Brock Evans

In May 1968, Brock Evans sat in reflection on the “savvy and enthusiasm” of Oregonians who wanted to do more to protect Oregon’s water, air and land. 

Out of a meeting in Bend on May 9, 1968, an idea sparked that led to several Oregonians, coming together to form Oregon Environmental Council just a few months later. 

“In the end, it will be the state itself which can pass strong laws…and keep Oregon as beautiful as it is now,” wrote Evans to a friend after that meeting.

Evans shares in this memoir what Oregon was like in the 1960s and 70s at the start of this movement.

Excerpts from Evans’ “Remembrances from the conservation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s” (2007)

Part I: Getting to Oregon

French Pete valley, April, 1968 (Courtesy: Brock Evans)

I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, to make it my permanent home, in the summer of 1963. Born in Ohio, educated on the East Coast (Princeton) and Midwest (University of Michigan Law School), I had never been even west of Indiana until the summer of 1961, after my first year at Law School. Because I was on a scholarship, always needing summer and winter employment, I applied for a job that summer working in a hotel in a faraway place called “Glacier National Park.”

I was pretty excited about the opportunity, and of course, I thought that the Park was located in Alaska. After all, it had glaciers in it, didn’t it?

What relevance does all this have to Oregon? Well, perhaps everything, because that experience caused two major transformations inside my deepest psyche, and therefore, of my whole future life. The initial one washed over me the very first moment I stepped out of the train from Minneapolis, at East Glacier, Montana, to begin my summer job. The first thing I saw were those mountains – those great peaks rising right out of the prairies, ice-pure creeks pouring down their flanks – from the heavens it seemed; and everywhere the sweet scent of the pine forests. It was as if some old lost chord had been plucked inside me – a music I didn’t even know was there! …and it sung to me – then and forever since – that I was now “home,” really Home. I understood at that moment, in the most profound way possible, that I could not live in Ohio any more. I must go West.

The second transformation on this journey, which was to – soon enough – take me to Oregon and the battles to save it, came a few weeks later. By then I had settled into my summer job – dining room waiter in one of the most spectacular of all the Park’s hotels, Many Glacier. While I was totally enchanted – mesmerized is a better word – to just walk around admiring the grand scene all about, it had never occurred to me that a person could actually venture into that grand and awesome-looking backcountry. Just too big, inaccessible, forbidding.

One day, while sunning myself down by the lake with new friends, some colleagues came down a trail. “Where’ve you been,” I asked. “Oh, up there,” one said – naming a place. “How’d you ever do that – that must be three miles up – and three more back… six miles in an afternoon… not possible!” was my response. Being assured that it was, I began to ponder the new opportunities thus opened up: a person actually might hike more than three miles a day and not get tired! On my next day off, I set out to test this new hypothesis; and with a group of friends, we climbed up and over the top of the Continental Divide, then down into the famous wild valley of the Belly River… and 20 miles up along it, to the Canadian border. In one day.

French Pete creek, April, 1968 (Courtesy: Brock Evans)

I was stunned by the beauty of it all, the wildness and the vast silences, punctuated only by songs of the wind, the forests, a thousand streams. I was hooked then – and forever after, as it has turned out. I didn’t know then that it was called “wilderness.” I just knew that it was beautiful and I loved it. My wanderings began right then, and by the end of a second magical summer at the hotel, I had hiked and climbed about 500 miles in Glacier, the Park termed by John Muir “the most sublime wilderness in North America.” My transformation was complete: not only must I live in the West, but I must be near mountains.

Graduation from law school the next year was fast approaching, and basic decisions had to be made: what to do? I supposed I would try to practice law somewhere… but where? For me, the answer to that question now had become the most important decision of all the rest of my life. Montana? Rumors were that only graduates of the Law School in Missoula could ever hope to make it past the favoritism of that state’s Bar Examiners. California – still known as “Golden California” at the time? The fees to even just take the Bar Exam there were too steep for my skimpy budget. How about the Pacific Northwest then? I had already visited once – Seattle World’s Fair in 1962 – so what about there? It was a place I knew a little, and it was beautiful. The Bar Exam fee was within my reach. Best of all, Seattle had a mountain range on each side, and salt water in the middle, this last being important to my wife, who hailed from the Boston area. It all just seemed to come together, so out we drove across the country to make it our new home, in June 1963.

