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Preremembering Brock Evans, Oregon Conservationist

The following was originally published in Andy Kerr's Public Lands Blog #176. To subscribe to Andy Kerr's Public Lands Blog click on this link and enter your name and email address (which will not be used for any other purpose).

Brock Evans on the Snake River. Source: Wake-Robin Press.

Millions of acres of older (mature and old-growth) forest in Oregon (and Washington and California) still stand today, the Snake River still runs free through Hells Canyon, the Mount Jefferson Wilderness exists and encompasses Marion Lakes, and French Pete is again safely in the Three Sisters Wilderness—all because La Grande resident Brock Evans was on the case. At his age, if Brock were a coastal Douglas-fir, he would just be reaching the beginning of maturity. This coming May 24, Brock will celebrate his eighty-fourth birthday.

It is my policy to occasionally post “preremembrances” of great Oregon conservationists before they move on. Previous preremembrances included Bob Packwood, Norma Paulus, Barbara Roberts, Jim Weaver, and Mary Gautreaux. This preremembrance is the first of an Oregon conservationist who never held elected office (though Brock tried once) or was the environmental soul of one who did. I’d had it in the back of my mind to preremember Brock, but other Public Lands Blog topics kept taking priority. Now the publication of Brock’s autobiography makes this preremembrance rise to the top.

The Making of an Eco-Warrior

Endless Pressure, Endlessly Applied: The Autobiography of an Eco-Warrior (with George Venn) is the first autobiography I have seen that is a coffee table book. It weighs in at 492 pages and features more than 100 photographs—a lot of shots of Brock over the decades but mostly of places he helped save for the benefit of this and future generations. Rather than recollections of the author, the book is mostly a collection of Brock's contemporaneous writings: witness testimony, diary entries, speeches, and such. The book is not sold on Amazon or the like and must be ordered from Wake-Robin Press ($85 hardback; $75 paperback).

In fifty chapters in eight parts, we first learn of Brock’s beginning in Columbus, Ohio; of his going to Princeton and on a voyage to India; being a Marine; and moving to Seattle to practice law in the early 1960s. The heart of the book covers Brock’s years as Pacific Northwest representative and Washington, DC, representative of the Sierra Club, as a vice-president of the National Audubon Society, and as head of the Endangered Species Coalition.

In Seattle, Brock came of age as one of the first and best professional conservationists to bless the Pacific Northwest. The legendary conservationist David Brower hired Brock as the Pacific Northwest representative of the Sierra Club, a job he held from 1967 to 1973. (My all-time favorite Brower quote: “Polite conservationists leave no mark, save scars upon the Earth that could have been avoided had they stood their ground.”)

During Brock’s tenure with the Sierra Club, he rallied tired warriors in Eugene trying to save French Pete, a low-elevation older forest near the South Fork McKenzie River that the Forest Service desperately wanted to log as much as conservationists desperately wanted to save it. He led the effort to keep those damn dams out of Hells Canyon. He was instrumental in the establishment of the North Cascades National Park and other protected areas.

Brock Goes to Washington (DC)

In 1973 Brock left Seattle to become head of the Sierra Club office in Washington, DC. That same year, I left Creswell High School to go on to Oregon State University (from which I dropped out in 1976). As Brock left the PNW before I started my conservation career during the Ford administration, our paths did not first cross in Oregon. However, they soon crossed in our nation’s capital.

I have a brain defect that means I almost never recall my first meeting with someone. Subsequently, whenever and wherever Brock and I met, we bonded over a mutual loathing of Oregon Republican US senator Mark Hatfield. Hatfield had some good qualities (opposition to the Vietnam War, support of civil rights, and such), but he was the most dangerous threat to old-growth forests and roadless areas who ever served in the US Senate. Yes, other senators mouthed more extreme positions, but Hatfield’s pseudo-moderatism coupled with his powerful position as chair of the Committee on Appropriations meant he made sure the money flowed for the Forest Service to road and clear-cut virgin forests and for the Corps of Engineers to dam(n) free-flowing streams across our state.

During the Nixon administration (1968–1974), Hatfield was a prime backer of the proposed National Timber Supply Act, while Brock was a prime attacker. Brock won. (See “National Forests: Timber Men vs. Conservationists,” a 1971 front-page story in the New York Times.)

In 1981, Brock left the Sierra Club to serve as vice president for national issues for the National Audubon Society, a post he held until 1996 (the year Hatfield retired, but who’s counting?).

