If you lived in Eugene in the ’90s you may recall the days of environmental activists chaining themselves to trees. You may have even been one of those activists so passionate about stopping the timber industry from clearcutting old-growth forests that you would put yourself between a bulldozer and a tree.
Cascadia Wildlands’ founders were there on the frontlines, blocking a road for 343 days to prevent logging at Warner Creek, outside of Oakridge, to save the forest that had been set alight by arsonists.
Cascadia Wildlands, originally Cascadia Wildlands Project, is coming up on 25 years of wildlife advocacy, and while they no longer tree-sit for weeks or months or block forest roads, that doesn’t mean they aren’t mobilizing change.
“Cascadia Wildlands has built a solid reputation state-wide and regionally,” attorney Susan Jane Brown says. “That’s not the case for a lot of conservation organizations.” Brown and Cascadia Wildlands first executive director James Johnston were recently appointed to the Northwest Forest Plan federal advisory committee, which gives recommendations on landscape management approaches for National Forest lands in the Northwest Forest Plan area “to promote sustainability, climate change adaptation, and wildfire resilience.”
The environmental nonprofit began in 1998 as a group of environmentalists and activists who saw how timber companies had decimated Oregon forests and wanted to make a change.
What began as protesting and tree-sitting turned into a full-blown nonprofit specializing in advocacy, education, outreach and litigation.
“We have a really unique ability to influence the management of public land, which has really been the bread and butter of Cascadia Wildlands since its founding,” says Executive Director Josh Laughlin.
Laughlin, who got his start in environmental activism as the editor of the Earth First! Journal, has been with Cascadia Wildlands since the beginning and has seen the nonprofit literally and figuratively grow from the ground up. He says there’s “a number of things” that he is proud of being a part of at Cascadia Wildlands, including being a founding member of the Pacific Wolf Coalition that has brought back a dense population of gray wolves in the Pacific Northwest.
Laughlin says, “We have literally stopped hundreds of thousands of acres of egregious timber sales over the years through grassroots organizing and litigation campaigns.”
These victories include but aren’t limited to: spending over a decade working to protect the 30,000 acre Devil’s Staircase Wilderness, and saving 2,000 acres of the Willamette National Forest from being logged in the Flat Country timber sale.
Former board member and longtime supporter of Cascadia Wildlands Tim Ream says of the group’s work, “It’s all very frustrating because we really shouldn’t have to be suing the government to make them follow the law, but more often than not the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are catering to the interests of the timber industry.”
Brown, who has worked on a number of litigation campaigns as Cascadia Wildlands’ attorney, says she has witnessed the government turn a blind eye to forest protection. Brown recalls some of the work they’ve done in post-fire litigation not always working out in favor of the environment. “We’ve had some hard losses in the past, too, and that always hurts, but you know it has been just a really interesting 25 years.”
In addition to going after timber sales and protecting wildlife, Cascadia Wildlands has also advocated for climate-change focused causes like stopping the Jordan Cove pipeline connecting Canada to the Rockies and using Oregon as a passage.
“When anybody with a serious look to the future thinks about environmental values, they have to think about climate change,” Ream says.
Laughlin says he recognizes that Cascadia Wildlands has a duty to now look through a climate change lens with every future campaign. “Twenty-five years ago we had a lot less of an understanding of the implications of climate change,” Laughlin says. “If we as a global population don’t deal with climate change, all our work for wild salmon, old growth forests etc. will be all forgotten, which is why we will continue protecting our old growth forests.”