Hatfield Recounts Final Negotiation to Protect Opal Creek

(Speech given by Senator Mark O. Hatfield February 5, 2004 at Opal Creek 5th Anniversary Luncheon, Portland, OR)

Former Sen. Mark Hatfield (photo courtesy L. Gauthier)I’m delighted to be here, and I want to say that I’m very privileged to be offered a microphone when I reached the age of 80. You don’t want to offer a microphone to an older person without limitations, but they have also been informed that I have to catch a plane, so I’ll be brief and to the point.

I’m not sure I have really been in a room at any time in my political life where there was such an array of distinguished fighters, statespeople who have been bound together for a common purpose, as I have seen here today. And I have known many of you over the years who have been fighters for Opal Creek.

This has been, of course, a national treasure that had to be protected. And it was worthy of your support, worthy of your perseverance, and all of these factors have made it a reality.

I remember the first time that I was privileged to go to Opal Creek, and I drew that fresh air from the forest into my lungs. And I can still remember standing in front of that great towering tree, called “Governor Gibbs.”

I’m still trying to figure out how you got the name “Gus” because his name was not “Gus” but Addison C. Gibbs.* He was our second governor, and I might say he followed our first governor who was a sympathizer with the south and who refused to raise troops for Abraham Lincoln. But Mr. Gibbs became our first Republican governor and he led the battle in raising troops to fight the South.

I could see there was a political implication, that there had to be a precedent set and a precedent followed.

I want to also say that my impression very much coincided with Mr. Seideman, who wrote that Opal Creek and logging in Opal Creek would be defiling a church.

As we all know, Opal Creek represents one of the western Oregon’s last remaining intact low elevation old growth areas. But it is much more than that. It is a powerful symbol to so many, to so many of you. It is an inspiration. It is a place of educational and spiritual renewal and exploration. To walk among the centuries old fir, hemlock and cedar inspires tremendous awe and instills, I think, a perspective of life itself.

Helen, you were one of the stalwarts and you fought for preserving Opal Creek for many years. You have not only been the grand dame of Opal Creek but you’ve been one of the great visionaries.

I want to also say we’d reached a point of ground zero, ground zero for the great timber debates that raged here in the Northwest in the 1980s. I think that part of the history of Opal Creek are those debates between Tom Hirons and George Atiyeh. It stretches and is considered a major part of our major history of Opal Creek.

I think of Mike Kopetski in 1984 who made a bold move in the House of Representatives to legislate protection for this area but ran out of time in the process and procedures of working with the Senate and the House together.

In my view the issues that spark fierce local controversy like Opal Creek are best resolved by federal legislation only through local consensus and a base of support from the local areas. We did our best to obtain local consensus but it eluded us for well over a decade. Opal Creek provisions were made from the 1984 Wilderness bill we introduced in the Senate, the 1988 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that we introduced in 1989, and at the request of the governor, both times on those two bills both times a request to eliminate Opal Creek.

Part of the building of consensus. We found that there were too many states and too many governors who were supportive of parks programs. We weren’t going to force on the appropriations process on a state that didn’t want a program established for part of their state. So there were those impediments that came along the way.

In 1995, another angle, another approach. That is, we’ll set up a working group of all interested people. Even after six months with an aid of a professional mediator, the group failed to reach agreement.

Each failure was a learning experience. I think my years of public service and as a father of four I’ve learned patience. It does not come naturally to me. But I’ve learned another thing, and that is that patience only goes so far. And in 1996 was a time to act.

Some have often asked, well, why did you do it in the last year of your Senate career? I wanted to see it done. I indicated that in 1984 and 1989, and so consequently I knew this was the time to act before I had to leave the service.

Now let me just say it takes of course it takes many people cooperating in the legislative process. The House and Senate have to act together some time to agree. I remember we were in one of those interesting periods of times about 1:30 a.m. in the morning. I was sitting at one end of a log tables in the office of Sen. Trent Lott’s majority leader’s office in the Capitol. I was looking down at the other end there sat Newt Gingrich the Speaker of the House, there sat Trent Lott, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and there sat Leon Panetta, President Clinton’s chief of staff.

At that point in time, a man named Dick Armey who was the Majority Leader of the House, Republican Majority Leader, had left the scene because he had already accomplished all of his activities that he was interested in. And he had successfully up to this time far blocked anything, any action on a parks bill of which Opal Creek was then a part.

So Leon Panneta was acting as sort of a chair of the group and he said now we come up to the parks division. Now this was an omnibus bill, this was a bill of many parts, and it meant that any one part that failed or was not agreed to, all the bill would fail. So consequently there was high pressure, high tension.

And at that time Leon Panetta said I think we ought to take up the parks bill, and my view is it should be deleted in order to get the omnibus appropriations bill through. Newt Gingrich said yes indeed. He said we can’t let that stop our progress in the appropriations process. We didn’t want another continuing resolution or to shut the government down. We’d already been down that road. And of course Trent Lott said, “I move that we delete the appropriations bill on parks.”

And I felt that timing in politics is everything. And I had waited. I been there for about three hours going through the rest of the bill. And I felt this was a propitious moment.

And I said, “May I speak to that motion?” I said, “If that motion passes I can assure you that I’ll bring the entire bill down.”

And they knew I had announced my retirement. They knew I had nothing to lose. And so there was silence. Not often had I been in that kind of a company and had silence, believe me.

I might say the first chapter of that was when Dick Armey was in the room. He said, “That bill will not go anywhere with that with Opal Creek in it because we do not put in bills the projects that are not supported by the legislature,” by the legislator from that district. And as you remember there was a certain legislator who was a member of the house at that time and he had put the thumbs down on Opal Creek.

So we had that impediment. Thank goodness Dick Armey was no longer there.

But as we sat there, and they saw that I was serious and so on and so forth. And finally Newt Gingrich — and I want you all to understand this: there are good things that some people do in spite of what you may think of them — Newt Gingrich said, “I think that we have your message, and it stays.”

Well, that ended the whole cabal, and we signed off and we had Opal Creek at that point.

I want to just now say though, that it had not just the moment that we’re thinking of Opal Creek in our history past, but it’s in what we have ahead that we have to look at. I think we have to all know and realize that this Opal Creek has been preserved, it has been set aside.

And I might say all during that time 1984 and 1989 and up to 1996, I had a commitment from the Forest Service that they would do no logging in Opal Creek, no logging in that interim until we could find our ability to legislate some kind of a decision.

So as we look at it now, it requires the continuation of your commitment, the continuation of your support. Because trails have to be repaired. Artifacts have to be protected. Crowds that want to experience Opal Creek must be managed with great care.

And I think a significant objective of Friends of Opal Creek working with the US Forest Service and the Opal Creek Federal Advisory Committee must be helping to strike that fine balance between loving Opal Creek and not loving it too much; to not take actions to make sure it’s preserved, protected, even if you have to come to a point as we are beginning to face in some of our national parks of limiting access because we have to control those numbers.

It seems to me that you have inspired each other during your time of existence. You have convinced everyone you’ve contacted and the groups at the local area, that Opal Creek is in good hands, responsible hands, your hands.

And I want to thank you for convening this luncheon and giving me the opportunity to share these remarks.

* Note: Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center referred to the 800-year-old Douglas fir as the “Guts Gibbs” tree, about 1/4 mile inside the Opal Creek gate, in tribute to Gov. Gibbs courage in supporting the Union in the Civil War.

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