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Jim Riley - loss of a dear friend

  • 15 Nov 2019 12:16 PM
    Message # 8115302

    Our fellow lichenologist and investigator, explorer and admirer of nature passed away this summer. Please read Terri Knoke's article for Douglasia (WA Native Plant Society) below.

    In Memoriam:  Jim Riley

    By Terri Knoke, member-at-large

    There was a subtle change in the deep woods this summer: a dear friend and colleague, Jim Riley, passed away on June 24, 2019 at his home in Randle, WA at the age of 79.

    Jim was a long-time supporter and one of our most valued and respected members. Jim served as State Board Director from 1985 to 1996. He was well-loved for his role as Field Trip leader Leader for South Sound and Central Chapters, his yearly organization of the WNPS backpack, and his Douglasia column: “The Lichen Corner.” As a result, in 1997 the Washington Native Plant Society awarded him our highest honor that year at Botany Washington. Jim Riley was made a Fellow of WNPS as a result of his tireless volunteer work and his dedication to the native plants of the Pacific Northwest.

    Jim was born on March 12, 1940, to Kenneth and Freida (Gregersen) Riley. He married Dottie Jones on April 20, 1973. Jim joined the U.S. Navy in 1961 and received an honorable discharge in 1963. He joined the Forest Service soon after. He was a member of the Silviculture Department, working with contracts for the Randle/Cowlitz Valley Ranger District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Eventually he became the person in charge of all pre-commercial tree thinning contracts, Christmas tree cutting contracts, and bough contracts for the district.

    Jim was known for his talent for thinking outside the box. During his tenure, he figured out that the Forest Service could be paid by the contractors, rather than the Forest Service paying them to thin the trees, if he was allowed to use the thinned noble fir trees for Christmas trees, thus reversing the cash flow back to the forest.

    Jim was an experienced hiker and avid backpacker. He backpacked the trail around Mt. Adams for the first time with his brother Danny Riley in 1976. Jim went on to complete the circuit around Mt. Adams 16 times, taking with him anyone who wanted to make the trip. In 1983, he began the first official WNPS backpack: Goat Rock Wilderness. In attendance were Phyllis Kronenberg, Marie Hitchman, Norris Cone, Ken Riley, Elroy Burnett, John and Janet Klos, Art and Mareen Kruckeberg, Bruce Richardson, Judy von Kleinschmidt, and Warren Tanaka as well as Jim’s two small dogs, Doobie and Penny. Jim always took his dogs.

    1988, Bob Tokach was transferred to the Randle Ranger District. This was the start of a life-long great friendship: hiking and backpacking, leading WNPS backpack trips, and making the circuit around Mt. Adams many times together. Over the decades, several WNPS members as well as Northwest Lichenologists have made that journey around Mt Adams with Jim and his friend Bob.

    At age 55, Jim retired from the Forest Service. Jim immediately dove into lichenology and volunteered for many years in Linda Geiser's U.S. Forest Service Air Resources program in lichenology. He was interested in lichens, wildflowers, and photography at that time, all of which became a focus, especially the lichens.

    Jim belonged to the Northwest Lichenologists organization based out of Oregon State University (OSU), Corvallis. Jim was in the initial cohort of certified lichenologists in 2000. Certified lichenologists are the elite of Pacific Northwest lichenologists. It requires a challenging exam that demands the ability to discriminate among species in the field, identify them in the lab, and recognize the characters and habitats for rare, threatened, and endangered lichens in the region. As of this writing there are only 21 certified lichenologists in California, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska.

    Every year for ten years, Jim and his wife Dottie moved down to Corvallis for three months, living in their fifth-wheel trailer. Jim volunteered full-time and would help with the identifications of the season’s USFS air Air program program lichen biomonitoring collections. Discipline and patience, driven by curiosity, were Jim’s tools, and he used them well. He created the database that has now grown to over ten thousand surveys and 150,000+ records, most of these vouchers are being accessioned at OSU. His extensive knowledge of lichens and his valued friendship will be sorely missed by his cohort.

    Others benefited from Jim’s efforts and generosity. In 2019, Jim generously donated his lichen herbarium and associated database to the Oregon State University Herbarium. The 1,725 lichen specimens are being accessioned and ultimately added to the publicly available databases with the Consortium for North American Lichen Herbaria CNALH, Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria ( He started the herbarium for the Siuslaw National Forest.  Jim donated many of his photos of lichens to the U.S. Forest Service, and OSU, and the University of Washington Herbarium Image Gallery. His major photo collection, which included many wildflowers, was donated to the University of British Columbia.

    Jim Riley was a recipient of the “U.S. Forest Service’s Chief’s Honor Award”, the highest honor given by the U.S. Forest Service. This is a national award that recognizes people working on projects that embody one of the five goals stated in the U.S. Forest Service’s strategic plan. One of these goals is building internal capacity to support volunteerism and community service within the agency. The recipients all strive to meet “the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”  Out of 2.6 million people nationwide, only a handful of winners are chosen each year. Jim Riley was one of them.

    But those of us who backpacked with Jim Riley will always remember him as someone who we could depend on, someone who always kept his commitments. Every year Jim would plan the backpack trip and send out the itinerary in January, and the next time you’d see him he would be at the trailhead, handing out his plant list booklets that he made for each person in the group. There would be four days and three nights of backpacking, camping, scrambling up and down steep slopes looking for plants, and Jim’s nightly ritual of checking off the plants we’d seen during the day in our little plant list passports.

    For decades, as a stalwart learner and a great teacher, Jim passed on his knowledge to all of us who followed him down the trail. Every year it was a new adventure, a new place full of native plants and mountain blooms. Jim’s son Ken came on that first WNPS backpack in 1983 and soon other WNPS members joined him as well. Friends became family, and the annual backpack served as a place to meet new friends and reconnect with the old.

    In honor of our dear colleague, Jim Riley, we will continue the tradition that he started 36 years ago. We hope you will join us next year, July 24th through the 27th, 2020 for the Jim Riley Memorial Backpack. His life continues to remind us how important it is to stay committed to personal integrity and dedicated to service. With Jim’s passing we’ve lost a strong voice for the native plants, but the manner in which he chose to live his life inspires us to stay in the chorus and sing.

  • 16 Nov 2019 7:44 AM
    Reply # 8121961 on 8115302
    Bruce McCune (Administrator)

    Photos attached.

    Photos captions for “In Memoriam:  Jim Riley”  article.

    Goat Rocks backpack with Jim.

    Photo by Judy Roberts.

    Brothers Ken Riley (left) and Danny Riley (right), First Trip around Mt. Adams, 1983. 

    Photo by Frieda Riley 

    2 files
  • 18 Nov 2019 11:28 AM
    Reply # 8127731 on 8115302

    I'm so sorry to hear that Jim is gone. Thank you Daphne and Bruce for sharing the news. I didn't know him well; we met during a couple of NW lichenologists field trips and I have some of his traded lichens in my collection and his Hypogymnia 'cheat sheets' in my floristic resources. He was very supportive of brand-new lichen enthusiasts.  My condolences to his friends and family.


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