My first summer of climbing and hiking reinforced my feeling that I had arrived in some kind of Paradise. Often I would sit on top of some peak in the North Cascades gazing in awe across its vast wild sweep of mountaintops in every direction, and think to myself, “hey, I could climb one of these every weekend of my life and never know them all…oh what joy!”

That kind of pure happiness lasted just about two summers, because then I noticed something strange and disturbing happening out there in my beloved mountain wilderness. I had become especially enchanted by the northwest forest – so like fairylands, huge trunks reaching to the sky, many streams dancing across a forest floor carpeted with moss and ferns. I had never before experienced any forests like these, and I loved them too, as much as the great peaks I climbed. But, as I most painfully began to discover, they were being destroyed. Trail after trail I would wander through the summer before, and dream about all the next winter, was gone – just gone, vanished in a sea of muddy clearcuts, the former delightful pathways morphed and bulldozed into an ugly mess of logging roads.

I was stunned, full of pain and anger from that moment. Thus began my third – and final – transformation. It started me off on a very different path, one that would soon take me to Oregon and the battles just beginning or not yet joined in that beautiful part of my adopted homeland, the Pacific Northwest. I vowed at that moment to give the rest of my life and career to defend the places I loved.

Those were the years – 1964 to 1967 – when a whole new wind of conservation-awakening seemed to be blowing across my adopted state. Thousands of other people, often newcomers like myself who had moved in from damaged and polluted places, were also appalled at what was happening, here too. Even worse, we were dismayed at what more was being planned by The Powers That Be. If we who cared did nothing, so much of what we had come here for would be destroyed too. If we did nothing. Heart and soul, I burned with a fire of passion to fight back, and with an intensity every bit as deep as those first stirrings of awe and ‘homecoming’ that had swept over me at Glacier Park just a few years before.

Not knowing what else to do, I became a very active citizen volunteer – there were no paid people then to do what we all called the “conservation work.” This work meant rescuing forests, rivers, urban parks and vistas, shorelines. No place, it seemed, was to be spared from the sprawl, pavement, and logging tsunamis being promoted by the developers who controlled the state legislature. Remember that there were no environmental laws at that time: no NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), no ESA (Endangered Species Act). Those were years away, so there were no legal remedies such as we have now. Going to court then, during those earliest struggles, was not an option.

Part II. Precursor to the Oregon Environmental Council: formation of Washington Environmental Council, 1966-67

What happened next is what I believe gave me the knowledge and experience to – two years later – confidently agitate for, and help organize the creation of, what became the Oregon Environmental Council. This was because of my role (working with many like-minded others of course) in the creation of the first of the Northwest’s statewide advocacy groups – the Washington Environmental Council, in 1966-67.

I was now a “paid” person (not very much!), and had already been bloodied by the battles. I was, therefore, being perceived as possessing some knowledge of the scene and what was needed. As a result my colleagues – experienced volunteers all – asked me to undertake the initial task of researching, then preparing a proposal for our consideration. From that came my initial paper, about the fall of 1967, proposing the formation of an “Environmental Council,” whose purpose would be to speak out for any and all conservation concerns inside the state, and on whose Board would sit representatives from all the major groups and from all the diverse regions of the state. Of course, the most important requirement was that there be consensus, or at the very least, a process to achieve agreement on issues, from all the groups represented – no automatic or easy task!

Now is not the time to tell the whole tale of the delicate balances we strove for, between sportsmen’s and preservation groups for example; between clean air and parks protection groups. It was a most sensitive matter, yet so very important that we were all united on the issues we agreed to take on. Given the great diversity of the groups we hoped to include, and the differences (sometimes not harmoniously expressed) in their histories and policies, such agreement – much less consensus – could only come about to the extent we could build trust into the new institution.

So, how to actually begin to nail down the trust-based consensus that we knew we must have to move forward?

We tackled the problem by arranging three different meetings, scheduled for three successive weekends – so if a person had a conflict on one he or she could attend another. They were all held at the Student Center of the University of Washington in Seattle. Each was set up to last only one day (so people wouldn’t feel burdened by time commitments), and the format was identical each time, including the documents being sent out to all participants in advance. 

All participation was by invitation only, not only so we would be assured the right mix of important groups and people of good will, but also because we didn’t want any industry people disrupting or, frankly, spying. This was, after all, an environmental group that we were a-borning.

