(This is the fourth in a series of Q & As with Earthjustice staff who work to protect our nation’s forests and their critical natural resources and wildlife. Protecting our national forests, in particular, is essential for the future of our nation. The Obama administration recently proposed new planning rules that may leave our national forests in peril. National forests are the single largest source of clean drinking water in the United States, serving 124 million Americans. Visit our Forests For Our Future campaign site to learn more. Tim Preso is attorney based in Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies office in Bozeman, Montana.)
EJ: How did your fight to protect our forests begin, Tim?
TP: I walked into the Earthjustice office in Bozeman, Montana for my first day of work in March of 2000 and immediately became involved in a controversy over the federal regulation protecting our last national forest roadless lands. That marked the beginning of an 11-year campaign during which I have worked as part of a team of Earthjustice lawyers to defend the Roadless Rule against a variety of challenges. But outside the legal context, protecting our national forest lands has been close to my heart since I developed a love for wild places and wild creatures amid the rugged mountains and canyons of northeast Oregon’s Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, near where I was raised. I had the now-all-too-uncommon privilege of growing up near big, open wild country filled with impressive wildlife. I want to make sure that opportunity remains for future generations instead of becoming something that kids can only read about in history books.
EJ: Do you remember your first visit to a national forest?
TP: My formative outdoor experiences took place in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of northeastern Oregon—part of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. My first backpacking trip into the Eagle Cap high country, with its alpine lakes and impressive peaks, was a revelation.
EJ: Do you take your family to any national forests today?
TP: Today, my family and I often visit the outstanding national forests that surround Yellowstone National Park, including the Gallatin, Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Bridger-Teton and Shoshone. Yellowstone National Park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but the health of that ecosystem depends heavily on the health of surrounding national forest lands. Wildlife such as grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines and lynx need lots of country to survive, and they range out from the park into national forest lands. We love to camp and hike on public lands that still harbor these rare species. Even if we never see them, the mere fact that they are present somewhere among the forests, canyons and meadows adds an exciting element of possiblity to our experience in the woods.
My family and I enjoy hiking, wildlife watching and cross-country skiing in the national forests. But we also enjoy just camping out in the midst of exceptional natural beauty. In many parts of the world, only the wealthy can afford to live amid natural splendor. We are lucky in this country that our most spectacular landscapes are owned by all of us together, and available for all of us to enjoy.
EJ: How can people help protect their national forests?
TP: First, get out into the national forests and enjoy them. Most people who do find that they soon come to love these lands. And once you love something, you are willing to fight for it. Make your voice heard. The logging, mining and oil companies are always in the ears of our elected leaders. Make sure that they also hear from the millions of Americans who want these lands to be protected. Speak out now by commenting on the Forest Service’s proposed forest planning rule and asking the Obama administration to give our National Forest System the protections it deserves.
Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso hiking the public lands of the the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem