Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Naming Wilderness After Hatfield is Wrong

By Andy Kerr

Column #36 - Go to next column

Length: 748 words

Published: 4 December 1997, Wallowa County Chieftain

Politicians love to name things after departing fellow politicians. They secretly desire the precedent for when they themselves ride off into the sunset, or are shot (electorally speaking) out of the saddle.

Late in 1996, with nary a word, Washington US senator Slade Gorton slipped a short provision into a lengthy bill which renamed the Columbia Wilderness on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge after his departing colleague, Mark Hatfield.

Hatfield already had four buildings named after him: the Oregon State University marine science center in Newport, Salem's Willamette University library, a shelter and housing project in downtown Portland, and a research center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. During this time, the fix was also in to name the new federal courthouse in Portland for Hatfield.

The main reason for naming these piles of bricks and mortar is that, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Hatfield delivered big piles of your tax dollars to these institutions. Nonetheless, honoring the senator for his efforts in education, research, health and welfare is appropriate.

The gray area is entered when the efforts turn to honoring Hatfield's achievements in the area of justice. It is ironic that a new courthouse would be named for Hatfield, a man who rammed through numerous measures to put the federal forest agencies above and outside the law by barring the courthouse door to citizens trying to save the salmon or to protect drinking water.

Renaming a Wilderness Area after the senator was beyond the gray and into the black. It is the height of hypocrisy.

The senator's love of wilderness was directly proportional to his efforts for re-election or, at the end, an attempt to leave his version of his history on the environment. Major forest wilderness bills passed in Oregon in 1972, 1978 and 1984. It is no coincidence Hatfield stood for re-election each of these years.

The six-year cycle was broken in 1990 after environmentalists won legal victories on behalf of forests and future generations, and against the timber industry and the status quo.

Hatfield built a very successful political career as a pacifist timber beast. He may have favored peace on Earth, but he was at war with the Earth. No politician did more to raise public land logging levels to unsustainable levels.

Hatfield re-inflamed the forest war in 1996 by passing the salvage logging rider that has allowed much healthy ancient forest to be clearcut at the expense of salmon, drinking water and the taxpayer.

It would have been more appropriate to rename some giant clearcut after the departed senator. Tragically, there is no shortage of former forests that could be named for him.

I've known, studied and battled Hatfield on forests for 25 years. While he had some redeeming features as a politician (Vietnam comes immediately to mind), he was at best ambivalent about the environment. Here is a man who personally believes Wilderness to be a waste, and only worked to protect it when it benefited his election chances.

Or his place in history. As one of his last official acts, Hatfield did save Opal Creek, some of the best low-elevation ancient forest left anywhere. Perhaps he did it because he loved Opal Creek. It was an unfinished promise that he had been unable to fulfill several times earlier. Most likely, it was an attempt to mitigate his horrendous record of stump-making.

If Hatfield had integrity as the limelight faded, he would have declined the Wilderness honor.

Most Wilderness Areas have been named for its most prominent natural feature. A few have honored great, and departed, wilderness advocates such has the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. Marshall was the founder of The Wilderness Society and Church was a US Senator from Idaho, whose support of Wilderness helped defeat him in his last election. At least these great Wildernesses are measured in millions of acres, while the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness fittingly weighs in at 0.04 million acres.

Hatfield had the smarts to retire in 1996, knowing he probably couldn't win again, in large part for his appalling record of forest destruction.

The Postal Service has a policy to wait at least five years after someone's death before they consider immortalizing such with a stamp. It gives the citizenry time to pause and reflect on whether such an honor is warranted. The process is also public.

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