When the three (fully attended) sessions ended we felt confident enough in the overwhelming consensus there expressed to draft the bylaws and set up the first board meeting of the new group – move forward! I and an attorney friend were given the task of drafting the bylaws and other operating documents. I also had the honor to act as Interim Chair at the first full and regular meeting of the Washington Environmental Council, December 1967, before turning over the reins to the new Chair, Tom Wimmer, a highly respected and experienced leader of the State Sportsmen’s Council. We were off and running, and the WEC has been a power in state politics ever since.

Part III. On To Oregon: A Very Different, and Difficult, Political Scene

I first came onto the conservation scene in Oregon in the spring of 1967, soon after I was appointed by the Sierra Club’s Executive Director David Brower and Conservation Director Mike McCloskey to take over McCloskey’s old job – Northwest Representative.

I didn’t know much about Oregon’s specific geography then, much less its politics about these or related issues. I think I had assumed that they couldn’t be that much different from those of her northern neighbor; after all, it was generally the same climate, roughly the same topography and vegetation, the same east-west divisions as her smaller northern sister, wasn’t it? So, the “politics” – both of the issues themselves, and the strategies and combinations needed in order to win our cause must be the same too, right?

That was my somewhat innocent and naïve perception when I journeyed to Portland and Eugene for my first ‘official’ visit that early spring of 1967.

I quickly learned that my assumptions could not have been more wrong. It was just so different then in Oregon – politically – that it is almost impossible to believe it now, 40+ years later. Now Oregon, rightly, has earned a well-deserved reputation as being a “green, essentially environmentally progressive (compared to most others) state, a caring place.”Not then! Timber was king, and was considered just another form of “agriculture” by the whole Establishment. Oregon then had far fewer acres of protected lands, state and federal combined, in parks or wilderness areas than even just ONE National Park in Washington – Olympic. Worse, just about every remaining forested acre on federal or state lands – and there were millions of acres of the most magnificent forests to be found anywhere – was scheduled to be logged, sooner or later.

The political situation for conservation seemed even more difficult. Outside of a few small knots of like-minded folks – mostly Sierra Club and outdoor club members – in Portland, and Salem a little, plus a somewhat larger band of activists centered around the University of Oregon in Eugene, there was almost no open support for preservation of anything, anywhere in the whole state.

I knew very little, that distant springtime, about the two Oregon places which were soon to become the location of two of the most intense yet rewarding battles of my career. The very demanding intensities of these struggles rapidly educated me about the need for a different kind of organization; one which would span the whole state, and which could grapple with the many other issues needing attention.

Part IV. Training Grounds for New Strategies for Oregon: the struggles over French Pete Creek and Hells Canyon

Evans looking in to the French Pete valley, April, 1968 (Courtesy: Brock Evans)

I felt I had already learned two important lessons from my experiences in the campaigns up north, which I hoped might be applied and followed as I traveled from living room to living room across the state that first year, in deep discussions with fellow conservationists about ways and means to respond to the biggest challenge of all: how, given the political and institutional odds against protecting nearly everything in the Oregon of that time, could we even hope to save anything?

First lesson: We’re small, and always will be outspent and outnumbered; there may be some favorable latent public feeling for our concerns, but the ‘common wisdom’ out there – certainly in the Oregon of the 1960s – was strongly against preservation of any place which was perceived to have an economic value for lumber, electricity, etc. Therefore, if we hoped to prevail, we would need to be more nimble, more creative too. Since we never will be rich monetarily, we’ll have to maximize the greatest asset we do possess: our own people and their energy, their passions. Given our few numbers, to the extent we have a choice we need to pick our battles wisely and carefully – then dramatize them with a clarity and appeal that will tap into and motivate that passion into action.

One way to apply the knowledge inherent in this understanding of ourselves and our situation – and to maximize the strengths that come from it – would be to try to fight always where the danger is greatest. Not only because that is where the beautiful places will be lost the soonest, but also because – if we can make a stand, and make it as public and dramatic as possible – we ought to be able to gather up and organize a maximum of public support out there. 

The second lesson was that issues – real issues: hard ones (but capable of being easily and graphically dramatized to the public) – are the best way to bring in new members and supporters. It is a waste of time for any struggling volunteer-run and motivated group to try to get “enough” members first, and THEN join battle. It works the other way around. We must set out – stand and fight first – and then those who care will come and flock to our banner. That’s how human nature really works, I believed, because that’s the way I had seen it work in the successful campaigns in Washington state already.

