without bees. Our nutrition would be greatly affected without (them).”




Ramesh Sagili, assistant horticulture professor at Oregon State University, checks the bee frame, above, and measures the sugar content of the nectar stored in a honeybee’s crop, top, as part of his research into the health of honeybees. Photos by Carolyn Breece

In turn, honeybees create a variety of honey that takes on different colors and flavors depending on the types of crops or plants they pollinate.

Thistle honey is a rich molasses color that beekeeper Jim Buxton harvests in Vernonia, Oregon.

Since 1973, Jim has kept bees as a hobby, selling small amounts of honey.

“I was interested in agriculture and wondered what I could do here to be self-sufficient,” says Jim.

Through the years, Jim has kept as many as 22 hives. Right now he has just one on his property.

The bees he keeps feed off fireweed and thistle from a clearcut behind his home.
“This last year I had a weak colony,” Jim says.

Rather than harvest the small amount of honey the bees produced, “I let them keep it,” Jim says.

As a hobbyist, Jim says he has no problem leaving the honey if a hive is not thriving. But a low population and accumulation of honey can be detrimental to farmers who depend on bees for pollination and companies that depend on sales of honey, he notes.

During 2006-2007, beekeepers nationwide reported 50 to 80 percent colonization loss, which represents the total number of bees.

“There are a lot of stress factors on bees, such as malnutrition, migration, pesticides and not having a diversified diet,” says Ramesh.

Add a weakened immune system and the problems are compounded, he says.

Among the biggest threat to honeybees are mites. Varroa mites were introduced to the United States in 1987. The mites suck the blood of bees, transmitting seven different viruses that then kill the bee. Another mite that affects bees is the tracheal mite. It attaches itself to the bee’s airway, deteriorating the bee’s lungs so it cannot fly.

“Our bees don’t have a resistance against them,” says Ramesh.

Some companies and beekeepers treat their bees for mites with store-bought chemicals or natural remedies.

“When you don’t treat the bees, they generally die,” says Clint. “We’ve went through different all-natural treatments to keep them alive.”

He uses menthol, thyme oil and hops.

Bees also are susceptible to parasites and fungi.

The extent of the problem has changed in the 17 years Barbara Stockwell has managed her family-owned Stockwell Honey Co. in Arivaca, Arizona.

In the early years, she says, the only diseases she had to worry about were different types of fungal diseases. That changed when her company started transporting bees to California for the almond harvest.

“People bring in bees from all over the country to California, and now you catch everything,” says Barbara.

Since 2006, Ramesh says, beekeepers have reported average annual losses of 30 percent.

“The reason for decline is a multifactorial, complex problem,” he says.
Colony collapse disorder is a blanket term coined in 2006 to help explain what was happening to the honeybees. Ramesh says it is not one disorder, but a combination of factors that causes bees to abandon hives or results in the death of the entire colony.

“These are a mix of all different stressors that compromise bee immune systems,” he explains.

While researchers have an idea of the statistical honeybee decline, they do not know the effect on native bees.

“Native bees that are in the wild—no one has done studies on those populations,” says Ramesh. “Some bumblebee species have completely disappeared on the West Coast.”

Other concerns Ramesh has for the future of honey and native bees center on climate change.

“We have seen some plants blooming earlier than they did 10 or 15 years ago,” he says. “Plants blooming early or late could pose a problem because bees won’t have access to the flowers they are used to.”

Ramesh also is concerned the beekeeper population is growing older, with younger people uninterested in the trade.

He recognizes beekeeping is not a very profitable enterprise, and that it is an intense, specialized trade. But he stresses that pollination is essential to the prosperity of crop and plant growth.

Beekeeping associations are trying to inspire the next generation.

The Southcentral Alaska Beekeepers Association in Anchorage, Alaska, has monthly meetings, inviting members to share discoveries in their beekeeping regimen and offering help to those new to the trade.

“It’s quite a vibrant club,” says president Steve Victors. “We have about 150 members. It’s good for beginning beekeepers to talk to more experienced beekeepers about complications with hives and general questions.”

During each monthly meeting, the club discusses beekeeping strategies, and plans educational activities for the state fair and beekeeping classes.

Steve started beekeeping in 1996 after a large wildfire burned a portion of his property. His family bought 10,000 trees to replant the area and got bees to help pollinate to re-establish the undergrowth.

