by Legal Intern Kat Fiedler
This week I am wrapping up my legal internship with Cascadia Wildlands. I have spent my summer conducting legal research and drafting memos and litigation documents across the scope of Cascadia’s work. While much of my time was spent in the legal weeds, the breadth of issues left me with a snapshot of the threats that the wild places and wildlife face throughout Cascadia and a better understanding of the legal tools we have to stop them. My work has included challenging timber sales that threaten wildlife, water quality, and general ecosystem health, strengthening or preserving wildlife protections for both marbled murrelets and wolves, and strategizing over the faulty legal structure governing suction dredge mining in the state of Washington. I was also able to observe many of the administrative procedures that underlie much of the decision making surrounding our wild places.
Exploring these places was, of course, a highlight of the summer. In June, I joined Cascadia Wildlands’ Executive Director Josh Laughlin, Wildlands Campaign Director Robin Meacher, and a number of Cascadia members on a hike into the 30,500-acre proposed Devils Staircase wilderness down to the namesake waterfall in the Oregon Coast Range. The experience was incredible. Having to navigate and bushwhack through such an untouched place provides a much different experience. It’s hard, and it’s worth it. Nothing can be taken for granted. It is impossible to ignore the thickets of underbrush that grab at your ankles, or the call of an owl when you stop to catch your breath, or the sunlight punching through the canopy illuminating a pink rhododendron. We reached the Devils Staircase bruised, sweaty, and happy – ready for the refreshing water. And it was all ours for the afternoon. The forest gifted us salmonberries on the final stretch home.
But even our forests marred by a matrix of ownership and scars of our state’s timber history somehow feel equally alive. That’s the beauty of Oregon, of Cascadia. I explored the Elliott State Forest, located just south of Devil’s Staircase, and learned about its imperfect history, but also the current threat of privatization. This place, too, was rich. In just a few hours, hiking along an elk trail, we spotted a bear, heard the call of owls, stepped over cougar scat, and gazed up into the canopies of legacy Douglas firs. The Elliott is not disposable.
This place is what I call home, and it has been an enormous privilege to work to protect it alongside the amazing folks at Cascadia Wildlands. I will finish up my studies at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies this next year, and look forward to returning home to start my career continuing this work protecting our wild and public lands.
(Elliott State Forest photo by Tim Giraudier)