So, where were they – these tough but graphic issues where the stakes were the highest, the places the most threatened? Where were the special and beautiful places that would surely be lost if we did NOT make our stand? Places where, nevertheless, we still had a chance of winning, thus building our movement in the process?

Two such areas had already fixed our attention and aroused our passions in those early years: French Pete Creek on the west side, and Hells Canyon on the eastside. Little did I realize during that first springtime visit that these very different spots, each precious, rare, and spectacular in its own special way, would become such all-consuming battlegrounds whose victories profoundly and permanently helped our cause, enabling future successes.

I couldn’t fully grasp then just how deeply the time-drain and intense demands of these two issues would affect me personally, and my overall perception of conservationist needs in Oregon. They just had to be won, but in the meantime many other important issues, also needing conservationists’ attention, were surfacing all over the state.

Let’s take a closer look at the French Pete Creek campaign and learn how the strategies developed and played out.

I saw my role in this fight, as in many that would follow, as having four components. The first step was getting the campaign to rescue the place re-motivated and restarted. Second was creating a set of words (“messages”) to explain the issue to the public succinctly yet dramatically. Third, planning and strategizing (with many others) the best tactics and methods to ensure the campaign’s success. And finally, to the maximum extent with the time and resources available, help support and guide the whole effort through the hostile shoals of those first desperate years when success or failure seemed to hang by the slenderest of threads – all the way to final victory eleven years later.

What was at stake in French Pete Creek was a microcosm of the stakes in, and the ultimate fate of, the whole of the Oregon Cascades: the forest primeval. This little valley was a very lovely remnant of that magnificent forest, still untouched – the only place in the western part of the state where a person could stand on a high place (e.g., Lowder Mountain), and gaze across miles and miles of uncut old Oregon forests. Not a road or clearcut anywhere. Even then one of the rarest sights in the whole state, it was just a remnant of what had been.

That was the general setting, political and emotional, when I ventured down to Eugene the first time, about May 1967, for a meeting with the local Sierra Club. I had heard about French Pete, and after the meeting hiked several miles up into it from the campground. It was special and beautiful, and it must—just must – be protected, I thought. But the older and wiser ones, veterans of too many previous losing campaigns over the “missing 53,000 acres” (the sum total of all the lands the Forest Service had removed from the Three Sisters Primitive Area in 1957, including the French Pete valley) were worn out emotionally after a decade of defeats. “We hate to see it logged, but it can’t be saved” I was told over and over.

This was unhappy information, and I brooded about it over the summer, even consulted North Cascades friends, for advice about possible new approaches to the problem which might win this time… to no avail. I couldn’t return until that October, because our recent entry into the struggle over dams in Hells Canyon, (see below) and the North Cascades campaign, then nearing its climax, were consuming nearly all my time. I asked the Eugenians for another meeting to discuss the fate of French Pete, and they all came. The memory of what happened next is still so etched into my brain that I can never forget it: they all gathered in the Noyes’ living room sitting in a circle, about 20 of the old timers, veterans all. I stood up first, offered a short little speech to the effect that “the first timber sale is scheduled for next June. We must try again, I believe we can win this time. The Sierra Club and I will help with everything in our power…” Then sat down, my heart pounding, because they were the ones who would have to carry the battle forward every day. I was too far away. I would help with all my heart and all my might, but these were the warriors who must bear the brunt of it all, the criticisms, the social pressures, the hard slogging work required in any successful campaign.

What would it be – life or death – for that lovely little valley?

There followed a long silence; the loudest noise I heard was the pounding of my own heart. We had come to a crucial point in this meeting, one that I have since come to recognize in almost all our conservation battles, anywhere they occur – and the question is always the same: “shall we stand and fight now, no matter what are the terrors, disappointments, and dangers we know will be out there? Or shall we step aside and just let it go, take on some other cause perhaps later?”

It was Sandy Tepfer, University of Oregon chemistry professor – a smallish, dynamic man, heart and soul as large as the wilderness he loved – who broke the silence: “OK, Brock, I will, if you will too…” I kept my silence then, but my heart leapt for joy! Sandy’s words carried the decision around the room, each of the experienced older hands speaking up in their turn, “yes, I will too…” That powerful moment was the turning-point, became the sine qua non, the vital essential key to our final victory years later. Without that commitment at that critical moment in time, little else could have ever happened; it would have been too late. To my impressionable mind, the whole scene was like some epic tale straight out of the Middle Ages: there was a certain potent magic in that room that seemed to be encapsulated in the hearts of everyone there at that special moment… and as I watched, my mind’s eye saw each of these grand, courageous, scarred and veteran warriors, reach up to take their old battered shields down from the castle wall, one more time. From that moment on, I felt that the die was cast – we could never be beaten now. The stirring words from Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, flooded through me: “Once more into the breach, dear comrades…” “Oh, thank God, we are saved,” I thought silently to myself.

And that was how the French Pete Campaign was revived, this time not to be denied, this time all the way through to the final victory, eleven years later.

My role after the new and reinvigorated campaign was launched, became more political, strategic. What should be the best combination of people and proposals and slogans and events to finally save this valley from those who were determined to log it – in just a few months’ time, remember – and how could we put it all together? First things first: we had to buy more time. Working mostly with Dick Noyes, I prepared and filed a formal appeal of that scheduled June 1968 timber sale, which gave us a precious 1-year delay. 

But what should be our slogan, rallying cry – or in today’s terms, our message? It wouldn’t be anywhere near effective enough in the Oregon of the 1960s to simply say ‘please don’t log this pretty place.’ That’s what we were expected to say, and that kind of appeal would once again likely be dismissed by most Oregonians, who had long since been conditioned to believe the FS, which always said ‘don’t worry, there’s plenty out there…’

We who loved and hiked in the forests knew this wasn’t so – it was all being destroyed, and very quickly. But how to explain this fact in a pithy, yet dramatic – and ‘grabby’ – way?

An idea had been percolating in me ever since the previous summer, when I saw firsthand the logging damage creeping into every valley in Oregon – far worse even than in Washington: play up the longstanding rivalry between the two states. Could we perhaps dramatize what was at stake in French Pete via unflattering – ‘shameful,’ some would say – comparisons of forest protection in the Oregon Cascades with the much better protected federal forests in the hated rival, Washington? It seemed from my visual observation to be a correct – and appallingly adverse – comparison, but we would have to prove it. Oregonians had always seemed to assume that because they had attractive (though small) state parks next to the major highways, this must also mean that they had a lot else too. But did they really?

Only research could prove it, yes or no. I drove down to Eugene again in January of 1968, sleeping on the Noyes’ floor. Camping out in their study, for ten days I pored over their maps of all the National Forests in the Oregon Cascades. I was looking for other valleys – ANY other valleys – similar to French Pete. That is, a valley at least ten miles long, which still had no roads, and therefore no logging, anywhere inside it. 

The detailed research revealed the unhappy answer: there was almost nothing else like it, anywhere, even then. I had counted 70 valleys at least ten miles long in the whole length of the Oregon Cascades. Of these 70, only three existed, still roadless, by 1967. Only three: Eagle Creek, flowing over the cliffs into the Columbia near Mt. Hood; Separation Creek where it flowed through the Three Sisters Wilderness (though at a higher elevation); and French Pete. That was it, and all who learned this – including our opponents – were shocked. It was as if a bubble – the myth that Oregon was really protecting its wild natural places – had been exploded. 

This fact especially grabbed the public when compared with rival Washington State, which already had – under full protection – at least twenty-five similar valleys, chock full of ancient forests. As it later turned out, this new information became not only a crucial part of the French Pete campaign, but also was of considerable aid in subsequent struggles over the future of the remaining ancient forests of the Beaver State. That’s because, in one stroke, the “three out of seventy” factoid also demolished the credibility of the Forest Service – formerly so high among Oregonians. Henceforth, when in every other battle (for they always opposed preservation and always supported logging) they claimed there was already “a lot protected,” they were simply no longer believed. This simple fact had political consequences too, because it meant that pro-timber politicians like Senator Hatfield, and pro-logging newspapers like the Oregonian, could no longer blindly parrot the Forest Service’s claims as a way of soothing an increasingly savvy, and angry, rising, newer and younger, generation of Oregonians. 

Now we had our slogan, and our rallying cry: “French Pete is one of only three left. It is practically unique and we must save it.”

