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It's Your Oregon: Paul Dewey

How did Paul Dewey, a lawyer trained on the East coast and raised in Southwest Kansas, become an early legal champion in Oregon’s environmental movement? It all began in the 1980’s on a horse ranch near Sisters.

How did Paul Dewey, a lawyer trained on the East coast and raised in Southwest Kansas, become an early legal champion in Oregon’s environmental movement? It all began in the 1980’s on a horse ranch near Sisters.

Taking care of the ranch for a friend, Paul came to learn of the pressures threatening the area’s unique natural resources. A developer was laying plans to channel a river for hydro-electricity, while the Forest Service issued clear-cutting permits to loggers in the same area. “That just didn’t make any kind of sense to me,” Paul recalls: “Put a natural river in a pipe and then cut down all the trees around it? So I put on my suit and went in to the Forest Service to fight the permit.”

Paul won that battle, and never looked back on his path in environmental law.

Decades later, Paul continues to share OEC’s appreciation – and concern – for the wildlife, ecosystems and landscapes of rural areas and their vulnerability to development.  “My greatest fear is the continuing fragmentation of the landscape,” says Paul. “It’s critical, as the population grows, to leave large blocks of forest, range and farmland intact. Because once it’s gone it’s gone forever.”

Oregon’s unique landscapes may inspire a feeling of independence in a lone traveler, but Paul sees clearly how our state’s resource lands are linked to a global economy. Local farmers and foresters find it hard to compete with global imports, fueled by oil, with the true costs disguised. Where farms and forests struggle, real estate development encroaches.  “Our land use laws may slow the encroachment down, but each succeeding generation sees the erosion of what has been before.  Making sure our local farms and forests stay economically healthy is the best thing we can do to make sure our state stays healthy.”

Paul is encouraged by the in-roads that OEC has made in partnering with other conservation groups and citizen advocates. He’s particularly impressed with the work we’ve done to encourage mass transit as an alternative to building more roads. “Trains, buses and walking” says Paul, “what a concept!” He also sees hope as people adopt sustainability as a household concept. “Sometimes the word sustainability gets morphed into a marketing tool,” Paul cautions. “But at least we’ve started the ball rolling in that direction. We’ve got people thinking.”

It’s been many decades since Paul left the treeless plains of southwestern Kansas for Oregon, but he continues to be enchanted by the state’s broad range of unique ecosystems. “Like the Metolius. There are so many spring-fed rivers, it’s almost like a West-side environment on the East side. The Siskiyous are another example. You can find the Southernmost reaches of a Northern plant species there, and the Northern-most reaches of a Southern species. It’s a true wonderland, and I’m proud to call Oregon home.”

 
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