The Wilderness Wars

Since the end of the second Forest Service roadless area review and evaluation (RARE II) in 1979, Congress had been trying to enact legislation in response to the agency recommendations (mostly to log and not to save). As expected, the 1979 Hatfield bill was downright awful. Representative Jim Weaver had much better legislation in the House of Representatives, and a stalemate emerged. A major point of contention was the so-called “release” language that meant that Forest Service roadless areas not designated as wilderness in that bill would be opened for unrestricted logging. The problem for Oregon conservationists was that the Forest Service was already logging roadless areas that Weaver (and even Hatfield) wanted in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Some Oregon conservation organizations (in particular, several Oregon Audubon chapters and the Oregon Natural Resources Council, now Oregon Wild) were threatening to bring litigation against the Forest Service for its illegal RARE II process, as Governor Jerry Brown had done to stop roadless area logging in California. It was a slam-dunk case. National conservation organizations including the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club were afraid of the political blowback of bringing such litigation, but Brock, like me, was more concerned about nature’s blowback if we did not. Old-growth forests in these roadless areas were being logged at a record pace. With the backing of those Oregon Audubon chapters, Brock went against his DC colleagues and received the wrath of certain senators and representatives by signing on the National Audubon Society as a plaintiff to the lawsuit.

The litigation not only succeeded but also forced Hatfield to accept more benign “sufficiency” language (which stated that roadless areas didn’t have to be considered again for wilderness designation by the agency until forest plans were revised). This paved the way for the Oregon Wilderness Act of 1984—and wilderness acts for nineteen other states (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) that year, protecting a total of 7.2 million acres (but who’s counting?).

The Pacific Northwest Forest War

This litigation thing had worked out well, and Pacific Northwest conservationists (represented by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, now Earthjustice; and the Western Environmental Law Center) were emboldened to file additional litigation in 1989 to stop the destruction of the habitat for the northern spotted owl, aka old-growth forests. At the peak of logging, three square miles of federal ancient forest in Oregon were being clear-cut each week. This resulted in the Northwest Forest War (some prefer the plural, but it seemed to me like overlapping do-or-die battles) and the nationalization of the Pacific Northwest ancient forests (aka the range of the northern spotted owl) as a political issue.

As before, most of my national colleagues in Washington, DC, were opposed to starting what they knew would be a war, as it would make more difficult their job of keeping a lid on things inside the Beltway. Though he had lived long in the Potomac watershed and worked in the political swamp that is Washington, DC, Brock was all-in on Pacific Northwest ancient forests. He led the Ancient Forest Alliance ca. 1988 to 1994. Litigation, attempts to legislate, advocacy, protest, and civil disobedience were all tools for endless pressure endlessly applied.

When most DC public lands lobbyists got a break, they were usually off to the Caribbean or some such place to disconnect not only from their work but also from what they worked for. Not Brock. Frankly, it was easier to be a DC lobbyist if one didn’t know too much or get too attached to the landscape. It’s harder to compromise on something one knows and loves. For his vacations, Brock would often be found in the Pacific Northwest visiting the forests at peril and networking with frontline activists. He also took many trips on company time, when it would have been easy enough to say that pressing business kept him in DC.

One such trip was to get arrested at the site of the Sugarloaf timber sale on the Siskiyou National Forest. It was a crazy time. According to the Christian Science Monitor, more than six hundred people had been arrested for such protests in the first half of 1996. As CSM staff writer Brad Knickerbocker reported:

Dressed in suits and ties, former congressman Jim Jontz and Audubon Society vice president Brock Evans were hauled before a magistrate (along with 200 others) for refusing to disperse at the Sugarloaf timber sale in Oregon. Businessman Gary Schrodt, who owns a small woods-products factory and mail-order business in Ashland, Ore., joined protesters. So did Dot Fisher-Smith, an elderly woman who locked herself to a log truck at the Croman Corporation headquarters in Ashland.

Knickerbocker failed to note that Evans had chosen in particular his Marine Corps tie to complete his suit of clothes. The tie was helpful later in the day as several of his jailers were ex-Marines. (It’s all in Brock’s book.)

Retirement to Next Great Things

In 1996 Brock retired from Audubon and went on to lead the Endangered Species Coalition during a decade in which the Endangered Species Act has never been under more threat. Brock did have to take some time off to beat a usually quite fatal form of cancer (it’s all in his book), but he found that endless pressure endlessly applied works on real cancer cells as in real politics.

A few years ago, Brock and his wife, Linda, escaped the bonds of Washington, DC, and retired to La Grande, Oregon, a grand habitat for a legendary public lands conservationist to live out his last years. Brock is still on the case, serving on the board of the Greater Hells Canyon Council, among other things.

This summer, when enough of us have been vaccinated, I’m going to get over to La Grande to see Brock. Of course, we’ll reminisce some, but we’ll also continue plotting some next great things. I will bring the Tanqueray™.

Thanks, Brock!

Source: Ellen Morris Bishop.

The photo above is of Ponderosa pine in the Lord Flat-Somers Point Wilderness Study Area within the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Three WSAs within the NRA were established in 1975 and must be administered by the Forest Service “so as not to preclude their possible future designation by the Congress as wilderness.” They almost became wilderness areas in 1986, but that’s another story.


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