Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Evans recites frontlines tales

Never give up, trailblazing conservationist tells colleagues

Express Staff Writer

Longtime environmental activist Brock Evans advised fellow conservationists meeting here Saturday to know their facts and never give up in their efforts to protect wild places.

Evans, former director of the Sierra Club?s Northwest office, spoke at the annual meeting of the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs. The three-day convention was held at Camp Sawtooth, a Presbyterian Church camp along the North Fork of the Big Wood River, north of Ketchum.

Evans entered environmental politics in the early 1960s, when logging and mining ruled the public lands and conservationists were uncertain and unorganized.

?My whole career has been fighting tough battles against tough odds,? Evans said. ?I can recite lost cause after lost cause that we turned into victories.?

Currently recovering from bone marrow cancer, he credited that experience with giving him the ability to fight a disease that doctors told him was incurable.

Evans said he became politically involved in 1964 after joining The Mountaineers outdoor club in Seattle, where he had moved from the East to take a job with a law firm. After taking a few trips with the club in the Washington Cascades, he became furious at the uncontrolled logging there. After working for a while as a volunteer, he was appointed at age 27 to represent the Sierra Club in the Northwest, Northern Rockies and Alaska. He said his appointment was by default more than anything else, since no one else knew anything about politics.

?All the time I was scared to death,? he said. ?There was so much going on and I didn?t know what to do, I just knew I cared. The early lesson I learned was that you just have to speak up.?

At one point, he said, he traveled to Washington, D.C., in response to a proposal to build a dam in the Grand Canyon. He said Sierra Club President David Brower told him, ?Get out there and lobby?stop dams on the Grand Canyon!?

?How do you lobby?? Evans asked.

?I don?t know,? Brower responded. ?Just get out there and do it.?

And so, Evans told the audience, ?it was on the road, on the road, on the road.?

He said that perhaps the turning point in the environmental movement was the effort to save French Pete Creek, one of only three large valleys left in the Oregon Cascades that had not been logged.

?Every place was going to be logged that had trees in it,? he said. ?We were reviled for daring to suggest that perhaps we shouldn?t log all of it. I started to see French Pete Creek as the Verdun of the timber industry in Oregon.?

Evans said everyone involved said the Forest Service had made the decision in 1957 to go ahead and allow logging there--that there was nothing to be done about it. But he said he convinced a few people to at least try.

?From that commitment flowed many things,? Evans said. ?It was a way to show how greedy the timber industry was?they wanted everything.?

He said activists managed to get proposed timber sales in French Pete Creek postponed until the National Environmental Policy Act was passed in 1968 and conservation-oriented Bob Packwood was elected to the U.S. Senate.

?As the thing dragged on, the tide slowly started to turn,? he said. But it wasn?t until 1978?21 years after the effort had begun?that French Pete was added to the Sisters Wilderness.

?Given the odds against us, and the way people felt about the certainty of a timber sale, I think it was a stunning victory,? he said.

Evans said construction of a dam in Hells Canyon was considered by most people to be equally inevitable. The only question was who was going to build it?a public power company or a private one. That question, he said, was being argued in the U.S. Supreme Court. But the court sent the case back to a lower court, telling it to first rule that a dam could be built at all.

?Here we raised the banner that a dam wasn?t a done deal?it wasn?t hopeless. We were challenging a big Northwest dam for the first time. It was heresy?nobody knew what a wild river was and everybody knew that a dam was a good thing.?

Evans said the Sierra Club intervened in the case and demanded public hearings.

?We knew we were going to lose,? he said, ?but we gathered some amazing evidence.?

They did lose, and the judge allowed construction of a dam?but he postponed that permission for three years pending resolution of proposed legislation to protect the area. In 1975, the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area was created and the dam was stopped.

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