Why I Fight For Our Forests: Earthjustice's Kristen Boyles

Q & As with attorney Kristen Boyles, who works to protect our nation's forests and their critical natural resources and wildlife.

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(This is the first in a series of Q & As with Earthjustice staff who work to protect our nation’s forests and their critical natural resources and wildlife. The Obama administration’s recently proposed planning rule for our national forests may leave our waters and wildlife in peril. Kristen Boyles is a staff attorney in Earthjustice’s Northwest office in Seattle.)

EJ: Tell us about your work to protect forested areas in the U.S.

KB: One of my first cases when I came to Earthjustice in 1993 (then called the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) focused on the six “salmon” national forests in Idaho—the Boise, Challis, Nez Perce, Payette, Salmon, and Sawtooth—and getting them to adopt consistent, protective standards for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. A large part of the wonder of learning about those fish and forests stays with me even today—that salmon, these salt-water, ocean-cruising sea creatures, swim upstream some 600 miles to return to their natal streams thousands of feet above sea level. Or that the young salmon fry are swept backwards toward the ocean with the spring currents, eyes locked on their inland past.

Since that time, I’ve always worked on national forest protection cases. In Idaho, Earthjustice fought mines that would poison salmon streams; and logging, road-building and grazing on national forests that threatened to bury salmon spawning grounds in mud and dirt. In Washington and Oregon, old-growth forest protection intertwines with protection for salmon and other native fish, northern spotted owls,and marbled murrelets. These rare critters depend on ancient forests to survive. For the last five years, I have been part of a group of Earthjustice attorneys defending the 2001 Roadless Rule, a nationwide Forest Service rule to protect the last, best wild places on our National Forests from logging and road-building. Now I’m working to ensure that new, proposed national forest rules will mandate meaningful protections—real standards and measurable objectives—for all our National Forests.

EJ: Do you have any childhood memories from your time in national forests?

KB: I grew up in rural Maine, a state with lots of forests but where only a few acres of the White Mountain National Forest cross the state’s western border with New Hampshire. I can remember a canoe trip as a kid to Chesuncook Lake in northern Maine, where we stopped to get a permit to drive on private logging roads and had to pull off to the side of the road fast when logging trucks came roaring by—it was their road. So it was only when I came west for college that I realized what national forests really were—vast areas of truly public land, owned by, well, me (and a lot of other folks) and managed by the Forest Service to conserve them for generations to come.

EJ: What about nowadays?

KB: Now my family and I visit lots of national forests. Although Seattle is a bustling city, the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Gifford-Pinchot, Wenatchee, and Olympic national forests are just a short day-trip drive away for a hike, a climb, a ski, or a canoe. We cut our Christmas tree almost every year from one of these forests. A bit farther, the Idaho national forests beckon, and then onto the Flathead, Helena, Deerlodge, and Lewis and Clark national forests in Montana, where my husband grew up. In California and Nevada, I’ve skied in the Shasta and Tahoe national forests, climbed in the Sierra, and studied rocks in the Humboldt and Toiyabe.

EJ: What’s your favorite to visit?

KB: The Olympic National Forest. We go with kids and friends on a yearly camping trip to the Olympic coast beaches, and we love to hike up Mt. Elinor, to Lena Lake, or along the Big Quilcene River.

EJ: What national forest would you like to visit next?

KB: I’m hoping to visit the Klamath-Siskiyou National Forest in SW Oregon this summer. That area contains the largest concentration of national Wild and Scenic Rivers in the country, the largest complex of wilderness and unprotected roadless areas on the west coast, more conifer species than any other temperate-zone forest in the world, more rare plants than any other national forest, and some of the most valuable wild salmon and steelhead habitat in the contiguous United States. I’ve worked on cases challenging timber sales in that area, but have never visited.

EJ: How can people help protect their national forests?

KB: First, visit them (and take your kids)! Go look for thrushes and newts, wade an icy river, ski up a snow-covered meadow. Second, make your voice heard! These are our national forests, and the Forest Service has a chance now to adopt clear, simple rules that set measurable standards and achievable objectives for protection of our forests and their rivers, streams and watersheds. Take action now by telling the Forest Service to strengthen its proposed rules!

Kristen’s daughter, Ying, in the wild flowers of Red Top Mountain in Wenatchee National Forest.

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.

Established in 1987, Earthjustice's Northwest Regional Office has been at the forefront of many of the most significant legal decisions safeguarding the Pacific Northwest’s imperiled species, ancient forests, and waterways.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.