Senator Hatfield’s Forest Legacy

Oregon’s longest-serving senator, Mark Hatfield, died yesterday at 89. As a youngster, I remember my mother campaigning for Hatfield in his first election to the U.S. Senate (1967), notwithstanding her life-time Democratic Party affiliation. As Oregon’s governor, Hatfield had opposed the Vietnam War, and that was enough to earn my mom’s support. Later, as an adult, I got my own chance to see him at work.

The first time was during the Mapleton litigation, circa 1982. My employer, the National Wildlife Federation, sought to reform logging practices in the steep and erosion-prone Oregon Coast Range. For a generation, the Forest Service had paid little heed to its own scientists who warned that clearcut logging and roadbuilding would accelerate mass wasting and landslides. When environmental disclosure documents fabricated erosion calculations, we sued and won a court injunction stopping timber sales on the Mapleton Ranger District. Throughout the lawsuit and its aftermath, I made it a point to stay in constant contact with Senator Hatfield natural resources staff. Sure enough, the Senator used his Appropriations Committee chairmanship to attach a rider that allowed buy-back timber sales (sales returned to the government due to purchaser speculative bidding) to go forward, notwithstanding the court’s order. It was a measured legislative response (we had not sought to stop these sales in the first instance) to the beginnings of an inexorable reformation in Coast Range logging practices.

A couple years later, Hatfield presided over a fractured Oregon delegation as it passed the 1984 Oregon Wilderness Bill. His office vetted every roadless area included in the bill, which, among other things, gave Siuslaw coastal rainforests their first (and, so far, only) wilderness protection.

Although Hatfield did not have any great interest in forest or environmental policy — his scope was much broader — his last act as a legislator was the protection of Opal Creek’s ancient forests.

In today’s era when many elected officials seem less leaders than supplicants, Hatfield stood tall as a true Oregon statesman.

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