Nancy Russell Created a Model for Protecting Nationally Significant Landscapes: Why Haven't You Heard of Her?

PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 10, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — As President Biden commits to conserving 30% of the nation’s land and water by 2030, it’s time to look at creative options. Attorney Bowen Blair does just that with the biography A Force for Nature: Nancy Russell’s Fight to Save the Columbia Gorge while telling the courageous story of the unlikely activist who overcame resistance from both Oregon and Washington Governors, as well as President Reagan, to protect the Columbia River Gorge.

Today, the 85-mile-long Columbia River Gorge is visited by millions each year. But in the early 1980s, as a new interstate bridge linked Portland to rural counties in Washington, the Gorge’s renowned vistas were on the brink of destruction. Nancy Russell, a forty-eight-year-old, stay-at-home mom with no experience in advocacy or politics, mounted a national campaign to save the Gorge from developers in one of the most fiercely contested conservation battles of the 1980s.

“We should look to the National Scenic Area Act as a model for protecting other nationally significant, complex areas.” 

Bob Packwood, former U.S. Senator (R-OR), sponsor of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act

“I always admired Nancy Russell for the monumental challenges she overcame to protect the Columbia Gorge. …[R]eaders can draw insights into protecting their own treasured landscapes.”

—  Barbara Roberts, former Governor, State of Oregon

Without Nancy Russell, the Gorge would look entirely different today. Russell thwarted factories and subdivisions proposed for the Gorge’s most spectacular lands by using litigation, land acquisition, and legislation while enduring slashed tires and death threats. Her story is a powerful and inspiring reminder of what can be accomplished through grassroots organizing — and why we must act now.

The Columbia River Gorge was the US’s first proposed national scenic area and the only major new public lands bill to pass the Reagan administration, although President Reagan reversed his decision to veto the Act just hours before it would die.

Bowen Blair, former senior staff member of Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Trust for Public Land, has spent a career protecting some of the nation’s most important landscapes, including working with Russell to draft the Act.

If you are interested in interviewing Blair about his work, or would like to otherwise feature the biography, please contact his publicity team at Mindbuck Media, [email protected].

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