A photographer’s collections helped inspire the effort to save native trout in the Malheur rivers
by Mac Lacy
The sagebrush sea lost a fierce champion when Chris Christie passed away on December 15, 2020. A long-time ONDA supporter, Chris was talented and thoughtful, cheekily humorous, and deeply committed to making the world a better place.
I got to know Chris not long after he moved to Prairie City in 1999. He’d been exploring the Malheur and North Fork Malheur Wild and Scenic Rivers and was dismayed at how livestock had damaged these important native trout streams. A highly skilled botanist and photographer, Chris began documenting what he saw.
He took thousands of photographs — not just of broken streambanks and overgrazed meadows, but also of flowers and rare plants, of soaring conifers, of butterflies and other insects, of birds and fragile nests perched above the river canyons. Chris captured the beauty of the rivers at every scale imaginable, and he intensely felt the need to protect these special places.
I was lucky enough to spend some time on the rivers with Chris. As we bounced around old forest roads in his truck and hiked across meadows and along streams, we talked about everything from family heritages to his training as a microbiologist and service as a veteran — in other words, the wide-ranging, easy conversations that often materialize in the open spaces of the high desert.
Chris’s love of these places was contagious, and I feel privileged to have worked with him over the years as part of ONDA’s effort to protect the rivers. As he described in a statement to the court in one case —
These public land ecosystems are important to me because they contain much of what is left of our environmental endowment and the biotic expression of many millions of years of evolution. . . . [I]t is important that we treat what remains of natural ecosystems with respect so that the evolutionary inheritance can survive and so that future generations can experience them in a healthy, fully functioning state.
We talked about those future generations from time to time — for example, when I’d send Chris a photograph of one of my daughters with a butterfly perched on her finger at Hart Mountain, or when I proudly told him this past summer that I’d finally taken my family to see the rivers he’d first shown me years ago. I will miss Chris, and I’ll be ever grateful to him for highlighting a little corner of this beautiful planet that I might never otherwise have discovered.