“Our honey started out with a large fireweed component,” says Steve. “As the understory came back it added a wild flower component.”

A large percentage of fireweed honey is a combination of wild raspberries, wild roses and other lowland flowers, Steve says.

In time, Steve went from two hives to 120. In recent years, he has scaled back to 15.

Steve learned the trade from attending a beginner course in beekeeping and from talking with other local beekeepers.

As president of the Southcentral Alaska Beekeepers Association, Steve orders large shipments of bees for beekeepers throughout the area.

“We bring in about 1,500 packages per year distributed from Fairbanks to Homer,” says Steve.

The bees are shipped to Alaska in mid-April from Sacramento, California. The bees come in 4-pound packages. One package satisfies one hive.

Jim Buxton also buys his bees every year—although one season he harvested his own hive from the wild.

In the woods of Vernonia, Jim strung a pulley system from a bee box to the branch of a tree where a large hive was built. He scaled the tree, cut the limb and, sure enough, the hive landed right on the box.

However, during the limb sawing, a few bees dropped onto Jim and crawled under his pant legs, resulting in a series of stings.

Jim says he has never climbed down from 20 feet up a pine tree so fast in his life.
No matter the methods or struggles behind beekeeping, the nature of the trade keeps people harvesting hives year after year.

“It’s a great thing to do,” says Jim. “It is just the science of it. It’s like the hive is an organism that consists of all of these single individuals. There isn’t any one thing as fascinating.”

As the sun sets over the roaming hills of central Washington, Clint closes the lid on the bee box and leaves the bees to what they do best.

For today, this colony is secure and healthy. From sunrise to sunset, each hive will multiply, pollinate and produce.

Although the future of honeybees is uncertain, the people behind the beekeeping trade keep these vital creatures alive for the benefit of crop producers and consumers alike.

Spring Cleaning Without the Dust

Friday, February 27th, 2015
Take time at least once a year to inspect, clean and organize your fishing gear and tackle box. Consider making a checklist of things to do to keep your gear in good condition and ready for action during future outings. Photo by iStock/Doug4537

Take time at least once a year to inspect, clean and organize your fishing gear and tackle box. Consider making a checklist of things to do to keep your gear in good condition and ready for action during future outings.
Photo by iStock/Doug4537

March is spring cleaning time. That goes for fishing gear, too. Not only is it a good time to muck out the tackle box, but it’s an opportunity to inspect, clean, replace and restock rods, reels and tackle.

  • Inspect rods closely. Look for cracks, nicks and loose parts. Pay particular attention to the guides, ferrules and reel seat. These are where problems are most likely to occur. Repair or replace as necessary.
  • Get reels in top spinning condition. Perform one or two casts and retrieves to see if they are working properly and smoothly. If necessary, clean parts with Reel Kleen or similar reel cleaner, and apply lubrication as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Off with the old. Fishing line can become brittle and memory coiled in time. Replace with new line. Be sure to dispose of the old line properly.
  • Get the point. Keeping hooks sticky sharp is important. It can mean the difference between success and failure. It’s also one of those things many of us don’t take time to do on a regular basis.
  • Use it or lose it. Weed out unnecessary lures and other tackle. If you haven’t used it in a long time, get rid of it to make room for tackle you will use. Put the old stuff in a “loaner” tackle box for kids or fair-weather anglers who come to visit.
  • Replace old jar bait and plastics. Jar bait gets old fairly quickly once it’s opened. Toss it when it gets hard. The same is true of plastic baits, which lose their resilience, stiffen and crack with age.

Outdoors 101:
Know Your Wild Plants

Outdoor enthusiasts should have at least a basic knowledge of trees and plants they may encounter. A generic field guide is helpful, but may not be enough because identifying features of plants and trees may vary by region.
Whenever possible, acquire plant information locally, whether by consulting a local expert or referencing a state- or region-specific field guide.

Helpful Hints for Hydration Bladders

  • Fill the bladder with equal portions of ice and water to keep water cold longer. This works especially well for long, hot day hikes.
  • Use a mild flavor enhancer—such as Nuun tablets—to mask the plastic-like taste of some types of bladders.
  • Always carry the bladder in a protected area within the backpack, away from other gear, to guard against punctures and ruptures.
  • Invest in a cleaning kit. Most come with a brush, drying hanger, and cleaning tablets or solutions.
  • When not in use, detach the hose and mouthpiece, and store them and the open bladder in a dry, dust-free place.

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item.

When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the photo. Email your submission to moc.etilarurnull@ofni.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons or bird watching along the Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

How You Can Help Native and Domestic Bees

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Photo courtesy of Joe Marchionno

Beekeepers and researchers nationwide have seen staggering honeybee die offs since 2006.

While it is easy to determine a statistical mortality of honeybees because of commercial and hobby beekeepers, the loss of native bees is more challenging. However, native bees can be affected by the same diseases as honeybees, and some experts suggest honeybees out-compete native bees for nectar and pollen, resulting in habitat fragmentation.

Gardeners can help bee populations by putting a little buzz in their lives, taking the following steps to protect these vivacious pollinators:

  • Plant a pollinator garden. Some people may not want bees in their backyards for fear of being stung, but most native bees rarely sting gardeners. Many government agencies, organizations and private individuals offer information to help pollinators receive a rich, varied diet and safe nesting areas. For information about how to create a proper habitat for bees and a list of plants that attract bees, contact the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (
  • Avoid pesticides or choose non-chemical solutions for insect problems. Researchers theorize pesticides may be one of the reasons for the loss of bees. If you choose to use pesticides, spray them when pollinators are not active, such as before dawn and at sundown. To ensure pollinators do not sip contaminated nectar or carry off contaminated pollen, avoid applying the pesticide directly onto the flowers.
  • Provide a source of pesticide-free water and mud. A clean source limits the exposure to toxins that may be in the garden. Mud is used as an important nesting material for some bee species.
  • Mimic what grows naturally in your region. The pollinators in your area are used to feeding off the native foliage and can attract even more of these insects to your garden. Planting native flowering trees, shrubs and wildflowers that bloom successively throughout the seasons will help pollinators year round.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn. Replace it with a pollinator garden filled with flowers, plants and shrubs, or avoid pesticides and herbicides to allow more small wildflowers and plants such as clover, plantago and veronicas to grow in your lawn.
  • Provide nesting areas. Bees want to stay where they find a healthy food source. A small bare spot of soil, a pile of sand, standing dead trees, stumps and logs are great for bee nesting. So are bee houses that can be purchased or built. Homemade bee nests can be made of hollow paper tubes the size of drinking straws. Another option is to tie a bunch of hollow twigs together, place them in a small milk carton and hang them horizontally facing south or southeast.

Native and domestic bees maintain a balanced ecosystem and help our crops flourish. In return for their service, apply these tips to any garden or landscaping to give them a larger habitat and keep them around for generations to come.

Source: U.S. Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership

A Haven for Healing

Friday, February 27th, 2015


Lynn Tompkins holds a blind barn owl. The owl is used in Blue Mountain Wildlife educational programs the organization hosts throughout Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington.

Blue Mountain Wildlife rehab center welcomes injured birds of every feather

By Victoria Hampton

The wide-open spaces of Eastern Oregon seem like an ideal setting for spreading a pair of wings and riding the wind. For many birds that call this area home or a migratory pit stop, several hazards can land them at Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education in Pendleton.

“If there’s a way to get in trouble, they’ll figure it out,” says Director Lynn Tompkins.

Blue Mountain Wildlife was created by Lynn and her husband, Bob. The nonprofit was incorporated in 1992 and has admitted more than 5,000 animals, most being wild birds.

Lynn first learned wildlife rehabilitation when she was a vet tech at the Pendleton clinic where the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife brought injured animals. For 26 years, she has rehabbed animals.

“Most injuries the birds come in with are human caused,” says Lynn.

One of the oldest birds at the center is Ruby, a 23-year-old red-tailed hawk. Ruby arrived 21 years ago after being hit by a car. The Tompkins try to rehab and release as many birds as they can. In Ruby’s case, she was unable to take care of herself in the wild.

“We’re going to do what’s best for the bird,” says Bob. “We give them the best chance they’re going to get.”

Bob says running the rehab center is a 365-day-a-year job that involves picking up injured birds, diagnosing and caring for their injuries, feeding them, cleaning cages, performing educational programs and raising money to keep the nonprofit in flight.

“Most people have more sense than to do this for a career,” Lynn says.

The Tompkins have made Blue Mountain Wildlife more than a rehab center. They also have education programs and an internship program.

“You can do all the rehab you want, but education is key,” says Lynn.

The Tompkins take their non-releasable birds of prey to classrooms, outdoor schools and public venues to educate people about the birds’ life history, their role in a healthy environment and how they can co-exist with native wildlife. They reach an average of 10,000 students a year in Eastern Oregon and Washington.

“People get to see them up close and appreciate them,” Lynn says.

Highlights of the presentations include pellet dissection and informational displays.

College students interested in an animal science career come from as far away as

Hawaii to participate in eight-week internships.

“It’s a good opportunity for students who want good medical experience,” says Lynn, who started the internship program in 2006.

About eight interns work at the center from April to October. They assist with feeding and cleaning, and learn about anesthesia, radiographs, giving fluids, and basic lab and blood work.

“We couldn’t survive if it wasn’t for the interns,” says Lynn.

Aside from the interns, Lynn and Bob have one part-time employee.

While saving an animal’s life is a rewarding job, it is a constant struggle for Lynn and Bob to keep their nonprofit soaring financially.

In 2013, Blue Mountain Wildlife spent nearly $50,000 on frozen mice, rats and quail to feed the 40 birds on display and the ones they are rehabbing. Additional expenses included medical supplies, transportation and facility maintenance costs.

The Tompkins are thankful for the help they receive from the community. The Confederated Tribes transport birds on their public buses, and the Pendleton Vet Clinic lets them X-ray birds during the lunch hour. Yet Lynn and Bob know their facility needs updating.

The Green Hammer architecture firm in Portland created a plan for a new, environmentally friendly facility that features a wildlife hospital, rehabilitation and educational center. The cost of the new facility is $2 million.

“In order for it to continue past us, we need a new facility,” Lynn says.

Through the educational programs and yearly fundraisers, Lynn hopes to spread the word about their new facility and find donors.

To learn more about Blue Mountain Wildlife, visit

Patrick’s 10 Tips for Aspiring Landscape and Wildlife Photographers

Friday, January 30th, 2015
A photographer visiting the Galapagos Islands gets down at eye level to photograph a marine iguana. Photo by Patrick J. Endres

A photographer visiting the Galapagos Islands gets down at eye level to photograph a marine iguana.
Photo by Patrick J. Endres

  • Prepare for the physical conditions. Dress appropriately, and have your camera gear well packed and prepared for the type of travel, hiking or climbing necessary for the task.
  • Research your subject. Understand and respect a comfortable working distance from the wildlife you seek to photograph.
  • Go for the light. If possible, scout the area ahead of time and know the lighting conditions: when, where and how the morning and evening light and shadows fall.
  • Use a tripod with a ballhead camera/lens mount. This will help track and follow moving wildlife.
  • Shoot eye level with your subject. It helps portray a more natural scene of the animal in its environment.
  • Examine your compositional frames and evaluate the full area of your image. Tunnel vision is a bad habit easily acquired when shooting moving subjects, especially with long telephoto lenses common in wildlife photography.
  • Have accessible backups. Have extra film, digital storage media or batteries readily accessible should a quick change be necessary.
  • Experiment. Use telephoto frames, but back off to capture the animal in its environment, too.
  • Be patient. Do your best to blend enjoyment of being out in the natural world with the sheer persistence and patience often necessary to capture the image.
  • Be weather wise. Inclement weather can provide situations for spectacular photos.

Creating Layers In Your Photos

Friday, January 30th, 2015
Local youth play a pickup game of football on the campus of a south Philadelphia high school. The realistic mural painted on a school wall creates a surreal sense of depth and offers a lesson about layering.

Local youth play a pickup game of football on the campus of a south Philadelphia high school. The realistic mural painted on a school wall creates a surreal sense of depth and offers a lesson about layering.

It fascinates me how two people standing in precisely the same spot and looking at the same scene can see such different things.

The eyes of one person might focus on the obvious—such as something moving or perhaps the largest or brightest object—while the eyes of another scan slowly through the layers of a scene and find something quieter, something less obvious in the background or shadows.

Learning to “see through” a scene from the largest elements closest to the camera to smaller details in the background or shadows is an acquired skill. It’s not unlike learning to drive a car, where in the beginning you are preoccupied with keeping the tires between the white lines and you don’t see what is happening in your mirrors or on the road in front of you.

The term for photographically seeing through a scene is often called layering: the deliberate act of organizing all the elements in the frame so a viewer can visually move through your photograph without tripping.

