Spring '97 Issue 1
One Man's Antidote for Salem
Socially Responsible Business Practices, Salem Style
Here's My Beef
"EarthSave" Salem Chapter
WE (Willamette Eco-Alliance) Has Arrived
A Return To The Garden - Nature, The Divine Healer
Opal Creek Preserved
Leadership From A Pure Heart
Transformation - The Way Through
Salem Spring Without Allergies
Wallamet Valley Environmental Center Invites Your Energy
Opal Creek Preserved by Michael Donnelly
Opal Creek, the spectacular waterway of ancient forest and mighty waterfalls that meets with Battle Ax Creek to form the Little North Fork Santiam River (the only undammed native salmon and steelhead river left in the entire Willamette River system) is saved!
New Wilderness After 12 Years
Setting The Stage
Enter George Atiyeh. He and his cousins grew up spending Summers at the old mining camp at Jawbone Flats, in the center of the spectacular Opal Creek wilderness. He grew to love the area while spending his youth with Grandpa Jim Hewitt, father-in-law of George’s uncle, former Oregon Governor Vic Atiyeh. Young George dedicated himself to protecting Opal Creek. When he returned from special forces combat in Viet Nam, he began a tireless campaign to hold off Forest Service plans to log and road the area.
In 1980, Dave “Chainsaw” Alexander became District Ranger of the Detroit Ranger District and vowed he would “cut Opal Creek.” In late 1981, the Forest Service placed clearcut boundary markers on the giants of Opal Creek and surveyed the p-line for the road. Things were heating up.
A Successful Campaign
Dave Alexander responded by threatening to arrest George and me for “felony destruction of government property.” We said, “Please do. You plan eleven miles of roads and 1800 acres of clearcuts in there and we’re the ones destroying government property by creating a footpath?” We could see the headlines. It was just the sort of public attention we were hoping for. The 6’8” Paul Bunyan-esque ranger was a bully, but he wasn’t stupid. The arrests never came.
A State Senate Bill to designate Opal Creek as a state park also came to a hearing in early 1989. A multi-media slide show on Opal Creek was shown at the state capitol in support. Also in ‘89, Brock Evans, now Vice President of the Audubon Society, helped produce the Audubon special “Rage Over Trees,” narrated by Paul Newman, bringing national exposure to Opal Creek. Ted Turner showed it six times without commercials on his network, because industry succeeded in gaining an advertiser boycott.
In 1990, David Seideman’s excellent book “Showdown at Opal Creek” and Trygue Steen’s magnificent photo essays brought even more national attention to the area. In 1994, Oregon Representative Mike Kopetski succeeded in getting his Opal Creek Bill through the House only to see it die for lack of a Senate champion.
The End Game
In the end, Hatfield’s bill got better. A proposed 59,000-acre public lands transfer to the Coquille tribe for logging was scaled back to 5,400 acres and those lands are subject to Option 9 (for whatever that’s worth). A two-year moratorium on cutting and a study of the Little Sandy watershed was gained. Hatfield even appropriated $750,000 to haul some disputed 1930’s mine tailings out of the watershed.
It’s not all roses, however. There is still a gaping hole in the watershed along Big Cedar Creek, site of a proposed copper mine. But, by and large, it has to be seen as a major victory.
We also need to keep Opal Creek from being loved to death. An estimated 50,000 people visited this year. If you can help with trail work and other methods of lessening human impact, contact: Friends of Opal Creek (503) 897-2921 or Friends of the Breitenbush Cascades (503) 585-8551.
Michael Donnelly lives in Salem with his family. This article first appeared in The Oregon PeaceWorker and is reprinted by permission.
Site updated Spring 2010