Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

A Weekly Exploration of Federal Public Lands

The intent of this Public Lands blog is to each week give the reader a ~750-word exposition on some aspect of federal or state public lands in the United States. Some weeks you will a find a piece that goes rather deep and serves as a useful (I hope) backgrounder on particular areas, matters or issues surrounding public lands. Other weeks, you’ll find a topical piece addressing a public lands controversy of the moment.

The rest of this maiden column summarizes why I’m qualified to write it.

I started my professional conservation career during the Ford Administration. I dropped out Oregon State University to work on making Forest Service roadless areas part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. At the time, I thought it would take a few years and then I’d do something else with my life. Going on 62, I’m still trying to figure out what to do when I grow up.

In 1976, I went to work for what was then called Oregon Wilderness Coalition, later called Oregon Natural Resources Council and now is known as Oregon Wild and is best known for having brought you the northern spotted owl.

At the time, I was one of four wilderness zealots in need of some official-looking stationery to confer legitimacy. I started out as its Western Oregon Field Coordinator, later becoming its Conservation Director and ending as Oregon Wild’s executive director.

We started working on Forest Service wilderness, but soon expanded out into wilderness on all federal public lands in Oregon, wild and scenic rivers, stopping dams, protecting riparian areas, conserving endangered species and—getting the most notoriety on—saving old-growth forests.

In 1996, after 20 years on the front line, I had a mid-life crisis. As mid-life crises never come at a good time, I’d actually tried to schedule mine in 1992 for 1993, when I was 37 years old and, I thought, statistically half way through my life.

As 1993 was the year that President Clinton and half his cabinet came to Portland to try to solve the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Wars—something that I had a significant role in creating and executing—events were not then conducive to provoking a mid-life crisis.

In 1996, I did finally have that mid-life crisis. I’d watched other colleagues burn out and knew it was likely for me as well. When I left the full-time employ of Oregon Wild in July of 1996, I was 41.7 years old, which according to IRS IRA actuarial tables, I had a statistical probability of living another 41.7 years. (In 1993, I’d erred by calculating the half-life expectancy at birth. Having not died in childhood, my life expectancy was longer.)

I’d had a very good run, having gotten far more than my allocated 15 minutes of fame (or infamy, depending upon your point of view). I received more than my due of public attention in re the clearcutting of Pacific Northwest old-growth forests because, at the peak of the timber wars, I had a dozen publicists. They weren’t on my payroll, but the timber industry’s. I’d grown up in timber country and went to school with the children of loggers, mill workers and mill owners. We had family friends who owned logging companies and lumber mills with business models of liquidating old-growth forests on federal public lands. They were personally offended that a native Oregonian would work for their demise and they made sure to demonize me. (Don’t tell anyone, but you are only has powerful as your enemies make you.)

As mid-life crises go, mine was mild. After all, I had not wasted the first half of my life selling widgets for IBM.

I reinvented myself to become a freelance environmental agitator for public lands. I wrote two books on Oregon public lands and numerous articles. I consult for various conservation organizations in Oregon and elsewhere in the American West. My specialties are all things public lands in Oregon, greater sage-grouse and facilitating the voluntary retirement of federal grazing permits through the American West.

As of 2015, have been involved with the establishment or expansion of 46 Wilderness Areas and 47 Wild and Scenic Rivers, 13 congressionally legislated special management areas, 15 Oregon Scenic Waterways, and one proclaimed national monument. Others are in the works.

The American author Edward Abbey said, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.” The same is true of public lands. This blog will not only defend, but also extol, public lands.