Layering requires a keen eye to quickly see through a scene’s entire landscape—to notice and taste the colors, shapes and subtleties the camera does not miss. This can be a challenging task, especially for a documentary photographer who does not believe in moving any person or object in the scene while trying to arrange his or her photograph with the fewest mergers and compositional collisions.

Layering also gives depth to your photographs. A dark branch or shadowed figure in the foreground or objects of varying sizes and distances provide scale and depth, helping us feel like we are there, that we can step right into the picture.

After so many years making photographs, my eyes work quickly through the layers in a scene. I see mergers—compositional conflicts and intersections—such as poles and wires coming from people’s heads or colliding shapes, colors and tones crashing against each other.

For most, this is an acquired skill that takes practice and discipline. For others, like my wife, arranging layered photographs without mergers seems instinctual. Likely because of her art background, she is able to unravel and arrange the chaos in her viewfinder into layered, harmonious compositions before ever pressing the shutter button.

One consideration, beyond patience, is to use a small aperture opening whenever possible. Small aperture settings—such as f/16 or f/22—give greater depth of field, which means more in your photograph will be in focus—from foreground to background.

You likely will need a tripod to stabilize your camera while using slower shutter speeds, especially in low light. Whenever possible, I suggest using lower ISO settings as well to maintain best quality/file integrity.

daveDavid LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He grew up on a frog farm in rural California, roaming the creeks and hills with his coon dogs. Many of the lessons he learned during those magical boyhood years have been applied to photography and teaching the essence of this art form. For more information, visit


Outdoor 101: Wildlife Encounters

Friday, January 30th, 2015
Badgers are occasionally encountered in the wild. This one was spotted during a turkey hunt near Burns, Oregon. Despite their cute and cuddly appearance, they can be aggressive and extremely dangerous. Treat them with the same caution you would any wild animal, especially when they are feeding or accompanied by their young. Photo submitted by John Barnard of Dallas, Oregon

Badgers are occasionally encountered in the wild. This one was spotted during a turkey hunt near Burns, Oregon. Despite their cute and cuddly appearance, they can be aggressive and extremely dangerous. Treat them with the same caution you would any wild animal, especially when they are feeding or accompanied by their young.
Photo submitted by John Barnard of Dallas, Oregon

If you spend enough time outdoors, chances are you will come face-to-face with a potentially dangerous animal.

Most human-animal encounters happen without incident. However, knowing what to do when they do occur can mean the difference between a memorable moment and a disaster.

  • Avoid surprises in the first place. Announce your presence by talking or making other noise while hiking or biking in the wild.
  • Stay calm. Avoid the impulse to run. If there are small children or pets with you, pick them up or otherwise control them, so they don’t run away or approach the animal.
  • Keep your distance. Increase your distance, if you are already too close, by slowly walking away.
  • Give animals an avenue of escape. In most instances, they want to get away from you as much as you want to avoid them. Animals may attack defensively if they feel cornered.
  • Don’t approach wild animals or try to feed them. They may appear harmless, but don’t be misled. Even cute little squirrels and raccoons can bite, and may carry diseases that can be passed to humans.
  • Do your homework. Educate yourself about animals you are likely to encounter. Pay particular attention to details about habitats where they may be found and what to do if you come across them.
  • Report aggressive animals or ones acting strangely to park officials or other authorities.


Match Your Outdoor Needs to the Right Headlamp

The portable, versatile, hands-free headlamp is a perfect source of light for many activities. Here are a few things to consider when selecting a headlamp for your particular outdoor pursuits.

  • Hiking and backpacking: size, weight, beam distance and battery life.
  • Paddling: water resistance and weight.
  • Cycling: weight, beam distance and battery life.
  • General travel: size, weight, battery life and battery availability.


Did You Know?

  • Most fish are camouflaged. They tend to be darker on top, gradually
    lighter on the sides and lightest on their bellies. This makes them less visible to predators above and below them.
  • Bass have fixed irises and no eyelids. The amount of light reaching the retina is regulated by pigment in the eye that shades the photo-sensitive cells.
  • Catfish have a keen sense of smell, which is why anglers use bait with strong odors to attract them.


Got a Tip or a Whopper?

Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected, we will send you $25 for one-time use. When sending a photo, identify people and tell us the story behind the photo. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons or bird watching along the coast with his wife. He feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Dream Work

Friday, January 30th, 2015
Patrick captured this image of a brown bear fishing for red salmon at the Brooks River falls in Katmai National Park in southwestern Alaska.  Photos courtesy of Patrick J. Endres

Patrick captured this image of a brown bear fishing for red salmon at the Brooks River falls in Katmai National Park in southwestern Alaska.
Photos courtesy of Patrick J. Endres

Every day is an adventure for professional outdoor photographer Patrick Endres

It isn’t unusual for this hunter to hitch a two-hour ride in a bush plane far into Alaska’s Arctic National Park in search of his target. Perhaps he is seeking polar bears or caribou. Maybe it’s a mountainous sunset or the Aurora borealis. Whatever his prey, he is sure to find something worthy to shoot with his trusty camera.

With more than 25,000 images to his name, several books, numerous awards and 30 years’ experience, Fairbanks photographer Patrick Endres, 51, is no stranger to the Alaskan wilderness. He has traveled extensively across the state and leads photography expeditions.

“I don’t see my life as being that unusual at all,” Patrick says. “It’s where I live. I know so many people who live this way.”

He may have lived here for 30 years, but Patrick still speaks with a slight Midwestern accent—a tribute to the roots that began his story.


Making Alaska Home

Outdoor photographer Patrick Endres on a trek through wild Alaska. His photos have appeared frequently on the cover and inside Ruralite magazine during the past 20 years.

Outdoor photographer Patrick Endres on a trek through wild Alaska. His photos have appeared frequently on the cover and inside Ruralite magazine during the past 20 years.

Patrick remembers picking up a camera “when I was really young,” he says. “It was an instamatic Kodak camera. From the moment I figured out what it was, I started taking pictures.”

The third of seven children, Patrick was raised in southern Wisconsin. He recalls traveling to the zoo in Madison and taking his camera along.

“Animals were always of interest to me,” he says. “I traveled with an agricultural veterinarian as a kid, riding along (on service calls). Back in that day, I don’t really know if that was unusual or not.”

Coming from a large family, Patrick understood he would need to pay for his own college education. He was lured to Alaska because “it was one of the cheapest out-of-state schools at the time,” he says.

Drawing from his interest in animals and nature, Patrick enrolled in the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to pursue a degree in biological sciences. Biology was interesting, but so, too, was graphic design and theology. Choosing a career that blended all he was interested in seemed daunting.

After seven years of college, bouncing back to the Midwest and earning a degree in theology, Patrick says Alaska’s frontiers beckoned once more. Still uncertain where his career path would lead, he was set to be employed as a commercial fisherman in Homer, Alaska, when the Valdez Oil Spill occurred in 1989.

Patrick was hired by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to perform shoreline surveys. Part of the task involved visually documenting the spill’s environmental effects.

In documenting the action, Patrick finally found the career path that blended all of his interests. After the work was ended in 1993, he chose to begin photography as a professional pursuit.


Shooting in the Wild

When Patrick began his career, he often was hired by publications to shoot specific locations or capture certain subjects in their element. He also guided many photography tours.

“I’ve guided monthlong trips in Antarctica,” he says. “It’s a lot of work dealing with the logistics of groups of 100 people. They’re great trips and I’m told by people that I’m a good teacher. I do like the informal, in-the-field teaching experience. We go to cool places and there’s dialogue about life along the way.”

Today, Patrick focuses less on assignment work and more on building a stock photography base that can be bought from his business website.

His works include a combination of wildlife and scenic images, but Patrick prefers landscape photography.

“I like watching wildlife; I like photographing it less,” he says, explaining that living subjects are more difficult to capture. After years of witnessing wildlife, “I really still enjoy watching,” he adds. “However, I would say it’s not quite as cool as the first time. Like in anything else, newness has a little sparkle that is not always repeatable.”

When preparing for a business trip, Patrick prepares two different types of excursions. The first involves outings in his car for what he calls “roadside photography.”

“Alaska’s a beautiful place,” he says. “I have a huge luxury in that so much of the beauty is accessible with just a short foray off the road.”

A photography trip such as this could mean camping for a few days, or a single day’s worth of work. The second, more arduous excursion can mean two weeks of hard, physical labor alone in the wild.

“When all by yourself, you’re suddenly very, very small,” he says. “You have to be much more calculated. All your decisions matter. There are so many things that can go wrong.”