Our cause, begun so boldly yet without very good prospects in 1967, now had come of age. We had the momentum and the public’s sympathies. It wasn’t all over by a long shot; the Forest Supervisor even announced a new logging plan in 1969. But as the campaign developed and we grew stronger, I had begun to see a larger potential in the French Pete struggle. It could become, indeed had become, a symbol for all that was wrong with federal forestry policies across Oregon, not just in its Cascade Mountains. But our opponents, both within the agency and without, refused to give up. Perhaps blinded by all the past decades of practically unchallengeable logging, there had developed a certain hubris: that they could never permit themselves to be “beaten” by “upstart” conservationists. 

Well then, so be it. If they were going to persist, arguing ever more fiercely to log even THIS precious little place, even in face of rising public disagreement, then we could take the next big step too. We would escalate – something undreamed of even just a few years before – and take the whole question of over-logging to a larger forum – the whole state. This new escalation first took form in our community’s campaign for an Oregon Cascades National Park Study, ably sparked and led by Larry Williams. The aim was to make logging ‘special places’ across the whole Cascades the issue; and to accompany and dramatize the problem, Larry and I drafted a full page ad, which ran in all the major papers of the state on the same day.

They wanted more battles on the same old battleground? So be it. By this time, and because of French Pete, the tide was turning in our favor. Its name and its memory was what had largely discredited the old cause of “logging everything,” an issue which – demonstrated most dramatically in the “ancient forest” campaigns of the late 80’s – they had now lost irretrievably. Logging they would still do, but never at anywhere near the levels of the past. Cutting big trees in Oregon, especially in its wild places, was no longer socially acceptable.

The rescue of French Pete had two other dramatic impacts on Oregon environmental politics, in my opinion. First, it awakened Oregonians, as perhaps no other forest issue could have, to what was really happening ‘out there,’ thus serving as a beacon of hope during those following painful (but largely successful) “ancient forest wars” of 1988-95. And second, the long drawn-out struggle empowered and ennobled a whole new generation of Oregonians by showing them that they could make a difference. Now we were really on the move across the state, gaining public support and sympathies daily. 

If we could continue to hold the line a few more years, the time would be ripe to give it back the full protection it once had enjoyed – back into the Wilderness (where it finally went in 1978) in a brilliant campaign led and sparked by many others. These were ‘newcomers, not just the old Grand Originals, the Eugene Warriors. This was a whole new generation of vibrant younger Oregonians: Larry Williams of OEC; Jim Weaver, Ron Eber and Maradel and Richard Gale of Eugene; Roger Mellem, a dynamic University of Oregon student with a talent for organizing; and my own successor in the Sierra Club’s Northwest office, Doug Scott. It was Doug’s master mind that dreamed up the proposed “Endangered American Wilderness Bill,” which included about a dozen great wild places across America which were not only beautiful but also “politically ripe,” meaning that they at last could pass through the legislative gauntlet. French Pete was in that bill, finally and totally becoming safe again after 20 years of battle.

A few observations about the Hells Canyon Campaign and its parallel influence on conservation politics in Oregon.

Hells Canyon, on the other side of the state, was the other major Oregon issue I was working hard on at the same time (starting in 1967). Physically an entirely different issue, politically and emotionally its similarities to the French Pete campaign seem almost eerie: a small band of determined citizens taking on Oregon’s other major industry: dambuilding; with its concomitant agricultural, electric power, and construction constituencies; seeming to us even more of a desperate, almost irretrievable, cause at the beginning; just a small band of us; the old veterans feeling very ‘beaten’ at the start. Yet hang on we did, dramatize we did, finally save it – with permanent legislation – we did also in 1975. 

So the above campaigns are how my mind, my psyche, and finally my physical person came to be hugely and intimately involved in the conservation battles of that most beautiful Northwest state, Oregon. 

The more I became drawn into the great struggles over French Pete and Hells Canyon, the more I traveled everywhere across the state, the more I became aware of the dozens of other issues crying out for attention that I just could not give them. At the same time, I came to meet so many talented and passionate Oregonians that I began to feel the time was ripe to better organize and mobilize all that latent grassroots power. I was certainly not alone in that viewpoint, but perhaps I was the most vocal about doing it – soon!

Part V. The Founding of the Oregon Environmental Council

Larry Williams, Joe Walicki and Brock Evans (l-r) testify at the Oregon State Senate, ca. 1970s.

I believe I may have been the first person to attempt to realilze the concept of forming an environmental organization – one which focused its efforts almost entirely on in-state conservation issues, especially lobbying in the state legislature – in Oregon. Certainly lots of others were thinking along the same lines in those turbulent and heady days of the late 1960s. But until late 1968, I don’t believe anyone had yet attempted to do something about it. (After all, I was at least a “paid” environmentalist – the only such north of San Francisco at the time, I believe.)

My own feeling that the way to deal with our growing non-federal concerns in Oregon was to form a statewide “Environmental Council” had been informed by the success of the Washington Environmental Council, organized in late 1967, and already ‘bloodied’ via a successful grassroots lobbying effort in the 1968 legislative session in Olympia.

The “Brock Evans Papers” located in the Special Collections Division of the University of Washington Library, contain a fairly extensive record of correspondence with leading Oregonians, plus notes about my role in this venture from mid-1968 on, in a series of file folders titled “Oregon Environmental Council.” What follows are selected documents from those files.

The first letter was from me (6/21/68) to Bill Ellis, chair of PURE (Preserve our Urban and Rural Environment), in Bend. Bill had assembled a good group of eager activists, and I went down there to meet and visit several times during 1968. To my knowledge, PURE was the first organization in Oregon that was organized around both pollution and land use issues. The Willamette Greenway effort, out of Portland, may have been another, but at least in my time it either didn’t seem to be having much success, and/or others were working on it.

Thus the earliest document in the “Evans” OEC files is a copy of that letter to Bill Ellis in Bend. It refers to a meeting of PURE which I had attended on May 9, and commented on the high caliber of savvy and enthusiasm of the attendees. I had enclosed for him a copy of the bylaws of the Washington Environmental Council (apparently at Bill’s request, meaning we had already discussed the idea). “This approach to state legislative problems may be the solution for Oregon [too],” I observed.

“In the end, it will be the state itself which can pass strong laws to control pollution and pulp mills, and keep… Oregon as beautiful as it is now.”

The letter also mentioned that I had sent his name on to other conservation leaders on Oregon. Apparently, as a rising tide of environmental consciousness was sweeping across much of the nation – certainly in the Pacific Coast states. Something was very clearly ‘in the air’ in Oregon!

Sometime during the summer of 1968 I had met Cornelius Lofgren of Salem, then an employee of the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments. Cornelius was a real find! He was dedicated, deeply concerned for his state, mature and savvy. He had a lot of connections, both inside local government circles and, because of his membership in the Chemeketans, within the conservation community. (The Chemeketans were a member club of the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs, which in part financially supported my position, so that may have been how I met him.)

The next file item is a letter from Cornelius to me, dated September 25, 1968: “I have discussed with two or three of my conservation friends the matter of setting up a council (wilderness, or what have you). You had suggested early in November as a likely time that would be convenient….if you still think so, we will start promoting the idea and selecting the people most likely to be the movers…”

I wrote back to Cornelius on September 30th: “… people are already excited about it, and are ready to go…. Larry Williams said he’d arrange for the appropriate Portland and Eugene people, plus one or two from Bend.

“You should pick the Salem people. My only thought is that they should certainly be people who are already with us 100% of the way, and do not need any argument or discussions [about the validity of the idea itself]. Since this is going to be a strategy or planning meeting, the time to convert [other] people to our way of thinking would be at another time…

“Thanks for all your fine work on Hells Canyon and the Mount Jefferson Wilderness bill… it is people like you who saved whatever we were able to get out of the Mount Jefferson area for us.”

My strong feeling about having only ‘true believers’ at this first get-together was powerfully informed by the disastrous experience of an earlier Oregon group, the “Oregon Cascades Conservation Council,” created in the late 50s/early 60s, to promote maximum wilderness preservation – even, perhaps, an Oregon Cascades National Park. While the founders of the O3C (as it was called) were great conservationists with the best of intentions, their (in my view) naïve idea of inviting anti-conservationists, especially industry and forestry school deans, to be on the board guaranteed that there would be only endless arguments, but never any positive action to protect anything, so great was the resulting polarization of viewpoints within the Board itself. This failed experiment contrasted (in my mind) with the great success of the parallel North Cascades Conservation Council 

in Washington State, which deliberately invited onto its Board only the 100%-ers. This safeguard guaranteed a strong and unified campaign, despite the same great odds and ferocious opposition from industry as in Oregon.

I did not want the O3C experience to be replicated in any other kind of statewide environmental group in Oregon. The odds against us were difficult enough as it was, and the industry viewpoint was already hugely and dominantly represented in the Oregon legislature of that era. Our side, by contrast, was struggling to just get off the ground.

