He found spotted owls; the agency ignored them

  • Peter Galvin examines stump of 400-year-old ponderosa pine

    Robin Silver photo

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Peter Galvin: "I had cancer when I was 15, and it very much changed my life. I had been captain of my junior varsity basketball team, but after that, things just changed. I didn't want to go out and get drunk on Friday night. I had a sense that I didn't have an unlimited amount of time, and that I wanted to make my life count for something. I ended up going to private school for my last two years of high school and got exposed to a lot of interesting things - activism.

"Later, working for the Forest Service was a real eye-opening experience. I got to see the underside of the agency. We would find spotted owls and report them, and then the Forest Service would not set up a territory for them. I was getting paid to look for those owls, so I had some obligation in the winter when they were planning the timber sales to follow up and see what was happening. So we started appealing all the timber sales we were surveying in the summer.

"It was so transformative, learning that there was so much wilderness left. The giant trees. The firs. The pines. And seeing spotted owls. It's a really powerful experience to be awake all night - with the elk bugling. One night I got swooped by a great horned owl, so that I had to dive down on the ground.

"I got to talk to a lot of Forest Service people, who told us the truth. One admitted that all the steep-slope logging they'd been doing had been because they felt guilty that the contractor had bought one of those machines for steep-slope logging. There was just this rambling human factor and you realize that how these decisions get made sometimes is just crazy. We'd talk to a bunch of old-timers, who would just say that they didn't believe they should log any more old growth, lamenting how diminished the forest was.

"This epoch we're living in, it's like an apocalypse, and we're in it. The sense of urgency that the wildlife is dying. That's the single most important thing, that sense of history.

"So many decisions get made that are unjust, that end up destroying the environment, the wildlife and the plants and stuff. They need advocates. It's the way our society works. I decided from an early age: I'm going to be an advocate for plants and wildlife. You've got advocates for everything else, but who's going to advocate for the plants and animals - the loach minnow, and the spikedace, the riffle beetle, and the water umbels?"

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