He says experienced Alaskan outdoor trekkers are taught to determine if an injury is life threatening or not and to react accordingly by binding broken limbs and treating mild ailments on the trail. An emergency plane ride can cost upwards of $100,000.

“I feel I’m aware of the risks and try to make decisions wisely and in the best prepared manner,” he explains. “I know (this lifestyle may sound) shocking to many who live in more urban places who haven’t seasoned themselves in a landscape where they’re not 10 minutes from a hospital.”


Bull caribou travel along a mountain ridge in the Alaska Range in Denali National Park. Photo by Patrick J. Endres

Bull caribou travel along a mountain ridge in the Alaska Range in Denali National Park.
Photo by Patrick J. Endres

Business Behind the Lens

Clearing the hurdles of professional photography isn’t limited to physical challenges. Patrick estimates he spends close to half his typical 80-hour work weeks in the field and half at home, editing images and tending to the business side of selling images.

“I have a creative side and an organizational side that cohabitates,” he stresses. “Some photographers are more creative, some more analytical. I feel I have a good combo of both.”

The digital revolution has meant a great change in the business side of photography in the past 12 years, he says. “There’s a degree of automation that happened over time which allowed me to let go of an employee and (still) give me the ability to be out of the office on a day-by-day basis,” he explains.

Some of the changes have meant greater ease for Patrick: cell towers located in remote areas, being able to save images while away from home and having a website where clients can order prints without human assistance.

Revolutionary new digital cameras also have flooded the market with images for sale and made photography as a hobby a growing business.

“I can tell you, if you looked at 20 (Alaskan) photographers that were alive and active in the marketplace 12 years ago, 90 percent of them have either quit or are guiding photo tours,” he says. “But that’s not what I want to focus on. I want to cultivate the stock photography side.”

Patrick still hosts tours, but on a limited bases. This, he says, gives him the opportunity to maintain his business.

In Patrick’s case, there is also the question of how to juggle a website that sells both fine art prints and stock photos for publication.

“Right now, I think people get overwhelmed on my website with 25,000-plus images and often don’t come to a purchase decision because they get overloaded with options,” he says.


The Future

Recently, Patrick declared himself, “semi-retired.” What does that mean? Only a slight change of focus, he says. With such a collection of works to his name, Patrick is spending less time in the field and more time with his friends and family, including his 17 nieces and nephews.

He is also working on the board of directors of a non-profit organization, Fairbanks Youth Advocates, that opened a shelter in Fairbanks for homeless and runaway teenagers.

Patrick’s future goals, he believes, are an extension of those values he’s cultivated his entire professional life.

“I think the body of my collective photography work does have a voice about me,” he reflects. “I think it would reveal that I value and really appreciate the natural world and natural beauty. It engenders a sense of body and stewardship, of life on this planet, yes, and of other people as well.” n

To see more of Patrick’s photography or order prints, visit

Home Sweet Grain Bin

Friday, January 30th, 2015
This grain bin has been home to the Karlsons for nearly 30 years.

This grain bin has been home to the Karlsons for nearly 30 years.

No, Kendell Karlson and his family do not live in a silo. Or a barn.

“It’s a grain bin,” says the Burley, Idaho, resident, whose customers at his auto body repair shop and towing business have asked about it. “Sometimes I have to correct people.”

Kendell began building the house in 1986 before he and Cindy married. He had been working for his father’s business, building grain bins.

“We had a farmer who lost his grain crop in a hail storm,” recalls Kendell. “He wasn’t able to pay for the grain bin after we’d erected it, so we had to dismantle it. It couldn’t be resold, so I put it up on this property for a garage. As I was building it, I thought it would be fun to build a house from a grain bin.”

Kendell picked a bin that is 36 feet in diameter, which would hold 18,000 bushels of grain, he says.

“When I told my dad of my plans, he thought I was nuts,” says Kendall. “But he came to watch me put it up and always gave advice about where to weld.”
People often ask the Karlsons what it is like to live in a round house.

“We tell them it’s about the same as living in a square house,” says Kendell. “We like living here because it’s a little different. It was a challenge to build, something I wanted to do just for me. I’m happy to give advice to people who might want to build their home from a grain bin.”

An Original Ax Man

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Mike Pihl of Vernonia, Oregon, appeared on the hit TV series “Ax Men,” but he is no actor. He is a real-life ax man who has been logging since age17.

