Oregon’s environmental legacy

Guest blog by Farrah Fatemi, OEC Volunteer

I spent the past decade hopping around the Eastern United States and Canada.  During that time, I immersed myself in the study of natural ecosystems as a graduate student, and later as a professor.  But after struggling to feel at home in New England, I decided change was in order.  Drawn to the beautifully diverse landscape and cultural ethos of the Pacific Northwest, I packed up and headed West this past summer.

Earthwatch, April, 1975

I then connected with Oregon Environmental Council (OEC), about a volunteer research project.

For their 50th anniversary, the communications team is working to characterize the organization’s historical legacy.  To help with this, I poured over old news clippings, newsletters, and mined the web for information to put OEC’s key achievements in context.

From my research, I was struck by the passion and dedication of grass-roots efforts that laid the groundwork for OEC’s legacy.  In earlier days, their newsletter was titled Earthwatch (pictured at right).  The tone of Earthwatch was ardently activist but also poetic; clearly written by folks who cared deeply about the issues they were fighting for.  Some were dedicating lots of volunteer hours to this statewide nonprofit.

Judie at work in the OEC office in the 1970s.

Judie Hansen, who worked at OEC in the 1970s, recounts “the first three years I worked for no pay….OEC was an exciting place to be, where young, enthusiastic citizens cut their teeth on every conceivable environmental issue”.

Earthwatch, January, 1975

When the organization was founded, OEC was a clear leader in advancing protection of open spaces such as the Mt. Jefferson and Crater Lake wilderness areas.  OEC also fought for several years to promote federal legislation in 1975 that protected Hell’s Canyon (one of several articles in Earthwatch, pictured right).

As the environmental movement in Oregon developed over time, OEC’s focus began to shift from land conservation to issues of human health and climate.  Yet one thing has remained constant–OEC continues to help make Oregon an environmental leader and pave the way for nationwide regulations.

Oregon was the first state to pass a deposit for container recycling, provide federal funding for bicycles, in-state laws to reduce ozone depleting chemicals and phase-out mercury in thermostats.  All of this thanks to the collaborative work of OEC and its members.

As I learned about Oregon’s environmental history, I grew proud of the work of organizations such as OEC to push the state’s environmental agenda forward.

As for me, Oregon is the eighth state I’ve lived in, and the first one in a long time that feels like home—one where I want to contribute to the strong legacy of environmental stewardship.

Thank you, Farrah! Farrah’s important research about the people, policies and places that have helped shape 50 years of Oregon Environmental Council will be featured in the coming months. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share about Oregon Environmental Council?  As we prepare to celebrate 50 years of loving Oregon in 2018, we invite you to share your memories, photos or other opportunities with our communications team. Contact Amy Lewin, Director of Communications: amyl@oeconline.org or 503-222.1963 x111.

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

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