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George Atiyeh

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One of the great environmentalist heroes of recent decades is George Atiyeh. Nephew of the last Republican governor of Oregon Vic Atiyeh, this former logger bucked the industry and made a life crusade to protect the Opal Creek Wilderness. Much of this seems to have burned in the recent fires. The importance of Opal Creek cannot be overstated. This lowland virgin forest was one of the last large standing ancient forests in the Northwest. It is absolutely beautiful. It was also home to the endangered spotted owl. And it was on the chopping block in the 80s. Atiyeh’s grassroots campaign not only gained national attention, making him a pariah among his neighbors in the appropriately named Mill City. He also won. In the years since, Opal Creek has become a huge tourist attraction (the main trail is actually way too crowded; I tend to go to the rugged upland trail that basically leads nowhere interesting except to more beautiful forest and a few views of Mt. Jefferson).

Atiyeh is probably dead from the Beachie Creek Fire. He refused to leave his home on the edge of the wilderness. He probably chose to die defending the area for which he dedicated his life. He is in his 70s and may have just made that choice. He’s missing in any case. I don’t know how much of Opal Creek is left and there is little that depresses me more than the loss of this gem. Knowing that it probably took Atiyeh makes me all the more sad. A true hero and fighter for our last wild places.

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