The references to Mt. Jefferson refer to the Wilderness Bill (about 106,000 acres I recall) which passed that year, and which I/we all considered a loss. We had high hopes, and had lobbied hard, for a bill which included an extra 30,000 acres of grand Oregon ancient forest (no more lava flows and meadows) around the high country. These were places which still hadn’t been logged, like the Breitenbush, Pamelia Creek, and Woodpecker Ridge. I had hiked through the areas the summer before, noting these special places, still intact, and had made protection of them the keystone of our (Sierra Club/Wilderness Society) proposal and our hard-fought campaign to include them in Senator Hatfield’s bill earlier that summer.

The painful and bitter (to me) story of how our cause and this issue became “derailed” (betrayed is the better word in my view) by an ex-Forest Service person hired by the Wilderness Society to do the key lobbying for our bill in Washington DC, who then advocated (without our knowledge) the smaller ‘rocks and ice’ bill which became law – then promptly returned to the Forest Service and got himself promoted to a high position in Alaska, is a tale for another time, I guess. But that sad experience explains my reference to ‘whatever we were able to get,’ to Cornelius.

The reference to Larry Williams illustrates what a key figure he had already become in Oregon environmental politics. I believe he may have still been Chair of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Sierra Club at the time. Whatever it was, he was, for me, nearly always the ‘go to’ person in most matters affecting Oregon, and Oregon politics.

An entry from October 2, 1968 is a handwritten note from Cornelius to me: “Signals are all set for November 9… I am sure we can use the Chemeketan ‘den’ on State Street. We’ll have about 100 representatives there….”

My personal memo to OEC files – written November 15, 1972, in preparation for donating files to University of Washington: “Regarding my personal presence at the actual organizational meeting on Saturday morning, November 9:

“ The night before the meeting, I was giving a speech to the Society of American Foresters in Medford, and caught a lot of hell. I got up very early the next morning [November 9th] to drive my rental car to Salem and got a flat tire – luckily in town. I barely made it – just in time to run the meeting and get all our people working together.

“In my opinion, the OEC is by far the most effective of all the state Environmental Councils, due partly to some kind of unique ‘esprit’ that many Oregonians seem to have, and partly to the immense dedication of Larry Williams and his willingness to work for almost no pay for a long time…” 

An entry from November 17, 1969, Lofgren to Evans: “We have set up a meeting of the new council for December 7 in Salem… thanks for your help in getting us started. This organization can have quite an umbrella effect for all the little groups that want to do good but don’t have the leadership and proper direction. “

January 2, 1969, Evans to McKinley, regarding the description of OEC: “The… intent is to serve as an “umbrella”… the ultimate intent is to have a full time lobbyist person in the state legislature. Its initial composition is strongly preservation and natural environment oriented. The new President Maradel Gale is excellent and very capable.” 

January 2, 1969, Evans to Lofgren: “Just a short note to thank you for all you have done….I only wish that I knew about you sooner than I did, because I consider you a real ‘find’ for the conservation movement…. You were indispensable on French Pete, Mount Jefferson, and Hells Canyon, among other issues… and now you have had a great deal to do with the founding of the Oregon Environmental Council. I think that the OEC will go a long way, because the time is right.”

January 7, 1969, Evans to Maradel Gale: referencing the “good meeting” with Wimmer et al. “We have a long way to go but I am not [at all] displeased about our success in recent months.” 

February 23, 1969: Circular from Maradel to Sierra Club members in Oregon, urging support of the new OEC.

September 11, 1969, Evans to John Parkwood (Eugene): “I’m glad to attend the conference on Oregon environmental problems sponsored by OEC October 31. As one of the original founders and sponsors of the OEC, I feel a little parental pride in watching how you have grown and developed over the past year…”

November 9, 1969, a handwritten note from Maradel regarding French Pete – big things happening; major rally in Eugene. 

October 6, 1970, a letter from Evans to Phil Berry, national President of Sierra Club, urging the Club to give money to OEC to support Larry Williams: “he’s in large part responsible for the new environmental awareness there [in Oregon]… he has made it so much easier for me to do my job, because he covers so many of the issues so well in Oregon. I hope the Club can contribute at least $50 a month.”

You all know the rest, good Oregon Comrades. Well done! 

More: People & policies that have shaped a movement. #LovingOregon

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