For this installment of The Way We Work we reached out to Alex Brown, Executive Director of Bark and a good friend of Crag’s. Bark works with the community to protect the Mt. Hood National Forest, providing training and resources for activists looking to fight for preserving an incredible natural environment. A member organization of the Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition, Bark is working to prevent Nestlé from building a bottling plant in the Columbia Gorge. The multi-national corporation plans to bottle and sell Oregon’s public spring water, which would threaten vital water resources that support threatened steelhead trout and other species. Crag is leading the legal fight against Nestlé.
Tell us a little bit about your background, how did you get into environmental conservation? What inspires you about your work?
I grew up in Portland, OR, and like many Portlanders I spent some time hiking and camping in our beautiful forests, but mostly just came to appreciate being surrounded by evergreen hills. My first year of college took me to the east coast in 1995, the same year that Senator Wyden passed the infamous Salvage Rider that suspended environmental laws for logging in our national forests.
I missed home—the trees, the rain, the mountains—and when I transferred to the University of Oregon, it was natural to enroll in the budding environmental studies program. That’s when I discovered that our national forests are not “reserves” like when they were first created under President Roosevelt, but instead open for the timber industry.
It didn’t take long for me to plug into local activist efforts to protect national forests. By 1999, I found myself in a tree-sit, protesting the Eagle Creek Timber Sales in Mt. Hood National Forest and by 2002 I was organizing gateway communities around Mt. Hood to support increased Wilderness protections.
What inspires me about my work? It’s the right thing to do.
In your opinion, what makes Mt. Hood National Forest so important to protect? What are your biggest concerts for Mt. Hood N.F. in the coming years?
Mt. Hood National Forest is critical because if we can maintain a functioning ecosystem this close to a growing urban population, then we can do it anywhere. Unfortunately, the forest plan guiding management of Mt. Hood was written in 1990, and the Forest Service is still prioritizing logging like they were after World War II, when the modern timber sale program was created to supply wood to our growing nation. We need to bring the Forest Service into the 21st century.
Bark has an impressive track record of engaging in grassroots organizing to secure protections for Mt. Hood National Forest. What is Bark’s approach to achieving its goals and how is your approach different from other organizations with similar goals?
Bark’s approach prioritizes empowering activists with the skills and knowledge needed to make a difference in how their forests are managed. The environmental movement relies on strong laws that were mostly written during the Nixon administration. We need communities who have the ability to demand that environmental laws are made stronger, not weaker. I often refer to forest conservation as the “gateway activism” for new Portlanders. Bark likes it when we train volunteers and they help us protect Mt. Hood, but we also like knowing that the skills that we teach people are being used to make all of our communities stronger.
How did Bark first come to work with Crag?
The first time Crag Law Center represented Bark was to challenge the Polallie-Cooper Timber Sales in the historic Tilly Jane roadless area on the North Slope of Mt. Hood. The Forest Service planned logging and road building that would have complemented a proposed 450-unit destination resort proposed by Mt. Hood Meadows’ parent company. We won the challenge; and since then the Cooper Spur Wild and Free Coalition has continued to move forward protections for the North Slope of Mt. Hood that will result in permanent protections for this backcountry gem.
More recently, Crag has represented Bark and Food and Water Watch in challenging a transfer of public water to the City of Cascade Locks, for the sole purpose of facilitating a Nestle bottling plant in the Columbia River Gorge.
How has Crag helped Bark in achieving your conservation goals?
Crag’s legal representation is second-to-none. The lawyers at Crag Law Center are as professional as it gets and their internship programs are a real bonus for clients, since we often receive a legal team, and not just one attorney! Bark cannot afford to pay market rate for attorneys, especially not for the quality of representation we get from Crag Law Center. Simply put, without Crag Law Center, Bark’s work to protect and restore Mt. Hood National Forest would be not be as effective as it is.