Cameras zoom in on a logger attaching choker cables to freshly limbed logs. After the logs are attached, the logger steps away to a safe distance. As the yarder begins to pull the logs up the hill, a branch is catapulted toward the logger, barely missing his left leg.

While History Channel’s reality TV show “Ax Men” captures many dangerous near-miss moments, loggers such as Mike Pihl know these incidences are everyday hazards of the industry.

During the past eight seasons, “Ax Men” has captured logging crews from the Pacific Northwest and Southern states, such as Florida and Louisiana, competing against other crews to see who can harvest the most logs in a season.

For three seasons, Mike Pihl Logging Inc. participated in the show. Mike didn’t agree to be on “Ax Men” just to compete.

“I like to get the word out about logging that there are still people who get up in the morning and (harvest) a commodity,” says Mike.

Mike, 53, grew up in Banks, Oregon, and started logging at the age of 17. After spending three years logging in Alaska and saving every paycheck he earned, Mike started his own company in Vernonia, Oregon, at 22 years old.

“It is a tight-knit family community and we all watch out for each other,” Mike says of the western Oregon town.

Mike enjoys the communal atmosphere when he is around fellow loggers.

“It’s a group of great, hardworking people,” he says.

Mike has worked and lived in Vernonia for 31 years. He was a board member of West Oregon Electric Cooperative.

Choosing to be a part of a slower pace of life in rural Oregon, Mike didn’t anticipate one day being featured on a reality TV show.

In 2007, the History Channel scouted for logging companies in the Pacific Northwest, advertising in local newspapers and distributing flyers. Mike didn’t consider being a part of it until the show came to him.

A feature article about Mike’s company was published in “Logger’s World” magazine a few months before the advertisements appeared. The article focused on the company’s balanced logging operation and crew size, and good reputation.

The publisher, Mike Crouse, suggested Mike Pihl Logging to the show’s producers.

“They came out and shot trailers for two weeks, reviewed them and decided they wanted to use us,” Mike says.

When Mike agreed to be on the show, he didn’t anticipate the backlash he received from fellow loggers.

“In the beginning, everyone in the industry wanted to kill me,” Mike says.

Loggers thought the show would reflect negatively on the logging industry. Mike was able to convince them otherwise when he was the keynote speaker at an Oregon logging conference in 2008.

Mike explained to the crowd that “Ax Men” was an opportunity to share this rural industry and show what goes in to harvesting a product used in many facets of everyday life.

“I was able to talk them through the process of what we did,” Mike says. “At the end of my speech, I even got a standing ovation.”

Film crews captured his company at work during summer and winter for three years to show how the logging industry operates come sun or snow.

“We had some characters,” Mike says of his employees at the time.

Because of its connection to “Ax Men,” Mike Pihl Logging helped create a log obstacle over a lake for “The Amazing Race”—another popular reality TV program—in 2013. His crew appeared on a History Channel special called, “What’s the Earth Worth” that had a segment on the timber industry.

“It opened up a lot of opportunities,” Mike says.

He has spoken on several radio stations and at logging conferences. He participates in the Provider Pals organization, traveling to inner-city schools and teaching students about the logging industry.

Even though “Ax Men” has opened up new possibilities for Mike, he says he hasn’t changed.

“I’m a humble person,” Mike says.

His daughter and office manager, Lindsay Baska, enjoyed the experience.

“We had fun doing it,” says Lindsay.

Behind the scenes of “Ax Men,” Mike had to face the effects of the recession.

“Because of the economic downturn, we’re half the size, but at least we survived,” Mike says.

What was once a 45- to 50-man operation has been whittled to 22. Mike says his business was affected later than the initial downfall in 2009 because of his relationship with the Vernonia community.

“We tried to hold on for so long,” Mike says. “We were one of the biggest employers in Vernonia. I felt it was my duty to keep it going.”

Reflecting on the experience, Mike is pleased “Ax Men” was able to showcase the logging industry.

“There’s a physical person who’s out there and risks his life to (harvest) a product,” he says. “Logging’s in their blood. It’s what they do.”

From day to day, Mike can be found supervising logging jobs, talking with landowners, making sure loads are going to the right places and spending time in the office. He says he always will be involved with his logging company, but looks forward to one day passing the business on to Lindsay and her husband, Kelly, who also works for Pihl Logging.

“I’m lucky I love what I do,” Mike says. “I look forward to work every day.”