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The Accidental Activist

“How can this be legal?” I heard that question for the hundredth time as I led another hike through a clear-cut old growth stand on Mt. Hood National Forest. The stumps, scarred soil, still smoldering slash piles, freshly-bulldozed roads, and withering understory of the clear cut contrasted sharply with the intact cathedral-like old-growth stand we’d stood in just an hour earlier—where the forest was cool, moist, and alive. 

Mt Hood Timber Sale pc Mary Dyson

In the early-to mid-90’s, as WildEarth Guardians (then known as Forest Guardians) was fighting uncontrolled logging in the southwest, a similar logging frenzy was in full swing on national forests in Oregon and Washington. 

As I hiked the trails of Mt. Hood, I saw a clear cut of old-growth Douglas-fir—stumps four feet across—right along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). If old growth along the iconic PCT wasn’t protected, what was? Motivated by the devastation I saw, I started asking questions: Who was protecting these trees? How were these clear cuts legal?

I never planned to be an activist. Yes, I happened to be a lawyer, but I didn’t go to law school to save the planet. At 30 years old, I was a criminal defense attorney who loved the mountains—the scents of firs, the sounds of mountain streams, the grandeur of the trees older than this country, and the abundant wildlife.

I couldn’t help but be disturbed by the destruction I was witnessing on our public lands. With the freshly printed Northwest Forest Plan in hand, I decided to act. I connected with some like-minded people and we began to fight timber sales on Mt. Hood.

We would navigate through the forest on foot and document old growth marked for cutting and how close to streams the timber sales were planned. With our on-the-ground knowledge, we’d go into meetings with the Forest Service and could talk about any stand of trees they wanted to log. It was a level of site-specific knowledge opposition they weren’t used to dealing with.

Mt Hood Timber Sale pc Greg DysonEven in Portland—so close to Mt. Hood—few were aware the Forest Service was cutting down forests and building miles and miles of roads to do it. So I led hikes into the forest, visiting intact old growth stands and clear-cuts, so people could contrast the two. The hikers I led were always shocked and disgusted.

Between the on-the-ground knowledge, the growing numbers of supporters, and some good old stubbornness, we shut down timber sale after timber sale, pushing the Forest Service so intently on each timber sale that they eventually relented and stopped logging old-growth stands on Mt. Hood.

Today I continue this work at WildEarth Guardians, fighting to remove many of the roads built by the timber industry and the Forest Service in 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s that now bleed sediment into salmon streams and fragment grizzly bear habitat.

I work to compel the Forest Service to reduce their immense road network and limit where motor vehicles can travel. We reduce the sedimentation from roads that clog and pollute the habitat of bull trout and other fish. We remove roads reducing habitat for large mammals such as grizzly and elk.

There is one particularly diverse ancient forest I think of on the east side of Mt. Hood full of Douglas-firs, mountain hemlock, western hemlock, ponderosas, western larch, pacific yews, western red cedars, white firs, grand firs and another six tree species—some with trunks large enough that it takes three people interlinked to wrap their arms around them. Knowing this ancient forest—and many others like it—is still intact inspires me daily. It is proof that we can and do make a difference, and that it is never too late to become an activist.

A hiking trail led me to where I am today. I think there is no better trail I could’ve followed. 

photo credit Greg Dyson, WildEarth Guardians: (top right) The Juncrock proposed timber sale, Mt. Hood National Forest, 2000. (lower left) The Forest Service marked the trees to cut with blue paint before we stopped the cutting.

For the wild,

Greg Dyson staff photo headshot

Greg Dyson
Public Lands Director
WildEarth Guardians

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